VoIP

Writes InfoWorld:

What will drive VoIP into the enterprise, both at the edges and in the core, is feature parity with the PSTN (public switched telephone network) plus a clear cost advantage. Neither is a slam dunk, but the rules are changing. The vaunted high quality and low latency of the PSTN, for example, does not extend to the vast number of business calls conducted on cell phones. Even as the quality of the average PSTN call heads south, VoIP calls can challenge the best the PSTN can offer.

According to the Telephony Survey, the top business drivers of telephony applications are CRM, at 36 percent of respondents; and KM (knowledge management), at 33 percent of respondents. Although bottom-line savings are the obvious rationale for VoIP, IT decision makers clearly think voice/data convergence can help push top-line growth, too.

HEP

Writes Abe Fettig:

Hep is a message server. It’s a server in the sense that it’s a program without a graphical user interface, that runs in the background, waiting for other programs to connect to it over the network. I call it a “message server” because it does things with messages, which as far as Hep is concerned are any little bits of text or HTML that you want to read, or save, or publish, or pass on to somebody else, or convert into a different format, or organize.

The goal of Hep is to make it possible to work with messages in all these ways, without having to worry about where the messages are, what format they’re stored in, or what protocol you have to use to get at them. Hep lets you use a program that was designed to to work with a specific kind of messages (like an e-mail client), and use it to work with all kinds of other types or messages (like RSS news feeds, news groups, and your weblog).

Writing about where Hep is going, Abe adds:

The next step for Hep is adding support for message stores, collections of messages that you can read, write, delete from, add to, and edit. Hep should be able to provide access to messages in its own internal folders, as well as remote stores like weblogs, newsgroups, and IMAP mailboxes. Of course this means that Hep will have to include some new server protocols: IMAP and WebDAV.

IMAP is the protocol I’m most excited about. Almost all popular e-mail clients support it, and it’s a designed specifically for managing messages. Hep’s IMAP server would let you work with both internal and remote stores, so your weblog will look like just another folder full of messages. Want to publish a set of e-mail messages as a weblog? Just copy the e-mails into the weblog’s folder, and Hep will automatically convert and publish them. IMAP also uses a constant connection between the client and server, and lets the server notify the client of changes. This would let users see new messages as soon as they are recieved, which is important for instant messaging.

Apple as an Emotional Brand

Writes Wired News:

Marketer Marc Gobe, author of Emotional Branding and principal of d/g worldwide, said Apple’s brand is the key to its survival. It’s got nothing to do with innovative products like the iMac or the iPod.

“Without the brand, Apple would be dead,” he said. “Absolutely. Completely. The brand is all they’ve got. The power of their branding is all that keeps them alive. It’s got nothing to do with products.”

Gobe, who hails from France, formulated this view while researching his book, in which he tells how brands have established deep, lasting bonds with their customers.

Apple, of course, is the archetypal emotional brand. It’s not just intimate with its customers; it is loved. Other examples are automaker Lexus, retailer Target and outdoor clothing line Patagonia.

“Apple is about imagination, design and innovation,” Gobe said from his office in New York. “It goes beyond commerce. This business should have been dead 10 years ago, but people said we’ve got to support it.”

Apple connects with people – it has become an “emotional brand”. Adds Wired:

According to Gobe, emotional brands have three things in common:

  • The company projects a humanistic corporate culture and a strong corporate ethic, characterized by volunteerism, support of good causes or involvement in the community. Nike blundered here. Apple, on the other hand, comes across as profoundly humanist. Its founding ethos was power to the people through technology, and it remains committed to computers in education. “It’s always about people,” Gobe said.

  • The company has a unique visual and verbal vocabulary, expressed in product design and advertising: This is true of Apple. Its products and advertising are clearly recognizable. (So is Target’s, or even Wal-Mart’s, Gobe said).

  • The company has established a “heartfelt connection” with its customers. This can take several forms, from building trust to establishing a community around a product. In Apple’s case, its products are designed around people: “Take the iPod, it brings an emotional, sensory experience to computing,” Gobe said. “Apple’s design is people-driven.”

    Gobe noted that Apple has always projected a human touch — from the charisma of Steve Jobs to the notion that its products are sold for a love of technology.

    “It’s like having a good friend,” Gobe said. “That’s what’s interesting about this brand. Somewhere they have created this really humanistic, beyond-business relationship with users and created a cult-like relationship with their brand. It’s a big tribe, everyone is one of them. You’re part of the brand.”

  • Scale-Free Networks and Mirror Worlds

    Jon Udell’s post connects scale-free networks (networks that follow the power law distribution) and David Gelernter’s 1991 book “Mirror Worlds.” Writes Udell: “So, what is a Mirror World? A vast, detailed representation of a company or a city, or of parts of these structures, or even of the larger economic and political structures to which they belong. What’s it good for? To monitor and debug the things that are represented.”

    One of the things I like about Udell is his ability to make connections between concepts and ideas, and come out with newer themes and thinking.

    Enterprise Software Simplification

    Writes Business Week:

    Software simplification is the corporate tech boss’s greatest challenge, according to an October Morgan Stanley survey of 225 CIOs.

    In fact, simplification is rapidly becoming a proxy for the one issue that unites all CIOs — cutting costs in a sluggish economy. Using fewer software suppliers — and fewer software packages — is one way to achieve that, albeit in an environment where any sweeping alteration in the back-end systems of a major company is going to cost millions of dollars.

    CIOs want to streamline their supplier list, in part, to save money on systems integration — the job of making new software work with existing systems at a cost equal to 40% to 60% the price of the software itself, according to research firm Gartner. Even though, long-term, CIOs risk losing the leverage to bargain over price with their big suppliers, they’re increasingly shunning small, specialty software companies in favor of the names they feel sure will be around for the long haul — SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft , Siebel, Microsoft, and the like.

    Oracle targets European SMEs

    Writes WSJ:

    Oracle is introducing a “special edition” of its electronic-business suite, targeting European companies with between 100 and 500 employees and sales of as much as USD $250 million. With around 200,000 such companies in Europe, the market has drawn increasing attention from big software players, which are seeking to boost revenue amid slumping information-technology spending.

    The “special edition” software package is the core of Oracle’s e-business suite, which is targeted at larger companies. The new edition of the suite allows small companies to manage financials, inventories, purchasing, and sales orders.

    At a price tag of about $100,000 (100,060), it is a major move for companies of this size. But Oracle does have an advantage over SAP and Microsoft. Its SME software product will be available immediately in 13 European countries from Poland to the U.K. SAP, for instance, only recently launched the German version of its Business One product, with other country versions yet to come. But the ultimate key to winning this market is how companies develop and motivate their sales networks, said Mr. Montgomery.

    Because the market is so scattered, sales to big software players are feasible only through networks of local resellers. And none of the big players have shown they have this aspect totally under control, said Mr. Nigel Montgomery of AMR Research.

    The USD 100K pricepoint is still too large for SMEs in countries outside of Europe, US and Japan. That is where our opportunity lies. What is interesting about Oracle’s move is that it is making the same enterprise software suite that it sells to large organisations available to the SME segment on a hosted service model.

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    Recycled Cameras

    WSJ writes about Jack C. Benun and Jazz, and how his recycled cameras have created problems for Kodak and Fuji.

    To understand why the world’s two largest film companies want so badly to crush a tiny New Jersey discount-camera entrepreneur, take a trip to your local Wal-Mart.

    At one of the giant retailer’s outlets outside of Boston, three young shoppers scan the single-use camera rack, eyeing the $4.94 Kodaks and $4.88 Fujis. Then, crouching in front of the bottom rack, they snap up a brand with a white box emblazoned with the name “Jazz.” The price: just $3.67.

    What they don’t know is that the model underselling Kodak by 26% is, in fact, a Kodak — or was. It’s an old throwaway that has been cracked open, shipped to China, loaded with cheap film and patched together with electrical tape, a controversial part of a vast world-wide recycling network.

    For Fuji and Kodak, the stakes are high. Disposable cameras, which enjoyed a brisk 25% average annual growth in the late 1990s and are up about 10% this year, remain a bright spot in the otherwise bleak traditional photography market. Today, disposable cameras account for 40% of world-wide film sales on a dollar basis, or around $2 billion annually, according to the U.S. Photo Marketing Association. Some 350 million of the cameras will be sold this year, around half of them in the U.S.

    The reloaders, who reached peak sales of around $150 million a year in the late 1990s, have had an influence on pricing disproportionate to their size — mainly because of their presence at Wal-Mart, where they started selling for half the price of the name brands. Largely as a result, the big film companies have introduced their own discount lines, driving the average price of a single-use camera to $5.87 today from $8.82 in the beginning of 1999, according to NPDTechworld, a market researcher in Port Washington, N.Y.

    In the late 1980s, most of the shells ended up in landfills — a fact that gave a politically incorrect ring to the name of one of Kodak’s early models, “The Fling.”

    A few years later, in response to the environmental movement and to cut costs, Kodak established a recycling program. This ultimately created a vast market for the used cameras. Photo processors save them up and sell them for between 20 cents and 80 cents to middlemen or to the big film companies. Kodak and Fuji now buy large quantities of discards, salvage the usable internal parts, and grind down the plastic bodies to be remolded into new ones. Kodak says 76% of its cameras come back for recycling.

    But salvage entrepreneurs quickly found another use for the discards. They skipped the grinding part and just slapped new film in the old cases — a much more cost-effective technique.

    Reading the story has convinced me even more that we need to do something similar with PCs. We have to set up the value chain which takes old PCs, loads our Emergic Freedom software on to it, and makes them usable for computing’s next markets, across the digital divide.

    TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: The Building Blocks (Part 3)

    Business Process Standards: Standards like ebXML and RosettaNet are helping streamline information flows across enterprises. Traditionally, this has been the pain point as different enterprises have their own set of processes and documents. Business process standards will help the creation of extended, real-time enterprises and be especially useful for SMEs, who have so far been left out of the computerisation process and thus are the weak links in todays supply chains. [Related Articles]

    E-business: Or for that matter, e-payments, e-learning, e-commerce and e-government. The e-enablement of activities is crucial to bridge the digital divide. This is not something one entity can do, but something which everyone needs to be committed towards. E-business is a representative term for the collective platform which gets created as business and government start leveraging the Internet for communications, collaboration and transactions. This is where friction starts reducing and the true benefits of the New World, a digitally bridged world, start becoming apparent. [Related Articles]

    What these building blocks do is create the base for an alternative computing and communications platform one which is low-cost, simpler and targeted at the base of the pyramid. What this platform is targeting is nonconsumption it wants to extend the benefits of digital technologies to the masses of consumers and enterprises who have so far not been exposed to it.

    We are not talking here of competing with an Intel or Microsoft. There will always be room for both. Just as there is room and need for both the bicycle and the car (and in fact the buses, trains and metros). Targeting these solutions at mainstream users will only result in non-acceptance and failure. We need to keep in mind that we need to use these building blocks to build solution stacks for the next set of users. The difficulty lies in the fact that these markets do not exist. They need to be envisioned and created.

    These building blocks have to spread computing and Internet usage to the (presently invisible) mass-market. At the same time, we need to make sure that our R&D costs are minimal this means leveraging the newest technologies to leapfrog over current limitations. In parallel, we will need to use marketing ideas which can create a viral impact and adoption not just in a single community or country, but across the worlds developing nations. This is the challenge and hidden promise of our Disruptive Bridges.

    While our end objective is to ensure a connected computer accessible to every employee and family across the developing countries, it would be presumptuous to assume that we can do this all at once and in a very short period of time. The challenge is vast. Where do we begin? Where do we do create the beach-heads? Which are the first markets we should target to set the ball rolling?

    Tomorrow: The First Markets

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