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Dispatch from Under the Radar 2012 – Consumerization of IT

Written by on April 29, 2012 in Blog, individuals - Comments Off

The show had a good line up of companies  once again and one of my investments, AppFog, won the People Choice which is the “hot company” online vote by people attending or not.   The keynote from Yobie Benjamin, Global CTO from Citigroup, had some really good information and its worth watching it on the streaming site but as a startup I would be discouraged if I was trying to sell to Citi.  His pre-req for any conversation is whether or not you will be “around” and he defined that by having a big slug of money of the balance sheet.  It’s a fair statement from the CTO of Citigroup but flies in the face of the show theme.  The Consumerization of IT is driven by IT Professionals in the workplace doing and delivering the kinds of things they do as consumers.  Full stop. I’m not sure anyone called the CFO at Dropbox and asked about the balance sheet before throwing a few photos in there.  I’m not  saying that Yobie is wrong for his business but it’s not consistent with the theme of the show and the movement around Consumerization.  That said, I really liked his talk and I’m super happy he made the time to be there.

The presentation format is pretty tight. Each company gets six minutes plus QA time from the judges.   I thought Peter Yared from CBS Interactive was the best judge in terms of the thoughtfulness of questions.  All of the judges did well and it’s great of them to take time from their busy schedules to do these events.  I do judging and panels as well and to do it right takes effort. You can’t just show up.

One thing that I believe was missing was requiring each presentation to open by telling the audience why the company fits into the Consumerization theme.   Minimally the moderator for each section of the conference could have explained why the category of companies in the section fit into the theme.  I don’t think that just assuming because an IT Pro can use a product by swiping a credit card is enough.  

Strikingly absent from the program were any companies doing hybrid cloud with real management beyond the core infrastructure companies (the infrastructure section) which were well represented by Cloud Scaling,  Piston, and Zadara Storage.   These types of companies need to tell the audience that they enable the central IT folks to deliver IaaS to their business units that “feel” like AWS and/or deliver AWS-like benefits while still offering flexibility of on premises or off plus internal controls.  None of them really made the pointed statement but I do think good listeners might have got the message.  Then again they only get six minutesand they did good jobs of representing themselves in that short time.

The section on PaaS was well done and informative. The companies in the section were pretty mature and included Apparbor, Cloud Bees,  Cabana, and AppFog. In the past, if I had to describe why PaaS fits into the Consumerization theme, I’d have to stretch a bit. But this show got me to thinking about it. I think Lucas Carlson from AppFog had the seed of it though.  He talked about the elimination of “ops” for the developer.  That is, the developer focuses on code and not operating servers and keeping things up to date.  So in a sense,  PaaS in general enables a developer to have an experience that  is akin to the simple store and retrieve of files or photos (like Dropbox). In the PaaS context,  I drop my code in the PaaS and away it goes. The Dropbox user doesn’t worry about load balancing the server her files are stored on or backing them up or doing patches.  The developer using a PaaS gets that experience plus a whole lot more.   You don’t need to work at a big company that has a devops staff that builds and maintains the internet facing platform. The PaaS provider does it. So software development orgs of all sizes can get the same benefit.  This is clearly part of the theme. None of the presenting companies made the explicit point and they should!  And yes they all pay as they go so its consumer like of course!

It is still early days for Consumerization of IT to be woven into company messaging. The smarter companies will not just market to it but believe in it and build for it. They will be rewarded for their efforts as businesses of all sizes will be able to adopt their technology in ways similar to the ways IT Pros and end users do in their daily lives.  IT Pros will bring in tech from small companies that innovate fast, enable low cost of adoption, and deliver a level of simplicity in line with the stuff they use at home.  The central IT folks will adopt the more comprehensive solutions that enable their own organizations to deliver a cloud-like experience to their business users.  That’s what this trend is about. It’s way more than pay as you go.

When you are 10x behind in mobile apps, your tools probably ought to be 10x better

Written by on April 12, 2012 in individuals - Comments Off

As part of “my Windows Phone trial”:http://theludwigs.com/2012/04/switching-to-the-nokia-lumia-900-for-a-while/, I am going to dig into the developer tools. I’ve written a little throwaway iOS app, and i’ve written one with “Parse”:https://parse.com/ (super easy!). So I’d like to understand the experience of writing a Windows Phone app.

“App Hub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-us/home/getting_started seems to be the starting place. Like a lot of marketing-driven websites, there are a lot of words up here, and indices of more words, and pointers to more words. Not a lot of help for me to actually do something — Parse is a nice constrast, sample Parse code on the landing page and a signup button right on the first page which leads to a very simple signup. You can get developing with Parse in literally a minute; not so with App Hub.

Anyway, I followed the pointers and installed the “winphone sdk”:http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=27570. There are some words up here that talk about getting a Visual Studio Express edition and I am thinking, thank goodness, because VS is kind of a beast. Well I was wrong, I seem to have gotten a pretty significant chunk of VS with templates for all kinds of code projects. It actually took me a while to figure out where the templates were for winphone projects, and I actually found several, and couldn’t figure out which was the right one to start with. (I did have a version of VS installed a year ago and uninstalled it, but perhaps it left some residue behind which made my VS Express look more complicated)

So I figure I should “sign up with apphub”:http://create.msdn.com/en-US/home/membership and get a developer account assuming there will be some guidance on what to do next. Well apparently tho that is a hard thing to do. My credit card transaction keeps getting turned down with no explanation. Munging thru forums and trading email with apphub support has revealed that this is a common issue, there is something very off with the Microsoft billing system. People wait for days to get their account approved. I’ve been told I need to use IE9 to sign up, that I have to visit 5 different subdomains and make sure my account information is 100% consistent across all those, that I may just want to give up and try again with a new account. I’ve tried everything to no avail. Oh and the billing site is incredibly slow.

So I struggle on. I have email in to several people for help. But some broad prescriptive advice for MSFT at this point: When you are 10x behind in mobile apps and mobile app developers, you should probably aspire to have tools and a developer program that are 10x easier to use. Some specific ideas:

* Fix billing. I’d argue to get rid of it all together, let any damn fool in the developer program, MSFT needs developers. The billing system has clearly been poor for years, it needs some energy applied to it.
* Radically simplify VS. If what I am seeing is what all developers see, it is too much. Too many templates, frameworks, language choices, etc.
* Make the developer website more about doing, less about telling. Developers should be developing code in seconds and minutes, not hours. They can go munge thru detailed technical material later, get them up and running in a dev environment with sample code fast.
* Melding the above two ideas, look at something like “Cloud9″:http://c9.io/. Host a dev environment right on the site, require no download or install, let people start coding in seconds. Cloud storage of code so they can pick up their coding anywhere, a cloud-based testing environment (I’m sure some of our portfolio companies like “Skytap”:www.skytap.com would be happy to help). Make it dramatically easier to get a dev and test environment set up.
* Talk with the “Parse”:http://parse.com guys, they have figured out how to make it super easy to develop mobile apps, solving a lot of the backend issues that many developers don’t need to deal with.

This is just the beginning. I am sure MSFT has plenty of smart folks who have ideas. It is not a time to hold back, I’d look hard at bold steps to really change the playing field.

UPDATE: Some nice folks at MSFT helped me get this solved, but in a nonscalable way. Appreciate the help but doesn’t solve the problem for the mass market.

Frank Artale breaks down whether young Americans are ready for the jobs available.

Written by on April 11, 2012 in Blog - Comments Off

View Frank’s full appearance on Fox’s Varney & Co. here.

 

On the Consumerization of IT

Written by on April 9, 2012 in Blog, individuals - Comments Off

We know we’re in the midst of a full hype cycle when we see conferences and blogs dedicated to a technology topic. This month, I am attending my first startup show with Consumerization of IT as the theme — Under the Radar, on April 26, in Mountain View, Calif. There is even an acronym now, CITE or something like that, and of course some hash tags. But, let’s step back. What does the Consumerization of IT really mean?

A few years ago, I heard my friend (and boss at the time) Mark Templeton, CEO at Citrix Systems introduce the term. It was in the context of a Citrix appstore that enables business users to search for and select applications the same way one would on iTunes (and in the context of BYOD). I thought, “well OK this is pretty cool,” and it was a nugget of truth and value. It would be nice to just “find” my business applications at a well-known and trusted place. Mark is a visionary kind of guy and on the leading edge of thinking and messaging. Naturally this instance was no exception. He was ahead of the curve once again, as at that point in time, the popular press equated consumerization/BYOD as a snooze fest.

In the past few years, I have observed a lot of folks trying to define and characterize this thing called consumerization of IT. It is multi-dimensional in nature, and there are aspects for both the end user and the IT Professional.

End users are more and more becoming, or already are, digital natives. They are totally comfortable with technology and expect things to just work. The notion of compromise really doesn’t exist and products need to unfold themselves naturally before users eyes. They are accustomed to “just using something.” None of them read a comparison whitepaper before deciding to use Google or Bing, Zagat or Yelp, Hipmunk or Kayak. It is an instant decision based on results and feel. Likewise, none of these users went to a training class to learn how to buy a book on Amazon.  It was intuitive; they did it once, a book appeared, and no credit card fraud occurred. Then repeat and boom; success for Amazon and a new way of purchasing books and other goods was born.  I’m definitely not #justsayin. This really is a big deal.

For the IT professional, there is a desire to bring in products and services that mimic their own experience as consumers. It’s easier and less risky, and definitely costs less to get going.  What IT professional wants to call the budget folks, to ask for funds, to buy a few servers so they can try out a business application product such as a workforce management system or expense management product? Then there is the time it takes to install software, figure out data protection, keep the application up to date, etc. Yes, custom in-house applications are still need in-house (topic for another post on hybrid cloud) but packaged software? The IT pro just wants to do a little research, cruise over to a SaaS website and start trying the application. If they like the application, they pop in their credit card number and boom they are a customer. If they don’t like the application, they let the trial expire. No capital is spent and no wasted time on infrastructure aspects that don’t matter. A subtle note here is that the IT pro probably never talked to the product’s publisher or worried about the size of the company that made the application. The user based his/her decision on utility, quality, word of mouth credibility, and voice (like on Twitter) of the producer. It’s no longer about the size of the sales force or the D&B rating. Its all self-service, and there is the growing phenomenon that users are adopting technology from much smaller outfits than ever before.  

The consumerization trend is here to stay. It doesn’t mean that all applications move offsite. It does mean that the products that are on premises and off premises, application or infrastructure, need to adapt and enable agility and frictionless deployment. And, one last point; applications better be accessible from a smartphone. Think differently, said my friend Mark.  It’s nice to see consumerization and BYOD)  happening widely now.

Check out Motif Investing and help me win an iPad

Written by on April 3, 2012 in individuals - Comments Off

I love Motif and if “you check it out I could win an iPad”:http://motif.extole.com/a/clk/2JwBDQ. OK I will probably have to give the iPad back as we are investors but still I do love Motif, it is worth looking at if you do any investing whatsoever — a much more natural way to invest.

Skeptical about voice control

Written by on April 2, 2012 in individuals - Comments Off

There was a “Sunday NYT article on voice recognition”:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/technology/nuance-communications-wants-a-world-of-voice-recognition.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=dragon%20tv&st=cse and how we are all going to control our TVs and other devices with voice. Building on the Siri wave, there is a popular belief that voice will become a significant or even dominant way we interact with devices and services.

I’m a big believer in voice. Ignition is an investor in “Spoken”:http://www.spoken.com/ who is doing great with their existing cloud voice processing business, and have some great ideas for the future. We’re an investor in “AVST”:http://www.avst.com/, “Twisted Pair”:http://www.twistpair.com/, “Public Mobile”:http://www.publicmobile.ca/pmconsumer/ — all voice-based businesses, all doing great. People are never going to get tired of talking to one another.

And that is what voice is really all about — people talking to people, not to devices. I will invest all day long in technologies that improve people talking to people — making it easier, more accessible, cheaper, augmenting with additional services, hosting conversations, etc.

On the other hand, we don’t talk to our tools and instruments. We touch them. A well designed tool or instrument fits the hands naturally, and in the hand of a skilled practitioner allows great creativity and/or great performances. The feedback during its use is important, we are very sensitive to the feedback and can adjust our use in very fine increments. We don’t attempt to use voice which is an imprecise, error-prone method — in fact, trying to talk very precisely can be quite annoying and unnatural.

So are our computational devices more like tools, or more like people? Do we want to interact with them as tools, or as people? My gut says more like tools, and that we will be more effective using touch and gestures than voice.

There are always going to be edge cases in which voice control is preferred — people with disabilities, handsfree situations. But I’m not convinced voice control will become significant.

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