I 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 of 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.
Let’s make the most of the summer with a bit of light reading and what I would call the application of the week: cloudon. I have selected a number of applications which I find particularly good or changed my way of working, or of entertaining myself, unless it’s both. This week, I will dwell on the cloud on iPad application, which I find really extraordinary, and I really wonder whether these guys are making money out of this and how. Is this the latest mystery of the new economy?
We will start with a visit to the application website in order to confirm that the application is available both for android and iOS. The application is available for both iPhones and iPads, and I will focus on the iPad version here in this blog post.
Step number 1: once the location has been installed, fire it up. First and foremost you will have to fine-tune the settings so they have access to your online cloud discs: four spaces are available with cloud on, which you can use concurrently. As far as I’m concerned, I have set up Google drive and Skydrive (by Microsoft’s, by far my preferred, because I was one of the first users, so that I have access to 25 GB free of charge). I left dropbox and box on the side for the moment by can you back to it later and at them to my final if I so wish. All that is needed to complete this setup is to let cloud on access your online disc by clicking the button “authorise”.
Step number 2: once your online disc has been selected (here I chose Skydrive), the folder structure of your disk is then displayed to you, and you can choose the list or icon formats from the top menu.
Step number 3: Once I’ve changed the display to icon mode which I find more convenient, I can then select the folder in which I have stored all the draft pieces for my blog. I call it “blog posts”.
Step number 4: I then select the relevant blog piece in word format. I can see on the screen but it was last changed on 24 June at 7:39 AM.
Step number 5: once you’ve clicked on the right file, it is then downloaded from the Internet. It is subsequently displayed, see the following screen grab, directly on my tablet into a Microsoft word window, more or less identical to the one I have on my PC (in fact it is a simplified version of Microsoft Word 2010, similar to the one you can find Skydrive itself). The greatest weaknesses that I spot in this application, is in my minde the relative slowness of download of the file (even more so if the file is really big like the entirety of our forthcoming book typescript for instance). My hunch is that we will see performance improving significantly within the next few months if this kind of applications remain in the future. As a matter of fact, what we are witnessing here is more than just another application but the implementation of something which I have described many times on this blog, which is called “ubiquitous computing” and was invented, I mean the concept, by the late Mark Weiser in the late 1980s. The missing link though is connectivity, as always, even though enormous headway has been made in the past few years. My guess is that it will take another 2 to 3 years, maybe 5, before we enjoy seamless connectivity coverage, with the kind of comfort that I experience while sitting behind my PC, connected via Ethernet on my 100 Mbs fibre access.
Step number 6: I can then write directly into the file which is editable in real time ; in order to prove this I have underlined a word by clicking at length on it, which triggered the contextual Microsoft menu which everybody knows. This the tablet equivalent to the right click of the mouse on a computer
Step number 7: then click the icon on the top bar which represents a compass on the top right-hand side of the screen, and this will open the menu which will make it possible for you to create a new file: either a spreadsheet (maybe not the most convenient type of file for tablets), a wordprocessing Word document, or a PowerPoint presentation. I decide to choose the latter…
Step number 8: I then rename this new file which will be saved directly in the original folder.
Step number 9: an empty PowerPoint file will then be opened , which I will be able to populate exactly as if I were on my computer, with a simplified version of PowerPoint 2010. This is a simplified version, but yet, it is very usable, and it caters for basic Microsoft templates for instance. in order to create a presentation with a personalised template, I recommend that you use a presentation which you have created beforehand (with no content preferably ) in order to make the most of all the available screen layouts. This will save you a lot of time and will make it unnecessary for you to spend hours twiddling page templates on the tablet which is not very convenient. You can then focus on adding text but also clipart, images, video etc. It is in fact very easy for you to modify an existing PowerPoint presentation and even create one directly from the tablet, and then synchronise the file directly on your computer , or vice versa. I remind you that, with Skydrive, you do not need to own a local version of Microsoft PowerPoint, because it is available online too. Personally, being a teacher and benefiting from the special teacher/student price for Microsoft Office, I still think that owning a local Microsoft license is preferable.
Beyond the fact that this application is nice and convenient and mostly free of charge, one may ask oneself a few questions. On the one hand, what will be the business model of Microsoft in the next few years ? I could actually bet on the fact that access to software will be increasingly “cloudified”, namely from the moment that connectivity is really improved and made seamless and ubiquitous. from then on, I really wonder whether software which you either install or download is a model which will survive for very long . This, however , is the model on which Microsoft thrived for so many years. Besides, I really have a few questions about the business model of cloudon itself; I mean beyond its potential acquisition by Microsoft one day.
There are a few limits with regard to the use of this application in presentation mode, but in our case I would recommend a more specialised application which I will describe in a forthcoming blog post. As Wired pointed out, it is still very difficult to use such applications in order to create a presentation from scratch and the use of cloud on is , probably for today, limited to minor edits.
My hunch is that the self-proclaimed “visionaries” of Palo Alto shall not be deterred.
Mystery shoppers aren’t anything new; this marketing technique dates back from the 1940s. It was then used even before the term “marketing” had been coined. Yet, MarketForce, a US company with offices in Britain, and more recently in France and Spain, have begun to revolutionise the way mystery shopping surveys are carried out, thanks to crowdsourcing techniques and the extensive use of digital marketing.
MarketForce offers a piece of software in a software as a service model on which customers can actually build and look at their marketing data in real time. That in itself is very much in sync with what we can be seen with other companies doing big data and is not extremely innovative. But there is one area in which MarketForce is certainly going further than all the companies trying to improve big data usage, it is the way that they collect the data itself. As a matter of fact, much of the quality of the output of big data boils down to the way the information is collected originally. As the old IT adage points out: “garbage in, garbage out”.
Besides, There is something a little bit naive in all the big data craze at the moment, in believing that software alone could actually solve all the marketing issues that companies have regarding mostly CRM, and other subjects, just by the touch of a button. First and foremost, data quality and a clear objective are required. This is definitely what Marketforce have done by integrating the whole chain from data collection to data delivery. As a matter of fact, Marketforce is as much a research company a market research company as it is a big data company, and that is what makes it standout from the crowd in what can almost be described as a blue Ocean strategy.
Janet Eden Harris and Simon Boydell who answered our questions in Paris
Above all, they are using extensively digital marketing techniques (marketing automation, affiliates marketing, etc) to recruit genuine customers who help them carry out the research. As they set up shop in France and in the rest of Europe, where customer service is traditionally bad not to say appalling, MarketForce have provided a business case about French petrol stations (check 2013_Petro Findings France_SB_Final_Clean) which shows the level of satisfaction even for such a straightforward kind of service. As they say, “okay is just not enough” and hopefully, this piece of research, and the service that MarketForce provides is a great assets for European companies to change their ways about how they keep customers satisfied which, in turn, will help them get through the crisis that we’re experiencing at the moment.
Let us develop this story, with Simon Boydell and Janet Eden Harris from MarketForce, whom I was able to interview in Paris a few weeks ago*.
with Janet Eden Harris, CMO & SVP Strategy at Market Force Information and Simon Boydell, Global Marketing Manager at Market Force Information
What is market force about?
Janet: we have a solution which provides the ability for big retailers to improve their business by focusing on customer satisfaction and the experience they have when they walk in the store.
Simon: we focus on retailers, leisure and hospitality providers, any business that has B2C contact with customers and that can be across all channels, so it’s not just in-store, it could be online, using the call centres, we will be collecting customer experience feedback across all those different channels.
A SaaS model: the knowledge force platform
Simon: our customer intelligence platform knowledge force is the central point for all clients. After login each client has individual tailored user access to the site so that they can access their results live and in real time so they can see exactly how the customers are feeling about the business. It does look like it’s built like a SaaS model but itis something which is very different from the other sorts of CRM systems that are out there. All information is produced and made available across all different devices; you can login and you see those dashboards, it’s not just a predetermined set of dashboards, we also have a series of reports that users can go in and use and create their own individual reports, so they can cut and analyse the data in their own way and at their own leisure.
Data collection: from mystery visits to social media
Simon: we have 600,000 genuine customers now, while going out and completing mystery visits for us and providing feedback on experiences they receive, we also operate customer satisfaction surveys which go out to any customer that the business has and it can feed the information straight back into our system and our customers get to see the results as they are happening, so they can always keep their finger on the pulse of the customer.
Janets: we can also pull out things such as social media data and we can tie in this data potentially with other data that is collected from other vendors and even our customers’ own financial data so that they can match them all together.
Janet: how we do it boils down to the location level so that if I am a manager of that location I can look at the customer satisfaction data for that particular location as well as my mystery shoppers and any social media commentary so that I can take action. I can understand where we’re doing well, and I can also understand where we have to improve.
Recruiting genuine consumers
Simon: there are challenges, but a lot of it comes from the way we optimise our website for search in search engines; we have a variety of initiatives in a number of websites so get a lot of people involved too, looking to experience new and different things so that these people want to get paid to get to the places they enjoy going to already.
It’s a very small amount that there own but they do get reimbursed towards any products that their purchase, so you could say that this is almost a free night out, like going out for a meal out at a restaurant.
UK, France and Spain
Simon: we’ve have been based in the UK since 2003 and we have opened an office in Paris, and we also have one in Madrid and the decision has come by opportunity. We think we have to support businesses in France to get a better understanding of their customers, because in today’s economic climate, customer loyalty is of absolute importance, and we feel the insight we can provide and the data we can collect will really help businesses understand how they can drive that loyalty and where they should look to improve specifically in the business, that will drive future sales.
Simon: we have recently run a piece of research on a panel to get feedback on people’s experience of petrol stations in France and we are sharing this on the web right now. This highlights which stations people find to be the favourites, not only that, but also the reasons which drive them into these petrol stations, and what are the decisions they are making in those stations and what the opportunities for those retailers to understand whether the service is okay or not. The research highlights that “okay is not good enough!”. 3
Customer experience in Europe? In the words of my old maths teacher … “could do better!” (excerpt from the Petrol Station research)
This piece of research was carried out with 1,500 consumers across France, evenly spread across ages, sex and the geography; yet our programs will vary depending on the sector.
Simon: the impact satisfaction can have on consumers on the likelihood to recommend is one of the areas of importance: if you score something like a 4/5, there is a big difference, the research highlights, with 5/5 satisfaction.
Price and convenience are always going to be important, that’s fairly natural but, it’s also about the service they receive in the stations, friendly and efficient service will always go along way in; whilst people might not especially expect it, when they receive it, it will make a very big difference to the customer’s experience.
About the company: a blue Ocean strategy
Our ambition is to help French businesses improve the service they give to their customers. We certainly intend to grow the business; we think we have a very exciting offer for the retailers, leisure and hospitality businesses, they are going to find that very exciting.
In terms of our competitors, we don’t have one single direct competitor, we have several competitors across the various disciplines and methodologies that we use.
We certainly intend to grow and invest into the business here in France, we intend to grow our team rapidly here and I think we’ll see a continuation of the success we’ve had in other countries, here.
Marketforce has 450 employees worldwide. In Europe, we have 156, is growing rapidly.
Janet: our revenues are about $60 million right now.
*note: this interview survived the theft all my belongings in July 2, including my notebook with all his notes. I reconstructed this interview from memory and using the sound bite which I recorded on condition
Workspaces of the future, an industry analyst perspective
In his introduction, Michael Burrell from Orange Business Services described some of the main market trends include:
consumerization of IT, tuning the way that IT is working on its head.
The millenials are also changing things in the workplace
mobility is enabling people to work from anywhere
cloud technology is changing the ay that IT can be purchased and rolled out
Conversation isn’t just about Voice
Informa’s Camille Mendler (@cmendler on Twitter) introduced the subject by saying that what she wants to talk about is “conversations” before delving into workspaces of the future. Conversation isn’t about “exchange of thoughts; talk” as Merriam Webster defines it. Conversation isn’t about “voice” anymore Camille says. We have to rethink what we describe as “conversation”.
One has also to think about who is involved Camille added. One type of conversation doesn’t fit all. All regions have their preferred ways of conversing (re. conversation type slide above). The challenge is to have the flexibility to use whatever tool is best fitted.
BYOC will not be going away
BYOC/BYOT (Bring your own computer/telephone) she added is no longer a threat in a day and age when Nasa is controlling launches through iPad and iPhones. Camille says that this is not going away and the ability to take an order from a tablet, for instance, is improving business processes.
Conversations … between things
Conversation, is not only taking place between people, it includes things, and even thing to thing (like the Poken experiment which we have carried out at Orange Business Live this year in Munich).
Camille says that we are moving into “conversation as a service”, conversations is moving into mobility, cloud and “as a service”.
a software revolution is unfolding before our very eyes
A great deal has been already said on this blog and elsewhere on the subject of cloud computing but our meeting with Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist for Zoho and Sridhar Vembu, the firm’s founder and CEO was very refreshing and led to some very interesting thoughts and visions. Zoho is a suite of applications that run over the Internet – in cloud mode – but what makes the suite stand out is that it is encompassing all sorts of domains, not just horizontal (CRM for instance) but also vertical.
will the cloud computing industry take over from the offline industry and when?
One of the main questions which was on everyone’s lips this morning was this one: will applications in the cloud be a big thing or not eventually, or just another of these missed opportunities that have been so numerous in the past of the IT market. Sridhar Vembu’s response came loud and clear in a visionary statement which was most striking: “The cloud computing software industry will have the best of the offline industry but it will take 10 years” he said. He went on describing the Oriental spirit of the firm and how his vision was in the long term rather than “flipping it” (i.e. reselling quickly in Silicon Valley parlance). But “Zoho is more into the long term” Vembu added. “Zoho is not looking for investment”, “it has no big ambition to take over the world, you don’t have to be a Google or a Microsoft to succeed”. This was a very refreshing and wise view. And he went on: “I don’t believe in a Microsoft monopoly in the cloud. There will be many actors” he said. He also stated that “3 million users is enough for [them] to live!” and that “during last year’s recession, [they] grew 100%”