Goodbye from Watching the Connectives: hello from The Digital Watcher

Rob Bratby

To all my readers, thank you and goodbye. This blog is now an ex-blog. Continue reading

Why bring your own device (BYOD) is not just an IT issue

I was fortunate this week to be both a speaker and a panellist at Questex Asia’s ‘BYOD and Mobile Security conference held in Singapore. It turned out I was the only lawyer in a room of 200 plus IT people, which was an interesting experience. Having made my presentation (Olswang_Asia_BYOD_presentation) my conversations with delegates brought home to me how hard it can be to effect change within an organisation.

Whilst speakers had run through the organisational benefits from BYOD, and it is clear from my experience that generation X and generation Z are increasingly demanding the ability to bring their smartphones and tablets to work, as any change requires the buy-in and collaboration between at least IT, legal HR and senior management many organisations were struggling to actually change in a structures where any stakeholder saying ‘no’ could stop implementation.

My message that the legal issues (whilst important and needing to be dealt with) shouldn’t stop BYOD deployment seemed to give comfort to some of the delegates I spoke to.

As is always the case with these things, two days after I had delivered the talk the UK Information Commissioner published their guidelines on BYOD. I was heartened to read that the guidance covers pretty the same ground as my talk, albeit (not unsurprisingly for regulatory guidance) with a somewhat more negative view.

The importance of understanding ‘face’ for doing business in Asia

Whilst the focus of this blog is the intersection of telecoms and technology with law and regulation, it does occasionally stray into ‘softer’ topics. With the first anniversary of our Singapore office coming up after the lunar new year, I was reflecting on what I had learnt in my time here.

Just after arrival I had blogged about the importance of face to face meetings, but with hindsight I was only scratching the surface of a much bigger issue in the high context cultures of SE Asia – that of ‘face’.

When arriving somewhere new, I try to ask those more experienced what is the most important thing they have learnt. Almost every conversation (and every conversation with those who were very successful) came back to the issue of ‘face’: building it, respecting it and, above all, making sure that your business partners do not lose face.

For individuals from low-context cultures such as Europe and the US, the whole concept can be baffling. Why on earth would you ‘waste valuable time’ on a short business trip to Asia, meeting, having dinner and talking about everything but the deal? Why don’t meetings start on time, and then briskly move through an agreed agenda in a smooth path to achieving the objective? If there is a problem, why not raise it clearly then argue out agreement through force of business logic? Surely the most efficient way to resolve things is to send an email with a numbered list of points for the other side to respond to?

The problem is that all of these things (that make sense in the context of a deal being negotiated in London, New York or Berlin) may not work as well in Asia. Success depends on building long term sincere relationships through building face for your Asian business partner and ensuring that you do not (even inadvertently) cause them to lose face. If your business partner loses face that may, sometimes entirely unexpectedly for the non-Asian party, jeopardise the deal for reasons which can appear inexplicable.

With thanks to @singarbitration, here are a few tips to make things run more smoothly:

  1. Business tends to be done based on long-standing personal relationships or the proper introductions and/or connections, so make sure you have the right introduction if you want to make contact with a new business partner.
  2. Many local businesses may be risk averse and cautious when it comes to doing business with a party for the first time, especially if there is no prior relationship and time hasn’t been spent building a relationship.
  3. The Confucian mindset still holds sway. Rank is always respected and age tends to correspond with seniority, both of which are revered. 
  4. Status and hierarchy are important in business culture where companies tend to have a top-down structure. Decisions are nearly always taken by the senior management and subordinates avoid questioning or criticising their superiors.
  5. Show respect to your business contact (especially if more senior than you in age or rank) by being polite, but avoid being too friendly.
  6. People are reluctant to do anything which may risk them losing face, e.g.  over-promising and subsequently under-delivering. One can “lose” face not just for himself, but also on behalf of the group that the person represents.
  7. Expats who have lived here for many years may think and act more like locals. Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because you’re dealing with an expat, he or she will be comfortable doing business on the same terms as, say, in Europe or the US.
  8. Many business people are soft-spoken and passive when it comes to verbal communication, preferring to listen more and to say less. This does not mean that they don’t have an opinion or an idea about something. You will just need to give them the space and opportunity to voice their views in a forum that they are comfortable with, e.g. informal one to one rather than large group meetings. Look out for non-verbal cues in particular.
  9. When in a discussion, do not interrupt. It is polite to take a slight pause before responding to a question because it indicates that you’ve given the question appropriate thought. Responding to a question too quickly can be translated as thoughtlessness and even rude behaviour.
  10. You will find that many business people do not like dealing with people who ‘talk big’ or act as though they know better. You are likely to make better progress if you tone down your sales pitch and show humility and respect.
  11. Communicate your message clearly, but avoid being too direct or blunt. That goes for comments or feedback as well.
  12. If you get a response like “I will try” or “I’ll see what I can do”, that is usually a polite way of saying ‘no’, or declining a request whilst at the same time allowing both parties to save face.
  13. Business negotiations happen at a slow pace and decisions are not made hastily. Local businesses and government take time to make decisions. Decisions are consensus driven which naturally takes time in larger organisations.
  14. As a foreign visitor, bear in mind that first visits do not usually result in business. You can mention a deal and see if the other side is interested, but don’t push too hard.
  15. Show that you are patient as this indicates that you are sincere about doing business, here for the long-term and not looking only for short-term gains.
  16. You generally need several face-to-face meetings with a contact before you can make any meaningful progress. Face-to-face contact is generally key to developing the necessary personal relationship and trust. It is not enough to just send regular emails, or phone them every now and then.
  17. Meetings typically start with handshakes and exchanging of business cards. You may wish to arrange the cards as you sit down in the general order of where people are sitting so that you remember the names of the people who you are speaking with.
  18. Use both hands when you exchange business cards. Do not give a tattered card. Study the business card as a show of courtesy and respect. It also gives a sense of where the person fits into the business hierarchy.
  19. When meeting a person for the first time, it is prudent to use the appropriate title and last name until told differently.
  20. Business meetings tend to start with informal chats. Talking about travel especially if you have been traveling in Asia recently is a good (and safe) ice breaker.

 (For those interested in the theory behind this, you can read a lot more here: Beyond Culture, Riding the Waves of Culture and Understanding Intercultural Communication.)

Mobile broadband at heart of Europe’s recently adopted Radio Spectrum Policy Programme as WRC 12 concludes in Geneva

The wheels of European legislation have slowly turned, and last week Europe adopted a five-year radio spectrum policy programme, at Parliament’s second reading under the co-decision procedure. Readers will recall that last summer two key issues remained outstanding between the Council of Ministers and Parliament – the date by which the 800 MHz band should be cleared and the minimum amount of spectrum to be made available for mobile broadband.

In the usual European fashion, Parliament prevailed on one issue (at least 1200 MHz to be available for mobile broadband by 2015) and the Council on the other (800 MHz band to be cleared by 2013). Somewhat unusually, this horse-trading has resulted in a very good outcome with spectrum being made available early and in sufficient quantity to place Europe in a strong position globally in the race to enable mobile broadband. Of course, implementation is in the hands of Member States, so it remains to be seen how this will play out in practice.

Meanwhile, over in Geneva, the four yearly world radio conference of the ITU finished on Friday. The provisional final acts are available here, and whilst I’ve not yet had time to review in detail, mobile broadband appeared to do well there as well with press reports that additional spectrum in the 700 MHz band may also be made available.

International bar association debates mobile payment

Mobile payment is a topic close to my heart, so I am delighted to be joining a distinguished panel at the International Bar Association‘s annual conference in Dubai this afternoon to discuss developments in mobile payment from a comparative perspective. The session is being run jointly by the communications, banking and technology committees of the IBA and that theme of the collision of world-views from players in the different eco-systems (traditional payment, mobile and online) is a consistent theme that arises in the business, as well as the legal, context of this topic.

The panel consists of:

  • Yutaka Nakamura, General Counsel, NTT DOMOCO Inc, Tokyo
  • Alessandro Fiumara, Strategy and Business Development, Post Mobile, Rome
  • Odusola Rotimi, Legal Counsel, MTN Nigeria, Lagos
  • Hartmut Siebel, Legal Counsel, European Payments Council, Brussels
  • Samee Zafar, Director, Edgar, Dunn & Co, London
  • Gareth Rowlands, Legal Counsel,  Visa Europe, Foster City
  • Tom Levine, Partner, A&O, Abu Dhabi
  • Rolf, Auf der Maur, Vischer, Zurich
  • me

and will be ably moderated by Marco Dalla Vedova and Ewa Butkiewicz.

I plan to update this post after the session, but if you are in Dubai at the IBA, do come along for what promises to be an interesting session.

(Apologies to regular readers for the recent radio silence. I am in the process of moving to Singapore to set my firm’s first office in Asia – normal service will be be resumed shortly, although with a more international flavour with the regular diet of UK and EU regulatory developments coupled with a view from Asia, as well as general updates).

Microsoft to rescue Nokia?

“There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform”, and he needed to make a choice.” (allegedly) Stephen Elop, CEO Nokia. 

When an internal memo from the new CEO of Nokia was leaked earlier this week it was clear that he was not a man happy to steer Nokia on a ‘steady as she goes’ course.  Instead, he liken Nokia to a burning oil-rig with three major fires – Apple at the top-end, Android in the middle and low-cost  OEMs at the bottom.

This morning’s announcement of Nokia’s switch to Windows Phone as its principle smartphone platform is a dramatic shift in strategy for Nokia as it abandons the Symbian platform. Nokia has also restructured and reorganised its management team.

For Microsoft, whose mobile platform has quietly been winning plaudits, but has struggled to get volume distribution, this seems like a great opportunity, whereas for Nokia this represents a leap off the burning platform into icy waters. It remains to be seen what Nokia looks like when it surfaces.

Financial technology, cloud, mobile data and social networking will drive deals and valuation multiples in technology sector

As a new blogger, site statistics are a source of endless fascination.  They are however useful – my post on TMT valuation multiples seems to have been wildly popular, so I thought it worthwhile to trawl through some other reports to see what commentators were predicting.

PwC‘s technology insight presentation caught my eye.  It is a perceptive commentary on M&A trends in the technology sector, not only identifying hot areas, but also the drivers behind those hot-spots.

The first area identified is financial technology, with ongoing regulatory scrutiny and change within the banking vertical driving demand for integrated software and outsourced platforms. They highlight the Misys acquisition of Sophis as an example of this type of deal.

The second area is cloud services and the various activities within that space such as hosting, virtualisation and security. Reinforcing the theme of my last post, PwC sees relatively high valuation multiples for deals in this segment.

The third area is mobile data, which again is something of a recurring theme for this blog. The sub-segments highlighted include applications, gaming and advertising – all of which I agree with based on the recent deals we have seen.

I am less convinced with their last identified area – that of the public sector. As a result of the cuts in the UK, overall revenues are likely to fall so I would see deal activity being primarily defensive and with somewhat depressed valuations as compared to other segments.

Finishing with a personal view on another hot-spots for the year,  one segment that I think will be very hot is social media, with both IPOs for the large players possible, and also mid-market deal activity as the larger players acquire smaller players for capabilities to integrate into their platforms.