14
May

Amtrak Derailment in Philadelphia surfaces important points likely to be on any technical product development roadmap

2 Color Design Hi-Res The chronicle of a tragedy that befell an AMTRAK commuter train on May 13, 2015 includes points worth consideration by any product marketer working on solutions for process control, and even the Internet of Things (IoT). These points should also be of interest to anyone with a role in an operational risk management (ORM) effort for mechanized mass transport.

Comments on the most prominent of these points, namely AMTRAK’s inability to implement the Positive Train Control service:

Just because a customer has either purchased a solution, or committed resources to a solution, does not mean the customer has taken the steps required to move forward on it. As Jad Mouwad wrote on May 13, 2015 in the New York Times in an article titled Technology That Could Have Prevented Amtrak Derailment Was Absent (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2015/05/14/us/technology-that-could-have-prevented-amtrak-derailment-was-absent NULL.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT NULL.nav=top-news), Positive Train Control (a complex solution leveraging real time data from sensors to manage the performance of locomotives on rails) ” . . . might have prevented the derailment of a Metro-North commuter train in the Bronx in December 2013 that killed four people and injured dozens . . . ” and the Philadelphia tragedy, as well.

But Mouwad writes ” . . . the absence of the technology has come up repeatedly.” Bottom line: Positive Train Control looked great on paper, but the task of applying it, Mouwad writes, ” . . . involves fitting 36,000 wayside units and equipping 26,000 locomotives according to industry figures.”

The takeaway for product marketers? Putting together a “complexity assessment”, complete with an estimate of likely impact on customer ROI, should be a mandatory feature of a product roadmap.

In turn, and from the customer side of a purchase decision, an internal operational risk management (ORM) effort should also discount the usefulness of a purchase like Positive Train Control based on likely internal obstacles to implementation. Of course the discount should be applied against the ROI expected from the investment. A governance plan should include the steps required to overcome these obstacles to ROI.

If your business is developing solutions like Positive Train Control, but you lack an internal product marketing management effort to craft a promising roadmap for your rollout, please do not hesitate to contact us. We bring to the table over 30 years experience promoting and selling technology solutions (hardware, software, services) to the kind of complex enterprise customer fitting the presentation of AMTRAK (unfortunately), in this example.

We can also help customer organizations looking to improve the performance of ORM functions in order to better prepare for tragedies like this one.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

7
Jan

Has node.js and similar web server platforms led consumers to think apps aren’t connected to the Internet?

2-Color-Design-Hi-Res-100px-widthThe New York Times recently published a couple of articles written by Conor Dougherty (http://topics NULL.nytimes NULL.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/conor_dougherty/index NULL.html?action=click&contentCollection=Technology&module=Byline&region=Header&pgtype=article). These articles point to what Dougherty described as diminished mobile app consumer access to the Internet. This shrinking online accessibility, Dougherty argues, can be attributed to mobile apps, themselves, which run fine without web browsing.

But the performance of every one of the apps mentioned in these articles, as I am completely sure Dougherty would agree, is entirely dependent on the Internet. The real issue for Dougherty, I would surmise, is the transparent nature of this performance, which, somehow “happens” without any requirement for user intervention. Therefore, Dougherty argues, the quality of the personal computing experience for app consumers, has been degraded.

Of course none of this performance would be possible without “web server platforms” like node.js (http://nodejs NULL.org/). These app components add web server functionality. So the apps can perform, online, without a web browser. There is not much new about this beyond the fact node.js is an example of how to achieve this performance with JavaScript, which is a very popular scripting language at present.

The point I am trying to make is developers and the ISVs supporting their efforts need to be sensitive to public perception. Dougherty is not writing in a vacuum. His articles are read because consumers are interested in the topics covered. So it is likely safe to say some segment of the consuming public feels the same way, regardless of whether or not the public perception is actually correct.

Maintaining sensitivity to this type of public notion (perhaps “perception” is not the right word) should, in my opinion, translate into some type of communications effort (PR or MARCOM) to better inform consumers how apps actually work. At the same time, perhaps developers and ISVs have an opportunity to bake in some of the “choice” Dougherty finds missing from the app computing experience. Dougherty longs for a “unifying link” (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2015/01/06/technology/tech-companies-look-to-break-down-walls-between-apps NULL.html?ref=technology). Would it make sense for someone to build in a method of bolting otherwise unconnected apps together? Perhaps with some type of search feature? I am not saying yes, or no, but, perhaps someone would like to check it out.

If you find a market for these feature, do let me know.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2015 All Rights Reserved

3
Sep

Even Apple Listens When Microsoft Debuts New Themes for Product Promotion

For several days in August, 2014, the online New York Times web site ran a front page advertisement for Apple’s iPad tablet computer. This ad presented readers with a short success story illustrating how tablet consumers have been using the iPad for some real work, and not the leisure activity more often used for a promotional opportunity like this one.

The same type of marketing communications content filled up the middle portion of Microsoft’s online, audio and video webcast debut of the Surface Pro 3, which was originally published on May 20, 2014 (http://www NULL.microsoft NULL.com/en-us/news/press/2014/may14/05-20webcast NULL.aspx).

But Apple’s attention to Microsoft’s style of product promotion for the Surface Pro 3 evidently didn’t just stop with providing its audience of potential consumers with its own examples of business applications for its tablet computers. If rumors about Apple’s product development plans can be taken as a reliable indicator of where the iPad is headed, this attention appears to have also permeated the actual design of the new iPad. On August 26, 2014, Daisuke Wakabayashi published an article for the online Wall Street Journal titled Larger iPad Heralds Blurring Among Apple Devices (http://blogs NULL.wsj NULL.com/digits/2014/08/26/larger-ipad-heralds-blurring-among-apple-devices/?mod=LS1).

With a rumored screen size of 12.9 inches, the new iPad will be larger, by nearly one inch, than the Surface Pro 3 (which has a 12 inch screen). But of even more importance, Wakabayashi’s contention about the new iPad and a “blurring among Apple Devices”, if it proves accurate, places Apple in lockstep with Microsoft along a path of positioning its tablet as a laptop competitor.

If readers remain skeptical about Apple following Microsoft’s lead, it may be helpful to reflect on what segment of the consumer market for tablets likely remains “untouched”, despite nearly 4 years of heavy marketing of this product. The remaining segment at the top end, one can argue, is largely made up of enterprise business consumers, and their siblings in the public and not for profit sectors. For these markets, the entertainment features of tablets are “nice to have”, but not “mission-critical” capabilities. Given Microsoft’s position in these consumer markets, it makes complete sense for Redmond to be leading Cupertino around the neighborhood.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

8
Aug

PPC Online Advertising May No Longer be the Solution for Products Targeted at Specific Market Niches

Back in the late 1990s, a number of advertising agencies (Poppe Tyson and ModemMedia being just two) extolled online marketing as uniquely capable of providing marketers with a method to truly personalize presentations of product promotional information for highly specific market segments. Poppe Tyson’s promotional literature talked about something called “the considered purchase”, meaning a type of lengthy consideration a certain cut of buyers will undertake to carefully study potential solutions to a burning need, and why online marketing was the perfect venue to provide these prospects with information tailored, specifically, to appeal to them, and them alone. The epitome of this notion is the concept of “Marketing 1to1”, which Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D, coined around the same time.

But now, in 2014, all of these notions may amount to little more than hyperbole, at least if an article titled How Facebook Sold You Krill Oil (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2014/08/03/technology/how-facebook-sold-you-krill-oil NULL.html?_r=0) is credible. The article recounts the efforts of a Mr. Joao Rodrigues to determine if a marketing campaign on Facebook, which he has been considering for his product, something called Mega Red Fish Oil, would ” . . . help him find people who were already buying fish oil or other products that suggested they were concerned about the health of their hearts, and perhaps persuade them to switch to his brand.” (quoted directly from Mr. Goel’s article, as published on the New York Times web site)

As I read it, Mr. Rodrigues’ question is never directly answered by the team from Facebook, or the agency recommending the Facebook network of web sites as the perfect venue for Mr. Rodrigues to obtain the reach he required. But implicit to the rest of the article is the notion he cannot obtain those results, at least not through promoting his product on Facebook.

All of this should certainly be a big deal for anyone thinking about an investment in Facebook, or in any of its competitors. The enormous market capitalization each of these companies has achieved is built upon a set of assumptions likely to include a conviction they are uniquely capable of delivering a winning solution to Mr. Rodrigues’ requirement. If they are not able to deliver, as expected, and some significant portion of potential advertisers begin to realize this limitation, and opt for other methods, this same market capitalization may deflate very quickly.

Disclaimer: I have no investment in Facebook, nor in any of its peers

Ira Michael Blonder (https://plus NULL.google NULL.com/108970003169613491972/posts?tab=XX?rel=author)

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

24
Jun

Does Public Micro Funding of Very Early Stage ISVs Help or Hinder Creation of Viable New Businesses?

Perhaps it is harsh to say, but some very early stage businesses are better off as concepts than actual funded efforts. For early stage Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) this is, too frequently, the case. Simply put, either no one on the management team has any prior experience with the kind of immense start up effort at hand, or the product concept, itself, has not been studied, sufficiently, to warrant capitalizing the notion and kicking off a business with it.

But with the availability of public “micro funding” resources, commonly referred to as “crowdfunding”, more of these notions and teams are actually embarking on a business effort, than one would otherwise hope to be the case.

Jenna Wortham published an article on the New York Times web site on June 14, 2014 titled Why That Phone Charger Took Two Years to Arrive (http://bits NULL.blogs NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2014/06/14/why-that-phone-charger-took-two-years-to-arrive/?ref=technology). Ms. Wortham’s article, perhaps inadvertently, reports on some of the early stage gross errors capable of crippling an ISV business powered by a creative, but poorly assembled product notion.

The subject of the article is Ms. Wortham’s history of an investment she made, via KickStarter (http://www NULL.kickstarter NULL.com), a famous “crowdfunding” web site, in a business set up to sell a product called “JuiceTank”. As is typical of these investments, Ms. Wortham received no equity in return for her investment of $55.00. What she received was a confirmation of her order for something once called “JuiceTank”, which later became something called “the Prong”. As Ms. Wortham explains, this product promised to look like a “slim iPhone case”, but to serve as a “wall charger” for an iPhone.

So what’s the problem with all of this? the reader may ask. First and foremost, any investment in a start up with absolutely no product to show should be an equity investment, and not an order. After all, it took two years for this business to fill Ms. Wortham’s order. Further, Mr. Lloyd Gladstone, one of the founders of this “business”, as Ms. Wortham reports, “had no prior experience with products or manufacturing.” Mr. Gladstone’s lack of experience, when combined with the prior experience of his partner, Mr. Jesse Pliner, in Investment Banking, evidently resulted in acceptance in the KickStarter “crowdfunding” effort.

But who really benefits when an effort like “the Prong” nee “JuiceTank” secures the capital to get off the ground, but then leaves a lot of very small investors literally waiting years for delivery on a product purchased on no more than a whim. I would argue no one. In all likelihood Messrs. Gladstone and Pliner have felt no small amount of pain as they meander through a series of very dangerous errors. In turn, the group of very small investors waiting for their $55.00 purchase to show up on their door step, has also felt some pain.

Simply put: public micro funding, in this writer’s opinion, benefits no one other than the venue hosting the effort. Small investors are better off sitting on the sidelines while legitimate venture capital makes an effort to properly manage ISV notions all the way through to viable emerging businesses.

Ira Michael Blonder (https://plus NULL.google NULL.com/108970003169613491972/posts?tab=XX?rel=author)

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

23
Jun

Why Isn’t Amazon Instant Video Available on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2.1?

On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, Amazon has scheduled a new product announcement. A lot of the talk, online, is about the likelihood this new product will prove to be an Amazon smart phone. But, of all this talk, only one writer, David Streitfield, of the New York Times, in an article titled With an Amazon Smartphone, the Retailer Seeks a Tether to Consumers (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2014/06/16/business/with-an-amazon-smartphone-the-retailer-seeks-a-tether-to-consumers NULL.html?ref=technology) appears to appreciate the urgency, for Amazon, to debut yet another smart phone. Mr. Streitfield alludes to the inevitability of Amazon taking a very late step into a very mature smartphone market: “Now Amazon is giving this brutal business a shot. On the one hand, analysts say, it has no choice. On the other, the rewards could be tremendous.”

Actually, perhaps it is more accurate to say Mr. Streitfield reports on some analysts who actually appreciate why Amazon actually has no choice but to take this step. But why is Amazon forced into this move? Unfortunately, Mr. Streitfield provides no further detail on this point, beyond painting a picture of a likely shrinking market for the various items in its massive inventory and offering to consumers, if search engines, like Google, continue to roll in further enhancements to their location based search features.

This writer caught more of a tangible sense of why Amazon might need to take this step when he attempted to use his Amazon Prime account to watch “Amazon Prime” instant videos on his Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, 2.1, and/or his Surface 2 tablets. Neither device would run the videos. This writer experienced no problems running the instant videos on a desktop PC, but the tablets would not work,

A discouraging message came up when he tried to play an Instant Video on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2.1. The message amounted to a warning the video would not be able to be played on this device, so try playing it on a PC.

With the Android O/S deeply entrenched in the position of the most popular smart phone (and tablet) O/S, by far, Amazon cannot afford, much longer, not to have a viewer of its own for this market. If an Amazon smart phone is an effort to solve this big problem, and, at the same time, a reliable player for Android and Windows 8.1 Mobile Devices is also announced, then the decision will likely be the right one for Amazon to have made.

But the question still remains — why do is there no player for these other mobile device O/Ss? Does Amazon’s position in the Instant Video market, as a competitor to Google Play, and Samsung’s own online entertainment marketing effort, have anything to do with it?

The answer to this question is a likely “yes.” If Amazon implemented the same bully negotiating style it called on for its issues with Hatchette, with Google Play, Samsung, and even the Windows Store, the the lack of a viewer on any of these platforms makes sense.

Ira Michael Blonder (https://plus NULL.google NULL.com/108970003169613491972/posts?tab=XX?rel=author)

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

20
Jun

Will Microsoft Add Some Definition to the Implications of Intel’s Guidance Announcement for the Broader PC Market?

In the aftermath of Intel’s Guidance announcement of June 21, 2014, thousands of words have been written by what looks like an ever growing list of analysts about what the import of these numbers actually mean, not only for Intel®, but for the overall PC market.

Three themes run through most of the commentary:

  1. The improved demand for PCs is a temporary phenomenon, largely the result of increased sales of PCs to businesses
  2. Business demand can’t be counted to last as the driver is the end of product life for Microsoft® Windows XP
  3. Some of the increase in sales can be found in more interested consumers purchasing “2 in 1” computers, which can be used either as a laptop, or as a tablet

There are some issues with each of these three themes:

The first theme underestimates the importance of improved business appetite for PCs, and includes a prediction about how long this improvement will last. There are few tablet computers on the market today (with the notable exception of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 and 3, but more about these later) with attractive street prices above $1,000.00. But there are quite a number of PC options for desktop computers, laptops, and, especially, servers carrying a price about the $1K number. So improved business appetite for comparatively higher priced computers will likely be a good thing, not only for Intel, but for its OEMs, the businesses manufacturing other parts for these computers, and more.

I don’t believe there is enough data, at least as of yet, to produce a reliable prediction as to how long this improvement can go on. No one has factored in the possibility of a change in consumer sentiment about the safety of cloud computing. If one agrees with a notion about consumer appetite for tablets (but this notion can also be applied to smart phones and even home entertainment computers/game consoles) based around the usefulness of these “portable screens” as superior viewers for e-reading, movie watching, games, and television, then cloud SaaS products are going to be more important for this segment of the computing market than would otherwise be the case for PCs. If the present market potential for these devices is approaching saturation, and the threats represented by the never-ending string of successful cloud computing hacks grow more intimidating, then it may be the case the improvement in the PC market may have greater longevity than analysts have planned upon.

As to the 2nd theme, as I wrote in an earlier post to this blog, perhaps a driver is an improved consumer perception of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. Microsoft formally announced the end of life for Windows XP last year, and the actual due date, in April of this year, will soon be a quarter behind us, so I’m not sure migrations to new computers replacing Windows XP is a big driver, any longer.

Finally, and this is a big point, hasn’t Microsoft maintained a very consistent approach to the tablet market, all along, to present the Surface product line as the best method of improving productivity, while, at the same time, supporting consumer needs for great e-readers, movie viewers and portable game consoles? In sum, isn’t the Surface tablet a great example of one of these “2 in 1” computers? But with the name tablet?

Since the Surface Pro 3 announcement last month, which included a video presentation about how some customers have been using the Surface tablet to enhance productivity, the New York Times web site has featured what looks to be a daily ad from Apple presenting precisely the same type of information about some prominent consumers of iPads. Is it safe to assume, then, some traction for Microsoft’s tablets as examples of these “2 in 1” computers. If this assumption is reliable, then doesn’t the argument end up in the circular file? After all, the Surface is a tablet and not, per se, a PC.

Ultimately, when Microsoft either next reports earnings, or, potentially, announces a change in its own guidance (and I have absolutely no indication whatsoever of its plan to do so), we should get some more useful color on this point, right?

Disclaimer: I’m long Microsoft and Intel. I am not invested in Apple. Neither am I invested in the New York Times

Ira Michael Blonder (https://plus NULL.google NULL.com/108970003169613491972/posts?tab=XX?rel=author)

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