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Tech trends, market needs & partnerships: the strategy behind CES in Las Vegas

Ivan Cheung
Ivan CheungAP COO, CAP Regional General Manager and Vice President
I head up a fortune 500 company’s operations in over 13 markets across Asia Pacific, including ASEAN, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Korea. I've been a part of the team growing our business from a Chinese based company to a truly global player. I’m always looking to work with the next generation of customers, collaborators and talented people.

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In early January 2018, the technology world arrived at the desert city of Las Vegas, Nevada. This of course was the location of the annual CES event, now evolved from its origins as a consumer electronics show to something considerably larger! As with everyone else, Lenovo was there to launch new products, and brief the market, media and our customers on where we see momentum over the next 12 months or so.

At the event, there was buzz about possible next big things, and conversations on the latest tech trends. From smart homes and smart assistants to autonomous vehicles, robotics, and drones – media, analysts and commentators had a lot to say about the year ahead. (If you’re interested in our activities specifically, you can see a round-up of all the Lenovo product announcements on tech news blog engadget).

The above reflects the front end of the show along with some of the glitz and glamour. Yet the strategies behind the glitz are even more interesting, but often remain hidden: what are the business stories, thinking and planning which inform every organisation’s involvement at CES?

 

 

Strategic market, product and partner considerations

Every vendor, ourselves included, must bring a compelling set of products to market which reflect the needs of those we expect to buy them. If those products fit within a larger vision, so much the better: if customers – in the B2B and the B2C spaces – understand more about the context for any particular product, where it fits and even why it exists, we know they will be more amenable to considering it. (And you can read more about that vision here).

This isn’t something that happens in a vacuum. Our task at the start of this process is to listen to what the market wants, which we do continuously via a range of physical and online feedback channels both globally and across the Central Asia region. From there we need to build the best possible customer experience into our new products, experiences that will resonate with and reflect what the market actually wants.

Our new product announcements covered smartphones, PCs and smart home devices, built upon AI, AR and VR. These devices – take for example the Miix 630 2-in-1 detachable, the ThinkPad X1 portfolio update, and the Mirage Solo Daydream VR headset among them – are not created for the sake of it. They are built in response to customer needs and the market directions we monitor closely. That we aim to be a leading participant is perhaps obvious and a given, but we can only succeed in that by fulfilling our part of the commitments we make to our customers.

This process becomes more-complex for companies like Lenovo because we sell through multiple channels. Strategy and product fit must both be attractive and profitable for our channel partners and resellers, which are a critical part of taking our brand to market, for example. They have invested in our brand and our claims. This can only happen if we get the customer listening and experience components right, building products the market wants.

Market reaction is the first measurement of whether we have listened to our partners and customers properly. I’m happy to say that partner feedback from our Central Asia Pacific partners has been positive, particularly on the competitive appeal of new ThinkPad tablet and Yoga features, along with the keen response to the Miix 630 tablet. As one example, the positive reaction to the Miix laptop reflects the market needs we identified for longer device battery life (20 hours) combined for the first time with the ‘always on’ connectivity of a mobile phone. It’s a product based on our partnerships with manufacturers Qualcomm, Snapdragon and Windows.

 

 

Notice a theme here? Channel, partnerships and technology ecosystems are incredibly important to Lenovo and how we function as a business. This collaboration, consultation and innovation, and the balance between each of these, is the real story behind our success at CES.

On the business partner side, with 95% of our business going through the channel in Asia Pacific, Lenovo is, without doubt, a channel-first company, now and into the future. That’s visible in part via our newly-launched single platform for partners (AP Lenovo Partner Portal) which has been designed to streamline channel engagement, share marketing content, enable training, and register deals, rebates and incentives.

Tech trends and market directions

All of the above points to our strategic role as a business based on the technology trends which reflect market sentiments and needs. CES is the culmination of this.

So: what appealed to me at CES?

I was excited to see a range of wearable tech on display at CES. From my perspective, I think small sized screens might be the only thing standing in the way of a major breakthrough in the wearables market, but I expect this will be overcome by virtual screens and devices which feature smart glasses. I also expect AR (and VR) to grow stronger in 2018, driven by games, content consumption of movies and sports, and new kinds of user experiences, especially around online shopping. Smart home products are of course already here (and have evolved markedly since the last CES, over 12 months ago). Their acceptance – and use – by consumers and business users will accelerate as voice recognition technology matures and becomes more accurate.

In the commercial and business technology space, our customers are talking a lot about big data and AI, and their focus has shifted primarily from driving internal productivity towards creating new revenue streams: CIOs are being tasked with growing company opportunities, revenue and margins. Where big data and analytics are in most cases being used to better understand customer behaviour, AI is increasingly being deployed to provide more accurate forecasts or estimations within the markets our customers operate in. I expect these trends to continue this year.

Customer-centricity also remains key for many commercial organisations, and the CIOs I speak to are looking at new ways to leverage AI to streamline customer service. This is happening in call centre operations, across social media and other digital customer interaction points. Examples include the use of chatbots to understand customer emotion better via AI-enhanced voice recognition. Lenovo, like many businesses, is also exploring these areas and building solutions to enhance the customer experience.

These technology trends in both the consumer and commercial space are many and varied, yet they all coalesce into a theme of intelligent transformation for individuals, organisations, and for our own business too. It’s a shift that lights the way forward for Lenovo and our partners – not just as a splash at one event in Las Vegas, but for 2018 as a whole.

What did you find exciting about this year’s CES? Please share your comments below and I invite you to follow me on Twitter @IvanCheungHK.

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