11/29/13

Ballmer “everywhere I go I see paper and pencils; there is still room for innovation” #ebg

briefcase-largeI attended an EBG (Electronic Business Group, an influential French e-business Think-Tank) conference on Nov 8 in Paris, at which Steve Ballmer was speaking. It has taken a while to process my notes but here they are at last, sometimes answering my questions about the future of Microsoft, sometimes not. However, undoubtedly, Ballmer has managed to captivate the massive audience in the small theatre room of the Espace Pierre Cardin at the Heart of Paris, France. Ballmer was interviewed by EBG’s founder and Secretary General, Pierre Reboul. Steve Ballmer is also a member of the board of directors of EBG.

There has been a great deal of questions asked about the future of Microsoft lately, with regard to their apparent inability to cope with the mobile market (even by Gates’s own admission). However, it would be wrong to think that Microsoft has lost the War even though it may have lost a few battles. As a matter of fact, the software giant from Redmond, Wash. is still very strong in many areas, including Business Cloud, enterprise collaboration (more than 70% market share with SharePoint, not to mention yammer), home gaming with the very successful Xbox platform, and of course, Microsoft office which is, like it or not, still broadly used, despite a flurry of free more or less open source office suites which are available from the Internet. Yet, Microsoft’s business models are challenged, office is slowly turning into a pay per use model with Office 365 and Windows 8 is just about coming back to life after a much awaited 8.1 facelift a couple weeks ago. So where is Microsoft headed? That is the question. Let us see what Steve Ballmer, the current CEO who is soon to retire, has to say about this, even though he has  managed to evade quite a few questions…

Right after the introduction , Steve Ballmer answered a question about the newly released surface 2 tablet. “Surface 2, is the evidence that Microsoft is moving from regular PCs to becoming a device company” Steve Ballmer explained, therefore confirming the impression is that many analysts had had, after the announcement of the purchase of Nokia, or rather as part of Nokia as Mr Ballmer explained a few moments later.

Does that mean that Microsoft is going to stop working with OEMs? “I would say something different” Ballmer said. “We continue to work with OEMs, but we will produce more devices”. Microsoft is definitely choosing a different path from Apple, its model seems to be far more akin to Google’s, even though its business model is a lot different.

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Ballmer with EBG’s Reboul on stage in Paris

“Everywhere I go I see paper and pencil there is still room for innovation”

Reboul said that Microsoft’s surface 2 was a good device yet, he wondered, “how do you make this a bestseller?”

“You want a different value proposition” Ballmer explained. “This device is meant to make you more productive; it is better than just watching movies.” Besides, a “continued stream of innovation is required too. Every meeting I go to, we still come across paper and pencil” Ballmer pointe out. We see a lot of opportunity for more innovation”. I couldn’t agree more with that. 10 years ago, I used to take notes using handwriting recognition off my iPAQ mini tablet. Now this is something which is no longer available, and I am still longing to find a good technology which can free me of paper and pencil and let me take notes naturally in a handwritten manner together with intelligent character recognition (ICR). After all, it used to be possible 10 years ago it should be now too!

Back to Windows 8: it was launched with a bad buzz, now a new has version just been released. What do you think?

As to sales, we have sold over 100 million units in a year : that’s pretty good!” Ballmer said. “Sales have been pretty good, but regarding consumer PCs there has been an impact with low end devices and we are working on this with new devices” he added. Sales have been better that the feedback in essence. “Regarding feedback, it has been more average” Steve Ballmer said. “Some like it, some not. There is a lot of diverging feedback. But what we did with was pretty bold. We’ll continue to move forward. Still, with enterprise customers, windows 7 is still most popular”.

What is the border between mobile and desktop? was Reboul’s next question

“There are no rigid borders” Ballmer said. “Phablets [a cross between tablets and phones] exist. People are moving from one device to another. We even make an 80 inch table you can hang on walls. There are no firm lines between devices.” he said.

photo by idownloadblog via the Verge > read on at http://bit.ly/ms80inchtab

What changes in Microsoft’s business model

What of Microsoft’s legacy licence-based business model? Is Microsoft forced to move to the SaaS model. How will they make money out of this? “The future of software is to be delivered as a service” Ballmer confirmed, “be it for b2bor b2c. Office 365 is already the number one SaaS application in the world” he added. But is Microsoft making as much money from this as it used to? “Services are small in revenue but they are growing rapidly and we are hoping for increased in the numbers of seats? Our revenue stream is still dominated by software licences, but things will change in the future” Steve Ballmer added. “For business customers, the best value is to go for online services” he added. “Also for consumers but some customers like to buy software licences once and for all and be done with it!” as the recent hoo-hah about the all SaaS version of Adobe Creative Cloud demonstrated (sample here).  Here I’m not really convinced on how all those revenue numbers will add up, but time will tell.

Nokia : what did you buy exactly?

Another question I had was about what Microsoft had actually bought from Nokia and what they intended to do with it: “Nokia has a lot of pieces” Ballmer said. “We didn’t buy maps, nor base stations for networks, we bought the phone business and the tablet business”. This also means that Microsoft now has two tablets! Surface and Nokia’s. Ballmer dismissed that issue altogether: “eventually, we’ll have two tablets (the deal is not yet approved), this is not a problem” he added. Time will tell again if having two aspiring products is enough to compete with 2 established leaders like Apple and Samsung. Surface 2 seems to be a nice product though, the concept is cool, and I’d really like to have a tablet which lets me work on my blog posts from cradle to grave … that is as long as both the apps and the hardware are up to scratch. I haven’t yet switched back to windows for mobiles but who knows, never say never…

Social strategy for Microsoft

Social is an area in which Microsoft has been either very successful (B2B) or very unsuccessful (B2C, despite the fact that it used to have a leg up in that game with MSN a long time before Facebook). “We are a player in certain parts for social networking” Ballmer confirmed. “We have a very successful offer with Yammer, and Skype, we are part of the social fabric” he added. Ballmer stressed that even Internet giant Google is struggling in that space. “Google has tried a bit but struggles against Facebook” alluding to Google+ even though it is now picking up a lot, mostly through the authorship and communities features, and I would not be surprised if things changed in the long run, in favour of Google. “Yammer has a free model. Once the IT department wants to add control then they go for the pay version” he said. It should be remembered that both Yammer and Skype are acquisitions.

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Gaming

Gaming is one of the very successful spaces for Microsoft: “Xbox is one of the most exciting experiences” Ballmer said. “The emerging model is freemium gaming but there will still be a model for hit games where production costs are huge. Both of those models are promising for the future, but they are for different kinds of games. Casual gaming will focus on freemium” Balllmer said. “The new Kinect sensor is phenomenal. It can even spot a finger moving” Ballmer said. “It will be used for games in which gamers shoots bows and arrows for instance” but there may be future applications for businesses as well. “The future will be the projection of the user IN the game” or even a show he added.  Imagine being able to kick a penalty kick in lieu of the player in the field? As more innovative features like these will be added, there will be a new space for costly games, but also “ a lot of the freemium models will start casual and grow serious”, even though “Microsoft’s games are for serious fun” Ballmer added.

Microsoft, innovation and its future (unnamed) CEO

Microsoft is a big company and it will be even bigger after Nokia’s acquisition has been ratified. “Ther are 100,000 employees at Microsoft before Nokia, there will be 130,000 after” Microsoft’s boss said. “There’s room for innovation at Microsoft. At R&D and also from the bottom up. Good Innovation is a good mixture of bottom up and top-down. Good success doesn’t come all from the bottom”. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1990 and is planning to leave soon. “I love Microsoft” he said “but I have made my decision.  I want to have an active life outside of Microsoft. We are pivoting on devices and services, and it’s a good time to make the transition now. When we have a new leader we’ll have a new leader. I don’t know his name and I wouldn’t disclose it.” There has been rumours that Microsoft’s new boss would be Nokia’s Steven Elop but Ballmer didn’t comment on that.

Ballmer’s plan isn’t to retire though: “I wouldn’t retire and fish, I would scare the fish. I want to study, travel, look after the local basketball team, be part of boards of directors… I’ve got many things I’d like to study before I retire” he concluded.

03/13/12

Sugar CRM: a European perspective


Tom_SchusterThis is the third Sugar CRM executive to be interviewed by visionary marketing.com. My first interview took place two years ago with Larry Augustin, CEO and founder of the CRM company, who is also one of the people who coined the phrase: “open source”. After a brief Skype encounter with the company’s marketing executive Jan Sysmans last year, I now had the chance of spending some time with Tom Schuster, VP EMEA of Sugar CRM. Let’s see what’s happening in Europe with regard to the development of CRM usage in this exclusive interview with took place a few weeks ago.

Sugar CRM: less known than Salesforce but doing frightfully well

Larry had explained his plans 2 years ago and 2 years later, we can say that “he has delivered on his plan” Tom said. Sugar CRM has been through phenomenal growth and is becoming, according to him, the “fastest growing CRM company in the world”. So, what are the numbers? Sugar CRM grew by  52% in 2009-2010 and 67% 2010-2011 and the company has been cash positive since end of 2010. Whereas it is still less known than Salesforce, which was started in the 1990’s, Sugar CRM are broadly recognised. “It’ a fantastic company” Tom Schuster added, “ in 2012,  we are planning 100% growth in Europe!”  imagea foray into the high end market … with a little help from IBM

images (2)Sugar CRM is in its 7th year of operation. It is mostly active with mid market customers (i.e. with 100-150 users), but in the last 6 months the company generated more activity with higher end customers (those with 1000+ users). “This is a space we didn’t target at first, but in which we are definitely getting” stated Tom Schuster.

This hasn’t been quite left to chance though; for “Sugar CRM has a strong relationship with IBM and work very closely with them  in the field”. This is what is driving a lot of the growth. Tom has actually seen an acceleration of his business since Q4 2010. According to Tom, Sugar CRM is “now in 3rd position globally in terms of number of users, with Salesforce at the top of course. The open source company “can now boast well over 800,000 seats worldwide and this is still accelerating” added Schuster.

Close integration with IBM has also been worked out from a technical point of view (with regard to the Cognos and Lotus product lines). IBM helps Sugar CRM address both the mid market and  very high end customers.

Sugar CRM in the magic quadrant

“There are  between 200,000 and 350,000 users in Europe” Schuster added, “this is pretty big business”. And Forrester gave the company an accolade by placing it in the leader portion of its CRM magic quadrant, i.e. not just celebrating the company’s vision but also its execution capabilities.

the ride of open source

“Open source is now able  now able to compete with regular software publishers” Tom Schuster went on. This isn’t new if you include open source stars like EZpublish (of which I am a client), Drupal or Joomla for instance. Yet, Sugar CRM is the first in the application arena to make such a big breakthrough. “With Sugar CRM we are going beyond mere open source software” Tom developed. “the code is free and can be changed, but building a business on that concept of openness and community is mostly about state of mind and attitude” he rightfully added.

3 focuses : social, cloud and mobile

There are 3 areas for the development of Sugar CRM. Let’s review them now:

  1. 2.0-largesocial: of course, our readers know about that, this is a very hot topic at the moment. The real issue is to know how to position the software in the future when social will become very big, that is to say probably very soon. “Lotus live, Web conferencing, messaging systems, linkedIn data, Twitter data are all interfaced and it’s a new way of working with  CRM software” Tom Schuster added. Hirleo (an Israeli company) and Portuguese Gulf are already using Facebook as the main gate to their CRM system. Younger workers want to work with new fangled applications and social media is their favoured starting place. “Most of the marketing data are in the social media space anyway” added Schuster so the challenge is on how one regains ownership of that data.
  2. network-largecloud: can be run anywhere. but it can also be transferred from one hosting service to another. For instance, “one can get started on Sugar CRM with an Amazon cloud infrastructure and then move it somewhere else and this doesn’t cost anything in terms of licence” Tom Schuster went on. This transfer capability is “transparent to them” Schuster added, “Sugar’s code is free and this is a lot more than a buzzword. It’s a movement and while many have old sheep in new clothes, this isn’t the case with Sugar” he added. “Cloud means you choose your service and don’t even know where it is coming from” Schuster detailed . Sugar CRM have their own hosted on demand service, fully replicated, and it also exists on Amazon, which means that when you buy their hosting service you may choose to get Sugar CRM directly while benefitting from all of Amazon’s  cloud features. “it’s really revolutionary” Schuster added, “you have more control on your data, and you can move them 100% without loss and additional cost.
  3. mobile-largemobile: “mobile usage has rocketed up” said Schuster, therefore confirming what I have witnessed over the years too. “as of 2010, only a very small fraction of B2B usage was made by mobile” he said. “2011 saw a huge rise in mobile usage of CRM, up to 15% of total usage” Schuster said, “but it’s growing fast now”. [note: Orange.com mobile usage also amounts to 15%, therefore confirming Tom’s numbers. As of 2010, mobile usage on Orange.com was limited to 10%]. Sugar now exists in 2 different versions: corporate and ultimate. The corporate version  now amounts to 50% of total revenue, and it includes a mobile module, which supports all kinds of operating systems. An application has also been developed for each mobile OS in order to improve user experience. “There is no other way” Schuster concluded. The mobile browser experience is not a pleasant experience”.
11/23/11

Welcome to the API jungle – part II – what Brands should do

Welcome to the API jungle or why developers must learn how to find, select, integrate APIs and contribute to their improvement and evolution (part II)

by Martin Duval, CEO, Bluenove

imageThe API landscape is extremely dynamic. The following 2 diagrams taken from ProgrammableWeb describe the most common APIs which are used in order to build mash-ups. They show the dominance of major historic players (check the “see all time” diagram) but also the more recent rise of new players such as Twilio in the recent past (last 14 days), as well as the convergence of Cloud Computing and Telecom.

There is yet more evidence of imagethe emergence of this new ecosystem; it is indeed interesting to notice the emergence of new players offering the technical support to manage API infrastructures such as the new Application Enablement Services Business Unit from Alcatel-Lucent (the one that acquired ProgrammableWeb in 2010), Mashery, Apigee, Aepona or 3Scale.

But let’s come back to the relationship between Apps and APIs.

After all, aren’t applications mere channels? To support their promotion, we can reasonably bet that Brands will also create APIs in the future, with probably a more obvious way to demonstrate Return On Investment through the number of innovative apps created by third party creative developers than through the number of downloads KPI[7] of their own app. Brands could therefore propose APIs in order to extend the reach of their products and services.

Here are some suggestions for a few popular Brands[8].

  • Nike could create a “Just Size It” API that gives the perfect shoe size from the photo of your feet,
  • Evian could create a hydration API that calculates the quantity of water a person needs to drink daily and reminds her when rehydration is needed,
  • Netflix has proposed an API to tap into its customers’ creative capabilities, and even organized a contest [9] so as to crowdsource ideas leading to the improvement of the algorithms of its movie recommendation engine,
  • French off-licence chain Nicolas could create an API that allows its customers to find and leave recommendations about the wine they buy.

How could these companies support the use of their APIs, and therefore the promotion of their Brand? This would be done by the developers who would make sure to make APIs accessible by the end users on different interfaces, and who would find ways to remunerate themselves through the proposition of new business models.

Of course Brands can still develop some specific applications themselves, but the decision to propose an Open API will offer an unparalleled way to boost exponentially the reach of their promotion.

A lot of marketing managers are sometimes the victims of the ‘gadget syndrome’: they follow the trend getting on board the last fashionable feature to include into their marketing plans. One year it is the ‘Facebook Page’, or the ‘Twitter account’, and the year after the ‘Mobile App’.

But as part of a more sustainable marketing and innovation strategy, the best solution may very well not be an application but rather an Open API.

Another trend to take into account as a booster for the number of APIs, is Open Data. The opening of public data by the administrations (After initiatives in the US with Data.gov and in the UK with Data.gov.uk, Etalab[10] is also about to launch the Data.gouv.fr portal of data sets in December 2011) and French cities such as Rennes[11], Paris[12] or Montpellier[13] have already exposed some data sets with some of them as APIs.

Open Data for businessese

The concept also appeals to businesses as shown by the Bluenove white paper (in French)  entitled “Open Data: what are the issues and the opportunities for the enterprise?” with sponsors such as French railways SNCF, French Post Office Group La Poste, SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT and the French confectionary giant Poult group. The Civil Service, local governments as well as businesses will have to learn how to attract, engage and manage a community of developers but also of entrepreneurs, researchers, academics, students and companies from other industries to motivate them to use their APIs and boost their innovation.

as a conclusion: the fundamental role of developers

Martin Duval, CEO of Bluenove

Martin Duval, CEO, Bluenove

One the one hand major platforms continue relentlessly to open themselves to to more and more end users thanks to more open developments. On the other hand, developers will try to invent new applications but will also have to use an increasing number of available APIs and use new skills to detect, select, integrate them but also contribute to improve them and even ask for new ones.

One sees new types of requirements, services and skills emerging which keep the collaboration and innovation momentum going between the members of these complex ecosystems among which developers have a fundamental role to play.

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[7] KPI : Key Performance Indicator

[8] Examples from this article on Mashable by Adam Kleinberg : http://mashable.com/2011/01/04/brand-open-api-developers/

[9] One of ’the 12 levers of Open Innovation’ : see http://www.slideshare.net/Bluenove

[10] EtaLab : http://www.etalab.gouv.fr/

[11] Rennes Open Data : http://www.data.rennes-metropole.fr/

[12] Paris : http://www.bluenove.com/publications/revue-de-presse/bluenove-fait-parler-les-donnees-de-la-ville-de-paris-et-le-web/

[13] Montpellier Open Data : http://opendata.montpelliernumerique.fr/Le-projet

11/22/11

Welcome to the API jungle – part I – a surfeit of APIs

Photo: Yann GourvennecWelcome to the API jungle or why developers must learn how to find, select, integrate APIs and contribute to their improvement and evolution (part I)

by Martin Duval, CEO, Bluenove

As I started writing this article at the beginning of October 2011 , the http://www.programmableweb.com/[1] web site indicated on its home page that it has identified 4007 APIs and 6175 mash-ups on a global footprint: At the moment you are reading this piece on the Visionary Marketing, I am certain these numbers are completely outdated. I agree that, Dear Developers, these numbers are still very far from your ‘Ocean of Apps’ but this new ecosystem nevertheless starts to look like a ‘Jungle of APIs’.

First and foremost, let’s take the time to put this notion of Open APIs back into its context. ‘Application Programming Interfaces’ do enable the connection between different IT platforms and the integration of different application and services through the creation of a ‘mash-up’. Open APIs proposed by a mobile or web player aim at helping the creation of an ecosystem around a common platform, therefore forming a dynamic community of creative developers who are given the opportunity to innovate faster and in many more directions, than if  they wished to do it on their own. This is therefore a genuine Open Innovation strategy in which the various players will have to initiate and maintain a long-term bond of trust, based on elements such as stability, sustainability, ease of use of the platform and the APIs, but also based on a win-win relationship with its community of partner developers.

Beyond the major web platforms (Google, Facebook, Ebay, Twitter, Amazon, etc.) that propose to the developers a big set of APIs and of course the main mobile OSes (Iphone, Android, Windows Phone, etc.) offering their SDKs[2] to support the development of mobile applications, similar open programs exist as well in the Telecom industry. Telecom operators such as Orange (with Orange API[3]), Telefonica (with their BlueVia[4] program) or Telenor (with Mobilt Bedriftsnett[5]) also allow access to third parties to some of their network assets such as SMS, click-to-call, location, storage, billing, etc. in order to facilitate the emergence of new services through the innovation potential from developers, start-ups and brands.

A signal demonstrating the need for rationalisation and standardisation in this ‘jungle of APIs’ came up with the GSMA ‘One API’[6] initiative: a success still to be confirmed.

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[1] ProgrammableWeb has been aquired by Alcatel-Lucent in 2010

[2] SDK : Software Development Kit

[3] Orange API : http://api.orange.com/en

[4] BlueVia from Telefonica : https://bluevia.com/en/

[5] Telenor Mobilt Bedriftsnett : http://www.telenor.com/en/news-and-media/press-releases/2009/Telenor-opens-new-interface-to-third-parties

[6] GSMA ‘One API’ : http://www.gsmworld.com/oneapi/