The World is Changing

Today I was speaking at a day of innovation of AUV Groothandel (Dutch only). A wholesale business for veterinarians. They organized a day with activities, workshops, etc. for their customers.

I spoke about the changing world, the effects on our lives and what is making this happen. The presentation can be seen below (in Dutch)

If you are not able to see the presentation, you can find the full post here.

Boys talk: My phone is better than yours

Phone Shop - By Galata Bridge - Istanbul - TurkeyI'm pretty sure you all have experienced heated and emotional discussions on the choise of your phone. It's interesting and funny at the same time to hear the various arguments and it's actually the kind of discussion where everybody is right. There is no right or wrong when choosing a phone, because it's a personal choice.

People just have different buying characteristics:
  1. Price based buying, when a contract is up for renewal these buyers will shop for the best deal and take the offered phone for granted. This for long was the domain of Nokia (except in the US) offering cheap symbian based feature phones but recently it's being taken over by the boat loads of cheap Android phones coming from asia. Great phones, great price making them a great deal!
  2. Feature based buyers, always on the look out for a phone with heaps more and more powerful features than the previous phone. It's about 16 core phones with a terra byte memory, 24 Mega pixel camera and a 5 inch 2 zillion color screen. Judging on the 500 new features in the next update of Windows Phone it's a market that Microsoft is trying to steel away from Android. Unfortunately every week a stronger, faster, better and even more powerful device hits the market. What to do, buy now or wait for the next release?
  3. The emotional buyer that sees the phone more as a fashion lifestyle device and is mainly interested in the looks. A market once created by Nokia (once again) with the colorful and fashionable clip-on front covers. A phone was no longer a device to keep in your pocket until you needed to make a phone call, it was something that needed to be shown off. The Apple iPhone is the current top choice in this segment and maybe future Nokia-Microsoft phones might enter this area too.
  4. The non buyer that instead of buying their own phone relies on a phone supplied by their employer. The primary domain of RIM and the blackberry. 

Now we know the buying behavior we can also predict the movement of the various segments. There will always be a significant group of people that lets the price makes their decision, however with growing wealth in the world this segment might get smaller. Once smart phones have become a real commodity nobody cares about features, because they are expected to be there. Of course new features will be invented, but it becomes more of a niche segment. The emotional driven decisions will grow, because style and individualism will continue (at least for a while) to be a differentiating factor in a globally leveling society. The non buyer over time will disappear, because the consumerization of IT continues and people want to make their own decisions for a lifestyle device.

Based on this we could say that Google Android will dominate the price war category, Microsoft takes the feature niche market and might take some of the emotional market that will be dominated by Apple. This leaves RIM in the dark.

BTW: Who knows why we like to refer to phones as edibles: Black (blue) berry, Apple, Mango, Cupcake, Ginger bread, etc...

Image: Adam Jones

Look at LinkedIn and learn

This week the LinkedIn IPO, a possible bubble and the POP has been all over the news. I'm not credibile to write about that, all I know is that LinkedIn is on to something. I'll explain.

All the years I worked on ERP and CRM systems it was very often about data quality and phrases like: 'bullshit in, bullshit out' were talk of the day. Maintaining the quality of data in these systems was one of the big nightmares and a money and time consuming activity. The supposed solutions for the burning issue of data quality was two fold, on one side the software needed to get smarter with more mandatory fields, more validation rules and if possible an improved user interface and on the other side there were stricter process implementations and work instructions. For instance customer facing employees had to follow a check list to verify the customer CRM data.

In most cases all these extra rules didn't solve anything and sort of backfired and resulted in lower employee moral due to strict boring processes and customer dissatisfaction because of the stupid check questions. It turned people into robots and the fun factor was gone, this is why I believed in bringing back the fun in business software. The solution for the problem requires a fresh look, and possibly an 180 degree turn.

Last week working for a customer that wants to transform towards a more social business the issue also surfaced. The remark went along the following lines: Our CRM system doesn't even have proper email addresses of our customers and now we also need to go and track twitter handles and the like. My reaction was simple: Why don't you give the customer data back to the customer and create an incentive for them to maintain and keep it accurate? The reaction was predictable: What giving customers access to our CRM system, the crown jewels of the company? Very understandable, because lots of money had been invested in software, process implementations and training and now someone suggests that this should be opened up to the outside world. Business people and especially business IT people like to keep information within their own walled garden, thinking they can better control the information. Well it might or might not be safer, but is it also more accurate? This illustrates the boxed up way of thinking that is limiting creative and innovative solutions for todays challenges.

The current trend of Social CRM is a joke, it's not about tracking the customers social behavior and capturing the conversation. Real Social CRM means you give ownership and control of the customers information back to the customer and create an incentive for them to maintain it. The customer becomes your social peer.

LinkedIn just did this, it created the first global open, transparent and high quality CRM system. Being an independent entrepreneur I rely on my network and I've always put good effort in maintaining my personal address book, however people change company, change phone numbers and the address information goes out of date quickly and you have no way to figure out anything has changed. I've become much more dependent on LinkedIn for the communication with my network, because I've higher certainty that a message reaches the person it's intended for.

If LinkedIn would just add a little bit of opportunity management and sales force automation it can fullfil all the CRM needs for a small and medium business. Everybody in business is already on it, thus requiring less data entry and maintenance efforts and it's much more accurate than a business wide CRM system.

May be LinkedIn's validations isn't that high at all, they are clearly on to something.

The dream job you always wanted

The DreamDisclaimer: I'm building the team for a technical start-up and this is an attempt to have you reconsider your current job.

You are a senior software engineer, with some good years under your belt and gained a comfortable position. You work in a stable environment, have nice coworkers and a good salary that helps you dealing with your responsibilities towards your family. The work is nice, challenging enough, but unfortunately not always the latest and the greatest. Sometimes, for a second, you dream about being part of a high profile team working on the latest hypes, but as quickly as it came it goes away. You know it's not for you, because you like the comfort of stability and knowing what you do tomorrow.

Recently you complete your study and you are currently working on some projects. Your job expectations, based on promises of the recruiter, were high, but now reality has hit and you are a bit disappointed with the work offered. With your background, education and expertise you think you can handle more responsibility.

You haven't yet completed your study, but are already planning the next step. You excel in what you do and are really looking for something where you can make an impact. May be you can already get something going in the final years of your study. Wouldn't it be great to combine an academic and business life in an inspiring environment.

Ready for a new challenge?
  • Do something else.
  • Be part of a team that works with the latest on cloud and mobile technologies.
  • Accept lack of stability and trade some of your pay for flexibility and working on your terms.
  • Say goodbye to offices and only meet to get inspired.

I'm looking for mobile and cloud (the real PaaS stuff) developers with an interest in bringing fun, emotion, efficiency and automation to those not yet automated.

Just think about it! If you are interested you find my contact details on the contact page.

Image: Atsuke

Old versus New World SaaS

Old vs New (Week #41)I'm a cloud evangelist, I love the cloud and believe that soon the cloud will play a dominent role in our lives. The cloud for me means hassle free and limitless opportunities.

For this article I refer to Software as a Service (SaaS) as software primarily delivered through the browser, being free or with a pricing model based on a usage or a subscription. I don't make a distinction weather the application is build on a public, private, or whatever cloud, because nobody can see the difference, it's just software delivered through the browser.

The opportunity for hassle free solutions is seen by many and almost every day another cloud based SaaS solutions is launched. I observe and I'm spotting a difference between what I call old world and new world SaaS solutions. The new world stands for new products coming from young companies that primarily have been inspired by the developments in the consumer web and the old world stands for older existing businesses that in most cases already have many successful years on their belt. The difference between the two is very visible in the overall product design, launch and philosophy.

New World SaaS
  • The e-commerce web site and product are tightly integrated.
  • Focus is on benefits, based on customer quotes.
  • Action buttons are everywhere.
  • White the dominant color, lots of white space, large fonts and simple empty looking screens. 
  • Information is shown in small chunks, probably influence by mobile solutions.
  • Simple, but efficient web architecture API based on JSON and OAuth for authentication.
  • Design and lay-out inspired by Facebook and Google.

Old world SaaS
  • The e-commerce web site and the product are usually two separate things.
  • Focus in on features and tries to explain SaaS.
  • Brags about technology.
  • Many shades of gray, (too) small font and camped screens full with information.
  • Tries to fit as much information as possible on a single screen.
  • Complex, enterprise architecture API based on files or SOAP web services.
  • Design and lay-out inspired by Windows.

These difference of course have no effect on the quality, performance and capabilities of the different products. It's just that the first category feels more innovative and the later category feels closer to the old and trusted desktop application. 

Image: Paul Oka

Can you spot more differences, or is it just all nonsense. Leave a comment below. 

Microsoft buys Skype - 24 hours later

Early this morning I got a call from a friend, telling me he missed a blog post on the Microsoft - Skype deal. My first reaction was: I'm not yet sure what to think of the deal. We chatted a bit about it and now an hour later I write the post anyway.

When the rumors started my first emotional reaction was: This will be the end of Skype, this based on:
  • Microsoft is an enterprise software vendor and doesn't understand the dynamics of a consumer product.
  • Skype recently delivered a terrible Mac client and I don't see how Microsoft can improve on this. Microsoft probably makes it even worse by putting in the terrible ribbon interface.
  • Microsoft now needs to make some money on the deal, so probably pricing will change and focus will shift to more enterprise features, fitting the Microsoft DNA.
  • Microsoft has competing products and usually the home grown products get more attention and investments than the acquired products.
  • Microsoft will probably rename the service to Microsoft Skype - Voice and Video Starter / Home / Enterprise edition 13.4, or something alike. 
  • Installing Skype will probably be bundled with Microsoft Live Essentials 2011, that are only Essential to Microsoft.
  • Skype from now on will only work with Bing as you default search engine.

Now some time has passed and the emotion makes some place for rational thinking. Yesterday after the deal was confirmed I also spoke to some Microsoft employees and I was happy to learn that (for now) Skype will operation as a completely separate business unit within Microsoft. Independent of the price Microsoft paid for Skype, there are possibilities to get something good out of this.
  • Skype brings a large and loyal consumer base that is valuable but needs to be treated with respect. When treated wrongly it can quickly disappear. Microsoft needs to take time to learn and adapt their DNA to consumers before trying to leverage. Tip: Consumers do not always make rational decisions, for instance: Women need at least 50 pairs of shoes with half of them with 4" heels. The can't possibly wear them all, but they are still essential! Emotion rules rational!
  • A common scenario I see very often is people using Microsoft Messenger to publish their online status, contact their buddy with an IM message and continue the voice and video chat on Skype. This of course doesn't makes sense, but again an irrational decision that Skype is better! Microsoft needs to learn this kind of user behavior and adjust the product portfolio accordingly. This probably means killing Microsoft Messenger even if this sound very silly and stupid.
  • Another common scenario happens in organizations that implemented Office Communication Server or Lync for their communication needs. Since this is a typical enterprise product putting security paranoid IT manages in control resulting in limited communication possibilities outside the organizations. Very often Skype is used to communicate outside the boundaries of the organization of between different organizations. Federating OCS/Lync with Skype would be great, but only if it can be done as easy as it is adding a new Skype contact.
  • Collaboration between people is moving more and more towards collaboration between individuals, independent of their organization, while Microsoft focus is still primarily on collaboration between individuals within an organization. Skype brings a lot of value and knowledge to transform Microsoft to a company that connects people (especially after Microsoft also buys Nokia, connecting people)

My take on the deal: Microsoft paid too much a customer base with a competing product, however when they make the right choices I believe it can possibly pay off. This is what I would do:
  • Skype is Skype and keep the Skype identity!
  • Make Skype the primary IM, voice and video communication platform, run as an independent business.
  • Integrate Skype into all Microsoft products 
  • Depreciate and stop development on Microsoft Messenger, Lync and all other variations.
  • Provide a simple single choice for people to communicate. 

What would you do? Leave a comment below.

Document collaboration: Shared Document versus Shared Location

attic messWhile writing a short review on Office 365 I noticed an important conceptual difference on sharing documents with for instance Google Apps or storing a document in a shared location as for instance SharePoint. I needed to think about the difference, the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions and I concluded that you actually need both. I will explain this in some more detail, based on the differentiation between formal and informal collaboration.

For formal collaboration it's essential that the team, or group of involved people, is clearly defined and all have access to the same information. Formal collaboration is often embedded in an organizational or project structure and isn't changing very frequently, minimizing the overhead associated with maintaining the list of team members, access rights and other administrative tasks. A well defined shared location for all the relevant content is good way to facilitate sharing and information transfer between the various team members. It provides clarity and a 'single source of the truth'.

Informal collaboration is much more an organic process. It starts with seed, an idea, a rough presentation script and first needs to be nurtured before it can be shared with the team. The nurturing and polishing might involve team members, but could as well involve others and is often based on early stage interaction between individuals over sharing within the team. It requires the ability to share a single document with others in the broadest sense, often someone who is not part of the formal team, before it gets visible for the rest of the team.

Efficient collaboration between people includes both formal and informal collaboration. The formal part is required to measure the deliverables and achievements while the informal part is required in the creative process to reach the deliverables. An efficient document collaboration system needs to facilitate both, unfortunately not many do this today.

The reason why email is still the most used medium for sharing documents is it's informal nature. I can send email to anybody independent of any organizational or project structure. It's the equivalent of running into someone at the water cooler.

Independent of the various document collaboration methods the key challenge today is to find all the documents that require my interaction. This can be a bunch of freely shared documents or a collection of shared locations. I still need to know and remember where to find the various documents. For project x we use a SharePoint team site, with one external speaker I work on the script with Google Docs and the other uses Dropbox. All documents are relevant to me, but how to I remember where everything is? What really is required a an aggregation of all the shared documents and locations to create one single point of access to all the documents relevant to me.

How do you keep track of the documents relevant to you? Give me suggestions on how to manage this efficiently in the comments below.

Image: Tomé Jorge