Category Archives: Innovation

Did Facebook just kill every start-up in the social discovery space?

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what Facebook social graph was until I actually used it. I was seriously skeptical about it’s potential, but I suspect that I was looking at it purely from a advertisers perspective (which is already available and has been for years) and not an end users perspective.

So, I’ve started tinkering with it and it’s simply awesome. Let me give you some examples:

  • Restaurants in London, United Kingdom my friends like – Ummm, yes. Gimme more!
  • My friends who like Triathlons – Need a training partner? Job done.
  • Music my friends like – Never heard of the band ‘Save the Clocktower’ until I just found out a bunch of my friends liked it

Social discovery is predicated on one large assumption – I buy and do things my friends like to buy and do. Which is predicated on three things:

  1. There is a collection of every thing my friends like to do
  2. There is a way of me accessing this collection
  3. I have a mechanism to find this information easily (search)

Where Facebook lacks is that number 1 isn’t fully collected yet (for example, I don’t put that I “like” triathlons in my profile), people put security preferences around their likes (for example, I just hid all of my likes for privacy reasons), but now number 3 is no longer an issue. With number 3 being eliminated, people may be more inclined to bolster number 1 and 2. Number 1 and 2 are not technical issues, the foundation is there, they simply don’t exist fully yet because of user motivation. I suspect the introduction to number 3 may give way to motivating people to share more about what they like and opening up my security.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting all discovery sites are dead, just the ones who rely solely on connected friendships. For example, I love Hypem, which is largest based on music curation via crowdsourcing blogs. There is a social element (“friends!”), but I’m more concerned with finding new music that is curated through people who live and bleed music.

Every Enterprise IT Department is Like a Start-up – They Have the Same Challenges

I’ve been noticing a lot of comments on enterprise technology on Hacker News and elsewhere about it’s old, boring, and very easy to disrupt. I’d just like to clear the air about a few things.

First, the challenges of providing solutions to the enterprise business organizations are no different than the challenges any good business to consumer start-ups face. A couple of those being:

  1. What on earth is that the business actually want? How do we define? How long will it take? How much does it cost?
  2. Budgets, budgets, and budgets
  3. Security – the single greatest barrier to getting ANYTHING done technically in almost any environment. Imagine dealing with oAuth, but times 100.
  4. What interfaces are supported and connect to each other (Facebook’s API broken again??)

As probably most people would point out, no IT department can afford to house a development team with the likes of development talent at say Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. First, it’s not economically feasible. Second, it would be nearly impossible to attract that level of talent. Third, it’s not a reproducible process that can happen at every company.

So while we hear the massive failures about IT projects everyday, I would argue this is statistically (percentage wise) no different to millions of failing start-ups who don’t make it. This is another reason why many people choose to just use standardized (or “vanilla”) software and then customize it to suite specific business needs.

To take this a step further, I sometimes argue that any good project manager in enterprise IT consulting has the ability to be an entrepreneur. Therefore (like any good market), those that do have the capability to do so are more likely to leave IT consulting and start their own business. Thus reducing a large supply of good project managers.

I feel like I defend enterprise IT, and the reality is I’m not. I think we can do much in enterprise technology, but this requires a massive shift in thinking. Something we are still years away from.

Dear Microsoft, Let Me Show You How to Sell Your Surface Tablet

Dear Microsoft,

I get it. Apple is winning. They know how to sell well. You are amazing at selling business products but rarely good at selling consumer products. I also understand that not only can you not just simply copy Apple’s design (both from a marketing perspective and product design perspective), but you need to do a better job at understanding when and where to pitch certain things. Let me explain….

First, you need to divise your pitch in such a way that it shows benefits to three different user sets:

  1. People who already own a tablet (iPad and Android users)
  2. People who don’t know what a tablet is or what it does
  3. Business people who want a reason to buy a tablet for work

Second, remind yourself that you’re in the hammer business, which means in order to sell your hammer you to create the illusion you’re selling a house. So, all of your pitches should not be able the problem the hammer solves, but rather what problem the house solves.

At the core of every good product/service pitch is a good website. So I’ll break down their website section by section.

Landing Page

First, what the hell is Windows RT and what is Windows 8 Pro? This makes zero sense to the average person. Most people still to this day do not understand what the difference between Windows Home and Windows Pro editions do. Unless of course your field of work is in the tech industry. Separate this the following way:

  • Surface for Fun
  • Surface for Business
  • Accessories
  • Support

Call to action

Good start with this. Clear call to action with an easy to click button with a video. However, the video button takes them to a site that opens another browser (big no-no) and uses silverlight. You’ve just lost 50%* of your video traffic because of those two things. This is one of those classic cases of how not to make something easy to use. *Obviously this is just an estimate, but just do some simple A/B tests and prove me wrong.

Timeless. Tough.

Oh please god no… Ok, I get it. Apple does this and this in their marketing. Their design is a work of art. So why not replicate it? It’s simple, don’t copy what they do here….just yet. Apple marketing wasn’t originally successfully because they told people in their adverts that their engineering was superior. They just engineered superior products, people figured it out and then they marketed it. So don’t talk about this until the creatives of the world actually have minted you first. This type of marketing move is a marketing re-enforcer, not a marketing introducer. Rather, focus on what problems this type of design does solve. This is where I see the massive opportunity for Microsoft. iPads aren’t fully replacing laptops just yet, but Surface tablets potentially do. So in your “design pitch”, I would focus on the following:

The size – I have no way of knowing how thin this thing really is. Put a picture of it next to something that has a consistent volume to it (currency such as a penny usually works here). Otherwise I simply cannot fathom any sense of the size.

The clarity of the display – You did this correct here but this needs to be on the front page. It’s important. So important, in fact, that Apple dedicates some major real estate (and HTML/JS functionality) to showcasing it’s retina display. Not only that but they clearly demonstrate it’s sexiness but it’s extremely easy to understand what problem is being solved – I can’t see anything properly without super clear, or so-called “retina”, graphics.

Kick. Start.

Alright, this is a cool feature, but show me visually why it’s cool to have this. Again, what problem are you solving? If this allows me to be hands free to watch videos, look at pictures, etc, then show pictures of people doing just that. This is the reason people hate Powerpoint presentations; because they people that create powerpoint presentations spend way more time writing garbled text than showing imagery. Make the person you’re pitching to expend as little energy as possible. This would be a also be a good time to very subtly show how viewing a tablet at this angle is ergonomically 10x better for your back/neck than trying to watch something on an iPad (that doesn’t have a specific case for it). See how Steve Jobs has to prop the iPad up on his leg in order to get comfortable.

This is fundamentally one of the problems that exists with long term use of the iPad, and dually why the snapable keyboard is such a good key differentiator for solving the potential issue of Gorilla arm with the iPad. The difference is also that the iPad is great for when you’re sitting on a couch but terrible for desk use. The Surface can do both. That’s pretty cool, but sell it better. Your better off with this image, but take a step further and show visually what it’s doing for the ergonomics of the human and make the imagery slightly more life like (showing a really cool picture of the grand canyon outside the window doesnt hurt either)

Click. Type.

Demonstrate this visually with a typical example. One of the painful parts of an iPad is when you try to switch into “hardcore mode”, i.e. when I need to write a long winded e-mail or write a document in Word. The iPad is a pain to type on. Attack this pain and attack it hard. Show a use case where two people are viewing the screen and then the context of that conversation switches to writing a long document/email; so unsnapped and snapped back in less than 2 seconds. Perhaps the specific context could be someone watching a YouTube clip and then writing a comment. So you show 3 images. First one shows the YouTube player UI with the video almost ending. Second image, shows the interace with the cursor ready to type, as the keyboard snaps slowly in. The third image shows the keyboard in and the comment submitted with 200+ “thumbs-up” or “likes”. The “house” you sell here is “make comments on youtube FASTER and on the go”. People will inherently get how this can be applied in other areas of life. Also, if you want to show it being spill resistant, SHOW IT, don’t say it. Perhaps an image like this.

Connect. Share.

Ugh. I don’t get this at all. These ports mean nothing to me. Show me a HDTV (with a super crisp image) connect to it, like this. Show me a digital camera with it’s slot open to the SD card, like this. Show me a typical example of why I need USB. What’s supported? Keyboards? Mouse? Show me an example and then throw the USB logo on there. I don’t care where the slots are physically on the device. Don’t waste your time.

Serious. Fun.

Uggggghhhhhhh. Stop. Please. Now. This is really simple. You need 5-10 showcase apps that people are dying to get their hands on. Show them in a left-right slider (like the slider used for the Siri section on Apple’s website). Preferably these are apps that don’t exist on any other device, or are enhanced by some of the features of your device. This will solve your developer/consumer, chicken and egg problem.

Surface for Business

Now, let me touch briefly on the business section.

This should be a dead simple sell. There should be one sentence here that says:

“You can do everything you did on your business laptop, but in a slicker, easier to use device”. Then show me Excel, Word, Outlook and Powerpoint. Then in the fine print, go in the legacy around security, control, governance, etc. Done and done.

Final Thoughts

I really would like Microsoft to do better in this market. Although I haven’t used the product yet, in theory, it plays much nicer to someone like myself (a power user) than the iPad does. If I’ve exposed the fact that either (1) they don’t have good enough gaming apps or (2) the office suite is painful to use on the tablet, than clearly the R&D development effort needs to be spent there. The best way to do this is to create 5-10 “experiences” that are native to the Surface Tablet and not allow them to be ported over to other devices (iPad, Android, etc). Make your garden gorgeous and build a nice wall around it.

How are we going to make Enterprise Cloud profitable?

The largest provider of enterprise software solutions, SAP, has made a bold statement on cloud. First it claims it will be the largest cloud provider in the world. Second it claims it will be the first large cloud provider to be profitable. Here is the article: SAP Sure of Profitability in Cloud Business – Co-CEO Snabe

I had a very open and honest conversation with an SAP Sales Director about this (who’s name will remain anonymous for obvious reasons) and he suspects that the Enterprise move to cloud will do a few things:

  • Expand the reach of software to encompass more markets
  • Reduce the cost of sale (or pay-per-sale) of new customers

Unfortunately these are based on two assumptions about cloud:

  1. Hardware costs are efficiently allocated. This means efficiencies in cost for servers, disaster recovery, network, infrastructure, etc. Amazon seems to be on the only ones who are doing this right and yet still have razor thin margins. I don’t see how this is reproducible model at Amazon’s scale and efficiency, while still competing with Amazon’s prices.
  2. The people developing the software continue to support the software going forward. Cloud isn’t just about economies of scale in hardware. We need to get our heads of the Industrial Revolution thinking – economies of scale aren’t possible with human information workers. Engineering software is not like engineering a kitchen cabinet. It’s a craft.

Remember enterprise licenses yield roughly a 90% profit margin on support and companies like SalesForce are still not profitable. A couple of scenarios I see playing out:

  • In order to get margins back in line with the previous ones the software will no longer be supported by the people who built the software. Customers will get disgusted with their poor support and just leave. This has happened in on-premise software, but the external exposure was mitigated by support teams (such as my previous role within SAP, where I served as a De-Escalation Architect).
  • Cost of sale must go down and therefore expensive middle-management (VPs mainly) will need to be cut out. Unfortunately this means large vendors such as SAP will have less clout when speaking it enterprise clients.

The challenges I see is that SAP is not following the Innovator’s Solution, which is to keep disruptive technology in isolation and are clearly they are trying to integrate it: SCN Blog – My Attempt to Explain SAPs Cloud Strategy  This would motivate a smaller company to keep better knowledge workers and build better efficiencies in hardware.

I still believe SAP should have invested (or outright bought) SalesForce half a decade ago, left it alone and then let it cannibalize itself.

Increasing Productivity is a Load of Bullshit

Today’s technology sale pitches are littered with the ability to “increase productivity”. Ask any employee if the latest tool they’ve implemented is increasing their productivity and they’ll probably roll their eyes. The answer you will most likely get is “My boss just makes me work more hours”. Working more hours is the modern MBA’s answer to increasing productivity. Let’s squeeze as much output from the human as physically possible, and if that’s not enough, let’s make them work more!

Pardon my french, but this is bullshit. You can ask people to work more than 40 hours but at what cost? And this is not increasing productivity (remember – productivity is about efficiency) it’s simply letting the machine to run longer than normal. You now have a bigger problem – who’s gonna pay for the gas?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that working more than 40 hours a week does more harm than good. So why do organizations continue to be successful by working more than 40 hours? The reality is, we are simply not doing 40 full hours of work in a given week. So, maybe we’re at work for 80 hours, but are we really doing 80 hours of true work?

Instead of increasing productivity, let’s look at the problem from another angle – what can we do to prevent productivity from decreasing. I would argue the following are areas are major areas of decreased productivity: (note, these are just a few examples, I would argue there are even way more)

  • Link Bait – Articles with catchy titles, but no relevance to the purpose of the article, severely detriment our ability
  • Politics – Enough said.
  • User Experience – Is your productivity app on par with the experience with that of Angry Birds or Facebook? In other words, can the person complete their task in a well defined, straight forward and easy way?
  • Internet Connectivity – It’s 2012 and we still have issues with Wireless, 3G, and even wired connection. I wonder how much time is lost simply because you can’t get connected to the internet. When are we (as an individual) going to be “99.9% uptime” connected?
Our attention spans are limited but getting higher in value. As Seth Godin rightfully points out:
Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they’re not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.

So what’s the answer to the productivity problem? Your technology needs to value your end-users attention. Create an experience that is far better than anything else out there and you’ll get their attention…and their productivity. They’ll work less, produce more, and everyone will be happier.