Tag Archives: SpaceX

The Big Lesson From Amazon-Whole Foods

I doubt that Google and Microsoft ever worried about the prospect that a book retailer, Amazon, would come to lead one of their highest-growth markets: cloud services. And I doubt that Apple ever feared that Amazon’s Alexa would eat Apple’s Siri for lunch.

For that matter, the taxi industry couldn’t have imagined that a Silicon Valley startup would be its greatest threat, and AT&T and Verizon surely didn’t imagine that a social media company, Facebook, could become a dominant player in mobile telecommunications.

But this is the new nature of disruption: Disruptive competition comes out of nowhere. The incumbents aren’t ready for this and, as a result, the vast majority of today’s leading companies will likely become what toast—in a decade or less.

Note the march of Amazon. First it was bookstores, publishing and distribution, then cleaning supplies, electronics and assorted home goods. Now, Amazon is set to dominate all forms of retail as well as cloud services, electronic gadgetry and small-business lending. And the proposed acquisition of Whole Foods sees Amazon literally breaking the barriers between the digital and physical realms.

See also: Huge Opportunity in Today’s Uncertainty  

This is the type of disruption we will see in almost every industry over the next decade, as technologies advance and converge and turn the incumbents into toast. We have experienced the advances in our computing devices, with smartphones having greater computing power than yesterday’s supercomputers. Now, every technology with a computing base is advancing on an exponential curve—including sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology and 3-D printing. And when technologies converge, they allow industries to encroach on one another.

Uber became a threat to the transportation industry by taking advantage of the advances in smartphones, GPS sensors and networks. Airbnb did the same to hotels by using these advancing technologies to connect people with lodging. Netflix’s ability to use internet connections put Blockbuster out of business. Facebook’s  WhatsApp and Microsoft’s Skype helped decimate the costs of texting and roaming, causing an estimated $386 billion loss to telecommunications companies from 2012 to 2018.

Similarly, having proven the viability of electric vehicles, Tesla is building batteries and solar technologies that could shake up the global energy industry.

Now, tech companies are building sensor devices that monitor health. With artificial intelligence, these will be able to provide better analysis of medical data than doctors can. Apple’s ResearchKit is gathering so much clinical-trial data that it could eventually upend the pharmaceutical industry by correlating the effectiveness and side effects of the medications we take.

As well, Google, Facebook, SpaceX and Oneweb are in a race to provide Wi-Fi internet access everywhere through drones, microsatellites and balloons. At first, they will use the telecom companies to provide their services; then they will turn the telecom companies into toast. The motivation of the technology industry is, after all, to have everyone online all the time. The industry’s business models are to monetize data rather than to charge cell, data or access fees. They will also end up disrupting electronic entertainment—and every other industry that deals with information.

The disruptions don’t happen within an industry, as business executives have been taught by gurus such as Clayton Christensen, author of management bible “The Innovator’s Dilemma”; rather, the disruptions come from where you would least expect them to. Christensen postulated that companies tend to ignore the markets most susceptible to disruptive innovations because these markets usually have very tight profit margins or are too small, leading competitors to start by providing lower-end products and then scale them up, or to go for niches in a market that the incumbent is ignoring. But the competition no longer comes from the lower end of a market; it comes from other, completely different industries.

The problem for incumbents, the market leaders, is that they aren’t ready for this disruption and are often in denial.

Because they have succeeded in the past, companies believe that they can succeed in the future, that old business models can support new products. Large companies are usually organized into divisions and functional silos, each with its own product development, sales, marketing, customer support and finance functions. Each division acts from self-interest and focuses on its own success; within a fortress that protects its ideas, it has its own leadership and culture. And employees focus on the problems of their own divisions or departments—not on those of the company. Too often, the divisions of a company consider their competitors to be the company’s other divisions; they can’t envisage new industries or see the threat from other industries.

This is why the majority of today’s leading companies are likely to go the way of Blockbuster, Motorola, Sears and Kodak, which were at the top of their game until their markets were disrupted, sending them toward oblivion.

See also: How to Respond to Industry Disruption  

Companies now have to be on a war footing. They need to learn about technology advances and see themselves as a technology startup in Silicon Valley would: as a juicy target for disruption. They have to realize that the threat may arise in any industry, with any new technology. Companies need all hands on board — with all divisions working together employing bold new thinking to find ways to reinvent themselves and defend themselves from the onslaught of new competition.

The choice that leaders face is to disrupt themselves—or to be disrupted.

New Risks Coming From Innovation

The triggers that have induced the insurance industry to innovate have dramatically changed in this millennium. Up until the 21st century, little innovation occurred, because insurers were looking to create products for emerging risks or underinsured risks. Innovation occurred most often as a reaction to claims made by policyholders and their lawyers for losses that underwriters never intended to cover. For example, the early cyber policies, which insured against system failure/downtime or loss of data within automated systems, were created when claims were being made against business owners policies (BOPs) and property policies that had never contemplated these perils. Similarly, some exclusions and endorsements were appended to existing policies to delete or add coverage as a result of claims experience. Occasionally, customer demand led to something new. Rarely was innovation sought as a competency.

Fast forward to today, when insurers are aggressively trying to develop innovative products to increase revenue and market share and to stay relevant to customers of all types. Some examples include: supply chain, expanded cyber, transaction and even reputation coverages.

With sluggish economies, new entrants creating heightened competition, emerging socio-economic trends and technological advances, insurers must innovate more rapidly and profoundly than ever. The good news is that there is movement toward that end. Here is a sampling of the likely spheres in which creativity will show itself.

Space

Insurers have already started to respond to the drone phenomenon with endorsements and policies to cover the property and liability issues that arise with their use. But this is only the tip of iceberg in comparison with the response that will be needed as space travel becomes more commonplace. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, has announced his idea for colonization of Mars via his interplanetary transport system (ITS). “If all goes according to plan, the reusable ITS will help humanity establish a permanent, self-sustaining colony on the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years” according to an article this September by Mike Wall at Space.com.

See also: Innovation — or Just Innovative Thinking?  

Consider the new types of coverages that may be needed to make interplanetary space travel viable. All sorts of novel property perils and liability issues will need to be addressed.

Weather

Weather-related covers already exist, but with the likelihood of more extreme climate change there will be demand for many more weather-related products. Customers may need to protect against unprecedented levels of heat, drought, rain/flood and cold that affect the basic course of doing business.

The insurance industry has just taken new steps in involving itself in the flood arena, where until now it has only done so in terms of commercial accounts. Several reinsurers — Swiss Re, Transatlantic Re and Munich Re — have provided reinsurance for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), for example. Insurance trade associations are studying and discussing why primary insurers should do more in terms flood insurance as a result of seeing that such small percentages of homeowners have taken advantage of NFIP’s insurance protection.

Sharing Economy

As a single definition for the sharing economy begins to take shape, suffice it to say that it exists when individual people offer each other products and services without the use of a middleman, save the internet. Whether the product being offered is a used handbag, a piece of art or a room in a private house or whether the service is website design, resume writing or a ride to and from someplace, there are a host of risk issues for both the buyer and seller that are not typically contemplated by the individual and not covered in most personal insurance policies. This is fertile ground for inventive insurers. How can they invent a coverage that is part personal and part commercial? Smart ones will figure out how to package certain protections based on the likely losses that individuals in the sharing economy are facing.

Driverless Cars

So much has already been written about the future of driverless cars, but so many of the answers are still outstanding. How will insurance function during the transition; who will be liable when a driverless car has an accident; who will the customer be; what should the industry be doing to set standards and regulations about these cars and driving of them; how will subrogation be handled; how expensive will repairs be; how will rates be set? A full list of unanswered questions would be pages long. The point for this article is – how innovative will insurers be in finding answers that not only respond to these basic questions but also provide value-added service that customers will be willing to pay for?

See also: Insurance Innovation: No Longer Oxymoron  

The value added is where real innovation comes into play. Something along the lines of Metromile’s offerings for today’s cars is needed, such as helping drivers to find parking or locate their parked cars. Such added value is what might stem the tide of the dramatic premium outflows that are being predicted for insurers once driverless cars are fully phased in.

Corporate Culture and Reputation

Recent events indicate that corporations need some risk transfer when it comes to the effects of major corporate scandals that become public knowledge. The impact from the size and scope of situations such as the Wells Fargo, Chrysler, Volkswagen and other such scandals is huge. Some of the cost involves internal process changes, public relations activities, lost management time, loss of revenue, fines and settlements. Reputation insurance is in its infancy and warrants further development. And though insurance typically does not cover loss from deliberate acts, especially those that are illegal, there is enough gray area in many scandals that some type of insurance product may be practical despite the moral hazard and without condoning illegal behavior.

And the Risk

All innovation poses risk. Risk is uncertainty, and innovation leads to uncertain outcomes. Just as insurers must create solutions, they must be willing to acknowledge risk, assess risk, mitigate risk and prepare for some level of risk to materialize. So, as insurers are now actively trying to innovate, they must make sure that their enterprise risk management practices are up to addressing the risks they are taking.

For each new product, some of these risk areas must be explored:

  • Is there a risk that projections for profitability will be wrong?
  • If wrong, by how much, and how will this shortfall affect strategic goals?
  • What is the risk appetite for this product initiative?
  • What is the risk the new product will not attract customers, making all development costs wasted expense?
  • What is the risk that price per exposure will be incorrectly estimated, hurting profitability?
  • What is the risk for catastrophic or shock losses relative to the product?
  • How will aggregation risk be handled?
  • What is the risk that litigation concerning the policy coverages will result in unintended exposures being covered?

Conclusion

Regardless of whether or not they have been dragged into innovation by disruptive forces, insurers are finally ready to do more than tweak products around the edges. The risk of not innovating appears to be greater than the risk associated with innovating.

6 Technologies That Will Define 2016

Please join me for “Path to Transformation,” an event I am putting on May 10 and 11 at the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley in conjunction with Insurance Thought Leadership. The event will not only explore the sorts of technological breakthroughs I describe in this article but will explain how companies can test and absorb the technologies, in ways that then lead to startling (and highly profitable) innovation. My son and I have been teaching these events around the world, and I hope to see you in May. You can sign up here.

Over the past century, the price and performance of computing has been on an exponential curve. And, as futurist Ray Kurzweil observed, once any technology becomes an information technology, its development follows the same curve. So, we are seeing exponential advances in technologies such as sensors, networks, artificial intelligence and robotics. The convergence of these technologies is making amazing things possible.

Last year was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones and solar energy. This year will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds and lead us into a jobless future. However, with every good thing, there comes a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will create new problems for mankind.

Here are six of the technologies that will make the change happen.

1. Artificial intelligence

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There is merit to the criticism of AI—even though computers have beaten chess masters and Jeopardy players and have learned to talk to us and drive cars. AI such as Siri and Cortana is still imperfect and infuriating. Yes, those two systems crack jokes and tell us the weather, but they are nothing like the seductive digital assistant we saw in the movie “Her.” In the artificial-intelligence community, there is a common saying: “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” People call this the “AI effect.” Skeptics discount the behavior of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that, rather than being real intelligence, it is just brute force computing and algorithms.

But this is about to change, to the point even the skeptics will say that AI has arrived. There have been major advances in “deep learning” neural networks, which learn by ingesting large amounts of data. IBM has taught its AI system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and to Facebook. Google and Microsoft have made great strides in face recognition and human-like speech systems. AI-based face recognition, for example, has almost reached human capability. And IBM Watson can diagnose certain cancers better than any human doctor can.

With IBM Watson being made available to developers, Google open-sourcing its deep-learning AI software and Facebook releasing the designs of its specialized AI hardware, we can expect to see a broad variety of AI applications emerging because entrepreneurs all over the world are taking up the baton. AI will be wherever computers are, and it will seem human-like.

Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about superhuman AI yet; that is still a decade or two away.

2. Robots

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The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge required robots to navigate over an eight-task course that simulated a disaster zone. It was almost comical to see them moving at the speed of molasses, freezing up and falling over. Forget folding laundry and serving humans; these robots could hardly walk. While we heard some three years ago that Foxconn would replace a million workers with robots in its Chinese factories, it never did so.

Breakthroughs may, however, be at hand. To begin with, a new generation of robots is being introduced by companies—such as Switzerland’s ABB, Denmark’s Universal Robots, and Boston’s Rethink Robotics—robots dextrous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution.

Household robots are another matter. Household tasks may seem mundane, but they are incredibly difficult for machines to perform. Cleaning a room and folding laundry necessitate software algorithms that are more complex than those required to land a man on the moon. But there have been many breakthroughs of late, largely driven by AI, enabling robots to learn certain tasks by themselves and by teaching each other what they have learned. And with the open source robotic operating system (ROS), thousands of developers worldwide are getting close to perfecting the algorithms.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and malls—and in our homes. Remember Rosie, the robotic housekeeper from the TV series “The Jetsons”?  I am expecting version No. 1 to begin shipping in the early 2020s.

3. Self-driving cars

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Once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, autonomous cars made big news in 2015. Google crossed the million-mile mark with its prototypes; Tesla began releasing functionality in its cars; and major car manufacturers announced their plans for robocars. These cars are coming, whether or not we are ready. And, just as the robots will, they will learn from each other—about the landscape of our roads and the bad habits of humans.

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways, and then they will take over our roads. Just as the horseless carriage threw horses off the roads, these cars will displace us humans. Because they won’t crash into each other as we humans do, the robocars won’t need the bumper bars or steel cages, so they will be more comfortable and lighter. Most will be electric. We also won’t have to worry about parking spots, because they will be able to drop us where we want to go to and pick us up when we are ready. We won’t even need to own our own cars, because transportation will be available on demand through our smartphones. Best of all, we won’t need speed limits, so distance will be less of a barrier—enabling us to leave the cities and suburbs.

4. Virtual reality and holodecks

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In March, Facebook announced the availability of its much-anticipated virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift. And Microsoft, Magic Leap and dozens of startups aren’t far behind with their new technologies. The early versions of these products will surely be expensive and clumsy and cause dizziness and other adverse reactions, but prices will fall, capabilities will increase and footprints will shrink as is the case with all exponential technologies. 2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution.

Virtual reality will change how we learn and how we entertain ourselves. Our children’s education will become experiential, because they will be able to visit ancient Greece and journey within the human body. We will spend our lunchtimes touring far-off destinations and our evenings playing laser tag with friends who are thousands of miles away. And, rather than watching movies at IMAX theaters, we will be able to be part of the action, virtually in the back seat of every big-screen car chase.

5. Internet of Things

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Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and at work. For this, he will need appliances that can talk to his digital butler: a connected home, office and car. These are all coming, as CES, the big consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas, demonstrated. From showerheads that track how much water we’ve used, to toothbrushes that watch out for cavities, to refrigerators that order food that is running out, all these items are on their way.

Starting in 2016, everything will be be connected, including our homes and appliances, our cars, street lights and medical instruments. These will be sharing information with each other (perhaps even gossiping about us) and will introduce massive security risks as well as many efficiencies. We won’t have much choice because they will be standard features—just as are the cameras on our smart TVs that stare at us and the smartphones that listen to everything we say.

6. Space

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Rockets, satellites and spaceships were things that governments built. That is, until Elon Musk stepped into the ring in 2002 with his startup SpaceX. A decade later, he demonstrated the ability to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station and return with cargo. A year later, he launched a commercial geostationary satellite. And then, in 2015, out of the blue, came another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin launched a rocket 100 kilometers into space and landed its booster within five feet of its launch pad. SpaceX achieved the feat a month later.

It took a space race in the 1960s between the U.S. and the USSR to even get man to the moon. For decades after this, little more happened, because there was no one for the U.S. to compete with. Now, thanks to technology costs falling so far that space exploration can be done for millions—rather than billions—of dollars and the raging egos of two billionaires, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Maybe there’ll be nothing beyond some rocket launches and a few competitive tweets between Musk and Bezos in 2016, but we will be closer to having colonies on Mars.

This surely is the most innovative period in human history, an era that will be remembered as the inflection point in exponential technologies that made the impossible possible.

How to Keep Malware in Check

Firewalls are superb at deflecting obvious network attacks. And intrusion detection systems continue to make remarkable advances. So why are network breaches continuing at an unprecedented scale?

One reason is the bad guys are adept at leveraging a work tool we all use intensively every day: the Web browser. Microsoft Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari by design execute myriad tiny programs over which network administrators have zero control. Most of this code execution occurs with no action required by the user. That’s what makes browsers so nifty.

A blessing and a curse

But that architecture is also what makes browsers a godsend for intruders. All a criminal hacker has to do is slip malicious code into the mix of legit browser executable code. And, as bad guys are fully aware, there are endless ways to do that.

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The result: The majority of malware seeping into company networks today arrives via infectious code lurking on legit, high-traffic websites. The hackers’ game often boils down to luring victims to click to an infected site, or simply just waiting to see who shows up and gets infected.

So if browsers represent a wide open sieve to company networks, could inoculating browsers be something of a security silver bullet? A cadre of security start-ups laser-focused on boosting browser security is testing that notion. The trick, of course, is to do it without undermining usability.

spike

Branden Spikes, Spikes Security founder and CEO

ThirdCertainty recently sat down with one of these security innovators, Branden Spikes, to discuss the progress and promise of improving Web browser security. Spikes left his job as CIO of SpaceX, where he was responsible for securing the browsers of company owner Elon Musk’s team of rocket scientists, to launch an eponymous start-up, Spikes Security. (Answers edited for clarity and length.)

3C: The idea of making Web browsing more secure certainly isn’t new.

Spikes: Let me break it down by drawing a line between detection and isolation. Browser security has been attempted with detection for many, many years, and it’s proven to not work. McAfee, Symantec, Sophos, Kaspersky and all the anti-virus applications that might run on your computer became Web-aware a while back. They all try to use detection mechanisms to prevent you from going to bad places on the Web.

Then you have detection that takes place at secure Web gateways. Websense, Ironport (now part of Cisco), Blue Coat, Zscaler and numerous Web proxies out there have security features based on the concept of preventing you from going to places that look malicious or that are known to be bad. Well, hackers have figured out how to evade detection, so that battle has been lost.

3C: Okay, so you and other start-ups are waging the browser battle on a different front?

Spikes: When you realize that detection doesn’t work, now you have to isolate. You have to say, :You know, I don’t trust browsers anymore. Therefore, I’m not going to let my stuff interact with the Web directly.” In the past five years, newer products have started to offer browser isolation technology. We’ve taken a very no-compromise approach to isolation technology.

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3C: So instead of detecting and blocking you’re isolating, and sort of cleansing, browser interactions?

Spikes: Yes, and much like with detection technology, isolation can exist in either the endpoint or on the network. Some examples of endpoint isolation might be Invincea or Bromium, where you’ve got your sandboxes that do isolation on the endpoint. I applaud all the efforts out there. It spreads the whole gamut from minimal amount of isolation to sandbox technologies built into browsers. There’s quite a bit of investment going into this.

3C: Your approach is to intercept browser activity before it can execute on the worker’s computer.

Spikes: If you come at the problem from the assumption that all Web browsers are fundamentally malware, you can understand our technology. We essentially take the malware off the endpoint entirely, and we isolate the execution of Web pages on a purpose-built appliance. What goes to the end user is a very benign stream of images and sound. There’s really no way for malware to get across that channel.

3C: If browser security gets much better, at least in the workplace, how much will that help?

Spikes: If we successfully solve the browser malware problem, we could, I think, allow for more strategically important things to occur in cybersecurity. We could watch the other entry points that are less obvious. This sort of rampant problem with the browser may have taken some very important attention away from other entry points into the network: physical entry points, social engineering and some of the more dynamic and challenging types of attacks.

What Is the Killer App for Insurance?

Remember the must-read book Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance, by Larry Downes and Chunka Mui? I was lucky to get a signed copy at a Diamond Technology Partners event and hear them speak about the killer app. It was in 1998, the start of the e-business revolution, with the emergence of the Internet as a platform for a new business model. Every company was holding executive management strategy sessions discussing the book and brainstorming. In the insurance industry, many were putting up their first websites and beginning to think about e-business opportunities that could become their killer apps.

Many insurance companies failed in this effort. Their vision wasn’t big enough. Their desire to upend existing models wasn’t strong enough. Rather, they thought incrementally and cautiously. This resulted in strange hybrid solutions, such as websites with no integration to back-end systems. Requests were printed off and manually put into the systems. Many companies wasted time on vaporware — ideas that never got off the ground because of organizational angst or a lack of leadership.

The late 1990s were an exciting and painful time as we recalibrated our thinking toward an entirely new era of business. In spite of our efforts, we fell a lap or more behind in our race toward innovation.

But some companies succeeded. Think about Esurance and Homesite, startups that understood the opportunities and launched their businesses around this time. These companies exploited the dramatic changes introduced by the Internet and challenged one of the long-held business assumptions, that agents were required to sell and service insurance with direct-to-consumer models. As a result, they emerged as formidable, innovative companies.

Do established insurers have another chance to stay in the race?

Recently, I read the follow-up to the first book, this one titled, The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-ups, and another titled, Billion Dollar Lessons, both by Chunka Mui and Paul B. Carroll. Interestingly, the follow-up takes the view that decades- or century-long established companies can out-innovate today’s start-ups, many of whom are considered unicorns (pre-IPO tech start-ups with at least a $1 billion market value). These unicorns and other start-ups have emerged in the last few years with not only massive valuations but with real business models, real revenue and real customers — unlike in the first Internet boom. Think of Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, SpaceX and Pinterest.

Even more compelling for insurance is the rapidly growing intensity of change being influenced by these companies. Consider Uber and the impact on auto insurance, Airbnb and homeowners insurance or Snapchat’s new payment options.

The authors are quick to point out what we should all recognize, that being big AND agile is essential in today’s rapidly changing world of converging technology innovations, including mobile, social media, sensors, cameras, cloud and emergent knowledge. They estimate that more than $36 trillion of stock-market value is up for “re-imagination” in the near future — meaning that either existing companies reimagine their business and claim the markets of the future or the alternative may happen and they may be reimagined out of existence!

When the authors compared successes and failures of established companies, they found that successful companies thought big, started small and learned fast. Failures commonly missed on one or all of these points. Is the insurance industry thinking big enough yet? Are companies innovating by starting small? And are they learning fast by experimenting, testing and learning from failures?

The only way insurers stand to catch up in a race where the trophy is not just success but also survival, is to out-innovate the competition, including the new competition from outside the industry looking to disrupt insurance. It’s possible, but it is going to require both wise technology investment and a whole new insurance business model mindset.