An Open Source Business Model

IdeaConnection Interview with Psion Teklogix Inc.: John Conoley, CEO; Mike Doyle, Chief Technology Officer; and Todd Boone, Director of Market Development
By Vern Burkhardt
"We all know that statements of Corporate values and most CEO statements are… platitudes because the leadership teams don't try to live up to and honour the values, i.e. 'lead'…

But if we ever say platitudes on [the Ingenuity Working website], or don't mean what we say, there is a growing audience of internal and external people who will know it. We can't fake it unless we want to start machine-gunning ourselves in the foot. Remember, one of our values is 'Trust.' We don't ask for it, we want to earn it." CEO John Conoley's blog entry, December 20, 2010

Vern Burkhardt (VB): Would you tell us about Psion Teklogix?

photo of John ConoleyCEO John Conoley: Psion Teklogix Inc. is a global provider of mobile computing solutions designed to improve business efficiency and productivity for leading enterprises throughout the world.

Psion Teklogix Inc. was formed in September 2000 as a result of the merger between UK-based Psion Enterprise division of Psion PLC, and Canadian-based Teklogix Inc.

Psion Teklogix is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada with additional corporate offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia. Psion Teklogix's parent company, Psion PLC – of which I'm the Chief Executive Officer – is listed on the London Stock Exchange (PON.L). The company currently employs approximately 1000 employees worldwide.

VB: Psion has been providing mobile computing solutions for a number of years?

John Conoley: Psion PLC, a UK technology company, invented the PDA Form Factor way back in the 80's. It focused on the consumer market. Psion had a number of successful years in the consumer marketplace, particularly in Europe. It then migrated towards software and was part of the Symbian software partnership – the operating system that is in many mobile phones. Psion merged with a company called Teklogix near the start of 2000, and became Psion Teklogix, now known as "Psion."

The main revenues we receive are from hardware sales, but we also have software and services related to the hardware. But at the moment we're primarily a hardware company.

We make rugged, hand-held computers primarily for data capture in supply chain logistics operations. Industrial environments using these devices range from port facilities, warehouses, transportation equipment and systems, and virtually any other supply chain logistics operation you can think of. Durability is required in these environments in order to avoid interruption of real-time processes. A couple examples include taking the device into a freezer compartment where there is risk of damage by condensation, or repetitive dropping. Many functions have to be supported such as bar code scanning, picture imaging, photography, and countless more.

Over the years there's been an explosion of niches reaching into the mobile space, and now our devices operate in the mobile communications environment. They are used in unexpected places such as for proof of quality and work completion in the billboard advertising industry. They support route planning and proof of delivery in transportation. An interesting one is use by an auction house that specializes in purchasing and auctioning second hand farm machinery. There is the need to record side notes for decision-making and during the auction process. Of course, trekking to a farm to look at some rusty machinery can be dirty, muddy, and wet. What you don't need is an interruption of service of the device, which would immobilize the user for the rest of the day – this applies to most applications.

Because of their durability and functions offered the total cost of ownership of our devices tends to be less than the alternative of trying to re-purpose a consumer device.

VB: How does Psion's Open Source Mobility model fit into your business strategy?

John Conoley: We sell in about 70 countries across the globe and are increasingly energizing a 3rd party channel network to get to our markets. This results in a lot of opportunities for innovation.

The Open Source Mobility model is our differentiation strategy, which represents a significant change to our business model. This differentiation strategy is made up of three components: Modularity, which is a development technique; Open Innovation; and Customization, which focuses on the end product.

We have long had a modular design in small and rather ad-hoc ways. We've developed products with some standard interfaces between the different parts, but two years ago we decided to make this the standard way we developed products. It is in essence industrializing the modular development technique. The hand-held rugged computer in the future might be designed from 20 or 24 different modules, each one with a standard interface whereby the people, or the screen assembly might be a module. We realized there might be quite a few advantages with this approach including enabling customization.

We're in an industry that tends to compete on 'features, feeds, and speeds,' but often struggles to get exactly the right fit of technology to the customer needs. This is because there are often so many different niches or ways customers want to use the devices. It doesn't work well to do a load of re-work of our devices at the factory to meet a market niche. Historically we've done a bit of this, but you want to steer away from it. We thought that with modularity if you can have development projects around one module, then you can have more customizable devices. Bit by bit we started to walk our way towards inventing our version of Open Innovation before we realized it's what we were doing.

I decided to make this approach a more formal part of the three components of our differentiation strategy. So if we have modularity and we take an Open Innovation mindset, we've got a real opportunity to drive customization. By opening the power of our open on-line community, "Ingenuity Working" we have created a forum where people have a chance over time to energize all those customization opportunities and potentials.

Ingenuity Working provides an opportunity to innovate and share. If we bring in all of our partners, who are often closer to their own local or regional market than we are, then we should start to get a reverberation between modularity, Open Innovation, and customization.

VB: Why is it called 'Open Source Mobility?'

John Conoley: I thought, 'Let's get away from the hippy-ish aspect.' I'm not saying our hardware's Open Source. I'm not saying we have Open Source software. From a mind-set point of view, we feel this is Open Source.

We want to give customers more choice and break free of the "Sorry, you've got to buy what we've got" mentality. This is very much an Open Source concept. And if you've got a modular product, it can live in the hands of the customer for a lot longer, thereby meeting one of the other goals the early Open Source guys had of saving customers money. We realized that this thinking was starting to be a unifying theme.

We called it 'Open Source Mobility,' and genuinely we do not know where it will take us. All we do know is that it will take us away from 'features, speeds and feeds' into some different universe.

VB: I gather this is your value proposition for your customers – your approach to Open Source Mobility is what will set you apart from the competition.

John Conoley: Yes, and the end proposition, which may be in a year or two in the implementation process, is that the idea of Open Source Mobility will be embedded in what we do in the company. We're aiming to offer the widest and most economical choice to customers who require rugged, mobile computing applications. I think if we can honor that value proposition, then this will probably be a leading or the leading value proposition in the marketplace.

We're kind of at the starting line.

photo of Mike DoyleChief Technology Officer Mike Doyle: The thing about Open Innovation and the way we are approaching it is we can't be the experts in everything. We want to be the experts in creating a modular chassis or platform so that our partners can add onto it, and take it into niche markets based on their expertise. We've done a little bit of this in the past with previous products, but this is far more strategic.

There are so many different technologies that are being considered for mobile devices ranging from different RF technologies to RFID, biometrics, finger print readers – I could go on for 30 minutes listing all the technologies. Rather than us trying to be the experts in everything, we've come up with an Open Platform. We support our partners through software and hardware development kits to enable them to take the base chassis, build onto it, and create a derivative device that's particular to their market. That's where we're going to focus our approach.

These are wireless devices so it's tricky. It's not a trivial matter to add things onto wireless devices, because you're dealing with antennas, and reliable, high quality performance is required. We've designed the mobile device in such a way – with isolation, shielding, and what not – to allow our partners to bolt things on and to add components onto the device.

It's not just snapping something onto the bottom or top. It's done in such a way that it becomes a new device.

We can bring more and different types of products and more technology to the marketplace by working with our development partners, rather than us trying to do everything ourselves. That in a nutshell is our focus.

VB: What you've done is significantly expand your R&D to include your channel partners.

Mike Doyle: Absolutely. And that's what Open Innovation is all about. Why not?

Our sales partners are the experts in their niche. Why should we become an expert in fingerprint readers if that's not really our core business?

Our approach should be to become an expert in making a rugged, stable, well-documented, and well-supported chassis platform. If our partners are in the security market they know what they want from biometrics, so we'll enable them to focus on that bit of technology. With their market know-how and knowledge of what customers want they can create a specialized device.

Some of our partners don't have the resources to create these types of devices from scratch – it's not a trivial thing. This changes their business model, and it also changes our business model.

In the end we have more technology and products to serve the market compared to the traditional approach, which is more monolithic. 'Here's a product, it has four flavors, and you can take it or leave it.' By using this new approach we hopefully can get customers what they need, and not just offer them what we have available.

VB: It's a strategy for expanding your reach as well, because your channel partners are a lot more than just Psion?

Mike Doyle: Absolutely. It expands our reach from a technology perspective, geographically, and even into smaller niche-markets.

VB: I gather Open Source Mobility is your view of what sets you apart from your competition?

CEO John Conoley: Yes. It's our differentiation strategy.

The end result, even if we only dimly see it at the moment, is where we'll be different. It sounds a bit more like the hooks of enablement; not the destination.

VB: How did this idea emerge?

John Conoley: Mike and I discussed this modularity idea for the first time in August 2008 shortly after I had joined the company. The question we pondered was how could we make modularity central to our business? Now we've got our first modular product. It's taken a while to get the first one under our belt, and we are now starting to create some real deliverables. It's not in itself an Open Innovation product but it starts to get us into the game.

After a while we realized that as soon as you have a strategy that involves Open Innovation, or the potential for it, it quickly becomes all about people. You can't just say to people one day, "Hey guys, it's Open Innovation time." They won't go, "Whoopi, we all know what that strategy is and we've been wanting to do it for ages." It hasn't been like that at all.

The change process of nudging and enabling the company to move in the right direction has been multi-faceted and complicated. We've probably taken two years to just get over the start line because there is so much to it.

VB: Why did you feel there was a need for change?

John Conoley: After I joined the company I examined Psion's web site and the web sites of all our competitors. It seemed to me they all looked the same. They were technically focused on feeds and speeds. I thought that was probably not a reflection of the marketing departments, but rather of the leadership and the strategic thinking at the top.

Following the then existing line of thinking the next logical step would be to continue to do what Psion and its competitors had done before – to bring out another product but with a camera capable of perhaps 8 megapixels more in definition than the competition. This would give us a leadership position for perhaps 20 days!

It seemed to me all that could happen would be a really boring journey for years and years until the industry got sick and tired of itself. I drew this conclusion when trolling the web sites of all our competitors and seeing how generally boring and dull was the thinking underlying their product strategy.

I concluded we had to have a differentiation because, if you can't differentiate, the sales discussion quickly migrates to price. Price is always going to be a consideration, but we also have to think about our channel partner.

Based on my experience as a re-seller, I believe when you're a re-seller type of company you're always looking to add your bit of value. Sometimes that's just the sheer knowledge of the customer's needs, sometimes it's the specific application, market or technique, and sometimes it's providing exemplary service. If re-sellers can add a bit of their own technology so they can really differentiate themselves, then that is fantastic. But a re-seller doesn't normally have the R&D, financial and technical resources. They can never start from scratch and build a whole new device like we can.

As we start to create more enablement and as modularity moves forward, we think there are many opportunities to encourage our re-sellers to develop specialized keyboards, for example, or to ask us to do it for them if a large enough number is required. This often matters to the application. A specialized keyboard or other module will afford these re-sellers a bit of a long-tail access to the marketplace. We think that customizations that would never have been economically possible before will be much more so under this model.

We have a unique offer to our channel partners. We can help them if they've got the ambition and appetite. We can help them innovate their business model. That's an incredible offer.

It might be that over the next three years we've only got 50 people in the world or 50 companies taking this innovative approach, but I think that would still be fantastic. They'd be loyal to us and to this concept for life. They'd have a business with more long-term potential for profitable growth. And there would be more satisfied customers using our product.

VB: Has extending Open Source principles in your business re-vitalized your company and increased energy and enthusiasm levels?

Mike Doyle: Yes, absolutely. It makes sense. When something makes sense, it's easy for people to buy in.

As John said earlier, we're at the starting line, not the finishing point, so there are still a lot of things we have to do to operationalize these Open Source Mobility principles. The challenge is to effectively execute this strategy, bring in more partners, and develop a momentum.

It's great when you have a strategy that intuitively makes sense to people. This has the benefit of revitalizing them and enhancing their energy levels and innovative thinking.

As a hardware manufacturer or anybody that makes products, it's tough when you're in this 'feeds and speeds' rat-race in which almost as soon as I make an incremental improvement on my device the next guy makes another incremental improvement. It's a battle of incremental changes. It's tough to compete. It's tough to anticipate the next thing coming along. Open Source Mobility makes a lot more sense, and people are buying into it.

There are a lot of things that culturally we have to do differently, even from a product development perspective. When you talk about Open Innovation you have to be more open than you were before and it takes time for people to understand this. You have to do it by example, such as, "Ok guys it is ok to now send 3D mechanical details of our device to our partners who need them.' That's the whole concept.

Culturally things do have to change because in the past we were a bit more guarded and closed about things that people assume are secretive when, in reality, they maybe don't have to be so secretive. It takes time.

It's a cultural shift. It's a different way of thinking and doing business, but I think virtually everybody is on board, for sure.

CEO John Conoley: The online community, Ingenuity Working, provides the benefit of training our own mindsets. In real time we're learning what more information we should share and the way to do so. Some of this finds its way back to me and some of it doesn't. I have been privy to some of the dialogue going on within our company such as, "Is it alright to say this or that or will I get fired if I do so?" It's all about training our people to be Open Innovation ready.

It's really a total journey and at times quite exciting.

VB: And employees realize it's real because the CEO and the Head of Product Development, as well as others in the senior management team, are fully behind and pushing this initiative?

John Conoley: Yes, it's vital.

With something like this you can't do it only from product development, or just by marketing. You need a clutch of the senior people, including the CEO and CTO but not only them, to start walking the talk. It holds our own feet to the fire in terms of our behaviors and walking the company values.

VB: You launched Ingenuity Working on March 4, 2010 so it is still relatively new. I gather it has generated a considerable amount of interest?

photo of Todd BooneTodd Boone, Director of Market Development: There were about 20,000 visitors to the site in March, which was the first month we launched it. By September – 6 months later – we had doubled that number of visitors, and we are currently approaching 50,000 visitors per month. Another key metric is that there are about 10,000 registered members on the site; these are people who have joined as members, and now sign in and contribute.

There have been 117,000 unique visitors to the site and it's growing on a monthly basis. Much of the growth is due to a natural evolution, but much is also attributable to continuously developing functionality on the site. Much of the development has revolved around the partners' ability to represent and market themselves.

Earlier John talked about changing the business model of our channel partners. We are trying to not just open the door for them to develop on top of our products, but to also open the door to expand their geographical market reach. We've had modular products with some interfaces into them in the past. And a number of partner companies have historically built peripherals on top of our products, but it's typically been more of a niche play for them.

We think that the social media aspects bring a number of elements to the table. The first is the ability to have the discussion, listen to the market, and have a much better understanding of what the market needs. And secondly, once our partners or we have developed and delivered on that aspect we will provide a rich framework within Ingenuity Working for our partners to promote themselves.

In the past if partners were based in the UK, France, or the U.S. they would tend to be a regional player typically for a closed market that would know about them. Even if a potential customer is searching within their localized or, they tend to get the results listing channel partners in their geographical region.

Now our partners can also be found in Ingenuity Working. This gives them a robust way to showcase their solutions. Not can they develop something unique for their existing customers, there's an added opportunity for more customers to find that solution and potentially put their hand up and say, "Hey that's the technology I need."

In the same way Psion cannot be expert in everything; neither can our partners. A lot of times they are looking for that extra piece of the puzzle to make a complete solution for their customer. This provides a partner-to-partner component, whereby they are able to collaborate, put their heads together, and say, 'Hey wait a minute. Widget X is the final piece of the puzzle I need to win this deal. I'm going to reach out to that channel partner that I've never even heard of before, because they happen to be in a totally different region, and see if we can do something to make this happen."

We expect that it's going to take off. I think that one instrument or one vital sign that shows it's starting to happen is the fact that on our run rate to date, and I think it's consistent with most communities, a lot of the traffic and a lot of the content was generated internally. Through September about 24% of the content – discussion and dialogue – was generated externally, not by Psion. In September we saw that number jump significantly to 32%. This was an 8-point increase in just one month for externally generated content on the site.

I think that as we continue to build out the functionality on the website and our partners start to get leads directly from it, we're going to see the amount of externally generated content go up even more forcefully. To some extent our partners are coming to terms with this significant shift as well. Many understand the change to Open Innovation but likely many don't understand the entire scope of it. There is still some building to be done, but we're ramping up.

VB: Now that you've turned the social media aspect lose one doesn't know where it's going to lead. The partners will use this in ways that exceed your imagination.

CEO John Conoley: Totally. That's part of the excitement for us.

We can't wait to see all the stuff that might happen. It's very exciting.

VB: Has participation in the online community met your expectations in terms of customers' involvement? We talked about partners and your employees, what about your direct customers?

Todd Boone: We don't have as robust analytics on that as we would like, but we do know that a lot of what I previously referred to as externally generated content is customer-generated. This metric also includes content generated by our channel partners.

Not surprising when we put up the website a lot of content focused on customers' service and support types of issues. I think it was almost a matter of "Hey, let's see if I get a response." Now we're trying to bring it to the next level, which is much more of a collaborative type of discussion on meeting their overall needs.

Of the 10,000 registered members perhaps 1000 of those are partners. The balance will typically be customers, which gives us an ability to listen to them that we just did not have previously.

VB: I understand that extending Open Innovation principles is being done across Psion, such as in your sales model, marketing, product development, and operations. Is development of the online community one of your major corporate initiatives for the next five years?

CEO John Conoley: The strategy I set out to the Psion board in June 2008 – just after I arrived at Psion – involved two things. Fix everything, and compete on a different basis. It has been quite an all-encompassing set of initiatives.

I would hate to just to sit on our laurels but if we were to compete with some of our biggest competitors only in their world, it would be hard to move off their center grade because they're often entrenched. By doing this, and particularly by exploiting social media, we get to engage our competitors in the digital world and in the world of thought leadership.

Surely our offer to partners that we potentially get away from incremental innovation, and that we can help them innovate their business models is going to be hard to compete with.

VB: John, in your May 3rd blog entry titled 'Copy of Email from CEO to all Psion Associates,' you said,"…level three is when we have the first of our ingenious new products in 2H. By then we will have really got the Community organized, and we will make a lot of external impact." Would you talk about this?

John Conoley: The Omni EP 10 was the first modular product, which we launched in September 2010. Initially after we'd launched the community site we weren't trying hard to drive traffic to it because there was a need to train and modify our own behavior. If we tried to promote the site too much I don't think we'd have known how to deal with a high volume of traffic.

It was only when the first modular product was introduced to the marketplace that we felt we'd learned enough to deal with increasing lanes of traffic. Now that we've had the significant launch of Ingenuity Working more and more people are becoming aware of the community, and our sales force is referring people to the community rather than to our corporate web site.

I love what's now occurring with Mike Doyle's core team composed of about 19 people. They're doing three-minute training videos, and are getting to be little heroes in our community. We're now consciously driving people to the community as we get a better spread of resources to address the volume of traffic.

We're soon going to do a press release specifically on the community, describing how it's going. The numbers are starting to be interesting, given that we didn't completely know the destination when we started.

Oh, in case you were wondering in the blog entry by '2H' I meant 'second half' of our business year.

VB: John, you have been an active contributor to the blog in the community website>. Why?

John Conoley: Yes, I have contributed a number of pieces. I have two reasons for being active in the community. One is to give our people an idea of what they can and can't say. I thought if I were going to send an email to company employees, I'd post it on the site and give people the idea that an email from me doesn't have to be a secret within the company. It doesn't have to be a secret from the community.

The second reason is that I'm trying to set the overall tone for the community, and for the brand of the company. No other company, including me, has ever done this before to the best of my knowledge. I'm trying to model a way of talking that at least gives people some guidelines through examples. There is no reference point. When our people are about to make their first entry sometimes they have stage fright. I can identify with this.

The first several times I blogged to the wider world about a year ago to describe my experience as 'stage-fright' would be overstating it, but it did give me pause. Some of our employees no doubt have a sense of exposure and jeopardy, especially if they tend to be a bit shy or are further down in the organization.

Being open on the blog is very counter-intuitive at first. So I'm active.

VB: Perhaps some Psion employees are waiting for the first employee to be disciplined or even fired because of what they put on the blog.

John Conoley: We have had a couple of interesting things happen.

To the best of my knowledge, we've only had to pull one post that was a problem from a commercial point of view. But no one got told off for it. It was just a gentle conversation.

Once we edited a post the first day we put it up because it could have been read the wrong way. But we are really trying not to touch the posts even if we have to clench our gluteus medius muscles a bit from time to time.

Have we ever said, "Oh I wish he hadn't said that?" We have had a couple, but they are on the community site.

VB: Have employees been slow to take up the offer to contribute to the community?

Mike Doyle: Often there's a bit of paralysis in an organization. It's not that our employees are averse to being open and giving out information. They're just not sure what is acceptable and what's allowable, so there tends to be some paralysis. I don't think it is resistance. It's hard to say, "Here's the rule book for what's acceptable and what isn't," because we haven't one and don't want one. Over time our employees will see how it evolves and participating will become more natural.

CEO John Conoley: Sometimes when I hear one of Mike's employees say something interesting I have been known to suggest, "Hey why don't you put that on the community?" And a couple of times they've looked hunted and scared! But the message is clear.

Leaders have at their disposal a carrot, a stick, and also double carrots. There's generally not much of a stick, but there are a multiple layers of carrots. Leaders have to prod, cajole, persuade, and suggest. As leaders at Psion we have to keep what we're trying to accomplish with the community in the front of our minds all the time in order to get other people to keep it in the front of their minds.

VB: And as you point out in your blog entry titled, 'Knowledge is Power,' people who are going to resist being open and avoid getting on board with this new approach will use all kinds of reasons including commercial considerations, proprietary information, intellectual property protection, and keeping secret key business processes.

John Conoley: Yes, and that was not an accidental blog title. It was to address exactly what you said. I hadn't said anything like that for quite a few months, but it does serve as a bit of a reference point. I'm always giving people permission not to think like that – to not resist being open.

It is easy to have a mindset that encourages us to think, 'We couldn't possibly say that.' Habitually our behavior is not always to be secretive, but there is a natural tendency to be very conservative with what's shared outside the inner circle within a company. This is hopeless from an Open Innovation point of view. We have to risk dropping ourselves in it in order to make this work. Which is fine.

VB: John, since you left IBM you have been involved in the turn-around of a number of technology businesses. This approach with Psion is different?

John Conoley: Yes, but we have also done an operational turnaround at Psion as well, to be honest.

For each of the other companies I've tended to get a bit of growth going, and I always strived to ensure the companies had a differentiation. I didn't always get a complete runway as exists with Psion.

I'm very happy with the shape of things at Psion. It's nice to have an opportunity where there's a cohesive whole to take forward with a single value proposition. We sold the managed service business, BO'd the manufacturing business, and a reseller business merged with the parent. It's nice that we've done all this work during the recession. It's still a bit bumpy but hopefully we've got quite a few years to really punch home this new approach.

VB: This is so core to what you represent. It's even integral to your values of openness, trust, and collective ingenuity. Were these values thoughtfully established to be in support of the Open Innovation initiative?

John Conoley: Yes, the open source mobility idea was part of the thought around how are people going to know how to act in an ecosystem world as we try to get them to have more of an Open Innovation mind-set? I sat down and wrote these values. And that's why the grammar isn't actually all that good!

A lot of the management team tries to model open behavior to the rest of the company. Now when our employees are in conference you can hear them say things like, "Actually, it will be quite an open behavior to do X," or "Will that make us more trusted?"

Our values are real rather than the usual corporate wallpaper, and I thought if I wrote them down and kept referencing them – even to the point of sometimes being boring – then over time people would start to believe that the values are for real.

VB: As you mentioned in a blog entry, if you ever get around to retiring written on your epitaph will be, "And he lived the values."

John Conoley: As long as I keep doing it. You never know, I might have some kind of mental aberration!

Yes, I really mean them and we mean them as a company. We haven't yet had an awful business dilemma that would cross against these values.

It would be a shame if one day we ended up having to modify the company's values because they couldn't support the test of real business. We certainly haven't even remotely experienced this, and I'm hoping they will stay true for a decade – if not beyond.

VB: Does it surprise you that other businesses haven't launched this type of initiative, even though they likely wouldn't be as far along in developing an open community as you have?

John Conoley: No, it doesn't.

Say you're a big company and you decide to implement an open community initiative. If you are the marketing department, the product development group, or the sales organization, as a department you can't do it because it represents the company's brand.

To implement this approach you have to work cross-functionally, and then you may even have an argument between Vice Presidents about which VP is going to lead the initiative. Normally in a company our size or much bigger the CEO is not going to want to get involved in something like this, because it's there are all sorts of jeopardy and risks around it.

On the other hand, unless the CEO leads it, it cannot possibly succeed. Without drive and commitment from the CEO the corporate lawyers are all going to creep out of the woodwork and start cheese paring it and say, "You can't do this; you can't do that; and you can't say this." There will be no way of creating a momentum.

It has to come from the top, or it's just a mere tactical device to do a bit more marketing or to delude your engineers into thinking that you're more interested in their opinions than you actually are. The CEO has to get completely behind the initiative, plus get people around him to be part of the wheel because CEO's need a lot of help to succeed as well as to fail.

If the CEO's name is identified with the initiative, such as in corporate communications but there is no personal commitment and drive, then the result will be corporate components spinning their wheels. For example, without a corporate drive Mike Doyle's colleagues in the other functions won't magically have exactly the same kind of mind-set as Mike. It just won't happen.

What is needed is a blend of the technical, marketing, and management thinking to toss around with the CEO to make it happen. But I could never see a big corporate entity work in this way.

In a year I'll look back and, providing it continues to work, I'm sure I'll be right that this is completely different from what other people are doing. They might look at it and think they are doing something similar, because they have a community led by the marketing department.

This is totally different. It's about cultural change.

We're going to compete using the assembled character and intellect of everyone in the company who wants to be involved – not just the sales people. There's an old idea that people buy people; we're sticking all of our people in the community. The market couldn't buy the collection of people with the knowledge, skills, ingenuity, and drive that exists in the community. This is much more than producing a cutesy marketing brochure, not that we produce brochures of that type!

VB: This must be especially challenging in a publicly traded company.

John Conoley: Yes, it does pose some challenges.

Here's our offer to investors. You don't only have to listen to management's presentations. We say to our investors, "Get a feel for what's happening behind the numbers and the management presentations. Take a look at what's happening in the community."

I know there's always the possibility it could go wrong, but from an investor point of view it's clear we're walking the talk. And they can get a feel for whether or not it's going well in Psion, in addition to what the numbers say.

Quite a few investors have looked at what our company is doing with Ingenuity Working. At first a few thought it was a marketing gimmick, but many did and still do get it. As in any investment there's risk, but as more of the investment community really get what we're doing they appreciate it's totally different than anything happening in their other investments.

VB: It demonstrates in a tangible sense that Psion is focusing on being an innovative company.

John Conoley: Yes, you've really hit it on the head there.

I don't have to put innovation on the company's organization chart, or challenge Mike to come up with a sexy product. I can show us living in this world of thought leadership.

If, for some reason, Steve Jobs decided he wanted to know more about the rugged handheld industry, the people he would think that are most like him would be us. Not anyone else.

VB: Is there anything we haven't talked about?

John Conoley: I think we've covered the subject well. Thank you for your interest.

VB: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules in London and Toronto!

Psion's Open Source Mobility business model is worth careful review as it is an entirely new way of developing products. It is apparent that this is not merely a tool for marketing, nor is it attempting to only create a social network with customers. The use of social media to bring Psion's developers and resellers together with its customers makes the focus global in nature.

The model combines three core elements:

  1. A sophisticated, highly modular mobile computing platform;

  2. An Open Innovation approach to collaboration and development; and

  3. Customizable products, solutions and services.

The published Terms of Use indicate that Ingenuity Working, the Psion Teklogix Community Website, "is available to the general public, including customers, partners, vendors, resellers and employees." The wording of the Terms of Use suggests that this is something very different than the typical corporate website.

The enthusiasm of Psion's corporate leaders, including CEO John Conoley, for this new business model suggests that these changes will have staying power. The ultimate determinant will be "the numbers."

Bio of John Conoley, Chief Executive Officer:
CEO John Conoley joined Psion in 2008.

He has 25 years experience in the technology industry, and has been closely involved in sales and market development throughout his career. John Conoley has significant experience working with both direct channels to market and also channel partners such as Value Added Resellers, Distributors, Systems Integrators, and Developers.

The first half of his career was spent at IBM, where he held a range of technical roles, direct and channel sales roles, and marketing positions. His first experience of working with channel partners was in the late '80s through AS400 and PC Resellers. His later experience included running an EMEA VAR and OEM business unit.
Before joining Psion, John Conoley was head of energy company EON's Corporate Business Division, responsible for improving the performance and profitability of a division with sales of £1.5bn. He grew market share using a third party channel strategy.
Prior to this, John Conoley spent many years growing or turning round Technology businesses, and started his own business some years ago – a Value Added Reseller.

CEO John Conoley declares that his main aim is always to find differentiation. He is located in London, UK

Bio of Mike Doyle, Chief Technology Officer
CTO Mike Doyle has 20 years of experience in the automatic information and data capture industry, with Psion Teklogix, Symbol Technologies, and MSI Data Corporation.

He has held a number of positions in Psion Teklogix including Field Systems Engineer, Product Support Manager, Software Engineering Manager, and Advanced Technology Director. Currently as Chief Technology Officer, Mike Doyle is responsible for global product development. He is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Bio of Todd Boone, Director of Market Development
Todd Boone has over 13 years of experience in the high-tech industry, joining Psion Teklogix in 2002. His current role is focused on incorporating Open Innovation principles into Psion Teklogix through the Open Source Mobility (OSM) business strategy.

Todd Boone has held a number of positions at Psion Teklogix, including general management, sales, product management, product marketing, and corporate communications. He is also located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Reader Comments

Excellent interview with Psion Teklogix Inc.: John Conoley, CEO; Mike Doyle, Chief Technology Officer; and Todd Boone, Director of Market Development. It is very educative.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: [email protected]
Posted by Anumakonda Jagadeesh on November 7, 2012