Tag Archives: AR

Addressability – and why it matters to you

The following is going to be part of a mini downloadable booklet that I’m planning on releasing on this site – as soon as I can finish it. I have a few chapters written already, and a rough outline of the rest. Stay tuned here over the next few months for more sample chapters. Comments will be very useful for me as I revise this.

Addressability – and why it matters to you

Imagine you are living in the early 1700s. You’re living at Fort York, in Upper Canada (later to become Toronto, Ontario). You need (I know its a contrived example, but bear with me) to get somebody living in China to move a precious porcelain vase 6 inches to the right on the pedestal on which it is standing. In turn, they need to you take off that ridiculous beaver-skin hat, and hang it up by the door.

So how would you go about doing this?

I assume that – even in the pre-mass communication age, something akin to the concept of six degrees of separation must apply. The number is likely higher though.

So you pass the message along to your friend, who knows a ship’s captain who is travelling to China, who in turn knows a merchant in the port area of Hong Kong – you get the picture. Eventually, probably several years later, the message is handed to the person you had in mind, who moves the vase. Two or three years after that, you receive the message back about your hat.

The idea that I’m trying to convey, is that most of the objects in the world have a defined way in which you – no matter where you are – can reach out and touch them. This concept is called addressability, and it isn’t new.

A large part of the history of technology over the past few hundred years essentially boils down to finding better ways to send a “message” to somebody or something – to have ways in which there is a defined address for the information that you are sending.

Some examples:

1. When the Royal Mail started operating in the UK in the 1800s, people typically didn’t have well defined mailing addresses. Yes, you could probably get a letter to them based on their name, the city in which they lived, and possibly their neighbourhood. Beyond that, a courier potentially had some guesswork to do in order to hand a letter to its intended recipient. The assignment of street names and numbers, along with the invention of postal (or ZIP) codes, are all ways of attempting to formalize how to reach somebody.

2. The telegraph, and later the telephone, are both methods by which information (either a written note or a verbal conversation) can be delivered directly to a person. Hence telephone numbers, area codes, international dialing codes and the like.

3. The internet relies heavily on a concept called an IP Address, which assigns a unique number either to a computer, or to a part of the network in the close neighbourhood of the computer. This allows traffic – such as email – to get to its intended destination.

Why Does All This Matter?

You’re probably already thinking something along the lines of “this is all very interesting, but how does it matter to me?”.

My best guess is that the process of making everything and everyone in the world addressable is going to accelerate in the near future, with some interesting effects. There will be a number of business opportunities that open up as a result, along with privacy and security issues (which can also be business opportunities for some people!).

There are two areas in which this is going to happen:

a) Firstly, addresses are going to become more “fine grained”. This means that instead of (for example) a computer having an IP Address, each part in the computer may have an IP Address. Your clothing may have IP Addresses (if you purchase something with a RFID tag, it may already have one!), your car will have an IP Address – not just that, but every part in your car may have its own IP Address.

b) Secondly, there will be an increasing effort to solidify and catalogue all of the massive amounts of information that result from everything having an address. This means finding ways to reach somebody or something without having to know too much information about.

The result of all of the above, is that there are dozens of categories of businesses that are going to become feasible in the next ten years. I’ll list a number of them below. Some of these businesses already exist to a certain extent, but they’re going to become actual specializations and business plans, rather than occasional services that are offered.

Opportunity Knocks!

The following categories of businesses are likely to become viable in the near future:

1. Help, I’m out of addresses!

Currently, most of the world operates on an internet addressing system called IPv4. You’ve probably seen IP Addresses in this format; they look something like Four digits, ranging in size from zero up to 255, separated by a period. The big problem is that even with the relatively small number of objects (usually computers or computing equipment these days), we’re already running out of addresses in this format. This is why there is an effort underway to switch the entire world over to a new addressing system called IPv6, which has a truly gigantic number of potential addresses. This process is proving to be extremely difficult to complete, leading some industry specialists to conclude that the world is going to run out of existing addresses first; only after the inevitable emergency will everybody switch.

The business opportunity? Start a company that specializes in finding places where equipment isn’t IPv6 compatible, and consulting with companies on the appropriate way to make the switch. There are already networking specialists who do consulting in this area. Look for this to become an actual business by itself – at least until the whole world switches. Its an opportunity similar to the Y2K bug, where a little bit of FUD and some technical know-how lead to many people making big money.

2. Help, I need an address!

The process of assigning addresses to physical objects that aren’t computers or networking equipment, is already well under way. The biggest push has been by companies like Walmart to have all of the items that they sell tagged with an RFID tag, which allows them to track what they sell with great precision. RFID tags allow each item to have a unique ID number associated with it, which – combined with a database of the items – allows somebody with a scanner to discover information such as price or inventory levels about the item.

What RFID does not do – yet – is allow each of those items to be directly connected into the internet. The concept that your fridge or toaster will be network accessible has been promised by futurists for years, but hasn’t really progressed much outside of the lab. Yes, you can purchase a coffee machine with a network jack off the web right now, but most people don’t. Yet.

When you factor in the growing adoption of technologies like wireless internet, along with a gradual reduction in the amount of power required to actually run all the “fancy stuff” needed to connect, eventually not just appliances but also things like clothing, or auto parts are each going to be able to connect to the internet.

This raises a number of privacy and security issues, along with business opportunties such as creating the addressed items in the first place.

Some possible business models that result:

a) Manufacturing new kinds of RFID tags that can be incorporated into objects, which provide not just an ID number, but also an internet connection. A further business model: create the platform and standards by which all manufacturers of these tags operate. That means the underlying software, how the hardware interfaces with the part that it is embedded in, etc.
b) Inventing underlying technologies to reduce the size and power requirements of the above tags.
c) Creating ways for parts to let the manufacturer know when they are broken; this model already is underway with printers – many new printers will email the manufacturer and the servicing agent to let them know when the toner is getting low, or when there is something the matter.
d) Brokerages and middleman services for part c) – imagine a website that printer servicing people can be members of, which will automatically list all of the printers in their area that are low on toner, and then allow them to bid on the job.
e) Security and privacy services: locating and removing tags from sensitive equipment; “firewalls” for objects – for example a way to allow you to access anything in your house, but prevent anyone else from doing so. Its an interesting world we live in when we need Object Firewalls, not just network ones.
f) Quality control – during the manufacturing process, each and every part can be separately quality controlled, and a record attached; then, during assembly, an automatic record for the entire complex object (i.e. a car) can be created on the fly. There’s room for software and equipment manufacturers to build systems that assembly lines can use to do this.

3. Help, I can’t find something! (Or I can and I don’t want to!)

If all of the quadrillions of objects in the world have a unique address, and a way to reach them via the internet, we’re going to have to find new ways to sort through that data. There are a great many business opportunities that arise from this, including:

a) A new kind of catalogue – grouping items (your car, your shirt, your cell phone) based on who owns them, who is allowed to use them, who can see that they exist. This would be a golden opportunity for an existing search engine company to get a leg up on their competition. I suspect that there’s only room for one viable business in this sector. If you were to login and authenticate yourself, you would be able to see all of the items that you have permission to access from a single control panel – you can turn on your oven and send an SMS to your wife that dinner is cooking at the same time.
b)  Some items should be publically accessible – for instance things like traffic cameras etc. Cataloguing such items – along with more detailed security functions such as who can view, who can modify settings – will also be a big part of item a).
c) I can forsee a business opportunity where a consultant helps people find things – either a specific item, or a category of item – based on such catalogues. This is like an Object Librarian job,  combined with that of a Private Detective. Instead of sorting and cataloging books, they would do the same thing with objects.
d) Single point of access. Currently, I can be reached via about half a dozen email addresses, three or four phone numbers, two Instant Messaging addresses, and about fifty to one hundred social networking website profiles. If somebody can figure out a single way that I can be reached – anywhere in the world – through a single device, it would greatly simplify my life. We’re already seeing some convergence in this area. My cell phone also can access email, in addition to being an SMS device. What I’m getting at though would be a device (probably combined with a proliferation of standards and platforms) where all messages – voice, text, video – are transparently routed to me, no matter where in the world I am. We’re getting there, but there are still opportunities for software developers and hardware manufacturers.
e) Reputation management – to some extent, this already exists as a service that some Search Engine Optimization specialists offer to customers. The specific case in mind is one where negative information about a person or company has found its way onto search engine results, or internet archives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be negative: for instance some States in the US have been digitizing property records without removing sensitive information such as Social Insurance Numbers. The process of removing information from the internet once it exists is extremely tricky; not only are there many places that can cross-reference information, but there are also many places that tend to cache information long after it is gone from the original sources. The process of removing information actually usually involves creating vast amounts of counter-information or meaningless nonsense that makes it difficult to actually obtain useful results from a search. Expect this to become a viable business model in coming years.


In the article above, I listed about a dozen possible business models that somebody could make money from based on the notion that more and more objects in the world are going to be directly linked to the internet. Yes, there are all kinds of security and privacy issues, in addition to which there are probably entire industries that are going to vanish as a result of this happening. There are also a great many opportunities for new industries to arise though.

How to Manage Your Collections

This was originally published in Enterprise Magazine in 2006.

“Accounts Receivable!”

By Jeremy Lichtman

If you are the CEO or manager of a small business, you’re probably already running, screaming at the top of your lungs, for the nearest available shelter. While you are hiding under the reception desk, consider this: accounts receivable, and the often difficult task of collecting them from your clients, can be one of the toughest tasks that small businesses face.

The good news is that it really doesn’t have to be that way. It turns out that the key to collections is simply being organized. My company, MIT Consulting, has had its fair share of collections issues over the years, and we’ve come up with the following list of tips and tricks for keeping our AR as low as possible:

1. Set rules up front with your clients

Many business owners are (strangely) reluctant to talk about money. They’d rather discuss their products and services and how they meet their client’s needs.

It is very important, however, to write down a list of rules for how you expect to be paid, and make sure that they are in the contract (you do have a contract with your client, don’t you?), and that you have discussed them before any work has started.

The rules could include things like terms of payment (i.e. 30 days after the invoice date), or a complete payment schedule, with specific dates for each payment due.

2. Get money up front

Depending on your business, this may vary in difficulty. At the very minimum, you should insist on a substantial deposit prior to starting work on a project. The deposit amount will obviously depend on the kind of work you are doing, as well as the total size and timeline of the project.

If you will incur large outlays (i.e. you have to buy equipment for your client), it may make sense to get the client’s credit card number and make sure that you have received payment before you even place the order! After all, if your client wants to buy a computer from Dell, they have to pay before the computer is even built. Why should you have to run after your client for the bill afterwards? “Financing” our clients was a mistake that we used to make in our business, and the resulting cash flow issues caused us major grief.

3. Offer discounts for early payment

This trick was suggested to us by our accountant a few years back. It won’t work for all clients, but for those who are actively watching their bottom line, a discount of 1 or 2 percent for early payment (i.e. less than 10 days after the invoice date) might be sufficient to make them pay up.

3. Keep track of your AR

Hopefully you have a proper accounting package in place. My company runs Business Vision, and there are a number of useful reports that can help keep track of collections. I print up the current AR report on a weekly basis, as well as the cash receipts report for the previous few weeks. This means that I have a good idea of who owes us money, and how much.

4. Make weekly collections lists

Every week, we sit down with whoever is going to be making calls and put together a list of who to focus on for that week. One week we may target the clients who are most overdue with payments. Another week we may focus on those with the largest outstanding amounts.

5. Set weekly collections targets

After we have set a list of who we are going to call, we put the list (along with the amounts for each client) on a whiteboard, with a goal at the bottom. As we successfully collect money, we update the whiteboard. That way we know how close we are to meeting our weekly goal. If you don’t set goals, it is hard to track your progress!

6. Keep notes of your calls

It is extremely important to keep a list of who was called, when they were called, and what was said. We often find that collection calls can result in other, useful information about our own level of customer service. Sometimes clients may discover errors on an invoice that slipped through our checking process, or they may have a complaint about the level of service they have been given. If that information isn’t recorded, it is lost. So write it down!

7. Set time aside daily time for calling

Calling clients for money is such a painful process for many people that it is easy to let it slide. It is important to set aside specific times of the day during which you will be calling. Make sure you stick to your schedule.

8. Consider hiring somebody to just do calling

The job has to be done. If you can’t do it, hire somebody who can! Make sure that they have a realistic “script” to follow with clients, and give them clear instructions on how to handle problem situations. Listen in on a few of their calls, at least at the beginning, so that you have a feel for how they are doing.

9. Be nice but firm!

There is nothing that is guaranteed to lose your clients than a rude, obnoxious bill collector. Yes, they may get results, but if you lose the client as a customer afterwards, that doesn’t help your cause.

On the other hand, if the collector appears weak-willed, they are unlikely to be able to collect, particularly from tough customers.

The key is to be firm but polite. If the customer says that they can’t pay now, ask them when would be a good time to call back. If they have an issue with something on the bill, listen to their concerns and take detailed notes. Then follow up.

This approach often results in a better, more up-front relationship with the client over time, and may help your business in other ways.

10. What do to if the client won’t (or can’t) pay

There are always going to be a few clients who can’t or won’t pay their bills. In our experience in the service industry, a few percent of the total invoices that we send out turn out to be uncollectible for various reasons.

When this happens, our rule of thumb is to determine whether we are likely to ever do business with the client in the future, and also whether sending the bill to collections or suing the client is likely to have other repercussions. It is a good idea to discuss the specifics of each case with your lawyer as well (you do have a lawyer, don’t you?).

Bear in mind that if you send the bill to collections, or sue the client, you will likely only collect a portion of the total amount, since the collections agency or lawyer will want their “cut”. It might be worthwhile to talk things through with the client instead (if this is possible), and see if it is possible to collect a portion of the bill at the very minimum.