Disrupting Telecoms - Norwood Systems Company Story

Invention and entrepreneurship are in the blood for Paul Ostergaard. Paul’s start-up company, Norwood Systems, is named after his grandfather, Arthur Norwood, who invented processes for extracting gold and silver from ore bodies in the 1940s.

The first incarnation of Norwood Systems listed on the ASX in 2001 with a concept and technology to extend the reach of fixed telephone networks to mobile phones using Bluetooth communication. Instead of leaving a voicemail on the office phone, a caller would be transferred to the recipient’s mobile phone if they were within Bluetooth range.

In the heady days of the dot com boom, Norwood was wildly successful, winning the first ever tender for a large telco company to supply dual-mode converged telephony. Norwood was ranked by Time Magazine as one of Europe’s hottest tech firms in 2001 and 2002.

Norwood partnered with a major handset vendor to commercialise their technology but the idea conflicted with the financial interests of the mobile carriers who preferred to carry the call over their networks (and charge for them). The project foundered and Paul sold the company in 2004.

The Apple iPhone launch in 2007 changed the balance of power. For the first time consumers could choose their own phone services via the app store and the position of mobile carriers changed to merely transporting the data.

Paul saw another opportunity for his fixed and mobile convergence patents and in 2011, with David Wilson, relaunched Norwood Systems.

Now taking advantage of Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth, Norwood launched ‘Work Phone’ as a smartphone app that could extend the range of an office phone. When they upgraded this technology to support multiple Wi-Fi networks it was obvious that the technology was applicable far beyond the geography of the office environment.

But Work Phone required modifications to a corporation’s PBX and that was a barrier to fast adoption of the solution. A lighter version was needed and in mid-2015 a consumer app called “World Phone’ was released.

World Phone, offered significantly reduced mobile roaming fees and easy access to local phone numbers while travelling internationally. With more than 4,000,000 downloads, World Phone is a leading app in the Travel category on both the App Store and Google Play. Underpinning World Phone is a federation of high quality fixed Telco networks which carry the voice signals using internet protocol but with high fidelity.

Norwood did not forget its original mission to provide low cost converged telephony for businesses and in 2016, using the lessons from the Word Phone and inspired by the success of ‘Uber for business’, Norwood relaunched a corporate version of World Phone  called 'Corona Cloud', which avoids the need to integrate with a customer's internal telephone exchange (The PBX) but still offers control and manageability of work phone usage regardless of whether its a company or personal phone.



Norwood Systems

Source: Mike Adams conversations with Paul Ostergaard, Steve Tot and Nick Horton

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: The early 2000's when fixed telephony is being seriously disrupted by mobile telephony

The Complications: A business failure due to entrenched market forces

The Turning Point: New technology that allowed a re-entry

The Resolution: A booming business that is disrupting the Telecommunications industry

The Point of the Story: Get on board with Norwood Systems, you can improve your company's productivity and pay for the improvement with the telecom spend cost savings

Schlumberger in Russia

I think the first time I noticed the power of stories in sales was when I was managing a sales team in Russia for Schlumberger in 2000.

Schlumberger was formed in 1926 when Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger invented a technique to measure the variation of resistivity in oil wells and hence locate the oil. The invention was an instant success and within a few years, Schlumberger deployed their technique all over the world. They revolutionised the Russian oil industry to the extent that a portrait of Conrad Schlumberger was hung in the Oil and Gas Gubkin Institute as a pioneer of Soviet industry.

But the company suffered a huge setback in the 1930s, when Stalin nationalised Schlumberger's assets in Russia.

In the mid-1990s, when Russia was opening up again to western companies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Schlumberger needed to make a decision whether to re-enter the market. The CEO, was asked how much money he was willing to risk on a Russian re-entry; His answer was “$200 million”.

With that, Schlumberger set about placing senior experts and investing in two of the top six Russian oil companies. The results were startling; using western techniques, the two Russian oil companies doubled production while their competitor’s production fell.

I've told this story many times and heard it re-told by my customers. The story’s effect was remarkable and unmistakable.

The power of stories to capture our attention lies in the narrative journey: the complications, trials and mistakes that expose the hero's vulnerabilities. Without the setback of Stalin's nationalisation, the story would not have the same power.

Today, Schlumberger is a company with revenues of $35 billion, dominating the oil and gas services business - and generating nearly $2 billion per year from Russia alone.




Source: Mike Adams experience and conversations with Schlumberger people in Russia at the time


"The Schlumberger Adventure"

, Anne Gruner Schlumberger

Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Schlumberger in Russia 1930 to present day

The Complications: The company's assets were nationalised by the Russian state

The Turning Point: Schlumberger's successful re-entry into Russia in the 1990s

The Resolution: A massive successful business

The Point of the Story: How an interesting story says more about a company than marketing claims

How to use this Story: We tell this story as an example company Creation story and to illustrate the persuasive power of stories.

Innovation Downunder

In the early 2000s, Matt was working as a geophysicist at BHP Petroleum. He was also adjunct associate professor of geophysics at Curtin University in Perth. Keen to start his own geophysics software business, Matt saw in PhD student Troy a potential partner with a brilliant mind who could ‘do anything’. Matt and Troy were working on software techniques to ‘invert’ seismic acoustic survey data to a quantitatively useful parameter such as the probability of hydrocarbon. In late 2003, Matt left BHP and together with Troy, founded Downunder GeoSolutions (DUG).

Processing seismic data requires banks of computers to perform parallel computations on terabytes of data. Matt and Troy installed a network of PC computers in a shed they built in Matt’s backyard. They immediately encountered an overheating problem with their massed PC computers. The solution was to stack the PCs on their sides, fit the shed roof with an array of exhaust fans sourced from the local hardware store, and drape a curtain from the window to direct outside air up through the PCs to cool them. After about three months, the processor boards started turning green from the humid air and within a year they fell apart, but the first DUG supercomputer had done its job.

The company struggled to make money in the early years, surviving on grants and piecemeal consulting projects. Then in 2006, Matt and Troy had an opportunity to apply their technique to a data set from Western Australia for US oil and gas giant Apache. Three dry holes had been drilled in the licence area and Apache had an obligation to drill one more well before they could relinquish the licence.

Matt and Troy took on the job with more bravado than confidence, and after six months of processing they produced the world's first hydrocarbon probability volume map. Their interpretation showed why the initial wells had failed, and Apache used their results to drill the first discovery well and a further 18 accurately predicted oil and gas wells. The Julimar oil and gas field, which now supplies gas to the $30 billion Wheatstone liquid natural gas plant, is the result. This success launched the company, allowing Matt and Troy to open new global offices and invest in new supercomputers, expand their processing capability and take on new customers.

Today the company has outgrown the shed! DUG has grown to 350 employees and is the third largest seismic processing company in the world, and the largest land seismic processing company in the United States. They operate a network of massive supercomputers in London, Houston, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, each cooled with DUG-patented oil cooling baths, and service the seismic processing needs of oil and gas companies around the world.



Downunder Geosolutions

Source: Matt Lamont and Troy Thompson discussions with Mike Adams and Sue Findlay


Story Type: Company


For Story Students:

The Setting: Early 2000s in Perth, Western Australia

The Complications: Struggling to succeed as a company

The Turning Point: A successful interpretation that discovered a gas field

The Resolution: DUG operates supercomputers in Perth, Houston, London, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta serving oil and gas companies all over the world.

The Point of the Story: DUG is great compay

How to use this Story:  Used by DUG customer facing staff and a great example of a company creation story