Let me just state it up front: I'm not a Blackberry user. And that's probably a good thing. I'm technoaddicted to enough devices already (my nano, my wi-fi Palm Tungsten C, my Motorola Razr...shall I go on?), and they don't call the Blackberry the "Crackberry" for nothin'. I can just imagine the physical rehabilitation I probably would have already undergone were I to have acquired a Blackberry when I first became familiar with them several years ago.
With the caveat that I'm not a Crackberry addict, however, I want my readers to know that I am extremely sympathetic to your plight and that I stand with you in thumb-numbing solidarity. The mere notion that, without warning, someone could just flip a switch and turn off your your Blackberry, forcing you to cease-and-desist all wireless email communications with your family, friends, your bond trader...well, the idea strikes me as absolutely absurd.
What century do they think we're living in? And all over a little patent dispute?? (Okay, maybe it's not so little, but hey, could all the patent attorneys pause long enough to acknowledge we've got some serious on-the-fly communicating to do here, people!).
While I will not get into the details of said dispute between NTP and Research in Motion (hereafter known as "RIM"), lest I find myself becoming entirely too familiar with my own legal community here at IBM, I will suggest that turning out the Blackberry lights is not necessarily going to be a very good thing for the American or global economy.
The Day the Thumbs Stopped Clicking
The brilliance behind the early marketing of the Blackberry was RIM's targeted focus on putting their device in the hands of Wall Street executives and CIOs, two key areas where early adoption could easily be justified, and, if successful, where word was sure to spread. And it did, like viral wildfire.
In the process, it has become part of our business, cultural, and historical lore. Twelve-step groups have had to be formed to help senior level executives deal with their Crackberry addictions. Shut it down, and I fear we may someday be talking about "Blackberry Monday" just as we do the beginning of the Great Depression or October 19, 1987.
I can see the headlines now:
"The Day the Thumbs Stopped Clicking"
"Wall Streeters Endure Wall of Silence, Market Crash, in Blackberry Crush"
"Traders Thumb Their Thumbs at RIM Patent Dispute: Bring Back Our Berry!"
Can We Use Smoke Signals?
I've already begun formulating my own Blackberry blackout hedge play, which reads like a Basic programming routine: If Blackberry goes dark, sell X shares of Y stock at (Stop-Loss) price.
But forget the stock market for a moment. What about the first responders? If the 9/11 Commission can't get the major broadcasters to give up radio frequency for cops and firefighters to communicate with one another, and their Blackberries are about to get sent back to the intellectual property dispute farm, how are they supposed to communicate with one another in case of emergency??
In some early Native American cultures, three puffs of smoke (or three fires in a row) signified DANGER, TROUBLE, or a CALL FOR HELP.
Puff. Puff. Puff.
Todd "Turbo" Watson -- IBM Corporation
Turbo's nano Comes Back to Life After Remarkable Coffee Spill Resuscitation, Life (and Music) Goes On
I was pulling into my local friendly Office Depot in search of some cartridges for my Epson printer last Saturday. My beloved Apple nano iPod was in the seat next to me, cranking out some tunes while plugged into my car stereo system. Life was good.
Then, in an ill-fated instant, I watched my nano's life flash (memory and all) before my very eyes. My coffee cup flew out of its cupholder, almost as if in slow motion, and a wave of Folder's Columbian blend brew (sweetened by some rich Irish Creme creme) folded down into the car seat in a highly-caffeinated tsunami.
The score: Folger's Coffee 1, Apple nano iPod 0
I slammed the car in park and immediately reached down on the car seat to rescue my nano from the Java sea, but it was to no avail...little nano had already become a tune-filled submersible, swimming in a sea of new underwater songs. Or, as the case ended up, not.
Think, I reminded myself. What to do, what to do...Okay, lift nano from coffee sea and shake diligently to try and get the java liquid out. Which I did, before walking sullenly into the Office Depot to get the printer cartridges.
Back at the ranch, I put the nano on my kitchen counter and figured it had to be dried out, at minimum, before I dared turn it back on. Hey, I didn't study electrical engineering at university, but that much seemed obvious.
Later that day, a good friend arrived in Austin and stopped by. I remorsefully explained the situation, and he told me to bathe the nano in some tap or, preferably, some distilled water...then give it a good drying. This is the same guy who told me to put my underwater soaked cell phone of many moons ago into the oven at 120 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Sure, that was a cell phone, I thought. But my nano??? I'm not putting my little nano in the oven!
By this time, all that appeared on the nano screen was some sort of test routine menu, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
The next day, I took a bowl, filled it with Austin's finest tap water, and hesitantly dropped it into the bowl, giving my nano about a 10 minute bath.
That was Sunday. This is Friday.
Yesterday, I plugged the Turbo nano into the charger yesterday and figured I would give it a nice long charge.
I unplugged it today...hit the power button......the color menu appeared -- the nano had resuscitated itself from its coffee-induced coma!
Sheryl Crow now wails in my earbuds, and me, I'm just sitting back in admiration, wondering how the engineers at Apple had planned for such coffee contingencies.
nano, you rock.....again.[Read More]
Last night in San Francisco, Yahoo introduced two new RSS products, integrating an RSS reader directly into the Yahoo Mail Beta and expanding their Alerts to include RSS feeds. You can read about the announcement on TechCrunch.
Yahoo has "gotten" RSS for some time, having introduced one of the first easy-to-integrate browser-based RSS feed readers (and certainly, one of the first that I used). Recently, Microsoft introduced its own RSS-on-the-glass play via Live beta site, which provided for some very cool drag-and-drop portal building capabilities using RSS feeds. I also recently got a sneek peak of the RSS capabilities in the Windows Vista preview, which seemed to make RSS even more idiot proof.
I have a meeting later today with my Web architecture team to discuss how we can ramp up our own RSS implementation, and it has become very clear very quickly in my early explorations that good RSS is as much a cultural and usability transformation as it is an architectural one.
What I think we're seeing with RSS is the transformation of the click-to-find Web experience that dominated in Web One-Point-Oh, where the "hunting and gathering" experience defined how people used the Web. You need something, you go out and find it, either navigating through search engines or laboriously traversing a series of links on a single site or across sites.
RSS is the Domino's Pizza Delivery model, where people can subscribe specifically to the information they seek using RSS and have it delivered to them at their convenience (some call it the "TiVo" of the Internet...I think that doesn't do credence to the real power of RSS, but if it'll help the cause, so be it). While RSS can provide for a more passive Web consuming experience, it can also be more empowering, as it provides for an intelligence that didn't quite exist in Web 1.0
For example, suppose I want to monitor the mentions of a particular competitor -- to be nice, I'll call them the "Idget Widget Corporation" -- but don't have time to go out and constantly surf the Web to keep up with them. Using Technorati Watchlists or keyword monitoring in my own RSS reader, FeedDemon, I'm able to keep a 50K foot view on any number of specific topics, letting the technology do the work by gathering the most appropriate bits out of the ether (in this case, mentions of "Idget Widget" mentioned anywhere on sites that are RSS-enabled), then presenting it to me in a summary, easy-to-consume fashion.
Extrapolate this idea to any variety of things you might need to monitor -- discount deals on Buy.Com...lowered airfares on Travelocity...bids on eBay -- and you can start to better understand why the RSS hype.
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The Wall Street Journal's Jason Fry recently penned an article about the various types of technology consumers.
You can read the full story here, but on this American Thanksgiving holiday a day when the newspaper is chock filled with shoppers sending us all off to the best deals at Best Buy, Circuit City, and a whole smorgasbord of other electronics specialty stores I thought it would be a good time to reflect on technology consumerism.
To summarize Fry's piece, he observes there are five primary types of tech consumers: Elite Tinker, Cutting-Edge Explorer, Faithful Mainstreamer, Bugs-Out-Please Latecomer, and the Disaster Magnet.
Use your imagination as to which one I am.
I was the first in my cubicle farm to buy a Handspring Treo (it quickly ended up making a nice addition in my junked technology closet). I had a wi-fi-enabled Palm Tungsten C well before there were ample hot spots in Austin to effectively use it. And I'll be the first to admit, I'm usually the first to buy any new piece of technology, especially if it's breaking new ground. So yes, I fit into the "Cutting-Edge Explorer" category.
Fry writes that the Cutting Edge Explorer "blows through cellphones like Kleenex" and "spends so much time on help-desk that you're upon the latest Bangalore gossip." Guilty as charged. In fact, I was speaking to one of my new colleagues in Bangalore for well over an hour the other day, trying to troubleshoot my VPN client problems so I could try and get to my work email. This as I'm supposed to be on vacation! Can you say "Loser?" Are you holding an "L" to your forehead so that I get the full impact of the universally accepted sign of "Loserdom"?
My most recent cell phone purchase was a Motorola Razr...I didn't buy it only because it was cool...I dropped my Samsung model while floating in a raft down the Guadalupe River over the summer (Did I think it was somehow waterproof??), and stupid me, I forgot to buy the replacement policy.
That's okay, I thought, as I watched my Samsung burble down into the near clear water (Do they make an underwater-capable cell phones yet??). This will give me a perfect opportunity to go phone shopping!
When it came to the Razr, I just couldn't help myself. It looked way cool, like something straight out of "Star Trek," the price was right, and hey, all the characters on "Alias" have one.
So, I just wanted to give thanks on this Thanksgiving holiday for the opportunity I've been given to be a techno-junkie. The turkey's been eaten, the Best Buy circulars are in full abundance, and the credit card is burning a hole in my pocket. Hello, my name's Todd, and I'm a technoholic.
Now, can you tell me if you have wi-fi in here?[Read More]
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If you're looking for an online "e-tail" bargain while doing your holiday shopping this year, you might want to keep your eyes peeled on the PC during business hours. According to data released this week from Coremetrics, a Web analytics provider, it seems that employees are both buying and browsing from their personal desktop shopping malls.
In a recent e-shopping study retail Web sites apparently received 40 percent more visits and 53 percent more purchasing visits on weekdays than they did on weekend days in September. A majority of those weekday visits and purchases occurred during daytime hours.
Shop 'Til You Drop (Or Can't Stop)
Coremetrics maintains the LIVEmark Index -- an ongoing benchmark for e-business performance to provide comparison data for site-wide performance indicators across more than 175 leading retail brands (including apparel, specialty retail, general merchandise, office and electronics, and numerous other categories) to help index participants better understand their business performance relative to peers and competitors. This information helps companies allocate marketing spend, anticipate threats and e-retailing trends, and make more strategic decisions about site, marketing, and merchandising efforts.
For this particular view into the LIVEmark Index, traffic data was collected during the month of September, 2005. It revealed that 62% of weekday visits to participating sites occurred during daytime hours, between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM Central Standard Time (CST) in the U.S. Contrast that with the 26% of weekday visits which occurred in the evenings between 6:00 PM and midnight CST, and you can easily conclude there's a whole lot of shopping goin' on at the office.
What Happened to Good Old-Fashioned Office Romance?
Well, it seems that the traditional office romance has been jilted by e-visits to Nordstrom's and Wal-Mart Online.
So, you might ask, what in the world, Mr. Turbo, might I do with such information? You mean, aside from firing your entire workforce for shopping on the company dime?
As a former lead for IBM's interactive advertising efforts, I can tell you the answer is, for starters you need to be considering whether or not your advertising agency or media buyer can help you buy what are called "day-parts," the time slices of a day that were traditionally "bought" by agencies for different types of radio or TV programming -- depending on who the audience is or what they were doing.
For example, radio stations issue dayparts for rush hour, where traffic reports are critical. On TV, prime-time news broadcasts dominate the early evening day part. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are day-parted for sports broadcasts. Why shouldn't the same go for Internet advertising and marketing?
If the Coremetrics LIVEmark Index can provide ongoing evidence that Web site visits occurring during daytime hours on weekdays are 15% more likely to result in a purchase than visits during the evening (which the month of September suggested), then mid-day (read: lunchtime) day-parted ad space on the Internet just got itself a premium.
Meanwhile, be aware when you click on that banner ad during your lunchtime e-shopping excursion. It's not just your boss who's watching.[Read More]
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CNET has been running a special report entitled "Taking Back the Web." The latest dispatch in the 5-part series focuses on mapping "mashups," Web-based applications that are essentially hybrid tools which combine applications like Google Maps with applications such as Craig's List real estate listings (see HousingMaps.Com as a good example.)
While these tools are in their infancy, they're leading the charge to a new wave of innovation in Web 2.0 apps, and providing what I would term "geospatial context" to help find everything from apartments to the best priced gas station in your area. These new apps are, in turn, providing new opportunities for contextual and geo-targeted advertising, a segment of the local advertising market expected to grow to $3.4 billion U.S. by 2009, according to a forecast from The Kelsey Group.[Read More]
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I can't remember the last time I went to a bank. I'm not sure if banks in general think that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I just wanted to put that out there.
I'm not opposed to banks in general. I think they're kind of cool, especially those old ones I used to see growing up in north Texas, the ones that had the really big vaults with the huge crank spinwheels that you had to turn to open the vault door, and that were intended to keep out the likes of Bonnie and Clyde.
The rumor went that Bonnie and Clyde visited the small town I grew up in. I'm not sure exactly what it is they were doing there, although one would have to presume they were there to rob a bank. In an ironic twist of fate, the two people who played Bonnie and Clyde in the movie, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, apparently showed up in my hometown several years later as well...not to rob the bank, but to attend the movie premiere of the movie in which they were playing Bonnie and Clyde. Something strangely harmonically convergent about that.
I say all this because it reminds me of what banks used to be. They were very serious places (at least in Texas) where you kept all your money, and a place you had to actually go to get your money out. But like I said, I haven't been to one in years. My bank is a now a server located somewhere...well, I'm not sure where it's located. But I know I can't visit it, nor would I want to.
While all my friends and colleagues cooed about how dangerous Internet banking was, and how my money could be at risk, I threw all caution to the wind and put all my money online. It was kind of weird, because I couldn't really touch my money, and I couldn't go anywhere to access it, save for an ATM, because my Internet bank had no physical branches. It was just me, a Web site, and the ATM machine. Fortunately, far as I know, my Web site bank has never been held up.
I know my now deceased grandfather would have thought this whole idea very strange. He couldn't have related to the concept that his money could be somewhere in a virtual bank. I think he would have had a hard enough time with the concept of a real bank, of somebody else holding on to his money. But for it to exist in the ether...he'd probably rather chance it with Bonnie and Clyde.
Here's the thing about real banks that you don't get with virtual banks: The smell of the money. You might get a little whiff of it at an ATM, but at a Texas bank in the early 1970s, you could actually smell the money. There was also the wondrous sight of womens' bouffant hair-dos from bank tellers who smiled at you as you looked up at the counter and they asked you if you wanted a lollipop. Or better yet, the drive-through banks where you got to watch your money fly through the ground and pop out, all Jetsons-like, in one of those pneumatic tubes. I always wanted to shrink myself and ride in one of those tubes.
So here's the cool part about working at IBM: We have people who are helping reinvent banks as we know them. An article recently appeared in CMO Magazine entitled "Experience Preferred." In it, the author talks about how IBM and our experiential marketing partner, John Ryan, are using IBM technologies to create experiences and environments to help get people bank into banks (everyone, that is, except for Bonnie and Clyde.)
You can also get a sense of where banking is going by listening to our recent podcast entitled "The Future of Banking." In it, I discovered that many people often speed up when they walk past their bank branches...they apparently have a mental association with banks not unlike that of a visit to the dentist.
Me, I have a pretty positive impression of banks...except that one time in NYC when the ATM ripped me off, giving me $80 instead of the $100 I had asked for.
Where were Bonnie and Clyde then???[Read More]
The news broke today in the Wall Street Journal that Abby Kohnstamm, IBM's senior vice president of marketing -- in essence, if not title, IBM's "chief marketing officer" -- is leaving Big Blue after a 12-year reign.
If you've worked in the marketing discipline at IBM anytime over the past decade, or even in marketing in the technology industry at large, you know that Abby's name has become virtually synonymous with the dramatic impact in marketing that occurred at IBM under her watch.
It's no secret that, historically, IBM has been a very sales-focused culture, with marketing often an afterthought. But as the Big Blue ship teetered on the abyss in 1991-93, and after Lou Gerstner took the helm, Abby and her collective team -- along with our friends at Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide -- worked virtually around the clock to breath new life into the IBM brand as they helped redefine what we stood for as a company, one committed to helping our customers bring new value to their businesses around the globe, to articulate the key role the Internet would play in that transformation, and even to leverage that new medium as a key channel for delivering our e-business message where our audience lived and breathed.
From those early "Solutions to a Small Planet" commercials (the ones with the nuns and contemplative Frenchmen walking along the Seine?) to the recent "Help Desk" campaign, the ground-breaking advertising that Abby's global marketing team produced was an external reflection of the vast, hard fought organizational work going on behind the scenes to build and refine a professional marketing discipline inside IBM.
For those of us who have practiced in that discipline -- from market intelligence to interactive marketing (my own specialty) -- the instruction and experience that this transformation produced helped formulate not only a career path, but also a great deal of pride among its practitioners. We watched the emergence and evolution of both discipline and message -- ones which would reshape the consciousness of the company inside and out, something any effective marketing effort should aspire to accomplish.
So, Abby, we thank you for all your hard work, persistence, and leadership, and we wish you the very best in your new endeavors. You leave behind a legacy of marketing excellence that any successor would be hard pressed to follow.
More importantly, you leave behind the tools and expertise future marketers at IBM will need for marketing to a much smaller planet than the one you found when you first arrived.[Read More]
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This story appeared from the Associated Press this morning: Europe apparently has a digital divide. According to the article, the EU stats agency Eurostat gathered data from across the 25-nation EU bloc and found that there was a gap in Internet and computer usage between those over and under 50 years of age.
The study suggests the divide is more due to an educational gap than a cultural one: 85% of school or university students aged 16 to 24 use the Internet, while only 13% of people aged 55 to 74 did. And only 25% of those who had not completed high school used the Internet. That figure rose to 52% for those with a secondary school diploma, and to 77% for college or university graduates.
Internet use was highest in the Nordic countries (Denmark 76%), Finland (70%), Sweden (82%)...while the lowest rates were in Greece (20%). You know, the place where they hang out on the beaches of Santorini, kick back and drink Ouzo all day. Who needs the Internet when you have Ouzo???
Of course, you could take the Luddite contrarian view from Wired writer Tony Long, in which case less technology means more sanity, and we should all head out to Walden Pond for a little healthy binge of technowithdrawal.
I'm hip to that program...but, uh...is it okay if I bring along my Motorola Razr, just in case?[Read More]
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As disenfranchised youth run rioting in the streets of Paris, CNET reported on some other interesting news emerging out of France: That the Direction Generale des Impots, the French tax authority, plans to deploy the open-source office productivity application OpenOffice.Org on over 80,000 of its PCs.
Mon dieu! The move is expected to save the French government, which is also investigating a subsequent migration to Linux desktops, some 29.3M Euros (~$34.5M).
No wonder Microsoft announced a new Web software strategy in memos leaked to several major media earlier this week. In the memo penned by former Lotus Notes guru Ray Ozzie, he outlines, among other things, his vision for advertising-supported software.
Coming to a banner near you: Windows Office Live for the Web, Brought to You by Calvin Klein -- Between love and madness lies Obsession [with Google]
Finally, speaking of obsession, our very own Irving Wladawsky-Berger made his own announcement about what one journalist called our new "blog-spotting" software. It's officially-sanctioned IBM name is "Public Image Monitoring Solution" (our naming team at Big Blue is certifiably not the most creative outfit on the planet). The software allows companies to monitor and analyze blogs, wikis, news feeds, newsgroups, and other community-generated content in real-time.
As soon as I get my personally-signed CD copy from Irving, I plan to monitor the inactivity transpiring in my own blog in near real-time.[Read More]
Or is that Yahooing your TiVo? Regardless, the announcement today in the NY Times that Yahoo will connect to TiVo's set-top boxes and enable Yahoo users to find and record programs is a no brainer (Will Time Warner do the same soon with another partner [Microsoft, perhaps?], so that I can Internet-enable my cable-box-bound digital PVR?) Inquiring minds want to know.
Now, if someone will just put the mojo together that makes your new Mobile Yahoo let you record the latest episode of "Dangerous Housewives" while sitting on the runway at LAX, then wirelessly synch it up to your video iPod so you can watch it halfway over flyover country (I can say that...I live smack in the southern middle of flyover country).
PC World's Harry McCracken points out that the news isn't completely new: ReplayTV users have long had the Web-based "MyReplay" service, and AOL users have been able to do online TiVo programming for some time...however, he goes on to point out that the find features are primitive at best, and that partnerships such as this could open up whole new channels (sorry, couldn't help myself) of integration.[Read More]
I had mentioned in a previous post the "Blogging the Enterprise" conference being held here in Austin yesterday. Bloggers from enterprises both large and small were in attendance along with a cabal of PR flack trying to get their arms around this whole blogging "thing" (it's a phenomena, people, not the Creature from the Black Lagoon) -- and the discussion was quite good: very forward thinking with lots of great questions.
John Moore from the Brand Autopsy reminded us that blogging can make "small companies big, and big companies small," and Shel Israel, co-author with Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble of the coming blogging tome "Naked Conversations" did some great real-time blogging during the event (Shel, how do you cover so much ground so quickly typing with those two index fingers???) even as he also participated in a panel and led us down the path of blogging righteousness in a full-on pitch that identified blogging's "sinners and winners."
Shel's comment vis a vis Scoble that "a good blogger is going to press against the restraining membrane to see how far it will stretch" resonated particularly well with me. (Here's to me stretching my blogging membrane up to, and not beyond, the breaking point.) Ultimately, Shel told us all not to do anything stupid, and to start "listening to [our] constituencies" instead of "shovelling things at [them]."
Steve Rubel with Micropersuasion provided a very informative keynote, one that was both useful and actionable: Find, Listen, Engage, Empower. (Steve, if you can find a way to transpose "Listen" and "Engage" you've got yourself a nice little acronym: "You've got to FEEL the blog!")
With all the PR folks in the audience, there was a lot of concern in the air about control. Steve pointed out that "there's a continuum between control and transparency...and you're probably on one end or the other."
Finally, as I observed during one of our panel discussions, the conversation about your company is going to go on with or without you -- if you don't participate, the silence can be deafening. Just ask Dell, employees from which were conspicuously absent from the conference, both on the panels and in the audience (considering that we were meeting in their hometown). Recently, Dell has taken a real drubbing from the blogosphere for not joining in the conversation.
Too bad...I found Michael Dell to be an excellent spokesperson at the recent Gartner conference.
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For those of you in the U.S. (and even for those of you who are not, but who like to celebrate scary stuff), Happy Halloween...the monsters and gremlins will be out in full force this evening. Keep an eye on the kids trick or treating, and make sure you have plenty of dry ice and candy corn.
Meanwhile, get ready to shop 'til you drop this coming holiday season at a PC near you.
Holy E-Shopping Carts, Batman, CNET noted this AM that Forrester announced a report that an additional 2.5 million U.S. shoppers would log on to the Net to shop this holiday season, and bring the estimated overall sales revenue to more than $18 billion.
That's a 25 percent jump over last year, and this despite the rise in energy costs and recent reports that suggested shaky consumer confidence. With that as a backdrop, don't forget that 96 percent of all retail sales are still done in the store. That provides retailers everywhere with a huge opportunity to create synergies between the online and offline shopping experience.
Our recent Investor Relations podcast series pointed out that shopping has become much more than a simple exchange of money for goods and services. It is an experience, a form of self-therapy (although I wouldn't advise talking to the mannequins in the window displays at your local mall).
Apple's retail stores, Nike's store in NYC, Starbucks, Border's Books, any Best Buy. These are brand experiences -- places where you can learn and shop and sometimes even just be.
So, while I head over to Golfsmith.Com to check out those Taylor Made RACs I've been dreaming about (you know, the dream where I give Tiger, Ernie, and Michelle lessons on how to improve their swings and get more distance on their drives), check out our recent podcast entitled "The Future of Shopping." It's a fascinating look into the stores -- and customers -- of the future, and features two IBM retail industry experts, Joe Gagnon and Chris Wong.
Just make sure your credit card is safely tucked away first.
At last week's Gartner conference, I attended a session entitled "Information on Demand: Leveraging the Power of Information Services." In that session, the chief scientist with IBM Software's Information Management group, Jeff Jonas, delivered a chilling tale that I thought worthy of relating here.
Jeff's story revolved around the notion of identifying obvious and non-obvious relationships among individuals and organizations. After September 11, 2001, Jonas had begun to ponder a central question regarding the 19 hijackers: Did officials have the information they needed to identify the hijackers before they boarded those planes?
As it turns out, the answer was "yes." Using information available at the time, here's what Jonas discovered: Two of the terrorists, Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid Al-Mihdar, were already in the United States and were on a State Department watch list. Both al-Hamzi and Al-Mihdar made flight reservations using their own names on AA Flight 77. A third hijacker had the same address as al-Hamzi, and Marwan Al-Shehhi and Mohammed Atta both had the same address on their reservations, the same address used by Al-Mihdar. Finally, five of the hijackers had the same phone number as Atta, and another had bought his ticket using the same frequent-flier number as Al-Mihdar.
Making the Non-Obvious Obvious
Ultimately, only three degrees of separation linked 13 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. So could they have been identified in advance? Jonas' assertion seemed to be that it was possible. Perhaps...perhaps not. But the net of it was this: The information was there...the system to extract and exploit that information was not.
Through a technique called "non-obvious relationship awareness" (or "NORA"), Jonas suggested it might have been possible to have identified the hijackers in advance, because they had clearly left evidence that they were in one another's orbit. Identity recognition has historically focused on creating a single 360 degree view of an individual, using data that is directly attributable to that individual. With relationship resolution" software, identity recognition technology extends that 360 degree view to "non-obvious" relationships among individuals and organizations to better determine potential value or danger, even if an individual is attempting to disguise his or her identity.
Ultimately, we will never know if it was entirely possible to have prevented the attacks. But it was encouraging to me to learn about a technology that at least has the potential to prevent them in the future.[Read More]
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On this, my final full day at this October's Gartner Symposium in Orlando, as Hurricane Wilma churned up the Yucatan Peninsula, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer underwent a grilling from Gartner analysts Thomas Bittman and Dave Cearley, Gartner analyst Jorge Lopez expounded about what's on the mind of the CEO, and we were offered up an intriguing view into the projected genetic make-up of the "extreme individualized" worker in 2015, one shaped as much by their experience growing up with interactive technologies as their niversity pedigree.
Although Wilma's uncertain track cast a lingering, albeit distant, shadow over the occasion, Gartner analysts continued to convey a bullish, if cautious, future for information technology and its impact on our world. It was an apropos tone, considering the title of the first session I attended, "The Impact of IT on Business Risk." Its key message seemed to be that business risk as it relates to IT is the ultimate hedge, and that only with conscious and conscientious preparations in advance of a catastrophe can risk be appropriately mitigated. And one need look no further than in the 2005 rearview mirror to realize that such forethought is warranted.
As to the mind of the CEO, the net of it was this: While growth is still in the sights of most, there are clouds on the horizon, and not only those cast by Wilma and the parade of recent hurricanes...continued terror attacks, the price of oil, slowdowns in retail spending and overall consumer confidence...all cast their own shadows, which is why IT environments must continue to be positioned for flexibility and adaptability, and which is why the focus here at Gartner on SOA and modular IT services.
In summary, who knows what's headed our way, but we need to prepare our companies and invest for growth, while carefully scrutinizing what investments we place where. Constant change is the constant, but with determined, focused strategic and IT planning, this storm, too, shall pass...and the opportunities on the horizon suggest that all the preparations for disaster -- and growth -- will be well worth the effort.[Read More]
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Increasing business flexibility means first knowing and identifying the core business differentiating activities of your business. In a session entitled "SOA: The Key to Business Flexibility...Hear How to Start," IBM WebSphere general manager Robert LeBlanc explained the basic premise of what's come to be known as "service orientation," and why 80% of IT organizations are expected to be employing it in some form or fashion by 2006.
Think of service orientation as a way of integrating your business as linked services and the outcomes they bring. Business processes aren't always that unique -- the accounts receivable application in this department is probably a close second cousin to the one from the group down the hall near the vending machines you frequent -- and a service orientation takes advantage of this commonality by enabling you to more easily mix and match services.
The business impact? The more reusable your assets, the more efficient your operations. By automating the implementation of your processes through a service orientation, you eliminate the manual deployment of tasks. You can also more easily pinpoint future process improvements, because you will have an environment that allows you to visualize your actual process performance against key performance indicators.
Standard Life Assurance: SOA Brings Real Business Advantage
Standard Life Assurance is one of Europe's leading assurance company's, employing over 12,000 people and managing over 50B in assets for over seven million customers worldwide. Ian Muir, a senior manager with Standard Life, joined Robert LeBlanc onstage yesterday to explain how his company embarked on the road to SOA way back in 1998, and detailed the benefits the company has realized thus far from its implementation.
With over 1,500 IT staff worldwide, Standard Life's IT operations enable some 1.6 million transactions per day. Deciding early on to employ IBM's WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Business Integration as its foundation stack, Standard Life implemented its SOA across its entire U.K. group of companies and Canada, and now has over 70 service-oriented applications running in production.
With the flexibility this environment brought to the company, Standard Life UK was able to launch one of its most successful pension products ever, and with an SOA framework which included processes that enabled multi-channel and multi-trading partner processes.
Now, over 40 percent of its mainframe transactions are initiated via SOA applications, and the group now has 320+ reusable business services in the company's Business Service Catalogue and Directory. Furthermore, over 50 percent of those services are reused, and a single XML-based search service is stretched across 19 individual lines of business.
In the process, Mr. Muir indicated that this effort helped transform his IT organization by creating consistency in both its development efforts and operations, and also helped his team gain increased confidence from the lines of businesses. As he put it, "Our LOBs both believe in and use our IT capability."
Words that CIOs everywhere would love to hear more of, I'm sure.
Take Action...But Begin With the End In Mind
As Mr. LeBlanc concluded IBM's vision for service orientation, he articulated some key steps you can take to get started. First, learn more through our SOA Webcast, in which IBM WebSphere vice president for Strategy, Channel, and Marketing, Sandy Carter, walks you through the fundamentals of SOA.
Next, take the IBM SOA Assessment, which allows you to better understand your organization's current state of SOA adoption in clear, straightforward terms, while also communicating the benefits and advantages you can access now with your existing infrastructure. It also will provide some recommendations for achieving greater business flexibility with SOA.
Finally, learn how you can get beyond your business units with Component Business Modeling, or CBM. CBM is a very structured, disciplined methodology that will help you identify and map out your core business framework on a single page. With CBM, you can work to identify the basic building blocks of your business including the people, processes, and technologies and build a map of the core differentiating processes that you can then begin to consider for harvesting and building as core services in your SOA.[Read More]
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Note to Self: Next time I come to Gartner, take an afternoon off to ride Space Mountain.
I was reflecting on the five or six visits I've taken to Disneyworld here in Orlando, and would guesstimate that I've spent a good 95% of those visits locked up in the Dolphin or Swan hotels.
Of course, there were no Mickey Mouse antics going on yesterday, my second full day on the ground, at the Gartner Symposium. Hearkening back to Space Mountain, the day began with a 50K foot view from Gartner analysts on what they term as "The Second Internet Revolution" (but I just barely survived the first one! Can we stop it with the revolution stuff and lay down our arms??!") But alas, there is no armistice in sight, at least not this week. There are services to be built and processes to be modeled.
The essence of the session was this: Between now and 2010, expect to see entirely new life forms of programmable interactive applications, spanning multiple platforms, networks, and devices. (Oh, and throw in a couple of personalized intelligent search bots for good measure. They're cute and cuddly, and they can help you find stuff you didn't even know you were looking for).
Expect major shifts in both IT and the consumer behavioral landscape that will drive new opportunities across the board. The network effect we've seen from improvements in access, backbone, and applications (B2C commerce exploding, the broadband boom, demographic shifts, mobile computing...all causes of your typical everyday Internet paradigm shift) will drive this new revolution, and will provide the opportunity for breakout competitive gains by those organizations that start moving now to take advantage of this opportunity.
Great, you say, where do I sign up?
Standards All Around!
Not unlike AC and DC current, or common railroad gauges in the 1860s, or even, yes, the VHS videotape, the journey into this revolution begins with standards, which are already powering the B2B commerce explosion and are expected to power the coming boom in B2B trading efficiencies.
Remember Metcalfe's Law? It stated that the value of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system. Well, we need a new one that states that the value of a service on the network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system (Hey, can anybody come up with a good name for a new Law? The Internet kind, not the ones they pass in Congress). Okay, for now we'll just call it Metcalfe's Law Redux.
In this revolution, and under Metcalfe's Law Redux, no service can be an island, unless it wants to talk to itself...in which case, it has more in common with Wilson the Volleyball, Tom Hank's spherical buddy in "Castaway," than it does with an innovative, business-changing/connecting service.
But standards are only the beginning. This revolution will also require us to rethink how we conceptualize IT. It is going to be characterized by a Web-centric ecosystem, one whose participants benefit from one another's participation. Instead of a vertical stack of standalone, function-specific applications, though, this revolution will require a horizontal IT architecture, one that is uniquely positioned to adapt to the ever-changing demands of on demand business, and which will allow your trading partners, suppliers, customers, employees, and yes, sometimes even your competitors, to participate.
You pick the adjective: Flexible, resilient, adaptable...this insurrection will be driven by an IT environment taken straight out of the pages of the IT equivalent of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species." We must build environments and systems that, at the core of their IT DNA, are dynamic, adaptable, and consummately flexible.
Next post: How a services orientation can provide you with that flexibility.[Read More]
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Well, it's only been one full day at the Gartner Symposium and I've come down with that condition I've come to term "Gartner Brain." My head was filled with more IT information in about 10 hours today than most humans can generally consume in an entire year.
Information overload aside, the day's tidings seemed to suggest the IT future is so bright you gotta wear...well, if not shades, then certainly the 3-D glasses mentioned below would add an interesting dimension.
In the afternoon, a Gartner analyst informed us that over the past 30 or so years, IT has changed the world...now is the time for the world to change IT. Information systems organizations are maturing, being shaped by new forces and shifting their priorities toward enterprise contribution along with their traditional mission of enablement. Moving forward, IT success will measured in terms of impact on the business, as managed business services become increasingly focused on delivering required outcomes as opposed to simple IT enablement.
CIOs' strategic priorities, then, must evolve to reflect the increasing importance of contributing to growth and efficiency, namely by delivering projects that enable business growth, and by linking business and IT strategies and plans.
In short, it's time to put the "I" back in "IT."
More simply put, if "40" is the new "20," "Process" is the new "technology."
On Demand Business: From "What" to "How"
In 2002, IBM offered the definition of a successful on demand business as being "An enterprise whose business processes -- integrated end to end across the company and with key partners, suppliers, and customers -- can respond with speed to any customer demand, market opportunity, or external threat."
That definition holds true today, but since then, IBM has offered more detail about the means by which businesses can aspire to this designation. In a session today entitled "On Time, On Budget, and On Strategy: Becoming an On Demand Business," IBM's On Demand Business general manager Ross Mauri outlined IBM's roadmap on how to get there from here. Check out the video and podcast from Ross at the link above to learn more.
But the essence is straightforward: Customers can achieve new value with IT through the deep integration of business and IT which connects people, process, and technology. To obtain the maximum value possible from this direction, organizations need to focus on five core priorities:
We'll examine these priorities in more detail moving forward, as well as address how IBM customers here at Gartner explained how they're putting them into practice.[Read More]
"Please listen carefully, as the options have changed."
That was how my first day began at the Fall Gartner Symposium/IT Expo here in Orlando, Florida, when I called our help desk to solve a connectivity problem that I ended up having to solve myself. And judging from the initial sessions here at Gartner that I attended this AM, both the VRU response as well as my having to troubleshoot and fix my own IT problem are signs of things to come.
I probably should have known something was amiss when I discovered that a vendor had shoved some cardboard 3-D glasses under my door overnight, but didn't bother to accompany it with anything interesting to look at. That, and the fact that red grouper are in scarce supply due to new fishing restrictions on both commercial and sport fisherman because of overfishing here in Florida.
Fishing in the Wrong Pond
Although I'm certain the grouper were happy to hear about the fishing restrictions, that, too, seemed to be a sign. Judging from the 50,000 foot view "set up" session that a virtual samba line of Gartner analysts led this morning, many information technologists have been fishing in the wrong pond, and suggested that it's time to regroup and focus on the real value of IT. The question at hand: Do you want IT to be an enabler or a contributor?
In terms of issues and challenges in the external landscape, the shifting sands of change have become a virtual raging sandstorm. Natural disasters aside, there are vast economic challenges (the price of oil, or Factor "X", as it was referred to in the presentation, sits on the doorstep of global business, lurking like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"); changing suitors, alliances, and businesses expanding their core (McDonald's moving into video rentals, Starbucks into music retailing); and most conspicuously, the changing use of technology by consumers (Your employees may not have hooked their iPod nano into your SAN just yet, but give it time).
So, if all the options have changed, what does a CIO do? Well, that depends on your outlook. If your organization sees IT as an enabler to your business, and not simply a contributor -- and more importantly, if your board sees that as well -- then you're probably in pretty good shape. Even though annual spending growth on IT investments is incremental at best, hovering between 1.5 and 2.5 percent, global GDP is 3-4 percent and presents you with ample opportunity to tweak your IT strategy to focus more on business enhancement, and less on operational enablement.
The New Mantra of IT: Transform and Perform
"Transform and perform" seems to be the new mantra. In other words, you've got to overhaul and completely rebuild the '57 Chevy that is your IT infrastructure, all while cruising down the interstate and keeping your eye on the competition -- hopefully in the rearview mirror. But this ain't no joy ride: We've got places to go and people to see. New business opportunities await us, and they're ripe for the taking, even with modest budgets.
How do we get there? First, get a map. If you don't have one, make one. Second, keep your eyes on the road and on the Burma Shave signs off to the side -- like the American railroad in 1850, new business opportunities will sprout up both on and off this virtual interstate -- you just have to know how to reach them.
We're speeding into a world of multitasking -- personal and professional -- and we must be able to respond to both tactical change (changes in demand for our products, fluctuations in crude, etc.), while building new operating models that facilitate the more strategic change we need to be making. All of this, of course, puts new strains on your IT organization.
Welcome to the 21st Century -- nobody said globalization would be easy, but boy is it never boring!
Stand Together or Fall Apart
If isolationism ensured that Britain would become fully engaged in two global world wars, globalization will increasingly demand the wholesale integration of businesses and IT processes outside their once vertical stovepipes. Business services are nothing more than individual enabling points of light, integrated across the expanse of global enterprises.
But for their full value to be realized by both consumers and creators, the infrastructure and architecture must be established, the standards, security, and transport layers agreed upon, etc.
Resistance is futile. No business is an island. Everything is connected, nobody gets left behind...save for those who don't connect with everybody else.
More later...for now, I'm off to see if anything else comes to view in those 3-D glasses...and no, alas, I won't be having red grouper for lunch.
In the Headlights: Blogging at Gartner Next Week, and the Upcoming "Blogging the Enterprise" Conference
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A quick heads up...I just discovered that I'll be blogging the Gartner Symposium Symposium next week in Orlando, Florida. If you're not attending, I encourage you to check back here for a recap of some of the tidings -- IBM and otherwise -- as Gartner in Orlando is always good for lots of new news from the vendors and plenty o' pithy executive quotes and the Gartner analysts.
I last attended Gartner in the fall of 2003 and heard lots of good stuff while I was there, including a nice long-forgotten speech from Carly Fiorina.
The show mantra at Gartner this fall is about as bottom line as they come: Rapid Results, Faster ROI. Sound familiar?
While I'm there, I hope to wave to Mickey Mouse and thank Robert Iger for "saving American network TV." This because of his decision to partner with Apple on selling episodes of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" via iTunes for viewing on the new video iPod, according to a post on Blogmaverick from HDNet co-founder and Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban.
Back to the topic of on demand timeshifting, I just sent my first "podmail" yesterday. That's the term I came up with to describe an email that is sent and delivered as a podcast used to debrief your colleagues on an issue that you have neither the time nor the inclination to schedule a conference call to discuss, but for which you need to update them. Think of a podmail as a kind of on demand oral debrief. Or is that aural?
Anyhow, one more headlight before they burn out completely...I'm going to be speaking at the forthcoming "Blogging the Enterprise" conference in Austin on November 2nd.
Yes, lazy me, I'm going to drive a few miles up Mopac to attend a blogging conference right here in Austin.
I'll be participating in a panel entitled "Blogging To #1: Positioning Your Company As The Thought Leader." Don't ask me why they think I'm qualified to speak on that particular topic -- the last thought I lead was intercepted by a hacker somewhere between here and western Russia, never to be heard from again -- but there's no explaining these things, and I look forward to some informative sessions and lively discussions.
All seriousness aside, I do intend to introduce the session by discussing the process by which IBM arrived at its blogging guidelines. If egged on, I might even discuss an interesting "behind the firewall" blogosphere story or two...we'll wait and see how rowdy the crowd is.
I will be joined on the panel by EDS Fellow Charlie Bess, whose blog I was checking out recently and who posted a nice dispatch on metrics collection and organizational change. The net of his post is this: If you're going to gather it (metrics, information, etc.), use it. If you're not, don't.
Amen to that. I've participated in a host of metrics reporting initiatives inside IBM, and if they help you effectively monitor and/or optimize your business, they're great. If not, they're a waste of everybody's time.
Next post will be from Orlando...[Read More]
I laughed out loud when I read this Wall Street Journal (registration required) article on the podcasting "land rush." Not so much because I'm an Internet technology/media snob/purist (although I probably am), but because you can just see these things coming like the hyperbolic snowball that becomes all these Internet phenomena: blogs, RSS, podcasts, etc. ad nauseum ad infinitum.
So, I'm going to stay off my e-centric high horse and talk about this from a perspective that hopefully we can all relate to via the more important concept that has come to be referred to as "time shifting."
Here's the deal: Time is the most precious commodity any of us have these days. Most of us spend way too much of it at work, or travelling to and from work, or to, from, and at kids' after-school events, etc. There aren't enough hours (much less minutes or seconds) in the day, and so time has become the most precious commodity any of us have. We allocate it even more preciously than we do our money (well, maybe not, but you get the point). I'm surprised nobody has figured out a way to package up time and auction it on eBay in small bottles. If anybody has, please ping me.
Which is where the point of this rant comes in, the media. Once upon a time, the so-called "traditional" media worked to slice and dice us people into neat, demographic segments that they could then package up as "audiences" and sell access to us to them marketers. (A friendly reminder: The first radio serials were produced by Proctor & Gamble, which sent sales of Oxydol laundry detergent into the stratosphere).
This model is intrinsic to most major media today, and it worked well for oh, let's say, about the last 70 years.
Then digital technologies began to emerge that sent many media executives running for the Geoffrey Moore new business-model, paradigm-shifting, crossing-the-chasm whiteboard, mainly those media on and enabled by the Internet.
If these traditional media were an oligarchy, these new media are a democracy. They are much more participatory in nature -- renowned media theorist Marshall McLuhan called them the "cool media" -- and they require the audience to become more actively engaged in the consumption of and response to the media. Napster, TiVo, podcasting, etc....the list of the most recent culprits goes on for several scrolls in your standard browser.
But the fragmentation of the mass media is as much representative of the opportunities that this fragmentation creates for consumers as the threats it presents to those in the media business. That's because these new technologies empower the you's and me's of the world to take back some of our time and consume media at our leisure, increasingly when and in what format we chose. In turn, it is encouraging the traditional media to innovate and develop new business models that let them capitalize on these new opportunities whil addressing their threats.
When I got my first digital video recorder type device (other than my PC), I was living and working in New York City at the height of the Internet bubble. I didn't have a lot of free time at the time, and I hardly watched any TV. Within days of getting my ReplayTV box, I had turned into a virtual TV junkie. What happened, you ask participatorily?
I had been liberated from the enslavement of the network TV schedule. I could now watch whatever I recorded, whenever I wanted, without the rocket science degree required to program my VCR and with the intelligence intrinsic to the new digital technology. My time was again my own, and the media companies were rapidly encouraged to think about new ways by which they would reach me. Today, I use a more sophisticated cable box DVR, and while I may skip some commercials, I watch plenty of others.
The rising time shift liberates all schedules.
Your iPod, blogs like this one that alert you to the notification of new postings via RSS feeds, your digital cable's personal video recorder...all of these new technologies are nothing more than a mere means by which you can grab some of that precious time back.
Precious free time that I now spend most of checking out all these really cool new technologies. ; )[Read More]
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Today marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory, which has evolved into the largest corporate research division in the world, IBM Research.
No, there's no relation -- however, I have watched with great admiration at the innovations that have come out of the Watson Labs, many before I even set foot on this planet.
Here's just a select few of the Watson Lab breakthroughs: the world's first magnetic hard disk; the FORTRAN programming language; one-transistor dynamic RAM (better known today as DRAM); relational database technology; Reduced Instruction Set Computer architecture; the Scanning Tunneling Microscope...the list goes on and on.
Also emanating from Watson Research: The esteemed team who designed and programmed the Deep Blue super computer that dominated Gary Kasparov in the 1997 Kasparov v. Deep Blue rematch.
Since the mid 1990s, IBM has invested about $5 billion a year on research, and as a result has received more U.S. patents than any other company for 12 years running. The 2004 tally was 3,248 new patents, an average of nearly 9 patents per day.
But ultimately, it is the productive and business-enhancing use of these innovations by our customers in their own organizations which makes us the most proud.
Happy Birthday, Team Watson.[Read More]
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Why This, Why Now?
As has been discussed in previous posts, health-related information and the use of information technology to help people in the medical care ecosystem better communicate, collaborate, and transact is expected to change dramatically over the next decade. While we expect significant benefits from the use of genetics to personalize and improve treatment and prevention, there are also going to be opportunities for all stakeholders to improve the management of such records: for security, privacy, and to help protect such information from inappropriate use.
We believe there is ample reason to plan ahead and develop policies and practices that appropriately balance the beneficial use of such information with respect for individual preferences and protection against the harmful use of such data. That means that public policy, private-sector leadership and individuals must work together to create a non-discriminatory environment that is needed to enable continued advances in healthcare and medicine.
Already, 30-plus state legislatures in the U.S., as well as the U.S. Congress, are considering the enactment of Federal genetic non-discrimination legislation, and other countries have already enacted such laws. Without such legal protection, leaders in the genetic sciences and the medical community are rightly concerned that individuals may forego genetic testing in light of uncertainties as to how their information may be used, particularly by their employers.
What Does It Mean?
IBM's involvement in the Genographic Project, the Human Genome initiative, bio-banking, and other information-based medicine frontiers all clearly revealed the need for clarity in this emerging and important area of science. As a fourteen-year IBM employee, it provides me great comfort to know that the company is formally indicating that it will not solicit or have routine access to any genetic tests I may have undergone.
While I recognize and applaud the tremendous progress that scientific and medical communities have made over the past decade in decoding and mapping the Human Genome, and I have no doubt this progress is already presenting significant opportunity for positive medical enhancements -- often in the form of preventative care that can treat diseases before the symptoms of such conditions have even appeared -- the potential for abuse of such information by employers and others is considerable.
The confidence that such genetic privacy policies can create for the protection of personal health information should, if applied properly, in turn create confidence in the amazing therapeutic opportunities that genetic medicine can provide. To my mind, that is the best way forward, and I am glad to see the company I work for have to taken this important and noteworthy step.[Read More]
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I'm not even in San Francisco for Web 2.0, but I can feel the ground quaking all the way out here in Austin.
I do have a friendly mole on the scene, and have also been monitoring the situation here in the On Demand Web control room, between endless conference calls and email exchanges.
The most common words I've heard to describe 2.0 so far (today is the second of three days): Standing Room Only. 1999. Social apps. AJAX. Tag everything. Identity crisis.
I still expect some major announcement bombs to fall, but thus far, the spin has centered around blogging content and distribution deals (AOL's acquisition of WebLogs, Gawker's deal with VNU), as well as more new new things, including personal tagging, linking every Web service under the sun to Google Maps, Rollyo (Roll your own search engine), Zimbra (open-source collaboration server), utter fear on Madison Ave of Internet marketing rationality...Sand Hill Road has also apparently been directly connected via causeway into downtown San Francisco, there are so many VC about.
It's an utterly irrational return to 1999, stupid!
Everybody in the Bay Area just take a deep breath and count to 10...1...2....3....
If Malcolm Gladwell could only rise up to the ceiling of the Argent Hotel and thin slice the new new mania for us. I'll take mine with mayo, hold the hyperbole.[Read More]
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If you've had any involvement in the development or ongoing sustenance of a Web site, you've hopefully stumbled upon the topic of usability. Unfortunately, it's an issue that falls down the business radar screen, particularly when managers put on their quarter-to-quarter blinders and can't see past March 30, June 30, September 30, or December 31.
Here's my issue with that: Your customers couldn't give one clickthrough about what quarter it is. They want to be able to use your Web site, period, end of sentence, all the time, everytime. They want to be able to come visit it, do their business, and finish their transaction, hopefully with not a lot of resistance on your part.
As part of an extended family that works on the worldwide IBM Web site, a big part of our ongoing challenge inside IBM is convincing our own quarter-to-quarter quarterbacks to invest in basic blocking-and-tackling usability improvements to our Web site. But Turbo, you say, you're the company that invented on demand business! This is heresy, the Web emperor hath no clothes!
My response to that is simple: We're just like any other business, and we have to do the same amount of convincing to invest in fuzzy things like usability, just like everybody else. It's a never-ending battle, but it's a good fight and one well worth fighting. And the way I see it, your loyalty depends on our fight.
What more business leads need to understand with respect to usability on the Web is this: Time is the most precious thing most any of us have these days, and none of us have nearly enough of it. If you take too much of it from your customers, they'll be happy to take their money somewhere else, plain and simple. And that's exactly what happens when your Web site isn't user-friendly. Your customers can't do what it is that they need to do, and so they go elsewhere.
As we said during the boom, your competition is only a click away.
Which brings me to Jakob Nielsen's "Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2005." Nielsen has long been one of the Web's pre-eminent usability gurus -- he's called the "king of usability" in Web circles. In the past, Nielsen has observed that good usability improvements can bring ROI anywhere from 0% to 6,567% (one site he cites improved 65X -- probably not exactly something you want to brag about in your latest 10-K filing, but most certainly a great relief to that company's Web site users).
In 2003, Nielsen observed in one of his Alertbox reports that "ease of use doesn't come from wishful thinking." Rather, he suggests that it comes from "conducting systematic usability engineering activities throughout the project lifecycle. This is real work and costs real money, though not as much as some people fear." Amen to that.
After conducting an analysis of data from 863 design projects that included usability activities, Nielsen's study indicated the usability costs for a project generally amount to between 8% and 13% of its budget. Averaged out, that's about 10 percent. When it comes to Web projects, let me just state for the record that it's my belief that that is the best 10% you'll ever put into your Web site.
Why? Because the Web is a utility vehicle. People don't stand around admiring Web sites...they use the things! Increasingly, they use them to contact your business, to get informed and educated about your products and services, to conduct transactions with you, to buy stuff from you, and yes, even to complain to you. If you don't understand what it is that they need to do, and if you're not investing in how to make what it is that they need to do easier, then you're probably not getting near the ROI on your site as you ought to be.
The good news is, the most important baby steps on the usability front are generally free. Start by asking yourself some basic questions:
If you can start to answer, and resolve, some of these basic questions before your next Web overhaul, you'll be well on your way to making the most of that 10 percent.
But more importantly, your customers won't be spending so much time asking that most frustrating of questions, "How did I get here?"[Read More]
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BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker posted an interesting question this past Friday on his blog: How long would it be before CEOs and other top execs turn their backs on blogging? He suggested that many execs just don't have the time [to blog], and that while "blogs are powerful tools," they work only "when the bloggers are ready and willing to dive in."
Many in the b'sphere jumped in to comment. Phil Gomes from Edelman suggests the real backlash is going to come because companies either don't have policies guiding both the CEOs and their external commenters, or more terrifying to execs, when the SEC starts to wonder why their blog postings and regulatory filings aren't in synergy with one another.
Wired's Chris Anderson writes in "The Long Tail" that Baker misses the point, that business and executive blogging are two different animals, reminding us that "markets are conversations" and that people want to hear from real people, not "remote authority figures." Actually, I'd probably parachute and land somewhere in the middle of this blogging war zone. I want to hear from both the rank-and-file and the remote authority figures; oftentimes, they both have something valuable to say.
What went unsaid in this debate is that each constituency presents two very different points of view: one from the bottom or middle looking up, where one gets great clarity seeing from a short distance; and the others from high upon Mount Business Olympus, where execs have a unique vista from which to observe things usually missing from the view halfway down.
Both views are valid, and both can be extremely useful in charting the course of a business. To that end, IBM has made its own contribution to this discussion, in this case from two individuals who have the view from higher up.
Both have also been instrumental in shaping the blogging dialogue inside IBM: Harriet Pearson, Chief Privacy Officer and Vice President for Corporate Affairs (read: her beat includes IBM blogging policy), and Willy Chiu, Vice President of IBM's High Performance On Demand Solutions Group, who has been thinking about how businesses can start to make better sense of all that unstructured, but valuable, "blogodata" floating around.
Check out their dialogue here.[Read More]
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If you want an object lesson into the power of blogging and real-time customer feedback, you need look no further than Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
First off, full disclosure: I don't work for Apple, and never have. I did watch a biopic about Steve Jobs starring that guy from "E.R." once, and I recently bought a picture book that tells the story of Apple's history and which has some really cool pictures of now ancient Apple products.
However, I do own an iMac (for the record, the one which contains the IBM POWER chip), I think Apple's TV commercials are really cool, and I recently purchased one of their nifty new iPod nanos.
So, at minimum, I am qualified to comment on the situation as an interested consumer who recently bought one of their newest and sexiest products only to witness, before the product had even been delivered, all ---- break loose in a raging Apple PR blogostorm over the past several days.
Before we get to the nanostorm, let me just hit rewind and play back for you how it was that I came to want to buy a nano. Because it was certainly not a deliberate and considered purchase for a product to which I had no real practical need and whose primary function was already being served by another product I bought two years ago.
See, I already have an MP3 player...a 40GB Creative Labs Nomad that's about the size of a large pack of cigarettes and which holds most of the music library of the Western Hemisphere (and probably some of the Eastern's as well). So Turbo, you ask, why in the world do you want or need another MP3 player?
Well, first, having already admitted a weakness for Apple advertising, I saw the TV commercial. Don't underestimate the power of moving images and music coming through a large HD television set, particularly in a really cool and simple TV ad by a really hot ad agency.
Second, I watched the Webcast in which Steve Jobs introduced his new baby, and if Steve Jobs does nothing else, he does great launches.
Third, everyone but me jogs around Town Lake here in Austin with an iPod or iPod mini, and I decided it was time to up the ante and take the whole iPod jogging social Darwinism thing to a new level.
And, yes, I even read the nano reviews, particularly Mossberg's, and being the consumer electronics and gadget junkie that I am, I simply couldn't resist. Okay?!
I went to the Apple Web site, made my purchase, and began to wait patiently for the FedEx truck to arrive, constantly checking my order status and wondering when my custom laser-engraved nano was going to leave the dock and hit my doorstep.
So, sheer and utter panic set in this past Monday when I turned on my ThinkPad and visited techmemeorandum to see what was going on in the tech blogosphere and realized that a full-fledged "nanogate" had broken out, and this before I even took delivery of the product!
The clamor was apparently about the susceptibility the nano's small screen had to break and be easily scratched.
Let me get this straight, I thought: The blogosphere is already screaming about product returns and recalls for a product I just ordered and haven't yet received?! I haven't even had a chance to touch or hold my nano, much less scratch it or admire the cool custom laser inscription on the back, and I might already have to send it back when it hasn't even arrived yet?
I felt violated.
But here was the best part: The nanostorm was created by some guy named Matthew Peterson who had put up a Web site -- a blog, really -- hosted...get this...on the Apple .Mac hosting service.
Let me replay that for you: Some guy, who was ticked off about his broken iPod screen, used a Web site hosted by the company that made the product to send out his fire alarm to the marketplace -- and to Apple -- that he wasn't happy his iPod screen broke.
There's something poetically justified about all this, and yet, if you're a marketing or public relations professional, it must want to send you running for the exits.
But here's the best part: Matthew won.
Apple responded, and appropriately so in my humble, yet biased, "I-just-bought-a-nano-and-haven't-gotten-it-yet-delivered" opinion, by indicating that they had had "a vendor problem with a small number of units" and would gladly replace those susceptible to breaking through the company's AppleCare service. As to those concerned about the potential for scratching screens, a spokesperson suggested they consider buying one of the nano's nifty cases to keep it from getting scratched.
So here I am, one eye staring out the window, keeping watch for the FedEx truck, another on the Apple Web store, back on the digital hunt to spend good money to buy one product to protect a screen for another product that I have seen only in a TV commercial, and all because of some guy writing on a blog hosted on a service by the company that made the product that he was complaining about in the first place.
But that's okay: I just want my nano.[Read More]
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Well, Hurricane Rita wasn't nearly as bad as we had originally expected, but tell that to the folks in southeast Texas and southwestern Louisiana whose homes were wiped off the map by Rita's storm surge or heavy flooding, or those areas in New Orleans which were re-flooded when Rita's waters overtopped the levees there.
While I'm happy to report that my cousin from Beaumont made it safely to Dallas, she's still waiting to learn the condition of her family's home, and it could be some days before they know for certain. I keep my fingers crossed. My other cousins noisily, but safely, waited out the storm amidst the tall pines of east Texas.
I'm also happy to report that IBM's offices in Houston, Clearlake/Space Park, and Corpus Christi are open today, that there were no injuries to IBMers as a result of Rita, and that we are asking our own employees to follow the staggered return plan as outlined by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Meanwhile, IBMers are helping out where they can. The IBM Crisis Response Team is on the ground in Baton Rouge and in close contact with Texas officials to provide assistance in the form of both services and technology. We are also hosting Web sites to help evacuees and the public locate missing family members, including the CNN Safe List. Please refer anyone you know who may be still looking for someone post Katrina or Rita to this resource and, if they don't have Web access, identify someone who can help them use this tool. As we've learned from both Katrina and Rita, often the most conspicuously absent commodity after these storms is reliable information.
To help folks conduct an even more comprehensive search, we also have teams working with the state of Louisiana to implement the "Entity Analytics Systems," which can help integrate different databases and make it possible to search a single, unduplicated, up-to-date list of missing persons so that friends and relatives can better locate one another.
Finally, we're working in the background to help hurricane refugees find employment through a new job post and search Web site, one which brings together the largest number of opportunities from the Web and targeted jobs developed by local chambers of commerce. We're doing this in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, local chambers in the Gulf Coast region, and not-for-profit groups.
If you know of other useful resources, from IBM or anywhere else, please feel free to comment and add the links to this post.[Read More]
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Not that anyone has thought a lot about this but me, but "Rita" is short for "margarita" -- probably the closest thing we have to a state drink aside from Bud Light -- but for those of us in Texas, we're likely going to need a few of them before this storm is over.
I am situated in Austin, Texas, a couple of hundred miles from the coast, but have friends and family who are situated much closer to the Texas Gulf Coast. So, I have been keeping a very close eye on the big red radar blob slowly inching its way toward the Texas coast.
I spoke with cousins in Houston earlier today, and they indicated that the gas station near their house was 35 cars deep. They're far inland, and not leaving, although they are concerned about those items their neighbors who fled may not have tied down.
My other cousin who was fleeing Beaumont for Dallas indicated that she made 40 miles in about two hours on the highways. My other cousin is situated among the tall Texas pines of Huntsville. She indicated that due to the winds from Hurricane Alicia, back in 1983, those treetops touched the ground from wind gusts more in the 100 MPH range. Rita is currently spinning at about 200 MPH -- I just hope she loses some of her tequila on the way in to shore.
All these storms this year started me to thinking about learning how local municipalities, states, and the federal government could potentially use technology to try and stave off some of the economic damage and prevent more fatalities moving forward. After Katrina, it became pretty clear that they need all the help they can get.
IBM Research has been working on a project called "Deep Thunder", which attempts to build applications based on customized, focused short-term weather forecasts, all with the express purpose of saving lives, minimizing economic damages, and maximizing the operational response to storms. These forecasts can provide detailed information about temperature, winds, precipitation and other key data points from the surface of the earth to 15 km, and can help industries like agriculture, construction, and others impacted by the weather make proactive decisions in advance of major storms. They do this with super-computing technologies not dissimilar from our computer chess master, Deep Blue.
As I think about the oil refineries along the Houston and Corpus Christi channels, and the hundreds of thousands of people moving a few miles per hour on some of the most spacious freeways in the country, I can't help but think that such applications are going to be increasingly critical to helping municipalities become more on demand responsive in the future.
Check out the Deep Thunder Web page to learn more, and check out the video if you have the time. It makes the seemingly theoretical approach appear to be most practical.[Read More]
I'll be the first to admit I'm somewhat digital-centric...if it's not online, whatever it is, and it could be, you're likely going to get a severe and violent allergic reaction from me when you ask me to do so something offline that I could save lots of time by doing on.
"What do you mean I can't get access to my health insurance information via the Web?"
"What do you mean you need me to fill out that form again?"
"What do you mean you need a fax for that claim? A fax?!?!"
Every time I go into a new physician's office, I'm asked to fill out a lengthy personal medical history (lengthy in the questions they ask, not necessarily in my personal medical history.)
Of course, I understand and absolutely embrace my doctors' request to have my medical history. I want them to have it. But every time I have fill out those endless forms, I can feel precious seconds of my short life falling away like the water droplets out of an I.V. bag.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Can't they, at minimum, give me a little microchip or USB drive or something to carry from one office to another, so that I don't create a new medical condition in the form of writer's cramp as I fill out page after page every time I visit a new physician's office?
Subconsciously, this chore alone has very likely limited my willingness to switch doctors over the years. Never mind the economic inefficiencies inherent in having thousands of doctors shuffling papyrus around when they could be sending bits and bytes amongst themselves, their patients, their insurance companies, and other interested parties.
Also, as we have witnessed recently with Hurricane Katrina, having some form of electronic health information portability is now found to be essential when we find that tens of thousands are suddenly forced from their homes and all their medical and prescription records destroyed.
I had a personal experience with a related challenge in 2003 that nearly left me absolutely stunned as to how unwired healthcare could be in the U.S. My uncle was lying in a vegetative state at a hospital on the outskirts of Houston (yes, that Houston, home to leading edge medical bellwethers such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Baylor Medical College of Medicine).
Amazingly, no one on the staff knew of a way to download a digital file of my uncle's electroencephalogram to a diskette, much less ship it via the Internet to another physician who lived 90 miles away and whose second opinion we desperately wanted to receive in a timely manner -- so that my immediate family could make a fully informed and, ultimately, life-changing decision. Due to its lack of digital capability, the hospital ended up having to print reams of paper for my cousin to ship it to the other doctor overnight via Fed Ex.
Sadly, the decision was ultimately made to remove him from life support -- but it was a decision unnecessarily delayed while my family waited for a plane to fly from Houston to Memphis and back so that a stack of paper could await a signature at a doctor's office somewhere in Beaumont, Texas.
So much for filling out all those forms.
A Little Preventative Medicine Goes a Long Way
Every year, the U.S. alone spends $1.9 trillion on healthcare, and yet it makes up less than 2% of what we spend on information technology. And employer health care costs are growing faster than revenues, with 2004 marking the fifth consecutive year of double-digit increases (at 12%).
If those numbers don't stagger you, write these down on your R/X pad: Nearly 100,000 people die every year in the U.S. -- more from AIDS, homicide, and car crashes combined -- because of medical errors preventable by better information systems.
I'm happy to report that IBM has arrived at the ER and is doing what it can to improve the patient's condition. In particular, I was heartened to read an article in the New York Times yesterday about an experiment in Duchess and Ulster Counties north of New York City to create a Web-accessible database available for doctors, hospitals, insurers, and employers in the region.
Entitled the "Taconic Health Information Network and Community," the system will initially provide secure access to electronic medical information such as lab reports to X-rays and other imaging results, and later to electronic medical and prescription records. (IBM is both a technology provider for and beneficiary of this initiative, as we employ over 60,000 people in the mid-Hudson Valley.)
Some of our healthcare industry experts also recently started a blog called "HealthNex," that addresses the "building blocks of connected care." It includes discussions on everything from electronic health records to building a more integrated healthcare ecosystem. A recent post cites a RAND study that indicates electronic medical records specifically could yield $81 billion annually for the U.S. healthcare industry. Check the HealthNex blog to learn more.
In the meantime, feel free to encourage your local physician to replace all those forms with a browser. Collectively, we'll all be much healthier when we can make that transition.[Read More]