Tag Archives: Enterprise

The Next Big Opportunity In Enterprise Starts In The Field


This article originally appeared on TechCrunch

Aaron Levie of Box recently shared his perspective on the trillion dollar market for enterprise startups building solutions to help individual workers, broad job functions and entire industries go digital. Aaron argues that

“…while information technology swept through most enterprises in the 90s and 2000s aiming to automate the back-office, this decade will be all about extending the front-office: how customers are discovered, interacted with, supported, and sold to; how companies can exchange and collaborate with their vendors and partners; how researchers make discoveries and propagate them throughout their organization; and how products are designed, launched, and marketed.”

As a VC working with the startups creating these innovations, I would argue that the far bigger opportunity is to address the field office and the deskless worker who operates there. The field office represents the people, processes and physical infrastructure that create value in a wide range of industries including manufacturing, farming, logistics, energy and retail – wherever physical goods and services are being created and delivered.

The deskless worker operates in a factory, on a farm, in a warehouse or on a construction site – places where people engage primarily with physical goods instead of a keyboard or phone.

In the 1990’s, the desktop computer, sometimes connected to Ethernet, took hold of the desk-based knowledge worker in the back office, and enterprises focused on centralization and productivity. In the early 2000’s laptops and mobile phones, connected to WiFi and cellular networks, pushed digitization into the front office, allowing knowledge workers to be productive from their car, a café or at the client’s office.

The next era is about digitizing the non-digital and achieving a deeper understanding of how the world around us impacts the enterprise.

Digitizing The Field Office

Thanks to three major technological advances – the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable computing and low-power connectivity – the next wave of enterprise innovators are poised to extend the enterprise’s digital reach far beyond the corporate back- and front-offices to the field office, where value is being generated by the creation and delivery of physical goods and services. Winners in this decade will be the companies that create the apps and infrastructure that connect the workers, smart spaces and smart machines far beyond your office window.

IoT has been the catalyst for the new opportunities that are now being created in the field office. Broadly defined, it’s a set of sensors of physical-world activity that stream data to the enterprise cloud. It allows operational processes that used to be invisible to now be measured and the accompanying data to be available immediately, anywhere. For example, FirstFuel is leveraging the hundreds of millions of smart energy meters that have been installed across North America and Europe to provide energy companies with detailed analytics of their commercial customers. This generates opportunities to send in teams to perform energy efficiency upgrades to the building, which is becoming the most important growth driver in this industry.

As the IoT takes hold, advances in mobile and wearable technologies are also connecting deskless workers in new ways. Wearable computers allow hands-free operations as well as provide and transmit real-time data on the factory floor, hospital floor or while repairing complex products in the field. Companies such as Wearable Intelligence and Augmedix provide solutions for different types of workers, ranging from oil rig engineers to emergency room doctors, enabling them to more reliably follow procedures, automate compliance recordkeeping and connect in real-time to remote specialists to solve problems more quickly.

Finally, low-power connectivity networks can tie all this data together and stream it back to one enterprise cloud. New distributed networks like Helium and Samsara will robustly move information between many different types of devices and also act as a gateway to the existing IT infrastructure.

The Trillion Dollar Benefit and Challenge

Successfully connecting deskless workers, the spaces they operate in and the physical  (mostly analog) assets they use to the cloud as well as providing a real-time stream of data will enable several revolutionary advances. For the first time, an enterprise can see its business running in real-time, from the back office through the front office to the field office, all the way to the point of delivery to customers and even inside of the customer. This opens up the door for end-to-end analytics and business process optimization that has never been possible before.

Insights can immediately be pushed back down to the field to help workers do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and safely. The data exhaust will also enable real-time learning and adjustment for the enterprise in managing their portfolio of talent and physical assets, digitally. For example, Airware provides drone solutions that survey mining and quarry sites and can measure material movement from the air to optimize planning, while also tracking that everyone is wearing their hardhat.

Finally, the transformation of enterprise IT by connecting the non-digital infrastructure to the digital infrastructure will also recast the enterprise itself. In contrast to earlier eras, today’s startups will have to provide solutions that address not only the centralized enterprise or even the traditional white-collar mobile worker, but also integrate the deskless worker and physical assets into the digital ecosystem.  To win, companies will need to solve problems at even greater scale and higher complexity than seen in the enterprise cloud today. New developer tools, data science platforms, and network management applications must be created to address the challenges unique to the field office and leverage the extreme velocity, volume and variety of data streams generated by the interactions between IoT and deskless workers.

It’s a daunting challenge, but entrepreneurs who can stand atop these technology advances and connect the field office to the enterprise cloud will be handsomely rewarded.


Rise of the Enterprise Hacker

Photo: Sally Monster

Photo: Sally Monster

A version of this story first appeared in Fast Company, and also appears on the Andreessen Horowitz blog.

As a product manager at Google, Apple, and Wildfire, I’d at times spot a new breed of hacker in the wild.  They lurked in the most sensitive areas of the business.  They hunted for ways to manipulate, bend, and break our systems. I took to calling them Enterprise Hackers. If you’re smart, or just lucky, they are already inside your company – and they might just save your bacon.

Today, I am seeing Enterprise Hackers in increasing numbers. Their growing legion makes perfect sense. A new wave of web-based software (SaaS in the parlance)  empower these hackers to hack solutions to your top problems, often without any technical training. This movement is being driven by SaaS enterprise products with consumer-grade interfaces, freemium business models, and new “glue” services – that allow the output of one system to be fed into the input of another – such as automatically creating a Salesforce CRM lead from a new Shopify ecommerce order. All without having to write a line of code.

Until recently, Enterprise Hacking was still largely the realm of people with technical backgrounds, and involved a lot of improvisation and duct tape. I spent several years at YouTube at one point leading a group that built tools for our internal teams to combat bullying, spamming, and other lousy behavior on the site.

We pieced together solutions with a mashup of code, scripts, and browser plugins, pretty much whatever got the job done quickly. It required recruiting people with a knack for support operations, but also some significant technical expertise. I found that these sorts of people were incredibly hard to find. That wasn’t the only difficulty we faced. Maintaining and scaling our tools was also a constant challenge as YouTube’s user base hurtled toward a billion. While we could talk with our data warehouse engineering team a few cubes away, in some organizations it requires engaging with the IT department to define, pick, implement, and maintain an ETL (extract, transform, and load) tool.  Touching any sort of user data was a big pain, as it is in many organizations. Headaches all around.

The situation is vastly different today.  A growing crop of startups is providing SaaS tools that can be used by Enterprise Hackers without technical backgrounds, and the power of connecting these point solutions is tremendous.  If I were doing this today, my YouTube team’s arsenal would have included:

–       Big data analytics and machine learning to spot spammer patterns (Wise.io)

–       Business intelligence tools to create dashboards to track and communicate hot spots (GoodData*)

–       Powerful scripting languages that can string together both internal and external SaaS systems to automate a host of business processes (Zapier)

–       Drag-and-drop ETL designers to more easily access data sets (SnapLogic*)

–       Tools to quickly create mobile versions of enterprise apps without writing code (Capriza*)

–       A/B testing services to redesign and optimize web app user experiences (Optimizely)

(*) a16z portfolio company

What makes today’s Enterprise Hacking especially exciting to watch – and especially powerful – is that it is taking root in unexpected places.

People in sales, marketing, operations, and finance are becoming masters of these new tools, and this is where the Enterprise Hacking movement really kicks into overdrive.

Folks in these organizations can enable your company to scale rapidly, adapt to change, and serve customers better because they are embedded in your organization and already know how things really get done. They’ve always had the relationships and intimate knowledge of products and customers to solve the problems they see around them, but now they also have the power tools to scale their ideas.

But as with all power tools, you’d better use them correctly or hazard some serious damage. Done right, the efforts of Enterprise Hackers can markedly improve the performance of your organization while also relieving some pressure on engineering and IT.  Done wrong, and those same efforts can create unmaintainable patchworks of code and data that can dangerously leak into your organization’s mission critical pathways.

That is the risk you take, but it can be managed. And more than likely, there are already Enterprise Hackers in your organization. So how do you leverage and promote the practice the right way?

First off, many SaaS tools can be trialed on a freemium basis, so it’s easy for your team to get started as they cast about for a problem to attack. Encourage your Enterprise Hackers to first focus on improving your internal systems, where they may have an advantage over your engineering team. A consumer-grade user experience is the new enterprise standard, so leverage that recent college grad on your support team who is steeped in the latest consumer apps. They can help build a more intuitive consumer-grade user experience into the systems they use at work, and that can lead to a big boost in your organization’s productivity.

Product and engineering will still play an important role in all this, however.  They can provide a sandbox environment where enterprise hackers can stand-up new apps, access data feeds, and authenticate accounts without impacting production systems or data.  Product and engineering should also clarify what they should exclusively manage and where Enterprise Hackers should stay clear.

The Enterprise Hacking movement can be especially valuable for startup CEO’s. A startup environment with tight budget constraints can often drive people to build duct tape solutions.  This is often a better route than spending time evaluating and paying for an external solution. It’s likely that you’ll outgrow that solution in six months anyways, so why burn scarce resources purchasing something with a short shelf life? CEO’s should invite teams to prototype their ideas by providing a small budget in time or money that employees can tap into with a good proposal, and create events to publicly reward innovative hacks.

I am not suggested that Enterprise Hackers are the answer to all your prayers. But they are a growing and valuable asset you may not even know you have, and one that can help solve your company’s most pressing problems more quickly and cheaply from the inside.