The hidden dark side of connected vehicles – Volkswagen’s electronic tinkering

The big bombshell news today on the IoT (internet of things) front was that Volkswagen was caught programming their diesel vehicles to behave better during emission testing. I guess that is much more sophisticated then when a car dealer would roll back the odometer on a used car! The fall out of this news was immediate. The company’s stock tumbled as much as 20%, seeing almost $17b of market value disappearing from Volkswagen AG. Unfortunately for the German automotive giant the pain is not about to end. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, warned that it could levy a fine as high as $18billion for the infractions. Ouch.


This will be a severe blow to Volkswagen, but it will have some other repercussions as well.  A new reason for some to pooh pooh IoT. I recently wrote a blog post that called out some backlash we are seeing when it comes to connected things. While some may scoff and laugh at such connected items as cat water bowls, jars and socks, I would argue the business plans behind those are not as silly as one might think. Click here for my post. But the cause of that backlash is real. Over-hyped and overpriced connected objects for the sake of it, does not make sense. There has to be a business model associated with the connected item.

It is the same with the stories that come out about someone’s connected skate board being hacked. Yes there is the potential for mischievous acts being perpetrated. But remember that over a decade ago online banking and shopping also fell under the fear mongering – your accounts and credit cards are not safe!!!!! And yes…some breaches have occurred. But as I recall Jesse James and Billy the Kid robbed brick and mortar banks long before the internet. That created a lot of fear, yet people in modern society still having bank accounts…in brick and mortar banks as well as do plenty of on line banking and shopping.

Now I am sure we will hear fear mongering about the companies that are doing the connecting finding some way to “get away” with something. And from the looks of it Volkswagen is guilty of doing so. But this just means that regulators and governments will have to do a better job monitoring. This does not mean that a connected car is now a bad thing. With all new technologies there is a learning curve: for consumers, the creators of the technology, the oversight of the usage and the business models best served. We are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to IoT. There will be bumps and abuses of the technology, but there continues to be great promise. Let’s not let the worry mongering detract from the possible.

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Instacart at the edges of the retail IoT network with help from a humble device

The on demand retail economy is in full bloom. Companies from AirBnB, Washio, Favor, Shortcut to Lyft are all offering consumers a new retailing experience when it comes to services or procuring goods. These new business models are also pushing the edges of the retailing envelope – changing how retailers look at servicing the end customer. One shift that is taking place as well is how the physical stores are being leveraged. eCommerce giants such as Amazon and Alibaba began to drive the conversation around why have stores at all? With large logistic networks, strategically placed distribution centers and savvy order capture systems the need indexfor physical stores for customers to come and look at products and then purchase were a relic of the past. Not so fast. Stores are making a come back. As they should. The reality remains, that as a percentage of all retail, the dollars spent via online are still dwarfed by those spent in stores. For every $11 spent in retail, more than $10 of that sum is transacted within a physical store. However retailers are facing the challenge of how to leverage the physical stores in new ways.

An example of this is the services Instacart is offering. The basic premise for the service is to offer consumers the flexibility of having someone else do their grocery shopping and having the items delivered within a finite time. Instacart has partnerships with the likes of Whole Foods, Safeway and Costco. So the grocery store is where the inventory is being held, no carrying costs for Instacart. However, Instacart relies on their pickers as well as their mobile devices to ensure that orders are properly received and most importantly properly picked and packed. This is where problems arise for such a service. The service is similar to a warehouse pick and pack operation, but a warehouse is staffed by professional warehouse employees and is…well a warehouse! Whole Foods is not configured like your local distribution center. So how can you ensure the order is properly handled? This is where the promise of IoT comes into play.

While these grocers are not going to become fully IoT operational overnight – having sensors throughout store infrastructure (shelves, aisles, freezers, carts etc), on certain inventory as well as on other essential assets – the ground work is beginning, in large part driven by the services provided by Instacart. Instacart is really similar to a store within a store – or personal shoppers within stores. And with that they also need their own systems in place to manage their business. While they can lean on the mobile assets their pickers carry, they require a more robust and industrial strength solution. This is where they are working with Zebra Technologies to place printers within certain Whole Foods. Printers? You may look at this as a non-digital play, but on the contrary this is a perfect example of how IoT can start being infused into retail.

Retailers do not need to invest in snazzy new beacons, cameras, sensors, smart shelves or RFID but rather can look at items such as label printers as a foray into IoT. Zebra printers are being rolled out into Whole Foods where they are tied to the Zatar IoT platform. The Zatar platform is able to tie these printers into a greater IoT platform. Currently the system is handling the order processing for the pick and pack of groceries. Through simple printing and labeling, it is targeting a more efficient and proper order.

This is addressing a current need for the grocer and Instacart – making sure orders are error free. But think about how this could evolve. The printer is but one item that is becoming smarter. Instacart is able to place this smart, IoT enabled device, in the property of another entity and run their business within someone else’s store. As the printer becomes “smarter” for example adding camera technology, this innocuous looking device now becomes part of an IoT infrastructure within a grocer’s store. The platform that it is tied can now take on new IoT enabled devices – suddenly the network effect takes off.

The long-term impact of relationships between the likes of Instacart and Zebra is in the ability of companies like Zebra to begin to plant the seeds for connectivity, tied back to their platform, within these physical locations. The promise of IoT will not happen overnight, but will start on the foundation created by the infusion of connecting humble machines such as printers into a greater IoT network.

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IoT – don’t focus on the hype, keep the use cases in mind.

An interesting article came out end of August that looked at some “gadgets” that should have just stayed dumb. A good read that highlights some everyday items that probably should have stayed out of the IoT spot light. Click here for the article.


But are we missing the bigger picture with IoT? I agree with Christopher Mims from the Wall Street Journal about the over smartening of banal items – plates, pans, drinking cup to name a few. Click here for the piece. Not every object in our every day lives need to be connected. However, as prices come down, use cases for some of these gadgets might become more appealing. Let’s look at some that @internetofshit called out:

  • The connected bottle of wine – yes tracking my $5 bottle of wine is a little silly. But think about the importance of track and trace for items such as your cough syrup or baby formula. Ensuring they have not been tampered with or counterfeited. How about monitoring perishables such dairy. From a distributor stand point, being able to track and trace a bottle of Coke or Pepsi could have long reaching impacts on the supply chain, being much more precise with regards to stocking and inventory management.
  • Smart water fountain for pets – do you really need to monitor your pets’ water intake? Probably not. But having access to controlling the dispensing of water and food? There are already plenty of products on the market that have timers to dispense these items. Why not make that smarter? The pet business is a $55b + annual market in the United States alone, with over 3% growth annually. Providing customers with a smart pet food/water dispenser where the pets’ intake could offer an alternative for those who are not always home but still want to ensure their loved pets get the necessary food and water. Consumers spend money on their pets, as if they were their children. In many ways they are. That $55b market doesn’t seem too silly, that seems like real money.
  • Connected socks – Wow, $199 socks…yikes. Even someone like me who loves their socks (just check my instagram page – @gcourtin – for my sock selection) that is a high price tag. But let’s imagine that price tag comes down. At $20 – $50 consumers might start purchasing these items. Why? Companies like Adidas are already putting connected devices in their soccer boots to provide players and coaches with a large amount of data to craft better training regimes. Think it is silly? Click here to read a great piece on how the German national soccer team used this to win the World Cup. Runners, soccer players, basketball players, football teams and the list goes on, of athletes that could gravitate to this type of performance data. Granted this might already become available via the shoes, but if the socks are less expensive they might get to that market first.
  • Smart jars and water bottles – These could fall under the connected kitchen/home category. Do I need to know exactly how much water I drink a day? Or exactly what the nutrition content of the items in my jars? It might sound like a little overkill. What about a use case of tying in your water intake with your Fitbit or Apple Watch or smart phone? Does anyone not believe that personal health tracking devices are not firmly entrenched? Extending this into our consumption does not seem like a big stretch. The smart jar might one day be connected to a larger food supply chain. Large CPG companies such as P&G and Unilever are always interested in getting better data on the actual usage of their products. Even players such as Amazon and Google might want to find a way to have customers use these smart containers so they can better replenish items at the home.

I agree that sometimes these devices appear to be technology looking for a problem to solve. But with some aspects of IoT it might be just that at some level. We are still in the early stages of IoT. And with that there remains many skeptics, issues that still need resolution (privacy and security being two of them) and at times too many things being made “smart” for the sake of it. What we need to focus on is not the devices and gadgets that are being connected, rather the use cases that these connected devices might open up.

Now where are my connected socks?

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McDonald’s all day breakfast – the empowered consumer drives the bus

Yesterday McDonald’s took the bold move in announcing the availability of breakfast all day across their 14,300+ North American locations, starting on October 6th. Click here for the press release. Now patrons will be able to order hash browns with their McRib sandwiches or get a tasty McGriddle for dinner…all those calories and saturated fats are sure to help anyone fall asleep faster. By some estimates this move could increase the breakfast goods sales by 4%. It is also a reaction to customer demand as well as an attempt also to reinvigorate the fast food giant who has been slumping as of late.

Coming to a McDonalds by you...all day...

Coming to a McDonalds by you…all day…

With the hamburger market shifting towards more fast casual offerings such as Five Guys, Whataburger, Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger. As well as facing competitors focused on just selling chicken related fast food, such as Chick-fil-A, and the fact that Mexican and Asian based fast foods are outpacing the burger chain – McDonalds has to figure out how to turn the tide. While time will tell how the customers and the market reacts to this move, there are some lessons to be drawn from it:

  • The empowered consumer strikes again. One of the major shifts we have seen with the digital economy is the increased power in the voice of the consumer. The customer has a voice – social, they have the reach – mobile, greater choice – the internet and thanks to folks like Amazon, have high expectations with regards to product variation. Consumers are no longer willing to accept a limited number of choices, rather they have been trained to expect and demand a large array of choice. With regards to the food industry this is no exception. Consumers don’t accept being limited by arbitrary time limitations on menu items or even not being able to customize their orders. All one has to do is listen to the orders that are throw about in Starbucks – grande skinny vanilla latte with an extra shot or venti soy latte with extra foam…it seems at times the options are endless. Consumers have been trained, in part by the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, to expect a high degree of choice. And by the likes of Dell to expect greater control in customization. The genie is out of that bottle, it will be up to retailers and consumer facing businesses to react accordingly.
  • Supply chains get none of the glory but all of the work. It is easy for consumers to expect companies like McDonalds to “flip” a switch and add breakfast items to the all day menu. Consumers at times can grow frustrated as they see a lack of action on something that appears so “simple” to the outside. The reality is the supply chains are the ones that have to keep up, and that is not a simple endeavor. McDonalds will now have to rethink their replenishment and inventory strategies – ensure that they increase their stock of breakfast foods so sustain all day demand. McDonalds and their franchises will have to keep a eye on how their demand patterns shift as well. When they offered specific menus at set times, they could at least contain demand patterns to specific times. Starting in early October demand patterns could be turned upside down. It will be crucial for McDonalds to quickly understand how these shifts will impact their distribution models within the supply chain.
  • Don’t forget the process changes to your supply chain. How about the manufacturing process, aka cooking? Each McDonalds kitchen is optimized to be able to cook breakfast and lunch/dinner using the same machines, but not at the same time. Stores will have to determine how to cook egg based products at the same time as hamburgers. Oh and you have to ensure raw eggs don’t come into contact with other food products. By some estimates it will cost individual stores up to $5000 to re-kit some of their kitchens to meet these new processes. Not a huge sum when you consider McDonalds corporate, but not a trivial amount at the franchise level. This will also change the business processes within the stores. Staff will be asked to mix and match breakfast and lunch/dinner items. New processes will have to be implemented and training will have to accompany those processes.
  • Will this be successful? These types of strategic moves can, at times, appear simple and “no brainers” but the reality hits when the numbers are digested. McDonalds must ensure they have a keen eye on the metrics. Does this drive increased in store sales? Does it provide a lift for breakfast items? How does it measure up with other McDoanalds’ products? Are there complimentary relationships that emerge? Do Big Macs paired with hash browns become a big selling item? What is the impact on margin? I am sure that McDonalds has done some extensive testing and model building to make this move, but as with all plans, most rarely survive first contact with the consumer. McDonalds must have the systems in place to monitor and measure how this impacts the financials.

McDonalds’ breakfast all day…smells like a winner. Well at least for the consumer. Question is, like with any NPI (new product introduction), can the underlying supply chain sustain success and has the new offering addressed a need that was otherwise unmet? Only time will tell. But some valuable lessons non the less.

Hmmmm, maybe I will go get an Egg McMuffin and a 6 piece Chicken McNugget for dinner…

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Salesforce Evolves Communities From Forums To E-Commerce

Today Salesforce launched the ability to embed a Buy Button into sites built upon their Community Cloud platform. Click here for press release. This new feature will bring the power of commerce to the world of social: enabling brands to leverage the activity that takes place in social channels and convert it into financial transactions. The following is Constellation Research’s reaction to the news, co-authored by Principal Analysts Alan Lepofsky and Guy Courtin.

Below you can see an example, in this case labeled Cart, which allows community members to add an item for purchase.
Shopping Meets Social

From the press release: “The new e-commerce capabilities enable communities of customers to discover, research, discuss and buy products in a single location while introducing a new sales channel for companies.”

Alan’s POV: This is significant because it enables companies to blend together 1) their community forums; where current and future customers can ask questions, post reviews and share feedback with 2) their e-commerce platform for purchasing. Today many companies separate these two functions, relying heavily on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for customer engagement, then shifting those customers to another location for purchasing transactions.  The integration of community (social) and commerce (shopping) will allow for a much more seamless, hence more desirable customer experience.

Guy’s POV: Retail and CPG have long been aware of the growing power and influence social channels have on their brands and products. One only had to look as far as Twitter to see how brands such as @BestBuy or @USAir are acutely aware of any possible issue voiced by their customers. This announcement is looking to take advantage of the positive that comes of out social media – converting sales. Retail and CPG are also both acutely aware that their best sales people are existing customers. Enabling transactions to take place in these forums builds on the aspect of community influence.

Commerce Without Coding

From the press release: “With new e-commerce Lightning Components from Salesforce partners like CloudCraze, Demandware and Bigcommerce, companies will be able to seamlessly incorporate e-commerce into their communities. Lightning Components are reusable building blocks that enable companies to quickly add rich new capabilities into their communities without programming.”

Alan’s POV: While the idea of making it easy for “citizen developers” (line of business workers who are not trained coders) to simply drag and drop components into applications sounds appealing, organizations need to be weary, as there is more to application development than just writing lines of code. Successful applications rely on compelling user interfaces (the look) and user experiences (the interactions). Commerce is a complicated process, involving complex workflows between inventory, purchasing and shipping.  These things require professionals with training and experience. That said, there is nothing wrong with Salesforce making it easier for professional developers to add these new e-commerce functions to their applications. The addition of the Buy Button and other components from their business partner eco-system, help make the Salesforce1 a compelling platform.

Complexity Of Supply Chain Meets Ease Of One Click Commerce

From the press release: “Community Cloud customers are already deploying custom e-commerce solutions, demonstrating the power of combining transactions with communities.”

Guy’s POV: The addition of a transaction function to the communities is not as simple as adding some code to a web site. The supply chain aspects of order management, fulfillment and payment are all aspects of the supply chain that have to be in sync for the promise of a “buy” button to come to fruition. This is no simple task; many e-Commerce players have failed at this step. It will be an interesting play for the software giant if it can integrate some of the efforts it is making with Salesforce retail as well as the partnerships it announced to truly take this to then next level. As the examples given for this new offering revolve around digital assets, the challenge of moving physical goods is much more complex.

Summary: From Forums To E-Commerce

The announcement hold much promise when it comes to the integration of retail and communities. The addition of e-commerce provides Salesforce an edge over many rival social community platforms. However there remains much to be seen as to how Salesforce can fulfill some of the promises, especially when it comes to moving physical goods. What will they build themselves, what will customers need to build and what gaps will be filled by business partners and 3rd party vendors? Constellation supports this first step in integrating shopping and social and recommends customers speak with Salesforce to see if it will work with their specific e-commerce systems and suppliers. This is a space to watch, hopefully with more details and examples being presented at Dreamforce.

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Infor acquires GT Nexus – bolsters their supply chain offerings.

The following blog post was jointly written with Ray Wang – click here for bio.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 7.11.27 AM

On August 11th, 2015, Infor announced the $675M acquisition of GT Nexus, a private supply chain and procurement network solution vendor.  GTNexus brings $150M in cloud revenue, 28,000 companies on their network, 100,000 users across 66 countries, and $100B of goods each year on the procurement network. Constellation believes this will have long term consequences for both client bases. The largest impact might be in the continued transformation of Infor into a true cloud solution powerhouse. Constellation sees three main takeaways:


  1. Manufacturing is no longer an island in the digital economy. Both companies have a strong presence within manufacturing. GT Nexus completes the network economy by including a procurement network and supply chain orchestration.


Point of view (POV): Network economies require three things: content (Product) , network (distribution), and arms dealing (software).  Infor brings a huge base of manufacturers and retailers (products) while GT Nexus brings the procurement (network).  The combined clouds (arms dealer) bring technologies to the manufacturers to enable direct to customer and go from product ideation to commerce.


  1. Platform play opens up additional total addressable markets. GT Nexus has made major efforts to grow their platform – to become the network of networks.  The platform provides Infor with an untapped market opportunity.


(POV): GT Nexus has demonstrated the power of the platform via success stories such as Caterpillar who has leveraged the solution to better manage their network of products. Via the cloud based platform, Caterpillar is not only able to manage this vast range of products but is also able to pull insights from the large amount of data that is being created from the platform. Truly taking the community information and adapting new business use cases. This platform development will open up new opportunities for Infor customers.

Especially when it comes to verticals such as retail where Infor has been working hard to reworking in some cases developing an entire new suite of offerings. the knowledge and experience that GT Nexus brings to the equation will accelerate these efforts. Which could mean that Infor lwill be able to integrate this cloud based platform into their current offerings. The networks that Infor will add, such as the one exemplified by Caterpillar, will bring a tremendous asset to a company that is looking to become “the world’s first industry cloud company.”


  1. Combined force can become major player for retail. As stated during Infor’s analyst day in March of this year, the company was building “everything from scratch”  for retail.


(POV): With the addition of GT Nexus to the fold, where ever those efforts where they will only get a tremendous boost from what GT Nexus already has in the fold. Working with the likes of Patagonia, Brooks Brothers and Deckers (makers of such brands as UGG and Teva), GT Nexus has addressed a wide array of retailer issues. From better supplier relations to cross channel order management, the GT Nexus platform has been tackling major issues facing retailers. This focus on the retail supply chain is an important piece of the Infor puzzle. This is an area that Infor has expressed a strong desire to become a major player in, with this news it might just achieve that goal.

The Bottom Line: Network Economies Democratize The Disruption Of Digital Businesses

Mergers are nothing new in the world of enterprise software and customers should not be surprised.. GT Nexus was one of the few large supply chain and procurement vendors that could be an acquisition target. Others vendors such as Manhattan Associates, Logility and Kinaxis remain strong tragets for mergers and acquisition in supply chain.  On the procurement side, hot startup Coupa is giving SAP Ariba a run for the money.  The result, it makes sense for large players such as Infor to turn their eyes to such a move and iit fulfills a need that cannot be allowed to wait for development to satisfy.

Recommendations: Rationalize Your Vendors In The Cloud Post Merger

For Infor customers this should prove to be highly beneficial. GT Nexus will add a host of new offerings that Infor customers should be able to take advantage of immediately. Infor customer’s in manufacturing or retail should determine what parts of GT Nexus they can immediately address for supply chain orchestration and procurement network issues. For GT Nexus clients, things should be business as usual. However, be aware that supply chain and procurement networks are not the only priority for Infor. On the contrary, Infor has been more successful in ERP and HCM. Customers should ensure that they are clear as to how they will fit in the new organization and what efforts will be made to ensure that their solutions continue to command the attention it warrants.  As many customers overlap, they should evaluate how the merger streamlines existing contracts and improve the ability to create network economies.

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Filed under Cloud, Current Events, Manufacturing, Retail, Supply Chain, Technology

Apply for a SuperNova Award – Recognizing leaders in digital business

Every year the Constellation SuperNova Awards recognize eight individuals for their leadership in digital business. Nominate yourself or someone you know by August 7, 2015.

The SuperNova Awards honor leaders that demonstrate excellence in the application and adoption of new and emerging technologies.
In its fifth year, the Constellation SuperNova Awards will recognize eight individuals who demonstrate true leadership in digital business through their application and adoption of new and emerging technologies. We’re searching for leaders and teams who have innovatively applied disruptive technolgies to their business models as a means of adapting to the rapidly-changing digital business environment. Special emphasis will be given to projects that seek to redefine how the enterprise uses technology on a large scale.

We’re searching for the boldest, most transformative technology projects out there. Apply for a SuperNova Award by filling out the application here:

SuperNova Award Categories
• Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite – The Enterprise embraces consumer tech, and perfects it.
•  Data to Decisions – Using data to make informed business decisions.
•  Digital Marketing Transformation – Put away that megaphone. Marketing in the digital age requires a new approach.
•  Future of Work – The processes and technologies addressing the rapidly shifting work paradigm.
•  Matrix Commerce – Commerce responds to changing realities from the supply chain to the storefront.
•  Next Generation Customer Experience – Customers in the digital age demand seamless service throughout all lifecycle stages and across all channels.
•  Safety and Privacy – Not ‘security’. Safety and Privacy is the art and science of the art and science of protecting information assets, including your most important assets: your people.
•  Technology Optimization & Innovation – Innovative methods to balance innovation and budget requirements.

5 reasons to apply for a SuperNova Award:

• Exposure to the SuperNova Award judges, comprised of the top influencers in enterprise technology
• Case study highlighting the achievements of the winners written by Constellation analysts
• Complimentary admission to the SuperNova Award Gala Dinner and Constellation’s Connected Enterprise for all finalists
(November 4-6, 2015) lodging and travel not included
• One year unlimited access to Constellation’s research library
• Winners featured on Constellation’s blog and weekly newsletter

Learn more about the SuperNova Awards.

What to expect when applying for a SuperNova Award. Tips and sample application.

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