Monday, February 28, 2011

Gmail outage highlights cloud risks

I started highlighting some of the concerns about cloud computing in July 2010. I fully expected 2010 to be the year of the first big cloud computing problem, but not the last.

Yesterday news broke that a tiny minority of Google Gmail users have had their accounts re-set with the result that they've lost access to years of email history and, in some cases, they've lost access to YouTube, Blogger and other accounts also. The problem affects a tiny percentage of Google users, but it still amounts to 150k people and they probably find it more than merely inconvenient to be without their email history for a period.

It's the latest in a series of hiccups for Google, but the company is responding with a commitment to restore access for those affected.

What can users do?

  • Consider using software from www.backupgoo.com to keep a local backup copy of your Google account.
  • Consider automatically forwarding all of your incoming and outgoing Gmail email to another online email service, such as Hotmail, in the hope that neither will fail simultaneously in future.
  • Consider using the 'POP3' protocol rather than 'IMAP' on your email service (check their Help files). This will download all of your emails from the Internet to a mail reader program like Thunderbird or Outlook on your computer. Then you have to make sure that you make backup copies of your local computer files, though!
  • The disadvantage of POP over IMAP is, of course, that you can't access your email history from a web browser on any computer you happen to be near, and you'll lose access to email history from your iPhone, Android or similar... That's why it's useful to consider forwarding emails to Hotmail as well as Gmail: keep Gmail running in IMAP mode so that you've got access from smart phones and web browers; run Hotmail in POP mode and download copies to Thunderbird or Outlook on your desktop; put a backup strategy in place for your local PC files and you should be pretty much covered!
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Expect changing social media usage - growing bubble to burst?

Encouraging to Google must be that British consumers rate it as their third favourite innovation of the last decade, after broadband and online shopping. 

However, Facebook, pop-up ads and Twitter are hated almost as much as Reality TV - because they both waste time and cause irritation. The irony, of course, is that people still watch Reality TV, and talk about it on Facebook and Twitter while they do so, out of fear of being left out of the conversations with their peer group.

That's nowhere near a solid base on which to build a business for the future: the recent sky-high valuations for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter look increasingly like a bubble inflating and, I'm not investing in something so much at risk of bursting.

Expect the social media companies to change to head off the risk. They employ smart people who will be aware of the risks. It's unrealistic to imagine that what we currently see with use of Facebook, Twitter and similar now will continue on in to the future:
  • The social media companies are bringing about constant innovation in pursuit of a financially viable business model, to capture market share and to stave off competition.
  • Equally, user populations change and groups use the technology in different ways to serve their needs: the original student focus for Facebook is being modified by older age groups who have different priorities and interests. And fashions change - famously MySpace lost ground to Facebook almost over night.
  • New products and trends appear rapidly: currently, it's easy to see that mobile and location-awareness will have major shaping roles on social media usage, led in part by the social media giants and also as a result of them playing catch-up with other companies' innovations...
Facebook and Twitter charge us for use of their services by harvesting our private information and selling it to advertisers. If they charged a subscription price, would we pay? The jury is still out, but the introduction of the pay-wall for Times Newspapers suggests that while some would, it's certainly nowhere near enough to justify current stock valuations.

There's not enough information available - all we get are the ever-growing headline figures of numbers of registered users - but anecdotal evidence implies that teens use SMS and BBM to communicate person to person, away from prying parental eyes; many older teens are 'fasting' from Facebook for months on end (some combination of passive lurking and even deleting their profile before, perhaps, re-engaging); and several older adults I know report that they've almost entirely ceased to post, except in response to what others write to reinforce a meaningful friendship...

When it works the other way, it becomes a positive, self-reinforcing viral loop; as soon as the loop begins to spin in the opposite direction the system can lose momentum very quickly. I'm not suggesting this is happening in scale right now, and to do so would be counter-cultural with all of the hullabaloo about social media's role in political change in the Middle East. But there's enough here to make me wary about betting my life savings on what seems it could be an inflated stock valuation.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why blog?

In the last 24 hours I've had two people comment on my use of blogs and social media and more. In response, here are my quick thoughts, bashed out while on public transport through the beautiful Cotswold countryside (don't blog and drive!).

To me, it's simple: I position in the marketplace as helping others make strategic use of IT; so I feel obliged to show the way by using the tech to my own advantage also. How else can I achieve credibility? How else can I gain practical experience of what works best? I know it's working by the consistent upward trend in readership graphs. Instant feedback.

Even more fundamentally, as I wrote last week, marketing is about understanding the customer's problem ... Then one needs to innovate a solution that can be delivered at a profit. When it comes down to the wire, I blog, tweet, YouTube and use LinkedIn and other tools because collectively I can combine them to solve my own problems.

I'm using technology to cut costs, increase revenue, service clients and lock out competitors. And that means I can help you to achieve the same.

This week the New York Times has speculated that blogging is dying, giving way to Twitter and Facebook. That's too simplistic a view. It's "not sufficiently nuanced" as the sophisticats say. Here's a good summary of the reasons why you should consider blogging. http://pulsene.ws/12GU1

But you need to be doing other things also. Let me help you!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I can edit your LinkedIn contact info ...

... If we're connected! I just submitted a Help request to LinkedIn because I'm puzzled as to why they would even allow this situation: can someone help me understand the benefits to this feature?

Today I noticed a small link to 'View/Edit Contact Info' at the bottom of the 'Contact Information' box on the LinkedIn Profile of one of my contacts. I clicked to see what would happen, only to discover that I can Add or Edit lots of their information. (Can't change the Primary email address, but can hack around with other email addresses, phone numbers, IM, Address, Website, Birthday, Other Info and Contact Notes).

Puzzled, I searched the LinkedIn Help files and came across this "How-to" answer on the feature which shows you how to do what I did, for your contacts, but doesn't indicate why you should be able to.

I can see that this begins to position LinkedIn against the likes of Salesforce.com as a very powerful contact management database; and if LinkedIn can get users to crowd-source information on their contacts then it enhances the value of the LinkedIn database still further, without relying on each individual user to overcome inertia and keep their profile up to date.

I'm waiting to hear back from LinkedIn Support and will edit this post with what I find out. But, off the top of my head, it seems that this feature needs some safeguards:
  • Perhaps my edit of 'your' contact information should only affect my view of you and not be visible to anyone else? That way, LinkedIn can get me to keep returning there to get my contacts' info so that I spend my time at LinkedIn rather than Outlook, Salesforce or similar. But there are no checks on the validity of the info I store and no value to the wider community of users, or to LinkedIn's business model, if my edits remain private to me.

    [UPDATE] Working over the phone with one of my contacts, it seems that this may indeed be the way in which the feature works: I make edits to 'your' contact information in my LinkedIn database, but I'm the only person who can see those changes. This means that LinkedIn doesn't have to alert the Profile owner to changes made by others; and the feature potentially adds value to individual users who return to LinkedIn to get their contacts' info rather than using Outlook, Salesforce or a Rolodex etc. Is this all there is to it, or does LinkedIn have something else going on that adds value to their business model? (Thanks for your help, Mark!)

  • (If LinkedIn makes my edits of 'your' information visible to other users surely, as a minimum, the system should alert the profile owner that someone else has edited their contact information?)
  • (And, so I retain control of my information on my Profile, LinkedIn should email me to let me know WHO changed WHAT, and WHEN.)
What do you think? Is this feature of benefit or dis-benefit? 
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Entrepreneurs break corporate thinking patterns

Pioneer entrepreneurThanks to the magic of Twitter, I learn lots from different sources (though I wonder if doing so is actually a distraction from actually getting stuff done? That's another debate on another day...)

Today I came across a great quote in The Economist blog based on an article in Inc: "Saras Sarasvathy concluded that master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning. Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don't start out with concrete goals. Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies. By contrast, corporate executives—those in the study group were also enormously successful in their chosen field—use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it. Early indications suggest the rookie company founders are spread all across the effectual-to-causal scale. But those who grew up around family businesses will more likely swing effectual, while those with MBAs display a causal bent."

I liked the comment that "Those who are happy building a business from nothing, and those who are happy to take a place in someone else's, are as different as night and day. People who demand freedom and flexibility are not at all like those who crave structure and security. That's why entrepreneurs have to hire MBA suits to run their successful businesses, and go start something new."

As I explained to some clients last week, I tend to ask a couple of profound but idiot-level questions on a regular basis: "So what?" and "What if?" Both questions lie on the 'effectual' rather than 'causal' end of the spectrum; and they're both uncomfortable for those who like the same-old routines.

But as the pace of information flow increases with globalized technology connections; and implications from previously disconnected fields of research converge on other disciplines to create new possibilities; society increasingly needs people who are prepared to pioneer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mobile World Congress news, views and expectations

I enjoyed the round-up from this year's Mobile World Congress produced by the BBC Click programme.

You might want to zoom in on the chart to see the detail, but the 'new news' was that Google's Android, on phones and tablets, has overtaken Nokia's Symbian as the most widely used mobile operating system, and both are about double the iPhone.

They also pointed out that:
  • There are now more than 5 billion mobile phone connections world wide, with mobiles outnumbering PCs by 3:1
  • The amount of data we consumed in 2010 (2.8 exabytes) essentially tripled from that of 2009 (1.1 exabytes).
With the addition of Near Field Communications to mobile devices (think London's Oyster card) expect to see electronic payments for small value purchases in Starbucks and similar to start appearing on mobile phone bills.

Expect to see the convergence of loyalty cards with the geo-location capabilities of phones to tempt us back in to stores as we pass by.

Expect to see further twists to the debates over privacy: our purchasing habits and physical locations will be increasingly closely monitored, but expect few people to care provided that they perceive an economic benefit through the convenience of quick payments and the loyalty 'points' and discounts that they might get as a result.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Executive effectiveness by switching off

Be effectiveOver the years I've read and re-read Peter Drucker's old classic, The Effective Executive. In it he emphasises the need to do the right things (be effective) rather than simply to do things right (be efficient). Of course, he advocates a combination of both.


Back in 1967 Drucker's research uncovered executives who were constantly interrupted and found it difficult to be effective without carving out blocks of time. The problem today is much worse as the channels for communication have exploded and the speed of electronic repartee means that a conversation can move on so rapidly.

But it doesn't help us concentrate on being effective: as if to prove the point, my iPhone has just beeped with yet another couple of incoming emails for me to process ... and it's hard to get back into the swing of writing this blog post.

What's your solution? I freely confess that I fear missing out on some vital, breaking information revealed through Twitter; or that I'm missing an opportunity if I don't scan the incoming emails!

I find it horribly uncomfortable even to walk into another room without my ever-present iPhone, just in case I miss something. The thought of setting aside even an hour a day to be disconnected is troubling. To do so for a day or a week is hard to imagine. And yet I wonder if I'd be more effective if I did!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Back doors = bad idea

Backdoor interceptionMainstream media has been reporting battles in various jurisdictions (e.g. India, Saudi Arabia) to force RIM, makers of the BlackBerry, to provide a 'back door' for law enforcement to be able to read the content of messages. Today, the US Congress will hear law enforcement reps appeal for expanded interception and monitoring capabilities.

As the New York Times reported last year, "Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

Although this comes in the same week that Secretary Clinton delivered a major speech on Internet freedom, I'm setting the privacy and human rights arguments on one side.

Providing a 'back door' for law enforcement to use is simply inviting accident or abuse or malice. We can be sure it will happen, because abuses have already occurred: see more on the use of 'lawful interception' loopholes in Ericsson equipment used in the Vodafone mobile phone network in Greece to monitor and record conversations by more than one hundred Greek citizens, including government officials, in 2004-2005.
  1. Firstly, the existence of a back door will be like a 'red rag' to the playful (or worse) hacker community: they won't be able to resist breaking in through the back doors, just to prove they can.
  2. Next, we can guarantee that somewhere, some time, somebody will find they're the victim of unwarranted intrusion. As time passes the 1998 Enemy of the State movie looks more and more prophetic. And there are stirrings of reactions against the technology.
  3. Finally, we can be sure that 'back doors' will be open to attack by unfriendly governments and terrorist organisations, just as the Greek experience showed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Getting the job done: "Does it work, and who cares?"

Does it work?I loved the simple insight from one reader of an article by Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School on Milkshake Marketing:
"Does it work, and who cares?"

Christensen's insight is that customers don't buy a product, they buy (or "hire") a solution to a problem. In developing a new product or service we should always focus on what real world problem we're aiming to solve. It's what my training mentors at IBM used to call "solution selling" and it ties in nicely with my personal, pragmatic attitude: I don't care as much about technology and systems and processes as about solving a real-world problem.

So, what's the problem we're trying to solve? Does the product or service actually solve the problem? Does it do so more cost effectively than some other way?

Is the problem we're solving sufficiently painful that customers will pay to solve it in the way we suggest? Will sales and distribution people care enough to get the solution in front of customers?

This is another important nuance on this week's insight that marketing is about solving customers' pain, not pushing a product that we've developed in isolation in a lab!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CRM Problems

I dug out some depressing numbers from the CRM world: only 30% of companies with a CRM implementation feel that they've had a positive return on their investment.

Mostly, the issues are not technical ones (it's not that hard to get the software installed and some superficial training completed). But there are some similarities with many IT projects:
  1. Lack of agreed goals and business case "Fail to plan, plan to fail" is the old saw that is daily proved true. I've seen clients invest in new hardware and software for the wrong reasons. (Last year, one IT department wanted to buy new software to secure training for the existing team in an attempt to secure their jobs and enhance their CVs...) Resist the temptation to launch into a new technology implementation without knowing realistically what you expect to get out of it.

  2. Difficulties with customization and integration with existing systems "No man is an island..." proves even more true of IT systems. Very often it's better to retain an existing system that's mostly working and add to it with appropriately designed extensions. This is cheaper, faster, better than the costly disruption of replacing the core systems, but only if there's a clear plan to integrate the data from the new extensions with existing systems and business processes.

  3. No long term strategy I encourage those around me to "Skate to where the puck is going to be" rather than merely playing catch-up with what others are doing. The risk of starting a project just because that's what others are doing is that by the time you've figured out what to do and done it, they've moved on or the environment around you has changed so much that you're in the wrong place. Much better to think and plan strategically and, perhaps, leapfrog the competition.

  4. Data migration issues This one has bitten me and teams I've worked with more times than I care to remember. Somehow it seems that even knowing it's going to be a problem doesn't much help! The biggest difficulty is that normally the only time someone really looks at the data in the company holistically is when there's a migration project. It's only then that you discover that someone put "Zurich" in the house name field because they didn't know it's a city in Switzerland and belongs in a different part of the address. True story. The costs of manual clean-up can wreck the project unless it's planned in.

  5. Lack of acceptance CRM is guilty of making life easier for the managers rather than for those who have to work with the system day in and out. One of the first laws I learned in computing was that of "Garbage In, Garbage Out" and I've seen CRM implementations wrecked by users who just plain flat out refused to make it work. Most of the issues around CRM are of the interpersonal, human relations kind (see the pie chart above). But they're the ones that are often ignored until it's too late.

  6. Poor accountability I heard last week of someone interviewed for a job by a panel of 16, presumably because no one was prepared to take responsibility for the hiring decision! To get a successful CRM implementation one of the first pre-requisites is for a senior business manager, someone from the business not from the IT function, to take responsibility for success.
Despite the gloom and difficulty, this can all be made to work. Find out how

Monday, February 14, 2011

Customers first

There's certainly no shortage of products and services in the world. But there's absolutely a dire shortage of customers.

Despite the deep and painful recessions that have hit most world economies since 2007, many business leaders continue to demand annual growth rates of 3% or 5% or more. That can't be sustained unless the overall economy is growing. The inevitable result is over capacity, squeezed margins and lower prices. And many companies failing.

The best way to thrive in these conditions is by a return to what marketing should be: an approach that begins by listening to what potential customers need, then figuring out how to provide it at a profit.

But that's not enough to differentiate from others. If you don't want to be forced to compete solely on price then focus on quality, service and value. I'm advocating an approach where customers feel that they're placed at the top of your priority list. When that happens, satisfaction rises, word spreads and buzz is generated automatically.

Hopping on the social media bandwagon won't work in the way you want it to unless you get these fundamentals right first. If your business delivers a lousy experience, social media just helps your customers warn away others more quickly!

Friday, February 11, 2011

QR Codes aid interaction

Mike Schorah's VCard linkOld hat in Japan where they've become massively popular. Now, though, they're beginning to find many uses outside tracking of parts through a manufacturing supply chain or providing a link on a billboard ad... They're designed to be read by a phone camera and a bit of software to decode the contents.

QR Codes are now appearing on business cards and can ease and speed interaction:
  • Use one, like I have, to provide a hyperlink to a VCard with further contact details
  • Give people easy access to a Website URL, or a Telephone Number, or Email Address
  • Give the details and location of an event with, say, a Google Maps Location
  • Give your Android visitors simple access to your Wifi Login
  • Provide purchasers with a Paypal Buy Now Link
  • Or, of course, link to Social Media or iTunes or YouTube Video ...
In the real world, QR codes are appearing on business cards, T-shirts, mugs, and other promotional materials. And I've seen examples of QR Code temporary tattoos to give access to an event...

They're easy to create and easy to use: I've embedded my VCard details in the header graphic of this site, for example. Then, you just need some software to read it - and that's built in to most Android phones. (I use Qrafter on my iPhone.)

I've edited the photo of my wife that acts as the 'Lock screen' on my iPhone and placed a small QR Code graphic on the page. I guess I can use that to provide my contact details to others who can photo my iPhone, and I don't even have to login!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Marketing = Creating customer value

I'm niggled by Peter Drucker's assertion that everything apart from marketing and innovation is simply a cost; that only marketing and innovation produce value in business operations.

So I've been thinking some more and today am niggled by Philip Kotler's assertion that "Marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value." True!

It's the exact opposite of the typical attitude of "Here's my product; now, who'll buy it?"

Instead, it's about understanding what the customers in the market need; what is their pain and their problem? Then driving innovation to come up with a solution that the business can deliver at a profit.

It's not just about finding people to buy the 'ice cream' you make; it's about first understanding that the market wants to buy 'ice cream.' Then figuring out how to make it and distribute it cost-effectively; and with sufficient differentiation to hold the value of your 'ice cream' compared to the thousands of alternatives, not just of 'ice cream' but of other things that 'ice cream' money could be spent on.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Purpose of business - marketing and innovation

Peter Drucker claimed, “…Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business has two – and only two – functions; marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results, all the rest are costs.” (More)

There's a shocking but simple truth in this. I've helped to evaluate many businesses over seven dimensions. The first of the seven is Marketing; and the last is R&D.

Marketing is all about finding a customer: it doesn't matter how great your 'ice cream' is until you can find someone who likes it and is willing and able to buy it. Sales is the process of meeting their desire or need (for 'ice cream') in a timely fashion, helping that prospect to spend their money with you rather than someone else.

Innovation or R&D is about developing a better 'ice cream,' and differentiating yours from the others available.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Expect news media to lose control to Apple

I couldn't write it better myself, so here's a link to a post by The Economist warning that traditional published news media could lose control to Apple in the way that music publishers did after the introduction of iTunes. With the US launch of The Daily Apple takes 30% of the 99c weekly subscriptions.

At a weekly cost of production of $500k The Daily will need a little over 721k subscribers to break even, after Apple's cut. Can they do that? Probably very easily at a price of just 99c in a market exceeding 250m potential readers. And with gross revenue at that break-even point exceeding $200k per week this will be a good business for Apple!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recommending an HR resource: Omega

Last week I attended a one-day workshop run by Neil Darwell of Omega. What an incredibly good use of my time! It's sadly very rare to attend a course and come away with even one memorable action point. After this day I had a page full of easy and novel ideas. More importantly, I also found myself motivated to do them...

Of course, my experience was only with the staff at Omega Consultancy; but if the rest of the operation is run on the same lines then they're worth adding to your shortlist of suppliers.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lock out competitors

The fourth strategic element of using IT for competitive edge is that of locking out competitors.

I'm uncomfortable giving away the crown jewels in a blog post, but recall the story - years before the Internet - of a medical supplies company giving access to their price list online via a dumb terminal and a modem. Customers in hospitals found it easier to look up the price on the computer terminal than to place a phone call to a sales rep. And because there was only space on their desk for one terminal at a time it was hard for competitor companies to break into that relationship.

We've helped clients translate this scenario to the Internet age where everyone has a 'dumb terminal' (the browser) but with access to many corporations via their web site. The principle still works, it just takes the application of experience and creativity to make the difference. Find out more

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lock in customer relationships

The third element of our approach to securing competitive advantage comes from providing such great facilities for the customer or client that they don't want to place business anywhere else. I started out in the business world with seven years at IBM where I learned the mantra, and the key to the company's original greatness, that the customer is king. (And in IBM, by extension, the salesman as the customer's advocate within the company.)

Perhaps one of the best examples known to many of us is that of Amazon: they've made it so easy to do business with them that it's hard for another company to differentiate and carve out a substantial business niche.

To get more of our analysis of the keys to Amazon's success please contact us.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Competitive edge by increasing revenue

This is the second step in our four-point approach to securing competitive advantage. Slightly limited in the detail here by those ever-present non-disclosure, non-compete agreements...

However, we've helped clients to discover additional revenue streams; and diversify product lines; and approach new markets, whether segmented by geography, industry vertical or some other differentiator.

One of the key successes has been to combine the 'hunting' style of sales (find one, kill one, skin and eat it) with the 'farming' style (prepare the ground, plant, harvest, plant again). The first approach often brings with it higher per-unit revenue; but the second approach brings consistent, cyclical revenue. A combination of the two gives a great, solid base to plan with (we've experienced 97% customer retention rates and a 700% return on investment), supplemented by higher cash receipts on occasions. Find out more

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Competitive edge by reducing costs

Using technology combined with changed business processes is the first of several combined strategies to increase an organization's strategic competitive edge.

For example, I recall one company that simply gave customers the ability to look up prices online: that reduced costs and wait time in their call centre and the customers felt good that they didn't have to talk to a salesperson simply to find out a price!

It's such a simple first step that it's surprising that some companies still don't take it. However, it's far from the finishing point. There is a whole mix of additional strategies that you can take in this arena, all resulting in a lower cost of operations. Find out more