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Watching some of the new ventures getting funded over the last several months, there’s an interesting trend that’s turning user-generated content into real value for companies and their customers.

One example is Driveway Software, which develops applications that insurance companies offer to their customers.  The apps track driving behavior, and enable the insurer to offer discounts based on good driving habits.  In the healthcare sector, companies like AFrame Digital and Lark are creating devices and apps that enable doctors, care-givers, and individuals to track patient health and provide better, more personalized care.  FlixMaster collects information about how we watch interactive on-line videos so that media companies and advertisers can create more engaging content.

While the content in these instances is “user-generated,” all the work is being done within machine-to-machine interfaces. User devices or apps collect information and communicate with data collection and analytics engines to produce both individual and aggregated intelligence. That intelligence enables companies to offer new and unique products and services.

For each company that collects and uses customer-generated data intelligently, there are scores who collect data but never use it.  That’s not only a waste, but also an unjustified risk – keeping customer information without carefully managing it can have legal ramifications and expose the company to liability.

Bottom Line:   There are countless ways to collect data about your customers.  Before you start, decide exactly why you’re collecting it, how you’ll manage it, and what intelligence and action the data will drive.

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Looking into the future of cloud computingI’ve spent a lot of time this year with clients including VMWare, Grid Dynamics, SymbioWare and others who are thinking about (and betting on) the future of cloud computing.    To figure out what’s real and what’s hype, we’ve also talked to dozens of VPs of Engineering and IT about their priorities and plans.

Here are a few predictions for the challenges and opportunities that will be floating around in the cloud in 2011.

  1. Enterprises are going to continue to combine traditional IT with private and public clouds – picking the best and most appropriate of these models for each application or business process.
  2. The different stacks will still need to interoperate, so IT organizations will be looking for tools that were designed to operate and manage these hybrid environments.
  3. These mixed environments will spawn a new generation of applications that are deployable anywhere.
  4. Though cloud is a hot topic among IT execs, ultimately it’s a means to an end – and that end will decidedly be flexibility in 2011, marking a change from the laser beam focus on cost reduction of past years.
  5. Security is the #1 reason companies don’t do more in the cloud. 2011 should be a big year for vendors who can address their concerns.
  6. Greater cloud adoption will place more strain on the network, and network infrastructure vendors will be scrambling to support the growing demand for speed and bandwidth.
  7. With so many productivity and business tools now available in the cloud, small and medium businesses (SMBs) are able to draw on much more sophisticated and powerful IT resources.  But making sense of the options and how they all work together will be a big challenge. That makes for a big opportunity to help SMBs assemble the right SaaS portfolios.
  8. SaaS for mobile will take off in 2011, likely outpacing new SaaS offerings for desktops.  Lots of factors conspire here: HTML5 adoption, IaaS providers catering to mobile – witness Amazon’s recent release of Software Development Kits (SDKs) for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS),  and the fact that computing power and storage space are more scarce on mobile devices than the desktop.
  9. As usual with a hot IT trend, there will be plenty of companies throwing “cloud” into their marketing spiels long before they have made any substantive changes to their product offerings.  Buyers will have to spend some extra due diligence cycles weeding out the pretenders.
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CIO Agenda Recap

by Lilia Shirman on May 11, 2009

in Technology industry

At the Churchill Club CIO Agenda event last Thursday, Peter Solvik (formerly CIO at Cisco) led a discussion among a powerhouse of IT leadership:  Matt Carey, CIO of Home Depot (former CTO, eBay and Wal-Mart), Karenann Terrell, CIO of Baxter (formerly CIO at Daimler / Chrysler), and Lars Rabbe, former CIO at Intuit and YahooTopics included SaaS, Clouds, the good an bad of vendor consolidation, and the uptake of Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies.

Here’s a summary of their views and my takeaways on these top-of-mind IT themes:

Q: What are you focusing on over the next year?

All three CIOs are managing costs more actively, but key strategic projects are still very much under way.  Baxter is doing a massive new ERP deployment, and Home Depot is continuing its supply chain upgrade.  Home Depot’s CFO says that right now, “cash is king,” so the company has stopped construction of multiple new stores (while competitors are continuing to build at a faster rate,  and cut costs in IT and operations.

Takeaways:

There are two ways to sell in this environment. 1. Show concrete cost savings and a short time to realize them.  2. Find out what your prospects’ one big initiative is, and show how you add value to it.

Q: Consolidation – Good or bad? Giving vendors too much power?

Here the CIOs disagreed. Lars felt consolidation helps ease integration, though of course too much consolidation eliminates alternatives. Overall, he felt he’d benefited from consolidation as a CIO. Matt agreed that better integration was a positive, but is concerned that vendors may gain too much power in negotiating contract renewals and maintenance fees.

Karenann, on the other hand, believes that the benefits of integration are limited, that it moves slowly, and that it “has not unraveled the complexity.” Even worse, while everyone is busy with integration, there is a pause in innovation. Karenann also voiced a concern about unjustified support and maintenance costs: “I’m willing to pay an annuity, but only if I get extra value.”

Takeaways:

  • Complexity is still a challenge, so both big and small vendors that can help reduce it can do well.
  • If your competitors are buy digesting acquisitions, take advantage of innovation as a differentiator
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I came across a great summary of an all-too-common problem on the MarketCulture blog.  The article   recommends that companies focus “on a demand that needs to be met (rather) than a tech that needs to be sold.”  Well said!

Apple is a great example of what happens when a company switches from product to market focus.  Apple started as a product-focused company.  And almost disappeared, despite its loyal following among creative types.   Its computers were easier to use and better designed, but the mass market who needed easy-to-use computers wasn’t there until later, by which time MS had introduced Windows, washing away Apple’s design superiority.    While Apple was still focused on cool product design, MS wooed a broad community of application developers to meet the growing demand for specialized applications.  The need was for a broad range of software functionality, and Apple missed that completely.

But Apple learned.  When music sharing came along, launching wars between record labels and music enthusiasts, Apple  saw the need, and designed around it.  This time, Apple focused on the demand side, with savvy marketing and even more savvy ecosystem creation. Significantly, Apple didn’t give up its leading-edge product design competency in order to become market focused.

To all the entrepreneurs with great ideas, and the larger vendors touting product features: Spend time with customers to find out where they really will spend money.  Then DO make “products so good they don’t need sales and marketing.”   Then market and sell like crazy.

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After 2 days at the Sales 2.0 conference, I fear we may be on the same path CRM took in its early days.  Though some of the new tools are great, and MUCH easier to adopt, there is too much talk of technology, not enough  about behavior and cultural changes.   All things 2.0 are really about interaction and collaboration with customers. And that requires a change in mindset.

Basic example of 2.0 principles in action, that actually requires less technology.  (A version of this focused on customer references was used very successfully by Beverly Chase and the  BEA marketing team)

Instead of arming your reps with the new and improved power point presentation, design a white board talk.  Script it with questions and discussion points instead of spiel.   The result is a conversation where customers contribute ideas, and the content evolves based on the here-and-now in the room, and not what marketing thought up a month ago back at corporate.

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