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Mobile Technology

Boards Not Thrilled With CIOs

By | Cloud Computing, IT Strategy, Mobile Technology, Social, Strategy | No Comments

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and reported by CIO Magazine, many board members are dissatisfied with quality of information they get from their CIOs. Directors want the CIO to give them more and better information, especially about IT risk.

According to the report, only 13% of board directors are satisfied with IT briefings. About 35% said they were unsatisfied with the quality of technical information and 27% were unsatisfied with its quality.

This survey highlights that despite so many surveys, discussions and articles, there is often a discrepancy between the business perspective of the board and the role it sees IT is serving in the organization. IT management needs to demonstrate deep understanding of the business and define its role in terms that go beyond keeping the servers humming and provisioning software and mobile devices. As enterprises explore new technologies and business opportunities in cloud computing, social media and big data analytics, IT leadership has an excellent opportunity to deliver significant new business value.

The burden does not lie exclusively on the shoulders of the CIO. Corporate boards must include the CIO in devising a robust strategy and implementation roadmap of these new technologies. The potential complexity and the nascent nature of many of the new overly-hyped technologies require that the CIO organization is involved throughout in order to reduce both technology and business risks.

As the report shows, the main chasm between the board and the CIO is exactly in these areas: technology and risk. It’s time the two organizations start working together.

 

How To Win Without Differentiation

By | Cloud Computing, IT Strategy, Mobile Technology, Strategy | No Comments

All companies are trying to differentiate their products and services from those of the competition. They believe that strong differentiation is a necessary part of the business strategy to create and grow a market, because, the logic goes, if their products or services are just like the competitors’, why would the customer buy from them? How will they attract and retain buyers?

I am frequently asked to provide market assessments, conduct SWOT analyses and help companies formulate a go-to-market strategy that would differentiate their product or service offering from the competitors and tell it in a credible and compelling way. The problem is that many companies do more or less the same thing, the same way, in the same market, and that they are unable to credibly differentiate their offerings from other companies.

In an HBR article titled You Can Win Without Differentiation, Freek Vermeulen discusses the question of differentiation. Vermeulen argues that when companies are unable to differentiate their offerings effectively, the only option they have is to drop prices and hope to make up some of the loss by increased sales volume, a tactic that is easy for the competition to match. While both consumers and suppliers are very sensitive to pricing, a differentiation and competitiveness strategy based on price alone is fragile, especially when there is ample supply of competitors and substitutes. In this kind of zero-sum competitive game, the ultimate winner of price wars is the consumer.

I believe there are other options for product companies to consider before lowering prices and engage in fierce price competition. For instance, product companies should certainly compete on quality, warranty coverage, delivery terms and service levels. In this type of differentiation, the buyer can make a reasonable comparison between features, functionality, warranty terms and pricing.

However, if you sell services rather than products, this is not as straightforward. Vermeulen uses the example of management consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Accenture, where there is no simple and obvious way to articulate and differentiate their capabilities and make a succinct, credible and reliable connection between capabilities and business outcome. Furthermore, the skills, capabilities and services these firms sell are common commodities across the industry and therefore do not form an effective barrier to entry.

DifferentiationWhen value differentiation is too vague and difficult to demonstrate, price competitiveness does not work. Potential buyers seek other ways to drive their decisions, and, as Vermeulen points out, they rely on other factors, such as the seller’s brand, status in industry, and prior relationships. In other words, the buyer switches from assessing and comparing features and costs to differentiating based on the brand’s credibility and trustworthiness.

This is where I see many companies, especially software and professional services vendors, struggle. It appears to be especially painful for companies transitioning from providing a general set of enterprise IT tools and services and wanting to ride the momentum of new technologies such as cloud computing, big data and mobility, and apply them task-specific functions in vertical industries.

Establishing credibility in vertical markets can be difficult. The buyer’s functional leadership and the employees need to have trust in the vendor to have deep understanding of their process and appreciation of the subtleties of day to day operation.

So here are some suggestions:
Don’t

  • Don’t assume that your experience and tools can be easily transformed from one business segment to another. Some do; most don’t. Take the time to develop a detailed credible business case that you can deliver.
  • Don’t oversell technical wizardry. Buyers of enterprise software and services consider your product roadmap and long-term commitment to the space as much as they do to your product features and engineering skills.
  • Don’t try to prove industry knowledge and demonstrate empathy by highlighting the industry’s poor performance which you are going to turn around over night. Your audience already knows this all too well. Focus on the solutions.

Do

  • Develop deep expertise and position in your target industries and business functions. Not through “desk research” and generic stories, but rather by demonstrating successful implementations, publicizing customer case studies that are real, specific and credible, and becoming an industry insider.
  • Focus on establishing and nurturing long-term strategic relationships with your key customers.
  • Seek partnerships with systems integrators and service providers, especially in industries that are complex and narrowly focused, as these often have a culture that is difficult for outsiders to penetrate.

One last parting thought. The strategy you use to define and demonstrate your company’s differentiation to potential buyers is not necessarily the one you discuss with Wall Street and industry analysts.  This is a subject for a future blog post. In the interim, you can review another HBR article by Todd Zenger: Strategy: The Uniqueness Challenge.

Further Reading:

 

 

Connected Cars: Conduit vs. Content

By | Automotive, Electric Vehicles, Mobile Technology, Telematics | 2 Comments

In the Oct.-Nov. issue of Connected World Magazine, Dorothy Glancy of Santa Clara Law offers a point of view regarding potential privacy concerns related to connected cars.

With the hype and the hope surrounding connected cars technologies and the autonomous driving, the author is correct in identifying potential privacy and data usage issues concerning vehicle operational data and vehicle location information, other observations are hardly clear-cut and are lost in technical particulars, not all of them accurate.

In order to understand potential data privacy risks and devise appropriate remedies, we need to differentiate between data acquisition (sensors), data storage (EDR), data transmission (vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication and some telematics) and services (more telematics and location-based services). The potential for exposing private information increases as we progress in this process.

Furthermore, we need to recognize that most of the large amount of data generated during the operation of a vehicle and during V2V communication is transient and the value (and hence the risk of privacy breach) is very short lived.

Therefore, the issue is not what type of sensor technology is used, the proposed spectrum for V2V, or the type of control software is used, as the author seems to argue. Rather, the questions regarding privacy concerns should focus on the types of collected data, what context it is presented in, and how long this data persists.

The same questions should be asked (and answered) about the information broadcasted by a cell phone in a moving car that can be used to identify the location and speed of the car, pictures snapped and shares in a near real-time on Instagram, and so forth.

In fact, as everything and everyone is becoming a roaming IP node, producing and consuming information, the questions concerning privacy and data usage rights are more pervasive and far-reaching than the specific connected car technology, which, after all, is merely the conduit through which the information is transmitted. We need to focus on managing and protecting the information content.

CIO Magazine, Mobile Technologies and the Shiny Object Syndrome

By | ERP, Mobile Technology | No Comments

A recent CIO Magazine article offered a perspective and guidance on how to “Avoid Mobile App Failure.”  Not that we expect much depth from CIO Magazine, but this one-page piece, based on advice from a couple of industry analysts, reads like any other tired project management 101 guide: develop a roadmap, secure a project sponsor, do a pilot test, get user feedback, etc.

But the topic itself does beg a question: Is there a fundamental difference between developing a mobile application and deploying other types of end-user software? Is it true, as the author implies, that there are more challenges and failures deploying mobile applications than other types of software?

In recent years I have helped a number of end-user companies, software vendors and system integrators understand and exploit the opportunities offered by the proliferation of mobile devices and pervasive connectivity, as well as the associated challenges and risks. Here are five common mistakes they make.

Mistake 1 – The Shiny Object Syndrome
Companies and their IT teams are often lured by the media hype and fall victim to snazzy displays and cool user interfaces. They often forget to apply commonsense business measures to assess the value of mobile applications, and merely assume that just about any process and application – no matter how poorly designed or how little end-user value it might have – will be embraced by the users due to the fact that it runs on a “cool” device. They are, of course, wrong.

Mistake 2 – Do Think You Know Your Users?
Interestingly, some of the more commonly cited use cases for mobile applications offer very little value to end users.  For instance, there are numerous examples of technical information delivered to a tablet instead of as paper manuals. Makes sense, doesn’t it?  In reality, most assembly line workers and service technicians perform routine tasks and use manuals only rarely.  Moreover, when they need information, they tend to prefer personal communication over searching for information, which tends to be too generic and out of date. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, so you need to select the use case that will provide tangible and credible end user value and assess the return on that investment.

Mistake 3 – Missing a Bigger Opportunity
Conversely, in their haste to port existing applications to a mobile platform, companies neglect to reevaluate existing processes and determine if and how they will benefit from the inclusion of mobile technology and is there an opportunity to restructure or even do away with suboptimal processes.

Mistake 4 – Underestimating BYOD
The BYOD (bring your own device) trend is accelerating. It appears that some companies are not only accepting it – they have little choice in this matter – but also embracing it, believing a BYOD policy helps lure millennials to the workplace and drive usage of corporate applications. These arguments have merit, of course, but BYOD also add complexity to systems management and create potential security and privacy liabilities, which the IT department may not be staffed to handle.

Mistake 5 – Who Needs a Corporate App Store?
Apple’s App Store is the envy of the industry, and, for some reason, companies believe mimicking that construct adds immediate value. The functional equivalence of an app store: a centralized repository of corporate-approved applications that ensure multi-platform compatibility and security compliance makes sense for IT. But in a corporate environment, the notion of apps: snippets of functionality designed to accomplish a very narrow task, each with a different user interface and workflow and no interoperability can often lead to process fragmentation and data gaps.

So here are my five steps to help you succeed in deploying your mobile applications:

  1. Define the unique characteristics of user applications deployed on a mobile platform, such as ubiquitous access in tangible terms and in the context of your business and user needs. Also consider potential downsides such as screen size, data security and BYOD management.
  2. Assess if and how deploying mobile applications will improve the current process or perhaps enable a new and better process. This is where most companies fail miserably. They assume, incorrectly, that porting an application to a mobile device will magically encourage users to use it more frequently and efficiently. The reality is that a poorly designed business process or an application with no clear end user value will not improve when ported to a mobile device; most likely, the opposite.
  3. Once you conclude that incorporating a mobile device has tangible value, redesign the business process, paying close attention to related processes and enterprise applications that may be impacted and ensuring application and data interoperability.
  4. Determine the appropriate App Store analogous that fits your business.  Instead of disparate apps think about packaging user activities and business proceeds elements in user interface apps connected at the back end. For example: inventory lookup, individualized reports, or product inspection app, all connected to the back office ERP systems so that data integrity is maintained.
  5. Go back to CIO Magazine for the rest of the project managers handbook