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Fashion and Technology Sitting in a Tree...



As New York Fashion Weeks closes its doors, the impact of technology in fashion is opening entirely new ones. The fashion industry is known for pushing boundaries in both aesthetics and design. It pulls inspiration from unconventional sources that are oftentimes off-kilter, explorative, and even futuristic. And depending on whom you ask, technology can be described using similar words. The relationship between fashion and technology isn’t new, but it's certainly evolving and there are many lessons to be learned by big and small brands alike. World famous designers are showcasing their collections through cinematic masterpieces while tech companies are hiring high-profile designers to spearhead product design. 


Here are three examples of fashion and technology’s increasingly interesting courtship.


Ralph Lauren Models Walk On Water in 4D Runway Show

New York Fashion Week is known for its evocative and edgy designer outfits. But anyone who loves fashion will also emphasize that fashion week isn’t just about clothes, it’s about the way they’re presented. After all, it’s called a fashion show for a reason. An uninspiring production won’t make headlines, nor will it push fashion boundaries. Ralph Lauren was anything but ordinary when he launched a 4-dimensional fashion show in Central Park’s Cherry Hill during New York Fashion Week.


Ralph Lauren used a water-screen projection to create a holographic cinematic experience that fused fashion and technology. By combining live-action movement and computer graphics, models walked virtual New York streets in an event that reimagined traditional runways shows. Holograms of models showcased vibrant colors and designs. And even though Lauren was physically present at the event, his hologram appeared at the end of the show to bow.  




“I really wanted to do something big for the new Polo Women’s brand – something set in the city — that felt modern. We returned to Central Park, a place I love, and captured the spirit of Polo with a truly innovative mix of fashion and technology,” said Ralph Lauren. Even though this remarkable show was shot in just two-days, it was packed with over 50 fashion looks, 12 different runways, and a 15-foot virtual lighthouse. Ralph Lauren’s 4D show truly united fashion and technology in perfect harmony. Watch the unforgettable show here.


Google Glass Collaborates With Diane von Fürstenberg

While public approval of Google Glass is still mixed, the product itself is clearly innovative. In an effort to enhance Google Glass’ physical appearance (and therefore encourage more people to join the movement), Google collaborated with designer Diane von Fürstenberg to release a line of designer frames specifically for women. 


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Screenshot from Diane von Fürstenberg’s conversation with Google Glass lead designer, Isabelle Olsson.


The line is called DVF | Made for Glass and it includes five different limited-edition frames. Diane von Fürstenberg was inspired to design these particular frames by her love for aviator and shield styled glasses. You can purchase the frames, which are sold with accompanying sunglasses, for $1800. Google Glass Lead Designer, Isabelle Olsson, and von Fürstenberg sat down to chat about the progression of Google Glass in this video

Olsson describes early models of Google Glass as “scuba masks with a phone attached to it and a cable running down to a backpack.” She added that prior to this collaboration, there were only “a couple of frames that were designed to be unisex.” Diane von Fürstenberg is notoriously known for designing women’s wrap dresses and now she can add Google Glass to her list. Her involvement in modernizing this piece of wearable technology illustrates a significant power play by Google. But innovating Google Glass hasn’t been an overnight process. Olsson says that the product’s main transformation occurred over the course of a year to a year and a half. And now thanks to von Fürstenberg, Google Glass hopes to attract more women as well as style conscious consumers.


Apple Hires World-Famous Australian Designer Marc Newson

News about Apple’s Watch has the tech community buzzing. The watch won’t be available until early 2015 and as of now its retail value starts at $349.  In an age where smart devices and wearable technology are becoming increasingly popular, it makes sense that Apple would enter the market with a bang. And if we’ve learned anything from the pioneering company, it’s that they plan on staying at the forefront of innovation. What better way to solidify its place as an industry leader than hiring top executives from some of the world’s most respected fashion brands?


 marc newson


Apple recently announced that their design maven, Jony Ive, hired Australian-born designer (and friend) Marc Newson as Apple’s new Senior Vice President of Design. Newson is known for futuristic designs across a myriad of industries, including furniture, aircrafts, jewelry, and clothing. The addition of Marc Newson to Apple’s executive talent makes him one of many high-profile fashion experts to join the team. Also on Apple’s “advisory board” is Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, and Ben Shaffer, Nike’s Innovation Kitchen Studio Director.


What Will Their Love Child Be When She Grows Up?

As fashion and technology continue their love affair, we can all learn from their love child. Wearable technology shouldn’t feel like a nuisance, but rather a seamless part of our everyday lives.  And in order to continue pushing boundaries, fashion must excite and inspire us.  So long as fashion and technology continue their mutually beneficial courtship, the possibilities are endless. 

How Ethnography Can Predict the Future


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Photo Credit Joi Ito/Flickr

If you had looked in my purse in 1999, you would have been able to predict the iPhone. Inside, I had the following items: cell phone, address book, palm pilot, digital camera, pedometer, lipstick, computer, keys. Seven out of eight of those items have now converged, thanks to the smart phone.


It’s true that not just anyone would have predicted the future by looking in my purse. But an ethnographer could have. By observing my behaviors, including how I used all the tools I carried around with me, and talking to me about my frustrations and unmet needs, it would have been clear that what I needed was not another device, but just one device.


There are a lot of definitions of ethnography, but most boil down to “the observation and analysis of human groups considered as individual entities.” (Levi-Strauss) Ethnography has its roots in anthropology, and has been effectively borrowed by enterprise to understand how to better serve “human groups,” from consumers to workers. By understanding behaviors, values, tools, and unmet needs, enterprise clients have been developing products, services, and messaging to serve those target “human groups;” be they minivan moms, cancer survivors, or tech investors.


Ethnography is not just a powerful way of understanding current human needs and behaviors; it’s also a way to see what the future will bring. In my 15+ years as an ethnographer, I have seen ethnographic research predict the future again and again.

For example, an ethnographic research project on photography predicted the future of photography. Fifteen years ago. By observing the ways people were taking photographs, sharing them, storing them, and using them to communicate, that research pointed to the increasing importance of the photograph as a means of connecting with others and expressing oneself. But it also predicted the disembodiment of the photograph.

Another ethnographic project predicted the convergence of devices, as mentioned before with the Smartphone example. And on a more sober note, yet another ethnographic research project with Financial Advisors heralded the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

Once, someone who doubted the power of ethnographic research asked me, “But how do you know you’re asking the right questions?” The answer is I don’t just rely on the questions I’m asking, or people’s answers to those questions. To understand people, I look at their behaviors. I seek out the contradictions between perceived and actual behaviors. I observe people in context. I look inside their purses. And then I come up with models of that experience that companies can use to meet their users in the future.

Carrie Yury is Director of Research at BeyondCurious, an Innovation Consultancy that creates next-generation, multichannel digital solutions for enterprise clients. 

Four Big Brands Embracing Innovation


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Image credit to Total Innovation Management Foundation


Innovation isn’t reserved for small start-ups. More and more big brands are developing Innovation Labs and hiring Innovation Consultancies to create game-changing products and services.  Brands increasingly need to engage consumers in unconventional ways, but only a handful of these brands dedicate in-house resources to systematically understand consumer needs and drive new ideas.  


What’s surprising is the fact that many executives prioritize existing goods and services without truly considering how their customers or markets have changed. But some leading brands are doing just that: leveraging new technologies to deliver innovative solutions.


Here are four brands spearheading Innovation:

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Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab describes themselves as “a team of techies, designers, entrepreneurs, statisticians, researchers, and artists, all trying to discover the future of retail.” Nordstrom’s Data Scientist, Erin Shellman, said in a recent interview, “the goal of the Nordstrom Data Lab is to deliver data-driven products to inform business decisions internally, and to enhance customer experience externally.”


As consumers become more and more attached to mobile devices, the opportunities for retailers to engage them become both easier and more difficult.  While the opportunity is ripe, the means through which companies capture consumers’ attention must be strategic and deliberate. Whether a company uses scannable barcodes to relay detailed product information or mobile apps that allow consumers to skip checkout lines depends entirely on the behavior of their target market.


It's impressive that a company established in 1901 would leverage today’s technology to positively impact the future of their business. Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab is certainly setting new benchmarks in retail. The upscale fashion retailer definitely isn’t the new kid on the block, but their innovation lab has been called “a startup inside a Fortune 500 company.”  



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Ford Silicon Valley Lab is a self-proclaimed “hotbed of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship” located in Palo Alto, CA. Their team is comprised mostly of engineers in various disciplines, including mechatronics, product development, and embedded software. Paul Mascarenas leads the group as the CTO and VP of Research and Innovation along with K. Venkatesh Prasad, Senior Technical Lead, and Randal Visintainer, Director of Manufacturing, Vehicle Design and Safety.


Not only does Ford have an innovation lab that focuses on user experience and big data, but they’ve taken it a step further by fostering co-creation. Their Innovate Mobility Series encourages software developers to solve mobility issues around the world.  There are currently six open challenges listed on their website. Four of the six are shown below:


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Ford Innovate Mobility Series Challenges


Co-creation excites buyers by giving them a public call-to-action.  By turning consumers into innovators Ford empowers potential buyers by inviting them to participate in the innovation process. 


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Home Depot

The Home Depot took a different approach to in-house innovation when they acquired Austin, TX based startup BlackLocus back in 2012. BlackLocus builds technology designed to help retailers make data-driven pricing decisions using algorithms. By uncovering consumer spending patterns, Home Depot hopes to make more informed decisions when it comes to what products they should offer and at what price. Since its acquisition, BlackLocus has been renamed the Home Depot Innovation Lab and its focus has remained on how to give Home Depot a competitive edge using software and analytics.


Rather than opening physical stores in new locations or reviving struggling locations, large retailers like Home Depot are using this money to invest in technology. As customers increasingly rely on smart devices for shopping, it is important that retailers understand these new spendng habits before allocating resources to enhancing physical spaces. 


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Online retail giant eBay has a Research Lab that focuses on creating innovative technologies that “will fuel the growth of eCommerce and help shape its future.” Since it’s inception in 1995, eBay has grown internationally with over 33,000 employees who’ve facilitated the selling of over $67 billion worth of online goods. No wonder the eBay Research Labs consist of seven different in-house groups:

  1. Economics Center of Excellence

  2. Human Computer Interaction

  3. Innovation Programs

  4. Research Incubations

  5. Machine Learning and Data Science

  6. Center of Excellence in Statistical Research (CESR)

  7. Vision

eBay was one of the first online retailers to directly connect buyers and sellers, particularly in the auction space. As technology has changed, so has eBay’s platform and the way they’ve engaged consumers. Consider eBay’s website in 2000 compared to 2014.


eBay in 2000

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eBay in 2014

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eBay’s innovation isn’t limited to their digital presence; back in 2013 they signed a deal with Argos that allowed shoppers to pick up their online eBay purchases from local Argos stores. 


Big Brand Transformation

As online sales increase year-over-year, large brands must find new ways to connect and engage with consumers. Both Nordstrom and Ford have been around since the early 1900s with Home Depot entering the market in the late 70s. They’re all classic companies who’ve successfully branded themselves as leaders in their industries. And as they look toward the future, they’ve embraced innovation as a means to stay ahead. eBay joined the party a little later, but they’re at no disadvantage when it comes innovation.  In fact, eBay was born on the cusp of the Internet boom so it’s no surprise that they value research.


Sure, big brands can’t always move as quickly as startups, but that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the need for brand transformation. And even if they can’t dedicate in-house resources to systematically drive new ideas, there are Innovation Consultancies like BeyondCurious that help big brands disrupt themselves before they’re disrupted by emerging trends and technologies.

Straight Talk: Removing Roadblocks In the Workplace


Sometimes the simplest change can unleash the potential of your work force. A case in point is learning how to talk openly with each other at BeyondCurious. After taking a hard look at ourselves during a challenging period, we recently implemented an approach for more open communication that we call "straight talk." Straight talk is not a euphemism for providing occasional performance feedback; it's a simple but powerful way of thinking that encompasses candid communication across the organization at all times. I believe straight talk can help your company become more efficient and effective, as it has with BeyondCurious.


Straight talk came about after BeyondCurious endured some tough growing pains. We were achieving our goals and scaling to meet the demand, but it was obvious to me that we weren’t taking the most efficient path in getting there, causing unnecessary stress and rework. I was sensing frustration and knew I had to solve the puzzle quickly. Fortunately, in a close-knit organization, you can get the pulse of the work place fairly quickly. And indeed I got to the heart of the matter in short order: we were not being straight with each other.


Ironically, the friendliness of people on our team was generating a challenge I had not expected to encounter. Because we get along so well, too often we were failing to confront each other over issues such as blown deadlines or work that was not meeting expectations. In other words, we were not holding each other accountable, and the lack of accountability was making our life harder than it needed to be.


We realized that only by being straight with each other could we truly sustain a culture of empowerment and growth. We had to learn how to get the point across plainly and directly but to do so without being hurtful. We also needed a process that allowed everyone to feel empowered to communicate this way. Straight talk is that process. These are its elements:

  • A shared vocabulary. We agreed on a code phrase, "straight talk," that gives us permission to confront each other in a positive way. "Straight talk" is a verbal signal for both parties that an issue requires addressing. If you missed a recent deadline and I am worried that the problem might happen again, I might say, "Straight talk: our deadline is two weeks from now, and you missed our last deadline. I want to know what support you need so we can make this one."
  • Universal application. Straight talk is not just for peers; it applies to everyone regardless of title. I recently had a junior member of my team come up to me and say: "Straight talk: I don’t understand the decision you’re making and I need more evidence so I can support you fully." Straight talk holds us all accountable, equally.
  • Always on. There are no off hours for straight talk because there are no off hours for accountability. Unlike feedback that occurs when there’s a trigger or a specific milestone, straight talk is a way of setting expectations and driving accountability at all times.
  • Public. Straight talk need not be limited to private conversations. It is an effective way of solving problems or achieving alignment in a group setting. For us, it helped to achieve consensus on matters very quickly.


I introduced straight talk on a Monday morning, and by Monday afternoon, we were all embracing the idea. Clearly, straight talk was meeting a desperate need. Creating a culture of straight talk has already improved the way we work in many ways, such as:

  • We are more effective. Expectations are clear, commitments are followed through and performance issues are addressed immediately.
  • We are more efficient. Meetings are shorter and decision-making is timely. We don't waste time dancing around issues.
  • We are more empowered. Everyone has a voice. Communication feels easy and effortless.


 Sebastian GT

Sebastian and Gretchen using straight talk at BeyondCurious

Being candid is the essence of straight talk. But such candor does not always come naturally in the workplace. Sometimes, we need a tool to help us feel comfortable with candor in a group setting. Straight talk is our tool. What is yours?

5 In-Store Technologies Your Competitors are Already Using



New technologies are helping retailers increase customer engagement, support staff performance, and bring data richness to in-store customer analytics. For example: have you ever wondered what areas of your store get the most foot traffic? Do you wish you could push relevant promotions and recommendations to customers based on their purchase history while in your store? Or have you ever wanted to beam instructions to a sales associate suddenly faced with an unhappy VIP client?


Here are 5 technologies giving retail leaders the power to meet those tough retail challenges head on:


Beacons and iBeacons


 Beacons and iBeacons

Swirl, Estimote, SonicNotify, and Urban Airship offer integrated beacon solutions


Beacons (or iBeacons) are small transmitters using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that communicate with connected devices. Applications range from customer experience management to store layout optimization. Using Beacons, store employees can do things like judge the proper time to approach an individual store guest by tracking their time spent at a product wall. Similarly, collecting analytics on popular spaces in-store over time allows retailers to quickly A/B test their store layouts.


Macy’s deployed Beacons in two stores in late 2013 in collaboration with Shopkick, a location-based app that awards points to customers for physically visiting stores or scanning merchandise. American Eagle deployed beacons in 100 of its stores in January of this year. Other deployments that integrate with Shopkick are slated to occur in whole host of other large retailers including Target, The Sports Authority, Crate and Barrel, and Old Navy.


From more granular customer analytics to increased engagement, beacons promise to make retail spaces and the people who run them smarter and more connected than ever.


Augmented Reality + Smart Glasses

 Virgin Atlantic and Google Glass

Virgin Atlantic uses Google Glass to offer VIP passengers better service


Combining smart glasses with augmented reality promises increased efficiency in inventory management, more consistent staff training, and increased process compliance. Active Ants, a fulfillment operation out of the Netherlands, increased efficiency by 15% and decreased error rates by 12% after outfitting its stock pickers with Google Glass. Large format retail stores could benefit by implementing this technology to keep shelves orderly and manage in-store inventory.


Virgin Atlantic has taken a step in regard to the last application, using Google Glass outfitted with facial recognition software to help Heathrow airport concierges better serve upper class passengers. According to Virgin, the trial proved so successful that they will “productionise” the use of Glass. Enterprise use of smart glasses and augmented reality has the potential to usher in a new retail era, ensuring consistent brand communication across touchpoints, along with a higher level of performance support.


Facial Recognition: The Next Frontier


Facial Recognition 

Neoface by NEC IT systems offers real-time face recognition for retail environments


Some retailers already use facial recognition as a loss prevention tool, comparing store visitors with known problem guests. However, facial recognition software presents extensive opportunities for serving customers. Retailers can use facial recognition to search out VIP clients and push purchase history along with personalized recommendations to sales floor staff. 


Another customer management application of this technology on the sales floor is using software to interpret the emotional state of customers. Companies like Realeyes do emotional response testing by analyzing the facial expression of participants. Once the technology is operational in real time, retailers—especially large format retailers—could deploy sales staff to customers who display some sort of negative affect. How could your business benefit by knowing exactly who your customers are and what they’re feeling?




 Theatro Wearable Computer

 Theatro Wearable Computer is used by The Container Store to keep employees in touch


Many kinds of wearables hold promise for the enterprise space. Imagine being able to track performance of the sales floor staff or being able to deploy training exercises via smartwatch. The Container Store is one of the first retail stores using wearables to support its sales staff. Earlier this year, they rolled out a pilot program to 35 employees at their Austin store using the Theatro Wearable Computer.


This wearable replaces a clunky walkie-talkie with a sleek device that uses the store’s wireless network to transmit audio signals. Staff can receive previously recorded messages and use voice commands to locate other associates. Already, the company has seen a 30% increase in the volume of directed communication with a 60% decrease in the number of messages everyone hears. In other words, people are hearing the messages that are relevant to them without having to listen to everything else.


Wearables are powerful tools that can help collect information on how your team is performing and offer them help when they need it.


3D printing


 3D Printing at Staples

 Staples 3D marketplace gives visitors a way to share and sell 3D-printable files


Any retailer that is interested in offering a tangible piece of the brand experience to a customer may want to invest in an on-site 3D printer. For example, home improvement associates could become partners in customer projects, printing out 3D models of proposed improvements to help customers visualize their spaces and get buy-in from family members. For consumer electronics stores, offering 3D printed mobile accessories would engage customers, by giving them ownership of the creative process.


Staples and UPS now have 3D printing services. Staples has opened two experimental 3D printing locations, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. Primarily positioned as community outreach and education, it also gives Staples a hi-tech halo, imbuing the Staples brand with a more cutting-edge image.


How do you see these new technologies impacting your retail business?


BeyondCurious uses our expertise in in-store digital to help large enterprises disrupt themselves before they get disrupted. Learn more about how we help businesses innovate here.



Google Features BeyondCurious in 2013 Economic Impact Report



We are delighted to announce that BeyondCurious is featured in Google's 2013 Economic Impact Report.


The report explores how growing businesses leverage Google’s tools to expand their reach and online presence. We’re thrilled about Google’s write-up and we're grateful for all of their amazing services. Read the article below or view it on Google's website here:




"Nikki Barua and Vishal Agarwal were senior executives with flourishing careers at digital agencies when they noticed the growing disconnect between the traditional approach of large brands and the rapid innovation of Silicon Valley. They saw an opportunity to fill that widening gap by helping large brands disrupt themselves before they get disrupted.


In October of 2011, they founded BeyondCurious with no clients or capital, just a grand vision for their new company. In a few short months they were already profitable. Now, less than three years later, BeyondCurious – an “Innovation Consultancy” – has realized its vision of helping large brands make innovation an everyday occurrence instead of an occasional event. Their success is astounding with more than fifty team members, millions in revenue, and a growth rate of 500 percent year over year.


Building mobile and tablet applications that solve business problems for leading brands is a key focus for BeyondCurious. Android apps account for as much as fifty percent of their revenue, and they are quickly becoming a core part of their business. “In fact, as we’re projecting forward we’re seeing that grow even more,” Nikki says.


Operating as an entirely cloud-powered business, BeyondCurious has successfully leveraged an extensive list of Google products to scale globally while competing with multibillion-dollar agencies. Google Docs enables them to seamlessly collaborate with teams around the globe. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, and Google Analytics have become valuable tools for testing new sales and marketing strategies. At the same time, YouTube and Google+ have been integral to building a strong brand. “We were scrappy and took advantage of everything that was out there; it really leveled the playing field,” notes Nikki.


Growth shows no signs of slowing down: Nikki expects to triple her team size by next year and is counting on Google’s products to help her company tackle the challenges that come with such rapid success."


Using Mobile Data Collection To Save the World


Humanitarian initiatives are spearheading innovation and organizations large and small stand to benefit. As a whole the digital revolution has impacted the way we communicate and share information with each other, but it’s also shaping the way we collect data and what we do with that data.  More and more companies are shifting to mobile-based data collection – it’s faster, cheaper, more efficient, and it also enhances the quality of data gathered. Here’s why:

  • Efficiency: Mobile data collection and data entry can be performed simultaneously.  This reduces the amount of personnel required to collect information as well as the time it takes to complete the task. 
  • Improved Data Quality: With answer validation checks built into mobile infrastructure, data cleaning is already underway. 
  • Better Insight: Data can be interpreted in real-time as it's uploaded. This enables trend spotting with visualization tools, including maps and graphs, which illustrate more accurate portrayals of a situation or environment. Mobile technology also ensures "anytime, anywhere" access to field-level data. 
  • Data Security: Mobile data is collected via encrypted forms and sent to secure online databases ensuring information is securely stored and easily accessible. 

Mobile data collection isn’t just helping companies be more efficient; it’s also helping people respond better to humanitarian crisis. One company taking an innovative approach to using mobile data collection in transformative ways is KoBo Toolbox, a Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.  KoBo Toolbox is an integrated suite of applications for handheld digital data collection that enhance the speed and accuracy of collecting and sharing information in emergency or conflict environments.


KoBo Toolbox was born out of necessity. Almost 10 years ago KoBo Toolbox co-founders Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham worked in Iraq, Eastern Congo, and Central African countries to assess how these populations were affected by conflict. After spending countless hours on projects in developing countries, Vinck realized that he had a problem. His biggest challenge was how to gather accurate data on crisis situations efficiently.  Using traditional methods, not only would it take over one year to gather all of the results, but by the time data was collected most of the information was already outdated. Seeking a more convenient way to gather and share information, Vinck and Pham turned to mobile. However, since most of their research teams worked in remote locations with limited Internet service, they needed a dynamic mobile platform that worked well even when the Internet wasn’t accessible. After much trial and error, the duo finally adopted Android’s open data kit, and KoBo Toolbox was born.


The resulting suite of apps help gather and share data more effectively, leading to the greater ability to understand and quickly respond to humanitarian crisis. KoBoMap (currently in development) is one example. KoBoMap is designed to geographically portray data, an incredibly useful tool that was previously only available to national or sub-national organizations.


KoBo Map 

 Kobo Map, one of Kobo Toolbox's Mobile Data Collection Apps

All of KoBo Toolbox’s developers work with Vinck and Pham in the field. This ensures that there’s no disconnect between the product and its users.  Additionally, KoBo Toolbox operates on an open-source platform, which means it’s free to use and is highly customizable. It works well with limited Internet, utilizes remote administration, and can be used on multiple devices.  KoBo Toolbox forms can also be encrypted to protect sensitive data.


KoBo Toolbox 

 The Kobo Toolbox Suite


KoBo Toolbox was made public three years ago and has been widely adopted by humanitarian initiatives. The apps enable organizations to land in conflict and emergency zones and successfully gather pertinent information in 24-48 hours.  In fact, organizations like the International Rescue Committee reached out to the KoBo team and requested that the app be tailored to human applications.


In addition to case studies in Kenya, India, and Liberia, the International Organization for Migration recently used KoBo Toolbox following the large typhoon in the Philippines.  Teams were deployed on the ground almost immediately and they were already equipped with statistics regarding which areas had access to clean water and available shelters. The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation was among the first organizations to believe in Kobo Toolbox and further fund its development. So far this suite of apps is supported by the United Nations, US Aid, and Humanity United. And following a $100,000 grant from Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the KoBo team looks forward to releasing a more intuitive and stable version of KoBo Toolbox.


Humanitarian initiatives have most quickly adopted the idea of KoBo Toolbox and digital data collection. However, the potential in mobile data collection extends beyond the humanitarian field, with many applications for enterprise. Mobile data collection tools can be employed in commodity tracking, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as well as conducting research. By improving the quality and accuracy of data, organizations everywhere stand to benefit.


Vinck and Pham hope to see widespread adoption of KoBo Toolbox by NGOs. Whereas many humanitarian-focused initiatives paint compelling narratives based on pictures, the KoBo team believes in incorporating hard data to depict stories. Vinck and Pham believe the tool’s ability to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data in recounting stories of humanitarian crisis will positively impact millions of people around the world.

Betting on Teens For Wearable Tech




Disney, Mattel, Xbox, and PlayStation take note; wearables for teens are here, and they are about to disrupt your business.


Wearables for teens are nothing like the boring calorie counters marketed to adults. Instead, a whole new breed of wearable tech is emerging that that is targeted at helping young people do the things they want to do, like play, game, and relate. Tapping into and extending imagination, and engaging social behavior, wearable technology for teens could have a huge impact on the teen-focused gaming and entertainment industries.


One company developing wearable tech for the young adult market is Mighty Cast. Several years ago, Adam Adelman's company Juno was doing focus groups to test a new children's story concept. The concept they were testing was a fantasy story featuring a magical charm bracelet that enabled secret society members to contact and message each other.


Testing was not going well. The teen focus group members didn't care about the story; all they wanted to talk about was the magical bracelet, asking again and again where they could get it. That left Adelman and his colleagues with a choice: ignore users, or listen to them.


They chose to listen.


Two and a half years later, Adelman is CEO of a new wearable tech company called Mighty Cast, whose first product is that magical charm bracelet -- the NEX Band.


The first modular smart band, the NEX Band is targeted at the teen/tween to young adult demographic. And just like the fictional charm bracelet on which it is based, it has a plethora of different magical uses, like tracking friends through proximity, messaging friends back and forth, and acting like a wrist-worn game console enabling different "powers." The NEX Band is designed like a charm bracelet. By adding in different charms or "mods," users can change the functionality of their bracelet.


Adelman says that the modularity of the NEX Band is its biggest advantage. One reason that modularity is key to the NEX Band is because the product will be able to grow with its user. For example, according to Mighty Cast's user research, although younger testers are much more interested in gaming features, older kids are much more interested in the proximity features, in the fashion component, and in customizing notifications that go directly to the bands. Mighty Cast is betting that because new mods can be added as technology develops and as user needs change, modularity will protect against the NEX Band's obsolescence.




Mighty Cast recently won a million dollar grant from the Canadian government to develop and bring to life the story world for the NEX Band platform through a gaming application that users will be able to play on the NEX Band. A mobile based, social game, users or players will be able to find each other through proximity. They'll be able to exchange mods to unlock different secrets and they'll be able to create their own user-generated content.


All of this sounds great, but the key question with wearables is, "Will people actually wear it?" This will be a particularly tricky area for fashion-conscious teens. Adelman is the first to admit they've made "a ton of mistakes" with respect to the visual design of the NEX Band. So, they're turning to their users to help them design the next NEX Band. They have come up with new concepts and their plan is to market the NEX band and let their target market vote to tell them which ones they want to produce.


Mighty Cast has announced the opening up of their API and SDK to extend the NEX Band beyond its core story-telling functionality. For example, one company is currently developing a safety application that can geo-fence. If a child wears one of these geo-fencing mods, once they get outside a certain distance the band will vibrate and light up, also sending a signal to the parent, who can find the child through proximity or through GPS-tracking. This open API and SDK could open the NEX Band beyond their target tween market.


On that note, although Mighty Cast has been thinking mainly about the consumer, there are applications that extend to the enterprise user. For example, Adelman sees opportunity with thousands of different types of sensors currently available and in development. He believes that the NEX Band could function like an open platform for enterprise use, flexible and customizable to business needs. Brands have been approaching Adelman's group, interested in using the NEX Band's proximity features for networking events and matchmaking. Adelman thinks that mods could be like business cards, but better. Since all the data is stored on the Cloud, the mod could reference any kind of information that was associated to the unique ID on that user's NEX Band.


Whether adopted by teens or enterprise, Mighty Cast is betting that a customizable, modular approach to wearable tech will win over users.

Your Heartbeat May Soon Be Your Only Password



Data security is a heavy burden for business. That is particularly true in today's increasingly mobile, distributed workforce. And as the recent Heartbleed debacle pointed out, password technology is deeply fallible. However, new wearable technologies are being developed that will help companies simultaneously keep their data safe and allow their employees anytime anywhere access to key systems and information.


One of the wearable tech companies attempting to solve this problem is Bionym, a spinoff of the University of Toronto that is currently making a product called the Nymi. The Nymi is a small, wearable device that uses electrocardiogram (ECG) to authenticate user identity. In effect, the Nymi turns a person's own heartbeat into a unique key that can be used to unlock any conceivable device. I talked to Bionym President, Andrew D'Souza, about the Nymi, its unique differentiators, and the role it could play for enterprise in making it easier for people to be simultaneously productive and secure.


Andrew D'Souza of Bionym
Andrew D'Souza, President of Bionym, shows off the Nymi

Yury: Tell me more about how the Nymi works?


D'Souza: The Nymi is a wearable device that measures your heartbeat and uses it as a unique biometric to identify you. You put it on once a day, touch it with your opposite hand for a few seconds, it measures your heartbeats, it confirms that you are wearing it, and then it's able to communicate that identity to whatever system or service you use.

If you think about all the proxies we use for identity, badge numbers, pin numbers, multi-factor security tokens; they're all points of friction for our employees and for our customers. We are hoping that the Nymi means the end of things like passwords and pin numbers, and even things like car keys, house keys, credit cards, and boarding passes. We think that a wearable device that's paired with your biometric can be a much easier, more secure form of user identification.

The real unique part of what we're doing with the idea of putting biometrics into a wearable device is this concept of persistent identity. Even with the iPhone with its fingerprint reader, every time I want to access my phone or access an application that's enabled by the touch ID I have to put my fingerprint down. Whereas with the Nymi, you put it on once and until you take it off you're still authenticated.

Yury: BeyondCurious is a digital innovation company that helps large enterprises use technology to disrupt themselves before they are disrupted. So we want to know what wearbles are going to mean for enterprise. For example, what might this concept of persistent identity mean for the travel and hospitality industry?


D'Souza: One thing persistent identity could enable is that you could know who your customer is before they tell you. If you think about an airline, until I walk up to the counter and I give them my passport or my information, they don't know that I'm a frequent flyer or where I'm going. But imagine if an airline could know my identity and flight information as soon as I walk in the door. A device like the Nymi could help take service to the next level.

Nymi, by Bionym
The Nymi authenticates your identity using your own heartbeat 

Yury: Can you give me an example of how persistent identity could help people in the work place?


D'Souza: Probably the most broadly applicable example is proximity-based device access: I sit down at my laptop and all my accounts unlock; it knows that it's me; I get up and walk away, it locks again. And I can log in from anywhere. The company or the system is 100% confident that I'm sitting in front of that terminal or holding that mobile device or tablet.

Yury: What about applications for the automotive or consumer electronics industries?


D'Souza: Automotive is really interesting both on the consumer side and the enterprise side. From the consumer perspective, persistent identity could make it possible for me to access my vehicle, and have it remember my preferences, where I'm going, and what I was listening to. That becomes really interesting in a fleet environment. What if I can just jump into any vehicle and it knows that it's me, it knows where I'm going and all my information?

You can apply that same model to consumer electronics. So, I can go to a bank of phones or tablets and it has my accounts, my information, it knows that I'm holding it. It would load my apps and my e-mails because it knows it's me. I can take my identity and my preferences with me securely and have the devices and the environment react to me.


Yury: That's a really fascinating vision of the future. I can imagine a persistent identity device making a Zipcar experience much more seamless and personalized, for example. That could even have ramifications for autonomous vehicles. And I can actually imagine the credit card companies paying people to wear a device like the Nymi to deter fraud.


D'Souza: Yes, the way this will probably play out is companies - credit card companies, banks, or car companies, or airlines - will basically give these away, buying them for their most valued customers. But what's important is regardless of how you get a Nymi, it'll work throughout the ecosystem. So, if I get it from my airline, I can still connect to my car, can still use it with my personal credit card, etc.


Yury: Do you think this technology is going to take off first with consumers, or with enterprise and why?


D'Souza: I think there are probably more immediate applications in the enterprise. There's a huge opportunity to save people time and mind share by enabling employees to focus on what they're doing and not have to shift focus to log into systems. But what we're very conscious of is that we don't want this to be a shackle; we don't want this to feel like, "Well I got this from my employer and I have to put it on when I get to work and I take it off as soon as I leave and it tracks me." We want it to be a perk.

For this platform to work really well, it's got to cross enterprise and consumer. It's got to be something I put on in the morning so I can access the things I need and value in my personal and professional life, like my house key, car key, my personal accounts, my credit card, my badge card at work, my computer station, etc. Ultimately, the it's my identity. And I trust it.


5 Digital Tools Every Team Must Have


At BeyondCurious, we live on the cloud. Literally. As an innovation consultancy, we work with leading brands helping them solve complex business problems with digital solutions. Yet, we have no servers, no local applications. Everything in our business is cloud based – providing global access to information and enabling us to scale rapidly as we grow.


To help us stay at the bleeding edge of innovation, we are constantly looking for high impact additions to our digital toolkit. The good news is that in today’s connected economy, there are hundreds of cloud-based solutions that have reinvented established methods to deliver next generation experiences for teams. 


Here are five digital tools that BeyondCurious has adopted that are must-haves for any team:


Okta – Single sign on for cloud applications

As the recent Heartbleed debacle has shown, passwords are the Achilles heel of the digital age. And with password requirements becoming more complex, remembering countless passwords is not only a burden; it’s also extremely inefficient. Enter Okta – a simple tool that enables single sign on for cloud applications. With Okta, you only have to remember one password to access everything you need for work. At BeyondCurious, Okta makes it possible for us to access all of our cloud-based systems with a single sign on. It also allows us to easily onboard talent globally – an incredibly useful capability for a company with a global delivery model.


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 Access all of your applications from one place with Okta


Box – Enterprise document sharing and collaboration

All our documents, whether internal or external, reside on Box.  We use Box to help us develop, collaborate on, edit, share, and store all of our digital files with our teams and clients. Now, instead of having to email documents back and forth between the client and team, all parties can edit, comment on, and share documents in one archived system. Box makes it a breeze to collaborate with internal and client teams. With role-based access, you can now securely collaborate with anyone across the globe, at any time, and ensure that your files stay version controlled and backed up.


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Global collaboration is easy with Box


daPulse – Task management and coordination

We use very sophisticated project management and team collaboration tools for client engagements. But these tools are too big and complex for smaller, internal initiatives such as producing blogs, or organizing a company event.  We were looking for a lightweight, easy-to-use, no training required kind of tool. We found a tool called daPulse that combines project management and communication into one user-friendly interface that is a delight to use. It is designed to facilitate collaboration by providing visibility into tasks, owners, due dates, and status. It has a simple interface with visual cues and updates, providing an instant pulse on topics relevant to the user.


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daPulse makes it easy to track inititatives


Small Improvements – Performance management and culture

Our mission is to empower people by unlocking their limitless potential. We are committed to helping people develop mastery and gain autonomy. We believe that self-awareness helps people achieve excellence. However, most performance management solutions in the market are designed for annual or semi-annual performance reviews. We were looking for a tool that is designed for continuous feedback and recognition. We found Small Improvements, a performance tracking tool that helps people understand and track their performance, pushing themselves to unlock their potential and be the best they can be. For example, you can recognize anyone for work well done. You can give them a badge for serious props and you can share feedback provided with anyone in the company. We use this tool to help people develop a deep understanding of their strengths and competencies. We believe that Small Improvements will lead to big gains for BeyondCurious’ clients and teams.


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Small Improvements leads to big gains  


Geckoboard – Real time visibility into critical information

The right information drives the right action. And the right action drives the right results. In the past, manually created dashboards have helped share information with everyone in the company. But now with Geckoboard, we can share all business critical data with everyone using one integrated dashboard. Geckoboard integrates data real time from finance systems, time tracking systems, and sales and marketing systems into one place and displays it using beautiful data visualization. It even automatically pulls data from excel spreadsheets! Geckoboard is an excellent digital dashboard that provides macro and micro visibility, helping your team make informed business decisions. 


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Unified view of all data with Geckoboard

What tools do you use to help your teams innovate, and how do you use them?


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