Real-Time Enterprise

From an interview with Craig Conway, CEO of PeopleSoft, in Fortune: “Even in this down economy companies are continuing to build what we call a real-time enterprise–putting all their processes online in an integrated way. For example, a product company starts with lead generation, marketing, and sales. Then you enter an order, get it to inventory, ship it, update accounts receivable, get out an invoice, collect payment, and finally support the customer. Each of those processes is traditionally thought of as a different software application. Lead generation, marketing, and customer service are CRM [Customer Relationship Management]. Order entry, shipping, and inventory are Supply Chain Management. Invoicing and collections are Financial. But now companies are making all those processes accessible through a Web portal, so you can move between applications in a nonlinear manner.”

The key lies in integration. Instead of thinking of applications as vertically integrated silos (with their own storage, business logic and UI), we can now think of a new architecture where the database becomes a common XML store across applications, the business logic is encapsulated in web services, and the UI becomes the digital dashboard.

Siebel’s Challenges

Writes Fortune:

Siebel Systems is far and away the leader in what’s known as customer-relationship-management (CRM) software, which, among other things, lets salespeople plan and account for their deals and gives customer-service reps instant access to information about consumers. The trouble is, Siebel software is highly tailored to each industry and hence very expensive–which is why the tech-spending drought comes at an awful time for the company. Its competitors are using the slowdown to improve their products and slash their prices.

Siebel’s custom-made software is complex to install and typically costs $2,000 per seat a year for corporations with 1,000 users. Rivals are now offering plain-vanilla software suites that have much of Siebel’s functionality for a lot less money. PeopleSoft might charge as little as $500 a year per seat for the CRM application it sells as an add-on to its human- resources and financial-management software. “There’s a certain good-enough threshold beyond which extra features are simply nice to have or even add an unneeded layer of complexity,” says Charles Phillips, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

the company is fighting a two-front war. Besides attacks from SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle in the corporate market, Siebel’s role model, Microsoft, is among a host of companies trying to sneak up from below. In July, Microsoft introduced a CRM product for small business. That has not been a Siebel market to date but could be a jumping-off point for pursuit of bigger game. Startup Salesforce.com, which sells low-cost subscriptions to its Web-based CRM software, is also popular with smaller companies. With forecast revenues of $60 million this year, Salesforce is a pipsqueak next to Siebel, but Microsoft won’t be so easy to shrug off.

Early TC-TS Markets

Our initial efforts at looking for beta installations for the Thin Client-Thick Server (TC-TS) solution among our MailServ customers was disappointing. The problems we ecnountered were:
– they already have 1:1 ratio of PCs to people at their head offices, so using TC-TS means switching users from Windows
– most run some specialised Windows applications, either on Foxpro or VB or some other platform
– many have already paid for the licences, so there’s no incentive for them to switch
– minimum cost-effective configuration is 25 TCs and 1 TS

This has made us re-think on our initial strategy of talking to some of our existing 100+ MailServ customers. In retrospect, we were after the wrong type of customers, forgetting some of the key benefits of the TC-TS solution. These include:

– a significant cost reduction in hardware and software (old PCs, open source)
– easing administration of the clients
– Linux base
– ideal where usage is limited to the base set of applications (browsing, email, letter-writing)
– targeting new (first-time) users, who have no baggage of “unlearning” Windows

To emphasise a point I’ve made in the past, we need to get users we can “delight” and not those who we will “disappoint”.

In light of this, have thought of some possible segments which can be early markets. This builds on Anand’s recent mail. We should be looking at:

– Hotels, in the rooms and business centre. Imagine waling into a hotel room, and finding an “instant-on” computer connected to the Internet. If the hotel charges Rs 500 (USD 10) extra for this facility, it could recover the cost in less than 30 days of usage (2 months, assuming 50% occupancy).
– Student Hostels, wherein again the basic need is for email and browsing.
– Hospitals (like Hotels)
– Business Centres, leveraging the concept of shared access
– Airport Lounges
– Schools and Colleges
– Cybercafes
– Factory Floors
– First-time PC users (especially in second-tier cities, branch offices)
– New companies just getting started
– Industrial Centres / Export Processing Zones
– Call Centres
– Training Centres

We could also target OEMs and Assemblers who can then take the solution to the end-users. As we think through the initial markets, we need to also make sure we make sure there is a clear business value for the buyers.

Office’s Subtle Price Cuts

Two stories on how Microsoft is quietly offering cheaper versions of its Office product. There’s a 70% discount for teachers and students. It has also launched the new version of its Works suite which sells for under USD 100. Of course, the cheapest alternative to MS Office is OpenOffice, which is now more than good enough for most people.

Business Week: “Microsoft has been its own worst enemy, continuing to price Office as if we were still in the boom market of the late 1990s. But that may be changing. In a stealth campaign, Microsoft has been selling an academic-branded version of Office at discount retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. That version, priced $330 less than the one sold in computer stores, used to be available only at campus bookstores and other school outlets. While you can’t upgrade the academic version, it does includes all the features.”

News.com: “Works Suite is Microsoft’s low-cost set of productivity applications for consumers not interested in the features or price of its Office XP package. Microsoft positions it as providing more value for money than Office…In addition to a basic productivity package–a spreadsheet, database, calendar and address book–the Works suite includes other Microsoft-created applications: Encarta Encyclopedia Standard 2003, Money 2003, Picture It! Photo 7.0, Streets & Trips 2002 and Word 2002.”

Werbach on BlogStreet

In my travels, I had missed this comment by Kevin Werbach: “BlogStreet is a nifty Weblog ‘neighborhood analysis’ site. Plug in a blog, and it will show others that are related, based on link structures.”

We launched BlogStreet in early August, and then have gone to sleep. No innovation done after that. The number of blogs has crossed 10,000. It was a neat little idea (still is), but we didn’t push on it aggressively, since it took long to do, and we went on to other things in Emergic. BlogStreet has become like a hanging leaf node without a parent. I think we need to take a look at it again. If anything, the world of blogs has grown since the time we began work on it. Must take a re-look at it and see how we can grow it as a valuable resource for bloggers and non-bloggers alike.

Billing Relationship

In response to a post on Decentralisation by Kevin Werbach, Rafe Needleman has an interesting comment on WiFi:

My big question regarding WiFi access is, who will bill for it? Ultimately i don’t think end-users will have multiple small WISP accounts. I think the cellcos and telcos are in the best position to extend their billing relationships with their customers.

Which leads to the question: What will they be billing for? Their own hotspots? Boingo’s? The one in my house? I don’t know.

Is it possible to meld the two worlds — the chaotic and wonderful decentralized WiFi infrastructure + the convenient telephone bill?

In much of what we do, we under-estimate the importance of billing, and the implicit relationship that the biller has with the billee. This will become especially importance in the context of our plan to make Emergic as a “tech utility”, which implies that we need to bill at regular intervals of time. Collecting money on a regular basis is a challenge. What if customers don’t pay on time? What does the cost of collection become? Will customers ask for credit? What can we do to make customers pay on time, or even in advance?

Email – Necessary and Insufficient

Writes Kevin Werbach: “Email has become both necessary and insufficient. In many ways, email is the perfect communications medium: quick, easy, durable, asynchronous, ubiquitous, accessible on a range of devices, and stretchable from one-to-one conversation to thousand-member discussion lists. In other ways, email stinks. It’s not good for structured, ongoing relationships involving documents and other types of information, which is what Groove tries to address. Moreover, it doesn’t work for material you want to post for public consumption, which is where Weblogs come in handy. And don’t get me started on email client software — it hit an evolutionary dead-end right around the time the Web came along.”

While email will remain the cornerstone of how we communicate, other forms of messaging like IM and SMS (on cellphones) will continue to become more popular. Blogs and RSS feeds can become a viable alternative to sending you group mails.

TECH TALK: The Entrepreneurs Delights (Part 4)

7. Idea to Epiphany

Contrary to the popular myth of ideas coming in the Eureka mould, for most entrepreneurs, it is actually a long process of incremental thinking followed by the occasional epiphany which takes thinking to the next level. It is the small steps which set up the platform the big leap; without these baby steps, there would be no lightbulbs going off.

It is this process which entrepreneurs thrive in. They have a unique knack of being able to take ideas and concepts from very different and unrelated processes or arenas, and apply them to the context of what they are doing. This ability to make connections and associations is a unique talent which stands them in good stead. Entrepreneurs live for these Aha moments. But behind that one big moment is a lot of Hmmm type of thinking.

8. Envisioning the Future

Entrepreneurs, by default, live in the future. The present and its problems are almost irrelevant to them. They work to craft a Future Fantastic, and then work towards building it out. Entrepreneurs want to compete in this future not with resources but with a blend of passion, vision and strategy. For them, business is an intellectual game of Chess, one where others need to be out-thought, because they cannot be out-spent.

It is also not that entrepreneurs become fixated on a single vision of tomorrow. In their minds eye, the future is not a static picture, but an evolving one. They use lifes experiences and their RTW (reading-thinking-writing) to continuously enhance and enrich their view of the world, using their intuitive gyroscopes for regular course correction.

9. Travellers Tales

Entrepreneurs are natural explorers. They like to travel, see different places, put themselves in different situations. What this does is that it takes them away from the daily buzz of work and makes them see a more wholistic view of what they are doing. They come back from trips with a renewed sense of energy which very quickly percolates through their enterprise. Of course, they return with more ideas than are implementable but thats part of the occupational hazard.

Travelling does a lot more. It forces entrepreneurs to start delegating by default! In general, even though entrepreneurs recognize that they need others to get things done, they have a tendency to believe that they are indispensable. As a result, they become the decision-making hub for everything, and thus a potential bottleneck. By getting out of the office every once in a while, entrepreneurs foster the next level of organisational command (which in most cases happens without the entrepreneurs realising it). When they back, they figure that things actually worked quite well in their absence!

Tomorrow: The Entrepreneurs Delights (continued)