Presentation: Transcending commoditization in professional services


On December 5 I am giving a “View from the Top” online presentation to US and European members of the Association of Executive Search Consultants on Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships:The Key to Avoiding Commoditization.

There is no question that commoditization is one of the most powerful driving forces in the global economy. While this has been starkly obvious in product markets such as textiles and manufactured goods, commoditization is also fundamentally shaping professional service industries.

If clients believe that professional firms are replaceable, then they are commodities. Even if firms boast top talent and long-standing relationships, it is self-deception if you believe no-one else can do the work. The ‘black-box’ style of professonal services that relies purely on expertise is dated, and encourages clients to shop around. Ultimately the only thing that cannot be replicated and commoditized is a deep, collaborative, “knowledge-based” relationship. The field of competition for professional firms is increasingly the ability to build these high levels of engagement with their clients. This requires, among other capabilities, building effective networks to deliver value to their clients.

The slides for the AESC session are below (as usual, do not expect these to make complete sense without my accompanying presentation):

For more detail you can download chapters from Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships: Chapter 1 on the big picture of professional services and knowledge-based relationships, and Chapter 6 on implementing key client programs.

The acceleration of open business: 2007 is the turning point


In my 2002 book Living Networks I wrote about the gradual shift to open accepted standards. Earlier this year, in the context of the social network battles, I wrote Is the trend to openness accelerating? Social networks as an inflection point.

I think we can now safely say that the trend to open business is inexorable, and that in hindsight, we are quite likely to point to 2007 as the turning point.

The latest is the extraordinary news that Verizon Wireless will introduce an “Any Apps, Any Device” option for its customers in 2008, allowing them to use any phone runnning any application. There are sceptics, but because there is the real potential to attract new customers and thsu create competitive advantage, this massive step is likely to create followers, shifting the industry.

Let’s review just a few of the other steps towards open business in the last six months:


Facebook opens its developer platform


New York Times online goes open


Google launches Open Social

Path 101 established a ‘naked start-up’


Google launches Open Handset Alliance

Murdoch says he will open up access to Wall Street Journal Online

Verizon Wireless announces open access

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Community quality and network leadership trump numbers: Digg loses contributors to Mixx


An interesting article on Techcrunch says Digg refugees may be heading to Mixx. Mixx is one of literally hundreds of community-based collaborative filtering tools that is competing with Digg, yet it is getting significant traction.

It is particularly instructive to read what some of the “Digg refugees” are saying:

“I have already had quite a lot of success with getting my submissions voted on, this may be partly due to the fact that many of my digg friends have joined the site.” Dave Eaves

“Mixx has a much more positive audience than Digg. It always amazes me that even the most popular and highest quality articles can get so many negative and unnecessarily degrading comments on Digg. So far the users of Mixx have proven to be quite a bit more pleasant, something that I know will be welcomed by most users.” Vandelay Design

The context here is that while Digg gets millions of readers, the way stories get voted to the top is based on relatively small communities. As discussed in an article I wrote on the structure of social opinion, 30 people out of a million-odd are responsible for the original submission of 30% of the articles that hit the front page of Digg. The reason for their success is that their friends follow what each other Digg and vote on these stories, at which point the general mass of readers pick up on it. Someone who is prominent in the community is highly regarded, and can be an overt as well as a covert influencer. The community starts to become highly social, with personalities, exchanges, likes and dislikes.

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Regulation could shape the future of targeted online advertising… and of media


Reuters has just reported that the European Union’s advisory body on data protection intends to scrutinize targeted online advertising and its implications for privacy in 2008. The Facebook Beacon debacle this week has brought to public attention the ramifications of targeted advertising for privacy, and the EU is already taking this to heart.

The EU’s machinations are among the most powerful forces shaping global business, and in particular the online world. To take just a couple of examples, Microsoft has come afoul of the EU on monopoly abuse, and Google’s mooted acquisition of Double Click is being delayed until April while the EU extends its probe. On a far broader canvas, extremely strict EU data protection laws shape how online business is conducted all over the planet.

There is no question that targeted advertising is one of the most fundamental forces shaping the entire media landscape. The greatest power of digital media (which is evolving to eventually cover almost all media, including many forms of TV, much outdoor advertising, and will also encompass newspapers come the advent of e-paper) is that it allows advertising messages to be targeted to the individual. This is not just about showing advertisements to those who will find them relevant, but also about customizing advertising content so that it is more likely to influence the individual viewer.

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Launch of

By is now launched! The website focuses on my individual work as a keynote speaker and strategy leader, which complements my organizational roles at Future Exploration Network and Advanced Human Technologies.

I have quite a few websites for the organizations that I’m in involved with, plus the occasional book and blog. Since my work focus is largely on my organizations, I didn’t even look at getting a domain for my name for a good while. When I first looked at the domain, the domain was registered though unused, by a Ross Dawson living in Scotland. I diarized to check when the domain was up for expiry, and was fortunate enough to be able to pick it up. Several years have passed since then, with my attention on other things, including establishing Future Exploration Network.

At this point I am keen to make space to write my next book, so over the next little while I will put a little less energy into growing the organizations, though we certainly have the resources to deliver significant projects as clients request them. I am quite happy for the next little phase to spend more time doing speaking engagements and working as a solo strategy leader with my clients. As such it makes sense to launch the website now.

The website includes keynote speaking videos, speaking topics, client testimonials, event planner information, and new global speaking schedule and recent media features, which I’ll incorporate into this blog soon. It also sports a new brochure: Ross Dawson: Keynote Speaker | Strategy Leader (1MB), which gives an overview of my work as a speaker and solo consultant.

I’ve simultaneously set up a very similar site for speaking bureaux to use in promoting me. Although it’s now very easy to search for and find anyone prominent these days, speaking bureaux still like to be sure that there are no direct contact details on anything they show clients about speakers they are proposing. As such the “bureau-friendly” is the same as the site, except with no contact details or external references to my blog or other sites.

Let me know any feedback or thoughts on the sites, as we’ll refine them over time.

Convergence 2007 in New York December 3: media becomes one


I’ve been a good friend and frequent collaborator with Business Development Institute since just after if was formed back in 2001. Since then it has become one of the best-established as well as one of the most innovative and interesting events and business development companies in the US. While their base is predominantly in New York city, they are rapidly expanding into other markets.

While I have been organizing the Future of Media Summit for the last couple of years, Business Development Institute have organized a series of related events in this space, including Web Video Leadership Forum, PR Leadership Forum, Communications 2.0 – Future of PR, New Frontiers in Online Advertising, and Blogging goes Mainstream (which I spoke at).

They are now pulling together all these themes into a major one-day event called Convergence 2007: The Future of Advertising, Communications, & Media, in New York on December 3. The event is highly focused on case studies, with senior executives speaking from organizations such as McDonalds, Toyota, Casio, and Audi, and themes for the day including web video, ROI, and industry careers. The entire event will be webcast for free. I think this is something which should become standard in the industry, making the cost of attendance less for the pure content, and more for the connections and immersion.

Future Exploration Network is an event partner, which is unusual for us, but it shows we think it’s going to be a great event. Hope you can make it!

The tidal wave towards free online news: New York Times online flourishes, Rupert shifts the playing field, Business Spectator challenges AFR


A few days ago Rupert Murdoch reaffirmed his previously stated intention to make the Wall Street Journal online free. At this point is the biggest-earning online subscription content site, so this in itself is a critical shift for the industry. He has been reported as seeking 10-15 million viewers for the site, compared to the current 3 million, which given the fantastic reader demographics, would make up for the lost subscription revenue.

To support Rupert’s case, the September Nielsen Online figures for online newspapers are just out (see Editor and Publisher’s figures for the top 30 US online newspapers for September). These are the first figures since the New York Times disbanded its Times Select subscription section, making the whole paper free. The net result is 2.9 million more viewers in the month, rising to 17.5 million. It’s a tidy result. See the video interview of NYT’s Vivian Schiller on for the background.

As has been reported in The Economist and elsewhere, the Financial Times firmly plans to maintain a subscription section. However it has opened up to the point that it allows 30 free article views a month, hardly a lock-out policy.

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Opening keynote/ video interview: IIR Enterprise 2.0 event – Sydney 3 December


Conference organizer IIR will be first off the block with a conference on Enterprise 2.0 in Australia, with their Enterprise 2.0 event on 3-5 December in Sydney. At Future Exploration Network we had originally planned to run our Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum that week, so we had to rethink when IIR set their conference dates to coincide with ours. What we ended up doing is that we rescheduled our event to 19 February, I agreed to do the opening keynote at the IIR conference, and we will be allowed to distribute information about our Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum at the IIR event.


My opening keynote at the IIR confernce will be on:

The Potential of Enterprise 2.0

* Applying Web 2.0 to the enterprise

* Understating the foundations of Enterprise 2.0

* Outstanding examples from Australia and internationally

* Understanding key implementation issues

* The Future of Enterprise 2.0

I’ll post more detailed notes and content from my keynote after the conference.

Aside from my keynote, there are a wealth of interesting presentations scheduled at the event, including from vendors such as Atlassian and Socialtext, case studies from companies including AGIMO, Telstra, Janssen-Cilag, Cochlear, Google, and NineMSN, and analysts such as Ovum and Ernst & Young. It will be a great kick-off for putting Enterprise 2.0 on the agenda for corporate Australia. The attendance fee is rather substantial compared to that for Future Exploration Network’s Executive Forum, though ours is a highly intense half-day event compared to the two days plus for the IIR event.

I did a video interview for IIR to help them promote the event, particularly in helping to explain to organizations why this is an important and relevant topic. The interview is below.

The attack of the killer online clones: how to keep ahead


The availability of online services exchanges has been changing the nature of the online development business for a couple of years. Over two years ago in a blog post titled The rise of online services exchanges I described how sites such as,,, and were globalizing services and tech development, and rapidly commoditizing fees to get work done.

Today Techcrunch has written about someone in Turkey who is asking on for a clone of, and is willing to pay $1500 for it. In an interesting coincidence, I caught up with Martin Wells, CEO of Tangler, at an event at Stanford University on Thursday evening, and we were talking about the online service exchanges, though more with a bent to getting work done.

Daniel on DRM finds other people looking for clones of Digg, eBay, Twitter and other leading online sites. I’m surprised that this is seen as noteworthy. None of this is new. Well over a year ago I saw over a dozen requests for Digg clones on Rentacoder. Has this resulted in the demise of Digg? Hardly. There are a few factors at play here.

The first is what the commentators today have focused on: the bidders are rather unlikely to create a worthwhile clone of these online sites for what they are getting paid. It shouldn’t be too hard to emulate a fairly simple site like Digg, though the rich functionality of Tangler is a bit more of a handful. Certainly you can’t expect robust, quality code at this kind of price.

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Network Roundtable: the state of organizational network analysis


Having spoken at several of the Network Roundtable conferences since they were initiated three years ago, it was fantastic to come back to speak again at this year’s event in Charlottesville, Virginia. The predominant impression is that of maturity. At the first conferences, most of the speakers addressed the potential applications and the early insights. At this event, it is clear that there is widespread use of organizational network analysis (ONA) in US and global organizations, and that much of it is both well established and creating substantial value.

Rob Cross, the driving force behind the Network Roundtable and the success of Organizational Network Analysis, has now firmly established the discipline as a mainstream discipline. In three years the Roundtable has grown to have 98 leading organizations as members.

Major ONA initiatives at organizations such as Microsoft, Lehman Brothers, Montgomery Watson Harza and the like over a number of years have created both a longitudinal history of how networks evolve in organizations, and highly valuable business outcomes.

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