For Pete's sake, give me a little more time!

Nick Booth has the industry's time wasters in his sights this week as he takes to the show floor at London's Retail Business Technology Expo

People often forget that time is our most previous resource. Unlike money, there’s no chance of generating more, no matter how much you up your game. All you can do to save this rare quantity is try not to waste it it. So it’s tragic that the technology industry – whose core function is to save us time – is the biggest time thief in the world. The IT sector loves wasting time, in all kinds of ways, but the most effective method of sapping your life is the corporate video.

How long have you been in this industry? Ten years? Think how many IT presentations you’ve sat through. At least one a day on average. Sometimes we go to events which feature one after the other, in a sort of gruesome reprise of A Clockwork Orange. At a rough estimate, around 90% of them involve a corporate video, which would have cost an insane amount of money to make. Though they’re professionally made, and costed accordingly, they are always completely pointless.

None of them move you in the slightest because they are all identical. There’s always an establishing shot of a city at night time. We’ll see lots of cars whizzing along a motorway and clouds shooting across the sky, in speeded up time lapse photography. Then there’ll be a honey-voiced presenter mouthing corporate platitudes that are either clichés or utterly meaningless. In these increasingly competitive times, we will be told, businesses must be agile, in order to survive. (Oooh! I’m scared!) They have to move fast, think outside the box, and stay ahead of the game, the narrative will drone on. If that was true, it makes you wonder why they all get exactly the same corporate video created by exactly the same supplier. As for businesses moving fast… why do IT companies always take weeks to respond to even the most innocuous question?

The corporate video torture then moves on to its next round of clichés: the solution. A series of buzzwords will flash across the screen. These words are the amino acids that, however you combine them, will bland together to create a uniform, featureless corporate DNA. Words such as Holistic, Integrated, Truly Unique (as opposed to what: Partially Unique?), End-to-End Solutions, blah de blah.

If you had the free will, you would walk out of these nonsense presentations. They’re insultingly dull and unimaginative. If a TV broadcast this to you this at home, you would go and put the kettle on – which is why real filmmakers fight so hard to grab your attention. On BBC news they have all kinds of techniques to keep you listening: hand-waving presenters, cutaway shots, graphic illustrations. And that’s when they’re presenting material, such as the Budget, that should have you on the edge of your seat anyway. But what do corporate video-makers give the audience? An unwavering 60 second shot of a tedious talking head – usually some tame IT director for a big bank – lavishing scripted praise on a storage manufacturer.

I’d love to know how many shooting sprees were the work of some poor bugger who sat through one too many corporate presentations and finally flipped. Those figures are not available, but they should be. As should the stats for the proportion of our lives that is wasted by pointless, counter-productive and wasteful corporate videos.

If they were available, they would be a massive boon to Mike Sharples, the business development manager at Treepodia, which has somehow created a formula to make corporate videos much cheaper, more variable and easier to make. And, since you have more options to change them, a lot more fun to watch. Treepodia was exhibiting at the Retail Business Technology show this week. “We were here to present to retailers, but I found loads of the technology exhibitors were coming up to us and asking questions,” says Sharples, “they all want to make better corporate videos.”

Which is great news. But what about the last 20 years’ worth of buttock-clenchingly awful corporate videos that I’ve had to sit through? Can I get that time back? Will I be compensated? I doubt it. But I hope that Treepodia succeeds, so that future generations don’t have to suffer in silence, like we all have. [Cliché alert] We owe it to our children…. And our children’s children!!

Talking of children, retailers are having to change the way they do business for the Facebook generation, according to Stuart Walker, MD of Box Technologies, which is creating retail apps for the type of people who have to narrate every minor incident of their life to social media, using a combination of their thumb and a smartphone.

Box Technologies was demonstrating its best creative work, such as virtual changing rooms. These allow shoppers to virtually try clothes on by cutting and pasting them onto their own image. Then, presumably, they send the picture out to all their friends on Facebook and Twitter to see what they think. If the verdict is more ‘cool’ than ‘LOL’, then the technology will have worked to support a successful sale.

Mobile phones are changing everything in retail now. Resellers that can develop solutions that use mobiles or tablets can make a fortune, as most retailers are desperate not to follow Comet and HMV into the dinosaur’s graveyard of unimaginative shops. They may be boiling up their shoes to make soup, but most retail marketing managers have still got a budget to splash on IT.   

Star Micronics is having notable success in inventing creative customer service  automations. There are so many sectors looking for queue busting, order taking and self service stock checking systems (and endless variations on those themes) that it’s launched a developer platform to help resellers take them to market.

People still want to go to shops but they don’t want to waste time queuing

Annette Tarlton, Star Micronics

“People still want to go to shops but they don’t want to waste time queuing to pay, or waiting to find out if something they want is in stock, or waiting for a table,” said Star Micronics’ marketing director Annette Tarlton. “Anyone who can create systems that make going out less painful could do well. There are all kinds of opportunities to create systems for pre-ordering, bookings, table management, loyalty cards and CRM. The only limit is your imagination.”

The software development kit, initially aimed at developers on Linux and Android platforms, is to be extended to Windows developers soon.

Clearly Android takes precedent these days, because it’s becoming the de facto platform for mobile. So in retail, we now have the odd situation where Windows is the boring legacy technology for back-end systems and old fashioned EPOS, and Android and Apple IOS are the groovy upstarts.

According to one Windows focused EPOS supplier, retailers need to be saved from an integration nightmare if they take Android or Apple tablets. OmniCo CTO Steve Thomas said the channel must save retailers, and called on them to join his crusade to supply Windows tablets to retailers.

Meanwhile mobiles and handsets are removing the barriers to entry to retail. Even market traders and street entertainers can afford to take credit card payments now, thanks to the mobile. Soon you will be able to pay for the Big Issue with your Samsung Galaxy. You wait.

With mobile devices now being used as payment terminals the market has changed dramatically. Many new players are entering the payment space and new solutions are emerging with great opportunities for both merchants and customers, said Erla Osk Asgeirsdottir, marketing director of Handpoint, which has created an API to enable developers to add payments to their applications and use smart devices as a point of sale.

Handpoint is looking for partners that want to integrate payments to their EPOS systems. “The mobile point of sale enables small traders to accept card payments in a simple and a secure way. Big companies too: they are adding this new payment channel to their offerings. I believe we will see more tablets and smartphones used as check out systems in the near future,” said Asgeirsdottir.

Actually, I don’t. I won’t believe it’s happening until I hear someone say it in an American accent. In a corporate video. That’s a time-lapse film of a big city at night. With a voice telling us: “We’re living in increasingly competitive times….”

Image credit: Stockbyte

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