6 CEO Takeaways From the Consumer Electronics Show

1. What happens in Vegas … is declared to the world. One of the best ways for companies with even a peripheral tech model to get some visibility and buzz is to appear in some form at CES and then put out a press release—or maybe only a tweet—about it. Global media glom onto just about anything that moves in this regard and will give it a ride, however ephemeral. If you’re seeking a quick dose of publicity or even major consideration by the global press next year, think now about how to plant your company’s flag in some way, shape or form at CES 2016.

2. Reckon with the “Internet of Things”. The significance and ubiquity of digital technologies is best understood by considering the rise of the “Internet of Things”—which means running practically any kind of device or machinery through the Internet via the cloud using sensors, chips and other devices. It was the catchphrase of the year at CES.

“While the average consumer will never care about IoT, they will come to appreciate it deeply. What we call ‘Internet of Things,’ they will simply refer to as ‘things that just work’.”

“The Internet of Things doesn’t mean anything to consumers,” acknowledged Josh Feldmeth, CEO of Interbrand North America, on Brandchannel.com. “And it never should. But the “opportunity for brands is foundational because it creates the infrastructure needed to support seamless, simple, intuitive and amazing experiences. While the average consumer will never care about IoT, they will come to appreciate it deeply. What we call ‘Internet of Things,’ they will simply refer to as ‘things that just work.’

3. Digital is the new normal for doing business. Doing business these days has become nearly synonymous with figuring out how to do it digitally. Every enterprise is moving in some way, shape or form from an analog world to one constructed on bits and bytes, and this tectonic trend is reshaping just about every industry.

What would a discussion about the future of automobiles be these days, for example, without reckoning with the fateful importance of connectivity in and around the vehicle, and with the outside world? Automakers, as well as home builders, utilities and healthcare firms, were in abundance at CES this year, all grappling with its implications and opportunities..

4. Plunge into the petri dish. Even companies without huge stakes in digital innovation recognize the opportunity to plunge into a fertile petri dish of technology ideas, contacts and synergies at CES. That was certainly the case with Kimberly-Clark this year, for instance.

The maker of mature, commodity products including Kleenex and Huggies—was out in full force at CES, courting mobile developers. Kimberly-Clark’s Digital Innovation lab met with 10 finalists in its second KChallenge, a two-day event. The winner will develop a pilot tech project with one of Kimberly-Clark’s global brands.

“CES creates excitement and a focal point for the process,” Mayur Gupta, Kimberly-Clark’s head of marketing tech and innovation, told Brandchannel.com, “because it brings our brands face-to-face with cutting-edge technologies, both for our present and future needs.”

5. Young entrepreneurs are looking for partners. The rise of digital technologies has increasingly opened entrepreneurship to the young. They grew up with a digital worldview, and the weak economy has forced more millennials into startup mode.

So it’s not surprising that this characteristic of digital progress should be on display at CES, encouraging even more would-be young entrepreneurs to get into the game. For example, a New Hampshire teen named T.J. Evarts was trolling CES 2015 looking for potential partners and backers for his SMARTwheel invention.

Endorsed by President Obama and seen on ABC’s Shark Tank already, the SMARTwheel clips onto a car’s steering wheel and essentially attempts to force drivers to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by mobile devices and other dangers. The device also feeds data to an app that helps teenagers and their parents learn about and improve their actual driving behaviors.

6. Beware of privacy concerns. The massive, disruptive hack of Sony Pictures’ intellectual property was a very recent reminder that privacy issues lurk behind every single new advance in the digital order. That should be a sobering consideration for all CEOs, and some heavy hitters delivered that message at CES 2015.

“Any device that is connected to the internet is at risk of being hijacked,” Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, told the gathering. “Moreover, the risks that unauthorized access create intensify as we adopt more and more devices linked to our physical safety, such as our cars, medical care and homes.”

 

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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