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Showing posts with label mobile. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mobile. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Analytics-first Enterprise Applications


This is the story of Tim Zimmer who has been working as a technician for one of the large appliance store chains. His job is to attend service calls for washers and dryers. He has seen a lot in his life; a lot has changed but a few things have stayed the same.

The 80's saw a rise of homegrown IT systems and 90's was the decade of standardized backend automation where a few large vendors as well as quite a few small vendors built and sold solutions to automate a whole bunch of backend processes. Tim experienced this firsthand. He started getting printed invoices that he could hand out to his customers. He also heard his buddies in finance talking about a week-long training class to learn "computers" and some tools to make journal entries. Tim's life didn't change much. He would still get a list of customers handed out to him in the morning. He would go visit them. He would turn-in a part-request form manually for the parts he didn't carry in his truck and life went on. Not knowing what might be a better way to work Tim always knew there must be a better way. Automation did help the companies run their business faster and helped increased their revenue and margins but the lives of their employees such as Tim didn't change much.

Mid to late 90's saw the rise of CRM and Self-Service HCM where vendors started referring to "resources" as "capital" without really changing the fundamental design of their products. Tim heard about some sales guys entering information into such systems after they had talked to their customers. They didn't quite like the system, but their supervisors and their supervisors' supervisors had asked them to do so. Tim thought somehow the company must benefit out of this but he didn't see his buddies' lives get any better. He did receive a rugged laptop to enter information about his tickets and resolutions. The tool still required him to enter a lot of data, screen by screen. He didn't really like the tool and the tool didn't make him any better or smarter, but he had no other choice but to use it.

Tim heard that the management gets weekly reports of all the service calls that he makes. He was told that the parts department uses this information to create a "part bucket" for each region. He thought it doesn't make any sense - by the time the management receives the part information, analyzes it, and gives me parts, I'm already on a few calls where I am running out of parts that I need. He also received an email from "Center of Excellence" (he couldn't tell what it is, but guessed, "must be those IT guys") whether he would like to receive some reports. He inquired. The lead time for what he thought was a simple report, once he submits a request, was 8-10 weeks and that "project" would require three levels of approval. He saw no value in it and decided not to pursue. While watching a football game, over beer, his buddy in IT told him that the "management" has bought very expensive software to run these reports and they are hiring a lot of people who would understand how to use it.

One day, he received a tablet. And he thought this must be yet another devious idea by his management to make him do more work that doesn't really help him or his customers. A fancy toy, he thought. For the first time in his life, the company positively surprised him. The tablet came with an app that did what he thought the tool should have done all along. As soon as he launched the app it showed him a graphical view of his service calls and parts required for those calls based on the historic analysis of those appliances. It showed him which trucks has what parts and which of his team members are better of visiting what set of customers based on their skill-set and their demonstrated ability in having solved those problems in the past. Tim makes a couple of clicks to analyze that data, drills down into line-item detail in realtime, and accepts recommendations with one click. He assigns the service calls to his team-members and drives his truck to a customer that he assigned to himself. As soon as he is done he pulls out his tablet. He clicks a button to acknowledge the completion of a service call. He is presented with new analysis updated in realtime with available parts in his truck as well as in his teammates' trucks. He clicks around, makes some decisions, cranks up the radio in his truck, and he is off to help the next customer. No more filling out any long meaningless screens. His view of his management has changed for good for the very first time.

As the world is moving towards building mobile-first or mobile-only applications I am proposing to build analytics-first enterprise applications that are mobile-only. Finally, we have access to sophisticated big data products, frameworks, and solutions that can help analyze large volume of data in real time. The large scale hardware — commodity, specialized, or virtualized — are accessible to the developers to do some amazing things. We are at an inflection point. There is no need to discriminate between transactional and analytic workload. Navigating from aggregated results to line-item details should just be one click instead of punching out into a separate system. There are many processes, if re-imagined without any pre-conceived bias, would start with an analysis at the very first click and will guide the user to a more fine-grained data-entry or decision-making screens. If mobile-first is the mindset to get the 20% of the scenarios of your application right that are used 80% of the times, the analytics-first is a design that should thrive to move the 20% of the decision-making workflows used 80% of the time that currently throw the end users into the maze of data entries and beautiful but completely isolated, outdated, and useless reports.

Let's rethink enterprise applications. Today's analytics is an end result of years of neglect to better understand human needs to analyze and decide as opposed to decide and analyze. Analytics should not be a category by itself disconnected from the workflows and processes that the applications have automated for years to make businesses better. Analytics should be an integral part of an application, not embedded, not contextual, but a lead-in.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wrong Side Of The IT Ecosystem



I find it ridiculous that people are blaming Apple for job creation in China as opposed to in the US. People are also debating how US might in-source some of these manufacturing jobs to compete with China who has sophisticated manufacturing abilities and large skilled labor force supporting these operations. They are all missing the point. This is a wrong debate.

The US lost manufacturing jobs to other countries a long time ago. I find it amusing that people expect the high-tech companies such as Apple to create manufacturing jobs in the US. If Apple were to even consider this option we would not have seen the tremendous success of Apple as a company and its products. What Apple created is an ecosystem of people and companies that are doing amazing things with their platform and their devices. It's a different kind of ecosystem and America should focus on that innovation as opposed to bringing those manufacturing jobs back.

On one side we are whining about the loss of manufacturing jobs and on the other side we have shortage of skilled IT workforce. Try hiring a good developer in the Silicon Valley and you'll understand what I mean. And yet as a nation we are behind in retraining our existing workforce, attracting students to engineering majors, and fixing our immigration policy for highly skilled foreign workers to meet the increased demand of IT-driven jobs. And, of course, while we wait, Apple is quadrupling its IT investment in India.

America should not play the manufacturing game with China or for that matter with anyone else. We are at such a loss. Let's play the game that we know we can win — technology-driven innovation. When I work with customers' on daily basis I come across so many opportunities that we are not looking at. We can use the technology, that we have built, to our advantage in the industries such as healthcare, agriculture, public sector etc. A combination of cloud and mobility could take us long way.

We're looking at the wrong side of the IT ecosystem. I don't expect the hi-tech companies to hire low-tech workers in the US. But I do expect hi-tech companies to create jobs in the US at the other end of the ecosystem via the opportunities to consume their technology and innovate in a different sector. A lot of people are missing this point. I'm talking about an ecosystem where Apple has paid out more than $4 billion to the developers. Why are we not talking about these jobs? Apple has more than $100 billion in cash, but what doesn't get much discussed is that a large part of this cash is overseas. Given the current US tax laws, Apple can't/won't bring this cash back into the US. This might make Apple acquiring or investing overseas. We do have an opportunity to reform the tax laws to deal with such a global situation (that we never encountered before) to encourage the hi-tech companies to invest into R&D in the US and not overseas.

When you look at the big picture, having a job is merely one piece of contributing to good standards of living. What about access to affordable healthcare and college education? There's a significant opportunity to apply technology built in America to innovate in these areas. We are barely scratching the surface of what's possible in healthcare as well as in education. We are living in such an antiquated and inefficient system.

Another industry that has seen less than desired technology innovation is agriculture. Take a trip down to central California to see the potential. At 2008 Olympics in China, Michael Phelps winning 8 gold medals was obviously the biggest highlight for us, but people in Watsonville were super excited because China allowed the US to export Watsonville strawberries for the Olymipcs. Recently, India relaxed the laws (that are still being challenged) to allow 100% foreign investment in the retail sector opening up the doors for Wallmarts of the world. Any guess what's the biggest challenge in retail operations in India? A non-existent cold supply chain and lack of reliable infrastructure. We take a lot of things for granted — nationwide freeways, strong governing bodies such as FDA, and size of the country. We do have an opportunity to excel in certain agriculture areas and employ a lot of Americans. We need to recognize what our real strength is and look forward as opposed to look backwards.

I am a geek and a technology enthusiast, and perhaps a little naive. But, I know for sure, we aren't pushing the technology envelope as much as we should.

Photo: Looking Towards Tomorrow

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

To RIM: Don't Change The Strategy, Change The Rules


A lot has been said and discussed about RIM's downfall: indecisive leadership, inability to innovate at fast pace, and no clear path to recovery. I don't disagree at all with the analysis and the interpretation of the situation, but I do disagree with the conclusion that many people are drawing and vehemently disagree with their advice to RIM to keep trying to regain the smartphone market share. That train has left the station and RIM doesn't have a chance to catch up, even if they do everything that they could.

But RIM may have stumbled upon something that they probably least expected. It's the BlackBerry Messaging, popularly known as BBM. We got to see the power of BBM during the London riots. During my recent trip to India, I firsthand witnessed how much of people's lives depend on BBM. These people were sad, upset, and depressed due to a RIM infrastructure outage. This is a phenomenal success. The recipe behind this success is quite simple: provide free messaging that looks likes SMS that supports groups in a network. RIM has significantly leveraged network effects; BBM got better as more and more people used it. The sale of BlackBerry in India has gone viral. The consumers buy Blackberries since their friends have it so that they can chat with them for free and perhaps do their emails. These consumers don't use any apps at all! Their needs are quite simple. These phones are also priced well - the median price is somewhat around $200 for an unlocked phone. The Indian middle class and upper middle class have no issues shelling out this money to buy a BlackBerry. I talked to quite a few people and they are moving away from Android and iPhone to BlackBerry. Yes, that's right. If RIM can manage to introduce lower end versions of BlackBerry this will further fuel the growth.

May be, just may be, there's a category between smart and non-smart phones. For a large number of people in emerging economies making a phone call and staying in touch with their friends and family via text messages and email, and not paying too much for doing that are the driving reasons to purchase a right kind of a phone.

Let's briefly look at the history of RIM. It was the device of choice for email and calendering and perhaps still is for a lot of people. RIM myopically focused on going after the enterprise customers while iPhone and Android pulled the rug underneath them. RIM initially ignored and later underestimated the disruptive nature of this innovation. What started out as a consumer market, iPhone and Android easily crossed the chasm and entered into an enterprise and started replacing BlackBerry. We all know this story. But, something happened during this era of RIM: they ended up building a massively scalable and reliable enterprise class messaging infrastructure. This is an amazing feat of technical excellence. Building BlackBerry Messaging was a logical extension of leveraging this infrastructure. What if RIM uses this as a strength and not worry about competing in the smart OS area.

It's time to pivot.

Build a robust phone that is primarily driven off by BlackBerry Messaging and double down in emerging economies. Change the rules of the game and beat Nokia at its own strategy. Even better, spin off BlackBerry into two separate businesses: one that exclusively focuses on this strength and the other that embraces innovation by OEMing either Android or Windows or both and defend the handset as well as the services market share. I don't believe BlackBerry is cut out to innovate on a new smart phone OS quick enough to beat iOS or Android or an emerging contender, Windows phone. That would mean playing by your competitors' rules. If you learn one thing from Apple, it would be not to do this.

I don't need to tell you how many cellphones the Indians own and how many of those can buy a BlackBerry. This may not be an intended move, but this social effects driven business in emerging economies such as India as well as in other developed countries could be the second act for BlackBerry. Can other vendors replicate this? May be. Not many companies in the world can do what BlackBerry does with emails and messaging in general. Group messaging on a mobile device is a killer app in itself to drive the sales of handsets. Also, this works across the carriers and the geographies, essentially allowing RIM not to be threatened by a provider. SMS GupShup in India has been an extremely popular group messaging service. It's a validation that there is significant untapped potential for RIM.

Photo courtesy: NoHoDamon

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bottom Of The Pyramid – Nokia’s Second Act

The two-third of world’s 4.6 billon mobile users live in the emerging markets. Millions of these users live below the poverty line and are part of the bottom of the pyramid (BOP). Nokia is the market leader in these emerging markets, at least for now, with 34% market share. It’s clear from rapidly declining Nokia’s marketshare and an appointment of new CEO, Stephen Elop, that Nokia needs a second act. I believe the BOP is what could be the next big thing for Nokia.

The recent NYTimes story highlights a Nokia’s service, to supply commodity data to the farmers in India, using a text message. So far, 6.3 million people have signed up for this service. Nokia is planning to roll out this service, Life tools, in Nigeria as well. This is part of their Ovi mobile business.

I have written before on impact of cloud computing and mobile on the bottom of the pyramid and the importance of public policy innovation in emerging markets. The BOP is one of the biggest opportunities that Nokia currently has. Nokia has been losing marketshare in the smartphone category, and it is going to get increasingly difficult for Nokia to compete with Apple, Google, RIM, and now Microsoft. However, the very same vendors will find it equally difficult to move down the chain to compete with Nokia in the emerging markets.

One of the biggest business challenges to cater to the BOP is not a desire to market or a product to offer, but it is the lack of direct access to these consumers. The people at the BOP are incredibly difficult to reach. I have seen many go-to-market plans fail because it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to market to these consumers. One of the biggest assets Nokia has is the relationship, the channel, with the people at the BOP. Now is the time to focus and leverage that channel by providing them with the content and the services that could be served on these phones via a strong platform, built for the BOP, and a vibrant ecosystem built around it.

My two cents: exit from the Smartphone category and double down the investment to serve the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Nokia, that could be your second act.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Laundromat Entrepreneur

In my previous post “While Entrepreneurs Scale On The Cloud The Angels Get Supersized” I wrote about how cloud computing is disrupting the VC industry. Continuing on the thread of entrepreneurship I am seeing more and more entrepreneurs building applications who do not belong to any formal organization, start-up or otherwise. The definition of what used to be a start-up itself is changing, primarily because of two reasons - simple and easily accessible PaaS tools to design, run, and maintain applications on the cloud and access to a market place to sell the applications.

We have been witnessing this trend for the mobile applications for a while - Android as well as iPhone and now iPad. I see the same pattern for the cloud-based applications. I have seen many useful, productive, and successful applications that are designed by individual developers with no affiliation to any organization.

Google has done a great job in designing the tools for the developers to build applications that can run on their cloud and can be sold on their app store. This has democratized the application business to large extent that attempt to solve niche problems. At the same time the individual developers have started monetizing their work without going through an overhead of bootstrapping and running a company. While Google’s cloud platform is a generic one the application and stack specific PaaS providers such as Salesforce.com and Heroku are also attracting such developers. Intuit’s partner development platform is a great example of a channel platform that allows the entrepreneurs to market to an SMB segment, a very difficult segment to reach (a post on that later).

All these trends, collectively, have introduced a new category of an entrepreneur. A laundromat entrepreneur.

They are not full fledged start-ups but these individuals are also not developing just for fun. These businesses have steady revenue, positive cash flow, and require very little maintenance. The companies such as Help Me - located in Karachi, Pakistan - have created their business model to support such developers outsource customer support for their existing applications so that they can focus on building new applications. Some of these individual businesses could be worth a few million dollars.

This is a very different business model that combines the best-of-breed with long tail. I am quite excited about this new category since that puts in the developers directly in charge of the product and takes them closer to the end users. I am curious to see the life cycle of these laundromats and how they get bought and sold. Many people that I have had discussions with claim that we could expect to see plenty of individuals who will own such a laundromat portfolio worth five to six million dollars.

Attribution: I have shamelessly stolen the word “laundromat” from my friend Mike Ni after my discussion with him on cloud computing business models. I had told him that I would!

The picture credit to Michael Valli

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Google Buzz Is New Black - Solving A Problem That Google Wave Could Not


Today Google announced Google Buzz. Watch the video:



The chart below shows the spectacular adoption failure of Google Wave as a standalone product. This was predicted by a lot of people including myself. As Anil Dash puts it Google Wave does not help solve a "weekend-sized problem".



Besides the obvious complex technical challenges there are three distinct adoption barriers with Google Wave and Google Buzz has capability to overcome those:

Inseparable container, content, and collaboration: Changing people's behavior is much more difficult than inventing or innovating a killer technology. Most of the people still prefer to keep the collaboration persisted separately from the content or not persisted at all. Single task systems such as email, Wiki, and instant messaging are very effective because they do one and only thing really well without any confusion. Google Wave is a strong container on which Google or others can build collaboration capability but not giving an option to users to keep the content separate from the collaboration leads to confusion and becomes an adoption barrier. 

Google Buzz certainly seems to solve this problem by piggybacking on existing system that people are already familiar with - email. Google Buzz is an opt-in system where the users can extend and enrich their experience against using a completely different tool. 

Missing clear value proposition: Google Wave is clearly a swiss knife with the open APIs for the developers to create killer applications. So far the applications that leverages Google Wave components are niche and solve very specific expert system problems. This dilutes the overall value proposition of a standalone tool. 

Google Buzz is designed to solve a problem in a well-defined "social" category. People are already using other social tools and Google Buzz needs to highlight the value proposition by integrating the social experience in a tool that has very clear value proposition unlike Google Wave which tried to re-create the value proposition. Google Buzz assists users automatically by finding and showing pictures, videos, status updates etc. and does not expect users to go through a lengthy set up process.

Lack of a killer native mobile application: This is an obvious one. Google Wave does work on iPhone and on some other phones but it is not native and the experience is clunky at best. When you develop a new tool how about actually leveraging a mobile platform rather than simple porting it. A phone gives you a lot more beyond a simple operating system to run your application on. 

Google recognized this and Google Buzz is going to be mobile-enabled from day one that leverages location-awareness amongst other things. I hope that the mobile experience is not same as the web experience and actually makes people want to use it on the phone.

You could argue that why Google Buzz is going to be different since Google did have a chocolate box variety tools before Google Buzz - Latitude, Profile, Gmail, Wave and so on. I believe that it is all about the right experience that matches the consumers' needs in their preferred environment and not a piece of technology that solves a standalone problem. If done right Google Buzz does have potential to give Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Gowalla run for money.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chief Sustainability Officer - the next gig for a CIO

CIO no longer means Career Is Over. CIOs should not underestimate their skills and organizational clout to lead the company in its sustainability efforts by being a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).

Leverage relationship with the business: As a CIO you work closely with the business and have holistic understanding of the challenges that the business faces and the growth opportunities that they aspire to go after. You can leverage the relationship with the business to own and execute the sustainability strategy and effectively measure and monitor the progress using the expertise and investment into the IT systems. You can walk your business folks through your scenario-based architecture to help them quantify the business impact of the sustainability initiatives and estimate the required transformation efforts.

Start with Green IT and lead the industry: Start with the area that you are most familiar with. Reduce the carbon footprint of your IT systems by improving the PUE of the data centers and better manage energy consumption of the desktops. If you do decide to disinvest into the data centers and move tools and applications to the cloud it will not only reduce the energy cost but would also result in consuming cleaner energy. Share your best practices with your industry peers and lead your industry in the sustainability efforts.

Make Sustainability a business differentiation: For many organizations sustainability is not just a line item in the corporate responsibility report, it is actually the future growth strategy and a sustainable competitive advantage over their competition e.g. sustainable supply chain, higher operating margins, end-to-end environmental compliance etc. As a CIO you have the right weapons and skills in your arsenal to transform the organization in the sustainability initiatives. You could innovate your company out to grow leaps and bounds by focusing on the sustainability. This could be a blue ocean strategy for many organizations that are struggling in the red ocean to beat the competition. You do have an opportunity to empower your customers in their mission to be sustainable by providing them the data that they need e.g. a bill of material with the carbon footprint and recycle index, realtime energy measurement etc.

Redefine the program management office: The sustainability projects are very similar to IT projects in many ways - make a large set of stakeholders to commit without having much influence on them, work with internal employees, customers, and partners etc. Traditionally you have been running the program management office for technology and information management projects. Apply the same model and leverage skills of your program managers to run sustainability projects internally as well as externally. Sustainability is fundamentally about changing people's behavior. Promote alternate commute program tools such as RideSpring, carbon social networks such as Carbonrally, and employee-led green networks such as eBay Green Team. Run targeted campaigns to reduce energy and paper consumption, increase awareness, and solicit green ideas. Right kind of tools with an executive push and social support could create a great sustainable movement inside an organization.

Chief Sustainability Officer is an emerging title. Your ability to work across the organization, leverage relationship with the business to sell them on the sustainability goals, and manage the tools that are penetrated in all parts of your organization make you well suited for this role. A CSO does not necessarily have to be a domain expert in sustainability. In fact I would expect a CSO to be a people-person that can make things happen with the help of the sustainability experts and visionaries.

Now you know what your next gig looks like.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Structure 09 - Cloud Computing Is Here To Stay And Grow

I was invited as a guest blogger to Structure 09 - a day long event by GigaOM focusing on cloud computing. It was a great event with an incredible speaker line-up of thought leaders in the domain of cloud computing. The panel and keynote topics included persistence on the cloud, hosting web apps on the cloud, infrastructure design etc. I won't attempt to summarize everything that I saw and heard, instead here are some impressions:

Solving interoperability with Open Source: A founding developer of Wordpress, Matt Mullenweg, strongly advocated open source for the cloud for two reasons. The first reason is to achieve interoperability and the second is to ensure the business continuity when certain vendors cease to exist. As I have argued before there is a strong business case for open source on the cloud. It was great to see the reaffirmation that other thought leaders feel the same way.

Operational excellence: Javier Soltero, CTO of Management Products at SpringSource, emphasized the operational excellence as a key differentiation for a company to achieve a competitive advantage. Vijay Gill, a senior manager Engineering and Architecture at Google, also feels the same way. He believes that having the lowest cost platforms capable of providing good enough service is going to be a competitive advantage for the companies. For good software, you need great engineers – and most companies aren’t set up to do that. The technological challenges can be solved but it is the smart people writing smart code that will provide the competitive advantage to the cloud infrastructure companies.

Vertical clouds: We are likely to see more and more cloud offerings that are optimized for the vertical functionality e.g. run your Ruby apps on the cloud, analytics on the cloud, storage on the cloud etc. The IT should focus on becoming a service provider against merely a cost center. Chuck Hollis, CTO of Global Marketing, EMC Corporation believes that if IT does not embrace the cloud technology stack, they will most likely become an organization that manages the consolidation of all the cloud services. James Lindenbaum, co-founder and CEO of Heroku, emphasized that the developers should focus on core - what they are really good at and not worry about how the code will scale on the cloud. The bad code is bad code regardless of where it runs.

Hybrid cloud: The debate between private and public cloud continued. The proponents of the public cloud such as Greg Papadopoulos, CTO of Sun Microsystems, argued that most public clouds are run more securely than most private enterprise clouds. I completely agree. One of the ideas that was pitched is to have SEC force the public companies to put their data on the cloud. If, for compliance reasons, the data needs to be retrieved the government has a better shot at retrieving this data from a public cloud against a private and proprietary system that could potentially be sabotaged. The proponents of the private cloud such as Michael Crandell, CEO and founder of RightScale, cited security as a barrier and suggested approaches such as silo clouds that are dedicated for a given customer that do not share data with other customers.

I believe that hybrid deployments are here to stay. Successful cloud and SaaS vendors will be ones who can create seamless experience for the customers and end users from top to the bottom of the stack such that the customers still retain their current on-premise investment, keep their data that they don't want on the cloud, and significantly leverage cloud for all their other needs.

It was a lot of information packed into one day event. However on the lighter side Om's conversation with Marc Benioff included Marc poking fun at Oracle and Microsoft. Marc is witty and he has great sense of humor. Check out his conversation:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nokia Is The New Blackberry Of The Emerging Countries

Nokia announced mobile email service, Mail on Ovi, currently targeting the emerging markets.
Nokia has had great success in selling reliable and inexpensive handsets in the emerging markets. In the countries such as India the consumers never used the voice mail on their landlines and went through the mobile revolution to use SMS as a primary asynchronous communication medium. Many of these users are not active email users, not at least on their mobile devices. If Nokia manages to provide ubiquitous user experience using Ovi to bridge email and SMS on not-so-advanced-data-networks it can cause disruption by satisfying asynchronous communication needs of hundreds of thousands of users.

The smartphones would certainly benefit out of this offering and give Blackberry a good run for their money. Nokia completed the Symbian acquisition that makes them a company whose OS powers 50% of all the smartphones in the world. Symbian is still a powerful operating system powering more than 200 million phones and it is open source and it is supported by Nokia. The emerging countries haven't yet gone through the data revolution and Nokia is in great position to innovate.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cisco and Juniper eyeing the long tail of consumers for their second act

Very few companies have excelled in business beyond 25 years only with their first act, a product or a business model. Some companies recognize this early on and some don't. The networking giants Cisco and Juniper seem to get this and are looking for their second act. You don't wake up one day and drastically change your business model. It's a conscious decision based on long term strategy with very focused short term execution that is required to get to the second act.

Cisco started their "human network" efforts by acquiring Linksys and Susan Bostrom completely rebranded Cisco a couple of years back. Consumerization of the brand was a big leap from an enterprise-centric organization to get closer to non-enterprise consumers. Few days back Cisco announced the Q4 results and John Chambers emphasized that Cisco would invest into adjacencies.

"..and we will use this time as an opportunity to expand our share of customer spend and to aggressively move into market adjacencies."

On the other side of the networking world Juniper recently hired Kevin Johnson as their CEO who was the president of platform and services division at Microsoft. Competing with Cisco has been challenging and Juniper did have their own share of issues in the past but let's not forget this company started during the dot com era, had a spectacular performance, survived the burst, and kept growing. But now is probably the right time to look for the second act.

For Cisco, what could the second act be? Other than the obvious long tail of consumer-centric human network strategy I see a couple of possibilities:

1) Data Center Virtualization:

The virtualization is a fast-growing market segment that has not yet saturated. The real boundaries of data center virtualization are blurry since it is a conglomeration of server, network, and storage virtualization. Customers don't necessarily differentiate between managing servers versus backing up data across data centers.

This is an adjacency that Cisco can tap into with its current investments into data center virtualization switches such as Nexus 7000, strong ecosystem, and great service organization (The service revenue is 20% of the product revenue). In fact this was speculated when Cisco announced this switch.

This could indeed strain its relationship with vendors such as IBM and make it precarious who OEMs Cisco's switches in their data centers. Companies with large ecosystem would inevitably introduce "co-optition" when they decide to sell into the adjacencies that are currently served by their partners. They will have to learn walking on a thin rope.

Virtualization with scale can lead to rich business scenarios. Imagine a network virtualization switch that is not only capable of connecting data centers at high speed for real-time mirroring and backups but can also tap into the cloud for better network analysis. The routing protocols and network topology analysis require massive parallel processing that can be delivered from the cloud. This could lead to improvisation of many network and real-time voice and data management scenarios that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. Cisco's partnership with a cloud vendor could lead to some interesting offerings - think of it as network virtualization on steroids.

2) Network SaaS:

Network Managed Services has always been an interesting business with a variety of players such as IBM, Nortel, Lucent etc. This could be one of the adjacencies that Cisco might pursue and make it a true SaaS and not just a managed service. I won't be surprised if Cisco acquires a couple of key SaaS players in near future.

On-demand and SaaS have traditionally been considered a software and utility play. The networking companies already support the data centers that provision SaaS services but they could go well beyond that to provide Networking SaaS that provisions, monitors, and maintains the networks as true SaaS offering and not just as a managed service. This could include everything from network management, security, and related services. Traditionally SIs and partners have played this role but networking companies could see this as an adjacency and jump into it since it is a natural extension from hardware to data center to managed services to a SaaS delivery. Instead of selling to a service provider who sells services to customers an effective SaaS can turn the model upside down by partnering with service providers instead of selling to them and sell to an ever growing long tail of consumers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Social computing in enterprise software - leveraging Twitter like microblogging capabilities

Twitter was buzzing with posts on the recent L.A earthquake nine minutes before AP officially broke the news. This Twitter phenomenon once again proved that unintended consequences are always larger than intended consequences. As we would have never imagined people find amusing ways of using Twitter ranging from keeping buddies updated and getting caught drinking when they called in sick and the boss followed their tweets to ensue wave of media coverage to get out of jail. A recent proposal to use Twitter as an emergency system met with stark criticism citing Twitter's availability issues. I don't see this as an "either or" proposition. The answer is "and" and not "yes, but". Let's use Twitter for what it is worth. It's a great microblogging and crowdsourcing tool to tap into the wisdom of crowd with a very little overhead and almost no barrier to entry.

Enterprise software should seriously consider this social computing phenomenon and leverage its capabilities by integrating such a tool in their offerings. For instance a social CRM application can use such a tool to help sales people effectively follow, collaborate, and close opportunities. The customer support system can provide transparency into the defect resolution process by service representatives tweeting the progress instead of logging it in semi-static IT ticket systems.

Following individual tweets has its obvious advantages but correlating multiple tweets could be extremely powerful and could yield to interesting nontraditional usage models such as using it to run predictive markets, sentiment analysis, or to track a recall on salmonella tainted tomatoes in real-time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cloud computing: adoption fears and strategic innovation opportunities

The recent CIO.com article lists out the top three concerns that the IT executives have regarding the adoption of cloud computing - security, latency, and SLA. These are real concerns but I don't see them inhibiting the adoption of cloud computing.

Adoption fears

Security: Many IT executives make decisions based on the perceived security risk instead of the real security risk. IT has traditionally feared the loss of control for SaaS deployments based on an assumption that if you cannot control something it must be unsecured. I recall the anxiety about the web services deployment where people got really worked up on the security of web services because the users could invoke an internal business process from outside of a firewall.

The IT will have to get used to the idea of software being delivered outside from a firewall that gets meshed up with on-premise software before it reaches the end user. The intranet, extranet, DMZ, and the internet boundaries have started to blur and this indeed imposes some serious security challenges such as relying on a cloud vendor for the physical and logical security of the data, authenticating users across firewalls by relying on vendor's authentication schemes etc. , but assuming challenges as fears is not a smart strategy.

Latency: Just because something runs on a cloud it does not mean it has latency. My opinion is quite the opposite. The cloud computing if done properly has opportunities to reduce latency based on its architectural advantages such as massively parallel processing capabilities and distributed computing. The web-based applications in early days went through the same perception issues and now people don't worry about latency while shopping at Amazon.com or editing a document on Google docs served to them over a cloud. The cloud is going to get better and better and the IT has no strategic advantages to own and maintain the data centers. In fact the data centers are easy to shut down but the applications are not and the CIOs should take any and all opportunities that they get to move the data centers away if they can.

SLA: Recent Amazon EC2 meltdown and created a debate around the availability of a highly centralized infrastructure and their SLAs. The real problem is not a bad SLA but lack of one. The IT needs a phone number that they can call in an unexpected event and have an up front estimate about the downtime to manage the expectations. May be I am simplifying it too much but this is the crux of the situation. The fear is not so much about 24x7 availability since an on-premise system hardly promises that but what bothers IT the most is inability to quantify the impact on business in an event of non-availability of a system and set and manage expectations upstream and downstream. The non-existent SLA is a real issue and I believe there is a great service innovation opportunity for ISVs and partners to help CIOs with the adoption of the cloud computing by providing a rock solid SLA and transparency into the defect resolution process.

Strategic innovation opportunities

Seamless infrastructure virtualization: If you have ever attempted to connect to Second Life behind the firewall you would know that
it requires punching few holes into the firewall to let certain unique transports pass through and that's not a viable option in many cases. This is an intra-infrastructure communication challenge. I am glad to see with seamless navigation in and out of the firewall. This is a great example of a single sign on that extends beyond the network and hardware virtualization to form infrastructure virtualization with seamless security.

Hybrid systems: The IBM example also illustrates the potential of a hybrid system that combines an on-premise system with remote infrastructure to support seamless cloud computing. This could be a great start for many organizations that are on the bottom of the S curve of cloud computing adoption. Organizations should consider pushing non-critical applications on a cloud with loose integration with on-premise systems to begin the cloud computing journey and as the cloud infrastructure matures and some concerns are alleviated IT could consider pushing more and more applications on the cloud.
Google App Engine for cloud computing is a good example to start creating applications on-premise that can eventually run on Google's cloud and to allow people to push their applications on Amazon's cloud. Here is a quick comparison of Google and Amazon in their cloud computing efforts. Elastra's solution to deploy EnterpriseDB on the cloud is also a good example of how organizations can outsource IT on the cloud.

Service innovation: I see many innovation opportunities for the ISVs and partners to step in as trusted middleman and provide services to fuel the cloud computing adoption. SugarCRM recently announced a reseller partnership with BT to reach out to 1.2 million business customers of BT and sell them on-premise and SaaS CRM. I expect to see the ecosystem around the cloud computing and SaaS vendors grow significantly in the next few years.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How is rise of massive parallel processing capabilities changing the dynamics of computing

The rise of massive parallel processing capabilities that multi-core architecture brings in has plentiful opportunities and challenges. The recent $20m investment by Microsoft and Intel into the parallel computing research has created quite a buzz around this topic. How well we can utilize the multi-core architecture without rewriting any of the applications is a major challenge ahead since most of the applications are not designed to leverage the potential of multi cores to its fullest extent. The current multi-threaded applications leverage parallel processing capabilities to some extent but these threads do not scale beyond few cores and hence the current applications won't run any slower on more cores but they will run relatively slower compared to the new applications that can leverage this parallel processing architecture. The best way to cease an opportunity of utilizing the multi cores is to have a single theaded application seamlessly utilizing the potential of a multi-core architecture. This does require significant work to rewrite the algorithms and middleware but this is essentially a long tail and has significant business value proposition.

The very concept of single-threaded application relying on concurrency at the algorithms level is going to challenge many developers since this is fundamentally a different way of looking at the problem. The algorithm design approaches have been changing to make algorithms explicitly aware of the available multi cores so that the algorithm can dispatch data on a random core without worrying about the issues related to multi-threading such as deadlocks, locking etc and let threads communicate with each other using asynchronous messages without sharing any common state. The algorithms always work better if it knows more about the data. If this were not to be the case, the brute-force algorithm would be the best one to solve any problem. More you know about the data, you can fine tune the algorithm and that would help you discover some good insights and that would further tighten the algorithm. The increasingly efficient processing capabilities could help deal with a large set of data early on without investing too much time upfront in an algorithm design to discard certain data. When you add the abundant main memory into this mix it has profound implications since the algorithms that were originally designed to access data from a disk are not efficient any more now that the data that they need is always available in the main addressable memory with different data structures and indexes. The cryptography algorithms have been designed to make sure that the attack cannot be completed in a reasonable amount of time given the plentiful resources. We should look at these algorithm design principles to do the opposite - how we can replicate the reverse semantics in other domains to actually make use of massive parallel processing capabilities.

I foresee an innovation opportunity in new functional languages such as Erlang and Haskell or new runtime for current dynamic and object-oriented languages to tap into this potential. The companies such as RapidMind and also indicate growing interest in this area. Initially the cheap storage, followed by massive parallel processing capabilities, and main-memory computing is going to change the computing dynamics and redefine many things in coming years. We are ripe for the change. The whole is greater than sum of its parts. Yes, indeed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ray Ozzie on service strategy and economics of cloud computing

In a recent interview by Om Malik, Ray Ozzie discusses Microsoft's service strategy and economics of cloud computing.

Desktop is not dead: He reaffirms that desktop is not going away but the desktop needs to be more and more network and web aware to support the computing and deployment needs.

"A student today or a web startup, they don’t actually start at the desktop. They start at the web, they start building web solutions, and immediately deploy that to a browser. So from that perspective, what programming models can I give these folks that they can extend that functionality out to the edge?........There are things that the web is good for, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that for all those things that the desktop is not good anymore."

Microsoft did try to ignore the Internet in the early days and they obviously don't want to repeat the same mistake. The desktop is certainly not going away, but there are plenty of innovation opportunities around the operating system. I am happy about the fact that Microsoft is considering user-centric approach for the desktops against an application centric one.

Economics of cloud computing: There are massive efforts already underway in this direction and we have seen some results such as the Microsoft Live.

"I think we’re well positioned, because we have a selfish need to do these things, and because we have platform genetics. We have the capacity to invest at the levels of infrastructure that are necessary to play in this game. So I think we’ll be well positioned."

This is simply the truth that people need to recognize. The cloud computing is about the scale and the scale requires large investment in infrastructure with no guaranteed near-term return. This is one of those boats that does not seem to have an obvious early ROI but you don't want to miss that boat. Microsoft certainly will be well positioned from the consumer and the supplier sides. They can run the productivity suite and other applications on the cloud and at the same time provide opportunities to the partners and ISVs to author and run applications on the cloud.

"But, we have every reason to believe that it will be a profitable business. It’s an inevitable business. The higher levels in the app stack require that this infrastructure exists, and the margins are probably going to be higher in the stack than they are down at the bottom."

The business value proposition of composition on cloud, the ability to build applications on this platform, is tremendous and that's the revenue stream Microsoft could count on. The profit expectations from the street are inevitable and there is no room for loss but raising the price at the bottom of the stack would increase the barrier to entry and competition at the commodity level would yield thin margins and risk slow adoption. He cites Amazon's strategy to set the price low despite an opportunity to raise it without risking to lose customers.

Cloud computing is not a zero sum game but organizations will be forced to make money somewhere to sustain the infrastructure investment and on-going maintenance and perhaps rack a decent profit on top of it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bottom-up software adoption – an opportunity or a threat?

I have been observing a trend where business users or information workers become more-informed and educated about the range of productivity software options available in the marketplace and start using them without any help or consent from IT. If taken as a threat IT could potentially attempt to block these applications and users get frustrated and still find a way to work around these restrictions and if taken as an opportunity IT takes the hint and standardizes these options across the organization to speed up the adoption. The later is a win-win situation; IT has beta users doing acceptance testing for them without being asked and IT can focus on more strategic tasks, empower users, and support users' aspirations and goals by providing them with the tools that they need. This trend follows the rule of the wisdom of crowd. If software is good enough it will bubble up. Firefox is a good example of such a trend. The users started using it way before IT decided to include it in the standard machines that they give out to the users.

I can understand why the enterprise applications such as ERP and SCM are not likely candidates for bottom-up adoption since they require upfront heavy customization and are tightly integrated with the organization’s business processes and has complex requirements such as compliance, process integration, workflow, access control etc. requiring IT's involvement. This is slowly changing as SaaS becomes more popular and the applications can reach to users directly and provide all the benefits to overcome the adoption barriers by eliminating the upfront IT involvement. Zoho People is a good example of such an application. Salesforce.com has achieved bottom-up departmental adoption despite of IT’s traditional claim to CRM ownership. Departmental solutions do have drawbacks of becoming silos and make intra-department integration difficult and that could result into bad data quality of due to redundancy and lack of effective collaboration. To overcome some of these concerns collaboration is a key feature in an application that is a likely candidate for bottom-up software adoption. Google Apps is a good example where they introduced a feature that allows users to discover each other and potentially collaborate with across departments in an organization.

The decision-making is tipping towards the information workers and many business users don't necessarily see the needs of some pre-installed on-premise solutions. The cultural shift to embed their personal life with the professional life is also making certain web-based tools their choice. If I am a vendor that finds a CIO sale a bit tricky, I would be very closely watching this trend.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Open source licenses and its impact on commercialization

The choice of an open source license sparks a debate from time to time and this time around it is about using GPL as a strategic weapon to force your competitors to share their code versus use BSD to have faith in your proprietary solution as an open source derivative to reduce the barrier to an entry into the market. I agree with the success of mySQL but I won’t attribute the entire success to the chosen license. Comparing open source licenses in the context of commercializing a database is very narrow comparision. First of all PostgreSQL and mySQL are not identical databases and don’t have the exact same customers and secondly I see database as enabler to value add on top of it. EnterpriseDB is a great example of this value add and I think it is very speculative to say whether it is an acquisition target or not – the real question is would EnterpriseDB have accomplished the same if PostgreSQL used GPL instead of BSD.

I see plenty of opportunities in the open source software license innovation and over a period of time disruptive business models will force the licenses to align with what business really need. IP indemnification of GPL v3 is a classic example of how licenses evolve based on the commercial dynamics amongst organizations. We can expect the licenses to become even more complex with wide adoption of SaaS delivery models where a vendor is not shipping any software anymore.

People do believe in open source but may not necessarily believe the fact that they have a legal obligation to contribute back to the open source community every time they do something interesting with it and Richard Stallman would strongly disagree. The companies such as BlackDuck has a successful business model on the very fact that vendors don’t want to ship GPLed code. We should not fight the license, just be creative, embrace open source, and innovate!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Scenario-based enterprise architecture - CIO’s strategy to respond to a change

Scenario-based planning is inevitable for an enterprise architect. The changing business models, organizational dynamics, and disruptive technology are some of the change agents that require enterprise architecture strategy to be agile enough to respond to these changes. The CIO.com has a post on a to respond to a possible change in the strategic direction due to a new CEO.

For CIOs, the key question is how to turn IT into an asset and a capability to support the business and not to become an IT bottleneck that everyone wants to avoid or circumvent. Strategic IT planning that is scenario-based, transparent policies, and appropriate governance could help the enterprise architecture from falling apart and build capabilities that serves the business needs and provides them with the competitive advantage.

To be tactical and strategic at the same time is what could make many CIOs successful. In my interaction with CIOs, I have found that some of their major concerns are organizational credibility and empowerment. CIO is often times seen as an inhibitor by the business people and it is CIO’s job to fix that perception. To be seen as a person who can respond to business needs quickly and pro-actively can go a long way to fix this perception. You cannot really plan for all the possible worst case scenarios but at least try to keep your strategy nimble and measures in place to react to the ones that you had not planned for and act ahead of time on the ones that you did plan for.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Supply side of cloud computing

Lately the most of the buzz is around the demand side of the cloud computing - Google's data centers, Microsoft Live, Amazon EC2 etc. Add one more player, Cisco, but on the supply side. Cisco has entered into the supply side of the cloud computing by unveiling its 15 terabit/sec switch - that's ridiculously and embarrassingly fast (found via Rough Type). Cisco recognizes the opportunities around network and data center vitualization in the rising world of ubiquitous computing. This initiative and innovation emphasizes that the utility computing is not just about taking few commodity hardware and connect them together. That is just tip of the iceberg. The cloud computing at core would certainly support the computing needs in a utility fashion but the data center redundancy and geographical connectivity is crucial as well. You can get a lot done when two geographically dispersed severs can transfer high volume data at lightning speed.

Now put this switch in on of those and see the difference!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Interview with Craig Mundie

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's technology chief talks about everything from Vista's low sales numbers, cloud computing, competing with Google, Linux desktop, and his Spotwatch in this long interview . No surprises so far.
  • Cloud computing: He believes that the world is not black and white and that people won't ditch their desktop lients anytime soon to completely migrate to software as a service. I think this makes sense. Microsoft is significantly investing into cloud computing via their "live" initiative but the strategy is to complement the on-premise model to achieve the client-server-service deployment model.
  • Vista: He admits that number of Vista copies sold so far is a small fraction of Microsoft's overall customer base. He calls it a cycle of diffusion and exploitation and Vista being in diffusion cycle waiting to be exploited. This is a chicken and egg problem. There are not enough Vista consumers out there and that's why developers are not that excited, but there is not enough incentive to migrate to Vista for consumers unless the development community adopts it and adds value to it.
  • Google: This is my favorite: "Google's existence and success required Microsoft to have been successful previously to create the platform that allowed them to go on and connect people to their search servers.". This is a twisted argument. He makes it clear that it is not only infrastructure play but a combined infrastructure and client play to reach out to the consumers. He is betting on people needing a desktop and other clients to connect to whatever Google offers.
  • Office Open XML Standard: Not there yet, but he promises that it is not far. He says "There are a lot of people who have raised a great many issues which we don't think have a lot of practical merit, but serve the purpose of creating some anxiety during this process." This is a classic standard related problem and people are super cautious when it comes to Microsoft. It is not about technology but how you come clean and make people happy that you are listening to them.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The eBay way to keep infrastructure architecture nimble

eBay has come a long way from the infrastructure architecture perspective from a system that didn't have any database to the latest Web 2.0 platform that supports millions of concurrent listings. An interview with eBay's V.P of systems and architecture, James Barrese, The eBay way describes this journey well. I liked the summary of the post:

"Innovating for a community of our size and maintaining the reliability that's expected is challenging, to say the least. Our business and IT leaders understand that to build a platform strategy, we must continue to create more infrastructure, and separate the infrastructure from our applications so we can remain nimble as a business. Despite the complexity, it's critical that IT is transparent to our internal business customers and that we don't burden our business units or our 233 million registered users with worries about availability, reliability, scalability, and security. That has to be woven into our day-to-day process. And it's what the millions of customers who make their living on eBay every day are counting on us to do."

eBay's strategy to focus on identifying the pain points early on and solving those problems first and keep the infrastructure nimble to adapt to growth has paid off. eBay focused on an automated process to roll out the weekly builds into their production system and tracking down the code change that could have destabilized a certain set of features. The most difficult aspect of sustaining engineering is to isolate the change that is causing an error; fixing the error once the root cause is known is relatively easy most of the times. eBay also embraces the fact that if you want to roll out changes quickly, the limited QA efforts, automated or otherwise, are not going to guarantee that there won't be any errors. Anticipating errors and have a quick plan to fix it is a smart strategy.

If you read the post closely you will observe that all the efforts seem to be related to the infrastructure architecture such as high availability, change management, security, third-party API, concurrency etc. ebay did not get distracted by the Web 2.0 bandwagon early on and instead focused on platform strategy to support their core business. This is a lesson that many organizations could probably learn that be nimble and do what your business needs and don't get distracted by disruptive changes, instead embrace them slowly. Users will forgive you if your web site doesn't have round corners and does not do AJAX, but they won't forgive you if they could not drum up their bid and lost the auction because the web site was slow or was not available.

One of the challenges eBay faced was lack of any good industry practices for similar kind of requirements since eBay was unique in a way it grew exponentially and had to keep changing their infrastructure based on what they think is the right way to it. eBay is still working on grid infrastructure that could standardize some of their infrastructure and service delivery platform architecture. This would certainly alleviate some of the pains that they have from their proprietary infrastructure and could potentially become the de facto best practices for the entire industry to achieve the best on-demand user experience.

eBay kept it simple - a small list of trusted suppliers, infrastructure that can grow with users, and a good set of third party API and services to complete the ecosystem to empower users to get the maximum juice out of their platform. That's the eBay way!
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