Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bob's 2009 Crystal Ball

Well, I guess it's time for me to dust off the old crystal ball - and (again) publicly humiliate myself by making some predictions for what will happen in the upcoming year. I've been loath to do this in past years - but as part of my new "happy place" resolution - I'm going to put myself out there and predict some winners and losers in 2009.

The Winners:

SaaS-based Solutions. We have all seen that the rise in Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are on the rise this past year. I think this trend will only continue in 2009 as companies are still in a really "unsure" position and continue to turn the lights off at an astounding rate.

I think most of the "big" cuts will wrap up in early Q1. The problem (and opportunity) is that now businesses will be left with 20% to 50% less people to do 100% of the work that needs to get done. Since the cuts have been (in most cases) all across the board - there are now even less IT folks to go around and they've got their own problems to deal with - and chances are good that your project won't be one of them.

SaaS implementation won't just be the domain of some Web 2.0 software, but I think that companies will also want to be able to offer the packages that they've traditionally bought as on-premises apps as internal SaaS applications as well. This means that ISV's and software vendors better get a solid SaaS strategy - and get it NOW. ISVs and software vendors also should take a good, long look at being in the financing business - offer customers multiple, flexible ways to pay for their software. The more flexible, the better.

Truly Agile Development. A few years ago offshoring development was all the rage, but now some of the same companies that were early adopters of offshoring are bringing their development efforts back in-house. Why? Productivity. It's sort of the same model that I've seen with folks who are trying to re-develop their aging software in .NET. They throw a bunch of money and resources at it - and because .NET is so complex and has so many moving parts - almost 100% of the time these projects miss their deadlines and budgets by a mile.

While that may be somewhat acceptable during "flush" times - that kind of nonsense will come to a grinding halt. The needs of the business don't change - and I would even argue that as competition heats up - time frames compress and business needs even grow larger. The need to preserve market position, the need to grow the customer base, the need to be ever more responsive to the needs of the marketplace, etc.

The companies that figure out how to do agile development that actually delivers value in a timely fashion will thrive. Those that don't won't.

Projects With Measurable ROI. Gone are the days of "someday" ROI. Gone are the days of "squishy" ROI. Now, as in the last downturn, companies are struggling with budgeting decisions and only those projects that can demonstrate measurable ROI will get funded. By measurable ROI I mean - "How much will that project deliver to my Q1 profitability?" or "How much in hard dollar (yen, euro, pound) savings can we count on by June?"

It's even more important to have not only measurable targets for increased productivity, decreased staffing needs or other metrics - but software vendors and consultants will have to commit to the "when" question as well. "WHEN can we see those savings?" That's going to put pressure on developers and consultants to be able to actually deliver what they say - on time and on budget.

Apple. Even though their stock is down (along with the rest of the world) - they have a history of innovation and they just have the knack of giving people devices that work they way they should. Their hardware is "pretty" and fairly reliable. Their software - although limited only to their hardware - is pretty easy to use, while at the same time build on a robust Linux core.

They no-doubt will pimp the variations of iPod Touch models (think "nano" versions), and may even hint at a new iPhone model. Plus, with Apple, there's always the possibility of "one more thing" - something that no one has even thought about yet that they've been working on in secret for years on. That's the fun (and frustrating) thing about Apple - you just never know what they'll do next. One thing's for sure - they'll

The Losers:

Traditional Client-Server Applications. I don't mean ALL client-server applications - because, let's face it, the browser is one of the worst application delivery vehicles ever invented. The browser only solves one part of the problem - the one that has plagued companies since the dawn of time: deployment. Specifically, deployment of traditional client-server applications.

You know, the ones that has a client you have to install on every single separate client computer. The ones where you have a "dumb" server and a "heavy client" that does most of the heavy lifting... those things will become deader than a doornail.

Does this mean that native client applications (ones that run outside the browser) will die completely. No way in hell. There are applications that simply demand they be native client applications (ones that talk to the serial port for scanners, bar code readers, cash drawers, or that have to access local files or other shared resources).

"Thin" will be "in". Thin, native clients that load quickly but still have native user interface elements and that don't rely on the Internet to be "up" will always have a place in business. In 2009, IT managers, software vendors and ISVs will be looking for tools like Servoy that can deliver the best of both worlds - while at the same time meets their needs for on-time, on-budget development.

.NET Deployments. I know, it's sort of an oxymoron - but .NET is seen as a more agile technology especially with companies with large scale COBOL applications or who are struggling under the weight of proprietary C++ applications that are crying out for updates.

The sheer speed of the changes in business and the ever-increasing need for ISVs and software companies to meet the needs of their stressed-out, under-funded, over-worked customers will be the determining factor in their own survival. I've never personally seen any .NET deployment that is able to be adapted quickly and efficiently to the changing needs of business (if you have - please feel free to comment!).

Offshoring. If you've made it this far in this post - you'll know the reasons why. I do have some personal experience with this - and even though workers here "charge more" than programmers and companies in "developing nations" - the results speak for themselves. I've talked to several companies who are scrapping their entire offshore operations and bringing them back in-house.

One manager I know from a major company (who asked not to be named) summed it up pretty well: "I found out that adding 65 people to our project (for the price of 9 US-based folks) - wasn't all it was cracked up to be. They would say 'yes, yes, yes' to everything but nothing would ever get done. It looks like most of the stuff they've worked on for the past 2 years will have to be re-written from scratch here." DOH!

Sun. And, last but not least, I'm afraid Sun will have to take some drastic actions in 2009 in order to continue their operations. Their $1 billion purchase of MySQL this year (as well as the tanking market for high-end servers) has seemed to take a huge toll on the company's balance sheet, forcing them to layoff 6,000 workers.

They're still struggling with finding a business model for their open source initiatives, and I'm not sure they'll find the answers they need in 2009. They've already open-sourced most of their products (Solaris, Java, MySQL, Java FX, etc) and now that they've done that they are finding it hard to put the Genie back in the bottle and make money off of their technology. Short of becoming an uber consulting and support company - I'm not convinced they will be around to see 2010.

Well, there you have it - my predictions for 2009. This time next year I'll make sure to review them and also make some other BS predictions for 2010...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Microblog: My Happy Place

It's good to take a break every now and then. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the downtime between Christmas and New Years - I wasn't against it by any means - but it usually means that my neglected "honey-do" list is the top priority.

Not this year.

I decided to actually take time off - and just relax a bit. Take a few motorcycle rides (thanks, hon!), read a couple of popcorn-for-the-mind mystery books (rather than technical and business journals), spend time with the kids, and just plain sleep.

I never realized I missed sleeping so much. I actually slept for 12 solid hours last night! Really. Me.

I'm usually the one getting up at 3:00am or 4:00am and getting a few hours of work done before going to the office - but not this week. I just actually watched some movies, went to bed early, and slept late.

I've actually been in a good mood - in fact, my daughter had a sleepover with her friend here the other day and I made some dinner for them. Both she and her friend asked "Why are you being so nice to us?"

Huh? That really got my attention. She continued on saying "Whatever you do dad, stay in your 'happy place'."

Kids say the most interesting things. I guess she's right - I've been "going" 10,000 miles per hour for so many years that I guess it just became "normal" for me to get out of my "happy place."

It's cool to finally get there again. I'm going to try to stay in my happy place more in 2009...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Microblog:: Twitter Spam

Deep breath.... deep breath... OK. For those of you that have a compelling need to Tweet more than 15 times per day - here's my personal advice: Step AWAY from the keyboard (or cell phone or whatever).

The whole point of Twitter, and Pownce and Tumbler and ______ (your social network here) is that you share something RELEVANT with your followers. It's NOT a free-for-all.

If you're posting more than 10 Tweets per day - then you're a Twitter Spammer (you know who you are). Stop it! No, really!

Rather than posting what you're reading - or the fact that you just posted and "can't believe it" - there's another medium for you - it's called a "blog." You can rant the whole day - and no one will care (trust me!).

But putting out 150 status "updates" a day is just too damn much. No one CARES! Instead, take a deep breath (get your HANDS OFF the keyboard - no one cares that you took a deep breath) and form some funny or interesting thing to say, and then (and ONLY then) post it to your followers.

We're (I mean I'm) tired of all the spam. If you post and see your own face (only!) on the the entire first page of your XYZ feed - just say NO. NO to posting inane details of what you're doing. NO to inane details of a trip or who you're @ hanging with. NO BODY CARES.

NOW, I'm going to Tweet this post....

Friday, December 26, 2008

5 Things That Won't Survive 2009

Although I'm not really the type of person who make predictions for what the year will hold: I'll tell you this - there are some things that will not survive in 2009:

1. Movie Rental Stores

True story: I was renting some movies earlier this week in my local Blockbuster - when a customer asked the pimple-faced clerk about a movie starring Ed Asner. The teen-something clerk had never even heard of Ed Asner, much less some "Christmas movie with something like 'Together' in the title..." So, as the "manager" handed her a (printed!) book with all video titles in it - she couldn't spell "Asner."

So she went to her Pentium 286 terminal with a green-screen interface and asked (in a loud voice) "Do I need to get out of search mode so you can ring up that customer?"

Are you kidding me? In 2008. Blockbuster. Yeah, you're SO on the list for "see-ya" for 2009. People will just get Netflix - (or Hulu) for their movies. Blockbuster - your days are numbered. And FYI Blockbuster - have you never heard of Servoy? I mean, really - WTF?

2. 60% of "Web 2.0" Companies

Well, it looks like the SECOND Silicon Valley "bubble" has burst. And with it all those stupid sites with stupid names will finally go into the "dead pool." HOT TIP: If you've got a web 2.0 with no business plan - you know, one that actually make MONEY - you're destined to become the next Net Van in the world. (If you don't know what Net Van is - and you have a web 2.0 company that's sucking the tit of VC money - don't worry - you'll find out soon)

3. Palm

Elevation Partners, which has among its principals U2's Bono, pumped a whopping $100 million into the failing Palm Inc. this week - obviously have a huge amount of faith in the upcoming Nova operating system. You know, the one that will "really" (pinky swear) be the next iPhone killer. No, really. Did we mention we have Bono? Doesn't matter. Just because you're first at coming up with a concept that everyone loved and was ground-breaking - if you rest on your laurels (like Palm did) - you will have your ass handed to you on a platter. Granted, a "nice" platter, but a platter nonetheless.

4. 50% of all the retailers you got "gift cards" for on Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa)

Kids - if you got ANYTHING as a "gift card" this holiday season, RUN to the retailer (or eBay) and get rid of it as fast as you can. According to the "smart guys" (that still live with their mothers) - only 25% of the gift cards ever get cashed. Speaking on the authority of someone who just found Sharper Image and Linen N' Things cards (worth over $150) sitting the in "junk" drawer - hedge your bets and cash those puppies like they were on fire.

You never know when a long standing company like Mervyn's (almost 60 years old) will go tits-up.com. Like Lehman Brothers (150 years), Merrill Lynch (93 years), etc. There's a strong chance that after the lack-luster holiday season that half of the folks take their dollies and go home.

5. Yahoo

Well... let's save the best for last. It seems that they can't do ANYTHING right. Let's face it. They're a Lehman Brother (in Internet time) - combined with a sprinkle of Palm, a business model like a video store, a future plan like a Web 2.0 company with no business plan, and yes, they just launched a movie site as well.

*SIGH*. Well, here's to the OTHER companies that have a clue, actually give a crap about their customers, who want to really add value and get paid for that value: hang in there another 3 months and all the suckers will be gone by then. It will be YOUR time in the sun...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, well maybe my mouse;

The MacBooks and Minis were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Jobs soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of video-gaming danced in their heads;

And mamma in her thong 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nookie nap,

When down on my Dell there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the Vista Windows I flew like a flash,

Tore open the laptop and threw up because it took me 4 minutes to come out of "sleep" because damn Bill Gates decided to do yet another hack and patch job on the crappy OS... but I digress.

Yada yada... home invasion by a stranger with a fetish for "magic" animals... sniffing and stuffing stockings... blah, blah, blah...

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Monday, December 22, 2008

IRL - RIP

NOTE: For those of you over 40: IRL = "In Real Life"

So last week when Apple announced that it would pull out of MacWorld next year, and, oh yeah, by the way, Steve Jobs won't be doing the keynote THIS year... people went absolutely bat s**t.

There were 1,000,000 blogs on the topic - rife with speculation that Mr. Jobs had a spat with the organizers (IDG) and that they simply were "taking their dollies and going home." To add insult to injury - they offered up a Jobs Replacement - Phil Shiller. Now, I don't know Mr. Shiller personally, and I'm sure he's a great guy and everything, but geez... he for SURE no Steve Jobs.

Apple's cold press release about the fact that they were just dumping MacWorld - right before the show (January 6-9, 2009) was about as childish and stupid as you can get. It's like getting dumped via a text message.

Would it have killed them to have Steve get up and say "Nothing new... and one more thing... we got NOTHING new to pimp." Then in February or March, just come out and say that due to _______ (insert standard corporate crap here) they are "re-aligning" their tradeshow strategy with market conditions... or something?

The "other" big show that's going on at exactly the same time is the once-huge CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. There was a time where this show was like the old COMDEX show - 150,000 people strong. Where you would physically age while waiting for a cab. When the crappiest, dirtiest, keep-your-socks-on-at-all-times-people hotel room was going for $395 per night. Last year, not so much. This year, even less "so much."

I don't know if it's just a reflection of the recessionary times we live in - or whether people just really don't give a crap - but it seems like (to me at least) that tradeshows in general are just sucking wind. They're expensive for both the attendees as well as the exhibitors (I've been both, many, many times). Yeah, it's cool to get all the useless swag to give to your kids and all, but really - what function do these live, in-person events really play?

We live in a world of 140 character "blogs". A world full of "status" messages on social networking sites, and a world in which 25% of the paper wealth of everyone just vanished overnight.

And it's not just tradeshows. It's user conferences and gatherings. Just last week Novell just canceled their "BrainShare" (user) conference because a bunch of the people said they weren't coming because of restrictions on their travel budgets.

Personally, I say - good riddance. I think it's important to meet with customers face-to-face. There are certain things that Twitter, and emails can't convey. However, I think that the power of meeting with people IRL is the fact that they all share a certain love for a product, service or industry and they want to be around others who are like-minded.

The problem is that with technology being what it is - phones, and Skype and online meetings and webcams are slowly taking the place of speakers, presenters, drinks in the bar and good old fashioned business card exchanges.

I guess the change in the way we interact together was (is) inevitable. There was a time when I had physically printed manuals for all the software I used sitting on a bookshelf. Now I either just use the online help (usually F1 on a PC application) - or I use Google as my online manual. I don't need no stinkin' printed manual - and I don't need to go IRL with other folks to find out about any new developments in my industry.

I get 24 hour news, 500 blogs that report the absolute latest and greatest, etc. However, I think that if shows like MacWorld and CES go the way of COMDEX - a little bit of humanity goes with it. And once it goes, it's very difficult to get back.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Microblog: #$%& Microsoft!

So I installed the new IE 7 patch - or rather, I should say that Microsoft installed it FOR me. Then I did a restart - and got a HANG. Ok, no big deal - this happens all the time! So, I'll just restart.

Restart, get welcome screen. HANG.

Restart. Get welcome screen... hard drive spinning for 11 minutes... HANG.

Restart. Get welcome screen... pause.... hard drive spinning for 14 minutes. Login. Loading (except QuickLaunch toolbar not showing)... start up mail client. HANG.

Restart. Get welcome screen... pause.... hard drive spinning for 11 minutes. Login. Loading... loaded. Choose "Turn Off" from options.

Restart. Finally back and running. THANK YOU Microsoft - you've managed to push me even closer to buying a Mac!

Microblog: Short Attention Span Theatre

NEW FEATURE: Microblog entries. This is when something is just so stupid or insane, I must comment on it IMMEDIATELY. I'll label them as such, so you don't have to read them if you're not interested. Here's the first one:

12 Second TV! Are you kidding me? Has the whole world just gone to hell in a handbasket? I mean - are we going to all be reduced to a 140 character and 12 SECOND attention span?

According to TechCrunch - the site 12seconds.tv is coming out of beta - AND has a new iPhone application. This app will allow you to put 3 photos and - yep - 12 seconds of audio together and post it on their site. Ouch! I already have twitter feeds, yammer feeds, and social media to deal with - and NOW someone gets the great idea to have Twitter - but with video? Seesh... it's a sad, sad day, people.

DO SOME WORK! Spend some MONEY! Stimulate the economy! Quit watching 12 second ANYTHING.

I Am Therefore I Tweet

My social media experiment these past couple of months has been... interesting to say the least. Like most social newbies who finally figure out what Twitter is - I was posting about 10 times per day. Yes, I was "that guy" - who told my 4 followers all the inane details of the boring crap I was doing everyday.

I was checking Twitter incessantly - and adding people that I was "following" like it was no tomorrow. I would hit "refresh" multiple times per day - and read all the posts from all the people I subscribed to. I would tweet from my iPhone, from my browser, from a friend's computer... I sounded like a damn Minah bird - tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet!

Then I got a life.

As I cut down on the number of times per day that I would tweet and would read the posts on Twitter, I noticed something interesting things:
  1. I actually got more work done
  2. People don't really care what I had for lunch
  3. Some people "spam" Twitter like a 5 year old with 100+ tweets per day (I've stopped "following" those people)
  4. I look forward to the tweets with funny, observant or useful information
  5. Only about 20 of the 50+ people I "follow" have anything interesting to say
These observations have lead me to be a better Twitter citizen. I now post only stuff that I think other people might be interested in, or might find useful. I've pared down my "following" list to just over 50 people that I actually want to hear from (mainly geeks).

I decided that if I wanted to indulge the "eating ham sandwich" side of me - that I should either set up a separate account for "blather" - or just do like everyone else and post that stuff on my Facebook page.

Then, just as I had completed the Twitter 12 step program, my wife suggests that we try using Yammer - a Twitter rip-off that is meant just for people inside of a specific company (people can only join yammer if they have the same email extension - e.g. @mycompany.com).

Well, Hallelujah! Within the first 24 hours most of the company was on Yammer and were... well... Yammering away. This time, though, no one put what they were eating for lunch. They said what they were working on, what projects where coming online, what interesting sales prospects were saying, comments and suggestions from customers... you know, real "work" stuff.

It's still in the experimental stage, but the results are pretty cool. We have employees in 6 timezones all over the world - and it's cool to be able to get a sense of what they're working on. I'm not sure how to explain it... but it's easier than sending an email, it's less intrusive than IM, and it's fast. The best part is - if no one want to read it (or respond to it), then it's up to them.

If you don't respond to an email or IM, then you're rude and sometimes will cause more than hurt feelings. But if you don't respond to a tweet or yamm (?) - then it's no big deal. You're broadcasting you status - hoping to be helpful, or to give people an idea of what you're working on. You can also ask for feedback, have people check out a link, spread the word about a new success story. It's like a living, Internal newsletter.

Well, with all this social media (special thanks here to Brenda Christensen for keeping the social media banner flying for Servoy!) - my wife (the "other" Brenda) came to me with another suggestion for a useful, online tool that would track what people were saying about any topic. It was basically a free service that would search some sites for any keyword you entered, and show you results on what was being blogged, twittered, etc.

Now I already have a Goggle Alert set up for some key terms - and that works great. But it's limited to what the mighty Google indexes - and not the rest of the world. The site that Brenda suggested - yacktrack - will show you the results of your keyword search across several sites (including Friendfeed, Technorati, Twitter, Google blog search, etc.). It's a pretty interesting service (free for now). The results are interesting - although if you are looking at the blog results, there's no link provided to the actual blog.

I found that the source of the search Google Blog Search - was much more efficient. But, it's nice to have a single service where you can enter a term, and get an overall feel for what the talk is on a topic, then if you're interested, you can always drill down to the actual search engines and get your "hands dirty".

Whew! Now I can finally Tweet-Facebook-LinkedIn-Plurk-Yammer about this entry!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Expectation = Reality

So the wife and I were watching a show that was recorded on our DVR (nothing fancy - just the default Motorola default box) - and we ran into a problem. We were about 20 minutes into a 2 hour show - trying to fast forward through the commercials - when the show just jumped to the end.

Well, since she had the remote - my deduction was simple: "You must have pressed the wrong button", was my immediate diagnosis. So, she tried again with the same result.

Now, everybody KNOWS that men are the superior species when it comes to working a remote control - so I smugly held out my hand for her to "hand it over, woman!" (silently, to myself of course). The remote to men is like having a second skin. My fingers just instinctively knew where to go - and so I restarted the show, forwarded about 20 minutes in, and then expertly hit the fast forward button... and... it did the same damn thing.

"You must have pressed the wrong button" came the smug reply. DOH! I hate when that happens.

After about 15 minutes of monkeying around and neither of us getting it to work - we were forced to, gulp!, watch the show in REAL TIME. Oh, the horror! We had to sit through all the commercials and the 2 hour show actually took 2 hours to watch.

We've only had a DVR for about 3 years or so, and my expectation is that the thing would work flawlessly every single time. Our "old" DVR (MOXI - also based on Moto hardware) had a button on the remote that would let you skip 30 seconds forward at a time - a perfect way to "zap" the commercials. It also included a very, very nice GUI that was easy, intuitive and looked nice. However, after about a year that model just "died." So I went to get a replacement at the cable company.

Our "new, upgraded" model ("Twice the capacity!" and "HD recording!") - promptly took the single-click commercial-zapper feature away and forced us to fast forward through the commercials (I guess the network advertisers were pissed at the previous functionality).

The new GUI was designed by someone who had obviously never used it to actually try to record something. It was (IS!) an absolute abomination in terms of look and feel and usability. It took us about a month to get adjusted to the new GUI and the new 15,000 button remote (again, designed by someone with absolutely ZERO clue on how people actually USE it to watch TV).

That got me thinking about how my expectations have changed about devices I use everyday - and it raises my expectation on how things "should work."

Another example is my phone. Now that I have an iPhone 3G - my expectation of what a phone "should" be able to do are forever altered. I can never go back to a non touchscreen device, nor a device that doesn't have games, music and a full Internet browser on it. I just "can't" do it.

My expectation when I first bought the phone was that I would occasionally use the browser, and probably listen to a few tunes now and then and maybe, just maybe install a few games or other "useless" applications that came along.

Wrong. I have 4 full screens of crap that I actually use all the time. Stock quotes, weather, movie times, 3 or 4 games, social media updating apps - I use all of them all the time. My expectations of what a phone "should do" are now permanently changed.

Same thing with the software I use. Before I started using Servoy - I was writing browser-based applications in ASP or JSP or ColdFusion or Lasso. That meant code. LOTS of code. Code for database connections. Code for business rules. Code for SQL. Code for parsing data that came back to the database. Code to update data. Code to delete data.

All of this was way before things like AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) - and the Web 2.0 functionality (where the whole browser pages doesn't reload - just the parts you change or update). If I had to code that stuff now - there would still be all the other legacy stuff to code - plus a whole new layer of other stuff to code (the AJAX stuff).

With Servoy, I can simply drag fields to forms, write simple scripts (called "methods" in Servoy) to change field color, or perform a calculation or whatever, and then I can simply open a browser and all that stuff "just works" for me - exactly the way I designed it.

If there is a bug (and there will be - for 100% sure!) - rather than getting a cryptic "Error at line 33" browser message that isn't helpful at all - I can now even fully debug the browser based application - complete with breakpoints, variable watching, etc. All the stuff I would expect only when writing and debugging code for a native (non browser-based) application.

Just for grins - I downloaded a sample AJAX application from the Internet - a simple app that included basic CRUD functionality (CReate Update Delete). It had 4 HTML pages and had about 550 lines of code. I was able to re-create BETTER functionality in Servoy with 6 lines of code and ZERO HTML pages. It took me about 9 minutes to complete.

Not only will I never go back to the "old" way of creating browser-based applications - who knows where the technology will go from here. What's the next new thing? What else will poor application programmers have to learn in order to get rich, full-featured applications out the door? AND, more importantly, what will that do to all the applications they've already built the "hard" way?

*Shutter*

At least I'll never have to worry about it...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Media Is Dying

It used to be that I subscribed to and (mainly) read about 15 monthly periodicals - mainly business and computer stuff - but some others as well. While I still get some "hard copy" magazines - I find that I get most of my news from online sources.

I won't wax nostalgic about how I love the feel of the magazine rather than a cold screen, or the fact that I like to keep 1,000 old copies of all these magazines in the bathroom, etc.

Both types of media have their benefits. The paper ones are good to take on the road, or curl up with on a rainy day. The digital versions contain more details, are more up-to-date and can contain links to other relevant data.

There are downsides to both types of media as well. On the printed media side: Wastes paper, there are increasingly more ads than editorial pages, it's costiler for the publisher to produce and mail, it's outdated the minute it's printed because of the long lead times required for the production process.

On the digital media side... well, there's not many. Now that I have an iPhone, I can browse almost anything almost anywhere - and a lot of sites now have content that's specifically formatted for mobile devices. The one thing that is really, really, really annoying about these digital versions of the pubs I surf on a regular basis is that they've become nothing more than an advertising delivery vehicle.

Every site from eWEEK to Inc to FastCompany to ComputerWorld to MacWorld... all of 'em are so choked full of ads that it's nearly impossible to read the content. Almost all the sites will take really a really nice piece of editorial and chop it up into 12 bite-sized pieces that force you to click through page after page - for the sole purpose of refreshing the ads on the page in hopes you'll click and they'll get $0.15. Or, if they are getting paid per impressions - they serve up the most ad impressions possible - to the extent that 75% of the entire space is dedicated to flashing, whirrling, popping up ads.

I, for one am just sick to death of it.

But, I have a secret weapon. It's a little, tiny link that's usually tucked away at the bottom of the page - or for braver sites - right under the headline. It's called "Print".

Yep - print. That's my secret weapon.

Now before I get a load of email from the tree-hugging-Prius-driving-Berkenstock-hemp-wearing of you out there - I don't actually print the stuff on paper. You see, when you hit the "print" button - each site will re-format the article you're looking at into a "basic" format that doesn't have 1,000 ads on it. It will usually have one ad at the top - but other than that - the article appears the way it would in a "normal" magazine.

You can then easily read it, see the illustrations, click on links, etc. in a much more readable form.

I get the fact that these "old school" media companies are making money the only way they know how (advertising) - but I wonder if they actually even read their own sites?

First there were news "portal" sites. Yahoo especially comes to mind - where you would go to get an update on what was happening in the world. Then the newspapers and magazines came online - and they also had their own spin on the world and dozens of "new" stories every day.

Next, came the bloggers. The good, bad and just plain bitchy ones. Pretty soon you needed to get an RSS reader just to keep up on all the articles, news items and new blog entries that came out 24/7. As the number of content sites kept increasing - it has come to the place where it's almost too much content.

Now you have the Social Media revolution. In the world of Social Media - people you know (or at least people you follow) alert you in 140-character bytes, write on your "wall" or "poke" you to alert you to what they are reading and finding interesting.

The large-player media companies are starting to get "lost". All their content is also content that is picked up, chewed, further analyzed and regurgitated by bloggers all over the world - sometimes with much better results than some of the clap trap coming from "big media."

Then there's the issue of physical newspapers and magazines shutting down completely. There have been a number just this year. All of those "real" reporters who have years of experience and have established a "name" for themselves - have, for the most part, quit or been fired.

What do you do if you're an out-of-work reporter? Yep - you start a blog - and keep on reporting. That means that now these big media companies are competing with the people that used to work for them. The people that don't have a lot (or any) advertising on their site - and who focus on just one thing: a good, informative, timely story on stuff people want to read.

And that, at the end of the day is all that matters.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank You Microsoft!

In the "true spirit of Christmas" - I just wanted to take a couple of minutes and sincerely THANK (yes, thank) Microsoft for all it's done for me this year:

THANK YOU for making an operating system with more holes in it than Swiss Cheese;

THANK YOU for installing numerous patches without my permission and then force-quitting all my running applications while you performed a restart without asking - and then greet me with a "Updated!" bubble once I finally get signed back on;

THANK YOU for doing the above forced restart overnight - while I was backing up to an external drive;

THANK YOU for hosing my presentation during said restart - about 1 hour before I was scheduled to give it to a worldwide audience;

THANK YOU for not having a single iota of creative, innovative thought in your entire company - but rather just copying whatever everyone else is doing (i.e. Silverlight = Flash, Aero look and feel = Mac, Excel = Lotus 123, etc. etc.);

THANK YOU for coming out with an even MORE bloated and completely useless operating system that requires users to upgrade HARDWARE to even run it;

THANK YOU for popping up 1,000 dialogs asking me if "I'm sure" I want to launch a program, send an email or anything else that might, possibly involve anything a real person would do during the day;

THANK YOU for .NET 3.x - it truly is 100% incompatible with 1.1 and 2.x;

THANK YOU for trying to get into every sector of every marketplace ever conceived of - and mucking it up so badly - that other companies can actually compete in the space (i.e. MSNBC, Zune, etc.);

THANK YOU for the promise of even more bloatware in the coming Windows 7 - and for the complete breaking of the naming conventions you've used for all other OS releases - that'll make it even MORE confusing for my family and in-laws when they all ask if they should upgrade;

THANK YOU for increasing the stock price of 3M making sure that older people and non-technical folks cram their monitors with stickies on it with step-by-step instructions for changing the audio or monitor settings (or any other settings for that matter);

THANK YOU for waging battle against open source and for making sure all your software only works well on Windows - it's helped me to learn other software and operating systems that I would have never tried on my own;

THANK YOU, Microsoft for all you do to make life (between restarts and patch upgrades) marginally tolerable.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In Social Media We Trust

My entry into the social media realm has been very interesting - to say the least. I've stayed mainly with the mainstream services: FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pownce (shutting down Dec 15th), Jabber, etc.

I've even been able to amass some "friends" on each of the services. I've been pretty careful about who I will add as a connection in each of them - but I was reading an article by Mike Elgan from ComputerWorld the other day that really gave me pause.

He was talking about the fact that it's possible for scammers, theives and other miscreants to "hijack" the identities of people you may really know - and pose as them - in order to gain your confidence for an a scam attack at some point in the future.

He points out some really interesting points: in the social media world we will trust another person who we (think) we know as a "friend." Now that person can see all of our other friends and their profiles. But what I never really stopped to think about was just how easy it would be to steal someone's identity and pose as that person.

Mr. Elgan calls it "How to steal friends and influence people":

Step 1: Request to be "friends" with a dozen strangers on MySpace. Let's say half of them accept. Collect a list of all their friends.

Step 2: Go to Facebook and search for those six people. Let's say you find four of them also on Facebook. Request to be their friends on Facebook. All accept because you're already an established friend.

Step 3: Now compare the MySpace friends against the Facebook friends. Generate a list of people that are on MySpace but are not on Facebook. Grab the photos and profile data on those people from MySpace and use it to create false but convincing profiles on Facebook. Send "friend" requests to your victims on Facebook.

As a bonus, others who are friends of both your victims and your fake self will contact you to be friends and, of course, you'll accept. In fact, Facebook itself will suggest you as a friend to those people.

Yikes! Just think about that for a minute. Someone out there could be on another social media site right now using your name, your photo and your profile to lure people into a scam, or worse. Now, the bad news is - the damage may already be done.

As a precaution, I would suggest that people who are "into" the social media scene (and who isn't these days?) - check out some of the other social media sites by searching for yourself. If you find a fake that's on there - you owe it to yourself to report it to the appropriate service and get the "bad" profile removed.

I've never had to deal with this personally (thank goodness) - so I'm not sure what the policy would be. Do you get to keep the profile up there - but you just take over the username/password? What happens when you want to join that same network after the offending profile as been removed? Can you even keep your same name (your real name) - or will it be blacklisted?

GREAT! Just one more thing to be paranoid about...

If any of you out there have experience with this - or know of someone who does - be sure to leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Let The Carnage Begin

"Things always seem to get worse before they get better." If that quote holds any truth - then we're about to see things get worse.

The early indications - besides the Wall Street seesaw, the housing meltdown, weak "Black Friday" and the credit crunch - are starting to make themselves known. In the tech world - when social networking sites start closing (and/or get acquired) it's sort of the canary in the coal mine biting the dust.

This week a couple of sites announced that they were going into the deadpool - Pownce (co-founded by Digg’s Kevin Rose) and Twing announced they were shutting down. This comes on heels of the death of other sites over the past 4 months - sites that were fairly well funded and had some "good press." Some of them were even founded by very successful entrepreneurs. Here's a small sampling:
  • Eyespot ($3.7 million in Oct 06)
  • Uber ($7.6 million in funding - May 2008 - cofounded by former Friendster CEO and NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa)
  • Wallop (from Microsoft's Research Team)
  • Fleck (€225k - based in Netherlands)
  • Social.FM ($5 million in funding)
  • TripHub ($15 million, founded by Josh Herst, an early member of the Microsoft Expedia team)
  • MatchMine ($10.5 million, founded by Mike Troiano, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Interactive and Brandscape)
  • Akimbo ($56 million, investors including AT&T and Cisco)
  • Capazoo ($12 million)
  • etc, etc, etc.
My prediction is that we'll see a lot more of these bubble-2.0-social-media-with-no-business-plan company hitting the skids this month and on into the middle of 2009. I mean, didn't ANY of these people learn ANYTHING from the first bubble?

TIP #1: Eyeballs do not necessarily equal money.

TIP #2: You need money to stay in business.

TIP #3: Just by having a screwed up name that no one can pronounce doesn't mean you'll get money.

TIP #4: See tip #2

Speaking of folks that may have had too much Turkey - the good folks over at Twitter have turned down a $500 million (mostly stock) offer from Facebook.

Um.... yeah. Half a billion dollars for a site with zero business model - and a huge cost structure. Good plan! I know, I know you're "...working on a monetization plan for the middle of 2009...". Good luck with that.

Again, see tip #2...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Servoy 4.1 Released!

Yes, I have been in a cave for the past couple of weeks... but the reason has been that I've been working on getting Servoy 4.1 ready for release - and today, ta da - it's finally here. I've written another blog entry with the gory details over at the Servoy corporate blog: http://blog.servoy.com.

The main uptick in this version (well, there are a few which you can read about here) - is the fact that you can create objects on-the-fly - and still have them "bound" to the Servoy infrastructure. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

Well, here's the deal: In other environments, you can also create objects on-the-fly, but you have to also do all the coding to "hook them up". In Servoy 4.1, all you need to do is to create them - and they're automatically hooked up. They function in the web automatically, will auto-save automatically, will data broadcast changes automatically, etc.

That's with a single line code - the code that creates the object. Nice.

The interesting thing about the new capabilities in Servoy is that you can create just about every type of object that you can when you're in the IDE, but you can do it on the fly. This includes the ability to create new forms, fields, tabpanels, buttons, portals, etc. These are all just objects that would normally get created by Servoy at runtime anyway - but Servoy 4.1 now gives you programmatic control over their creation as well.

Basically, all of the properties you have available at design-time in the IDE are now programmable. You can create custom forms from scratch, or based them on existing forms. You can create headers, footers, leading and trailing summaries, title footers, title headers, etc. This means you can create complex reports that are sub-summarized by multiple columns - all on-the-fly at runtime.

Oh yeah, and you can also attach methods (scripts) to all of the events that you have on all objects (including forms) as well. That allows you to specify what happens when events fire on the form or object level (onDataChange, onFocusGained, onFocusLost, onDoubleClick, etc.).

Another interesting thing about Servoy 4.1 - is that it allows you to create data-reated objects at runtime as well. You can create relations between tables as well as valuelists that can have custom values as well as ones that are based on a database (or relation). Now, that's revolutionary. I don't know how the engineering team managed to pull that one off - but's really an awesome feat!

If all of that wasn't enough for you - beacause you can modify EXISTING forms at runtime as well - you can totally customize the user interface per user group - or even individual users. You can re-assign existing fields to different database columns, add columns (or remove them) from a listing, add a new tabpanel, etc.

There's a new example file with the 4.1 download (which, by the way is the FREE Community Edition with free Developer and 5 concurrent clients for non-commercial use!) - that's called "servoy_sample_solutionModel" that gives you an idea how you can build a 100% dynamic data viewer with both list views and data entry views.

Also, if you're around TOMORROW, Wednesday, December 3rd at 10:00am PST (1:00pm EST) and you want to see more - I'm doing a webinar entitled "What's New In Servoy 4.1". The webinar is an hour long and is free - but you do have to register here to attend.

If you haven't tried Servoy out before - now's a great time to check it out! If you're even thinking about creating a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering - or you're ready to modernize your application - having a look at Servoy is well worth your time!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Billion For Your Thoughts

I'm so damn sick of the auto makers begging Congress for a $25 billion freebie - that I actually threw up a little in my mouth when I saw GM's ads on Yahoo Finance this morning.

Here's a couple of screen shots:










Now THAT'S an absolutely brilliant way to spend whatever's left of the money you threaten will "run out by the end of the year." Talk about holding a gun to America's head - that's one of the most outrageous, fear-mongering pieces of bulls**t I've ever seen.

Correction: that's the second biggest piece of crap I've seen - THIS GM site takes the cake.

GM (and Chrysler and Ford for that matter) deserve to go out of business. That's the way business works. Here's some business 101 tips for car company executives:
  • Don't build shitty cars
  • Don't stop building fuel-efficient cars because gas prices are low
  • Don't go to Congress to beg for more money in your private jets (this REALLY happened!)
  • Try not to lose $6.9 BILLION per quarter
  • If you DO lose $6.9 BILLION - try to cut costs and come up with a plan to NOT lose $6.9 BILLION the following quarter that doesn't include getting free money from the American taxpayer
  • Do not try to get free money from the American taxpayers using scare tactics
  • Stop kissing the ass of the UAW (United Autoworker's Union) - and fire them all and hire non-union folks (like Toyota and BMW have)
  • The corporation is not your personal piggy bank
  • Try some humility - admit your mistakes and tell people exactly how you would spend the money rather than just ("Re-tool for more fuel-efficient cars")
  • A "hybrid" Escalade - yeah, great idea!
I mean, really, if you're blowing through $6.9 billion per quarter - the $25 billion will just barely fund the golden parachutes of the top executives of the 3 companies. It will not be enough money or enough time to completely re-tool companies that should have had their heads out of their collective asses for the past 5 years.

According to TheTruthAboutCars.com - GM has a market cap less than toy maker Mattel - and there are rumors floating around that the Chinese government may be interested in buying GM - AND Chrysler. And, in my personal opinion, they should. GM should be treated fairly like every other business in the world - if you fail, your assets get broken up and sold off.

Period.

No hand-outs. No bail outs. No loans that don't need to be repaid. Not now - not ever.

The government SHOULD help the displaced workers and maybe tie it into the conditions of the bailout of the financial industry (give those laid off people a break on their mortgage payments for 6-9 months).

Spend the money re-training life-long assembly line workers for new tasks. Stimulate local economies by suspending state and federal taxes for 6 months. Create business incubators that give workers the chance to start their own business.

What about all the suppliers and the "trickle-down" theory? Yeah, sure, there will be single-source suppliers that go belly-up (especially given the tight credit market). But, they can also start supplying whatever they supply to OTHER car makers here in the US. They can look to similar industries or - hey - I know - find out what people ARE buying that they can manufacture - and sell THAT.

This is not something that has taken place in the last quarter, the last year, the last 3 years - or even the last 5 years. It's been 50 years in the making. Remember the 1970's when gas got "expensive" and people stopped buying gas-guzzling cars and bought smaller, more fuel-efficient cars? That's how Honda got started in the car business.

Did they really think that things would change? How short-sighted do you have to be? Really. I mean you're running a multi-billion dollar, worldwide conglomerate. You're not Joe The Plumber. Did you ever once get out of your "fat cat" mentality and take a look even 2 years down the line and think to yourselves "Hmmmm... customer tastes seem to be changing. Let's really get behind good-looking, high-quality, affordable products that are also fuel-efficient?"

Of course not! You just assumed that everything would be status quo, and as long as the gasoline was flowing (regardless of the price) - what could happen?

Short answer: THIS.

So long GM (and Chrysler and Ford) - I wish you wouldn't have totally screwed the pooch and destroyed companies that have survived for 100+ years... but, "Oh well." My new car is a Toyota anyway...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Downturn Déjà vu

I came across some tidbits from a study by former Gartner analyst Theresa Lanowitz that talks about the need for us all to remember the lessons learned during the last economic downturn: Resist the urge to slash IT.

I couldn't find any more than some dribs and drabs - and I haven't yet signed up for a free membership to read the entire study - but there were some interesting tidbits that are as full of wisdom today as they were in the last financial meltdown in 2000:
  • Outsourcing to cut cost: Outsourcing was viewed as a panacea, however, many IT organizations spent more money because of poorly planned and implemented outsourcing schemes.

  • Lack of innovation on the vendor side: This led to lack of innovation and education on the IT side. IT organizations were in turmoil because spending was dramatically reduced, and software vendors stalled new products and focused only on necessary items. IT did not have the leverage with either the line of business or vendors to demand new technology to support very real issues.

  • Poor quality: The reduction of IT spending saw the demise or vast reductions in QA organizations. Many IT managers and even consulting organizations viewed “quality” as extraneous and something anyone could do.

  • CFOs made business and technology decisions: Technology decisions were simply made on the basis of initial purchase prices with no regard to how the decision would ultimately affect the business. The CFO-led purchasing power elevated a person in the organization who had no technology awareness to a level of ultimate and final decision maker. The impact from CFO-led purchasing decisions was far reaching and long lasting.
Well, I'm old enough to vividly remember the last downturn, and I'd be a crack-smoking idiot if I thought that IT should be immune from cuts - BUT you don't need to just throw out the people that are making a huge difference in your IT organization, just because their salary level is higher than the repetitive-stress injury-just-got-out-of-college-and-was-hired-because-my-dad-works-here junior staffer.

The phrase "software runs the business" has never been more true. The "downturn" will turn into an "upturn" at some point in time - so don't be so short-sighted that you lose the people that will be instrumental in your future growth, and who are likely the ones that will help sustain your operations during the downturn as well.

Lanowitz is a way better writer than I am - and she put it very succinctly:
All too often in a time of economic downturn, people are seen as disposable, and most often, the more expensive a head is, the easier the justification for reduction. For businesses to remain competitive and grow during this economic downturn, retain key people. DO NOT just keep the less expensive heads… The IT organization of the future is less about those who can perform repetitive, manual tasks than it is about those who have skills to manage projects, act as a conduit of information, and view IT as a strategic enabler to the line of business.
Amen to that, sister!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Twitter Phishing

There's nothing that people love to do more than know where they stand in society. Don't believe me? What brand of jeans to you wear? What kind of car do you drive? How many iPhones/iPods do you own? What kind of mobile phone?

It's like we're all just walking around proving our rank to each other - even in the world of social media. How many friends do you have on Facebook? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many contacts in Linkedin?

Come on, admit it. When you add someone to your social network - the first thing you look at is how they compare to you. "Oh, I see they only have 84 friends on Facebook... well, I hate to brag, but I have 142..."

And so on and so on.

It appears as if some enterprising person decided to tap into our collective egos and one-upsmanship and created a site called "Twitterrank". It's a very straightforward premise: "True to its namesake, it uses 'back references' of sorts to determine how worthy of a person you are in Twitterverse"

Oooooh - something shiny! Must... enter... my... secret... details... must... enter... my... secret... details...

There's a big disclaimer on the site that says:

I'm not out to steal ur twitterz. Frankly, I wish I didn't have to ask for your account info, but Twitter doesn't offer APIs using any other authentication mechanism (according to the docs). Read more about what I will and won't do with your account info/data in the FAQ.

I will not store your password. I will only use it once to calculate your Twitterank.

No, really, he won't. There's no "pinky swear" there - but it's implied. In researching a bit further, I came across a blog entry by Oliver Marks from ZDnet. In there, he points to a link with a screenshot of the source code of the application.

Well, if you look at the source code now - you'll see that those sort of offending remarks have been removed, and it appears as if Mr. Chijiiwa, the site's creator - decided it was best to take the criticisms of the social media community to heart - and has posted his site link and his resume.

Turns out he's a Google Engineer! Huh. Well, there's NO WAY that someone could put up a fake site or fake resume on the Internet... everyone knows that!

In the meantime, send ME your Twitter username and password - I won't store it either (wink, wink) and don't worry there's no way I would write an automated solution that would create 30 tweets an hour from your account that would point people to porn sites and scammer sites... I pinky swear!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just Back It Up. Really.

Hey kids - I'm baaaaaack. I've been working on a project (still in "stealth" mode for a couple of weeks) all of my waking (and non-waking) hours - so I've been remiss in my blogging duties. But now, I'm back.

Now that I'm finally plugged back into the "real" world - and have caught up on some of the headlines I've missed while I was away - one of them really stuck out to me. There is (was) a site for professional photographers called Digital Railroad that just literally folded up shop with 24 hours notice to its subscribers.

Yep, 24 hours!

The page that's up there now states that they are in talks with another company who is interested in buying their assets (including the servers where all the user's goodies are stored) - so maybe, hopefully, probably sometime in the "near future" you MIGHT be able to get access to all the stuff you've uploaded.

The first message they put up was on October 15 stating the company had "reported a staff reduction and an aggressive attempt to secure additional financing and/or a strategic partner, but was unable to stay afloat." Then they just came out with the "The archive may only be accessible for the next 24 hours" line.

Needless to say - the people who subscribed to the service were a little pissed. So they moved the deadline to 48 hours rather than 24 hours. Still, after October 31st - it was all "Have a nice day."

That brings up the important point: if you use online SaaS (Software as a Service) applications (and who doesn't) - it's a good idea to have a local backup of your data. Just in case.

Hard drives are cheap - you can get 500GB for about $200-$300 with 1 terabyte (1000 GB) at less than $500. Make sure that you periodically drag all your pictures, downloaded music, important spreadsheets, etc to a local drive (not just your own hard drive) or just burn a quick CD.

It doesn't take that long - and you don't necessarily have to do it every single day. It just depends on how valuable your data is - and how "replaceable" it is. If it's pictures of Johnny's first steps - or your wedding photos - just back the damn things up. Even if you use an online photo site, etc.

So, does this mean that all SaaS applications and companies are doomed? Should we go back to the stone age of simply installing everything locally and resort to our own backup schemes, etc.? Well, of course not! Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water here - and let's not panic.

However, if your data is important to you (and I would assume it is), then just be smart about it and take some reasonable precautions to back the stuff up. Even if you hosted everything yourself on your own servers - it's a good idea to have a remote backup anyway. So, in the case of SaaS - your own local datastore is your offsite backup.

And, if you're like some people I know - who upload media to their favorite site - and then delete the originals from their hard drives - you better block out some time over the holiday weekend and start re-downloading your stuff so you can back it up.

If Google or Facebook or Fickr or Snapfish, etc. actually go under - chances are very good that they will be bought by someone else and things will continue as "normal." However - at the end of the day - it's YOUR content so take steps to protect it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Putting The aaS Back In SaaS

A lot of the companies that I talk to who are considering some sort of SaaS (Software as a Service) strategy - seem to be missing one important aspect: the Service part of the equation.

They have the first part: software, and they're usually pretty good at it (or they would have been out of business a long time ago). Even if their current tool is lacking (and 99% of the time it is - and thus why I'm talking to them) they generally have a good idea of where they want to go - and most of them want to get into the SaaS business in some way.

So, they focus on the things that they have done the best in the past - plan what parts of the software will be ported to the browser, and what the "user experience" should be, and they have a good idea from their customers on what they would be willing to pay, etc.

But they generally miss one important aspect - the service aspect.

This is something that's easy to overlook - because, after all, one of the reasons customer like the SaaS idea is because of the low barriers to entry, the lack of having to install and maintain software, the predictive pricing, etc. But what happens when one of these users gets stuck? What happens when (not IF, but WHEN) the service goes down? What if someone wants some kind of customization? What if this all happens at 2:00am from a customer in Europe?

The important part of any SaaS offering is the service part - and I would argue it's just as important as the actual software part, and how a company deals with customer service and technical support becomes really focused when there's no one else to blame.

It's not running on their hardware - so they don't need to "get the latest service pack" - or "uninstall the latest service pack." There's no client-side software (usually) - so there goes the "it's conflicting with something on your computer" portion of the excuses. In general, all the "good excuses" for flawed software or a crappy customer service experience just go away.

To be fair - the expectation of service is also tied to whether or not the offering is free or not, as well as how front-line business critical the application is. The more expensive and business-critical to a customer who is trying to get their work done it is - the higher the expectation of good service becomes.

People also recognize that you get what you pay for. If you are using the free version of Google Apps - and the service goes down - you're not only S.O.L. - but you really can't (shouldn't) bitch about something you're getting for free.

On the other hand, if you're paying Salesforce.com $125 per user per month - and their service goes down - and your whole business comes to a halt as a result... that's the time when the service portion of the program comes into play.

Remember: it's really about how you handle the communication and support when things go wrong that stick in people's mind. Even if you have 15 straight years of up time, they will be screaming and yelling when the site goes down for an hour.

So, be prepared. Think about how to provide excellent customer service, excellent technical support and still make a good profit. Don't be afraid to have different tiers of support - and have a strategy to provide SLAs (Service Level Agreements) to customers (for an additional fee, of course).

Regardless of your SaaS strategy from a technical point of view - don't forget to cover your aaS!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Google Be Nimble

I just love it when Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, opens his mouth in public. He nearly always says something that is either outrageous, stupid, embarrassing - or all of the above.

This week was no different. He was doing a webcast interview at the Gartner symposium (the equivalent of their "user's conference) and if you watch the video - about 24 minutes into it he tries to completely dismiss Google Apps saying it's not even in the same league as Office.

He cites one example: "you can’t even put a footnote in a document." And, that was the case. Until two days later.

Yep, Google added that feature and rolled it out to its more than 1 million users within 48 hours of his comment.

Nice!

On one hand you have the largest software company in the world - one that is battling the irrelevancy question of their operating system by throwing money at it - and here's another huge software company with a pure SaaS (Software as a Service) offering that is just proving that they're more nimble and in touch with customers while at the same time proving that Microsoft isn't.

You just gotta' love it. I mean really. If that wasn't the biggest bitch slap I've seen in a while - it was close.

The other bitch slap came this weekend while I was watching some prime time TV. I got a glimpse of the new Apple "I'm a Mac" ad - this one feature our dynamic duo - but this time PC is wearing an accountant hat and counting money into two piles - one for "advertising" (with an enormous stack of cash) and one for "development" that has a tiny pile of cash.

Ooops. Looks like poor little Microsoft is getting picked on by the "little" guys - big time. There was a time not too long ago that no one would dare take on Microsoft (at least that publicly) for fears that Microsoft would just buy them and kill their technology.

As Microsoft gets ready to debut Windows 7 (which Steve admitted is Vista [again] - but "better") - they better get this one right because it seems that the world is getting to be a pretty competitive place where just the mention of "Microsoft" doesn't carry the same weight as it once did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't Throw The Baby Out

Most executives in most companies are really freaked out right now. It sucks to be the leader of a company right now - and it sucks to be the head of departments - because the buck's gotta' stop somewhere. In this case, crap flow UP hill.

The economy is in full meltdown mode, and lots of people are losing lots of sleep - and are self-medicating with booze (at least someone is making money in the downturn!).

It's easy to get caught up in the general panic and malaise - and therefore lots of people are reacting to what others are reacting to - not the realities of the day. The herd mentality is ruling the average business person rather than the facts - and it's kind of pissing me off.

I'm all for cutting costs and watching expenses. I'm all for trimming the "dead wood" of non-producers out of the workforce. I'm all for delaying "luxury" purchases until the smoke clears out a bit. I'm all about watching travel and entertainment expenses and cutting marketing programs that don't produce tangible results.

However, I'm totally against just cutting for cutting sake. Some companies are just going absolutely nuts - cutting 20% to 50% of their staff; stopping all marketing; etc. They are "cutting to the bone" in order to go into "survival mode."

In fact, Sequoia capital came out early and hard - as documented in the Om Malik blog basically telling all of their portfolio companies that "Cutting deeper is the formula to survive, and this is an era of survival of the quickest."

As a result, a bunch of their companies shed anywhere from 30% to 50% of their staff - even though they were (are) cash-rich. Maybe in those cases it was a case of hiring some "fluff" people or just the giddy feeling for an upstart entrepreneur that you don't have to do everything absolutely by yourself anymore... I don't know.

In any case - you have to carefully weight the "costs" associated with cuts in terms of your current sales, current customers - as well as what it will do to your chances of thriving when (not if!) the economy returns to its "full glory."

In the spirit of not throwing the baby out with the bath water - here's some questions for you to ponder if you're thinking about massive cuts in your company:
  • If you just up and layoff a bunch of people - what will that signal to your current customers?
  • What about people that are evaluating your product for possible purchase - how will they view massive cuts?
  • How long will it take you to replace that person/function when things get going again?
  • Can you really afford to stop all your marketing? What will happen in 6 months when the current flow of leads dries up?
  • How will you continue to make enough money to keep even your "reduced" company going?
  • How will you mitigate the inevitable drop in productivity and morale with the people you don't cut?
Sure - there's the herd mentality and things are clenched up at the moment. And, it very well be that there are cuts you could make (and SHOULD make). Just be sure that you're not throwing out the future of your company - and something you've worked very hard at (and invested your retirement in) for a number of years - over a short term panic in the marketplace.

Hopefully, the "sliver lining" in this economic mess is that we'll have stronger, smarter, healthier companies come out as a result of these difficult decisions and (sometimes brutal) cost cutting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apple's Recession Pricing

I tried - I really did. I wasn't going to blog about Apple today - but after I put out a "status update" on the social media sites that I wasn't going to blog - I got some Mac-type fans asking me to do so - so... here goes.

First of all - either Apple is unclenching a bit - or their security really sucks - because most of what they announced today was pre-announced by all the gadget sites last week (for a good view of the event today - check out Engadget's coverage).

They did a "refresh" of their entire laptop line - new MacBooks, new MacBook Pros, and a refresh of their 17 inch and 24 inch Cinema displays, and they're really, really proud of a new "unibody" construction process.

YAWN! There was one bright spot - they've replaced all the trackpad with a new, bigger, glass "touchpad" that is gesture-aware. This means that you can now give Apple "the finger" multiple times per day. But seriously, you can use 2, 3 or even 4 fingers to map gestures to common commands. And rather than having buttons to click - the hole trackpad is a button. I'm not sure how that will work with click and drag... but I have to assume they worked it out somehow.

They added a new NVIDIA graphics chip to increase graphics performance "...up to 6 times..." - and they knocked $100 off the low end MacBook.

Yeah, $100.

Everyone was hoping for $200 - to make the thing $899 - but I guess they really, really wanted that extra $100 per unit. It makes sense if you stock fell 40% in two weeks... but really - $100?

To be fair they knocked off $700 from the next-from-the-bottom MacBook - new price $1,299... but the one that people will actually want (with a bigger hard drive and backlit keyboard) is $1,599 - so, in reality, they only did a $200 cut there.

So, it's interesting. They've cut the price points a bit - but in my mind they should have cut them a bit more. If they could have hit the $899 level for the low end MacBook and then priced the next one at $1,199 and the "feature-packed" one at $1,499 - I think people would have just flocked to the stores.

It's only $100 per unit (and I don't know their costs on the thing - but I'm guessing they still have a pretty nice margin) - but the perception by consumers would finally be that Apple "gets it" when it comes to pricing.

As it is, at least they're consistent. They've trimmed a little bit of the price, but if you compare it to other hardware - and the new ultra-cheap "netbooks" - they're still in the elitist, don't-care-if-there's-a-recession, standard Apple pricing mode.

Which is good - if you're Apple.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's All About Productivity

Over the weekend I was continuing my thoughts about how companies are going to face the "interesting" economic times ahead. For sure they're going to reduce expenses and try to maintain or even boost sales - that much is obvious.

The other part of the equation, of course, is keeping on keeping on doing what they do. That takes an orchestrated effort of getting the most out of their people and processes. In order to do that - it will require that folks take a look at what they're doing - and being able to do it better and with more efficiency.

If you sum it all up into a single term - that means that everyone will want/need to be more productive. More productive, and therefore more efficient, in all aspects of their business. This means that the salespeople need to do better - but it also means that product development, customer service, support, marketing and all the other moving parts be enabled to do what they do - better, smarter and faster.

Then I came across an article in CIO Insight that talked about Business Process Improvement (BPI) - and it just confirmed my thoughts and gut instincts:

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Blue Stove" Pricing

Bob's Note: My wife posted a great piece on pricing today on her blog - and I thought it was so good that I've re-printed it here in it's entirety. For those of you who don't know her - Brenda has an MBA and has been doing marketing and consulting for years. This article was originally posted on Marketing FlyTraps just this morning:

How do you price things -- and keep your profit margins as plump as possible in a recession? I like to call my concept "Blue Stove" pricing.

Allow me to explain. Nordstorms - that upper crust store, aimed at selling shoes (and other stuff) to women, is smart enough to know that they need to feed us women while we shop. In the past, they have offered an excellent cafe or bistro within their stores - keeping us with in the store to eat, so we can shop again. It was convenient, had excellent food -- and while not as cheap as going outside the store -- it wasn't Soooo expensive that you were willing to drive somewhere else.

But now comes ... *dum - dum - dum* (cue the recession...) and women are watching their pennies (we want money to spend on shoes...not food).

So recently, Nordstroms introduced a "pairing" restaurant. Its called "Blue Stove". The restaurant literally has a blue stove. The "pairing" menu means they offer "little plates" of delicious food -- priced very reasonably (most are about $5* Actually, they are priced at the .95 cent mark -- this is called psychological price breaks...I'll write about that in my next blog...) and are meant to be shared. For example, a little plate of chopped veggie salad. A small platter of chicken wings - seasoned and cooked to perfection. They can be "paired" with a glass of wine - from very reasonable price ($6/glass) to more expensive($20/split of champagne).

So what, you are asking, does this have to do with pricing my software or my consulting services? Well -- in a recession, we ALL become nervous about our income. Our cash in the bank. We want a bargain, and we want to be conservative.

Your customers do too.

RIGHT NOW, you need to re-think your pricing. You need to do the following:
  1. Figure out what are the top 3 or 4 things your customers buy the most often.

  2. Assess how can you make the price as small as possible. (Chop out stuff, re-plate your offerings into "Tapas" or small plates!)

  3. Determine how you can you make it appear as "value" oriented as possible.

  4. Figure out what other things can you pair it with (e.g. - have the sales guys suggest the "chef" (the expert) says to get 2 or 3 plates and share, wine, dessert -- all these items also re-priced to recession "small bite" pricing...)

Nordstroms NEVER gives the impression that their new Blue Stove restaurant is "cheap" - but they DO reposition themselves (very elegantly, staying within their realm) as giving the customer quality, value, choice -- with the option to spend a "tiny" bit more (on the wine) or a dessert or one extra "small plate".

I bet every lady is spending (almost) the same amount on lunch -- but, boy. Do we feel smug -- having ordered lunch at only $4.95 (well... times 2, plus a small glass of wine, plus a dessert -- that we shared...). Actually, I bet we all spend exactly the same - but we don't feel as jittery about it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Google Goggles

So, I'm not sure where this great invention came from - but Google launched a new feature in Gmail called "Mail Goggles" that gives you the ability to make sure you REALLY want to send that email you wrote at 2:00am after your fifth shot of Jack Daniels.

Really, could I make this up? Here's a blog post of the guy that came up with it

Remember - Google allows their engineers to use 20% of their time for their own projects - anything that they want to pursue. Well, I guess this Mr. Perlow sent a few emails he regretted so... being a geek... he came up with a technological way to program common sense. Oh, I get it - "beer goggles for email" - brilliant!

I guess it was too much of a hassle to just hit "save" and not "send" then wait until the morning to review the email. Nah, that's too easy.

Jon's "big idea" is to make you do some simple math questions (that you have to get right) before the email will be sent. Ahhhh.... geeks with time on their hands!

I guess the thinking is that if you have to answer some math (or are sober enough) - that it will make you think twice before sending that potentially embarrassing or snarky email. In the Gmail "Settings" (upper right side) click on the "Labs" tab - and turn it on.

It will allow you to set a time range so any emails sent on between the times that you specify will all automatically have the safety blanket enabled. If you're a real hot head or a professional drunk - you can set it up so it will check the mails for you every day of the week - not just on Friday and Saturday nights.

Wow - how did I ever live without this?

I mean, it's a "cute" idea and all - and I'm sure someone, somewhere will find it useful and everything - but frankly, I would appreciate it if the engineers spent more time on stuff that actually matters to more than 8 people.

At a time when Google's stock is down more than 20% - one suggestion would be to actually ship one damn product and get 99% of their current products out of "beta."

Oh crap - I guess they don't have Goggles for Blogger yet... oops.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Focus On SaaS

I just got off the phone with world renowned analyst Amy Wohl - and she had some very interesting insights into where SaaS (Software as a Service) is headed in the enterprise world.

As part of the research for her new eBook about the SaaS trends and technology - she and her staff have talked to dozens of SaaS vendors and SaaS technology companies to get their take on where things are going.

PLUG: Check out her website: http://www.wohl.com for availability of the eBook - it should be coming out in the next couple of days (IBM has already bought several thousand copies to give to their customers).

Amy believes that the SaaS adoption rate will continue to climb - even beyond the numbers projected by other analysts like Gartner. She pointed out that in the enterprise - the choice for the adoption of a SaaS solution is driven by whomever has the budget - and not necessarily just about what "IT wants."

As a software entrepreneur that brings up the classic question: What are YOU doing about a SaaS strategy? Do you have one?

If you don't have a strategy - that that becomes your strategy. Not having a plan about what you're going to do about on-demand software is just plain bad business. Even if you decide that SaaS isn't somewhere that you want (or need) to go into - at least you have a plan and a strategy.

If you do decide you want (or need) to go into the on-demand marketplace - there are a lot of other considerations:
  • How much work will I need to do to my current application?
  • Do I even use my current application - or create a new one - just for SaaS delivery?
  • How will I host it - in the cloud (e.g. Amazon), at a service provider?
  • What about SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and guaranteed up time?
  • How am I going to charge for on-demand and still make money?
  • Can I just continue to charge my customers like I do now, and charge them an additional fee to host the app?
  • How am I going to market the new service?
  • Will I cannibalize my on-premises customer sales?
  • What do we think the adoption rate will be among current customers?
  • Should be consider making our application a "white label" product to sell to other providers (or competitors) as well?
  • ... etc., etc., etc.

There are no easy answers - but now's the time to take a good long look at where you're going with your business - and how you can maximize your strengths. It might even be a good time to branch out into other related services or industries with similar needs to the one you're currently serving.

The time to plan is now. The time to take action is now. The health and well-being of your business depends on it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Recession Pricing

Let's face it - times are getting tougher. If we're not in a full-blown recession now - we're on the brink of another nuclear winter - much like the dot com meltdown of 2000.

With credit being tight - and billions in market cap being wiped out by the minute - everyone immediately turns to the place where they perceive they can make the "easiest" cut - their prices. But this is a lazy, knee-jerk reaction at best - and at worst it could kill your business.

A couple of weeks ago Brenda Duncan wrote an interesting article about Pricing In A Recession. She makes my point exactly:
Pricing theory (and in real life!) states that the price of a good or service sends a message to the consumer - about the quality or value or a product. Think about it - do you want to be a “cheap date” or a good date?
Personally, I'd rather be a good date, than a cheap one - and I think my customers would, too (ok, so SOME of them may prefer a cheap date - but that's a subject for another posting). The key to pricing in a recession (or depression - depending on your bullsh*t meter) is the same as it is in good times - those that provide VALUE to the customer will get their business and their dollars. Those that don't, won't.

It's really not rocket science - but it IS a critical issue to every business owner (and consumer) out there. How you handle your pricing and the demonstration of the value that you provide are critical in times like these.

Now is not the time to be shy. If you have success stories (and you should), articles in the press (and you should), customer quotes (and you should) - now is the time to put them front and center in your marketing materials, email signatures and website.

You want to remind people of the value that you're providing - and the fact that your pricing justifies the value you provide. Then you have people who are also verifying that - and you have a much better case when it comes to the "...I love your product (or service) now if we could only do something about the price..." portion of the sales process.

Do yourself and your business a favor - and take a look at your pricing model(s) - and just verify that you're offering the best possible value for the money. If you are - you have a much better chance of survival. If you just keep going on a "business as usual" track - you may not be around to make adjustments later.

Monday, October 06, 2008

10 Ways To Just "Do It"

If ever there was a time to take the Nike slogan to heart - it's now. As I write this - the DOW tanked below 10,000 (9,525.32) for the first time since October 24, 2003 when it hit 9,497.72. That's AFTER a last-minute rally brought it back from another 800 point drop earlier in the day.

Needless to say - the financial markets are going to hell in a hand basket. And not just ours - now it looks like the Europeans are getting into the act as well. French BNP Paribas is going to buy 75% of Belgium's troubled Fortis after a Belgian government buyout didn't do anything to quell investor fears. In Germany (Europe's second largest economy) just struck a $69 billion deal yesterday for commercial lender Hypo Real Estate AG

So, what does that mean for the average Joe Sixpack ISV or Corporate Workgroup?

GET BUSY... NOW! As the budgets tighten and threats of losing customers and potentially weaker sales loom - what can you do today to ensure you're around tomorrow?

I've been thinking about it - and here's 10 things that I think business owners need to take a look at:

1) Reduce non-essential expenses.
OK, OK, so I get the"duh" award for this one - but it's the easiest place to cut expenses. Do you really NEED that new laptop right now? Do you HAVE to travel business class rather than coach on a 5 hour flight? Will your current phone system survive another 6 months?

2) Enhance your own revenue
Again, this falls under the "duh" column - but as the general economy gets tighter - think about how you can position your product or service in such a way that your value proposition is irresistible to your potential customers? Remember - everyone is in the same boat!

3) Enhance your customer's revenue
Are there ways that you can help your customers' bottom line? Can you implement a new system that makes them more efficient - or help them realize hard-cost savings? If you can help them either reduce their costs by making them more efficient - or you can help them add revenue to their top line - you will not only save a customer - but chances are you'll have a customer for life.

4) Help your customers who are in financial trouble
If you're in a position where you get timed payments from your customers - perhaps you can work with them to ensure you will actually get paid when their invoice comes due. Typically, people won't pay the "big ticket" invoices for as long as possible - trying to conserve their cash. However, if you contact those customers and work out a monthly payment schedule or some other way of creative financing - you'll help to boost your own cash flow - and help ensure that you keep a customer - long after this temporarily bad situation shakes out.

5) Do more with less
You need to ramp up your own productivity - and those of your employees. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to prioritize your activities - as I pointed out in Thursday's entry. Have a simple goal - either reducing expenses or raising revenue - and allow that to become the filter for your daily activities. Before you jump into 2 hours of answering emails - ask yourself what you could be doing to lower expenses or raise revenue. It will help you focus on the important issues and allow the "busy work" to take a back seat.

6) Do NOT cut advertising and marketing budgets
This is one of the classic "knee jerk" reactions in a tight market (ok, ok, a recession). The reason that cutting that nice, juicy advertising and marketing budget is a tempting target is because you're not tracking the results of your advertising. If you're tracking the results of your marketing efforts - then you don't have any idea on what is actually making you money and what is just costing you money. The key is not to cut out advertising and marketing - but cutting out the wasteful stuff that doesn't return any value to the company.

7) Take stock of your available resources
Are you making the most of what you've got? Are your team members all aligned on a single goal - or do they just care about their own department's metrics - and nothing else. When times get tight - employees can get jittery about their jobs. This makes them want to do either one of two things - either kick some serious ass and get results - or hide their head in the sand. As a business owner - take stock of all the human assets you have and make sure you're not wasting them. Give them a challenge and you'll be surprised to see how much they can accomplish - without you having to micro-manage. People are smart. They want to work. Give them a chance to shine.

8) Do NOT "slack" on your payments to vendors
This is the second biggest temptation after cutting the advertising and marketing budget. If you know you have some big, timed payments coming due - see if you can work with your vendors (in advance - not after the bill is due) - to see if you can apply some creative financing to what you owe. They will be glad to get in the cash flow - and you won't be faced with paying a huge amount all at once. Everyone will win - and this will allow them to pay their vendors in a timely way, and so on and so on.

9) Project where you want to be
Beyond just doing a triage on your business - this a terrific time to take stock and project in your mind and business plan where you want to be when the economy turns around (and it will turn around eventually). Try to get past the "hang on by our fingernails" portion of the program, and be mindful on how you can add value - and set yourself up for success. The way you conduct your business in down times really says a lot about a business. Make sure that what you say about your business will allow to come out of the other side even stronger and better than you are now.

10) Take action
Failing to take action - is taking action. Don't be a victim - take control of the situation the best you can and kick some butt. Unless your business is less than 4 years old - you've been through some tough economic times before. If you just sit there and do things "business as usual" - you might be around when the smoke clears. Have a plan, adjust it often based on what works, and keep moving. It's always hardest to hit a moving target...

Put on some rain gear, lash yourself to the main mast - and get ready to ride out the storm. The good news is - like all storms - this one will also pass. What shape will you and your business be in when it does? Will you be poised for greater success or will you still be playing catch-up?
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