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Snookered by technology? There could be another way


It’s possible that only golf is a more unlikely TV sport than snooker.  At least with snooker the production crew don’t have to cover seven or eight kilometres from four different directions.   Snooker’s an unlikely TV sport because, frankly, not a lot happens and it can be interminably slow.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but if you were looking for an audience-drawing event today, you’d almost certainly not choose snooker.

How it became such a big deal then is the point in question and for it we have the great David Attenborough to thank.  As controller of the BBC’s second TV channel, BBC Two, at its inception, Attenborough was keen to commission programming that would highlight the benefits of the customer switching over to colour – a not-inexpensive consideration at the time.  In the game (now sport) of Snooker he alighted upon one totally self-contained event that only made sense when viewed in colour.

Seminal snooker commentator Ted Lowe’s famous on-air aid to viewers: “and for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green” remains one of the classic sports quotes of all time.

The foresight that Attenborough had to promote the Beeb’s new colour service has led to a global sporting phenomenon that saw a back-room game from the Gentleman’s Club become a multi-million dollar enterprise.

At last count, though, there were still around 9000 black-and-white TV licence holders in the UK.  (Why TV owners in the UK need to have a licence is way beyond the scope of a blog but you can take it as read).

Analogue TV transmissions have all been switched off and the old 450-line black and white frequency was given over to wireless data comms twenty years ago.  But still there are some consumers for whom the existing tech was and remains good enough. 

This kind of technology longevity is becoming a thing of the past.  The BBC’s latest nostalgia-laden slow-TV production is called “The Reassembler” in which former Top Gear man, James May, reconstructs classic tech from component parts in what certainly feels like real time. 

The Suffolk lawn mower, the Bakelite telephone and the original Stratocaster are all perfect examples of age-old tech that still works.  Of course, now, the telephone needs a gadget to convert pulse dialling into tones, but for that small add-on it still works perfectly.

How, then, can we be so accepting of new technology that is not only obsolescent far too quickly but deliberately made so?  I’m not referring to planned obsolescence here, although that certainly is a factor.  What is remarkable is that hugely complex and really quite pricey technology can be deliberately made useless by the manufacturer, according to their whim, it seems, with no warning.

This “active bricking” is seeing an increasing number of gadgets that we have paid for and, at least we thought, we owned being remotely rendered so much door-stoppery.  The fact is, we might own the plastic and rare-earth metals that comprise the casing and circuitry of our gizmos, but the software that operates these things is used under licence.  And that means the owner of the code really does have the right to actively brick your favourite toys.

There are good and compelling reasons for doing so.  Maintenance of a simple ecosystem makes support and development that much easier.  The gentle, persuasive form of forced upgrading that we saw with the introduction of snooker to the TV schedules, gave way in the PC era to time-limited support. Those of us using old versions of Windows had to resort to forums to keep our machines alive and kicking, but now the internet-of-things means that we can just be switched off from afar.

In the procurement software world we’ve recognised this for some time.  Yes, a multi-tenant cloud-based B2B platform does have some of the attendant features of remotely controlled technology.  Upgrades are automatic and the addition of features, as well as bug-fixes is carried out without intervention from the subscriber.

But that is the difference.  In our world the customers are subscribers and pay for the rights to use the technology.  Should they choose to stop using the software they cease to be subscribers and they are not left with a “bricked” system that owes them a small fortune in wasted investment. 

It is attendant upon us at GEP to drive the customer to ROI rapidly, because that, after all is our entire raison d’etre.  If the subscription to the SMART by GEP platform doesn’t pay for itself over and over then there’s something wrong somewhere.

Perhaps it’s time for the rest of the technology world to follow suit.   The mobile phone industry nearly got there, with handsets being free in return for a contract of subscription, but vastly expensive smartphones killed that forward-thinking model. 

But companies like Google, whose Nest subsidiary recently announced the active bricking of one of its product lines, could do worse than reinvent the paradigm for owning technology.

Some businesses have taken a good deal of time to come around to the idea that ownership of the business systems is not the be-all and end-all it once was.  What matters is results, not ownership.

A few years ago, a Danish friend of mine (one of the world’s true early adopters) was trialling a music streaming subscription service and said “It’s a bit odd, getting used to the idea that I no longer own any of my music.”  But, of course, he never did.  It was only licenced from the publisher, but physical possession of the media suggested otherwise, and it was a hard habit to break. 

These days, he doesn’t give it a second thought.

The future then, as technology becomes far more about code and less about hardware, might see us only using gadgets for a fee and owning less and less.

Actually, when I think about it, that really does sound quite attractive.

Procurement Software

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