Subba’s Serendipitous moments

October 26, 2010

Ray Ozzie’s new memo to Microsoft

Filed under: Business,Model,Strategy — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:58 pm
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Ray Ozzie is a legend. Bill Gates rated him as one of the five best programmers in the world. Ray created Lotus Notes – the popular email and collaborative workspace solutions in the world. Ray succeeded Bill Gates as the Chief Software Architect when Bill decided to leave Microsoft. He is truly a visionary and I had found his earlier memo The Internet services disruption very interesting

Now as Ray prepares to leave Microsoft, he has penned a farewell memo titled Dawn of a new Day. It makes interested reading as he explains several new shifts about where the “post PC world” is headed.

When I read both the memos I get a feeling that despite the 5 years that he spent there and his exhortation for changing, he hasn’t been effective enough. After his routine praise of Microsoft, he makes a subtle but pointed criticism of Microsoft’s business model when he says:

Yet, for all our great progress, some of the opportunities I laid out in my memo five years ago remain elusive and are yet to be realized.

Certain of our competitors’ products and their rapid advancement & refinement of new usage scenarios have been quite noteworthy. Our early and clear vision notwithstanding, their execution has surpassed our own in mobile experiences, in the seamless fusion of hardware & software & services, and in social networking & myriad new forms of internet-centric social interaction.

There is also a veiled pointer to Microsoft’s seemingly glaring weakness of not being able to conceive the future when he says:

In our industry, if you can imagine something, you can build it.  We at Microsoft know from our common past – even the past five years – that if we know what needs to be done, and if we act decisively, any challenge can be transformed into a significant opportunity.  And so, the first step for each of us is to imagine fearlessly; to dream.

The one irrefutable truth is that in any large organization, any transformation that is to ‘stick’ must emerge from within.  Those on the outside can strongly influence, particularly with their wallets.  Those above are responsible for developing and articulating a compelling vision, eliminating obstacles, prioritizing resources, and generally setting the stage with a principled approach.

But the power and responsibility to truly effect transformation exists in no small part at the edge.  Within those who, led or inspired, feel personally and collectively motivated to make; to act; to do.

In taking the time to read this, most likely it’s you.

At times, it almost seems that he is endorsing Google’s strategy and technology approach.

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October 3, 2009

Salesforce.com into financial applications

Unit 4 Agresso has now teamed up Salesforce.com — the poster boy of SaaS to create FinancialForce.com that will produce SaaS based accounting, and financial management applications.

Well SaaS has been growing, but CFOs are mostly conservative and would not want to the data to be in the cloud. Hence the success of Financialforce.com will be keenly watched.

Now there are several interesting issues that come about with this joint venture.

For a start, it seems that Salesforce.com is a minority investor. Salesforce.com’s presence will undoubtedly create higher visibility for SaaS based financial applications. Hence other vendors will follow suit giving the SaaS proposition a greater momentum. Enterrpise software vendors who offer products in the mid market space like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP will have to respond quickly to this trend.

But with this association, Salesforce.com also seem to be sending mixed signals to its App Exchange partners who use the Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform to build new applications. Well, they could build an application only to realize that Salesforce.com might one day compete with them. Recent acquisitions by Salesforce.com in many of the App Exchange parnters’ businesses have not made Salesforce.com popular with many of the partners. Yet, there’s no compelling SaaS platform currently.

It looks like Salesforce.com needs to clearly clarify its positioning, strategic goals and its partnering model.

September 23, 2009

Dell seeks growth in Perot Systems

Dell made a surprise announcement to acquire Perot systems for close to $4 billion. Perot Systems in a IT services firms, predominantly US centric with government and the health care verticals accounting for over 70% of its revenues. By acquiring Perot Systems, Dell is just trying to follow the footsteps of IBM and HP by being a player in the IT services organization.

In my view, this is not a great step for Dell and I am disappointed. Here are the pros and cons:

Vertical presence: Perot Systems may have a great presence in the U.S. government and healthcare but outside of these verticals and outside U.S. it is a very marginal player. The healthcare sector may see some headwind thanks to the impeding reforms but the healthcare sector has been slow to innovate and have less appetite for new IT technology and services.

Margins: First Perot Systems doesn’t have great margins; in fact its margins are lower than industry standards and the last 6 months the results have been disappointing. For the 6 months ending June 2009, Perot made $59 million on a sales of $1.3 billion, which translates to a net margin of just 4.5%. Last year Perot Systems earned $117 million on sales of $2.8 billion.

Synergy: It is likely that Dell’s plan is to use Perot Systems to undertake IT services within its enterprise customers. This looks tough, as both the organizations have a different sales/engagement model. There is no significant synergy, and no integration issues as well. Dell is a $60 billion business and the Perot IT services business is relatively insignificant.

Strategic fit: While the acquisition gives Dell a services outfit, it is unlikely to be a strong strategic fit. Dell’s competencies are in supply chain, direct marketing, agility to respond and being able to sell volume products. The services business is an entirely different kettle of fish and the verticals where Perot is strong — the government and the healthcare are not noted for being agile. How this acquisition could become the “anchor” acquisition for IT services is difficult for me to understand unless Dell is planning on a roll up strategy to acquire other IT services firms.

With this step Dell also seems to be going on a different path. All trends and figures indicate that Dell’s position is becoming difficult with new areas like cloud computing, SaaS and other developments. Dell needs to bolster its offerings in that space to contend with the likes of Cisco and IBM and the Oracle-Sun combination as all of them are beefing up their offerings on the server space.

A strong product focused organization with its unique DNA and specifically strong organization culture will have to contend with several hiccups to make sense of this acquisition. IBM, HP and other It services organizations are unlikely to be impacted.

August 4, 2009

Google and Apple are now confirmed rivals

If there was any doubt about the relationship between Google and Apple, the abrupt resignation of Eric Schmidt — Google CEO from the Apple Board should lay it to rest.

I wonder whether the FCC’s investigation of Apple yanking out Google Voice has something to do it. I wrote about their possible rivalry here, but before I could even conceive of possible actions, the resignation was announced. Coming to think of it, Google and Apple are bracing to compete with each other. Google’s Android which will soon be adopted by many device vendors will be in direct competition with Apple’s iPhone. And the Chrome OS will be competing with the Mac OSX.

But is this new? These moves have been going on for the past few years and while the conflict of interest wasn’t that sharp the yanking of Google Voice seems to have brought all that into the open.

I admire both companies. Both Steve and Eric are respected Valley veterans. They have been role models for me. Nonetheless I have to say they always had antithetical approaches to shaping the future of the consumer experience. Some day there was bound to be a conflict.

Apple believes in creating cool products, but being a walled garden. It has fans, not customers. Even though the iPhone is supposed to be open, every application must be approved by Apple. I had talked about the walled garden approach here and it seems to have worked very well for Apple.

Google has adherents. It believed in openness and its whole purpose (even for its Chrome OS) was to reduce the significance of devices in favor of applications that will reside in the cloud. And once the cloud becomes the organizing system, the devices — be it the phones or the laptops do not matter.

Google crowdsourced its innovation. Apple built an innovation value chain in-house. Both models were successful. Yet I think at the core there is a deep philosophical conflict which manifests as a fight between the open and proprietary approaches.  I wrote about it in the mobile phone industry here and hence am not surprised that a rivalry has come about.

The Google Voice episode is just the beginning. The FCC enquiry may reveal more.

And if the Google-Microsoft war and the Apple-Microsoft war, wasn’t interesting enough, we will see a third war — the Google-Apple war.

August 2, 2009

IBM girds itself against Cisco.

A few months back I wrote about Cisco’s game changing play and in the process declaring war on IBM and HP. I also indicated that an imminent realignment of alliances is likely. I have been following the subsequent developments with a lot of interest and here’s an update.

I have not seen HP do much in terms of launching an offensive to Cisco’s play. Either they do not believe in Cisco’s ability to build a carrier class digital IT infrastructure or they are tied up with other myriad issues.

IBM on the other hand has upped the ante with a series of moves. It entered into a fairly strong relationship with Juniper Networks. While IBM did mention that it was also bolstering its relationship with Cisco, for the discerning eye it was just PRspeak.

Brocade’s Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) will be offered as the IBM Converged Switch B32 and 10Gb Converged. This will strengthen the OEM agreement Brocade with IBM earlier this year to resell Brocade’s Foundry switches.

The battle for data centers will invariably shift to the cloud. And the shift may even be quicker than one can envisage. And the first vendor that are able to demonstrate that data can be moved from one cloud to another without a hitch, has a significant advantage. With the agreements with Juniper and Brocade, IBM seems to have a strong advantage over Cisco.

It looks like an interesting battle ahead between IBM and Cisco. To me, it looks like HP is still being hesitant.

July 25, 2009

Singapore’s research institutes — suffering from split personality?

Is there a synergy between advanced technology R&D and standard training to mid career professionals so that they could garner yet another certification?

Or is it merely a case of making some revenues to cover their costs?

Or worse still, is it a way for the R&D institute to do some “notional national service” when there’s no local company to use the outputs produced by the R&D organization?

The strategies adopted by Singapore’s R&D institutions especially in the IT sector has always confounded me. The latest one is the Data Storage Institute and while on the one hand they claim they do cutting edge research, they are also offering standard training courses which can lead to industry certification (SNIA).

The milestones listed doesn’t talk about any breakthroughs in research or development but merely administrative or routine events. Has DSI lost it completely?

Well as an organization, sure they have resources to do both, but should they be doing both in the first place?

The data storage industry has changed significantly over the years and if DSI doesn’t find a clear and compelling reason to exist, they should redirect their strengths somewhere. It seems to me that there’s a huge disconnect between their areas of research and the aspirations of the local industry. The result — it is research for research sake and if at all there’s any benefit, it is for the MNCs who in any case can source such research from anywhere in the world.

This leads to the question — Does DSI have a compelling reason to exist?

Long timers in Singapore would possibly recognize that the Institute of Systems Science or ISS as it was popularly known had always a confused identity– It was a research institute, training institute, did consulting projects and many other things. It used multiple identities to its advantage sometimes, but despite being given dollops of dollars, it didn’t produce anything outstanding — be in in research, consulting or training. Finally it divested its research activities and became a training service provider. It does provide good training, but the courses it offers can be provided by any training service provider in the private sector.

Looks like DSI is going the same way as ISS?

Sometime back I wrote that Singapore’s research and development needs a rethink. It led to several interesting discussions amongst friends and quite a few work in the R&D sector. The surprising thing is that they do agree that it needs a rethink.

So, when will this happen?

February 18, 2009

Microsoft, hurry up!

Filed under: Business,Competition,Model — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:00 pm
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The cloud computing battle is being fought on multiple fronts including creating some confusion in everyone’s minds. It is no longer being considered a niche and the next 12-18 months will see it become mainstream.

IBM has increasingly become aggressive and has teamed up with Amazon Web services to deliver its software.

While Amazon had deals with players like Salesforce.com, OpenSolaris, MySQL, RedHat, this deal with IBM is significant because it gives Amazon the clout and respectability for the enterprise.

The interesting question is what happens to Microsoft? Microsoft announced Azure which I referred to here, but didn’t put in any aggressive plans to pursue this with a backward cloud model. Perhaps Microsoft will offer a Cloud OS sometime in the future.

With this deal, Microsoft would be left with no choice but to adopt the cloud model quickly and aggressively across all its software product range. The other key decision that Microsoft would have to make is if the Microsoft cloud can connect to the rest of the clouds be it Google, Salesforce.com or Amazon or other private cloud.

IBM will also have a significant advantage as it can drive more cloud economics — hardware, storage, infrastructure software and other applications and can build completely new pricing models to gain market leadership.

Microsoft cannot afford to lose any more time. Microsoft has to rally with its developers and close the gap.

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September 10, 2008

Cloud is confusing!

Filed under: Business,Model — Subbaraman Iyer @ 2:40 pm
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“Cloud computing” has been a buzzword and it means different things to different people. What started as the ASP in the early part of the decade, morphed to Utility computing and now everything is “Cloud computing”.

Generically speaking, the tern “cloud computing” is just an alternate  solution that doesn’t use the in-house data centre or any vendor specific hosting resource. It is a virtual huge infrastructure where both computing and storage resource is available on a pay-as-you-go on-demand basis. The compelling benefit is in its scalability  and the ability to access an application anywhere. There are clearly 2 distinct layers in the cloud:

Infrastructure: Amazon Web services is the poster child offering both computing and storage resources with a simple API interface. It has been a tremendous success gauged by the fact that Amazon’s EC2 and S3 in Q4 2007 exceeded all of Amazon’s web properties during its own peak time. See the impressive evidence here.

Platform: Google’s AppEngine and a few other platforms offer a development environment where the developer adheres to certain guidelines and the scaling is performed by the platform.

However Forrester in their latest report have expanded the definition of the “cloud computing” and in the process have even made the definition even foggier.

Clearly Software as a service and Web services cannot be considered as part of a cloud since the former is a specific end user software with a specific functionality focus. They outgrew from the traditional world of the application service provider hosted and are the least flexible. The Web services world again is a specific application for an organization.

If one takes the factors flexibility, scalability, ubiquity as the cornerstones of cloud computing, I fail to understand how SaaS or Web services or even App components-as-a-service become part of the cloud.

In my view it is only the bottom 3 layers that constitute the cloud. I would like to view the Cloud as just another way the IT infrastructure is being delivered and consumed.

I am just waiting to see how the other analysts define the cloud.

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May 12, 2008

Eric Schmidt unveils an exciting future.

Eric Schmidt in a very short speech at the recent IBM Partners leadership conference shows to all of us what the future could be in a very interesting compelling way.

Some of the facts:

  1. Currently the Internet has 1.3 billion users, with 200 million getting added each year.

  2. In Japan, 3 of the most popular books were delivered first on the mobile readers and subsequently done on print.

  3. There were just 400 servers in 1983, and now there are more than 500 million servers worldwide.

  4. There are 70 million blogs, with over 120,000 blogs being created every day

  5. 7 million photos are uploaded to Picasa (Google’s photo sharing site) each day

  6. 10 hours of video uploaded on YouTube each minute.

  7. 500 million Wifi chip sets will be sold next year.

His most provocative statement of the future: By 2019, there could be a device that could sit on the belt or kept in the wallet that could have 85 years of video on it. You will be dead before you can see all of it. One of the ultimate frustrations in life.

But what he said about Convergence was interesting. Convergence is not everything (services) going into one device. It is entering (all the services) into one server or services in the cloud and hence even if the devices are different, the content in all that will remain the same.

His quote on Breakthroughs was equally profound: Great breakthroughs are closer to what happens in a flood pane. It is not one idea. A dozen tributaries converge and the rising waters lift the genius high enough so that he or she can see the conceptual obstruction of the age.

His entire address and the subsequent panel discussion can be viewed here. Each time I hear Eric speak, I come back with more knowledge and insight. An earlier interview of Eric is also available on my blog here.

As you see this, maybe you should also see some of the other great CEO interviews and discussions. A few are listed here

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