Big Data and Emerging Technologies were the two themes at this years FT Innovate 2012 conference. Speakers including Tesco’s CEO Phil Clarke, Accenture Management Consulting MD Aimie Chapple and Lady Gaga Manager Troy Carter gathered in London to debate the importance of innovation and the need to implement innovative cultures in corporate environments.

Tesco’s new CEO Phil Clarke kicked off by highlighting the importance that innovation had played in taking his supermarket from being “third biggest in the UK, to the second biggest in the world.” Clarke told the assembled audience that success today depends on innovation. And that innovation only succeeds when organisations have the right mindset. Moonfruit founder Wendy Tan reaffirmed this message later on when she said that, innovation is also about innovating the organisation.

Technology empowered the customer and client. We live in a connected society where, as Clarke said, “technology has made the customer more powerful than ever before. This connectivity, especially through social media has given people the ability to ”make or destroy brands in minutes.”

Focusing on Big Data Clarke reminded us that Tesco itself has huge amounts of data on its customers. According to it’s own Annual Report, Tesco Clubcard has over 44 million active members around the world – 16 million accounts in the UK, 7 million Europe and over 20 million across Asia.

It is the data from it’s Clubcard loyalty scheme, which next year in 2013 be celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, that according to Clarke enables Tesco to “continually improve the customers shopping experience.”

But, as Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster Francis Maude MP reminded us, “Data is the raw material of the digital age. Its application has yet to be maximised in business processes. In fact, as I’ve argued many times data is useless unless you know what to do with it.

In PR and communications data can deliver insight an enhance engagement with stakeholders. It delivers knowledge and can prepare brands when an issue catches fire. Equally, it helps organisations to find their influencers. But as BAE Systems Liz O’Driscoll pointed out, there is a need to distil data into information. This will become a key skill for those in communications professions.

IDEO Founder Thom Thulme summed it all up when it came to data, ”Data is best organised around customer journey’s. It helps generate empathy with users.

But what about the future? Philips Chief Design Officer and Vice President pushed told us a cold hard fact. That there will be “50 Billion connected devices by 2020, that’s more than 6X global population.” That establishes a requirement for real-time reaction from people, companies and brands. No longer we will be able to afford to be late in our communications.

And while we talk about data and social networks, we need to move away from thinking in numbers of fans on Facebook. Lady Gaga Manager Troy Carter hit the nail on the head when he described Facebook as a large, passive and diluted community. A platform that has not been designed for fans. And I would argue is not even designed for engagement. Or at least engagement in a format that pleases people.

The world has shrunk. People want to be treated as individuals. They want to interact in real-time. They want to be heard and rewarded now. They do not want a one-size fits all network.

Technology is as much about people as it is about processes. Some think that data and technology allows us to better exploit the consumer. This is wrong. Data and technology, together with professionals that understand people, will help businesses to better serve people.

Microsoft yesterday unveiled it’s much hyped iPad-killer, the Microsoft Surface.  The tablet’s spec is ok and is certainly a competitor.  But I am not here to review the device.  More look at the epic #fail of the unveiling item.

For those in communications, launches and events can be central to how a new item is adopted by the audience that you are talking with.  Failure is not an option, especially when launches can be big budget events.  And there is no excuse given that you have your opinion formers on location and with little interference and distractions.

Microsoft though used to be good at events.  Remember Windows 95 and Windows XP.  Big, expensive and global.  Today though after much trying they have Apple taking all the plaudits.  Look at how Microsoft unveiled the Surface at an event in Los Angeles, and look at the number of MacBooks in the audience.

Comedian W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals.”  Today, you better check that your tech gadgets to that list!

Facebook moves into the spying business

Facebook announced yesterday that it had bought Israeli facial-recognition company Face.com.  Independent reports put the deal price at between $80 million and $100 million.  The move moves Facebook into ‘big-brother’ territory with technology that will be able to recognise you in not just the pictures that your friends and family take of you, but in others in which you happen to be walking by, posing yet another question about privacy for the social networking giant.

After the purchase of Instagram and the ongoing rumours that Zuckenberg is looking to enter the hardware market with a Facebook phone, it appears that the network understands the need to gather data from users that are on the move.  But, while the tagging of pictures on Facebook and Apple’s iPhone are offered to users, is this technology in the hands of Facebook a good move?

The issue of Facebook and privacy have raised numerous heated debates.  For Facebook, the more data that it has on it’s users the better that it’s able to offer ‘microtargeted’ advertising to businesses, enabling companies to better understand and shape their offerings accordingly.

Facial recognition though is a different matter.  Imagine this, you are walking down the street or through a location with plenty of tourists and see plenty of people with their iPhones and Android devices out, snapping away at their friends and family.  No doubt, you might be in the background.  The person taking the picture, uploads some of these to Facebook, which immediately recognises the individuals face – friends or family of the photographer.  What it also does, because it has a record of you, is recognise you, possibly alerting you to tag yourself or at worse, not, but keeping a record of your movements just like CCTV might do through a city location.  Where is the line drawn between what you upload and what other capture when you are passing by?

Pictures are no longer images, but data and a record of when and where you have been.  For a company like Facebook it increases it’s ability to understand you, your patterns of movement and behaviour.

I’ve always wanted to know in how many other peoples pictures I might be in the background.  Somehow, I soon might know.

Remember when iTunes was released way back in January 2001? Really, do you remember? At it’s launch Steve Jobs was confident. He knew what he was giving us and how it might transform our music listening and buying habits.  At the unveiling at Macworld Expo Jobs said: “iTunes is miles ahead of every other jukebox application, and we hope its dramatically simpler user interface will bring even more people into the digital music revolution.” With that straight to the point statement the landscape for the music industry and other associated creative industries changed.

These industries didn’t know what lay ahead. Ten months after iTunes was introduced, on October 23rd, Apple released the iPod. Eighteen-months later in April 2003 – while the music industry was doing battle with file-shares, Apple opened it’s iTunes store. And within six years Apple had 70% of worldwide online digital music sales, making iTunes the largest digital music retailer.

Steve Jobs was hailed as a saviour of the music industry. He had a vision and made it work. Today, the news, media and publishing industries are crying out for a saviour that can help rescue them from the catastrophic situation that they find themselves in.  Sales down and advertising at an all time low.

Some have tried, amongst them Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who in November 2007 launched the Kindle, a popular eReader that gave Amazon customers in the US access to an initial catalogue of over 88,000 digital titles. Today, there are more than 300,000 titles, including subscriptions to newspapers.

The Kindle has hype. It sold out quickly and had the support of Rupert Murdoch. Yet, the Kindle and it’s successors didn’t have the magic that Apple had, nor the practicality that is designed into every Apple product.

In the background though, Apple and Amazon are facing the monopolistic might of Google – a true online mammoth, which is looking to digitise the world’s books and create a vast online library. With a court hearing in New York next month, Google is hoping to legally confirm a deal signed last year with US authors and publishers. In the deal, Google would set up a Book Rights Registry and position itself as a PRS-style (ASCAP to our US readers) entity for writers and publishers. Some believe that this should not be allowed.

Yet this deal has forced many in the news, media and publishing industries to really have a look at how they operate and how they must make the most of the internet.

Yes, the Google Books deal would allow people to search books through it’s search engine, but it would also set up a model for making money from publishing, possibly through eReaders and the like. It might also create new income streams for the news and media industries, which have been suffering since customers started to switch online, where news has available free for years because publishers wanted a slice of the online advertising pie. Sadly, as I said in my previous post, they set themselves up for a tough time, dependent on advertising income, which plummeted when the current recession hit.

And why is this Google Books deal relevant to news outlets?  Well, Google has reached a settlement with book publishers in the US and news and media companies might be hoping that the online giant will hear their talk of paywalls. What they need is for Google to play ball and start paying for listing their headlines and first paragraphs through its very popular Google News aggregator.

And it appears that Google is willing to play. In an eight-page response to the Newspaper Association of America request for paid-content proposals, Google revealed that it was developing a micro-payment system for paid-for-online content.

In the document Google outlines its vision for a “premium content ecosystem” that includes subscriptions across multiple news sites, syndication on third-party sites, accessibility to search and various payment options, including small fees for access to individual pieces of content (known as micropayments).

Google says that: “While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue. In addition, a successful paid content model can enhance advertising opportunities, rather than replace them.”

It confirms a Google’s vision for “a premium content ecosystem includes the following features:

· Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions

· Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price

· Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall

· Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with “subscription” label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) “first click free” access

· Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising

The payment system, which is described as being in production, would help and confirm News International’s plans to charge for access to it’s content online within the next 12 months. Or at least it gives us a clue of how paywalls might work.

Currently most news outlets only make money online from advertising, while print makes it from both from sales and advertising. The exceptions here being titles such as The FT, The Wall Street Journal, as well as other online subscription based outlets. The industry is starting to see how valuable it could be to have committed subscribers accessing their content.

Publishers meanwhile are starting to stand firm against Google’s News aggregator.  In Italy, the Italian association of daily newspaper and periodical publishers, claim “members news sites receive no compensation for the news picked up by Google News Italia and if they do not appear on a Google search they are denied access to thousands of potential ‘visitors’ who generate advertising income.  “Google argues that it helps newspaper websites make money through online advertising and does not misappropriate content.”

With its Google Books operation and details of it’s plans for a micro payment system using Checkout, one has to assume that Google is looking to safeguard its position and transform the news, media and publishing industries just like Jobs changed the landscape for music.  After all, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  This applies to all information – paid and free.”

And Google is planning to replicate the model that Apple develop with it’s possible initiative with news, and possibly Book. Hidden in the document Google confirms that a revenue split would be comparable to “Apple’s models on iTunes and AppStore and consonant with experiments being currently conducted on YouTube.”

The question is, with rumours of an Apple Tablet, could Jobs undermine what Google might be planning?

Apple has done it before and it has the infrastructure to do it again and be the knight in shining armour for a beleaguered set of industries.

The media landscape is changing, and it’s changing fast.