- Player: Thomas Schmidt
- Company: TomTom Telematics
- Position: MD
- Visit: telematics.tomtom.com/en_za/webfleet/
To be a successful company in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing market, you need three key ingredients: Access to markets (which starts with products that clients need), short-term agility and long-term goals.
Consider the epic success of Apple. Steve Jobs was hungry and fast — he drove his teams to achieve more in less time. But he also had a long-term vision that directed the business’s trajectory. True innovation is the result of looking five to ten years into the future, and laying the groundwork now for where the company needs to be then.
TomTom started out in 1991 as a software provider for Palm Pilots, long before the Internet was a thing, or GPS had been opened for civil usage. Today, the listed company’s latest acquisition is Autonomous, a business that focuses on navigation systems for driverless cars. Over the course of almost three decades, TomTom has consistently focused on what comes next: What do consumer and business clients need, where will technology take us, and what will be possible in the near future, enabling greater efficiencies?
Thomas Schmidt, MD of TomTom Telematics, unpacks the five lessons TomTom has learnt while developing world-class solutions for the consumer and B2B markets worldwide.
1. Focus on the problem you’re solving, not on the product you produce
Companies that are too fixated on what they do, instead of where technology and markets are heading, will often find themselves left behind. The most common example is Kodak, who refused to see the dangers digital photography posed. Instead of seeing themselves as a company that helped people capture moments, they saw themselves as manufacturers of films and cameras. The rest of course, is history.
Robust businesses reinvent themselves, adjusting solutions to fit the market and making use of technological breakthroughs. “In 1991, the founders of TomTom launched a company called Palmtop,” says Thomas.
“They designed and created the software for digital organisers. In principle, it was like a smartphone with no connectivity, and included a digital bible, a digital cookbook, a personal organiser, a calendar and a whole host of other features. By the late 90s it even included a digital map, which they had licensed through Tele Atlas, a Belgian company that developed very basic digital maps.”
Here’s how it worked: You bought a PalmPilot, purchased the map software, uploaded it to your device, and then purchased the cables and mountings that you’d need to instal the whole system in your car. It was complicated and something that only techies were really trying out, but it triggered something in the TomTom (at that stage Palmtop) team, who recognised that if they could remove the tech hurdles to get there, they’d democratise navigation.
The company had been a forerunner in the personal organiser software business. Based on where they believed the market was heading however, they began to shift their focus to hardware, and began manufacturing personal navigation devices (PNDs), complete with digital maps licensed through Tele Atlas.
By 2003 the business had been rebranded to TomTom and their first device, the TomTom Go, was launched. From there the business consistently grew 400% year-on-year, and an IPO was concluded in May 2005.
In hindsight, the shift looks simple, but in reality, it’s never easy to reinvent yourself as a business, unless you’re agile, adaptable, and willing to focus on the best solution, rather than what your current product stack looks like.
2. Always look ahead
Great visions always precede technological solutions. If they didn’t, nothing would ever progress or change. The companies capable of those visions become the trailblazers and game-changers that shape industries, solve problems and drive greater efficiencies.
The evolution of TomTom’s dynamic map data is a perfect example of this mindset in action, because the team kept asking what would make their product more useful to consumers. They had the device, and a digital map. What they didn’t have was mobile data.
Instead, Tele Atlas had vans driving around, capturing everything. It was time consuming, expensive, and meant maps were always out of date. They also weren’t dynamic.
“When you consider the fact that 15% of a map’s data changes yearly, we knew there was so much more we could do with this product if we just had the right tools, and developed appropriate solutions,” explains Thomas.
TomTom’s team started by looking to the future: What did they want this product to look like? The answer was simple: They wanted a navigation system that was dynamic and up-to-date. If anything happened, a user would know within minutes. This would include traffic, accidents, traffic lights that weren’t working, delays — anything and everything that would add value to a motorist or business with vehicles on the road. Today, this includes data drawn from how a vehicle is operating and how the driver is performing, right through to its location with regard to a dynamic map, and the capability to send companies and clients up-to-date information.
The technology that has made all this possible came after the idea of what the team wanted to achieve. With the right starting point, they were able to develop solutions that were possible. “We had millions of units on the road. We created a functionality that allowed users to update information on the map when they plugged it into their computers to update the software.”
The problem was that it was a slow process. By the time TomTom gathered the data, sent it to Tele Atlas, and the changes were implemented and released in an update, months had passed. Consumers lost interest because it took so long to see a change.
So, the team went back to the problem to engineer a different solution. “We went back to the data we were collecting, and started comparing that data with the map. What were speed averages on different roads? Based on this, we could predict times of the day when you could expect traffic congestion and delays. We also paid attention to roads on the map that no one used, or areas with no roads that nevertheless had traffic. These were flagged as out-dated areas on the map, and we could send vans to check those areas only. It was all based on historical data, but we were adding more information to the map on a continuous basis.”
The next component to be added to the mix was telematics. Thomas’ company, Data Factory, was purchased by TomTom in 2005. “Telematics brought more data early on to TomTom. This was real-time data that could be deployed elsewhere. In the early days we were using trunket radios to capture data, but it was all fed into the system. An average car spends less than an hour on the road each day. Compare this to six hours for a business car, and up to 12 hours for a truck, and you’ll get a view of how much data we were actually collecting. The trick was to continuously ask how we could use the data, and what we could do with it. It was not yet a dynamic system, but we were constantly moving forward and improving. We kept asking, ‘If we had this, what could we do with it?’”
TomTom also made another decision, and offered to purchase Tele Atlas in 2008. “We recognised that the future was fresh, up-to-date data. If we owned the maps, we can streamline the process. Two different companies, even working in partnership, create a lot of delays.
“Increasing efficiencies wherever you can is in our DNA. That’s what we do for customers. And it’s why we’ve been able to offer our customers up-to-date dynamic maps that are data-rich and create a seamless customer experience.”
3. Adapt to the future
This takes the ideal of looking ahead a step further. On the one hand, looking ahead is focused on the lane you’re currently in, and envisioning how you can change customer lives. But it’s also about paying attention to how the world is changing, and what the future will bring.
TomTom is currently a software and hardware developer. The business has four divisions: TomTom Consumer, TomTom Automotive, TomTom Licensing and TomTom Telematics. In each case, hardware and software solutions are deployed to drive efficiencies and cost savings, from consumers with a TomTom device in their vehicles, cars with onboard systems designed by TomTom, telematics systems that track a business’s entire transport and logistics solution, to the map data as one of the sources for Apple’s map solution.
But TomTom is looking much further than the solutions it currently offers. “TomTom democratised navigation, and today it’s available in multiple different ways; your phone, a device, your car. We understand this and move with the times. We expect technology disruption to go on and things to change even faster in the future. Today we manufacture devices. We don’t believe we will still be doing this in the long-term future. How our solutions will be accessed will change. We are also now investing heavily in the navigation systems and maps autonomous cars will use. This isn’t a big revenue stream for us now, but it will be incredibly important in the future, and we will have solutions ready.
“To stay alive, you need to be smarter, faster and the master in your specific area of competence. At our core we bring customers, data and development together. It’s always about the best experience and solutions.”
4. Be fast, agile and adaptable
Even though TomTom is a listed company, its controlling shareholding rests in the hands of four people — all of whom are entrepreneurs. “TomTom’s original founders still head up the business and drive its vision, and the four different business units are run by MDs who are entrepreneurial as well,” explains Thomas, who is one of those MDs, and who by his own admission could never be a standard employee.
“Data Factory was the third business I built, and I sold it to TomTom in 2005 because I knew this was the best way to achieve international growth. 12 years later I’m still here as MD of the Telematics business because our CEO and founder, Harold Goddijn, convinced me to stay and grow the exciting business unit. The fact that we’re given so much autonomy to grow each business unit as a company makes us fast, agile and adaptable. It’s the essence of this business. We all have a fiduciary duty to our shareholders, but we also have long-term visions that allow us to be trailblazers in our industry.
“We’re not executives who begin to implement projects and then leave. We’re focused on long-term, industry changing visions that will change the way our customers operate and do business. That’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me constantly engaged and excited.”
The business is also run on a system of flat hierarchies, which Thomas believes is a key ingredient to TomTom’s success. “No single giant can know or understand everything. To remain relevant, businesses need fresh ideas, and these come from open and collaborative teams. As the leader, you don’t need to come up with all of the ideas — but you do need to be open to fresh thinking, even from your juniors. Have an open door policy, and listen to ideas when they are shared with you. That’s how you push the envelope.”
5. Give customers what they need, not what they want
Listening to customers is important, but you also need to look beyond their current needs if you’re going to be a game- changer — both in your own industry, and in terms of what you can do for your customers.
“Take note of your customers’ pain points and deliver solutions that create value, but you can’t innovate if you only listen to what your customers want. You need to be delivering to their needs, otherwise you’re just an executor and not an innovator.
“It’s up to you to jump to the next step that they can’t see yet, and often don’t even realise is possible. Customers are focused on the now — we need to be looking five years ahead.”
How do you stay ahead of the curve though? Thomas believes it’s all about asking the right questions.
“Consider the question, ‘What if we had unlimited energy for free in the world?’ So many people stop there and don’t ask further, because it’s seen as an impossibility. And that’s what kills innovation. If you remove that obstacle, and instead look at what this would mean for the world, you can start shaping a different future.
“So, what would it mean? It would mean an unlimited water supply, because we could easily make drinking water from salt water, at little to no cost. What does unlimited drinking water mean? An unlimited food supply, because water is the biggest restrictor. Once you start asking the right questions, you reach a future that you want to be a part of and make happen — and that’s when you start finding solutions.
“Solar is already doing this, at 50% of the cost of other alternatives. The latest technology delivers at 50% of the price, and it was developed because the right questions are being asked.
“This is how we operate. We are always dreaming about what we could do. This allows us to create solutions. They don’t always work, but we’re hungry, and when we fail we fail fast, learn the lessons we need and push on. We’re always heading in the right direction, and changing the shape of what’s possible.”
How Your Devices Can Improve Your Business Travel
Dawn Weir, head of kulula work and a veteran business traveller, offers these tech-savvy tips for road-warriors.
Technology has made business communication and business travel easier than ever, but it’s still possible to have a minor disaster involving your indispensable devices. Dawn Weir, head of kulula work and a veteran business traveller, offers these tech-savvy tips for road-warriors.
Stay on track
Activity trackers can help you stick to your fitness regime by recording step-counts, distances covered, sleep and nutrition. If you don’t fancy wearing one that looks like it’s from the flight-deck of the starship USS Enterprise, others are available which clip onto your ankle or clothing. Many are water-resistant and rugged, but if you prefer to not buy-one, apps like Samsung Health will record and analyse your daily activity.
A few bad nights’ sleep while travelling can leave one feeling unfocused and tetchy. Some of us sleep better in hotel-rooms than others, and some can be downright noisy. You can try using earbuds, but we don’t all like having wads of foam stuck into our skulls when trying to slip into the arms of Morpheus. One alternative is to load a white-noise generator on one of your devices. A site like www.mynoise.net has hundreds of soothing sounds, including waves, rain, crackling fireplaces, trickling streams and even Tibetan monasteries.
It might not drown out the sound of the guys returning to the hotel from their “team-building dinner” at 2am, but it’ll help to smooth out the noise of traffic and air-conditioning.
Cancel the chatter and clatter
Many business-travellers now swear by noise-cancelling headphones, which block out distractions and racket and can subtly let fellow travelers know that you’d prefer to not engage in lively conversation. Researchers disagree on the effectiveness of binaural beats for everything from creativity to concentration, but many students, academics and entrepreneurs find that they help with focus the mind.
Most mobile devices have decent battery-life nowadays, but the size and brightness of their screens and the plethora of apps running on them can drain that very quickly. Save your battery by switching off anything you don’t need: BlueTooth, location, mobile data and so on, as well as apps you’re not using. Switching your phone to Flight mode will also save battery power. Travellers increasingly user power-banks to boost battery-life, but Weir suggests reading users’ product reviews before buying one, as some are far more efficient than others.
Back up and go
Save your important documents – scans of your passport if you’re travelling internationally – as well as hotel reservations and travel itineraries, and take pictures and screenshots of them on your phone. That all-important PowerPoint presentation? Use a file-hosting service like Dropbox to put it in the cloud so you can access it wherever you need to.
If you’re a regular business traveller make a point of emptying all your luggage every few weeks. You’ll probably find you’ve accumulated flash-drives, USB adaptors and stationery and other stuff that takes up space and adds weight.
Everyone from business travelers to backpackers loves the portability of laptops, but while they’re lighter than ever, those with bigger screens can be bulky. One option is to travel with a tablet, which offers the efficiency of a laptop while taking up less space. If you need to do a lot of inputting while you’re on the road, get a flexible keyboard that can be rolled up until need, or pair your tablet or smartphone with a laser projection keyboard. It’s a clever gizmo that projects a full-sized QWERTY keyboard onto any flat surface, allowing you to type pretty much anywhere.
We’ve all seen the infographics showing how smartphones combine all the devices we once owned separately, like cameras, DVD- and CD-players, and that innovation continues. The Belkin Travel Rockstar combines a battery pack, surge protector and charger. It has three plug-ports (you may need an adaptor, depending on which plug configuration you use) and two USB ports.
Still not high-tech enough? Try Pluggage, a smart suitcase produced by luggage brand www.delsey.com that has its own app. It’s available in three sizes and its features include fingerprint ID to lock and unlock it (you can also lock and unlock it using the app), interior lighting and speakers. It weighs itself, has integrated USB chargers for your devices, and GPS tracking notifies you when it’s on a luggage carousel at the airport or being loaded onto or off a flight.
Technology In Accounting – Race For Relevance
Change is not just coming, it’s already here and the rate of change is growing exponentially.
Change is not just coming, it’s already here and the rate of change is growing exponentially. The recent research from ACCA around the race for relevance talks of six key technologies (Analytics, Artificial intelligence, Cloud computing, Cyber, Social and Robotic process automation), likely to present opportunities that challenge our traditional ways of working to all businesses, including SMEs – as well as their finance function.
The report explains that whatever the size of the business, technology change is having an impact.
It is imperative for SMEs to understand these technologies and start to, at least, plan. Failure to capture opportunities runs the risk of businesses being marginalised.
Technological advances provide finance functions with significant opportunities to play a valued role in maximising the organisation’s strategic ambitions and in how it is evolving. Not of all the key technologies may be relevant to all immediately, however, understanding which of them apply and can deliver value, is important.
In this corporate race for future relevance, recognising the opportunity is essential. Organisations are in a race to remain relevant to their customers and communities. Adapting and embracing technological changes in business is critical. Companies who leverage new technology well are going to win big in business. If CFO’s are to remain in decision making roles the need to understand the importance of data analytics is crucial. Businesses need forward thinking CFO’s who:
- understand how to use the information available to them to provide strategic insight in real time;
- capture, measure, report and predict future performance in a much more agile manner to support better and quicker decision making;
- ensure they have in place effective and efficient processes that satisfy the overall business requirements of finance.
This is not to say that there is one approach. No single model fits all finance teams but there is an overall direction of travel. However, its not enough to become more efficient, but finance function must assist businesses to make decisions based on the right data. To achieve the goal of transforming the finance function, the CFO needs an understanding of the emerging technologies and the opportunities available. The CFO must ensure that there is sufficient governance of the data sources, be these internal or externally generated, to provide insights based upon ‘one version of the truth’.
In realising the finance technology strategy, it should be remembered that this is often a partnership between the Information Technology (IT) team and the finance function. As business partnering has affected the relationship between finance and its customers so the same process can be replicated in the relationship between finance and IT.
By 2020, organisations are expected to gain $1.2 trillion in business from their slower-to-adapt peers. How do you, as the accounting professional, influence this today? How do you work with IT to thrive in this age of change?
Register A Company In South Africa
With over 120 Start-up Services, Company Partners is the perfect Partner for Company, Tender and Contract compliance.
Company Partners is the leading Company Registration Service Provider in South Africa, offering a One-Stop-Shop for all the Company Registration and Tender Compliance Documents.
Established in 2006, Company Partners guarantees that the services they offer meet the standards of the best in the industry. Over 30 full-time Consultants offer services and standards of the highest quality.
Company Registration Benefits
Your Company Structure is the first consideration you need to make when you want to register a new Company at the CIPC. The preferred choice of a legal entity for most Businesses is a Pty Company.
- You protect your personal life and assets from your business when you register a company. If one runs a business, it is necessary to operate in a safe legal structure where your business assets and risks are separated from your personal ones.
- You look more professional when you operate under a registered company name. If you want to obtain a large contract or a tender, it appears more professional to trade in a Pty Company capacity than in your own name.
- Most Suppliers and Government Departments require businesses to be registered as a Company to apply for their Tenders and Contracts.
How to Register a Company
Step 1: Complete and submit the easy online sign-up form here.
Step 2: Your dedicated Consultant will call you to assist you with any questions you may have.
Step 3: Email your ID and easy supported documents – which your Consultant will explain.
Step 4: Within a few days you will receive your brand new Company ready to use for Tenders and Contracts, via email. You can contact your Consultant at any time on a toll-free number.
Need a Company fast? Perhaps consider a Shelf Company
Company Partners offer a variety of Shelf Company Options to suit your needs, including 2016- year Registration Number Shelf Companies. Within 24 hours after purchase, you will receive the registered Shelf Company.
You can start using your Company Registration Number and Bank Account (for income) immediately.
Each Shelf Company includes a 2016 Year Registration Number, Free Share Certificates, a Free ‘Tax Number’ and a Free ‘Official BEE Affidavit’.
You can also make use of a Nedbank Business Bank Account that’s active for your Shelf Company.
Luckily, getting your own Shelf Company is easy in terms of compliance. All that’s required is that you are at least 18 years of age, an ID document / Passport and a South African Business Address.
Why use Company Partners to Register a Company?
Fast timeframes: Your Company will be registered fast and effectively online. Your documentation is set-up in less than 24 hours, after which CIPC will process it.
Simple requirements: The only requirement for Company Registration is an ID / Passport. Everything gets done online, so you can be based anywhere in South Africa or the World.
Dedicated Consultant: Your own dedicated professional Consultant takes care of the entire process – he or she is available on his / her email and also on a toll-free number.
Professional Service: With years of experience of representing our Clients in Government, the entire process runs smoothly over the Internet. No lost documents and no frustration.
Company Partners completes all necessary applications correctly and reviews all the paperwork for you. You simply have to wait for your company documents via e-mail, confirming when you may start trading using your registration detail.
After Company Registration
Any new Business needs guidance to prepare for Tenders and Contracts. After Company Partners gets you registered for your Company, Company Partners can assist you through the entire Company start-up process (optional).
That means they will ensure you have everything you need for a Tender or Contract application like a new PTY Company, BEE, Tax Clearance, VAT Registration, Logo Design, Website, Business Plan, COID, Letter of Good Standing, NHBRC, Accounting, Payroll and more.
To start, just complete and submit the easy application form here and a friendly Consultant will contact you. Alternatively contact Company Partners toll-free on 0800 007 269 (toll-free from landlines and cell phones).
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