Posts Tagged IT

Fraser Engineering; a billion dollar company in the making Peter Kerr Mar 26

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Well, you can’t accuse Hutt Valley-based Fraser Engineering of lacking ambition.

Speaking at a recent Technology Valley get-together, general manager Martin Simpson says it wants to be a billion dollar company.

The 60 year old private company with 100 designers, engineers and fabrication and production specialists has tweaked what it makes a number of times over the years – with its latest incarnation having manufacture of fully-specified fire engines as one of its major product lines.

Fraser’s are now the largest fire engine manufacturer in the Pacific area, and one of the largest in the world.  All of this has been achieved by ploughing profits back into the business, and NOT outsourcing to the likes of China.  It means that the company has more than $20 million of manufacturing ‘kit’, from 3D laser printers, to laser cutters, 9-axis machine tools to powder-coating facilities.

However, all this machinery starts and interacts with a Solidworks 3D CAD design software. (Martin noted that there’s a very large bill that the company has to pay for licence fees for this capability as one of the largest privately-owned users in New Zealand).

As a result Fraser’s are able to barcode-view the manufacture of every single part of the appliance, control valves, nozzles, hose reels and host of other components that make up a fire engine (or any other job it does for outside clients). From materials to drawings, purchasing and all aspects of turning raw metal into often very complex finished components, Fraser’s can track the process and progress of any individual part.

Should a replacement part be required, Fraser’s can find its specifications virtually instantly, and be able to produce it on the spot if required.

By maintaining a design-led in-house manufacturing and engineering capacity, “we’re now a powerhouse that can compete with anyone in Australasia,” Martin says.

“In fact, we’re advancing our manufacturing capability so quickly, our opposition can’t keep up.”

This in-house expertise also means that Fraser’s know to a few cents, how much an item costs to manufacture. Detailed information and internal reporting such as this is one reason that Fraser’s is now building 20-30 fire engines at any one time.

The company also has an intellectual property strategy that isn’t based on patents.

“The way we do it is to keep ahead of the competition,” says Martin. “If you copy you will never lead.”

Martin is also dubious (to say the least) about some of the ‘advice’ received over the years from government ministries.

Fraser’s deliberately didn’t outsource parts of its manufacturing to China. An observation he’s made of other engineering companies who have done so, is the waiting and co-ordination required to make sure hundreds of parts arrive on-time to create the component. This wait, and just as important the resultant delay in getting paid by your own customers is part of the reason the company has been so insistent on being a one-stop-shop, and/or outsourcing some manufacturing elements  to local collaborative partners.

Control of the process is key.

“Don’t sell your assets,” was one of Martin’s take-home points. “It keeps you in control.”

He says an exemplar company for Fraser’s is Rosenbauer.

They are often asked (with incentives) whether they would also like to establish themselves over the ditch.  In the meantime though growth will come through being smarter than their opposition.

That, and no doubt, a large degree of listening to themselves and not to others who don’t have skin in the game.

How long will it take for the Wynyard Precinct to hit its straps? Peter Kerr Mar 11

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Well, let’s see how Auckland’s new Innovation Precinct, Wynyard Precinct (it appears to have at least a couple of names) get’s up and going.

It has been one of those long time in coming projects – and now we’ll see if the deliberate talk of setting up an innovation hub to attempt to be a baby Silicon Valley can be pulled off.

Making it a digital and ICT concentration of goodness may work, but then it may not.

I don’t know enough of the psychology, come physical location, come proximinity to university relationships to guage this one yet.

That, and whether the office/laboratory rent will be in the right comfort zone for budding entrepreneurs, who, even though they’d like to be situated around other smart people, may prefer the rock-bottom payments due when operating out of garage.

With (well at least according to this NZ Herald story) hotbeds of innovation already taking place in Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, Parnell, East Tamaki and further south around Auckland Airport, how and where Wynyard fits in will be interesting over the next few years.

Wynyard’s got some solid operators, with a track record in start-ups through having The Icehouse and Auckland’s BizDojo as people to meet, greet and settle potential new firms. There’s nothing like a bit of experience and competence to help fledgling founders.

How Ateed (the Auckland development agency) and Callaghan Innovation bring the FoodBowl into the mix will be another challenge.

The Manukau-based Food Innovation Centre has had considerable investment put into it by central government.

While these ventures always take a long time (if ever) to pay themselves back, the FoodBowl’s been very much in that territory apparently.

But, that’s not to belittle Wynyard. Onwards, and hopefully upwards.

Mind you, given that it will take at least a couple of years for anything meaningful to happen, by then we’ll have forgotten what the original purpose of Wynyard was anyway.

Chipping in for multicore champion – let’s get parallel programming Peter Kerr Feb 04


 You’ve got to admire someone who has a vision, almost as much as someone who is prepared to use the word vision.

So here’s a plug for Nicolas Erdody, founder of Open Parallel, and more importantly the organiser of Multicore World Conference 2014.

Erdody’s well aware that computer hardware power – where many cores (essentially single computers) can be placed on a single chip – has advanced beyond the IT industry’s ability to program for such beasts.

In this light, he’s put together for a third consecutive year a two-day conference at Auckland’s AUT on 25 and 26 February that brings together many global experts on dealing with this challenge.

Naturally Erdody’s keen to get as many attendees to the world-class event as possible (just under $1000 for full attendance, including a conference dinner on the Tuesday night).

Equally he wants NZ Inc to wake up to the realisation that there’s a real opportunity for our collective psyche and IT infrastructure to ride the just-beginning wave of programming possibilities that exist around multicore coding.

Erdody’s passionate that a concentrated effort of NZ government, commercial interest, engineering and developers’ communities, R&D and academia could provide programming solutions for multicore.

Given that multicore’s parallel coding requirements are weightless, location agnostic, and an increasing problem needing to be solved, Erdody’s dead right about the opportunity.

Rounding up the collective cats to bring it to fruition, even in a country as only two degrees of separation connected as New Zealand has been an ongoing challenge for the Oamaru (yes, you read that right), former Uruguayan businessman.

However he must be doing something right. After two years staging the event in Wellington, for the third conference Erdody has pulled Auckland’s AUT (Auckland University of Technology) onboard as one of the sponsors, along with well-known open source software promoters Catalyst IT, SKA Organisation (from the UK) Cray Inc, NesI, NZOSS, MBIE, ThinkAgency, Scoop Media and NVIDIA.

There are more than 20 speakers at MCW2014, with over two-thirds of them from overseas.

Erdody would love to see as many IT managers, CTOs and CIOs, engineers and developers as possible at what is cutting edge thinking – and what is sure to be an inside look at where computing is heading in the immediate and not-to-distant future.

In a sense (though Erdody’s too polite to say this), anyone connected with the IT industry at even a slightly senior level would be a fool not to be there – if not for the speaker quality, then for the informal conversations which alone can often be worth the price of admission.

Additionally, on February 27 & 28, Erdody’s helped organise in association with AUT’s Dr. Andrew Ensor and Prof. Sergei Gulyaev a Square Kilometer Array (Computing for SKA) Workshop – the global initiative, using radio telescopes based in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to better map the universe.  (New Zealand is a full member of the 10 country SKA Organisation, which is a cornerstone sponsor of MCW2014).

(Incidentially, Open Parallel is the only New Zealand company that leads a work package of, admittedly a small part of a huge international effort, the design phase of the SKA. Open Parallel’s contribution to the SKA isn’t funded by the NZ government, and, as a result, Erdody would appreciate international sponsorship or donors for the effort).

Finally, and getting back to the ‘vision thing’ (as accidentally coined by George Bush), Erdody deserves recognition for hammering away at an opportunity for New Zealand.

Our country could position itself as a centre of excellence and make lots of money by solving multicore programming problems for others.

Who is up for the discussion, the challenge and the prospect?

(In particular, government-type advisers looking for the next big thing, are you listening?)

Today Wellington…tomorrow the world for ‘toys’ lending site? Peter Kerr Jan 28

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 LendYour has been start-upping its way to life in a next door office to me.

A bit like a nosy neighbour, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Wellington Startup Weekend 2013 inspired web play (with an app to come) whose proposition is to ‘rent what someone else owns’.

In that same neighbourly way, I’ve also had the occasional kitchen conversation with co-founder Nicolai Thomson, who currently works for a business-oriented mobile phone company.

It has been interesting watching and hearing of the tribulations and triumphs of putting together a website and backend that firstly enables the owners of big ticket items such as motorhomes, boats and holiday homes to register their items, and then for a borrower to do so.

And though (inevitably) the commercial motorhome rental industry will see LendYour as competition, Nicolai feels the owner-oriented site has a couple of advantages beyond around 30% cheaper for the renter.

“Firstly, we have greater accessibility than the national companies,” he says. “There may be a motorhome in your home town, and you’re not restricted to taking onboard the amount of baggage you can take on a plane. Secondly, there’s a lot more character and individualisation of an owner’s motorhome, and that will appeal to a great number of people.”

Building the LendYour infrastructure to do so has taken a group of global developers/partners a number of months (though Nicolai’s originally British and is tapping into his contacts).

LendYour has had its first five paying customers, and Nicolai’s intention is to go worldwide with the site – though tailoring it for individual countries.

Unlike some competing temporary lend/borrow sites, LendYour is starting with expensive holiday-type ‘toys’, as this provides a better margin on which to build the business. Eventually, other, smaller, lower rental items will be included – essentially to flesh out LendYour’s total offer.

LendYour’s revenue model is based on owner members receiving 92% of the total charge for accommodation, and 70% for a motorhome.

One interesting feature of the site’s development has been both the learning exercise and partnering up for insuring items.

Nicolai says LendYour has obtained premiums through CamperCare that are usually much better than those available through traditional insurance companies. This premium insures both the motorhome itself and its contents.

Getting this liability/protection aspect of the business sorted out has been one of the solved headaches for the team, as up till now motorhome owners have had no way of insuring their vehicle when lending it out to a third party.

The full site is due to go live in February, and will eventually include the ability for hirers to add map-based travel information and photos – creating LendYour specific content which in itself creates more reasons for site visits. Initially this will be through static information and photos, with dynamic maps to be added later on.

The business is also up for inclusion as one of the Lightning Lab 2014 teams to be announced this coming Friday (31 Jan).

As well as the $18,000 ‘living costs’ (and commensurate acquisition of equity by the Lightning Lab investors), Nicolai sees the process would be extremely valuable for quickly learning more quickly on how to grow what has already been developed.

Using the neighbour analogy, it has been extremely interesting observing a type of toddler moving from crawling to now walking.

Whether the baby develops into a fully-fledged adult sprinting for all its worth – time will tell – and though I’ll no longer be a neighbour, I’ll watch with interest.

Failing companies the most open to new ideas – Wes Yun, UX Design Day Peter Kerr Oct 15

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“The most exciting places to work are those big companies that are failing. They’re most open to ideas, they have nothing to lose. They’re looking for the Hail Mary pass.”

[American gridiron quarterback’s hope and a prayer hurl of the ball down the field in the faith it’ll be caught by one of his own players]

Wes Yun

This counter-intuitive comment, in an offline conversation with the UX Design Day’s keynote speaker Wes Yun, was one of the unexpected aha moments of an event which attracted a fullhouse of 360 attendees. It was also the first conference to be held in Wellington’s refurbished Shed 6.

(No doubt) using design thinking, the organisers had Yun as the last speaker of the day rather than the first – so there wasn’t that gradual crowd erosion that often happens at these sort of do’s.

The self-deprecating American designer these days is creative director at Samsung (USA), but among other stints has been Motorola, RIM (on its last legs at now renamed Blackberry) and FHM (as it was creating its online platform in the early 2000s).

A few of his take home points in his hour-long (but it didn’t seem it) presentation were:

  • When you’re designing something new, you have to be aware of the old thing you’re displacing (the old thing, or the people attached to it in various ways may not be that keen to be replaced)
  •  Get comfortable with failure. If at first you don’t fail…try…fail again
  • Don’t fail fast. Listen fast

Yun also made the observation that it is a fascinating time to be a designer.

“Everybody ‘gets’ what you’re talking about, that your trying to influence for the better, culture society, the world, behaviour.”

And for a couple of other take home points (unfortunately I was only able to make the later afternoon session).

Ruth Brown, head of UX at Trademe:

Ruth Brown

  • Data is the new coal. Abundant, dirty and bloody difficult to mine…but coal drove the industrial revolution (told to her by her friend Hansa, who received it from her friend Pierre, who is not sure where he got it from)
  • Design like you know everything. Listen like you know nothing

Resn designer Marcus Brown:

Marcus Brown

  • Audio adds the emotion. (Marcus reckons that so often designers are concentrating on the pictures, graphics and movement, they tack on the music and sound at the end almost as an after-thought. Compare that to the movies where audio is a key component right from the beginning – it adds to the overall feeling

This was an excellent event, and those people I asked who had been there all day felt they’d learned lots.

As a plug, and a hope that this inaugural UX Design Day is repeated next year, get there if you can.

Punakaiki Fund now a solution in search of a problem? Peter Kerr Oct 08

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So, will the Punakaiki Fund get to ‘Go’?

And, if so, how will it differ from the angel investment funds dotted around the country?

Originally hoping to raise between $20m to $50m, when the original close date of October 2 saw it unlikely to garner $5 million, the fund closure was extended to October 25.

The managers of PF will also drop its management fee to $150,000 from the original $300,000 proposal among other decreases in fees.

Punakaiki Fund’s purpose is to invest in early stage New Zealand technology, internet and design companies.

PF’s proposed director/manager, and internet commentator Lance Wiggs, partly blames the poor uptake for the offer on it coming to the market at the same time as the Meridian offer, with brokers dedicated to that process.

Now, this may or may not be the case.

But, especially at this much lower raise offer, it has to be questioned whether the PF is now a solution in search of a problem.

The angel investment scene is pretty healthy around the country, with 15 different member organisations around New Zealand having invested $220 million since 2008 (according to the Angel Association website, see at the bottom of the page).

Very often an angel investment in a particular company is syndicated among a number of investors, so there’s a spread of risk. The costs and fees associated with the investment are also relatively low.

So, if you’re someone with spare (i.e. can afford to lose it if the company goes bust) money, would you do it through an angel arrangement or the Punakaiki Fund? To be fair, PF in its disclaimer does point out its investments are also risky.

At $5m, the PF is only ever going to be able to make small-ish investments.

If it had managed to raise much more, then it might have been able to provide the $2-$10 million funding and further investment gap that many high growth companies find difficult to source in New Zealand.

Not being able to find that quantity of money is one reason many of these promising companies find they have to head offshore to secure the next stage of their growth.

All of which is a pity. It would be good for a publicly listed investment vehicle to be visible and successful.

So, good luck Punakaiki, and thanks for raising the profile of smart companies. It would be good to have you in the mix, but the omens aren’t good.

The heart of the matter, and a matter of the heart, is design by intention Peter Kerr Oct 01

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Seeing as on the design side of things I’m more in the ‘I know when it works, I just don’t know how to do it properly’ camp…here’s a plug to the UX Design Day.

UX stands for User Experience – a customer-oriented view of whatever it is you’re offering.

This is happening on October 10 at Shed 6 in Wellington – and part of the reason to give it a boost is (as you’d hope and expect) the great website and more they’ve created.

Again, based on great design, they extracted half an hour of my time clicking through some of their 60 useful design resources. In case you can’t decide which of these to further browse, there’s even an option to play resource roulette!

Here’s what the organisers say about the one day, $150 event (which in the scheme of conferences is pretty good value it strikes me).

UX Design words, jpeg

Knowing that I don’t know much or enough about design, and that my son’s about to embark on (as yet undecided exactly what) design-oriented tertiary education, I’m looking forward to finding out more about the whole subject.

It’s a big gap in my understanding – and, apparently, you’re never too old to learn.

They’ve even included a ‘Convince your boss’ page. It takes you to a single page explanation/justification, with a box in the top left hand corner to put your name into. Very cool and clever.

Showcase site demonstrates how others can digitally engage with members Peter Kerr Sep 10

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Jamie Houston of Honk Marketing has been using his own (sideline, but now about to turn profitable) business as a showcase of how others can use the web to improve customer interaction.

This blog gives a few of the lessons the Wellingtonian has learned (and builds on a first story about him here).

As a lover of music in general and ukuleles in particular, Houston did a fair bit of research and found it was a very popular niche, with groups of like-minded people.

Hence, he has set up his, ‘Love My Ukulele’ website, which is intimately linked to a Facebook page.

Now, at the time of interview, Houston had over 6500 likes on this page. He’s also spent a few dollars on Facebook to specifically target/advertise to self-confessed Uke lovers.

And the Facebook Page is being constantly updated; but, rather than have to constantly find new material, he uses content submitted by his ‘members’ which is displayed proudly on his LMU website. When people Like his Facebook page, they’re asked if they wish to ‘join’ the LMU Club, a Self-Hosted WordPress website, with a Pinterest-like plug in and Blog section showing photos of people with their Ukes and featuring articles from the ‘members’.

The signer-uppers also receive weekly newsletter emails about ukulele-related tips, products, stories, and goings on.

From those Facebook likes, Houston has had over 750 people join his LMU mailing list – along with a little bit of information (including where they live), and a disclaimer that LMU has the copyright to re-user material posted on the site (including member-generated blogs and pictures). This is all done on a legal page.

Equally, this is all done automatically, and Houston can easily segment this ‘club’ that people have joined through their own volition.

As he says too, Facebook can easily change its rules, and just as MySpace disappeared, could become quickly unfashionable. For this reason, encouraging Uke-lovers to join his email list and use his own website, over which he has control, is a key part of his marketing strategy.

But, by also posting photos and stories that appear on the LMU website, back to Facebook, the possibility of fans liking and sharing the love is increased, and with it the word of mouth opportunities continue to grow.

“My objective is to build a mailing list off Facebook,” says Houston. “From there it is a soft-sell, that’s the strategy; the more-so because it is a heart-based one.”

One example is a community-voted-on T-shirt design. Using a crowd-funding platform, in which those wanting (and willing to pay NZ$40) a certain ukulele-inspired T-shirt, those signed-up knew that 50 people would have to pre-pay via credit cards before the ‘go’ button would be pressed at a USA-based printer who made and posted the finished article. (Only then too would their money be transferred)

So far Houston’s made two different crowd sourced and funded T-shirts.

“The strategies we’re using are cutting edge,” says Houston. “It is about engagement and having fun. We’re also straight up, not hiding anything, though 99% of people don’t read the small print telling them that we will make money if they purchase anything we recommend.”

Houston says LMU is in-effect a scalable, duplicable (by himself and others) effort, that is automated to a large extent.

Posting new material, at this stage anyway, is easy, and he’ll be looking at new ways to build off the mailing list – including affiliate sales of Uke-related products from the website.

He says that by understanding products that are freely, or relatively cheaply, available to all through the internet, people can build a separate business.

Of course too, he’s happy to act as an adviser to others wishing to automate customer engagement, and earn a reward for his own years of learning how all this works.

At the moment though, his LMU acts as an exemplar for those he sells his consultancy services to, and he’s got other potential niches up his sleeve.

For example, lots of people like cats enough to wish to be part of a group dedicated to moggies.

Don’t be surprised to see something turn up on that one day!

Building an integrated interweb presence – easily Peter Kerr Sep 03

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For many people (including especially myself), figuring out how to integrate all things interwebby in order to build a business is, at the very least, daunting.

Think cleverly using Facebook and other social media, building a database, selectively interacting with potential customers – and doing it all automatically and simply.

It is something that brings thoughts of designers and coders and a slew of geeks to produce something that looks half-decent.

But a recent meeting at a WordPress Wellington users Meetup, brought to light someone who has figured out, using either free or very cost-effective tools, ways to look a million dollars, and interact with a select group of people.

Now, Jamie Houston’s been on a self-learning process for a number of years, and as a recently repatriated Lower Hutt lad from Australia, has set up Honk Marketing as a specialist ‘backend’ marketing consultancy, helping small businesses with their marketing systems.

Houston especially gives credit to ‘Warrior Forum’, where Warriors Special Offers are early stage products and software, for sale at heavily reduced prices to assist online marketers.

It was through these courses that he learned some of the secrets, and products, to fine tune his own offer and how to go about targeting a small, passionate group.

As Houston sells it, most people offering website development or marketing advice and the like talk about what it should ‘look’ like, the layout, the style, having a social media presence etc, etc.

“No one talks about the ‘backend’ i.e. the systems you should have in place to identify your hottest prospects, the marketing campaigns you should have in place to nurture those people who are not ready to buy from you right now, the tagging and segmenting of your databases, automated email campaigns and the like,” says Houston. “Businesses tend to know they need to do something in these areas, but they don’t know how.”

So; partly to act as a crash-test-dummy and prove his own marketing credentials, but also to develop a separate business himself, Houston’s set up ‘Love My Ukulele’, an integrated, largely automatic system to plug into and interact with this select group.

Now it helps that Houston is both a music nut and ukulele fiend himself, so his six months in the making process to build a following is rooted in a genuine enthusiasm for what he’s promoting. As he describes it a “ukulele’s the instrument of peace, of happiness.”

Now, I’m going to have a follow up blog on how Houston’s gone about setting up a Facebook and separate website for Love My Ukulele (a primer for everyone really). He gives a few good tips and specific actions – and he’s constantly coming up with new ideas – which has grown a business that “is about to turn into profit.”

Houston emphasises that he’s developed a plan beyond mere Likes on a Facebook page, that engages people and equally allows/gets them to share – and along the way purchase products such as specially designed T-shirts.

“It is a combination of years of training, time and effort,” he says. “At the same time, if you haven’t nailed social media, you won’t be able to make any money from your internet efforts.”

Primary industry mobile tech forum draws the digerati Peter Kerr Aug 20

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Numbers tell a story on their own.

And the fact that over 220 attendees ponyed up at the Mobile Tech Summit 2013 in Wellington on August 7 & 8 underscores the message that our natural resources aren’t as old-hat as some would like to believe.

This new event is designed to showcase current and upcoming mobile innovations in New Zealand’s principle food and fibre sections.

In other words; the application of smartphones and mobile devices across our biological industries – which for all the movies made in New Zealand and talk of standalone digital businesses, still underpin our economy.

Indeed, it is the use of an increasingly wide range of digital tools to improve the production, quality, performance (and partly the consumer reaction/acceptance) of products of our land and sea that MTS2013 was clearly aimed at.

The physical, financial and environmental information and components that can be added right along the value-chain from pasture to plate, (or seedling to structure or fish to dish) is huge – and there’s no shortage of tech products for what is commonly known as decision support.

There was a wide range of speakers and different types of vendors – with, unsurprisingly, the start point for many being of the products on offer being a map; farm, forest, vineyard or sea.

The layers of information that can be applied to this spatial place range from soil type to irrigation history, fertiliser requirements to the crops and animal production that have come off a particular piece of dirt.

One challenge I’ve often observed is how these different dataset talk to each other, and how an individual actually makes money from being up with the tech play (beyond such information simply being a cool thing to be involved with).

However one of the underlying themes through the two days is how such silos of knowledge can interlink and interact so that better decisions can be made – even if many of the speakers acknowledged the difficulty of enabling meaningful collaboration between datasets.

The industry will get there; though one factor that will need to be overcome is demographic. Older farmers (and the average age of sheep and beef farmers is 58) mostly aren’t going to be interested in adopting the new mobile technology.

In that regard though, by the time those farmers retire, the different mobile apps and datasets will be much more integrated and provide a much more compelling logic and means to make more money.

Finally, a couple of points raised by speakers.

Mark Pawsey of SST Software (Australia) says that “pure cloud is a challenging environment for agriculture”. This is because, firstly, there’s a tonne of information that can be gleaned at one place and point in time from a piece of land. And, secondly, because wireless networks are comparatively underpowered in rural situations, (and devices such as iPads don’t have that much computing power), getting that data to the cloud to be processed is a trick in itself.

That said, Lukasz Zawilski, the Ministry of Primary Industries’ strategy and architecture manager reckons “mobility is really good at solving complex problems.”

The organisers of this event were no doubt delighted at the turnout, and made the closing comment to the effect they were happily surprised at the number who turned up.

This interface of real (products) and digital (data and intelligence) looks like it could be an opportunity to mine for the foreseeable future.

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