And, what is the word? No, not inconceivable – the word I have in mind is strategy.
Working in software products of course I have heard “strategy” in one context or another on a daily basis 20 years of more, and now as a product manager I hear it even more, if such a thing is possible. However what the vast majority of self-styled strategists are really talking about is just features, like “Our strategy is to have web-based something-or-other”, or “Our strategy is to use middleware to achieve this-or-that”. These kinds of statements are not strategy, they are just features or architectures.
What is strategy? Among the things that stuck with me from my time in B-school at Babson was a statement from a professor (a former partner at Bain & Co.) answering that very question. He said:
Strategy is: Where do you play? and How do you win?
“Where you play” is your target segment. If you are not targeting some specific thing, you already don’t have a strategy. Certainly the very biggest players in some industries can address really big and wide markets, but even the obvious examples – like Apple – use some targeting. If asked about the target market for Apple I bet a lot of people would answer, “Everybody”. Not true. Apple targets higher-income consumers, and adapts for sub-markets in that group, like convenience-oriented multi-tasking men age 25-55, or family-oriented women age 20-40 who use technology to stay connected with friends and family. I think segmenting is in fact even more important in the business software world. I often hear vendors – my own employer included – saying things like “We sell to the biggest enterprises” or “We aim at the mid-market”. These are probably true statements but they’re not helpful. All business have specific problems inherent to their place in their market – they need to sell faster, or need to communicate with more customers, or need higher manufacturing efficiency, things of that nature. If the benefit you provide is too generic and doesn’t address a clear problem and pressing problem, then you are a nice-to-have, not a must-have … and, nice-to-haves finish last.
“How do you win?” is a bigger question than most people think. Many people believe winning is solely about better features: my light bulb lasts longer than the competition, my body-spray smells better, my car goes faster, my collaboration is more collaborative, stuff like that. But think – Why are there so many examples of outwardly inferior products dominating their markets? In my own industry I think the most telling example is Microsoft Sharepoint. Now I can’t say Sharepoint is especially inferior; the product has a 12 year history after all and has seen a lot of improvement in its time. But when Sharepoint came out it was not especially innovative and even today is criticized for having lousy administration, being slow and unwieldy, and for promoting “document graveyard” styles of collaboration. For all that, Sharepoint apparently drives $2B of revenue a year for Microsoft. How can something so bad be so successful?
Lots of reasons, actually. A big one is network effects. Lots of people have Windows, lots of people use Windows Server, lots of people develop for Microsoft systems … all of this creates an ecosystem where technology buyers are likely to know about Sharepoint or know someone who knows. From this they get confidence that the Sharepoint bet is a good one.
Next is ease of acquisition. Sharepoint is easy to buy – just an option in your per-user Windows licensing – and easy to deploy – it’s a standard Windows server like all Windows services. This short time to value goes a long way towards easing concerns the customer might have about not getting the ideal solution, from a features perspective.
Finally think about Sharepoint’s feature-gaps – real or imagined – as opportunities and not liabilities. Enabled by the network-effect and Sharepoint’s ease of acquisition/deployment, there is a large after-market of ISVs who offer products and services to augment Sharepoint or address its shortcomings. Microsoft claims over 700,00 developers write for Sharepoint. That number is probably too high, but there’s no question there are 1000s of Sharepoint partner vendors and 100s of solutions for the platform.
Network effects; Ease of acquisition; Developer ecosystem .. almost like they planned this, right?
Anyway my point is not that Sharepoint is some great thing. In fact I see it as just sitting there waiting to get bumped off, the way Wordstar was bumped off by WordPerfect, and WordPerfect was bumped off by Word. The point is, Sharepoint actually has a strategy and features are only one part of it.
Anyway, happy to talk to you about strategy. Just be aware before you come by there’s a 2-question quiz: Where do you play? and How do you win? If you don’t pass the quiz I may send you to this master for remedial training:
In my job as a Product Manager I find myself doing a lot more travel than when I was in engineering. Been to three trade shows already this year, IBM’s ConnectED in January, Team Polycom in February, and just this past week, Enterprise Connect. All three were in Orlando, FL. If you don’t know it, in addition to being the promised land for lovers of all-things Disney, Orlando hosts 100s of conferences and trade-shows each year, ranging from the tech-oriented shows that I attend, to shows like Snaxpo, “The world’s largest, most comprehensive trade show devoted exclusively to the international snack food industry”, where you can attends sessions like : The State of Snacking: Finding an Identity in a Rapidly-Changing World; and shows like the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, “the largest international gathering of fly fishing manufacturers, retailers, sales reps, media and fly fishing organizations in the world”. I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine the result if only these two shows could join forces.
Back to Enterprise Connect. This show is about unified communications in all its forms. In the past the main topics at EC Shows have been the core technology – how do things work – and to some extent, interoperability – for example, how does video from company A talk to video from company B? This year’s show had a distinct collaboration focus, however, with a strong emphasis on solutions that are easy to use, highly mobile, and lead to fast, straight-forward benefits. Taking their cue from “over the top” applications like WhatsApp and #Slack, UC leaders Cisco and Unify introduced their Spark and Circuit offerings respectively – both being team-oriented chat, meeting and content-sharing apps, all with a social flavor. So one of the big takeaways was, it’s not about ‘speeds and feeds” anymore, it’s about putting tools in the hands of users that they control and can use to get work done quickly and easily. For my own product, IBM Sametime, this is a pretty timely message – hopefully we can bring together some of the concepts we’ve been brewing to not only equal these first-movers but to surpass them.
Of course one of the charms – such as they are – of trade shows is swag. Tramping the exhibitor hall you will see stalwarts carrying show-bags loaded down with everything from pens to stress-balls to lightsabers. But the best time to go swag hunting is when the exhibitors’ hall closes down, because everyone want to pack up and ship back as little as possible. Using this strategy my friend and colleague Karl scored some cool loot from Logitech, including a BCC950 Conference Cam:
Tradeshow season is winding down, till things start up again in early Fall. Hopefully by then I’ll have some product news of my own to pitch – assuming of course I can pass up that innovative snack foods-fly fishing tie in …
Lately it seems we are surrounded – sometimes aggressively so – by advice that we must build our “personal brand”. Like pretty much anyone in my business I have accounts (mostly unpaid) on sites like The Ladders and of course LinkedIn. The regular emails I get from these sites constantly exhort me to promote the new-and-improved Salazar through my own brand. The Ladders tells me:
Besides a marriage proposal, your value in the job market is probably the most important product you’ll ever sell. … Your brand is what you’re known for and what you’re known for knowing. Use that to your advantage in making a career transition.
Great work-life-balance point they make there about marriage, which apparently in the eyes of The Ladders is also about selling. Meanwhile the folks at LinkedIn offer this #1 tip on building a personal brand:
#1: Be authentic. The best personal brands are genuine and honest both in person and online. It can be tricky to showcase your personality on the web (you might love puns, but those don’t go over well on a professional profile), but it’s possible with a bit of effort.
Or, as Oliver Stone wrote in Nixon, “Nothing sells like sincerity.”
What occasions these observations is an article in the Times, The Self-Promotion Backlash. The article is itself an observation on a new book, “Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion,” by David Zweig. Just got this for my Kindle, and after only a few pages of the intro its thesis is crystal clear: Vastly more economic output is generated by “invisible” non-self-promoters than by all the glad-handing, like-me-on-Facebooking, personal-branding addicts that seem to be surging ahead everywhere we look. One of the first examples Zweig talks about are fact-checkers, in his case at the CIA: pretty obviously essential, and pretty obviously invisible.
In the high-tech industry, because we make the tools that allow all this personal branding in the first place, we’re expected to use them and to do so loudly and often. How bizarre that software engineers, one of the most introverted, invisible occupations you’re likely to find, get marked down because they are insufficiently “visible”. This is sales culture run amuck. Look, sales and sales-people – love ‘em, need ‘em, all that – but the cultural needs of engineering are vastly different from sales. Back in the day, the men and women I most respected hardly ever spoke. They were valued for their knowledge and their ability to show and tell novices, as I was, what to do to turn out good code.
I’m afraid nostalgia is an inevitable product of age, and for that I apologize. But, if we did a 1 week ban on self-promotion, what would happen? Quality go up? Output go up? An impractical experiment of course … still, can’t help but wonder.
I’ll leave you all with this, the most influential drum-line is all the history of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks. It wasn’t created by drummer John Bonham, or Zeppelin lead guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, but by a recording engineer – and an invisible – named Andy Johns. Enjoy.
Just to clarify, “smaht” is Massachusetts-ese for “smart”, as in when Tommie tells Kevin on This Old House, “Ainchu the smaht one?”
All across the Connect 2013 show you see and hear stuff that is “smart”: Smarter Commerce, Smarter Workforce, Smarter Cities, and more. When I first came across these “smarter” products I confess I was skeptical. I mean, Agent 86 had a “smart shoe”, that wasn’t actually very smart, right?
But a message coming through loud and clear for me here at the show is smarter is where we need to go. Let’s face it: The fundamentals of collaboration are the same today as they were 20 years ago at the first Lotusphere: Saving information and sharing information with people and teams. A Connections community is logically pretty much the same as a circa-1999 Notes teamroom.
There is a difference though – the community is smarter. It sends notifications and makes recommendations, just to name the top 2 clever things a community can do. These are individually small things, but their cumulative effect makes a major difference.
But I have to say the smartest thing I’ve seen at Connect 2013 so far was They Might Be Giants in the OGS:
After 30 years these guys still have it. They did this number for us, one of my faves:
Leaving out the whistles and bells … all time greatest – and smartest – song about a nightlight, ever. Well done, OGS!
I’m at IBM Connect 2013 … was a long trip from India, but here now and getting into the familiar flow of going to talks, meeting people, and hikes twixt Dolphin, Swan and elsewhere.
The first talk I’m at … seen above … is all about Kenexa, IBM’s new acquisition of Smarter Workforce technology. The topic of Smarter Workforce has a lot of synergy with the Connect show (Lotusphere of years past). Kenexa let’s you improve your workforce, by finding the right people, developing them, assigning them and improving them. The majority of worldwide CEOs in IBM’s CEO Survey recognize that developing talent is the top need for maintaining and increasing competiveness. It’s the old idea on “our people are our greatest asset”, but in the modern world, where physical resources and assets can be anywhere and become less important, it really is quality of people that makes the difference.
And the Connect show? What else is it about, but people? On the web today we can learn whatever we want, whenever we want. Coming to a place and seeing others F2F, we do that because a connection with someone else you make when you see and hear each other is so much more valuable than a purely virtual one.
Will try to do more blogging while I’m here. But hopefully I’ll be doing a lot of old fashioned sit down and talk sessions.
The current buzz in the unified communications industry is that UC is itself undergoing a transformation, to social communications. In a previous post I talked about the explicit/immediate nature of realtime communications and how that complements the asynchronous nature of social applications like wikis and activities. But the mood of the industry isn’t that UC and social will be side by side, it is that there’s a new thing called social communications — for example, the "VOIP Now" LinkedIn group I belong to changed its name to "Social Unified Communications". More bluntly, ModelMetrics asks, Is Unified Communications Dead?
Let’s look at what some analysts say. Forrester describes the UC –> SC transition like so:
… a new generation of social enterprise apps will finally deliver the productivity businesses desire by systematically grouping and rating people, information, and processes required to answer business needs. By creating a social layer between information workers and the applications and communications infrastructure, social enterprise apps will overcome the adoption malaise that has affected UC&C.
The nugget here is there’s a "social layer" that makes UC more consumable. Gartner, some time back in its "Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2011" called out a category of Social Communications and Collaboration, consisting of 4 components: Social networking — profile and social-graph capabilities; Social publishing — capabilities like communities and feeds that enable social dissemination of content; Social feedback — ratings services and opinion tracking; and, Social Collaboration — blogs, wikis, file sharing, plus all the functions we know and love as part of UC … instant messaging, online meetings, VOIP, video and more. The net here is, again, that UC gets value out of being part of a larger social machine.
What I can’t tell from this sort of description is whether "social communications" is really anything new, or is just plain ol’ UC with a bunch of social stuff around it. I do think if we’re all going to be using this social communications stuff we ought to start putting down what that means. I get that an IM will always be an IM and a video a video, but there has to be something substantial about social communications, apart from the name.
So, where to start? Seems to me the first place where SC diverges from UC is in organizing and finding people to communicate with. I think we all naturally get that social is about people — it’s who your friends are and who their friends are, and so on. The social graph is what gives social its power — when our network of contacts provides links or other content we generally will be interested, because we tend to like or be interested in the same things our friends like/are interested in.
A social communications capability has to leverage this. First, instead of its own static and unconnected list of people, SC needs to work with the network or networks you already use. Second it has to show you context from those networks — it’s not enough to see the name, you have to see that person’s last post, their last microblog, or their last location. And last, it has to give you access to not just your contacts, but to people in the extended network — for example people who are not your friends (yet) but who respond to your friends’ posts.
Don’t forget that wherever people are, some scheme for privacy is needed. IM products have created a lot of features here; for example in Sametime you can define white-lists — lists if people explicitly permitted to talk to you — or black-lists — lists of people who are blocked from talking to you. We still need that, but we also need to extend these concepts to recognize the social graph — for example I might say my friends and friends of friends can always contact me, but those who are 3rd order contacts and higher get a different experience, perhaps triggering some opt-in prompt asking if I want to grant them access.
To sum up, for a system to provide social communications there has to be some way to leverage the social graph – there’s power in your network and that power needs to be harnessed to help you communicate. In future posts I’ll be looking at other defining properties of SC – meanwhile don’t hesitate to share your comments on this or other UC topics.
Apples & Oranges, or Salad Supreme?
It’s no secret that IBM collaboration strategy is about more than collaboration — it’s about social business, an idea that subsumes all the goals of collaboration, but that uses the technologies and concepts of social computing to go much further. In the conversations I’ve had with customers, its rare they don’t "get it" — the social model is so natural, so adaptable, and so free of the reach- and audience-limitations of email or team websites that the benefits seem pretty clear.
But it’s not that customers have no questions. Social is a transformative force, and transformation never happens on its own, no matter how good the technology or the idea. There’s a lot to think about here, like: How do I enlist users in adopting the new ways of working? What best practices are right for me? What about compliance? And so on. The question most on my mind lately is this: What about Unified Communications?
Well, what about it? Isn’t this the proverbial no brainer? How could you do social and not communicate? Nothing to see here folks, let’s just get on with pinging, liking, recommending and all the fun that cooks up when you put "social" and "communications" together. Right?
For my part I say we should think this through a bit. Yes, no question we all are going do use social tools and systems, and yes, no question we’ll all be doing IM, VOIP and video. But what’s the relationship here? Does one follow the other? Do they ever conflict? Is there a synergy I can create, or will social and UC forever be a side-by-side thing? I myself don’t have answers, and I daresay there’s a lot here IBM is still figuring out. As recently as last year, Mike Rhodin, our Sr. VP of Software Solutions said that Social and UC are "adjacent" (Social Media And Unified Communications: Will They Blend?). Then again, at Lotusphere 2012, I think there was no question that social was positioned as the leader. Finally if we look at Facebook and Google+, the pre-eminent public social systems, they all have integrated communications — Facebook has video calling, and Google+ has GoogleTalk and Hangouts — but I don’t think anyone sees those as must-haves.
So, what are the questions here? Clearly, the place we need to start is, with termites.
Yes, termites. Bear with me. They are social insects after all, and termite mounds are oft-cited examples of emergent phenomena, something that we want in social business. These mounds are complex structures, constructed to provide airflow and control temperature. Do termites build these by communicating?
In a way. Termites have evolved such that they are wired for certain behaviors. For example when one termite deposits a pile of sand or dirt somewhere, other termites who encounter it can’t help but add onto that pile. Temperature and air pressure provoke termites to drop piles in certain spots, which then get added to – ultimately the piles become an entire mound that looks like it was designed.
I term this implicit communication. The impulses of a termite are implicit in the piles of sand it leaves about and other termites respond to that. I hope you can see that, although its more thoughtful and information-packed, we humans are doing the same thing when we post a link or a document – hopefully our fellow humans will react to that in some fashion that leads to a useful result.
But termites don’t explicitly communicate – no termite ever says to another, “The northwestern 3rd floor could use a few more sand piles –want to come along?” They don’t need to do this, termites are born with all the “wiring” they need. But humans aren’t. We need explicit communications to devise the wiring for our projects and different social networks.
You might think this is a small, self-evident point. I don’t. Examples abound of implicit communications leading enterprises astray, including such catastrophes as the Gulf oil spill to the Challenger disaster. And implicit communication is by definition never complete, because the receiver can never have complete context. The New York Times ( Facebook Is Using You, 5 February 2012 ) published an op-ed on some little-understood dangers of data mining and social networking, for example credit bureaus adjusting your credit score based on your online activities. In this case, though we don’t intend it, we are implicitly communicating something to the credit bureau, which they interpret using a context most favorable to them, and not to you. I don’t think this “post and they will come” way of working is what we want for our business outcomes –we want to be sure as we can that we all know why we’re moving these sand piles around and what the real goal is.
Context I think is what makes the difference here. When we communicate explicitly by audio or video, what we are really providing is context. Of course there is the context of tone and body language, but more importantly there’s the simple context that comes from you being able to ask a question directly, or from me being able to test your understanding of what I said.
Implicit and explicit communications, two sides of the same coin – both powerful, one side leading to economies of scale and unexpected linkages, the other side providing precise context and dynamic information sharing. Seems to me that without the explicit half of the coin, work could well become a little too termite-like … and I could be a termite with a bad credit rating, to boot.
How much do we need the explicit power of UC in our social business plans? I’m very interested in your comments.
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