Archive for January, 2008

Web 3.0 and The Virtual Generation – Marketing Take Note!

Web 3.0? What’s that now? We’re still dealing with Web 2.0 and now I’m already talking about Web 3.0?! Well, if you’ve been reading my earlier posts, in essence, I’ve already talked about Web 3.0 – the Semantic Web. So I won’t go into the details of that in this post. My focus for this post is where I think Web 3.0 is heading and what one of the trends in that space will be and what it means for marketing agencies in the future.

As the concepts around Web 3.0 become more and more of a reality, one of the trends is going to be the semantic user experience. What I mean by this is how we can explore the notion of adding artificial intelligence and context around the user experience to make it a much more compelling and customized activity for each user. Any marketing person worth their salt knows that in this day and age, you should be devising your marketing around creating an exceptional user experience. The semantic web will take this to a new level. As we gain more context around data that a user wants to work with and parlay that into the user experience, we need to remember that context will be king. Mobility, audio, video and presence will the new desktop. Users will move from becoming consumers to prosumers – they will be the ones controlling the content – creating it, adding to it, enriching it, sharing it with their peers.

So what does the virtual generation (or Gen V as Gartner calls it) mean? It means a new generation that is tech savvy and carries out most of their networking and interactions via the digital medium. A generation that is immersed in virtual worlds and their identity in this world is their virtual avatar. Marketing folks will need to shift their thinking from collecting demographics information to collecting information that these avatars leave behind because the avatars will grow personalities and the user’s likes and dislikes will be reflected in their avatars. What does this mean for product companies? Think about how to allow Gen V to explore your product in virtual worlds. The semantic web will lead to augmented reality – th ability to mix real world and computer based data to arrive at decisions. That will become more of a reality once cloud computing and associated technologies such as virtualization become more and more mainstream, resulting in optimal use of bandwidth, machine computing power, expanded reasoning and dynamic visualization to create a semantically rich user application to serve the next generation – Generation V.

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January 30, 2008 at 1:11 pm 1 comment

Multi-facets of the Multi-Tenant Architecture

There has been a lot of talk around Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Many ISVs are exploring SaaS to achieve increased revenues and expand their customer base. With the advent of increased bandwith, customer demand, competitive pressures and increasing need for innovation, many ISVs are looking at alternative delivery models for their packaged software products (know as on-premise software models). 2008 is touted as the year that SaaS will take off. Whether that is true remains to be seen, but I thought I’d write an article on SaaS and the real underlying thought process that an ISV needs to go through when considering a SaaS strategy for their legacy product(s).

Multi-tenancy is a word that you’ll hear often in this space. What does it mean? Think about how a normal software application is designed to be consumed/used. It is expected to be installed within the domain of one company, where multiple users will use it to create/store/retrieve data, etc. Now what if you want to create this product once and have it used via the web by any company with any number of users? The design needs to change to accommodate this usage style. All of a sudden, you need to consider if you will have a single instance of your product with multiple back end databases (one per company) or individual instances of your product tied to individual databases. A multi-tenant architecture in the SaaS world basically means one instance of your product serving multiple companies and multiple users within each company. There is a difference between users and tenants SaaS which is important to understand – think of a tenant as a company or a team – basically a collection of users. A user on the other hand is an individual person or system that is interacting with the product. Multi-tenant is not a new concept by any means. It is just that as SaaS gains popularity, it has become a buzz word thanks to marketing hype. However, the implications of designing a multi-tenant architecture from the ground up vs. augmenting a legacy architecture to make it multi-tenant are real and can be quite complicated. Also worth noting that your SaaS solution does not have to be a multi-tenant solution. You can keep it single tenant, but there are associated costs and headaches with it that you need to be aware of.

The intent of this article is not to provide a detailed introduction to what SaaS is. There are lots of articles on that online. My real interest in SaaS lies in carving out a detailed strategy to implement complex SaaS solutions, something which is lacking in the industry today. There are not a lot of articles that detail the different areas that an ISV needs to think about before jumping into implementing a full blown SaaS solution. This article will aim to address this. However, one article cannot do justice to the complexities involved in designing a SaaS solution, but it’s a start I guess. So what are the core areas in my mind that an ISV needs to focus on when building out their SaaS strategy? There are four areas that need attention:

  • Business implications – Is my current business model conducive to SaaS? Have I conducted a market opportunity assessment? What financial models can I pursue for my new SaaS products? What about organizational and cultural issues and how will these impact my team and product development? What is my go-to-market strategy?
  • Technical implications – How do I achieve my multi-tenant architecture? Via software or hardware? Using Virtualization? How will my product scale to this new model? What architectural considerations need to be explored? How will SaaS impact my product lifecycle? What will my database design look like and how will it impact my data model? How will I handle subscriptions? What about security and how will I isolate my data in the database to keep customer data secure? Which encryption methods to use? What will my SaaS infrastructure look like?
  • Operational implications – Once I offer my software as a service, I now have to take on the burden of ensuring that the systems are up, otherwise no one will really want to use my software anymore. So as a service provider, the risk now shifts to the vendor from the customer of ensuring high availability and uptime. Along with this comes the onus of ensuring operational excellence.
  • Sales and Marketing implications – For companies (especially ISV) that are thinking of implementing a SaaS strategy, this is a vital piece of the puzzle. The reason being that the SaaS model changes the way an ISV will do business. The ISV will move from becoming a product company to a service company down the SaaS path. Coupled with the fact that SaaS opens up new customer channels and revenue models, the ISV needs to factor in how to capitalize on that and have a marketing plan handy to make the SaaS model work for them. A SaaS model causes a “revenue trickle factor” – what I mean is that the ISV no longer gets a fat paycheck everytime a customer now buys their product but realizes the revenue over a course of time (depending on which SaaS model they adopt), so this needs to be factored in to the sales and marketing plan to ensure that they make up for the trickle factor by signing up more customers to justify the cost of the infrastructure and management.

In subsequent posts, I will get into the details SaaS, especially around the area of giving guidance around how to implement a SaaS strategy, what to look out for, best practices, SaaS economics, the main technical challenges of SaaS and much more. Stay tuned!

    January 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm 6 comments

    The Marketing (Business)-IT divide

    Today I’m going to spend some time talking about an area that I’ve always had an interest in – marketing. Why marketing? Well, one of my interests is in entrepreneurship, and one cannot succeed as an entrepreneur without honing their marketing skills. As an entrepreneur, I am constantly intrigued by the various ways in which I can market my business, which channels to use, how to create campaigns, how to track them, what metrics to track, how the consumer (the boss) is driving trends such as social media and Web 2.0 and how one can leverage these technologies and concepts to do what matters most in the end – provide the customer with a unique experience, because at the end of the day, that is what keeps the customer coming back.So I was talking to my friend on the phone yesterday who happens to work for a marketing firm and we were discussing some of the latest happenings in the marketing world and somehow the conversation came down to his frustrations with IT in his firm and how he wished that IT could be more agile and realize that marketing/creative cannot wait for months for them to implement the ideas that they come up with. He asked me if I’ve encountered this in other companies that I’ve consulted with, and if so, my thoughts on what I did to improve the process.

    The marketing-IT divide is akin to the business-IT divide that I see in many companies. The primary causes of the rift are three fold in my opinion:

    • Vision – Sometimes, it is a matter of interpreting company priorities differently. Marketing/Creative are focused on creating brands and acquiring new customers, whereas IT is focused on what technologies, how to build, test and deploy. Each thinks that their division is the one impacting the top and bottom line. Without marketing/creative generated ideas, the company cannot grow their revenues. Without IT it is hard to execute those high level thoughts that the marketing/creative teams come up with. As a result, each division has their own priorities, road maps and their own funding models. This results in marketing/creative and IT not being equal partners. In addition, some executives see IT as a cost center, although in marketing, this is less prevalent, since most marketing agencies realize that marketing is driven by technology.
    • LanguageI say dynamic user experience, you say ActionScript. This one is a hard one to overcome. Marketing and IT speak different languages. Marketing and creative folks are focused on building a brand, multi-channel marketing, social networks, widget marketing, personas, word of mouth marketing, target markets and demographics. IT hears all that and immediately translates that to Flash, bandwidth, servers, CSS, databases, AJAX and scalability. Marketing/creative goes huh?! All that matters to us is what needs to be done. Who cares how you do it?
    • Collaboration – Often times, geographically dispersed marketing and IT teams are working on different projects, but need to leverage the same artifacts or best practices, yet, due to a lack of communication and collaboration, different teams are doing the same thing in different ways, leading to duplicated efforts, increased costs and increased project time lines, not to mention back and forth emails and phone calls. Not much is captured and shared on what worked in the past, what did not work, why it did not work, how we can do it better, reusable artifacts and best practices. Often times, there are missed opportunities to streamline common processes, resulting in inefficiencies and manual errors. All of this just aids in surfacing the notion that IT and marketing/creative are just not cohesive and that one does not understand how to work with the other.

    I’m never one to dwell on a problem without thinking of how to solve it. So how does one start tackling the marketing (business)-IT divide? Here are my $0.02:

    • Create multi-disciplinary teams – A Ferrari is built by a team that is focused on the end goal of producing a high performance sports car. They know that it needs an extraordinary engine, extremely tight suspension, great brakes and a ton of other things, and each person working on those things brings their own expertise to the table, but their end goal is not what am I doing but what are we building (which is a vehicle that will bring a smile to a driver’s face, i.e: provide a breathtaking experience). Of course, what each one of them does is extremely important, but the focus should be how it all comes together. To do that effectively, companies need to build teams with diverse backgrounds and bring them all to the table to have a meaningful exchange. Teams consisting of creative, IT and business minded folks, each with their own expertise in different verticals will bring different perspectives and encourage different trains of thought. It then becomes a learning experience for both marketing and IT. IT sees the business from a different angle and can better align themselves to support marketing/creative. But alignment is not just a one way street. In my opinion, just as it is important for IT to think in more business terms, it is just as important for the business to be more technically savvy and think in somewhat technical terms. Marketing/creative and IT are business partners. IT should not have the burden of conforming alone.
    • Communication – I talked about having a meaningful exchange earlier. Getting the best team together is half the battle. If that team comes into a room and glosses over a bunch of Power Point slides and calls it a day, then the battle is lost. The idea behind having these minds from diverse backgrounds in one room is to get people to introspect, analyze, enhance, enact and measure.
      • Introspect – Ask the tough questions. What is broken? What can be done to fix it? How do we fix it? The idea is not to point fingers. Nothing ever gets resolved that way. The way I like to tackle conflict is by tackling the problem, not the person.
      • Analyze – Once you know where you want to be and where you are now, you can do a gap analysis and identify action items and time lines on improving the process.
      • Enhance – This builds off of the previous point – how do we make the current situation/process better? Is there a way to automate it?
      • Enact – Put the thoughts and ideas into practice.
      • Measure – You cannot gauge improvement if you don’t measure. Track your changes, see if it improves/fixes something that was broken, provide feedback to participants.

      As part of communicating better, both teams learn to speak a common language. One way to do that is for both teams to make a cognizant effort to learn the vocabulary of the other, at least at a high level. Engaging in 30 minute real or virtual meetings on a weekly basis to apprise the other team of what certain things mean, how we like to do a project from start to finish, high level, yet focused business and technical seminars on where marketing is headed, what new IT trends might be of interest, examining internal processes and adjusting/enhancing them to accommodate the outcomes from these meetings, all display an initiative that says let’s work together. Make no mistake – I am well aware that in a typical marketing agency (just like with most businesses), the pressure is on to deliver and you might be reading this and asking – Yeah, these are all great ideas, but who has the time to do that? The truth is that time is always short, people are always stressed and deadlines are always looming. This is where senior management needs to step in. Without buy-in from senior management that this is a problem and that we need to find ways to solve it, these issues will go on forever, and your marketing/creative and IT teams will still be at each other’s throats 2 years from now.

    • Focus on Customer Experience – As I mentioned earlier, every contributor, whether from the marketing/creative or IT team has an important role to play. But it is important not to focus only on what each team is contributing, but starting from a common theme and higher level goal of designing and delivering an exceptional customer experience and then figuring out how to carve out a message that targets the relevant audience and working on an IT strategy that becomes an enabler to quickly deliver on that promise.
    • Integrated Blueprint – One of the steps that helps an integrated marketing/IT organization is an integrated marketing/IT blueprint. It has similarities to an enterprise architecture blueprint, in that it should clearly state the business maxims and show how IT is geared towards partnering with marketing to deliver on the business needs. However, most enterprise wide blueprints are extensive documents discussing technical architectures, detailed delivery models based on RUP or XP or a hybrid model, iterative cycles and time lines, etc. In the marketing world, the focus is different. There is very little time for elaborate iterations and creating fancy documentation and other architectural artifacts. IT needs to be much more agile and nimble, geared towards rapid turnaround. So the delivery model needs to be streamlined, lean and mean. Get the job done quickly, but along the way, focus on reusability and harnessing components and ideas that speed up delivery. The blueprint should also state infrastructure needs that will aid rapid development, deployment and easy discovery and reuse of marketing/IT assets. It should also highlight maturity models, indicating where the company is today, where it needs to go and what steps it needs to take along the way to get there. The idea is not to boil the ocean. Start small, scale rapidly – that’s the idea. The blueprint is just that – a detailed plan which is modified to suit the rapid delivery needs of the agency.
    • Improved Collaboration – To improve efficiency, agencies must focus on, and drive collaborative efforts within geographically dispersed teams. It is ironic that marketing agencies leverage Web 2.0 to build collaborative applications for their customers, but often, they themselves are the victims of poor collaboration. Different timezones, dispersed teams and hard dead lines mandate that people in different locations collaborate in the most efficient ways to get the job done on time. Again, there are 2 aspects to this – executive buy-in and tools of the trade. All the tools in your box are worthless if upper management does not drive the initiative from above. Once the expectations are set, then it is time to analyze the different styles of collaboration and which tools are a good fit. Collaboration can happen either asynchronously or synchronously (real time). Asynchronous collaboration can happen via file sharing, emails, blogs, wikis, online calendars, etc. On the other hand, when there is a need to have real time conversations, Web and video conferences, presence aware applications, IMs and live chat are mediums of choice. But in my opinion, it is not enough to use these mediums as separate mechanisms to enhance collaboration. That might get things started and be ok for the short term. What is more important for the long term is to either buy applications or build them in-house (on open, extensible standards) that will ingrain these processes into the daily lives of the people that use them, so much so, that it becomes an extension of doing your job. It has to be baked into the processes for it to really make an impact. In addition, other features/functions need to be addressed, such as:
      • Visual Workflows – Tools that allow marketing/creative folks to come up with a concept and then use a visual tool to lay it out, annotate it and then pass it on to the IT folks and allows IT to use the same artifacts generated by marketing to further build on it to devise their IT strategy will go a long way in bridging the gap. Often times the business generates artifacts, but these cannot be used as is by IT. The business throws it over the wall to IT and IT goes ahead and generates their own assets and therein lies the disconnect.
      • Repository for Asset Management – A common repository that not only houses digital assets, but also best practices, project information, what worked, what did not, process information, reusable components and documentation will go a long way in improving collaboration, speeding up delivery and meeting deadlines. The key is to constantly maintain this repository and making sure that is it always relevant and not outdated.
      • Task assignment, reviews and approvals – Allowing on-the-fly task assignment, tracking, re-assigment due to vacations, sick leave, etc will help keep track of progress and bring red flags up sooner rather than later.

    This article is turning out to be quite long, but hopefully it conveys the idea that I set out to discuss with my friend over the phone. As always, I’m open to suggestions for improvement, so feel free to comment.

    January 3, 2008 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

    IT Focus for 2008

    I thought I’d start off the new year with a post on my thoughts for where the IT focus will be for 2008. There are articles that discuss IT trends for 2008 such as Web 2.0, green IT, etc. However, I do not think that these areas are going to be a focus for most corporations in 2008. They will definitely be a focus for some, but for the majority of companies, I think that these topics are going to be on their radar and they might start experimenting with it, but nothing more than that.

    So having said that, here are the topics that I think will be high on the agenda of most CIOs:

    • Integration: Yes, it’s still an issue given aging systems, legacy applications, emerging platforms, M&A activity, need for integrating external partners and need for business agility. With all the talk around SOA and integration, it’s easy to forget how many companies yet have not adopted SOA and are still struggling with integrating their heterogeneous systems. Whether it is via adopting SOA or homegrown means, integration will continue to be a focus for 2008 for most CIOs.
    • Cost Containment: Ask most CIOs what is one of their top 3 initiatives and most will reply cost containment. The need to manage the cost of IT is high on their agenda and should continue to be so this year as well. The trick is to figure out how to use technology to achieve this business goal. SOA for business agility? Virtualization for hardware and software consolidation? SaaS for increased business channels? Open Source to reduce licensing costs? Better customer service using BI? Reduce energy costs? Manage vendor better via standardization? Pursue an outsourcing strategy? All of these will keep the CIO up at night.
    • Process Automation: Current processes are manual, cumbersome and error prone at many companies. The need to automate these and hence cut costs, save time and improve customer service (both internal and external customers) will continue to drive focus in business process automation. In an effort to align business and IT, CIOs not only need to figure out how to automate their processes, but also how to translate the process automation from concept (business folks explaining what needs to be done) to the implementation (how IT folks will get it done).
    • Business Intelligence/Data Mining: In order to improve customer service, you need to know your customer. What better way to do so than to pursue a BI/DM strategy to clean up your data, structure it for on-demad reporting and surface that via a myriad of fancy dashboards? BI/DM will continue to be popular this year.
    • Virtualization: I think that CIOs realize the full value of virtualization already. It is a matter of putting it into practice. A lot of companies already have a virtualization strategy and those that do not will start looking into it this year. Data center virtualization, OS virtualization, application and JVM virtualization, along with sophisticated monitoring and management tools (the most important piece of a virtualization solution) will continue to grow.
    • SaaS: Software as a Service will build on the SOA foundation to provide increase revenue channels for many companies. Despite its complexities (getting used to a different business model, proper infrastructure, licensing models, security, etc), many companies should pursue SaaS this year.
    • Open Source: Statistics say that one in three small and medium sized business are adopting open source as their platform of choice. With the obvious cost savings, increased developer pool, more control over patches and deployment and faster time to market as a result of increased ramp up in infrastructure (think open source ESB, portal, CRM, etc), many companies will need an open source strategy to become more innovative in 2008.
    • M-Commerce: Especially in banking and retail, I expect this to be a major focus this year, given the immense popularity of cell phones, increased band width and customer openness to doing business on the web. Security will still be a concern, but I expect a lot of focus on building out mobile software and infrastructure this year. Add to this the popularity of Mobile 2.0 and Web 2.0 mashups, along with an insatiable appetite of the Gen Y population to get things done while on the move and you can see why reaching customers via mobile phones will be a top focus area for many companies.
    • Security: With the focus around SOA, SaaS, M-Commerce, increased integration between lines of business, exposing data as a service and other key initiatives, security should remain a focus as it is deeply ingrained in each of these areas for the initiatives to be successful.

    What!?? No Web 2.0?? No social networks?? Don’t get me wrong. Web 2.0, green IT, etc are all cool and trendy, and they definitely will appeal to a section of companies out there. Web 2.0 will definitely find applicability in the BI space, as well as in areas of marketing, consumer based applications, building brands and areas where people buy products because they trust their friends and social networks, but I do not think that these are going to be the main agenda items for most CIOs who are focused on the enterprise. Web 2.0 is a trend as are social networks and I think that in the coming years, they will become a focus for many, but for now, I feel that they will remain a trend in 2008.

    If you feel differently, or feel that I’ve missed out on some key topics, then I’d love to hear your opinions.

    January 2, 2008 at 5:30 pm 1 comment



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