Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Microsoft putting Vista in the rearview mirror

One of the industry's worst-kept secrets is the unauthorized beta release of Windows 7. For all the safeguards that the company supposedly has in place, they haven't done much of anything to slow the download of their next operating system. The operating system can be found on the Pirate Bay BitTorrent site, and apparently it has been downloaded thousands of times.

Why do this?
It seems pretty obvious to me that the company is doing everything it can to dampen the success that Apple's year-long PC vs. Mac campaign has generated. Like the rest of the tech industry, they realize that Vista is their most visible flop since WinMe. So if they can get experts talking about something else, then they will consider the earlier-than-planned beta release as a reasonable cost of doing business.

I haven't looked at Windows 7, yet. I'm not a big fan of early generation releases, so I'm waiting until mid-first-quarter before loading onto one of my old boxes. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting more out of mobility

A few years ago, one of my most trusted clients told me that his firm's wireless spending was nearly as much as their land-line spending. At the time, the firm had more than 15 locations in 8 states across the US. How does this compare to your firm's telecomm costs?

According to a recent press release by Nemertes Research, "Companies that have not strategized the use of mobility are much more likely to indicate that their wireless budgets are out of control."

And the value of a mobility strategy does not just show up in reduced costs. The study found a significant direct correlation between the implementation of a strategic plan on mobility and increased ROI from mobile applications.

The relationship between strategy and cost might seem self-evident. But why, then, do so many organizations admit to not having one in place? The press release indicates that over 40% of responding companies did not claim to have ... or to be in the process of developing a ... mobility plan.

Does your firm have a strategic plan for mobility in place?
Do you see your wireless budgets as being "out of control"?

Developing a mobility plan does not have to be hard or excessively expensive. We can see that it is a sound investment and we know that mobility will be even more important to your firm's success a year from now. Now is a good time to contact us for an assessment of your current situation and to develop a roadmap to gaining more value from your mobility initiatives.

Nemertes Research Press Release:
Companies Adopting Mobility Strategies See 60% Increase in Productivity

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Notebooks take the lead in market share

Earlier this month, I discussed the impact of cheaper PC's on Microsoft (read it here). In that post, we learned that notebooks are expected to represent about 12% of worldwide demand next year.

According to yesterday's WSJ (online), iSuppli is reporting that third quarter "shipments of notebook computers rose nearly 40% from last year to 38.6 million units as desktop shipments fell 1.3% to 38.5 million units ... Overall, world-wide PC shipments rose 15% to 79 million units." So what we are seeing is that just about all of the growth in computer sales (as measured by units delivered) is coming from the very low end of the segment.

In my view, here are some of the implications we should be thinking about:

  • Linux will gain acceptance by consumers. Notebook PC's - which often have relatively limited computing power - are well suited for light-weight operating systems such as Linux. This means that opportunity exists for consumer-oriented applications that run on Linux.
  • Microsoft will struggle to grow revenue in the consumer market. These PC's usually run a low-end version of Windows, which is of course less expensive than the full-featured version. Consequently, they will continue to see an increase in licensing volume, but revenue will not track with that growth.
  • The market will become increasingly segmented. Low-end PC's will eventually (in 3-5 years) make up nearly two-thirds of the delivered units. Very high end business machines will make up the rest. The mid-level PC ... which is Dell's bread and butter, by the way ... will lose its relevance when, for just a few hundred dollars more, you can get a much, much better device.

So keep a close eye on notebook manufacturers like Lenovo and Acer. Their machines are best viewed as disposable, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see them leverage that into a long-term, very sustainable revenue stream.

Links in this post:
iSuppli Report: Notebook PC Shipments Exceed Desktops for First Time in Q3
Wall Street Journal article: Notebook Computers Outpace Desktop PCs
Microsoft: MSFT (NYSE)
Lenovo: LNVGY (OTC)
Acer Incorporated: 2353 (TPE)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Google and SalesForce expand their alliance. and Google are at it again. Having first formed an alliance last July (2007), the companies have announced an expansion of this relationship. It is meant to further integrate the applications available through Google Apps into the development platform.

It remains to be seen what developers will cook up with this new alliance. However, it is a logical convergence between the two firms. For instance, Google's finance data could easily be available from within, allowing a salesperson to have a quick read on a firm's current state while preparing for a sales call.

Link to the announcement from eWeek:
Google, Partner on Cloud Computing

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global Chip sales forecast for 2009 is down

No big surprises here, but two separate firms, iSuppli and Gartner (NYSE: IT) are predicting a slowdown in global chip sales in 2009. This is not simply a reduction in a previously released growth estimate, but a forecast of an actual reduction in sales compared to 2008.

iSuppli said sales will fall 9.9% to $91.2 billion in 2009. The firm expects 2008 sales to finish up 1.8% at $101.3 billion, which is less than thepreviously predicted 2008 revenue growth of 6.7%. Gartner's 2009 estimate, released on Tuesday (16 December) predicts a 16% drop in global sales revenue.

The only bright spot in iSuppli's projection is that laptop computer sales will still grow by 15%, although is substantially less than the previous prediction of 25% growth in that sector.

Firefox security patch released

Users of Mozilla's Firefox may have already discovered that the application required a code update over the past couple of days. If the application hasn't already run the update, then shut down your browser and restart it, or click on "Help" and "Check for Updates."

According to some reports, vulnerabilities have been exposed which can be exploited by malicious people to bypass certain security restrictions, disclose sensitive information, conduct cross-site scripting attacks, or potentially compromise a user's system. Check out Firefox 3.0.5 release notes for more information.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Microsoft issues emergency patch

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is planning to release an out-of-band patch for Internet Explorer on Wednesday to address a critical security vulnerability that's being actively exploited. Microsoft Security Response Center researchers Ziv Mador and Tareq Saade said in a blog post, "Based on our stats, since the vulnerability has gone public, roughly 0.2% of users worldwide may have been exposed to websites containing exploits of this latest vulnerability." While that percentage may seem very small, it means that 1 out of every 500 IE users has the potential for being infected. According to reports, the exploit seems to have been sourced on sites hosted in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This is the second time in 2008 that Microsoft has released an "out of band" patch, with the last coming just 3 months ago (it was the subject of my Oct 23, 2008 blog: Urgent Security Patch from Microsoft).

This issue first came to light on Dec 9, 2008, when Microsoft issued a very limited Security Advisory. At the time, the company indicated that they were "ware only of limited attacks that attempt to use this vulnerability." Since then, however, the alert has been updated at least four times, expanding the list of affected software to include several versions of IE... including IE7, IE6, IE6 SP1, IE5.01 SP4 and IE 8 beta 2. Virtually all of the versions of Windows installed by most users are affected... XP SP1 and SP2, Sevrver 2K3 SP1 and SP2, Vista with and without SP1, and Server 2K8.

At some point over the next couple of days, PCs that are set for automatic updates will get the patch and likely be rebooted. If your firm has not recently reviewed your strategy for managing Operating System updates, please contact me. It is well worth a small investment to have a good handle on these kinds of events.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can the internet really handle mobility?

The base architecture of the internet contains two fundamental and significant flaws. One has been addressed, but one has not.

The internet relies on the basic assumption that every device must have a unique address. That includes every PC, every PDA, every GPS unit... everything. The current protocol for assigning addresses is called IPv4, and it allows for a finite number of addresses. Look at the accompanying graph and you see that we are rapidly approaching the upper limit of available addresses.

A new protocol, called IPv6, is meant to resolve this problem. However, a recent study indicates that less than 1% of IT executives say they are deploying IPv6. Furthermore, those respondents cite government mandates as the only reason they have gone through with the deployment. It is unlikely that IPv6 will be widely deployed until government or market conditions compel organizations to do so, making it very probable that this particular IPv4 limitation will have a significant impact on all of us.

However, even if IPv6 is deployed flawlessly across the world tomorrow, we still have a significant problem, especially as it relates to mobility. Once a device is assigned an address, the internet establishes a path to that device. And the details of that path have a significant reliance upon geography. As a device moves from one region to another -- in an airplane or a ship -- that path will need to be updated. The computing power required to keep track of all of those individual paths, and their changes is virtually incomprehensible.

Unfortunately for all of us, the fundamental design and development of the base internet was "good enough" for the purposes of the last 15 years. However, to paraphrase Jim Collins, we've allowed "good enough" to become the enemy of progress. I'm sure there is no simple solution. But ignoring this problem will invite significant disruption in our global connectivity.

Read the findings from Nemertes Research: Internet Interrupted

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gartner identifies alternatives for off-shoring

Economic conditions being what they are, off-shoring is going to become an even more attractive option for organizations searching for ways to keep their projects going. Gartner (NYSE: IT) released a study last week that identified the thirty "best" countries for off-shore capabilities. India still tops the list. However, the rest of the top countries contained names that may surprise you.
  • Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
  • Asia/Pacific: Australia, China, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA): The Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain and Ukraine.
Because of the criteria used in the study (see below), English-speaking countries like Canada, Ireland, Australia and South Africa will fare well. Using a Canadian firm may prove to be a very attractive alternative given the cultural similarities... and don't forget about the time differences.

This study did not seem to address outsourcing as it relates to operational tasks, like network maintenance and desktop support. For firms that have already gone as far as they can on project expenses, those areas will be logical targets for review.

Gartner's study also claimed that out-sourcing expenditures world-wide will have grown by 40% during 2008. I am suspicious of that number, and the report does not back it up with any details.

Gartner study criteria:
Language, government support, labour pool, infrastructure, educational system, cost, political and economic environment, cultural compatibility, global and legal maturity, and data and intellectual property security and privacy

Link to Gartner study: Gartner Identifies Top 30 Countries for Offshore Services

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keeping data secure from internal users

When conducting your annual security assessment, be sure to pay close attention to internal users with access to privileged information. A study conducted over the summer by a California-based security company identified several key findings regarding security breaches from the inside:
  • Security breaches not only manifest as mishandled data. In some cases, perpetrators targeted specific employees' personal information.
  • Data stolen by insiders is highly likely to be used in a geographically concentrated area, near (within 20 miles) the scene of the crime.
  • A majority - 69% - of stolen ID's were used to fraudulently obtain cell phone services.
  • Almost all of the resulting illicit activity occurred very quickly ... within 2 weeks of the theft.
  • The vast majority -- 80% -- of fraudulent activity was perpetrated online

What does this mean for you?
It means that, while perimeter defenses are important, enforcing sound security policies with staff and associates is absolutely critical. Secure passwords for internal applications (not just for network access) should be a requirement for all users, including executives. Creating local copies of sensitive information should be restricted. And all applications should be reviewed for hidden developer access.

Link to ID Analytics Press Release: Study Reveals Employees' Criminal Misuse of Stolen Identities

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cheap PCs are not Microsoft's friend

Three interesting trends in the world of netbooks. First, they are estimated to account for about 8% of worldwide PC demand, climbing to 12% over the next four years. That's an astounding number. Second, 30% of netbooks are believed to be running some version of Linux, which equates to 2.4% of the world market. Another astounding number. Third, the remainder only have the capability to run a stripped down version of Vista, which will have a negative impact on Microsoft's revenue.
"It’s pretty clear that netbook sales are cannibalizing sales of higher priced versions of Windows," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Seattle-based research firm Directions on Microsoft. "This is clearly a trend Microsoft is concerned about."

I don't know where Mr. Rosoff gets this information, but it's hard to argue with his conclusion.

Consider who would be the primary target market for these devises. Students. Middle-market and down-market consumers. Bargain hunters. In current conditions, I believe that netbooks will make market share gains even greater than the predictions indicated above. On the other side of this recession, Microsoft may find it difficult to win back the consumers that have explored beyond the fence. Further, it will be imperative for organizations to build customer-facing applications to accommodate Linux users.

More information from the Wall Street Journal: Cheap PCs Weigh on Microsoft

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Virtualization returns to the desktop

The Wall Street Journal has reported that "IBM says it has created a 'Microsoft-free' virtual desktop -- a complete suite of applications that run on a backroom server and don't require Microsoft software or costly desktop hardware." The basic idea is to deploy desktops with virtually no locally installed software. All of the tools the user needs are installed on a server which reserves memory and processing power for each logged in user. The user experience is similar to a conventional desktop, including the ability to store preferences. However, the desktop PC can be a very low-end machine.

A few years ago, I had set up one of my clients with Linux desktops and a terminal server connection to a Windows platform. Users had all of the benefits of Microsoft applications, like familiarity and compatibility, but the company could easily get by with sub-$500 PC's, including the operating system. We shifted the budget in favor of high-end screens, which thrilled the users. More sophisticated users took advantage of the locally installed Linux O/S to install cookies from websites (which we restricted on the server-side).

Kyle Vickers, CIO of the American HealthCare Association, has long used a Citrix environment with dumb terminals on the desktop with great success. His team has no software on the vast majority of user desktops.

So IBM isn't -- by far -- the first to come to this party.

There is, however, one very simple reason why this has not gotten widespread use: Portability.
The virtual desktop simply does not yet work for the mobile user. It's coming, for sure, but we're not quite there yet. Until the executive user can connect her laptop to the corporate server from an airplane, this extreme desktop virtualization will remain a true rarity.

WSJ Article: IBM Creates 'Microsoft-Free' Desktop

Monday, December 1, 2008

A path forward for Linux

One of the big issues for Linux, in general, is that the variety of distributions makes broad-scale adoption of specialty applications relatively difficult. The general use applications - like web browsers, word processing, etc. - aren't impacted because developers have taken the initiative to adapt these apps to the various applications. But business lives and dies by the usability of their specialized software, be they manufacturing control, database or order fulfillment systems. Until some order is established in the Linux distribution community, this problem will persist.

A writer at InformationWeek proposes several improvement strategies, including some sort of governing body to oversee package development, among other things. Most of the suggestions are sound, but I believe the proposal is somewhat idealistic, if not naive. Nevertheless, here they are, and you may notice a couple of themes ...

  1. Meta-package format: a promising potential solution because I believe entrepeneurs could create a sustainable business out of provision and maintenance.
  2. A consistent configuration system throughout (from the kernel to userland tools and user applications): a great idea, but who will decide what the standards are to be?
  3. Consistency in the kernel application binary interfaces: I don't pretend to know what this means, but the problem with deciding who sets the standard presents itself yet again.
  4. Native File Versioning: This will make it feasible to consistently roll back installations and upgrades. Good quality software is built with this in mind, and shouldn't be too much to ask of the developer community as a whole.
  5. Consistency across Audio APIs: It seems that every distribution has its own "best" audio implementation. Standards would be nice, but again... who?
  6. A predictable GUI: Every distribution has a different look and feel, which confuses most users.
  7. X11/Application Integration: Another hallmark of good software is its ability to gracefully handle errors and hiccups. But many Linux-capable applications lack an ability to restore a previous session.
Consistency and Standards.
One of the great things about dictatorships is that standards are set, and consistency is enforced. Microsoft has proven this and, as mediocre as some of their offerings have been, it has been an unimaginably fantastic benefit that developers and end-users know what to expect when they sit down at any Windows PC. Of course, they profit from this benefit -- as they should. And therein lies the path for Linux.

Someone needs to be able to make ridiculous profits from standardizing the Linux offerings. Until that happens, Windows will dominate the desktop.

InformationWeek Article:
Fixing Linux: What's Broken And What To Do About It

4G - Speed to burn

I have had a unique opportunity to test Sprint's nascent 4G WiMax network. Thus far, the results are astounding. Several speed tests have clocked in at 8Mbs download and nearly 3Mbs upload. Coverage is very limited at present, as Sprint builds out the network, and there are - as one would expect - very few users using the current bandwidth. However, the potential can't be overstated and I would keep an eye out for its general release in your area.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Nice while it lasts

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that McColo Corp., a San Jose, Calif., based Web hosting service responsible for hosting some of this world's most notorious spammers, had been shut down. As a result, the volume of spam dropped by over 60% during the past 3 weeks.

Perhaps you noticed... perhaps not.

Either way, no one expects the current lower levels to be permanent. McColo's clients have likely made arrangements

with other firms to participate in their ignominious ventures. Nevertheless, the graphs below show the amazing effect that this victory has had on spam traffic. Kudos to Internet Service Providers Global Crossing and Hurricane Electric for pulling the plug on McColo.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A little knowledge

Earlier this month, Microsoft Research published a 32-page paper that details the extent to which health-related web searches contribute to a person's assessment of their own health. They conclude that, when a user searches for information about symptoms they've observed, the results can actually create anxiety and potentially unneeded medical attention. The researchers have even coined a new term for the phenomenon: Cyberchondria.

Here's how they say it works...
Someone enters their symptoms into a health site, like WebMD or MSN Health and Fitness. In the list of search results are a variety of conditions, all of which could be a real issue for that individual. But there is no context, training or real experience to use in assessing that list of conditions. Without the appropriate background knowledge, the user is left only to the limits of their imagination.

The best possible outcome is that they review the information with their doctor. But the worst-case scenario runs the spectrum from complete apathy to self-medication to a frantic trip to the ER. So while we've all heard (and probably used) the expression... "knowing just enough to be dangerous," it turns out that such a ratio of knowledge to available information (including context and experience) actually can be quite dangerous.

Microsoft Research Article: Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search

Monday, November 24, 2008

Worth Paying For?

Earlier this year, I asked someone -- whose judgment I deem to be impeccable -- what he thought of Office 2K7. He said that it was an excellent product. Then I asked him a very different question... Is it worth buying... with your own money? I wasn't surprised when he said no.

And therein lies a most important matter. In uncertain times, decision makers must take a critical view of every proposition. The ultimate leverage point is value. There are many great products being released and marketed. But unless they contribute to revenue or can demonstrate actual cost reductions, then consumers (commercial and personal) won't spend real money on them. To state it a different way... there's a big difference between being willing to use a service and being willing to buy a service.

What kinds of services will be vulnerable? Here's my list:
  • Instant Messaging - mobile and non-mobile
  • Business oriented social networks
  • Blogging - writing and reading
  • Fantasy Sports support

When times are good, and people don't feel like their income stream is at risk, then they may consider paying for these kinds of services. For now, though, they are definitely useful, but they likely don't currently make anybody's "indispensable" list.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Even in tough times, profits exist

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) posted a posted a 5% drop in net income and a 3% decline in revenue for its fiscal third quarter, according to an announcement made earlier today. That sounds like bad news, and it is. But it's not terrible news. Even though the company experienced its very first year-over-year drop in revenue, they still managed to earn over $720 million in the quarter ending October 31, 2008.

Read that again.

In what will likely go down as being among the worst 90-day periods of the post WWII era, a single company earned almost three quarters of a billion dollars. Last month's quarterly reports had to be interpreted with the understanding that, in July, we hadn't yet gotten cold-cocked by the events of August and September. But the quarterlies for this month will account for all of those system shocks.

I believe that the next 90 days will be absolutely critical. If firms come out of that period with a sense that, "Yeah it was bad, but we are still in one piece," then things will turn around in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2009. But if firms look at final 2008 results and find themselves in jeopardy, then these tough times might extend into 2010.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is the IT Labor shortage real?

For several years, we have been hearing about a shortage of skilled technology labor in the US. In some specific areas - geographic and skillsets - the reality of a shortage is undeniable. Senior developers, system architects and application-specific experts (like SAP, Oracle, etc.) seem to perennially be in short supply.

Yet, some research published by Duke University earlier this year suggests that the shortage of skilled IT resources is not as dire as some would suggest. Certainly, business leaders testifying before Congress have little to lose with hyperbolic claims of not being able to find enough workers to keep the US economy going. But out here in the real world, the story is not quite so simple. Dr. Michael Teitelbaum, vice president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, testified before Congress a year ago that ...

The RAND Corporation has conducted several studies of this subject; its conclusions go further than my summary above, saying that not only could they not find any evidence of shortages, but that instead the evidence is more suggestive of surpluses.

To me this conclusion is too generalized and vague to be of any use in the micro-economic world of the individual firm. The dynamics of the labor market are still very localized, even in a "global" economy. A company in Pittsburgh doesn't care if there are plenty of .NET developers in Denver. So while - on average - there may not be an overall labor shortage across the US, the situation may be dramatically different in specific markets.

What about your market? Are you experiencing difficulties in hiring technology resources? Or are you getting more résumés than ever?

A perspective on this question from Baseline Magazine : Is there really an IT labor shortage

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rethinking SLAs

When was the last time you examined your Service Level Agreements, especially for those for which you pay a premium for response time guarantees? It may be time to rethink all of those contracts, especially as you explore cost-cutting opportunities.

For instance, the most valuable part of any software maintenance agreement is upgrade assurance. Beyond that, is it really worth an extra 15-20% to pay for 2-hour response time when your own team will likely have the problem diagnosed and resolved well within that timeframe?

How often has your organization received actual benefits from a premium service level contract?

System reliability, clustering and virtualization have rendered most uptime promises largely irrelevant. Why pay extra for superior recovery services when your infrastructure has redundant built-in fault tolerance already implemented? And it seems that today's server components are (unlike automobile components) more durable than ever. As one executive put it...

"When we actually looked at the real world of performance of what we were getting even at the lowest level, the bronze service, because the equipment is so reliable and our processes are so disciplined we are exceeding the level contractually, and said, 'Gosh, can we bring everything down to that level?'"
-- Peter Whatnell, CIO, Sunoco Inc.

If you are searching for ways to reduce IT costs, looking at your service agreements is a great place to start. Call us today and we can help you rationalize and renegotiate.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

VMWare: coming to a Smartphone near you

On Monday (10 November 2008), VMWare (NYSE: VMW) announced the release of a new product - Mobile Virtualization Platform. According to an article at, the product is described as a "a thin layer of software that will be embedded on mobile phones. It decouples the applications and data from the underlying hardware."

What does this mean for you?

Eventually it will mean that the types of applications that you can install on your smartphone will no longer be dependent on the specific device. In more grandiose terms, it standardizes the mobile platform in the same way that Windows standardized the desktop. No longer will mobile apps need to be tweaked and adjusted for a specific device. Instead, they will write for the platform, greatly reducing time-to-market for applications and substantially increasing customer choice.

The mobile virtualization platform could enable phone makers to bring handsets to market faster, and it could simplify migrating personal data off phones.

None of this will happen overnight. VMWare is negotiating with handset manufacturers and plans to have devices on the street in about a year. But we can be confident that the development community will begin to exploit this new technology very quickly.

Link to the article: VMware Brings Virtualization To Smartphones

Monday, November 10, 2008

BI for Open Source

There seems to be no shortage of Business Intelligence offerings, even as the industry continues to consolidate. One BI firm, Actuate (NSDQ: ACTU) has put its chips on the open source end of the table. Their next release, v 10, is targeted for shipment in the next two months, and it promises enhanced support for the Eclipse Foundation project called BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools).

The company announced that more than 5 million copies of BIRT were downloaded during the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2008. This tells me that small and mid-sized firms are actively pursuing ways to exploit BI without the enormous upfront costs that Oracle and IBM require.

Of course, downloading the software is not the same as using the software, and firms will still need professional assistance to access and integrate the data. Inexpensive software will not absolve executives from the need to understand what BI can and cannot do, and to guide the initiatives accordingly. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about the benefits of BI and the steps you should take to get the most out of this exciting technology.

More information on the BIRT Project: BIRT on Wikipedia
The BIRT Homepage: The BIRT Project

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Storage innovations

Data storage could be in for its biggest innovations in years.

SanDisk (NASDAQ: SNDK) recently unveiled a flash drive that starts to address the random write performance issues of earlier versions. This is one of those very subtle, but potentially transformative events in technology innovation. That's because it has the capability to render traditional hard drives obsolete.

Conventional hard drives have undergone massive improvements over the past decade. They are faster, more reliable and more efficient than ever. But the underlying technology is fundamentally the same as it was 20 years ago. Flash drives represented a big shift in storage, especially in terms of portability. No longer did your hard drive need its own carry-on bag. Multiple Gb's of data can be carried in your pocket. The trade-off, though, is speed. While a 5Gb memory stick is easy to tote around, it can take you a fair amount of time to use it... especially when you're adding data.

SanDisk claims to have made a big leap on this, with their ExtremeFFS file management system. If it delivers on its potential, then buying a PC with a 80Gb hard-drive will no longer be necessary. Your new laptop will be far lighter without that big magnet stuck inside. Think about the convenience of transferring files from your camera and expand it exponentially.

Keep your eye on SanDisk. They could be a big winner next year.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ellison sounds spooked

Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), has decided that Software-as-a-Service is falling short of expectations. He pointed to as an example of a SaaS firm that hasn't improved its profitability as much as some might have hoped, even after 10 years of solid performance.

To me, this sounds a lot like the naysayers of the early 1980's. There were those who simply couldn't believe that an individual would have any need for their own personal computer. I wonder if Mr. Ellison is worried that his company, built on the now traditional big upfront licensing costs plus scandalously high "maintenance" fees, will follow in DEC's footsteps. Perhaps he believes that he can give a few prospects second thoughts about throwing in with a rival SaaS vendor.

If this belief represents the extent of Oracle's strategic thinking, then their future is not terribly bright. That Mr. Ellison made these remarks during an earnings call makes me even more bearish on thier long-term prospects. Oracle seems to be betting their success on the failure of a business model that is gaining market acceptance with each passing quarter.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's in store for Web 3.0?

It seems that the capabilities embodied by Web 2.0 are firmly entrenched in mainstream computing... even in corporate use. Blogs and Wiki's have found their way into corporate networks, and social networking sites have become marketing tools. Some organizations are even starting to use Twitter as a substitute for broadcast email. Clearly these tools aren't just for teenagers and college kids anymore.

So what's next?

Will the next phase emphasize convergence? We are already seeing how social networking sites, like LinkedIn and Facebook, have created partnerships to enrich their tools. Why not do the same with a corporate site? Why not create RSS feeds and Podcasts for internal and extenal communication? What about embedding an RSS reader into your customer-facing application? Wouldn't a podcast published as part of an intranet blog be more effective than a voicemail broadcast?

Will Web 3.0 feature multi-media? Podcasts are now being enhanced to include video. Will bandwidth and compression technologies advance to the point where a webinar is more than slide show and a disembodied voice?

Will Web 3.0 be all about mobility? Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GMail,, along with countless others, have adapted their applications for mobile devices. Some of these attempts are pretty barebones. Others, like Google Maps, are remarkable in their capability. The Sprint ad is spot-on... it's not a cell phone anymore. Imagine how CRM user adoption will be impacted when the salesman no longer needs to wait until he gets back to the office to update his files.

These are the times to be planning your strategy to take advantage of this nascent opportunity.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Virtual sabotoge gets real

In Connecticut, a fired contract network administrator logged in to his former employer's servers from home and sabotaged core IT resources. Fortunately, he was caught and is being sentenced to prison, has been ordered to pay some restitution and may face additional fines from the court. But how does something like this happen in the first place?

Why didn't the firm immediately change administrator access credentials when the contract was terminated?

To me, that is the most obvious failure in the entire episode. Surely, we are not going to improve human nature. As society continues its downward spiral, we must continuously challenge the assumptions that underlie security strategy and execution. But even if the assumptions are sound, and if the policies are prudent, all of it relies upon execution.

Somewhere along the line, someone failed to execute the most basic and fundamental of security procedures. There is no excuse for this. We all make mistakes, of course, and the person who made that one should be held fully accountable.

When was the last time your firm conducted a security audit? Have you reviewed existing network accounts to verify that terminated users no longer have any access? Are your privileged accounts protected by additional security measures? Has anyone checked lately to see if those security measures are carried out?

Addressing these questions need not be expensive or intrusive.
Failing to address these questions can be catastrophic.

News Story on CIO Magazine: Former Worker Sentenced

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Into the clouds

As you probably know by now, Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) has launched Azure, their foray into cloud computing. In an important way, they have reverted to form in that they are piggybacking on the impressive innovations of nimbler, more creative companies, and then thrown considerable funding into trying to create a competitive product. This is what they used to do back in the 90's, when WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 were household names. Word and Excel had been on the market since the early 1980's, released for the Mac OS, but no one took those products seriously. Microsoft wasn't even a recognizable brand, unless you knew what the MS in MS-DOS stood for. But the Redmond Raiders incorporated all of the features of the market leaders into their offering and took over the corporate desktop. Later, they used this strategy to put a big dent in Oracle's corporate database monopoly.

Now, Microsoft hopes to have the same results by competing against major cloud players like Google and They have released a version Office for the web, available for free. Its interface is very similar to Office 2007 and may be an effective defense against OpenOffice. Their press release indicates that Azure will include SharePoint services and CRM, along with support for .NET development and SQL Server. If the development community starts to create compelling applications for the platform, then the giant may earn back some of its swagger.

If you are looking for low-cost custom application development, let me know. This platform may be a great starting point, and our developers will be able to craft a great solution for you.

The Microsoft Press Release: Unveiling Azure

Monday, October 27, 2008

Verizon's performance starts to confirm the predictions

We have all seen it coming... the day when landlines actually become less prevalent than cell phones. In some developing countries, that day is already here, since the cell towers can be easier to deploy than hundreds of miles of wire stretched across an inhospitable countryside. However, in the US, the wire-based telephone is still the de facto standard for communication, as well as other consumer processes. 911 call handling depends on a land-based address for certain functions, as do cable TV and utility provision processes. When we call for a power outage, the automated phone system users the caller ID to determine the location of the service interruption. That doesn't work so well if I call from a friend's home across town using my cell phone. Even so, I know several people in around 30-ish years old who, when they moved out of mom & dad's place, simply did not see the need for a land-line.

Verizon recently announced their 3Q results, which finally start to provide some evidence for this theoretical trend. Their wireless division (a joint venture with Vodafone) saw a gross revenue increase of 13%, with a monthly per customer revenue increase of 0.9%. The land-line business, on the other hand, saw a decline in revenue of 1.7%.

In addition to some of the "infrastructure" processes discussed above, this trend has important implications for consumer marketing. Any phone systems that tie a caller ID to an address -- pizza delivery is an obvious example -- will have to be retooled to account for this. Response research that uses area code and prefix to identify a trading area will be less and less effective as people retain their phone number regardless of location.

And how will telephone companies respond to the fact that "long distance" is becoming a moot point? When a dad calls his daughter in college on her cell phone, he is calling a "local" number that happens to be physically located hundreds of miles away. What will businesses do with their wire-based phones? When a block of cell phones can be tied together as a virtual PBX, why will anyone by another legacy style phone system (switch-based or IP-based) ever again?

Just some questions I've been pondering...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Urgent Security Patch from Microsoft

Microsoft announced that a security patch was released today, several weeks ahead of the normally scheduled "second Tuesday" patch release. A restart will be required, according to the posting (see link below). Apparently, there is a recently discovered vulnerability that is serious enough to warrant this step. The threat affects Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP (critical), as well as Windows Vista and Server 2008 (important).

This is a rare occurrence, with the most recent out-of-band patch release coming in April 2007.

No details regarding the specific nature of the vulnerability were included in the notification. The patch was scheduled for release at 1:00 pm EDT on Thursday, 23 October. However, as of the time of this blog post, only one of my PC's have detected any updates from the mother-ship.

Microsoft's announcement: Advance Notification for Out-of-band release

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bright spots in the storm

EMC (NYSE: EMC) announced that third quarter performance was slightly worse than they expected at the beginning of the year, but better than analysts had feared. Remember that the wheels really didn't start coming off of the economic bus until mid-September. Nevertheless, the we saw significant economic turmoil during July (oil and gas prices) and August (Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac). Perhaps these kinds of events weren't seen having a severe impact on commercial markets, but finance companies are some of the biggest customers of big data storage products.

In my view, companies like EMC are lagging indicators of economic conditions. That's because the bulk of their revenue comes from large infrastructure initiatives that are planned out several months in advance.

On the other hand, Apple (NASDAQ: APPL) is more of a current indicator. They announced a 26% increase in profit for the quarter. For a company that relies relatively heavily on the consumer market, this is a remarkable result. Again, we're talking about a quarter that featured $4 gasoline and all manner of dire economic prognosticating in the main-stream media. AT&T (NYSE: T) also got a boost from Apple's sales, which will help them weather the current storm.

So what does this mean? To me, it means that the real situation is bad, but not as bad as some might think. The 4th quarter will be worse than the 3rd quarter, but the 1st quarter will look better than the 4th. And when we look back at the period from July 08 to July 09, we'll see a bottoming out and the start of slow recovery. At least, that's my opinion.

WSJ Article - Apple (link requires subscription)
WSJ Article - EMC (link requires subscription)
WSJ Article - AT&T (link requires subscription)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Technology Leadership during tough times

What is your firm's response to the dark economic clouds that have made their way from their horizon to just over head? Is it coming in the form of across-the-board budget reductions? Have you discontinued the use of contract labor and consultants? Are you putting off maintenance? Is the firm's response targeted on specific initiatives?

Because IT can be complex (needlessly so, at times), generalized actions often become the easy way out. They are easy to define and are so vague as to defy criticism. But they tend to cause more problems than they solve. That's because smart projects get cut just as heavily as more speculative efforts.
Discontinuing the use of contract labor is simply a different form of a generalized response. Although it is less painful than cutting staff, it often blocks the firm from executing on sound strategy for want of skilled resources.

Fortunately, the days of purely speculative projects are past us. There are exceptions, of course, but they tend to be found in situations where the decision makers face inadequate scrutiny (relatives of the owners or other favored positions). So that means that projects that promised positive ROI should not be abandoned, but they should be re-examined. Be sure that the assumptions on which the project ROI was based, especially financing costs and sales projections, are still valid. Renegotiate ongoing project expenses and rethink the timeline.

If the strategy is still sound, then forge ahead in executing it. When the clouds break -- and they will -- you'll be in better shape to take advantage of the sunshine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Open Source CRM - SugarCRM

In my mind there seems to be two primary issues that prevent non-profits and small businesses from taking advantage of the benefits that a good CRM has to offer: cost and user adoption.

I have addressed user adoption in earlier posts, but it bears repeating. User Adoption on the part of front-line sales people is the most critical factor in the success of any CRM initiative. If the system is too awkward, slow, or complicated for sales people to use every day, then there will not be any data for reporting, forecasting, or response tracking. It is, however, a challenge that can be overcome by good, thoughtful design... both up-front with the user interface and in the back-end database design. Usability and Speed must be the primary objectives of the architects.

Cost should now be less and less of a factor as well. Software-as-a-Service models, like, are quickly replacing the big, in-house implementations for many mid-sized customers. The SaaS model offers lower up-front costs in exchange for a perpetual revenue stream in the form of subscription fees. However, there is a growing cadre of open source alternatives that will give the SaaS guys a run for their money. The major stumbling block facing SaaS customers is that extensive customization is a significant challenge. The vendor must enforce its limits on customization so that the system will operate as promised for its entire user base.

In-house implementations, whether they are open-source or not, do not have these limitations. And data integration is kept completely inside the firewall, and thereby more secure. Open-source takes the flexibility to the next level because the customer now has complete, unfettered access to the development environment. The customer also now has full control of the costs, since they only pay for the customizations they believe are worthwhile.

If you believe your organization could benefit from a CRM solution tailored to your specific needs, then please contact me. We can explore all the alternatives, including some of the exciting offerings in the open-source arena.

Does Larry need a new boat?

"In 2008, [Oracle CEO Larry] Ellison's compensation package again included a $1 million base salary, but the value of his exercised and vested options was a staggering $543.8 million."

For 2009, the Oracle board has approved a maximum potential bonus for Ellison of about $13.6 million. Has Oracle's performance justified that kind of compensation? Based on a cursory look at their stock price, it doesn't appear that they are out-performing the market, dropping over 30% of its value from a 52-week high ($23.62 on 8 Aug) to yesterday's close of $16.16 per share, trading at a respectable, but not glamorous, P/E of 14.50. Has their product offering shaken anything up of late? Or are they showing signs of GM-itis... whereby they know there is competition out there, but they believe they have a captive market, and thus just don't care.

Are CIO's starting to push back on annual support fees? And when they do, we can expect that to cut into Oracle's profit margin. And today's small businesses are nearly as tied to traditional infrastructure and closed-source applications. That does not bode well for Oracle's future.

So I come back to the question: what has the CEO of Oracle done to earn over a half-billion dollars?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Demand for technology skills tends to support

A recent survey of CIO's shows that, for all of the talk of changing technology and aggressive innovation, demand for people who keep the lights on still leads the way. The survey, conducted by Robert Half Associates late in the summer, Network Administration indicates that about 70% of respondents list support functions - Desktop, Windows and Network - as their most sought-after skillset. The types of skills that equate to innovation are still in the top ten, but demand is not nearly as strong. About a third of the CIO's are looking for people who can handle virtualization and BI initiatives. Demand is a little more firm for application developers - reflected in the Web & .NET Development responses.

As a side note, the article where these results were published noted that Gartner has reported a 13% increase in demand for Business Intelligence software. It's not clear whether that increase is measure in dollars spent or in licensed seats. Interest in CRM, while light compared to the support functions, is still better than I had expected, with 1 in 5 respondents indicating that they are looking for CRM expertise.

What surprises me most about this report is that virtualization didn't rank higher than telecomm support. Of course, the phone is one of the most mission-critical pieces of technology in the enterprise. But, other than moves-adds-changes, aren't telecomm systems also among the most reliable? Or are they mixing WAN issues in with telecomm, since the providers are the same companies? The report doesn't specify, but it raises interesting questions.

The report, as published by CIO Insight: The 10 IT Skills most in demand

Monday, October 6, 2008

Missing the boat on BI

An article on today's CRM Daily brings into focus the startling misconceptions about Business Intelligence. The author declares that the "greatest challenge has been how to integrate data on different systems accumulated from different vendors over many years."

Without minimizing the inherent difficulties associated with bringing together data from disparate sources, doesn't this completely ignore the larger, more intractable problem of defining the scope of a BI solution? BI projects often represent significant investments of time, money and energy. They can be intense and draining. And yet, for all the effort, the first 12-18 months often yield little more than what can be capture on a sophisticated spreadsheet.

Tool makers, like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, understandably focus on the technology aspects. And their sales demo's gloss over the integration challenges that consume much of the projects' budgets. But the reason that momentum fades during these initiatives is that substantive value is rarely accomplished in the short term. Executive patience is a rare commodity, especially in publicly traded companies. And today's economic conditions mean there is very little appetite for projects with 2-year benefit horizons.

As business technologists, we must tighten our planning windows in order to bring rapid benefit to the organizations. Our focus must be on positive cash flow initiatives.

Link to the CRM Daily article: The Challenges of Business Intelligence by Peter Simons.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Open source goes mobile

The next shot across the bow of proprietary systems has been fired... by none other than Google. You may start seeing the ads hit in the coming days for the G1 Smartphone. It doesn't yet have the range of business apps (Exchange/Outlook integration, desktop synchronization) that business users need, but the operative word here is yet. It's built on an open source platform, which opens it up to every crazy and creative developer on Earth. Give it 12 months, and seamless integration with all kinds of enterprise technology will be right there.

The first thrust of their strategy is to go after the consumer market, with support for YouTube, along with the (to be expected) GMail and other Google apps. To me, however, the big drawback is that the device is only available through T-Mobile. As you know, wireless carriers restrict the devices that will work on their networks. They do this for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that they can. And absent an antitrust ruling, they will continue this practice indefinitely. So, that leaves us with a choice between a superior phone (iPhone or G1) on and inferior network, or a superior network (Verizon Wireless) and a second-class phone (BlackBerrys, Palms, Motorola Q's). At some point, someone will set us free.

Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise that Google is leading the way into this market. They have been the true innovators for the past 5-10 years. Apple and Microsoft are still trying to figure out how to play this new game.

InformationWeek's article on the new G1: Google's new Smartphone

The security nightmare

Cisco commissioned a study that confirms the worst fears of security professionals the world over. The weakest part of the fortifications that protect corporate assets has nothing to do with encryption, firewalls, authentication, retinal scanners or anti-virus software. It's all about the users.

Specifically, end-user attitudes towards security is the most vulnerable part of the security spectrum. And remote users are seen as the least vigilant when it comes to protecting the integrity of the corporate infrastructure.

This missing part of the study, though, is the over-the-road user. While remote users may have a more relaxed perspective, the road warrior is the most vulnerable access point. They use public networks, and a sophisticated hacker can easily blend in at Starbuck's or Panera Bread. Their machines are out in open space, instead of behind locked doors and 24-hour security. And frequently, they have a local copy of sensitive data so that they can work off-line.

For Type-A personality salesmen and senior executives, this attitude change may require a generation to change. These high-achievers grew with a sense of invincibility (a job requirement for top-performers) and they place a significant premium on convenience (recognizing the value of their time). Will it take a high-profile data theft to begin to change the people think? If one occurs, what company would intentionally go public with such a story?

Cisco Study: A need for greater diligence

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

WebMeeting innovation from Google

I have often said that whenever a technologist needs a dose of humility, all they have to do is check out what Google is up to. Recently, they have developed a platform for live interaction during a meeting with remote participants. The capabilities are still pretty raw, in that it is limited to allowing participants to submit questions which are then voted upon by the audience. The highest rated questions get addressed with the highest priority.

It is easy to see how this technology could supplement or even displace popular web-hosting tools like Go-to-meeting or WebEx. Possible applications include analyst calls for publicly traded companies, "all-hands" corporate calls, and webinars. The tool is called Moderator and it is available on the Google Apps engine at no charge.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

WSJ Report - mostly upbeat for tech companies

The Wall Street Journal reports that, although some big names are starting to feel the heat from the current conditions, there are some definite bright spots in the picture. Dell announced that demand is weakening for their products. That's to be expected as buyers in every market respond to uncertainty by scaling back on capital expenditures. Consumers are less likely to make big purchases amid all gloomy news, and businesses will probably start to conserve cash more aggressively now that raising funds is getting more difficult.

On the other hand, technology companies with a diversified offering are expecting a good year, in spite of everything that has happened. Cisco and Hewlett-Packard both announced that their upbeat forecasts are in line with expected performance for the balance of the year. Gartner forecast $3.4 trillion in overall IT spending for 2008, up from $3.2 trillion last year.

Put these limited data points together, and I conclude that 2008 will end up being a decent year. It won't necessarily be a great year, but consumers and businesses will find themselves a little better off than when the year started.

Here is the link to the WSJ Article (may require registration): Dell Forecasts Soft Demand, but Rivals are Upbeat

Monday, September 15, 2008

Seeking SAP Skills??

As an interesting follow-on to one of my posts last week, it seems that people who have SAP expertise are in increasingly high demand. An article published at notes that even non-certified talent is seeing big jumps in pay over the past six months.

Other technologies are in high demand as well, but Exchange skills are not as attractive as they once were. I attribute this to several factors. First, Exchange is now far easier to administer than it once was. Furthermore, it has become something of a commodity product. And finally, there are several competing email server applications in the open-source market that have rendered Exchange a bit irrelevant.

But on the SAP side, I believe that there a few primary factors at work. First and foremost, SAP has done an excellent job of expanding marketshare over the past 24-36 months... especially in to the mid-cap space. These companies have likely gotten all they can out of an out-of-the-box implementation, and are seeing the value of customizations. This will represent an increase in demand for people who can execute those customizations, and I believe that the change in demand will hold for at least the next 3 years. Second, the larger organizations - being affected by this increase in demand - are having to up their offers in order to entice the talent they need. This will continue as the business leadership continues to expect more and more adaptation of the systems to their changing requirements. Like the mid-sized players, this reflects an increasing sophistication on the part of business leaders, and can be expected to continue.

Link to the article: Demand for SAP skills keeps rising

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

IT spending absorbs some blows

According to an article on C-NET, Goldman Sachs has released a study predicting that some aspects of IT spending will soften in the current period. The expected growth rate will not be quite as robust, coming in at 4% instead of 6%. Of course, like all economic news, not all sectors fare equally. Plus, the article does not address professional services, such as consulting or staff augmentation.

Nevertheless, there are definitely points of interest. For instance, Microsoft and Apple are neither losing nor gaining wallet share. Two vendors in the thin-computing space - VMWare and Citrix - are on the plus side, along with (shhhhh) Red Hat.

To me, this combination means that the desktop operating system is becoming less and less relevant to the corporate IT decision maker. Application availability, regardless of location or client platform, is gaining favor. And finally, it appears that Microsoft is starting to lose its stranglehold on the corporate computing environment.

Another point of interest is the presence of SAP on the upside. Those who predicted the demise of the proprietary ERP seem to have missed the target there.

I look forward to your comments.

Link to the article: Report: IT spending to drop, but Red Hat and Oracle to clean up

Monday, September 1, 2008

Salesforce and Telephony Integration announced the purchase of Instranet, a maker of call-center technology. Customers who have begun projects to integrate their PBX systems into Salesforce should take heed. Even though they will promise to maintain high quality integration with call-center systems from Cisco, Avaya, et al, it's clear that their priority will shift towards their in-house solutions.

Technology decision makers should also remain diligent in vetting call-center technology, regardless of its integration with a CRM. Tying the systems together is a great benefit. However, it is a rare customer who will directly interact with your CRM. But nearly every customer will have a direct and significant experience with your call-center technology. Be sure to understand what the true extent of the integration benefit is before launching into the project. It's a time-saver, and .... well, that's about it. Time is a precious commodity, to be sure, but get an accurate picture of how much time will really be saved as a result of the investment.

View the press release from CRM Daily: Salesforce acquires Instranet

Monday, August 18, 2008

Virtualization is no silver bullet

Beware of the salesman touting the virtual machine as the cure-all for all kinds of data center issues. There are certainly advantages to the technology, especially for managing server proliferation for small-scale solutions. But when it comes to enterprise class applications, virtualization will only bring on a slew of different problems, such as unpredictable performance, capacity ownership and planning, and maintenance planning. For instance, when you have multiple applications sharing the same physical machine, it means that taking one piece of hardware down for maintenance could easily affect multiple customer groups. Again, for small apps, it's probably not a big deal. But the larger solutions carry higher stakes, and it becomes a big deal pretty quickly.

Here is another angle on virtualization, focused on policies and security.
Time To Halt Runaway VM Sprawl

Friday, August 15, 2008

Project success measures

Gartner is starting to advise IT leaders that technology projects need to get smaller and faster. It seems to me to be an extension of the Agile software-development methodology.

According to an article on, a Gartner analyst proposed this line of thinking at a recent conference in Boston. Her analysis implies that PMO's get whacked because of the administrative burden that they put on to the organization. What would create this impression? Most likely, it's the notion that formal Project Management practices are often perceived as bureaucratic over-reaching. Whether they are or not is largely a function of implementation, because everyone agrees that good project management is critical to project success. But after reading the article, I'm not sure how scaling down or speeding up projects is going to change this perception.

But about halfway down the article, the author reveals some excellent insights from analyst. Here are some quotes:

The line people use, including Gartner, 'There are no IT projects, they're all business projects?' Well, forget it, they're all IT projects, because if they fail, you take the hit.
Another fact of project management that sometimes eludes IT is that project success correlates with user adoption
Certainly CRM success is almost entirely dependent upon user adoption. And if users don't adopt it, they will blame IT. And what the analyst seems to be saying is that this same factor applies to ERP systems, HR systems, and payroll systems. But do users have the option to not adopt these kinds of applications? If a payroll clerk doesn't like the new payroll system and decides not to use it, do they get paid?

I have tremendous respect for Gartner. At the same time, it seems that they are not really covering new ground.

The article on can be found here:
Project management needs to think smaller, faster
.... By Linda Tucci

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting smaller

Intel is celebrating that their "Atom" chip is exceeding their sales targets for the year so far. They are designed for mobile devices, internet appliances and really small form-factor machines. And they are priced for the current market conditions.

All this suggests that mobility is going to drive more application demand in the next 12-24 months. Application development teams should begin building their skill sets for these kinds of solutions. And IT leaders should anticipate that executives will want to have more and more functionality available regardless of location. Granted, this is only one device in a large marketplace, but I believe that it is a harbinger of the next era in ubiquitous computer use.

Read the article on InformationWeek: Intel reports Atom Chip results

Prepare for a big patch

Microsoft's latest software update includes fixes for 26 known vulnerabilities. This is the largest number of published vulnerabilities for a single release in several years. You'll need to pay attention to this one, as it addresses vulnerabilities in nearly every part of the MS Office suite.

What is your strategy for dealing with OS updates? Do you have staff and other resources to test them in your environment before applying the patches? Can you get the testing done quickly enough to be adequately protected? And do you have a repeatable process for applying them?

Contact us for a review of your strategy.

More Information on this announcement from InformationWeek.

Monday, August 4, 2008

IT spending survives

Gartner published a new study this month that predicts "9.5% growth worldwide in U.S. dollars in 2008." This is a revision from their forecast of 6.8% growth which they published earlier this year. They go on to say that some portion of the change is due to the declining dollar (but they don't really explain the relationship), but that most of the growth is coming because firms realize that delaying technical improvements is not a winning strategy.

The author claims that progress is dependent upon IT, and I cannot agree more. If information is the key to better decision making, then the only way to improve the quality of and access to information is to make the underlying systems better.

I encourage you to check out the article at
Gartner: IT spending remains strong

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dell - on the comeback trail?

In their first fiscal quarter (ended 2 May 2008), Dell reports that their "Consumer business sales for the quarter rose 20 percent and unit growth hit 47 percent, outpacing the rest of the PC industry." After a few years of stagnant performance, it could be that the PC industry's answer to McDonald's is regaining their footing.

I've been a regular Dell customer for about a decade now, and what I like about them is that you pretty much know what you're going to get. They're not the leader in quality, nor are they the cheapest guys in town. But, just like the pickle on a Big Mac is always under the top patty, a Dell machine is going to be reasonably priced and will good for about 2 years of a hard work.

Their latest strategy in the server business is to provide advanced support for cloud computing, putting them in competition for a share of the industrial power user wallet. These are organizations like Facebook, Amazon, eBay, and the financial sector. Dell's chairman predicts that this could be a $1 billion market in just a few years. I believe that's a conservative estimate, especially as organizations focus more and more on creating transactional capabilities for their customer-facing applications. Media companies will also start to explore cloud computing in order deliver more content over the web, bypassing Comcast and DirecTV and gaining more control over distribution and ad revenue.

I read about this on CRM Daily - Michael Dell Promises ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Adapting to the present situation

While our economy is doing better than the pundits and talking heads would have us believe, we're still dealing with the realities of a more challenging environment. InformationWeek released a report that shows how some technology leaders are dealing with market conditions, and I find the news quite encouraging.

The majority of respondents are either holding steady with IT spending (28%) or increasing (33%). That means that less than 40% of the industry is actually reducing technology investments over last year. Of the projects that are being cut, the respondents' remarks suggest that they generally be described as really good ideas, but not critical to the firm's success. This is supported by the fact that only 23% of the respondents say that customer-facing projects are the targets of cutbacks. Rather, the main targets seem to be new hires and infrastructure upgrades. Of course, since personnel costs are traditionally the biggest line item on any departmental budget, it makes sense to hold the line there. And infrastructure upgrades are not as critical now as they were 3-5 years ago, when so many changes were taking place in that space.

The opportunities in this market, then, are competitively priced software development focused on customer-facing applications. So that's where I am targeting my efforts.

For more information, read the article: How CIOs Are Dealing With A Tough Economy

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Testing research methods

I found an interesting article on CRM Daily that seems to up-end one commonly held belief about personalization. Normally, personalized pieces (Dear Bob) tend to get slightly better response rates than non-personalized mailings (Dear Neighbor). The next logical step would be try and deepen that sense of relationship by making the sender more human. The theory would be that response rats will improve if the potential respondent feels like they somehow "know" the one making the offer.

One researcher tested this theory by putting a photo of the "researcher" on the cover letter of his piece. He found that recipients who would have seen a picture (he used 4 different photos) responded at the same rate as those who would not have seen any photo at all.

My only issue with the research is that it does not address the most difficult hurdle in all of direct-mail: Getting the person to open the envelope. My theory is that his response rates weren't different because what's inside the envelope is irrelevant until they open the envelope. If the recipient opens the piece, they have self-selected themselves into a group that already has a higher propensity to respond to whatever is inside.

Is his research completely useless? No, because it shows that personalization does not necessarily improve response rates for those that get past the first obstacle. But I would really like to see if personalizing the outside makes a difference or not.

Link to the article on CRM Daily: Putting a Face on Market Research.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Apple gets stronger

According to a press release issued today, Apple sold 2,496,000 Macintosh® computers during the quarter just ended. That's a 41% jump over the same quarter last year. To me, this result is a combination Microsoft's Vista blunder and Apple's brilliant ad campaign which capitalized on that blunder. Combined with really strong iPhone sales - almost three-quarters of a million units shipped in the quarter - we could be witnessing the makings of a sea-change in corporate desktop computing.

It's not just consumers buying those machines, after all. And when the CEO buys an iPhone, she's going to demand that it work seamlessly with her laptop. We saw this start to happen a few years ago, but Windows XP was still the gold standard for desktop operating systems. So, the conversion stalled. But now, Vista has opened the door for IT departments to rethink their O/S strategies. And once they overcome their fear of supporting a mixed environment, anything could happen.

Apple's press release can be found here: Apple Reports Record Third Quarter Results

No blank spaces

It appears that the airlines are poised to sell advertising space on self-printed boarding passes. Consider the power of knowing exactly who is traveling to Dallas, and when. Based on some fairly easy to see patterns (time of day, number of people traveling together), it's easy to figure out whether that individual is making the trip for business or pleasure. These make for very targetable* groups, with individualized advertisements printed for virtually no incremental cost. Analyzing the data, implementing the targeting, updating the software, and, of course, selling the ad space aren't free. But, once you've done that for one client, it's easy to do it for many.

Who will be the first jump in? Restaurants? Entertainment?
What kind of business will this spawn? Data mining and analysis? Graphics with customizable elements?
Who is going to freak out with so-called privacy concerns? and how will the airlines respond?

No matter what, this is definitely something to keep an eye on, because it will change the nature of travel-oriented marketing. And it will have an impact on the airline industry's top-line performance.

I learned of this on the CRM Daily website, in an article published on July 21, 2008: Airlines to begin selling ads on boarding passes.

Is SAP going to make some noise?

A case can be made that SAP has made plenty of noise over the past 10 years or so. But for whatever reason, $16 Billion in annual revenue and 25%+ market share in the ERP space just doesn't seem to bring out the headline writers.

Of course, ERP software doesn't directly impact consumers, and their chiefs aren't clamoring for the spotlight (ahem, Mr. Ellison). But they've been pretty steady in terms of revenue and profit performance for a reasonably long period of time, now. Plus, their strategic direction appears to be quite sound. SAP has improved their release strategy (offering less disruptive, but more frequent updates), targeting small and midsized businesses, allowing developers to extend the application, and driving more integration with MS Office and Business Objects. Coupled with an aggressive sales force and smart brand-awareness decisions, it seems to me that SAP is on the right track. I haven't followed their acquisitions, so that's still an open question.

For more, read the CIO Magazine Article.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Intel stays strong

Intel reported a 25% jump in profits. Most of the increase came from global laptop sales, according to a report in this afternoon's WSJ. What will be interesting to see is how much correlation there continues to be with Microsoft. In the past, the two firms rode the same waves together. But as firms hold back on moving to Vista, and begin to explore other alternatives, we may start to see a gradual decoupling.

Intel has taken advantage of more price competition in mobile PC's, along with poor performance by AMD, to make this move. Look for them to build momentum as the year progresses. And remember, no matter what the market looks like, someone is always making money!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Google is winning

It appears that Google is winning the traffic war. It's not surprising, since even novice web users are inclined to "Google" things, drawing traffic to that sight. The graphic to the right was pulled from an article on C-Net, which cites research conducted by Nielsen Online.

Will this mean that Google can firm up their advertising rates? Will Microsoft ever have a website that draws real traffic? To be honest, the only reason I go to their site is to fix problems with their software! But I use Google to publish my blogs, to chat with colleagues around the world, and to research products and solutions. I use Google Earth to verify driving directions. I use Google Maps on my cell phone to do the same, and use their SMS capabilities to get information downloaded to my PDA in under 10 seconds.

I believe that Microsoft's period of dominance is coming to an end.
I believe that Google is just getting warmed up.

The link to the C-Net article: Google wins over more Net users in June

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The next competitive frontier .... again

Some industry analysts are predicting an increase in demand for Customer Relationship Management systems over the next few years. A report by AMR Research concludes that new CRM's will need to be deployed in order to meet the growing expectations of consumers and corporate buyers. These expectations a basically centered on an improved shopping and buying experience, including product research, buying history, and things as mundane as easy-to-use shopping carts. Also fueling this resurgence is the fact supply-chain management and other back-office logistical improvements have already wrung the most dramatic cost savings out of the system. While there are efficiencies yet to be gained, they will become more and more difficult to achieve. That leaves the customer experience as the next competitive differentiator.

If this sounds familiar, it's because we were at this same place not too long ago. Products and, to a lesser extent, services are becoming commoditized (a new word!) with astounding speed. Personalized service using people is terribly expensive to deliver. The solution we have at our disposal today is to apply technology to make our companies easy to do business with.

For a consumer-oriented product, this means managing preferences and maintaining privacy. For business-to-business, the issues are very different. The corporate buyer wants to ship to multiple locations, include accounting information, set up frequently purchased items and track ordering and pricing trends. These are pretty easy for the common CRM systems. And therein lies the potential for the industry.

An important obstacle is, of course, finding the budget in these uncertain times. It will be hard to justify the investment based on an increase in sales, but the risk of customer attrition is very real (if difficult to quantify). Plus, we all know that CRM implementations don't always succeed. But notice that I'm really not referring to sales person use of the system. Rather, the next benefit that CRMs can deliver will be their incorporation into customer-facing applications, with direct order entry and management. Using the CRM to handle this gives the salesman a consolidated view of what the customer is really doing, instead of just a place to tell his boss what he's been doing all month.

Here is a link to the CIO Magazine article: The Future State of the CRM Market

Monday, July 7, 2008

Security still tops the list

CIO Insight, in yet another survey, has found that 41% of "IT Pros" consider that device security is the biggest challenge in the Enterprise Mobility space. No other choice captured even a third of the responses. And the list even included such basic concerns as Containing costs, Integrating applications and Multiple platform support.

Unfortunately, I don't believe that users sense that this is such a big deal. Think about "your" phone. Did the company provide it? Do you password protect it? Are you more concerned about the inconvenience of not having it than you are about securing the data that is on it?

Now consider these same questions as they relate to "your" laptop. Unless the end user truly cares about the consequences of device security, then the IT security guys are fighting an uphill battle.

Here's a link to the survey results at CIO Insight --
Enterprise Mobility Survey

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The pressure might be mounting

I didn't realize this until today, but there wasn't a single U.S.-based IPO launched in the second quarter of this year. That hasn't happened since Carter was in the White House and only a few people even knew were Iran was. Obviously, people are waiting for conditions to be better than they are now, hoping to stretch their current dollars out before looking for new money. But someone is going to take the leap. Some company is going to decide that they need to expand and that even a less than spectacular IPO is better than nothing. And word will get around about how they did... I suspect the first one in will come up a bit short of hopes, but a little better than expectations. Then a few more will make an attempt, and they'll do better than they had expected. And then momentum will start to build, and the general market will start to turn around.

How long? That's anybody's guess, I suppose. My guess is that we're looking at the first brave IPO will come along about mid-third quarter. A few more will pop in before the end of the year, and then the first quarter will show some major activity. That means the housing market recovery is still about 9 or 10 months away, and in the meantime the employment market will go through ups and downs, but nothing all that dramatic.

I welcome your opinions! Please comment.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Securing mobile devices

The most vulnerable part of any organization is its mobile devices, especially notebooks and laptops. I can't think of any scenario worse than getting a call from the CFO who, even while taking every reasonable precaution, ended up getting robbed of her laptop during an trip overseas. Contact lists, sensitive corporate data, and even resumes and personal information are all vulnerable to a hacker with no practical time constraints.

What's even more troubling is that over 12,000 laptops are estimated to be simply lost in airports every year! And most users, over 60%, take little or no steps to protect the data on their mobile devices.

There are some commercially available services, such as those provided by Absolute Software. Their service enables them to track a stolen or lost laptop and even delete data remotely. On Monday, Dell announced their partnership with this firm. But it does require that the thief put the stolen machine on the grid in some way, shape or form. I would suspect that by the time they did that, it would probably be too late.

Some additional, though clumsy, steps you can take to protect your sensitive data is to keep it off the device. If you really need a file while offline, then save it to a USB storage key that you keep separate from your machine -- like in your pocket. Also, be sure to delete temporary files often... emailed attachments that you open can live there for a long, long time. And finally, consider keeping all of your emails on the server, instead of on your local PC. This can be quite inconvenient, to be sure. Short of that, delete (and empty the trash) sensitive emails from your local machine (keeping the archived version on the server).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A reprieve of sorts

Microsoft has had their hand forced by the customer group with, by far, the most clout. Because many of their largest business customers are refusing to install the Vista operating system, choosing instead to wait until Windows 7 comes out (whenever that will be), Microsoft is going to extend support for WinXP until April of 1014. Typically, they stop supporting an OS 10 years after its release. But Vista has proven so problematic that they risk alienating their most consistent revenue source.

This appears to me to be a very aggressive, defensive move. They know that today's small and mid-sized firms are tomorrow's important customers. And today's big buyers will be quite cautious when asked to put their confidence in Windows 7. So Microsoft is hedging their bets. They know that they'll face an immediate and unpleasant reaction if they pull the plug on WinXP support. They also know that Windows 7 has to be really good. If not, then the mass movement from Windows to Linux & Mac will make the migration from main frame to desktop seem tranquil by comparison.

If it were me, I would be even more aggressive. I would ship every registered Vista customer an XP "downgrade" utility, discontinue Vista support, and redirect every available resource towards the Win7 release. It's a dramatic response, for sure. But they were good when they were bold, back in the day.

To read the InformationWeek article, click here.