30
Sep

No Technology Solutions on the Near Term Horizon for a Better Defense Against Online Hacking

ISVs with popular online computing offers (notably Apple, Google, and Microsoft) have each adopted and endorsed an “App” model. This writer has a lot of conceptual familiarity with Microsoft’s version of this approach. Microsoft has positioned its Office 2013 App Model as a better approach to online security, but is it really?

For readers unfamiliar with the broad technical structure of “Apps” and how it might enhance online security for consumers, the key principle is “isolation”. In theory, “Apps” transition a lot of computer processing from servers to clients. In other words, a lot of the activity handled in the past by the server is transitioned over to the PCs, smart phones, tablets, and even game consoles consumers use to process computing tasks online. The method of processing this activity is to instruct these computing clients to act on commands written in some version of the JavaScript programming language, or the latest version of HTML (HTML 5 at the time of this post).

In the case of the Office 2013 App Model, the jQuery function library is heavily used by developers to add procedures quickly, which already exist somewhere online, with all of the supporting libraries required for successful execution. But this practice poses several difficulties, a couple of which directly impact on online security for consumers. First, there are different versions of the jQuery function library. So, when an App is developed with one version, and another App is added to a computing environment (for example, Office 365), the potential for App conflict arises, which can result in degradation of service for the end consumer.

Second, inadvertently to advocates of this type of development, the App model’s reliance on a client-side method like JavaScript can be said to insulate the server, but, inadvertently, this approach shifts the burden of security over to the client. Since their are hundreds, if not thousands, and even millions of different clients in use to interact with one server (or many servers in a load-balancing scenario, which act as one server), there is a much higher likelihood of a security breach on a client machine. Once clients are successfully compromised, they can be added to bot networks and re-purposed for other types of malicious activity.

For better or worse, in late 2014 the best defense against malicious online activity remains best represented by a correct set of operational risk management processes, at least for large organizations of users.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

29
Sep

Putting Larry Ellison’s New Role at Oracle in Perspective

Larry Ellison announced his decision, on September 18, 2014, to step down from the position of CEO Oracle. A lot has been written about the significance of this announcement. But content volume doesn’t mean much when compared to relevance, not to mention accuracy.

The general consensus is Ellison’s change in roles marks the end of an era. Ellison is the last of a list of “first generation” entrepreneurs (including Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs). Regardless of the enormous success all three of these individuals achieved, both Ellison and Gates have been included in what the overall market considers a group of once successful, but, in 2014, out-of-touch business builders. The argument goes like this: Ellison and Gates were great in their time, but times have changed and, now, the massive organizations they built, Oracle and Microsoft, are losing enormous ground to much younger competitors, (Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce.com). This latter group includes Apple, which, despite being a business with the same longevity of serving consumer markets for technology as both Oracle and Microsoft, nevertheless, speaks a different tongue, learned from its radical founder, Steve Jobs.

This argument looks good on paper, but in reality is way off the market. Leaving aside the question of whether or not Microsoft has been eclipsed by Google, Salesforce, Amazon, and even Apple, Oracle does not fit the frame.

As this writer wrote earlier to this blog on a couple of occasions, a lot of the sales effort for Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and Google is now in the management hands of 3 former Oracle sales executives: Keith Block is now the President of Salesforce.com; Judson Althoff is now Corporate Vice President and President of Microsoft, NA; finally, Amit Singh is now the President of Google At Work.

All 3 of these executives held very high level positions at Oracle: when Block left Oracle he held the position of Executive Vice President, North America. Singh appears to have reported into Block as Vice President, North America. Althoff held the position of Vice President, head of channel sales for Oracle.

The importance of this point is to illustrate the actual enormous impact Ellison and Oracle have had on the whole software market for enterprise business customers. Oracle set the bar at a very high level. Their sales team, perhaps better than any other, understood how to implement a complex sales strategy, and had a better history of converting sales efforts into successful deals than any other.

The fact Block is now President of Salesforce.com should act as a reminder on the limitations of “hands-off” selling of cloud subscriptions, and the need for direct engagement (collaboration is a better word) with customers if further sales are to be made.

Ellison had an enormous impact on his peers. It is important to note his new role at Oracle: CTO and head of product marketing. As we have written all along in this blog, product marketing is truly the neighborhood where the real tech winners show their stuff. Perhaps Ellison has something further to show us all. We’ll see as Oracle moves forward.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

26
Sep

Global Smart Phone Market, at the Low End Trumps the High End for the US, Western Europe and Japan

On Friday, September 19, 2014, Curt Prins (a mobile strategist) posted his thoughts, which were distributed by LinkedIn, on the comparative impact of the launch of the Android One, in India to Apple’s recent, highly publicized debut of the iPhone 6. Prins titled his post Apple just lost the global smartphone war to Google. This writer has written several posts to this blog to voice similar opinions about whether or not all of the media accolades about Apple’s new smart phones really amounts to much, at all. My concern is whether or not Apple will be able to maintain its enormous market capitalization just on the appetite of consumers at the very high end of the market, or not.

But Prins is to be commended for supporting his contention with metrics. I didn’t take the time to put together supporting data for my position, choosing, rather, to articulate it based on my gut instinct about markets and where all the frivolity surrounding the September 9, launch of the new iPhones might be headed.

A quick look at the Android One home page exposes some additional information worth noting: Samsung is noticeably absent from the set of OEMs committed to manufacturing the devices. The same set does include several businesses located in India, including Karbonn, and LavaOne to name just two.

The features of the device can be reviewed on the Android One web page. The quad core processor, all day battery life, and dual SIMs are more typical of smart phones targeted to the high end of the market than the low end. So the $105.00 price Prins claims for the Android One represents a significant move, on the part of Google and its Android OEMs, to lower the cost of entry for emerging markets (with India being the first) to the world of mobile online computing. Further, the actual consumer costs Prins presents, in contrast, for the iPhone 6, etc., lend accuracy to my own comments, earlier this week, on the actual street price for the iPhone 6, “after the emperor has shed his clothes (meaning the carrier subsidies applied to create an artificial consumer price of $199.00)”. Is yet another Apple smart phone, unlocked, worth $649.00? After the rush of the last two weeks, I don’t think so.

The Android One is also some bad news for Microsoft’s efforts to introduce low cost smart phones to the same markets. Ditto for Blackberry. But the real story, likely in the making, is precisely the change in leadership for the smart phone industry Prins alludes to in his post.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

25
Sep

Microsoft Continues to Service the Majority of Very Large Organizations with SharePoint and/or Office 365

If the group of attendees at this year’s SPTechCon, Boston, can be used as a reliable gauge of the positions of Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 in the enterprise computing market, market interest in these solutions remains healthy and infectious. This writer has had numerous conversations, at this popular conference, with stakeholders from large organizations spread across a number of industries, including:

  • Government, both State and Federal
  • Healthcare
  • Banking
  • Insurance
  • Consumer Staples

In each case, these contacts have expressed keen interest to do what it takes to improve the computing experience of their users, and, thereby, hasten their adoption of computing methods unique to SharePoint, or SharePoint Online, Office 365.

A number of these contacts let us know their organizations had either decided to migrate from SharePoint on premises, to SharePoint Online, Office 365, or to implement the latter in parallel to SharePoint running on premises. Under normal circumstances this point would not be noteworthy, but when the industries within which their organizations compete — healthcare, banking, insurance — the notion of any of these firms seriously considering public tenancy on a cloud, SaaS has to be seen as some sort of win for Microsoft.

Contrary to a lot of market commentary, these organizations did not exhibit a diminishing interest, neither in SharePoint, nor in SharePoint Online. On the contrary, many of them spoke to a very high level of utilization for SharePoint, which can only elevate the importance of an application like this one to the position of a “mission-critical” set of procedures.

Once an application takes on this importance for an organization, it is not likely to be unseated. Since many of these organizations include thousands of seats, Microsoft should be able to count on a dependable, substantial revenue stream from these products for years to come. The only possible threat is the intensity of Microsoft’s own efforts to convince its customers to migrate to Office 365. Pressing much harder on this petal could turn out to be a bad thing to do.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

24
Sep

Can a set of entirely positive market comments endanger the revenue stream health of a tech hardware business?

Apple’s September 9, 2014 new products debut has magnetized an almost entirely positive set of market comments. But can such a set of editorial content actually work against Apple? The lopsided set of positive, almost glowing market commentary about the iPhone 6, 6S, iWatch, and iPay reaches a pinnacle, of sorts, in a piece written by Tiernan Ray, which was published by Barrons on September 16, 2014. The title of this article is Apple: Don’t Listen to the Doomsayers. Even Ray’s decision to include a contrarian opinion expressed by Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners in his bucket of “doomsayers”, in this writer’s opinion, exemplifies the excessive weight of positive opinion about these new products, and what they promise to bring to Apple.

So, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, we certainly hold the opinion an almost unanimously positive market reception for a set of comparatively very expensive products like these from Apple, can be dangerous to the financial health of the ISV producing them. It is simply not tenable, in this writer’s opinion, to assume Apple will be able to pay for the very high market capitalization it presently enjoys by continuing to focus on the top of the consumer market for these devices. Regardless of whether the cost of purchasing an iPhone 6S is subsidized by a carrier here in the US, or a consumer ends up paying outright to purchase one, a $199.00 street price is not reflective of the TRUE cost of acquiring the product.

The US market is trained to react positively to offers fueled with artificially low prices. Not so the rest of the world, and, especially not so in emerging markets. These other locales and communities of consumers are not likely to line up to buy either of these smart phones anytime soon. These products will only be available, at launch, in a basket of countries, and, in this writer’s opinion, for good reason. Average global consumers simply cannot afford these devices.

What is even more troubling about the editorial euphoria bubbling up around these devices and the debut, as a marketing communications piece in its own right, is the complacency expressed by what is referred to as the “mainstream media”, here in the U.S. on the question of whether average consumers here in the US will have the fortitude to make rational decisions about whether or not it makes sense to purchase one of the products.

One popular publication ran a headline something like this: “Like it or not, Wearables are Here to Stay”. Have we really reached the age of “solution without a problem” on steroids? This writer does not think so. If consumers do not need wearable tech, then they won’t buy devices in the category. Certainly, different consumer segments exhibit different needs, but all this talk will have to evolve into buying action before we can really be convinced a shift in consumer sentiment has occurred.

Bottom line: the old adage “too much of a good thing” speaks the truth. It will be interesting to gauge results a quarter or two down the road.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

23
Sep

IBM Debuts BI Applications Powered by Watson Running on an iPad

On September 6, 2014, the New York Times published an article written by Steve Lohr on, arguably, a new look for IBM’s Watson machine learning solution, which is, apparently, an ambidextrous tool. This time Watson was said to be powering a rich set of BI dashboards displayed on an iPad. The article is titled IBM Offers a Data Tool for the Mainstream, With Watson’s Help.

The image displayed on the web page presenting this article says a lot. A woman holds an Apple iPad tablet computer, which is exposing a set of Business Intelligence (BI) charts, dials, and the rest of the usual accoutrements of what are commonly referred to as “dashboards”. Presumably the woman holding the tablet is an example of Gartner’s notion of a “citizen developer”, meaning the type of power user targeted by this marketing effort for Watson. For readers otherwise unfamiliar with the notion, a “citizen developer” is an enterprise business user, with some authority, who maintains a voracious appetite for technology, but can’t write software, and has little interest in learning how to code. These people devour so-called “no-code” applications built on workflows.

By “says a lot”, this writer means the notion of someone (like the woman depicted in the image, who is enthusiastic about technology) high on energy, but low on computer programming skills, successfully creating a full-featured dashboard of data, without recourse to developers, points to a direct, head-to-head competition between Apple/IBM and Microsoft for the same market, namely enterprise customers looking for “no-code” solutions and lots of BI.

The product on the table on the Microsoft side, in this presumed comparison, is Office 365 and the suite of BI solutions included in the Power BI Excel offer. IBM certainly has the position in the enterprise computing space to represent a serious, credible threat to Microsoft’s dominance. The fact the dashboard is depicted running on an Apple iPad, rather than a Microsoft Surface is, as well, something to think about.

This competition is nothing new. IBM and Microsoft have fiercely competed for BI business before. IBM’s Cognos has traditionally owned a large piece of the market, with Microsoft challenging via a combination of SQL Server, SharePoint, and efforts of some prominent partners — notably Neudesic. What is different about the potential challenge represented by the combination depicted in Lohr’s article, is the dramatically lower cost of acquisition likely for the kind of solution we see running on the lady’s iPad. Redmond will likely get the wake up call.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

22
Sep

Cloud IaaS Becomes Accessible to SMBs with Limited In House Technical Expertise

An earlier post to this blog remarked on what then appeared to be a set of considerable technical hurdles facing small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) in the US considering a migration to cloud, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offers. But this writer recently identified technical communications pieces, published by Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2, which may serve to lessen the challenge of these same hurdles.

WordPress is, arguably, the most popular blog platform available to consumers in the US. SMBs looking to launch an online content promotional effort can, and do implement new instances of WordPress every day. But while acquiring WordPress is a free-of-charge process, hosting one’s blog is not. One can argue hosting is also available, free-of-charge, on WordPress’ corporate (.com) site. But there is a cost to everything, so most SMBs will look to find a hosting partner, rather than give up the SEO equity in repayment for a tenancy on this corporate site. Conventional hosting isn’t cheap. So many SMBs consider partnering with a cloud, IaaS like Azure, or Amazon EC2 on the promise of substantial cost savings, as compared to conventional hosting resources.

In an online presentation titled How to host a Scalable and Optimized WordPress for Azure in minutes, Sunitha Muthukrishna, Program Manager, Azure Websites, provides a step-by-step procedure SMBs should be likely to easily follow. The short presentation includes a lot of imagery, which should make the process easier.

Amazon EC2 also offers documentation on the same task, titled Tutorial: Hosting a WordPress Blog with Amazon EC2, but the presentation is geared more for the technical user. Nevertheless, the objective is still the same, to encourage SMBs, and any other sized organization contemplating a move to cloud, IaaS for its blog, to overcome some of the technical intimidation of the process.

The Microsoft Azure piece is of particular interest as it is an example of Microsoft’s movement away from a parochial view of just which pieces of software ought to be supported on a Microsoft cloud. If this new, welcoming and expansive approach reverberates over a wider set of possible applications to be hosted on Azure, Microsoft should accelerate the sales pace for Azure.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

19
Sep

How to Evaluate the Impact of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant on the Fortunes of Early Stage ISVs

Early stage ISVs are not likely candidates for Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. So anyone interested in specific technology genres covered by Gartner with Magic Quadrants should plan on digging deeper if a list of all important players is to be compiled.

The CMS Wire blog recently provided a list of some of the most important criteria Gartner reviews before deciding to include an ISV in a Magic Quadrant ranking.

In a post titled Gartner Names Wise Choices for Workplace Social Software. Here are some of the criteria:

  • An ISV must employee at least 80 people, worldwide
  • ISVs with gross product sales less than $12 million, in the specific technology genre covered by the Magic Quadrant, will not be considered
  • Neither will any ISV with a customer list of less than 20 paid organizations representing 5K paid users

In this writer’s opinion, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is more of a curation of ISVs worth consideration by larger businesses, than anything else. A listing in the “Leaders” quadrant by no means identifies an ISV as particularly “innovative”. It may be helpful to think of the ISVs in this top right sector of the famous Gartner Magic Quadrant graph as the most widely adopted of the ISVs included in the ranking, with, perhaps, an extensive set of features.

Early stage ISVs should neither expect to be included in a Magic Quadrant, nor, in this writer’s opinion, agree to be considered for inclusion in one of these rankings. Technology consumers are not often aware, neither as to the criteria Gartner applies as one of these Magic Quadrants is assembled, nor as to how Gartner applies one of these rankings. So early stage ISVs passed over, but mentioned, are oftened incorrectly considered “also ran” entries.

Maintaining an under the radar posture is preferred. It may even make more sense to continue to decline opportunities to participate in a Magic Quadrant ranking after achieving the critical mass required of each participant. Why risk inclusion in any quadrant other than Leaders, given consumer misunderstanding of what the rankings actually mean.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

18
Sep

When Enterprise Business Chooses Amazon AWS, or Google Compute, Microsoft Often Wins, as Well

Anyone following Microsoft should develop an understanding of how a decision by a prominent enterprise IT organization to purchase IaaS from Amazon, AWS, or Google Compute,, more often than not, is a win for Microsoft, as well.

Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft, and head of Cloud and Enterprise Business, made this point during the Citi Global Technology Conference, on September 3, 2014. Guthrie observed ” . . . in the Azure world, or even in the AWS world, we still will make money from that Windows Server license”.

One can argue most of the needs for desktop computing for enterprise businesses, and their peers in the public, and not for profit sectors, remains all about the Microsoft Office suite, so when a Microsoft competitor, either Amazon AWS, or Google Compute, lands a big deal (for example, the US CIA decision to award a contract for a private cloud to Amazon, rather than IBM), Microsoft wins, as well.

If one keeps this understanding in mind, then the question of who actually dominates the market for cloud IaaS becomes less pressing. Additional details provided by Guthrie in his presentation, and his answers to questions posed by Walter Pritchard of Citigroup portray a different picture of this market than, perhaps, would otherwise be the case based on media pronouncements about it.

The commingling of ISVs throughout the whole process is much more extensive than one would otherwise expect. Pritchard focuses on instances where Microsoft Azure provides the IaaS for enterprise customers running higher value services (like analytics, CRM, ERP, etc) from other ISVs, and asks Guthrie: “How do you ultimately think about monetizing that type of an offering, where it is a premium service, but it’s not your IP and it might be something that either others get paid on, like Oracle, or is an open source no IP technology running on top of that?” Guthrie’s answer speaks to, perhaps, a new willingness, on Microsoft’s part, to embrace an extensively different enterprise computing world, where services from many ISVs are consumed by the same organization: ” . . . [t]here’s an analogy I’ve used within the team, which is keep your old friends and make new friends.” In other words, Micorosoft has transformed itself into something of a “platform agnostic” business, with much more confidence in its ability to make money either way. This should be good news for anyone following Microsoft.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

17
Sep

When Different Words Mean Different Things to Different Writers, Readers Feel the Pain

On Friday, September 12, 2014, the Wall Street Journal featured an article by Peter Thiel on competition and monopolies. The Journal supported the article with a video interview with Thiel about his notion.

In the second paragraph of Thiel’s article he contrasts the financial performance of Google, in the year 2012, to the performance of the entire airline industry: “But in 2012, when the average airfare each way was $178, the airlines made only 37 cents per passenger trip. Compare them to Google, which creates less value but captures far more.” But what does “value” mean, and for whom? Unfortunately Thiel includes neither a definition of “value” nor much of any description, whatsoever, of just how Google “captures far more”.

One may argue Thiel’s failure to support his thesis with these points of detail is trivial. But, in this writer’s opinion, the lack of detail is, thematically, consistent with the rest of the “atmosphere” of this article, and, actually, a very important indicator of some “snake oil in the wine”. So neglecting to include any notion of what “value” means, Thiel proceeds further, and presents the core of his thesis: businesses should make best efforts to achieve monopolies in their industries, and avoid reacting to competitive pressure as much as possible.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the decidedly non free market capitalism at the core of an argument for monopolies, this writer would prefer to focus back on Thiel’s construct of Google vs the airlines as the preferred method of demonstrating, ultimately, a lack of connection between building a business plan to prosper by delivering value to a market, rather than building a business plan to prosper through some other means.

We are choosing to refer to the method Thiel evidently presumes Google implemented to make “100 times the airline industry profit margin that year [2012]” as simply “some other means” for a reason. In this writer’s opinion, there is no other way for a business to prosper than by delivering “value”. Google made a lot more profit than the entire airline industry because customers paid them, proportionately, more money for a product much less costly to develop than the cost of flying a jet plane, with hundreds of people on board, anywhere. They paid more money because they thought they received something more valuable from the product purchased from Google. They would not have paid this price had they thought otherwise.

Further, we would argue, airlines have failed to deliver any more value to customers other than a lowest possible price of a flight at a most convenient time because of market pressure, where consumers have come to expect essentially the same product to be delivered from any number of sources. Flights are, for better or worse, commodities. Back in 2012, click ads on Google were not.

We would recommend readers read Thiel’s article very closely and be wary of semantic stretches.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved