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Oracle starts the first full day of Open World today down one game in its best of five series with its customers after two uninspired keynotes by HP EVP Ann Livingston  and CEO Larry Ellison.  Not to belabor the point, but I must, HP’s, keynote was a run of the mill commercial while Ellison’s was short on vission.

Mercifully HP’s effort was short and to the point.  Unfortunately it seemed to me, and the analysts around me, that it was last year’s message if not a verbatim re-presentation.  It could be condensed into a simple tag line — buy more stuff, please.  Got it.

Neither speech ignited a huge Sunday night audience that was clearly set to be launched into a week of discovery and learning.   There was no theme, which seemed odd to me because candidates abounded.  Absent any mention of the sour economy and our need to climb out of two years of tough times, the business climate naturally took on the aura of the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla.

Some nod to this reality and a link to technology as a savior that can help all companies rise above their circumstances was all that was needed but not supplied.  Instead we got more or less a grocery list of important things that could have carried greater impact if they’d been arranged better.

Larry Ellison didn’t seem to be on his game.  His talk lacked what the first George Bush called “the vision thing” even as he introduced a new hardware offering — Exalogic — a combination of Sun technology, Oracle database, virtual machines and support for several flavors of Unix.  Exalogic looks like a real computing beast capable of running all of Facebook on two racks.  Exalogic is fault tolerant and boasts a host of added value over its nearest SMP rival from IBM and costs about 75% less but Oracle managed to bury the lede in an avalanch of details that would have been better left for a breakout session.

When Ellison wasn’t extolling the considerable virtues of Exalogic he was trying to redefine cloud computing or, curiously, bashing Red Hat Linux.  I am not a Unix guy but apparently the difference between Red Hat Unix and Red Hat Compatible Unix from Oracle is something to care about.  I think it got silly when Ellison said Oracle does not test its database with Red Hat, only with its compatible offering, and that Red Hat returns the favor.  I am not sure many customers were reassured.

I am something of a cloud computing guy though, having followed its evolution at least as long as anyone in the audience or perhaps even on the planet.  I remember the bad old days of client-server architected systems that broke easily because they lacked standards and because they were incredibly difficult to build and maintain.

I also remember the high costs of systems that took two or three times the software license fee to pay for customization and implementation.  Cloud computing and its direct antecedents brought those days to an end replacing them with multi-tenant internet accessible solutions that have made gains in robustness, reliability and power every year for over a decade.

The fashion today is for recent converts to cloud computing to cherry pick the gains and consolidate them into what they are calling cloud computing.  The formula that the industry is settling on includes browser based interfaces and software managed on a server farm off in the distance but not multi-tenancy.  This enables them to appropriate the cloud business model of charging by use and offering what they call elasticity for computing power.  Elasticity is a very good thing but cloud computing should be more than infrastructure as a service.

This conception of cloud computing, which looks a lot like a time sharing redux, preserves the most lucrative parts of the old software licensing paradigm complete with the need for a smaller army of developers to knit it all together.

Such is Oracle’s conception of what cloud computing should be and for reinforcement it points to Amazon’s EC2 model as proof.  In the Oracle conception the pioneering bookseller is on the leading edge of advanced technology while the trailblazing is merely ten years old and destined for history’s ash heap.  This definition is gaining altitude but only in the way that any other flat earth theory repeated often enough sounds credible.

Of course, this kind of one-upsmanship has been a staple of the software industry for decades and the rest of the cloud community will have many opportunities to present its case beginning as soon as Wednesday when Marc Benioff invades the Yerba Buena Theater to give his own version and vision of cloud computing.

Nothing is guaranteed in life but I would bet body parts that Benioff will give a thoughtful and inspiring talk on the future of cloud computing — just the thing that we badly needed but didn’t get on Sunday.

Today the sessions start and the real information exchanges can begin in earnest.  There is an incredibly full docket and I am confident that things will look a lot different by day’s end.  The pitching staff failed in the first game, but as in baseball, you can’t do anything about yesterday so don’t dwell on it.  Today’s game will be better.

Back to the survey

Posted: September 8, 2010 in CRM

Back in August I wrote about some research I had gotten into mostly for fun.  You might recall it.  I searched on a company name and the word “sucks” and reported what I found.  The point of the research was not to be salacious or to offend anyone.  In political circles, it’s known as discovering one’s “negatives,” here’s how it works.

Suppose you wanted to find a politician’s approval rating.  We do it all the time, it’s part of polling to see, for example, how well the public appreciates what a person in political life is doing.  The question used to gather this data can be as simple as, “Do you think so-and-so is doing a good job?”  You usually get back three categories of answers — yes, no and no opinion.  Each category is important.  Obviously, if you are running for office, you’d like to see your yes votes or positives exceed your opponent and, in a perfect world, also exceed fifty percent.

Just as important though are the negatives or no votes.  Because it’s harder to change a person’s mind than it is to convince that person in the first place, low negatives and higher undecideds is what you aim for simply because you want to be convincing people of your approach rather than trying to get them to forget some gaff.

So, what my little survey did was simply try to measure the negatives.  Companies do this all the time with satisfaction surveys but a satisfaction survey is far from perfect for lots of reasons.  Measuring “customer sat” frequently means narrowing down the survey area to a specific instance — were you happy with the service you got today?  Yes?  Great!  Alert the media!

As you can see this approach can ignore any larger concern a customer might have.  For instance, I hate most airlines but I have to fly.  I’m tall and my body doesn’t fold neatly into a cramped seat.  Airlines know this and often they don’t even try to find out how I really feel.  I took a satisfaction survey recently and the vendor only wanted to know three things.  I have forgotten two of the three metrics they measured but the third had to do with being on time.  Maybe the other two had to do with unscheduled mid-air stops, I forget, but they set the bar pretty low for themselves.

So, a sat survey is not the place to find out what your customers really think, it’s a band-aid at best.  That’s why the sucks survey is so useful, it provides an un-varnished look at what people really think.  And since this method only measures the people who were upset enough to write something or to create a blog dedicated to trashing the vendor, I have to say it’s a good hard core measure.

Ok, now for today.  There was something left unwritten in my series on what sucks.  Going back to the political analogy, companies with low negatives have an inherent advantage over their competitors who might have higher negatives.  Low negatives represent good will, something you can count on when you can’t count on more tangible things.  Will your customers be with you if you stumble or will they be willing to work with you on a new product in a long beta program?  The good will you store up is like money in the bank.

Interestingly, the company that had the lowest negatives of all those I looked at was  They weren’t perfect for sure, they had ninety two thousand hits on the search but in comparison to British Petroleum at 2.5 million or Dartmouth College at over one million or even Starbucks that had over three hundred thousand negatives, Salesforce looks good.

To be sure Salesforce has stumbled a few times, for instance when the service degraded and everyone thought it was the end of the world.  But in that situation Salesforce simply became very transparent and launched a series of community outreach initiatives to keep customers informed about its performance.  This is not to say that other vendors don’t do similar things, it’s just that Salesforce gets very good results for these efforts.

Case in point, for about the last year Salesforce has been developing and deploying a new product called Chatter for coordinating how large groups work using crowd wisdom.  The beta program was by most standards very successful with more than 500 companies participating in the final stages.  That’s a huge number for a beta and more companies could have been accommodated but you have to draw the line somewhere.

My point is that at least indirectly, Salesforce’s low negatives contributed to giving its customers the confidence to work with the company in the development and beta process.  Of course, low negatives are the result of many things including customers realizing that they are receiving good value for their investments.  Taken together this is an example of what happens when you deliver transparency and value and in this economic environment especially, it can be very important.Managing Principal

Tell them what you are going to say, say it and then tell them what you told them.  The rule of three, that’s the approach to its market outreach and it has served them well over the last decade.  Tuesday was part three of the Chatter cycle in which the company culminated nearly a year of activity by announcing general availability of the product.  Today they’ll start working on what to say at Dreamforce something they’ll be talking about for 2011.  I can summarize the importance of the announcement, which was held at the San Jose Convention Center, can in several points.

First, the timeline of Chatter’s development is an important proof point for  In only eight months, Salesforce went from concept to general availability.  There may be other companies that have delivered a product in eight months or less but the importance here is that Salesforce was not building a common database application and they were not simply deploying something that was already built.

They were iterating and, in part, inventing a new style of application so I expect there was a lot of iterative prototyping going on.  That’s a bit more overhead and speaks well to the platform’s robustness.  I am surprised no one made a big deal about the platform during this announcement.  Maybe it was a missed opportunity or maybe something had to be left unsaid or we’d still be there.

Second, while Salesforce had other social applications to cull ideas from such as Facebook, Chatter is different because it is focused on the business organization as opposed to personal relationships.  Chatter enables a higher degree of collaboration than earlier purpose built tools or earlier product categories like email.  At lunch press members asked CEO Marc Benioff if he had hard numbers and we were told that numbers would be forthcoming.

That’s not surprising given that Tuesday was the first day of general availability.  But the company said it was eating its own dog food and that six thousand companies were now Chatter enabled so I would expect some data soon.  Caveat: like they say about mileage, yours may vary.

The interesting thing to me and the real power of Chatter is that as a collaboration tool it integrates — no intercalates — itself with a business application.  Rather than asking you to use a separate piece of software for the purpose of collaboration, Chatter is built into the application and thus brings collaboration to the user.  The impact is clear.  Collaboration can now be something that’s an accepted part of business practice rather than something you formally do with a separate tool at a prescribed time.  The result should be the savings we asked about at lunch.

I think collaboration has a strong role to play in sustainability — not for green reasons but because better communication leads to better understanding and if you can drive understanding through software it makes other forms of communication less necessary.  Ever since humans domesticated the horse the preferred mode of communication and collaboration — which literally means working together — was to be face to face or in the same room.  With collaboration tools it’s now possible to work together apart, if you follow my drift.

The benefit this provides to modern business is huge, of course.  But it also means a renewed emphasis on mobility which Salesforce was only too happy to promote.  Salesforce has done a lot to ensure its applications — including Chatter — run on popular mobile platforms including BlackBerry devices, iPhones and now the iPad.  Not content to simply run in a browser on the iPad, Benioff announced and showed an iPad native application to be available later this year.

Of course, with mobility and collaboration workers can be anywhere as long as they have Internet access and they can participate and be relevant to any internal business process and that will be increasingly important if and when we see fuel prices head north again.

So forgive me if this seems like it’s rambling but if you’ve been here before you know the themes.  There are a lot of ideas to sum up.  Chatter is released, it represents the start of the collaboration era, not because Salesforce was the first to bring a product to market but because it was very early to figure out how to embed it in real business processes.  Collaboration is essential to making our business processes more sustainable and that’s a theme we’ll be living with for the rest of our lives.

Using emerging technologies to foster more sustainable front office business processes.

Sustainability might be the next big thing in CRM.  I’m betting it is and Beagle Research is initiating an award for sustainability in CRM.  Today.  Now.

Everywhere we look we see not just an industry but also a civilization straining under the demands of growth.  Now, growth is generally a good thing for an economy but one of its hidden characteristics is that it periodically forces us to change the way we do things.  What is affordable and practical one day can become expensive and cumbersome overnight.  We’re living in one of those times.  The solution to such challenges is to find ways to make what we do more sustainable, to substitute, change and innovate new and better ways of doing things.  In business that means our processes and then some.

The things we take for granted in our business dealings are becoming less constant.  Customers are tapped out, the new product engine has stalled and travel is becoming so expensive that it may soon squeeze margins and affect our ability to meet with people.  Some of this is blowback from the recession but other aspects may be a long-term trend forming.  Regardless of the causes, as business people we need to discover and develop solutions that mitigate these influences so that we can continue doing business.

We’ve given these issues considerable thought and in response, today, Beagle Research introduces a new award and report focusing on sustainability and the things that CRM can do to help every business to become more sustainable.

The award and report are called ThinkForwardä.  We borrowed the idea of “think” from Thomas Watson, Sr. of IBM fame and from Steve Jobs each of whom asked us to think and then think differently at critical points in the evolution of our industry.

We believe it’s time to think again but this time we need to think ahead about a world that will be resource constrained in many dimensions.  The conditions we watch and write about in the report show slower growth and rising transportation costs coupled with a customer-base that is growing less interested in absorbing more goods.

Just in time, we also see a market brimming with front office technologies that help vendors and customers to identify opportunities and satisfy them with maximum efficiency, using resources wisely.  We think sustainability provides the organizing principle for the next phase of CRM, a phase filled with opportunity if we focus on crowdsourcing, social media and strategies for substituting intelligent technologies for travel.

We see numerous front office software companies bringing products to market that by themselves may not garner a great deal of attention from the mainstream market but we also see these solutions as keys to a more sustainable business environment.

The ThinkForward report identifies seven companies whose solutions typify the kinds of solutions that, in some cases, may not be core to CRM today but which will be essential in the future.  In one way or another these companies evidence solutions that help vendors better understand and target opportunities, marshal resources and engage customers in new and more sustainable ways.

The award winners include Brainshark, Cloud9 Analytics, Communispace, iCentera, Kadient,, Unisfair and Zuora.  As our report documents, each of these vendors offers solutions that help their customers to do business in more sustainable ways either by treating customers more like renewable resources, reducing the travel and energy requirements of many front office processes, or by capturing and leveraging crowd wisdom to enable companies to better hone products and messages.

We salute these pioneers and encourage you to consider how making your businesses more sustainable can help drive new revenues and profits as the world continues to change around us.

Mary Jo Foley’s column today focuses on news that Microsoft has filed a suit against for patent infringement.  I have no idea at all about what the merits of the case may be or the technology involved and I am a spectator like you.  But I can’t help making the observation that I hope for its sake that Microsoft has credible evidence because I think Marc will have a lot of fun at Microsoft’s expense when it’s over.

VMforce is New, New Force

Posted: April 12, 2010 in CRM, Technology
Tags: ,

Ok, the name of the new Force is VMforce and it will be presented jointly by Marc Benioff CEO of and Paul Maritz, president & CEO of VMware.


We know what each product does so the question is how do they fit together and does this mean Salesforce is getting into the business of running classic or traditional software on its service?  Kendall Collins was right, this is big, if this is what it is.  Read about it or register here.

If you are having a hard time getting your head around Salesforce’s Chatter, you are probably in good company.  Chatter is a social media application that resembles Facebook but unlike that popular destination site, Chatter is focused on the internal community of the enterprise.  A natural reaction to Chatter by an enterprise executive might be “so what” or “I don’t need it in my business, let the employees socialize on their own time.”

The idea of wasting time through social media is not often explicitly stated but it is felt and it is something that might have retarded the Enterprise 2.0 movement initially.  But this is a false concern and the falseness becomes apparent if you view Chatter and, by extension the whole idea of social CRM, in economic terms rather than as pure business or socialization.  You might think that’s a difference without a distinction but I would differ and here’s why.

I think of Chatter, within the enterprise, as an economic organizing principal because it sets up an informal and highly active trading network almost immediately.  I spoke with Dan Petlon, CIO of Enterasys, a Chatter beta user the other day and that’s what he indicated so I’m going with it.

The basic premise of Chatter, which is built into the foundational layer of the Salesforce service, is that everything within the service can be treated as an object.  From a specific customer or deal to a PowerPoint presentation objects can be subscribed to meaning that when something changes, a notification is automatically issued to all subscribers.  People within the organization can be thought of as objects too (in only the best way) meaning that an individual and all of his or her attributes can be catalogued.

Chatter is like a crossroads and its market springs up from nothing save an individual’s interests, such as doing a job well.  Since Chatter operates within the organization the traditional model of supply and demand economics is not the best fit simply because individual actors don’t profit from interactions or commerce within Chatter so much as the organization.  In this aspect, with everyone working for a common good — i.e. the success of the business — it is more akin to a social economic model.  What did you expect from social media, Adam Smith?

So for example, in the trading world set up by Chatter, a sales person might subscribe to a support person’s stream or the stream of a sales engineer.  This bilateral arrangement is not much different from what you might have if everyone was simply very good at documenting and emailing their activities, even though we know this is rarely the case.

Where Chatter shows its power, and where the trading economy kicks in, is that the sales manager and various VPs can just as easily subscribe to those streams.  So, for instance, when the sales or service rep has an encounter with a customer and needs help, information automatically reaches all subscribers who might be in a position to lend a hand.  This becomes incredibly valuable when the sales rep, for instance, is out of the office.  Under normal conditions the rep might have to ask for help or the need might be discovered in a monthly forecast long after the customer could have benefitted from some attention.  With Chatter, subscribers can volunteer their help because a) they have the information and b) they all have the same self-motivation, a profitable company.

This is one simple example but it helps to illustrate a point.  Chatter enables a freer method of sharing information, another way to say transparency.  This transparency is not earth shaking but it can be game changing for while businesses and their leaders might like home runs (who doesn’t?); it’s very often the base hits that win the game.

So, in my mind the best way to look at Chatter is through the lens of economics.  It enables a market of ideas that is highly efficient, aimed at one goal — the success of the enterprise by making individuals successful.  It also eliminates time and distance constraints.  Very often time and distance leave opportunity for competitors to arbitrage a situation, for instance enabling them to buy or sell ahead of the news.  Within the enterprise this opportunity for arbitrage cannot be a good thing because the arbitrageurs are outside the company and have different interests.  So, eliminating the opportunity for arbitrage is one of those key base hits that eventually add up.

Business is in a zero-sum situation right now and it will probably be here for years.  New markets don’t need social media or communities simply because supply is lower than demand.  But in older markets supply and demand equilibrate or demand slackens below the available supply, the story changes and vendors need every advantage to address whatever demand there is.  Socializing internal communications and customer outreach is a way to differentiate a product with the best possible service — some would argue this enhances the customer experience and I would agree.

For these reasons, Chatter or something like it, appears to be the next big thing for enterprise software.  Without it companies may find themselves unable to compete effectively like a store one block removed from the main drag.