Factors affecting the Communications Strategies of firms offering Edge-based solutions
An Xpresso Communications Technology Deep-Dive
Working within the field of technology broadly, one of the greatest challenges that faces us at Xpresso Communications is staying abreast of emerging market trends across a range of sub-sectors. It requires not just an understanding of the technologies themselves – in considerable technical detail – but it also requires us to understand their implications on a business level (and often, social, cultural and economic level too). It isn’t enough for us to reactively understand technologies; every time we take on a new client we need to as aware of the challenges facing them as we would if we were competitors in that market ourselves.
Some of these trends are very much niche specific, but often, there are developments in the world of technology as a whole which have ramifications for nearly every sector. And it’s one of these we’d like to focus on today.
Why everybody should be paying attention to the Edge
One of the most notable trends to emerge in recent times has been that of ‘the Edge’. If you operate in a firm whose offering is orientated around Edge-based solutions, you can likely skip this little introduction to the concept. And even if you don’t work directly with the Edge, you’ll likely already be aware of it in a broad sense, even if it doesn’t (or hasn’t yet) had an impact in your particular sector.
In essence, the Edge refers to moving some or all of the storage, computing and processing of data away from centralized, super-sized locations and moving it to the ‘edge’ of the network, generally resulting in a more distributed network where the work needed for the data is performed closer to or on ‘the last mile’.
But it’s important to note that Edge computing is not one specific thing. It’s not a technology in a box you can buy. Instead it’s a term that is used to describe a concept; a new way of thinking about how networks are structured and where data is stored. Resultantly, you’ll often see other terms deployed to mean similar things (fog computing being a major one), with these new terms often created to try and communicate some minor point of differentiation, even though the underlying principle is the same. It’s important to bear this in mind whenever a conversation about Edge computing comes up, because it can become all too easy to end up talking at cross purposes, even whilst using the same word. Being specific and precise about market subsection, vendor type and technological implementation approach are all important when talking about and considering Edge solutions. Which certainly keeps us on our toes at Xpresso…
Knowing when to make a move to the edge
As with any new technology, there can be a great deal of confusion as initial solutions, offerings and providers emerge on the market. Competing approaches and standards need time and space to let the dust settle, and for the most innovative, efficient and suitable technologies to become dominant and push out the competition (though a quick glance back through technological history suggests that it’s not always the ‘best’ technology which asserts this dominance – technology historians often marvel over the dominance that VHS achieved over the technologically superior Betamax).
The point is though, for the customers of these services – second-tier operators looking to leverage these cutting edge technologies to provide their own services to the consumer market (think, for example, subscription streaming services – it can be risky to ‘jump the gun’, and ‘hitch your wagon’ too early to a technology or provider which may end up being crowded out by competing approaches.
Which means that companies which want to deploy Edge-based concepts and technologies to offer their customers a particular service need to understand the needs that these customers have, and perhaps more importantly, the fears that they hold in relation to embracing new technology. Understanding these elements will inherently impact what a provider needs to communicate to their audience, when, and how. And at Xpresso, because we understand the technology, the market and the business case of our customers, then it follows that we understand on the deepest level how to address the hopes and fears of their potential customers.
This goes across all technological offerings, not just the Edge. For firms who are pioneering in the field – the first to experiment with and offer a new technology – how to communicate the advantages of that innovation whilst reassuring clients that risk has been appropriately managed? For firms which are following in an established trend by refining or repackaging existing technologies, how to communicate the idea of the technology as being fundamental rather than outdated, and the reliability, cost and insight benefits that come from adopting established technologies rather than developing them?
At Xpresso, we understand both the technologies and the positioning of each of our clients intimately, in order to deliver a communications strategy which plays to their strengths.
The benefits and challenges that face those on the edge
So what then are the particular benefits and risks that adoption of Edge technology poses, and what are the implications for how a company employing Edge-based technology communicates on the matter?
By moving the processing of data to the Edge and putting it within the last mile of the user, the speed at which data can move unhindered is dramatically improved, which has obvious benefits for operations which call for real-time processing. Resultantly, 5G-enabled transport and IoT (Internet of Things) applications will be front and centre when it comes to reaping the benefits that an effectively deployed Edge-based network can bring. But to maintain reliability and security within this new paradigm, significant care will be needed in terms of how these networks are constructed, managed and monitored. Communicating the expertise that a company holds in relation to these elements will be as vital as communicating the fundamental nature of the product or service being delivered.
In the field of broadcast – the original stomping ground of our own CEO Fiorenza Mella and a sector Xpresso Communications has a significant presence in – there are a remarkable number of benefits to moving services to the Edge, but it is taking a while for some firms to realise this. This means that companies in broadcast seeking to offer Edge-based solutions to their customers will need to invest heavily in communicating the fundamental benefits of such an approach.
The most notable benefit for Edge-based broadcast provision is the delivery of services with lower latency and higher efficiency – meaning reduced operational costs and faster delivery for broadcast customers (particularly important for live broadcast…). But more than this, it isn’t just that it improves unidirectional delivery, but instead bidirectional delivery and feedback. This means broadcasters can monitor a whole host of metrics from their audiences which can inform delivery quality (even emotional metrics!), but they can also create interactive experiences for their audiences. All of these are key points of potential differentiation for these customers, customers who are operating in an increasingly competitive market – and as such should be front and centre as points of focus in the communications strategy of the upstream service providers seeking to sell them an Edge-based solution.
But there are challenges too. The first relates to the technological demands that come specifically with video, and the fact that it can often be unpredictable, asymmetric and bursty, not to mention both varied in relation to compression and transport standards, and data-rich. All of these make for a complex technological undertaking, made all the more complex and demanding when undertaken at the Edge.
The section issue was raised briefly at the outset of this blog; there is – as of yet – no singular approach to how ‘the edge’ is approached on a technological level, and many new entrants to the market are jumping on board with little understanding of the underpinning principles or demands of the concept. As with the old Betamax/VHS war, there are many providers with many solutions, and it will take time and space for the most beneficial ones to emerge victorious, and the ill-considered ones to sink into obscurity.
As a result, customers seeking a solution for their content delivery want to be sure they don’t invest heavily in the wrong provider/technology too early, but they also can’t afford to wait and fall behind the offering of their competitors. This goes for all technology sectors, from transport, to IoT, to broadcast, medicine, gaming, grid and utilities and software delivery. So any company aiming to provide Edge-based services to these sectors needs to not only communicate the technological benefits of the Edge, they need to demonstrate how as providers of Edge-based solutions, they as a company maintain the skills, mindset, reliability and trust needed to delivery results. Communications need to be as much about the personal and the reputational as they are the technological.
And that’s where Xpresso Communications can help.
A different conception of the edge
In a funny way our own organisational structure at Xpresso somewhat emulates an Edge-based network; rather than being a cumbersome, centrally located organisation with the unnecessary overheads of centralised infrastructure (i.e. offices) and delay-prone nodes of bureaucracy, we use the digital nomad principle to keep our structure dispersed, flexible and agile – operating across geographical time-zones and industry sectors with speed and expertise. We believe this allows us to best leverage the expertise, knowledge, curiosity, experiences and passion of each of our members, which results in both strategy and content that is unique in its nature. Indeed, that’s why we’ve been recognised by the Corporate LiveWire Global Award for ‘Content Creation Agency of the Year’: recognising particular our multidimensional approach to complex and innovative concepts.
Las Vegas Baby!
So if you think the Edge is likely to become important to you in the near future; either in its technological sense or in relation to our ‘Xpresso interpretation’ of the concept, we’d love to hear from you. And we’d particularly love to hear from you if you’re going to be at NAB 2002 in Las Vegas (or if that happens to be your neck of the woods anyway). We’ll be there reaffirming in-person the personal connections that we’ve been forced to maintain virtually for too long now, and staying abreast of industry developments – of which we expect the Edge to feature heavily.