March 29, 2007

YouTube, VIPs, and System i

Today there is a bewildering array of individual and community driven communications means that less than a decade ago simply did not exist. Blogs, Podcasts, and YouTube, are becoming very accepted, dare I say, a conventional if not expected means of getting the message out. While much of this content started as personal diatribes (blogs) being released to anyone willing to get online and view the web page, the next stage of content, i.e. Podcasts (take the content and listen later) and now YouTube (view the video now or later) has definitely caught the attention of mainstream content providers. In particular, media interests, especially those with a position to spin, or a product/service to sell, have begun to embrace these communication channels as another way to reach their various audiences and their pocketbooks. At the same time, each of these content providers, are seeking to make their constituencies feel special, part of the greater community, VIPs if you will, so that they will bond with the underlying message and become proactive supporters of the cause.

As new as these approaches may seem, they are addressing an age-old issue, i.e. how to get the message out to one’s audience and influence their actions. In IT marketing, this quandary is the focus of so much marketing attention, especially when it comes to business partners. With reported growth in the number of SMBs and their purchasing power continuing to outstrip the growth of the larger enterprise, vendors are increasingly reliant upon their indirect channels to reach a larger proportion of the business opportunity. At the same time, the number of ways in which to reach the audience is growing, and there is no longer an automatic acceptance that the only and best information comes directly from vendors, Further, user communities are becoming more differentiated along verticals, geographies, IT expertise, and behavioral demographics. So what is a vendor to do? Focus on the past, present, or future? I would argue in many cases, all of the above.

I’ll be upfront, I like the IBM System i. Yet its legacy, and for many, an outdated perception of it in the marketplace, at times limit its potential community of users. However, we have seem much change about the System i, and recently have witnessed an interesting confluence of marketing and positioning that reaches back into the platform’s legacy while at the same time pursuing new audiences, through new communication channels.

The recently launched Vertical Industry Program, aka VIP, has targeted the traditional heart of System i’s success, i.e. being the integrated platform for industry applications. The last few years have offered ISVs many alternative platforms upon which to ply their wares, be they Linux, Windows, or Open Source technologies. For some the value prop of System i may have become overlooked. Refocusing on a core market is a generally a good idea, and the support of 3400+ revitalized System i applications is testimony to the opportunity. But something that is different this time is the micro focus of VIP.

Rather than targeting a few broad verticals, VIP is focused on 80+ micro-verticals, such as travel and entertainment subsets like as gaming table or restaurant management, or manufacturing sub segments such as after-market auto parts, or labor union pension funds. While VIP has the expected partner program features such as co-marketing, technology assistance, and so forth, ultimately I think the narrower focus of targeted solutions may prove to be the success driver. Through close targeting, the channel partner as well as their customers individually become more important and may once again think of themselves as VIPs as opposed to just one of many vying for attention. With the proliferation of formal and ad hoc user communities, the feeling of importance imparted by a vendor to its partners and their customers cannot be underestimated as it is a powerful viral marketing tool.

With an eye towards capturing the attention of new users, consisting of demographically younger, Windows-centric, or Web-savvy citizens, System i has posted some videos, “IT Revenge” v1.1 - v1.4, on YouTube that tap into many of the common frustrations of SMB server administrators. While smashing a server suspended as a piƱata with a baseball bat may not seem very business like, the reality is this taps into that visceral feeling many server administrators have experienced when dealing with server sprawl, and sets the tone that System i, might be a bit different. Add to this the “i want control” advertising campaign, the iSociety online community, and The Truth web site, and you have a collection of marketing and influencing platforms that reach far beyond the traditional IT education channels. Place a seed and watch it grow might be the adage, but it is a good one, especially if the seed is planted in soil that has never before grown the new crop.

I find it ironic that the classic value of the System i, load the app, fire it up, watch it run, and then leave it alone, is so contemporary. It all gets back to why organizations deploy computers and applications in the first place. It is not about perfecting the black arts of operating and maintaining a fleet of disparate computing resources, it’s about getting business done as competitively as possible. This is as true for business partners as end user organizations. By focusing on both constituencies’ needs, IBM can help each feel like they are VIPs, and garner positive viral marketing in numerous end user communities. Getting a closer view and understanding of the customer and partner is always essential to this end. By combining more traditional approaches like the VIP program, and blogs, YouTube, and user communities, IBM is seeking to widen its marketing net, while at the same time making each of its constituencies feel unique and special. This integrated combination of old and new style marketing may be reflective of the System i, itself – a platform with a heritage of integrated simplicity and ease of use whose potential is relevant today in more scenarios than ever.

March 23, 2007

CSOs – Trend or Fad?

The notion of combining physical security and logical (information) security has been around for some time. Some industry thought leaders such as Steve Hunt, feel that convergence of the responsibilities for physical and information security is not only a best practice, but inevitable. Recently AT&T published a white paper with the results of a survey conducted for them by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The paper stated that “Typically, the CEO remains the primary decision-maker for electronic security decisions (although in Europe the CIO is more likely to hold this role). But the importance of the chief security officer (CSO) is rising—this figure is cited as the main decision-maker at 12% of companies.”

This made me wonder if the role of CSO makes sense or if it is simply wishful thinking. I pondered the history of the responsibility for information and physical security during my Army career. At battalion (a unit commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel) and above, there is a principal staff officer responsible for “Intelligence and Security”. At one point this officer (the S2 if working for a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel and G2 if working for a General officer) was responsible for information security as well. Over time this proved untenable since intelligence officers were not IT professionals and it wasn’t practical to have them learn the technical details and nuances necessary to be effective. The responsibility was transferred to the “6” who was the lead for Communications and IT within the organization.

In the commercial sector physical security is the province of facilities while information security is typically within IT and usually reports to the CIO. Ultimately the CIO and the facilities lead may report to a common VP such as the CFO.

Given all the above, suppose you had the ability to re-orient security, what would the ideal structure be given the growing array of regulations, pressure for data privacy and looming e-discovery rules?

I’d argue that the CEO needs a focal point and perhaps the logical keystone is a single individual responsible for Security and Compliance (S&C). Of necessity this would cross the lines of other key direct reports to the CEO such as HR, CFO and of course legal. Staff elements within the Security and Compliance Office could be set up that would have dotted line supervision over their respective functional counterparts while S&C Officer would be the CEO’s representative in all matters related to security and compliance across the organization.

March 13, 2007

Venyon & NFC -- Cool, but is it Viable?

Recently I attended a breakfast in San Francisco given by Venyon, a joint venture of Nokia and Gieseck & Devrient, focused on the topic of Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that has recognition by the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC), European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and ECMA, a European association for standardizing information and communications systems. NFC is optimized for proximity transactions, operates globally in the 13.56 MHz range, and offers data exchange rates from 106-424 kbps. It is also purported to be compatible with the existing and future contact-free payment and ticketing card infrastructures based on ISO 14443 standards.

Venyon envisions a future whereby mobile phone manufacturers will integrate its secured chip and management platform into handsets thus allowing users to use their phone as a secure bank vault by which to commence instantaneous consumer gratification. One comparison given was the use of the mobile phone much like the Oyster cards of London Transport, or equivalent tracking/payments systems in use in various metro transport systems. In addition, Venyon also foresees the embedded technology as a part of multi factor authentication solutions based upon its secure chip, the mobile phone SIM, and your knowledge of secrets. One such scenario might be gaining access to a secured door by touching the contact pad with the phone (as opposed to a card key), which triggers a phone call to the registered number for the mobile phone, whose conversation could be viewed by remote security camera whereby the parties then exchange secrets or pass codes, and the door then is unlocked remotely.

OK, this technology is the stuff that futurists love. It integrates, shares electrons, proffers a future of great enablement, professes a revenue stream for service providers, includes a piggy bank, and has a zillion possibilities for savvy business folk to attempt to have the piggy bank sent their way. I can hear the ads now, “With Cingular and Nokia you can download the latest MP3s, cool ring tones, your bank deposits, and your latest hot club listings, all into one totally cool device that will reduce your carbon footprint while we bill you automatically from your personal cash vault located inside the phone.” Argh!!

To be fair, I am no longer a twenty-something, I am two twenty-somethings. Cool is not as hot as it once was, and I am not no longer easily captivated by gizmos. While I believe there is a market populated by younger people who judge social status by the latest device or wireless functionality, looking beyond this crowd, just how useful could Venyon's use of NFC be for a payment and authentication solution? Technically, it would probably work, but could most people be convinced to change their behavior to where the phone became the next credit or debit card? Would a unified card key system be swapped out in favor of a collection mobile phones from various and sundry service providers? Would light weight modern phones survive the impact and abuse they would receive if they started being slapped against payment and access pads multiple times per day? But most importantly, will banks, payment providers, retailers, and all the other requisite parts of a successful ecosystem sign up and play?

In the realm of IT, one axiom remains constant. It is much easier to swap out technology than to change human behavior. In order to effect behavior change, the new way of doing things must provide benefits not available through the old way and offer a high enough economic imperative to bribe the user into desiring the change. At present, it is hard to see where the economic imperative would be high enough to cause substantial change in the general public.

However, by seeking the tweens and twenty-somethings, which have disposal income and time, Venyon and its NFC cohorts could plant behavioral seeds that would transcend into working adulthood. This could groom a future where such solutions would be as expected as listening to music on a mobile phone is in this demographic today. So, the challenge will be to find deep enough pockets to drive the development of an NFC ecosystem and place the technology into enough early adopters and hopefully watch their NFC behaviors grow. This would take a lot of patience, but it is not impossible. Just ask anyone 10 years ago if they would listen to music on their cell phone (analog, heavy, and expensive) and they would laugh you out the door. Yet to the major mobile providers today, it is no laughing matter.

Although I think Venyon’s vision will not be an overnight success, when technology offers new ways to help separate people from their money, there are always folks interested in taking up the challenge. Time will tell if Venyon’s solution ultimately addresses a need in the marketplace, or if it will join the long list of technologies that were seeking a problem to solve, but did not find one in time before their own problem of financial viability become insurmountable.

March 07, 2007

Defense Technology – Still A Major Source of Commercial Products

I read yet one more notice of one company buying a piece of another, but this one struck me as a bit noteworthy. Nomad Digital, providers and operators of specialist mobility networks, today announced its acquisition of QinetiQ Rail, the commercial rail division of QinetiQ. Most people never heard of the company with the funny Q name, but I recognized them from their Defense business centered in the UK which has recently expanded to the US.
According to the acquirer, “The transportation sector is full of opportunities for a wide range of WiMAX broadband and narrowband mobile wireless services and it is largely under-served by conventional mobile network operators. …. enhance our offering of value added on-train services, such as live CCTV, train operating system applications, more reliable train-to-shore communications and entertainment services for passengers.” He goes on to add “By retaining an interest in Nomad, QinetiQ has demonstrated its conviction that we have a strong business here."
There are some interesting market dynamics here. Wireless technology is clearly important in the defense community and rail systems are a key piece of the national infrastructure moving large amounts of cargo and sometimes people. Railroads need to insure safe and efficient operation of their rolling stock. Some like Eurostar and Amtrak are looking for ways to make themselves more attractive to passengers, especially those able to afford higher fares and add-on services purchases.
Having recently experience a cruise on the largest cruise ship in the world (Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas) I’m aware of the demand for entertainment and instant access. Migration of defense technology into the commercial sector will certainly help increase accessibility; I just hope we’re all smart enough to know when to turn it off.