[Dave Birch] I’m a technologist so in a peverse way I rather like recessions, because (as The Economist pointed out a while back) a recession is when you see real innovation. Many successful companies got their start during hard times:

The list includes household names like Burger King, FedEx, Microsoft, Wikipedia and G.E.

[From How Will the Recession Affect Innovation? – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com]

Why is this? When things are pottering along splendidly, profits are high, no-one in a bank (or any other company) is going to invest much in anything new. The markets for innovative products are too small and the money to be made is insignficant.

Companies with overly deep pockets can flood a bad idea with money. Overly patient companies can let bad ideas linger for years.

[From Innovation During The Great Disruption – Forbes.com]

But when there’s a bit of a downturn, some companies see it as an opportunity to grab some business while competitors are retrenching to the core. This is why, I think, our payments-related work has been holding up in these difficult times. But businesses still need some inspiration to take the plunge and redirect resources away from core business. This is why that an exciting event like the London Olympics is such fun, because it serves as a spur to innovation, setting some targets for British industry to reach and make the Olympics a showcase for innovation. Oh wait…

But risk management is at the core of the IT implementation, so Pennell will maintain a conservative approach and favour proven technology, which will be customised for the Games’ purposes.

[From 2012 CIO hits the ground running – vnunet.com]

What’s the proven technology that he’s talking about? Steam engines? Television? Contactless smart cards? Well, it doesn’t appear to be the latter…

The same cautious approach applies to innovations such as contactless payments, despite the efforts of banks such as Lloyds TSB to push the idea of making the Games a cash-free environment. “Contactless is an interesting concept and we have had a few conversations around that, but my suspicion is that it isn’t something we are likely to do,” said Pennell.

[From 2012 CIO hits the ground running – vnunet.com]

So that’s that then. I hope LBG have some other innovations to excite the public with and make their 80 million pound sponsorship worthwhile. It’s just as well that their sponsorship manager says that LBG staff are inspired by Olympic history, because the Olympic future looks rather uninspiring. My prediction that London 2012 will more closely resemble London 1948 than Bejing 2008 is coming true. There’s still time for the government to re-introduce rationing to finish the effect (my Mum and Dad would love that, by the way).

We’re a very conservative people, the British. But come on. Contactless payments started rolling out in London back in 2007. They’re not a new technology by any stretch of the imagination. Millions of Londoners use their contactless Oyster cards every day and have been for years. What’s more, while places like Japan are already in the post-contactless card age (where the contactless payments, ticketing, loyalty applications are built into phones not plastic cards), the recent Orange / Barclays announcement further highlights contactless as a stepping stone to the future of payments. I shouldn’t be getting excited about using a contactless card to buy a souvenir at the London Olympics, I should be getting excited about using my phone!

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that I like recessions, but I think you have hit the nail on the head about how recessions drive innovation, especially when there is a driver for that innovation such as the Olympics.
    In the payments world, the recent report from the Boston Consulting Group highlighted the fact that revenue per payment transaction is decreasing, so banks need got to do whatever they can to encourage existing customers to make more payments, as well as try to come up with innovative products and services that catch the consumer imagination and hopefully encourage new customers to join the bank.
    Perhaps contactless cards or NFC phones are the silver bullet, perhaps we’ll see a change in the way banks manage loyalty rewards or pre-paid offerings, or perhaps it will be another solution altogether. But I think you’re right, change is definitely coming.

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