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.