Posts Tagged ‘ucs’


Note to self: Write something nice about Microsoft Convergence 2012.  They did a great job in Houston and most importantly you can really see the CRM focus coming together with social, mobile, analytics, back office and a lot more.  It’s taken a long time because there are a lot of moving parts for Microsoft but Convergence was impressive.

To get a sense of all the wonderfulness surrounding Convergence you need only glance at some of the many observations made by the likes of Paul Greenberg, Brent Leary, Dennis Howlett, Josh Greenbaum and many others.  So Kudos to Microsoft.

My observations will be somewhat different.  While I also think Microsoft has made important strides and I applaud their CRM team, I want to focus on what’s around the bend.  First there’s the new CRM GM, Dennis Michalis who took over from Brad Wilson after Wilson turned Microsoft into a CRM power almost by sheer force of will.

Michalis is a find, the kind of acquisition that, if he was a stock, would have been overlooked by everyone but Warren Buffet.  From what I can tell, Michalis has spent most of his career in Europe or the Far East and did well in those market; however, he was somewhat off the radar when Microsoft saw his talent and scooped him up.  Michalis has been with the company only a few months so this year’s Convergence was still mostly the result of Wilson’s efforts.  Michalis will have to stand on some big shoulders to do better and I think he can.

For starters, he will need to flesh out the social, and to a lesser degree, mobile strategies and product lines to be truly competitive.  Microsoft is not a social powerhouse and trails in the mobility wars, at least on the mobile operating system side (and that’s a lot).  But they have a strategy to offer their CRM on multiple browsers and in fact, demoed a mobile application for the iPad, which was impressive.  Their analytics package for sales, form what I saw, is powerful and sports a nice and intuitive interface though overall the product still has a straight from the software lab look to it.

The company’s biggest advances were, in my opinion, not software related though — they more clearly relate to the company evolving from an ERP company to more of a CRM company.  This needs some explaining.

First, it was nice to see Kirill Tatarinov speak about the drivers that his organization takes into account when trying to figure out product direction.  He said they include economics, geopolitics, people and technology, and I think that’s hugely important, though I don’t think it has been the case in the past.

The business climate, the cost of fuel and raw materials, the stability of the local political regime including personal freedom and free markets, all go into what will drive demand as well as the nature and character of demand.  They drive what people will buy and the style of the technologies they will use in their personal and professional lives.  All this might seem to affect ERP more than CRM but I think the distribution of influence is roughly equal.

But those are high level ideas and truth be told, it’s an ongoing effort to get them down to street level and there are some key things that I think Microsoft can do better in that regard.  For starters, the company culture is one of a vendor selling through distribution to others who will produce a final full product.  In ERP they’ve been successful at imagining customer business practices and driving solutions to market in some key areas, especially manufacturing.  This hasn’t been the case, to the same degree in CRM and it needs to be.

Microsoft needs to do a better job now of connecting its many dots.  For example, it is still at the point where it is hitting checklist items like social — so that it can compete with the likes of Salesforce — but without offering a compelling story of how a business progresses because it adopts new technology.  Salesforce calls it the social enterprise and Microsoft has no counter.  It is still selling components, modules, and it needs to elevate its game.

Also, too frequently for my taste, Microsoft likes to show off customers who have heavily customized their CRM instance, especially non-profits.  It’s nice to see non-profits in the mix, but the focus needs to be on for profit business.  Also, this makes points for their XRM strategy which goes against Salesforce’s Force.com platform, but it is wide of the mark for a customer that wants out of the box functionality that works the way its business works and drives improvement.

Cloud computing is another area for tightening up.  Here Microsoft joins the rest of the market excepting Salesforce, in highlighting the benefits of a go-it-yourself, roll-your-own strategy of hybrid clouds in which customers get to decide where their data resides.  I don’t think this is the right strategy for any vendor and here’s why.  We see too many examples of companies who manage their own data being hacked and increasingly the hackers are not individuals with an ax to grind but nations like China stealing IP or radicals like Anonymous aiming for industrial scale mayhem.

In this world, the strategy shouldn’t be building your own bomb shelter.  Microsoft and the other vendors have a credible case to make that they can and do perform a superior job of keeping data safe and that the time for going it alone is rapidly ending.  A more credible and strategic program might be for all vendors to say, “Hey, we’re the pros at this, let us handle it.”  If I ruled the world (hahaha!) that’s the tactic I would take.  It will take some years to accomplish this education but we need to start now.  And we need to quit deluding ourselves with a cowboy ethos that individuals can do a better job of data security than an organization dedicated to the task because the evidence shows this is just paranoia.

Ok, back to Convergence.  My last point — that Microsoft needs to do a better job connecting the dots has another element.  I am sorry to keep comparing Microsoft to Salesforce, because I think the two are more different than similar, but in the area of philanthropy I think Microsoft is trailing Salesforce when it could be leading.

You know that Salesforce has this 1:1:1 model in which it donates one percent of its equity, time and product to a 501 (3) (c) charity, the Salesforce Foundation.  At major events like Dreamforce, they have charitable activities in which customers can easily donate an hour of their time to do some public good.  All this activity is always tied back to the charity.

At Convergence Microsoft tried to do the same thing and the effort was inspiring but it wasn’t tied back to anything in particular.  Volunteers worked with Habitat for Humanity to renovate a house and when attendees filled out evaluation forms, Microsoft donated a dollar to a Houston charity, which was great.  But without some over-arching program I think Microsoft misses getting credit for its largess and also for its community outreach, which is important.

Last point.  Microsoft has not been a leader in any aspect of CRM.  It has taken a less risky fast-follower approach and it has breathed in other peoples’ exhaust as a result.  It’s time for the company to take a leadership position in something if it expects to reach the highest plateau in the business.  That plateau is unified communications (UCS).

Microsoft has Lync, a UCS that it offers and also uses in-house; Microsoft people tell me it works well.  UCS is, I think, potentially the next iteration of social networking.  It has enormous potential to save companies money and improve the links with customers.  To say the least, it would be smart of the company to step up its emphasis on UCS.  The window of opportunity is closing and I hope the company takes advantage of it.

If this sounds too critical, let me end on a more positive note.  Microsoft is a rising star in CRM and Convergence polished its reputation.  It has end-to-end technology from the back office to the front and from landlines to airwaves.  It is making headway in social, mobile and analytics — the next wave.  It has a good handle on at least some of the critical business processes that its customers depend on.  Like any software company, it will always be building out functionality, but its focus now must include, to a greater degree, all the many things that go into making a whole product in the social age.


Welcome back to the discussion.

At the top of my list is the idea of resiliency, which I consider a more practical form of sustainability for business.  We are now encountering a wave of sustainability-oriented ideas in the popular culture.  Forty miles per gallon is the new thirty, someone said and I have seen or heard the word sustainable used tentatively more than once in advertising.  But I wonder if sustainable is really what we should be shooting for.

In too many cases, sustainable simply slows down our use of a resource to “sustainable” levels but in practice it is a moving target because it has to be tied to things like demand.  What is sustainable at one level may not be at a higher level.  And human nature being what it is, we tend to set a marker and promptly forget about it until something breaks revealing that our sustainable idea is not so any longer.

But the big issue with sustainability is that it often does not engage a new paradigm.  It simply extends an older and frequently decrepit one.  Resilience puts us on a new track with an unlimited future and that’s where I prefer to be.

All this has a practical business and CRM side.  I was first impressed with the idea of resiliency while perusing “The Post Carbon Reader”  a compilation of essays by writers with serious cred on topics like energy, land and water use and much more.  What got my attention, and what inspires this essay, was a report issued by the City of Portland, OR, dealing with how to make that city more resilient to the long term effects of Peak Oil.

Now, I won’t go into what Portland did in any great detail but the very existence of the report made me ask what for me is the obvious question: Do our businesses have resiliency strategies and plans?  Bet not.  But can anyone afford not to have a plan?  If a regional or city government can develop a resiliency plan ought we not do the same for our businesses?

I will probably add to my list of ideas for making businesses resilient over time but for starters, here are three things any, or at least most, businesses can do to help ensure profits in unsure economic times.  Of course, they are all mediated by first class front office technologies.  How could it be otherwise?

Engage in the Subscription Economy

We’ll see some form of economic bounce this year because there is an election looming, that’s my hunch backed up by much historic data.  The bounce might make credit easier to access but the demand for credit — to grow the economy and its availability — may not be well matched.  In lieu of licenses and product sales, we need to think again about subscriptions.  There is some evidence that customers are doing just that.

I think Oracle’s missed revenues in its last reporting period suggest that we’ve hit a turning point in the conventional licensed software business.  I believe the demand for subscriptions is accelerating, so let’s give the market what it is asking for.

I have often said that the two great sticking points for moving more aggressively to subscriptions include changes to corporate business models and to the billing systems companies use.  The business model change is a big and ugly issue because it alters revenue recognition and can upset valuations, which investors abhor for good reasons.

But there is no time like a recession, or whatever euphemisms you use to describe this era, for making a fundamental change like this because the economy is roughly synchronized in a trough.  Much of your competition is in the same predicament and everyone understands this and that makes this year a great time for the herd to move as one to subscriptions.

As for the billing system, well there’s plenty of evidence that there are companies like Zuora, Aria and many others that can help you through the billing system and billing model change.

There’s no time like now for this kind of action and subscriptions will make your business more resilient, no question.

Deploy UCS

UCS or unified communications systems make a lot of sense for anyone thinking about a resilience strategy.  Good UCSs combine calendars, email, text, voice (VoIP) and video in a variety of ways that are dirt-cheap and that enable vendors to efficiently communicate with customers.  The UCS is also part of a must-have system of internal communications for many companies.  A UCS does its work over the Internet, which is far less expensive than going through the phone company.  It’s not a complete strategy because you still need an employee social network but it is a necessary step on your way to becoming a more resilient company.

Ramp Up Your Cloud, Social and Mobile Strategies

Part of cloud and mobile is implied in the above, but not completely.  Cloud and mobile are inextricably tied up with social.  Subscriptions are best driven by cloud technologies and they enable more flexibility and economy in deploying mobility strategies, not to mention the viral impact on and by social.  A good cloud, mobile and social strategy will open up your possibilities for deploying expensive and precious resources, like people, that face customers.

While we’re on the subject a cloud-social-mobile (closobile?) investment opens up other possibilities for involving customers in self-help communities with attendant savings.

Much of this isn’t new but it bears repeating because these ideas happen to work, they have not been universally adopted yet and importantly, because this is the season for implementing plans and resolutions.

Happy New Year!


I hate to sound like Dr. Doom and Gloom but have you paid attention to the cost of gasoline lately?  Of course you have.  It’s sickening to watch as prices resume their inexorable climb.  The last time we saw prices spike was the last time the economy was in decent shape — right before the wheels fell off in 2008.

The global economy is based on the assumption that transportation and raw materials are cheap and will remain so.  Petroleum is our dominant fuel source and it doubles as a raw material for plastics, rubber, fertilizer cement and many other materials that make the world run.

The price rise is no surprise.  As the global economy began to feel better we all began to use more petroleum and electricity.  The authoritative IEA (International Energy Agency, based in Paris) pegs global demand at 90 million barrels per day (mbd) while supply has never gotten above 88 mbd.  The small difference for all of you supply and demand types drives the higher cost of driving.

While you might see this as a catastrophe, I smell an opportunity.  This is a disruptive moment and whenever a situation like this arrives, it usually means there’s an imbalance opening a niche for a new solution.  Frequently, though not always that means a technological solution.

Historically CRM fit that description.  On-demand computing, embedded analytics, social media and an array of sales, marketing and service applications followed CRM’s debut.  The universe is still resonating from that big bang and we are now at the start or the middle of another.  High transportation costs open the door to a variety of solutions that help organizations to reduce their traveling while maintaining their business agility.

Consider unified communications systems (UCS), which bring together voice, mobile, calendars, chat and video conferencing.  UCS has two jobs in a high cost transportation environment.  First, leveraging UCS can mean less travel for anyone who currently commutes to an office to work on a computer.  Much of that work could be done remotely if we have good communication between the hub and spoke.  That works for people in call centers — which have leveraged Internet technologies for a long time to do this — as well as sales and other business people as well as for creative types.

For customers, a video chat or conference might speed solutions and reduce the need for all parties to converge in a conference room saving everyone travel costs but also time, which is even more valuable.

At a macro level the days of the ten- or twenty-thousand attendee (or more) conference might be ending.  Vendors and their customers spend huge sums annually to attend user groups and similar meetings.  Visionary vendors are already taking advantage of Internet conferencing technologies to get the job done with much less travel and cost.

The savings might go back into the corporate pocket but some of those dollars could also be recirculated to support more frequent Web conferences.  Think about it — we have cloud computing with multiple releases per year yet the user conference is so expensive to put on that we only see one per year.  That could change with on-line conferences and that would speed up the cadence of change in many companies.

Personally, I would miss visiting some of the cities I visit each year and many attendees might miss the travel perks.  But that might simply be the symptom of another opportunity to fulfill.

The important point to keep in mind is that no change of this type is total and complete change is not even what’s required.  If we start a process that enables us to get energy supply and demand back in synch then we will see reductions in other costs.  This can also mean that the economy whipsaws for a while with prices and economic activity moving in opposite directions.  To avoid this we will need to pick new directions and stay with them.

There are other good reasons to consider these and other additions to the CRM suite.  In a global economy customers are everywhere and many potential new customers are too far away to seriously contemplate face-to-face interactions.  The traditional answer has been to open offices in other countries but that’s expensive.  More importantly, many of the things we sell on line, are delivered at price points that will not support that kind of expansion.  All of this makes the case for expanding an increasingly sophisticated communications footprint.

The high cost of transportation might be the proximate cause of this expansion, but as this short examination shows, the downstream benefits can be big.  If the future works out as I think it will, it makes sense for all of us to consider again how we can best build out the front office suite.


I almost never attend a webinar unless I am speaking.  When I need to know something I usually get a one on one with a CEO or other leader of a company.  They’re very gracious with their time and the tutelage helps me as an analyst though often I don’t run out and write something about my experience.

Part of the reason for my reticence is that most briefings are on background — the leaders are often trying out a new idea and looking for feedback.  Frequently those ideas undergo significant modification before they finally emerge.  Other times, the briefing in embargoed pending an official announcement.  And often a briefing is about an incremental release — suffice it to say there are lots of reasons not to write about something.  At least right away.  Sometimes, months later, an idea strikes and I write something.  It’s not the best system in the world but I doubt I am the only scribe that uses it.

Whatever.

Last week I broke with precedent and attended a webinar on Microsoft’s unified communications server also known (I think) as Office Communication Server.  It immediately reminded me of why I don’t do this more often but after I got over the pitch aspect and the interminable demo, I got the big picture and was happy I made the effort.  Now, breaking with another looser precedent I am writing about it because I think it’s important.

Lots of companies, mainly in the telco space, are deploying unified communication servers; they include, but the list is hardly limited to, Cisco, Avaya, NEC and Microsoft, just to pick a few.    This is a new field and standards are still loose and one vendor’s gear might not work with another’s.  But Gartner has a Magic Quadrant for them so it’s a real market.

If UCS is new to you and you are not a dyslexic fan of USC football, it’s all about bringing together your calendaring, email, mobile, voice mail, VoIP, video and other telecommunications under one roof to better coordinate workflow, customer access and intra-company communications.  I think it’s important, especially from a sustainability perspective.

I’ve been researching sustainability ideas all my life but my interest intensified in the last couple of years and now I am writing about it.  I think UCS coupled with other new product ideas like content libraries, SharePoint and Salesforce’s Chatter, offers the potential to squeeze a lot of friction out of business.

By friction I mean all those things that suck up energy — both the personal and the carbon based kind — without delivering business benefit to either customers or vendors.  Unified communication brings together the exploded cornucopia of communications technologies that have been invented over the last few decades into a manageable framework giving users the ability to tame what has become a communications beast.

Unified communication integrated with CRM offers the possibility of making us all more proactive and responsive to customers but in ways that simplify rather than complicate our lives.  It seems like whenever we get a new technology one of the first uses we dream up for it is to somehow accelerate a business process, like selling.  Ironically, that’s true occasionally but quickly everyone gets the same idea and what was once an accelerator turns the whole thing to gridlock.

A classic example might be email.  As a tool for sales and marketing it proved very useful and many companies like Responsys, ExactTarget or ConstantContact (just to pick a few) have elevated it to a science.  But then came various flavors of social networking with the same idea and in a short time we had way too many technologies trying to use the same basic technique resulting in jammed (and spammed) inboxes.

Unified communications reverses this trend partly.  It does little to arbitrate between your media of choice but because it can track the whereabouts and activities of the recipient, it can result in one message rather than several from an impatient colleague, vendor or customer.  It may not accelerate many processes but then again it might surprise you.  What unified communications will certainly do is help us organize how we communicate and liberate time that is wasted because we simply don’t know.

More importantly, when you add video, VoIP and other advanced technologies, you may come to realize that what used to take a face to face meeting now only requires a quick chat.  My research shows that as the recovery gains momentum, the cost of transportation will increase just as it did in 2008 when liquid fuel prices spiked.  Having an alternative like unified communications might be the difference between doing business and not.

Unified communications wasn’t on my radar until the webinar and I am glad that I attended that one.