Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

The Revolution Stops Here

Posted: January 3, 2013 in Current Affairs

What’s left for the digital revolution to conquer now that it can reach beyond the grave? has announced a service that takes the work out of remembering someone by foisting the work back on the individual.  Think of it as an opportunity to write your autobiography complete with music and video “depending on the creativity of the author” as the press release says.

For only $19.99 per year what could go wrong?

Let me enumerate just a few ideas I have.

For those of us not blessed with the verbosity of a Churchill (or even his grammar and punctuation) dealing with the challenge of the blank screen might be just a tad much especially when contemplating with the long good night.

The PR makes the point, quite rightly, that loved ones should not be faced with the task of creating a eulogy in the middle of grieving and all would be better if somehow magically the task could be done already at the time of the funeral.  So, it really doesn’t solve the problem, it merely transfers it to another person, place and time.  I suggest this may be an opening for freelancers but not autobiographers.

Truth be told, most people are no good at narrative or editing — even of their own life stories — and I can see this new service accumulating piles of electronic files, scraps and pieces of a story left for others to knit together.  But also, what is the value add of a service like this?  Don’t we already have access to all of the capabilities needed to create a personalized eulogy?  Aren’t they already available more or less free?

I was hacked

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Current Affairs

I apologize to all my friends and readers who lived through the spamming that resulted from by Facebook account being hacked.  I am hopeful that the problem is now resolved but keep those emails coming if you are getting anything stranger than normal from me.

Nope, out of respect for everyone, I am not going to say anything about how happy or sad I am today about the election results.  Not gonna go there, wouldn’t be prudent…  To everyone, worn ragged by the saturation bombing, I come in peace to talk about profits and what the business community can take away from this national lab experiment.

It wasn’t an experiment?  Well, maybe not in the classic sense of test tubes and Bunsen burners, perhaps, but it was certainly a natural experiment.  It was akin to watching the lives of twins unfolding if they were separated at birth or if one had a disease and the other didn’t.  There’s a lot to tease out of this.

Consider the impact of money and the approach to voter outreach, a.k.a. marketing.  According to today’s New York Times, this presidential election cost in the neighborhood of $6 billion, much of it spent on radio and TV advertising and a lot of it spent by third parties.  But much of the funding raised and much of the communication happened away from traditional broadcast media and came through the combined use of social media, analytics and mobile devices.

Again and again in the coverage of the returns, analysts referred to micro targeting and social media and it was some of the social data that enabled the polling outfits to so precisely measure and predict the outcomes.  This data also lifted fund raising from the grass roots and gave field workers the ability to get out the vote even to the point of providing precinct maps with walking directions.

So what do we take from all of this?  Well, one of the messages I take, and it is not the only one to be had, is this is what’s possible with modern social and mobile technologies that were pioneered in the front office.  It highlights the importance of big data collection and the relevance of modern analytics too.

All parties raised a lot of money to run ads but some of the most effective work was done when the sound was on mute and people could no longer bear to hear another ad, pro or con.  The data collection and analysis enabled the micro targeting that gave the political practitioners the raw materials to customize messages for particular voters, to deliver those messages and to be sure they were seen and therein is the key finding for all of business.

The unmistakable take away for me is that when the marketing budget really is constricted and expensive broadcast approaches become ineffective, the winning approach is through social, mobile and analytics.  And if it can work in this national experiment it will definitely work in business and we are already seeing it.

The six billion dollars the parties spent on this election may turn out to be a high water mark.  Future generations of voters and politicians may look back on recent elections in wonder saying things like, “Remember when we had to…”  It will be just like today saying remember when you had to print a letter and put a stamp on it?  This is a good thing.

So hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call for many people and their attitudes toward global warming.  But I have been trying to make the point for many years that global warming or climate change or whatever euphemism you decide on, is really just one side of the coin.  The other side is the availability of fossil fuels to begin with.

In simple terms, the earth is a finite hunk of water, rock and living matter and the term finite is well chosen.  Resources like fossil fuels maybe quite large but they are not infinite and that has to mean that at some point the resource can be depleted.  Peak oil is all about depletion.  It’s the point beyond which production will not increase and all that is left is limited supply and increasing demand.  When that happens prices rise.

Now, you might say that we aren’t there yet and that there is plenty more oil to be found under the oceans.  To that I say, great!  The cost of drilling a well in the Gulf of Mexico is about $100 million.  Even if there’s no oil in the hole you drill, you still pay to play.  Someone has to pay for that dry hole at the bottom of the ocean and that’s the consumer in the form of higher pump prices.  So peak oil or sub-ocean oil, it amounts to the same thing — higher prices.  And of course nothing changes regarding pollution — the stuff you find in unconventional places still pollutes and causes global warming.

Now let’s add a third component.  The chart supplied here shows that a whopping 94% of the world’s oil is owned and controlled by national oil companies (NOCs).  NOCs like NIDC in Iran play by a different set of rules.  Some NOCs are not about profits and would prefer to keep their oil for domestic consumption.  They don’t care much about the world market or the oil companies and by controlling their output they can control their prices and profits.

So a lot of data is coming together that says oil prices aren’t coming down and a prudent strategy for controlling our destiny and trying to save the planet for our kids is to find another way to propel our cars.  It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either.  We need to quit blowing off the need for change because it’s not convenient or too hard to contemplate.

I believe there’s a lot we can do to avoid travel and carbon use in business and I saw some great examples last week at Microsoft with applications embedded with Skype.  Imagine Skyping from your CRM system to a customer rather than getting in a car.  That wouldn’t radically change your life but it might do much good for other reasons.

Well, the good news, as I survey the neighborhood on the day after is that we survived.  Boston had its moments with more than a quarter million homes without power, but it is nothing compared to the reality of New York City and environs.  We were relatively lucky on this one.

As I write this I am surveying articles about flooding in lower Manhattan and a curious story in the Wall Street Journal has me thinking.  The NYSE was closed yesterday for the storm and today it will be closed again according to the story but curiously, the exchange is denying there has been any damage to the trading floor as in,

We stress that, as of now, there has been no damage to the NYSE Euronext NYC headquarters that would impair trading floor operations,” exchange officials said in a notice to traders.

Perhaps the data centers where all the clearing goes on were not as fortunate? The article goes on to discuss contingency plans.  Whatever.

Maybe the exchange has done a bang-up job of contingency planning for just such an event or maybe it was looking forward to the complete melting of the ice caps.  Whatever happened, and for whatever reason, the exchange is not operating today.  Hurricane Sandy has provided a vivid demonstration to many powerful interests of the greater power of nature and it has reminded us that no one is immune to nature’s fury.

All this comes at a time when Americans are believing more in the assertion of global warming by scientists.  A new report published in October by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication had the following findings, published in the LA Times,

— Those who believe global warming is happening are more certain than those who do not. Over half of Americans who believe global warming is happening (57%) say they are “very” (30%) or “extremely sure” (27%).

— For the first time since 2008, more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities. The proportion of Americans who say it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment has declined to 30%.

— A growing number of Americans believe global warming is already harming people both at home and abroad. Four in 10 say people around the world are being harmed right now by climate change, while 36% say global warming is currently harming people in the United States.

Interestingly, the 57% who said they believed in global warming is a rebound number.  It was as high as 71% in 2008 just before the financial meltdown.

If there is a silver lining to any of this, and you might need to have a pretty tough exterior to say or believe this, it might be a changed attitude in the ranks of the Masters of the Universe especially the climate change deniers who would have much to say about taking effective action because it costs money.

There are two ways to take such effective action.  One is to build a dyke around your property and insulate yourself from the worst effects of another once in a century storm.  The other is to take systemic action to cure or at least mitigate the worst effects of climate change for the planet.

Now that Wall Street is closed for another day, just as a precaution you see, perhaps powerful people will take a moment to reflect on their positions.

This week Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite, a.k.a. Larry’s other company, took over the Marc Benioff chair as guest antagonist but given the relationship between the companies the vibe was more sedate.  For instance, no one went to the talk at the Lam Theater in Yerba Buena Gardens wondering if Nelson would be controversial or if he would utter the words, “We come in peace,” as Benioff once had.  That much was a given.

Nonetheless, Nelson served roughly the same purpose as Benioff; he was the emissary from the cloud.  He functioned as a third party thought leader pointing off in a future direction that Oracle itself could not for various reasons.  Nelson’s direction and his talk cemented one of the key elements of cloud computing for large enterprises contemplating — what to do about the growth of increasingly expensive and hard to maintain ERP systems.  In an era where data and decision-making are continuously being pushed down the chain of command conventional on premise ERP has a flexibility problem and that was the subject of Nelson’s talk.

For at least the last year various vendors have been talking about their two tier strategies in which they provide a second layer of ERP support or they cooperate with other vendors to do so.  Nelson used his time to describe the advantages of using a product like NetSuite in a variety of ways that demanded a second tier of ERP.

For instance, a large multi-national company might use a second tier of ERP systems to capture local or regional data, convert currencies and adhere to local regulations before rolling the results up to corporate in a more tidy bundle.  The two tiers could in practice be all NetSuite but Nelson’s point was to also support heterogeneous environments in which Oracle or SAP might be the corporate standard.

Finally, an question that is on lots of minds during a merger, acquisition or sale of a division is what to do about the financials.  I have to confess that this is not top of mind for me but I can understand how it can be for the principals.  Nelson’s point is that his product, by virtue of its cloud residency, can spin up a company very quickly and enable the separation or merger as the case may be.

The two tier strategy is a happening thing and I expect that we will hear more about it over time and not just from ERP vendors.  Much the same argument could be made for front office conversions.  As multiple conventional CRM systems begin to age out we might see SaaS CRM vendors trying to ease the transition for their own products.

Finally, two tier provides other benefits to companies such as limiting the growth of conventional ERP and initiating a transition that will move some to the cloud eventually and away from big ERP systems.  That’s what Oracle can’t say on its own because as much as it would like to surround SAP systems with NetSuite and eventually convert them, it would not like to see the same thing happen with, say, Microsoft ERP surrounding and ultimately ejecting Oracle from an account.  NetSuite has an inside track right now because it runs a complete Oracle stack which will make conversion easier while keeping it all in the family.

Zach Nelson’s talk was a success.  He presented an appealing vision of ERP in the cloud and for that I think it’s a lock that he’ll be invited back.

This story in yesterday’s WSJ says a couple of things that are net positive for many of us.  Marketo’s CEO, Phil Fernandez, is the poster child for emerging companies that focus on B2B and are non-social.  Both are important because they show that 1) the economy is coming back and showing enough signs of life that the market for business software and venture investing are both resurgent and 2) the world might travel in a social orbit but social isn’t the answer to every business need.  In fact the article makes some stark contrasts between once high flying social vendors and emerging and somewhat boring business software vendors.  Like Aesop’s Fable, the slow and boring business tortoise may be overtaking the sleek and fast but now erratic social hare.  At least in the financial markets, which come to think of it are not really reality; they’re more of an alternate universe.