October 2009


It was many years ago while selling ERP systems that I learned to appreciate the power of technology to help me manage my prospect database. Cutting edge back then was a laptop, Microsoft Windows, MS Word and MS Excel. I used MS Word to craft my proposals and invitations. I used MS Excel to keep tabs of my prospects as they progress from cold to hot leads and everything in between.

Reports were simple because I only had a few leads at any given time. I spent an inordinate amount of time between looking for prospects and nurturing my relationships. Most of those relationships were forged through long hours of sifting through directories, begging for referrals, and sticking by every bit of opportunity that comes my way.

My newfound career in the publishing doesn’t require me to be directly involved in sales but I still have relationships to forge with our company’s customers. My contact database is a respectable 2,300 records of people I’ve met in the last seven years, many of whom have moved about their own respective careers and businesses. So if forging good relationships is important in my job as well as career, how do I keep my tabs of all 2,300 names?

The only technology I use at this time is my Outlook contact database. Is this sufficient? Probably not. It would be good for me to know what each of my 2,300 contact looks like because my memory fades as I age (with grace). It would be nice to greet them on their birthdays – thank you FaceBook! And so on and so on.

A friend suggested I try using customer relationship management (CRM) software. Although I’ve heard of and written a bit about CRM, I’ve never really used one. The sales people in my company have. They tried their hands on a CRM solution from salesforce.com and recently migrated over to Oracle On Demand.

I’ve not been offered nor asked to use the system. I am testing out a couple of free CRM products: FreeCRM, MX-Contact and ZohoCRM. I’ll let you know what my adventures (or misadventures) in finding the right CRM software in a separate story. For now this is about de-linking CRM from customer relationships.

According to Anthony Lye, senior vice president of Oracle CRM, many companies misconstrue having CRM as tantamount to knowing and understanding your customers. He re-iterates an old computing adage: garbage in, garbage out. He warns that many CRM implementations fail because companies implement CRM without understanding the context for which the [CRM] solution is being deployed.

He has a point. Today we are often overwhelmed by the promise of technology and we lose sight of what we want to achieve in the first place. Technology should always be viewed as an enabler of a goal or objective. Process innovation should not be sacrificed in favor of technology.

It’s not a matter of “if you build it, they will come.” Rather, its about listening to your customers whether an opportunity is present or not. My aunt is probably my best role model for developing loyal customers/clients.

I’m not advocating you ignore what technologies like CRM, business intelligence and business analytics can do for you. These are great tools at helping you automate some of the mundane aspects of customer relationship building and nurturing. Rather I am suggesting that we do not let technology, and all the marketing hype that surround it, to overwhelm our sense of what is right and proper. Each of us is endowed with common “business” sense. Use it wisely.

There is an escalating war going on. It started in 2002 with Apple running their now famous Switch advertisements featuring what they call “Real People” who “moved out” of the Windows platform to the Mac. While the switch ad was later replaced by “Get a Mac” in 2006 (and still runs today). In recent years Microsoft has tried a similar tactic but focusing on freedom of choice as its primary value proposition.

I am a Windows user myself both at work and home. I also have a venerable iMAC running OSX 10.4 at home. When I first bought my iMAC I was surprised at how quickly my kids adapted to the new platform even though they bought used Windows PCs at school (they still do). But then again my kids used the iMAC mostly for Net surfing and checking out emails. My wife remains a Windows user although occasionally she powers on the iMAC when she wants a quick check on the web.

I continue to be amazed at the intense Windows versus MAC battles. Apple continues to run these ads enticing people to switch over. But really people, do you honestly think that switching over from XP to Mac OS X just because you hear the horror stories about the early days of Vista is going to be easy. For those who see the hassle of moving from XP to 7 as being difficult, you will face the same hassle of migrating from any Windows platform to Apple Mac.

The reality kicked me very early on when I bought my first Mac. I very quickly realized that I don’t have a plethora of choice in terms of software for the Mac platform. In fact software choice was limited especially during the days of the “G” series processors that powered the Macs of yester-years. Windows emulators back then were notoriously bad. The shift to Intel processors is certainly a welcome boost to most PC users as the Windows software emulators that followed were more stable. The mere presence of Windows emulators suggests that people are not totally out of the Windows world even when they shift to the Mac.

The Windows 7 platform appears (during my tests anyway on a very old – unsupported HP tablet TC1100) stable. It runs most of the XP applications I am familiar with. There is a bit of a learning curve as you learn to grapply with widgets. But the overall experience is pleasant and not as nerve wracking as when I moved to OS X the first time.

I love Apple for continuing to offer OS X upgrades at frequent interval. Likewise I deplore Microsoft’s slow and cumbersome strategy to OS platform upgrades. I can only guess that they are living by the truism “why fix something that ain’t broken?”

Today we live in an “experience” society where product success or failure can be measured by the experience of the individual. Enough individual experience can amass together to destroy (or make it difficult for) a product. The coverse is true. Just look at the mobile platform. For years the dominant OS was Symbian that powered Nokia. Then along came Windows that tried but failed to get sufficient traction because the PC experience is clearly not very conducive for mobile users. When Apple launched the iPhone, users quickly fell in love with the touch experience. Windows has tried to emulate this as it partners with device manufacturers to come up with better user interface but the experience isn’t quite up there as that of the iPhone/iPod Touch.

What I’m getting at here is that anyone who thinks that migrating from Windows XP to Mac OSX is going to be pain free will be in for a rude awakening, particularly for those who are heavy into Windows-based applications. Checkout whether the programs you have been using, and for which you have lots of data resting in archives – say your accounting program or your spreadsheets or your data files. Before you decide to switch to the “cool” MMac factor, find out if there are equivalent programs on the Mac platform that will take your data and allow you to move forward seamlessly. If this is not possible, your choice is clear, stay with Windows. The new Windows 7 platform is an amazing leap forward by Microsoft. I just hope that Microsoft moves a lot faster with its succession of OS updates.

PS: To Microsoft – notice how Apple’s OS is priced way, way cheaper than Microsoft’s? Apple has learned that the fastest way to get into people’s heart is through great experience. The fastest way of shifting hardliners is through their wallets.

I’ve been doing marketing for many years now and I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of a brand to a business. As a consumer I never really appreciated “brand” as a business strategy at least until I started to equate quality with brand. Quality is not only about the physical aspects of a product. It also reflects upon the soft-side of a product… things like pre-sales and post-sales support. Are you lost with what I am trying to get at? Let me use a real example.

My birthday was coming and my wife asked me what I wanted for a gift. Looking around the only thing I needed was a portable USB DVD drive (reader-writer). So I went to my favorite computer mall and shopped around for what I thought were brands worth looking into. I didn’t pay attention to what I thought were OEM brands and instead opted for those with familiar brand name like Samsung, Lacie, LG, Sony, and Buffalo. There was very little to differentiate the drives – in fact if you didn’t look at the packaging and brand you’d swear they were all from the same manufacturer suggesting not much effort was put in the creative aspect of design. Anyway, I chose the Samsung Ultra Slim External DVD Writer “Super-writemaster” (US-632/633). The retailer said it came with a one-year warranty, “just make sure you got the invoice.”

My wife bought the thing, gift-wrapped it and presented it to me on my birthday. I was very happy. That same evening I unwrapped it, plugged it into my computer, and off it went to work. I burned one DVD containing my archive of photos and stowed the device away. I used it a few more times over the course of the next two months. At the beginning of the third month, the drive stopped working. The light would turn green for a few seconds as you hear the drive motor quietly whirling about. But when the light died, the drive died. I tested it on three laptops – all different brands, each with a different version of Microsoft Windows, nothing.

I tried calling the number on the box. The line was engaged for the five times I attempted to call – different days of the week, different times of the day. Knowing the PR agency for Samsung, I contacted them for help. After several emails I was told that Samsung Hong Kong did not sell this particular drive model in the Territory. So I am stuck with a US$90 brick.

Its not really the money that I care so much about (well, I can be stingy at times so yes money is still important) but its also about the trust you build with the brand. How can Samsung (or your favorite brand) betray your trust and expect you to be loyal to that brand? The excuse that the product you bought is a parallel import is nothing more than an excuse. Yes, its aimed at protecting the local distribution channel I understand that. But what protection does the customer/consumer have when the product was bought from what appears to be a legitimate store?

We are in an increasingly global world where you can buy just about anything from the Internet. Vendors like Samsung are selling on the web as well. But what does it tell you when your favorite supplier renegs on the promise of the brand citing “not bought locally” as the excuse?

I have a 5 year old Iomega external DVD writer. If not for its humongous size, I wouldn’t have asked my wife to buy me the Samsung drive. But old as it is, it still works perfectly each time I plug a blank disc to backup some of my work.

I say boycott brands that don’t honor the promise of their brand regardless of where their product was sold or bought. The obligation (not duty) is on the brand to honor their promise.

One final note about Samsung and the quality of its products. In case you think this is just me ranting my heart out, try Googling “complaints about samsung products” and you’ll be surprise at the results. Go ahead!

Some credit the dotcom boom as the birth of software-as-a-service or SaaS (and all the succeeding xxxx-as-a-service offering). Back then it was called ASP or application service provision. Today, we call is SaaS and there are trends indicating it might eventually called cloud service in the very near future. Before you mis-quote me, let me be clear… ASPs are NOT SaaS vendors. There is a difference.

Around 2002 if you were to asked around the vendor community how many had any SaaS-like offering, you’ll be surprise at how few would admit to this. In fact most traditional on-premise vendors tout the importance of customization and keeping your data close to you.

Today, its hard to find any major software vendor who doesn’t have a SaaS strategy somewhere. Some even dare to say that the only future is a SaaS one?

Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource, a provider of infrastructure for delivering cloud services, says there are lots of SaaS-wannabes and you should learn to spot these from the genuine McCoy.

Andrew Antal, senior director of Marketing in Asia Pacific Japan at MessageLabs, notes that not everyone can be a SaaS vendor. It takes more than just adding the SaaS label in the product literature.

Ask your SaaS vendor to look you straight in the eye and tell you that their SaaS offering isn’t the same old product they used to sell with but with a web UI bolted to it and served up at an ASP-style data center.

According to purists, a true SaaS applications is built for the web. Being web-ready or web-enabled does not mean SaaS. So if a vendor approaches you and tells you they have a SaaS offering just right for your business, dig very deep into their history before you commit to anything. You might just become another ASP victim.

You don’t have to go to a nightclub to watch a lap dance. If you happen to attend the annual Yahoo Hack Day event in Taiwan, and you got picked, you would have been treated to a lap dance. I’d say its a secret dream of many a young man who has never been to a raunchy night club or strip joint.

BusinessInsider and Reuters recently posted a story highlighting a new PR strategy for Yahoo. Each year the web search company holds a number of Hack Days. Hack Days are events hosted by Yahoo!—sometimes with other partners—in which participants are encouraged to create web applications in 24 hours ideally using one or more of Yahoo’s APIs or open source libraries. They normally consist of a combination of structured talks and unstructured ‘hacking’ time, often run overnight and normally conclude with a hack demo session with prizes for the best hacks.

The incident prompted angry cries of protest from some of the female developers attending the event.

This is an unusual PR stunt because it was done at a public event and one that is likely to go into the books for what you can get away with at a public event. To be fair, PR people are always under pressure to create something exciting to attract people to come to an event. I’m sure some marketers have done “closed” events that would make my mom throw a brick my way followed by streams of invectives.

To be frank I’m not really sure why there is so much uproar on this. Don’t people watch noon time shows on TV that picture scantilly clad young women strutting their stuff to the tune of music. Many of these such shows have audiences comprised of men, women, and young children clapping their hands merrily as the women gyrated their hips, buttocks and chests. Click here to see some clips of Wow Wow Wee from the Philippines.

Yahoo did apologize for the event in a blog post Monday evening, calling the incident “regrettable” and promising that it would not happen again.

The first internal Hack Day at Yahoo took place on December 8, 2005. The first public Hack Day took place between September 29-30th of 2006 at the Yahoo! campus in Sunnyvale, California.

Picked up early this morning on Wall Street Journal is breaking news about a potential sale of Brocade to the right buyer. Among the parties interested in the networking vendor are Hewlett-Packard and Oracle.

Brocade has a market cap of US$3.2 billion with 2008 revenue at nearly US$1.5 billion.

Any sale of Brocade will likely impact the business of HP, IBM, HDS, Sun Microsystems and EMC. All these vendors resell Brocade-made products either under OEM or the Brocade label. In the short-term, Cisco sales people will have a field day running after long-time Brocade customers and channel partners as the usual “fear, uncertainty and doubt” or FUD gets thrown in to wreck the nerves of companies that have invested heavily in Brocade technology to keep their storage area networks up and running.

Brocade dominates the Fibre Channel switch market following its acquisiton of McData in 2006. Recognizing the importance of Ethernet in the overall network storage fabric ecosystem, it bought Foundry Networks in 2008.

Rumors of Brocade being up for sale dates back as far as 2003 when McData was rumored to be in talks with Brocade to acquire the latter. But three years later, it was the other way around. I doubt that we will see Cisco buying Brocade if only to kill the competition and dominate the market. but certainly if HP acquires Brocade it would significantly enhance its networking capability.

Rumors of HP’s interest in Brocade have been floating around for years. It would certainly complement’s HP’s networking portfolio which is largely hinged on the HP ProCurve business and supplemented by its OEM deal with Brocade.

Oracle is the bigger wildcard here. Oracle is in the midst of closing its Sun Microsystems acquisitions. The market is awash with rumors that the hardware piece of Sun would be sold off. But if Oracle were to acquire another hardware vendor – say Brocade – it would certainly mean that any potential sale of Sun hardware may no longer be on the table and that Oracle is really commited to its CEO’s vision of offering customers complete systems.

Ittai Kidron, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., explains in a research note that an Oracle acquisition of Brocade suggests the company will have to commit to the hardware business for the long-term. Brocade is a nice fit and has no overlap with its Sun purchase according to Kidron.

Any acquisition of Brocade by any of the server vendor will have to be thought out properly. Brocade has large OEM and reseller deals with a number of server vendors. As the Cisco entry into the server business has shown, vendors will more than likely shop elsewhere if Brocade becomes just another product line of a server vendor.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte reckons IBM and Dell may also be potential buyers, “I don’t think you’ll see EMC or Cisco buy them.”

Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research analyst Aaron Rakers also put in Juniper as another possible buyer.

Watch this space as we monitor, report and analyze the developments surrounding the potential sale of Brocade. At this point it is everyone’s guess as neither Brocade nor the potential suitors are saying mum. It is also very possible that Brocade is just trying to get a feel for the market. Afterall rumors are the stuff of the tech industry.

It sounds apocalyptic but its nowhere near that. Following Dell’s acquisition of Perot Systems, Norwalk-based Xerox announced it is buying Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for US$6.4 billion. Xerox is best known for its copier business and more resently repositioned itself (a little) as a document management company – much the same ways as its traditional competitors like Canon and Ricoh.

According to the Xerox press release, the acquisition will create a US$22 billion “global enterprise for documnet technology and business process outsourcing”. This deal puts Xerox in the US$150 billion BPO map.

ACS is one of those American companies that outsources a large chunk of its operations to outside the US, having started this model outsourcing to Mexico and Ghana in the early years – according to the Wall Street Journal. It gets majority of its business in the US though, particularly in the US healthcare sector where it claims it did about US$1 billion (out of US$6.5 billion). ACS reports that 40% of its revenue comes from government contracts.

The debate around the merits of this acquisition will run for sometime with industry observers watching how Xerox integrates the much larger ACS into the fold and train its own sales organization to sell BPO services. Expect to see a scramble among back-office BPO players to reposition themselves against a much larger, albeit less focused, Xerox/ACS.

Phil Fersht, a research director at AMR Research, wrote on his blog that the challenge for the combined entity is “a new throng of competitors in this space: Cognizant, Genpact, Infosys, TCS et al., and not solely the incumbents such as Accenture, Capgemini and IBM. The combined Xerox-ACS business will have a short-term potential to consolidate a commanding position in back-office BPO areas such as document management, call center, payroll, benefits admin and accounts payable.”

Robert Brown, an analyst with Gartner, believes this acquisition is about combining Xerox’ technologies, brand and global reach to ACS’ BPO leadership. The fact that ACS has strong penetrayion into the US healthcare industry is a tangetial piece to the rationale.” He concedes that healthcare BPO services will remain strong for the coming years.

What is the impact of this deal to Asia Pacific? Not much at least in the short term according to TJ Singh, Gartner research director for BPO. “It’s important to note that in Asia, Xerox operates through their JV with Fuji (FujiXerox). Currently Fuji Xerox has BPO assets in Asia Pacific, especially in Australia whilst ACS uses the region primarily as an offshore service delivery location. In the near term, the focus of this merger will be on North America and EMEA but over the medium to long term we should see greater engagement in Asia Pacific as the new entity streamlines its (BPO) sales, marketing and operations with FujiXerox and explores new opportunities.”

What he means is that incumbent BPOs in Asia can relax… for now. But when the BPO-armed Xerox comes to town, then the weeping and grinding of teeth can begin.

What can we expect after this? More M&As in the outsourcing front. Companies worth considering include CSC (USA), CGI (Canada), WNS (India) and Patni (India).

The New York Times quotes Rod Bourgeois, an analyst at Bernstein Research as saying “the merger trend isn’t over, but you are running out of companies that are small enough to reasonably acquire and yet large enough to make a difference”.

Gartner senior vice president of Research, Pete Sondergaard, notes that the outsourcing trend will continue not because labor costs are high but because technology is getting too complex to manage cost-effectively. Operating expenses are up, fix asset costs are coming down.