Innovating SMEs…kind of

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BitDepth#992 for June 08, 2015

Professor Abhijit Bhattacharya delivers the feature address at a recent TATT event. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Professor Abhijit Bhattacharya delivers the feature address at a recent TATT event. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

If Professor Abhijit Bhattacharya, the feature speaker for the recent TATT event Innovating SMEs had begun his talk where he ended it, it would have been quite something.

The lavish gathering, held in commemoration of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2015 at the Trinidad Hilton, targeted small and medium business enterprises to encourage development and innovation through the use of ICTs. Yet nothing seemed to quite come together the way it should have.

Annie Baldeo, TATT’s Executive Officer for Policy, Pricing and Market Economics presented a ruthlessly truncated paper led by slides so dense with information they were unreadable.

A terrible pity, because the raw information they represented was, on its own, a crucial and valuable tool for anyone doing serious business in the ICT sector. Exhibit and discussion opportunities with iGOVTT, Niherst, NEDCO and CARIRI ended up compressed into far too short a time.

Professor Bhattacharya also didn’t seem very clear about who his audience was, and he spent half his talk telling them things they already knew.

After spending quite a while with Moore’s Law, he touched on the impact of exponential growth, the impact of “a floodgate of sensors, a plethora of transmitters, the digitisation of everything,” and the steady but slow coming of age of artificial intelligence.

Professor Bhattacharya noted the phenomenon of “servitisation,” the transformation of objects into connected devices capable of delivering useful services and the capacity of machines to select music to match a person’s mood or to replace the basic functions of a nurse.

Professor Bhattacharya’s presentation was complicated by a thick accent and a cautious trepidation with English sentence construction.

He really needed, with an audience heavily dominated by savvy young people looking for the answers suggested by a talk under the subject Innovating SMEs, to cut to the chase and speak commandingly to the topic.

He did not. He spent long minutes, spiralling into more than half an hour, trying to condense the history of technology innovation for an audience already aware of much of the information.

This was not an audience unfamiliar with “how technology leverages the limited time available for work outside of the formal office space, and relaxes traditional constraints.”

What this group wanted to hear were the cues, guidelines and suggestions that might drive the next level of their business development. That, unfortunately, did not happen.

The best moments in his talk, and the ones that got the biggest response from a flagging audience, involved autonomous automobiles and robotics, but things didn’t really get going until he began to explore Pluralsight’s six top skills required of a forward-thinking sector executive.

Bhattacharya enthusiastically endorsed the skillset, noting that coding is a basic form of literacy today, like reading and math and understanding how to collect and analyse the big data collected by computer networks and the Internet of Things will be crucial.

He also noted that cloud computing is the new normal, a company without a mobile strategy doesn’t have a future strategy and in explaining a company’s position and story, executives must be attentive to the user experience and make use of data visualisation to explain new information and to drive breakthroughs.

There are, Professor Bhattacharya noted, significant opportunities in applying ICT innovations to leverage T&T’s entertainment, tourism and agricultural potential. He could not understand, for instance, why perishable goods in a grocery weren’t priced dynamically as they deteriorate during the day.

And in the abundance of public holidays he saw entrepreneurial opportunity, since “anything that’s in short supply is ripe for business exploitation.”

That consideration seemed worthy of a whole talk on its own.

“A venture’s success depends on continuous innovation, co-creation with customers, teamwork and collaboration in a distributed environment, time management, and an ability to measure and manage the idea development process,” he explained.

And continuous learning will be an imperative without alternative.

Quoting a study from Research in Labour Economics, he noted that “nearly a third of last year’s tech-related knowledge is now irrelevant.”