2014
02.07

In today’s report, we cover: Accenture’s aggressive patent play, and why this is important to the management consulting business model – and its clients; Google can help you find your missing luggage; and improving the lives of dialysis patients.

Real world “data points” that, when aggregated, can tease out clear trends from the apparent chaos of technology development. Patent applications and awards are data points that tell us how a company is thinking about a marketplace, industry or people’s behavior in general. If enough companies are thinking and acting in a common way, then there’s good evidence that the technologies they are patenting will shape the direction of markets, industries and how people will interact with each other.

Management consulting companies position themselves as thought leaders, agents of change, and implementers of technologies that support the changes they advocate. Finding the real-world data points that tell us what they are looking at “over the horizon” helps us to understand the direction that we can expect them to tell clients to take.

Traditionally, consultancies selected and applied the technologies developed by other companies rather than develop their own. If they patented anything, it was their own methodologies for analyzing data and packaging results. They could argue that they were not tied to any one solution, and could bring the best combination of solutions to resolve the client issue that they identified.

One could interpret Accenture Global Services’ aggressive patenting strategy as a means of taking direct control of the processes that can be applied to a range of markets and industries to block competitive threats, license the processes to others as a revenue stream, and “capture” a client with propriety technology solutions that ensures a migration path for future Accenture-controlled technologies. Accenture is disrupting the traditional business model of the consultancies.

In January’s posts, we took a look at the management consulting companies and their patent award statistics. We saw then that Accenture Global Services was the clear leader in patent awards, and as we enter February, it continues to be aggressively seeking patent coverage. There is a window to the company’s positioning as a technology thought leader that ties back to the patenting activity: Accenture Technology Labs.

Updating this week’s scorecard for the consultancies, Accenture: 10, its competitors: 0

We also saw that in 2013, Accenture was light years ahead of any other consultancy in seeking patents to cover processes that would broadly apply to the range of industries to which they consulted.

Among the 10 awards this week, two had interesting implications for retailers, one for the airlines, (Patent 8,645,177 “Single Step Flight Schedule Optimization”), and one for software and services companies switching to the SaaS (software-as-a-service) delivery model (Patent 8,645,365 “System for Managing Electronic Assets of a Software Service Delivery Organization”).

Related to retail, Patent 8,645,200 (System for Individualized Customer Interaction), is fascinating. Applying behavioral analytics to the mass of data collected from Grocery Retail loyalty programs, the methods covered by the patent develop a means to develop “predictive” shopping lists for future promotions, including the ability to assess whether a customer “hoarded” a product in a past promotion. Behavioral analytics applied to big data is alive and well.

Accenture’s other retail-related award, Patent 8,645,274 (Point of Sale Payment Method), actually anticipates a problem at Point of Sale from “chip and PIN” smartcards, and offers an alternative method of transactional approval. The U.S., as is the case with the adoption of most payment technologies such as NFC, is late to the game issuing “smartcards” that require PIN authentication for each transaction. Deployed in Europe and other developed countries, “chip and PIN” adds a level of security to credit card transactions that could have limited the effects of the Target hack.

Accenture has anticipated a problem that the U.S. military encountered about eight years ago when considering using a modified smartcard as a dog tag (the long standing method of identifying casualties of war on the battlefield). Because the card reader has to make contact with the chip in the card, mechanical issues can develop to prevent the card to reader contact from happening. For the military, it was Iraqi sand blown into the readers by the fierce desert storms. For retail POS readers, it could be jammed cards, bubble gum and a host of other issues. By the way, this is a problem that NFC (near-field communication) contactless technology neatly sidesteps.

Accenture’s patent offers the alternative of using the customer’s camera-enable mobile phone to initiate a secure video call with the retailer’s server, view the smartcard’s face, and allow the server to validate the card and process the transaction. Very clever thinking is evident here.

Google was “hot” this week, receiving 49 awards, many concerning enhancements that apply behavioral intelligence to online activities. One, however, stood out because it was an interesting combination of wireless sensors and GPS applied to a very frustrating experience that I have had, and you may have also. Patent 8,644,794 “Luggage Locator,” addresses the issues associated with finding where you luggage is without relying on the airline to tell you. Power consumption and “turn on” control, and local signal comparison to the one in which the luggage is intended to be, are aspects that this patent addresses. Of course the question is: Why is Google doing this?

With all of the advances in home healthcare, including sensors and systems to allow more sophisticated treatment protocols to move from the hospital to the home, one award has the potential to improve the lives of dialysis patients. Patent 8,641,615 (“Method and Apparatus for Machine Error Detection by Combining Multiple Sensor Inputs”) was awarded to NXStage Medical, Inc.  Using sensors to monitor potential leakage points in the dialysis apparatus, actual leaks can be reported as they occur. The intention is to create an ultra-safe condition that will allow for the transfer of the procedure from a clinical (hospital) to non-clinical (home) setting.