Having heard so much about SXSW over the years Nigel Danson and I decided 2013 was the year to see what all the fuss was about. Plus it was a great opportunity to catch up with the Interact US Team in Dallas.

For those of you who’ve never heard of SXSW before it originated in 1997 as a music conference and more recently grew to include Film and what we’re particularly interested in ‘Interactive’ – emerging technologies. Quite simply, this is now one of the biggest festivals in the world running for 11 days.

To give you a sense of scale, in 2012:

  • SXSW directly booked nearly 11,000 individual hotel reservations totalling 50,000-plus rooms.
  • 147,000 people attended from all over the globe
  • The impact of SXSW operations on the Austin economy exceeded $73.7 million.

The sheer amount of sessions, workshops, keynotes, special events, and the expo itself, is actually a little overwhelming. There’s almost too many great things to attend, so you have to pick and choose carefully.

Here are the highlights of the sessions I attended at SXSW 2013:

Opening Remarks Keynote Baratunde Thurston -Credit: Bobby Longoria

Enterprise Invades the Apps Playground

This fascinating session spoke about how, according to Gartner, enterprise apps will generate nearly $40 billion in sales for developers by 2016.

In a relatively short space of time iOS devices have now become the dominant force in the enterprise. Of Fortune 500 companies, 80% of employees use an iPhone and 65% use an iPad, and according to Alex Williams, 71% of IT leaders see mobile as transformational.

Business Applications are the now fastest growing category in the App Store with:

  • $44 billion mobile apps by 2016
  • An average of 41 apps per device
  • An estimated value $56b of apps by 2016

In a way mobile working is now the Trojan horse in the enterprise. Executives are buying these devices themselves as they want information on the move at any time and it’s facts like these that highlight the change of decision making to ‘line of business’ rather than through traditional channels.

Nigel saw this highlighted at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Santa Clara in 2012 and this trend is obviously continuing. Rather than employees asking IT for new technology they’re getting it themselves, by-passing the entire traditional decision making process.

The major drivers for change to ‘apps in the enterprise’ are simplicity and ease of use. Employees can download, install and use applications instantly, which provide information 24/7. BYOD is no longer ‘bring your own device’ but ‘brought your own device’. This has already happened. The stats above highlight this.

At Interact we recognise these drivers in everything we develop. For an intranet to be successful it’s absolutely critical that it’s very easy to use and provides a simple interface. Any technology needs to provide a hook for the user. They need to engage and see the benefit within minutes, so simplicity is critical.

Data & Gamification: Value to the Enterprise

Peter Kim, Chief Solutions Architect Dachis Group, Jeremiah Owyang Industry Analyst on Customer Strategy and a Partner at Altimeter Group and others discussed the concept of gamification in this thought provoking session. The questions that had been asked before were still there:

  • Will gamification work in the enterprise?
  • Will employees track and hack the systems to get to the top?
  • What value will it provide to an organisation?
  • Will it distract employees from getting work done?

The key is understanding a business and its employees, and then using these technologies in the right way.

Taking a perspective from the social world, sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and even Foursquare can provide interesting insights into human behaviour.

Desire to be liked / loved: People have a natural deep desire to be liked and this is seen in posts on Facebook where users are trying to drive ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’.

Providing value: When web forms first originated, users were very reluctant to fill them in. These days it’s common practice especially when a user understands the application will provide value. For example, LinkedIn can be used to seek out new employment opportunities.

At Interact we’ve looked at these technologies and behaviours to provide value to an intranet community.

With our Rewards Widget we provided a flexible and easy to use way of colleagues being able to reward each other for getting work done. In many cases this has really helped enhance the sense of community and camaraderie with our customers.

Or with our Influence Score widget we provide an easy interface to show where an individual fell into a league table of influence inside an organisation. For many customers these simple game mechanics, drove an increased usage of the intranet and identified experts and help share their knowledge within organisations.

For both of these examples we deliberately kept the applications very simple to use and monitored their impact inside organisations to see how they could be enhanced.

Again, the key is simplicity and ease of use. Intranet Managers can quickly add these applications into the intranet.

Keynote: Tim Berners-Lee

Without Sir Tim, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now, or even worse, Interact may never have existed. Can you imagine a world without the Internet? It’s a strange thought.

Tim spoke in his usual rapid pace about web technologies over time and the importance of sharing and open standards for the greater benefit of everyone. The community ‘WebPlatform’ is a great example of this where developers are coming together to build an open, better web.

Tim also spoke of the continued work by W3C to support artists in world where everything is shared. In particular they’re looking into easy ways to ‘stroke’ the artists content with small easy micro-payments (i.e. 10 cents for a blog post).

Towards the end of his talk Tim references HTML5 and the exciting opportunities this can bring particularly around video and audio.

Keynote – Elon Musk

Having been a huge fan of SpaceX and particularly Tesla cars I was excited to hear this interview style keynote…. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Elon Musk is essentially Tony Stark. What he’s doing to change the world is simply incredibly inspirational. With companies such as SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City he is inventing new technology at a rapid pace, and making it work.

As an exclusive at SXSW, he showed a video previously unseen of a reusable rocket taking off and landing again. Reusable rockets are the future of space travel and this video showed amazing progress in this area.

SpaceX is doing such amazing stuff that it’s no surprise to hear that NASA is actually one of Musk’s customers (and account for 25% of all of their launches), or that he recently offered (for free) to address the battery problems on Boing 787’s for Virgin Airlines (with Richard Branson being a friend of his).

Musk is also working on a almost unimaginable new mode of transport called Hyperloop which, if it actually comes to fruition, would be simply incredible.

Having read previous books on thinking big by other entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, they cannot be compared to what Musk is doing. There’s thinking big and there’s thinking BIG.

Musk has taken fundamental world problems such as energy production, space travel and transport and turned them upside down.

As a younger man Musk spoke of being frustrated that NASA hadn’t really progressed in space travel since the moon landing and wanting to change this. It’s one thing to think this but it takes almost incomprehensible levels of guts and determination to do it.

According to Musk, “becoming an ‘interplanetary species’ will eventually be our most attractive (only?) hope for survival” and that “space travel is the best thing we can do to extend the life of humanity.” And when asked about his biggest mistake, Musk produced an answer that really summed up the man:

“The biggest mistake, in general, I’ve made, is to put too much of a weighting on someone’s talent and not enough on their personality. And I’ve made that mistake several times. I think it actually matters whether somebody has a good heart, it really does. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that it’s sometimes just about the brain.”

For a man who comes across as calm and unassuming, but who’s risked billions to get where he is today, this was incredibly inspiring.

Musk stated: “If you’re attempting change, you have to see if what you’re doing is going to result in disruptive change, if it is just incremental, it is not likely to be substantial.”

At Interact we want to create amazing and essential intranet technology that really transforms the way a business operates and creates true value. To do this you simply cannot progress at ‘normal’ levels. You have to innovate and make big step changes and this means taking risk.

For some this seems a scary thought but if you look at all the successful entrepreneurs it all involves taking risk. True, some of these risks fail and you have to embrace these, but others provide massive payback.

Richard Branson is famous for his statement ‘Screw it, just do it’ and at Interact this is something we refer back to again and again. It’s easy to make little step changes but taking big ones requires vision and ultimately, belief.

When it comes to intranets you can apply this mantra in many ways. Let’s imagine you want to launch social technologies in your product but you’re concerned about people misusing the technology and the eventual feedback to senior sponsors.

I’d say, convince your sponsors to think ‘Screw it, just do it’. What’s the worse that can happen? Your employees are already communicating anyway via email, in the kitchen, by the coffee machine, and on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Why not provide them with an easy to use secure platform where they can have these conversations and so get a true understanding of what’s working, or more importantly, not working in your business?

The payoff will be worth it.

Coming next week we’ll look at Tina Roth Eisenberg’s list and how to apply to intranets.