Bright Shiny Objects vs. Legacy Systems

Washing machine in laundry room

Socket strat­egy” misfit

Sometimes every­day life reminds you of essen­tial truths, like the need to take legacy sys­tems into account before falling in love with bright shiny tech­nol­ogy that you or your orga­ni­za­tion must buy.

My hus­band and I fell into that trap this week­end. We had reached the end-of-life for a first-gen front load­ing wash­ing machine, and needed to buy a replace­ment in short order.

The Buyer’s Journey

Knowing this was immi­nent, I had done quite a bit of research online, explor­ing a wide vari­ety of mod­els and fea­ture sets. Like any dig­i­tally savvy con­sumer, I checked out user reviews on the lead­ing brands and mod­els. I vis­ited quite a few web­sites and spe­cial­ized appli­ance review blogs, fil­ter­ing out brand-sponsored biases and insanely angry cus­tomers — try­ing to ensure we’d end up with a set of bal­anced per­spec­tives. We were look­ing for the pat­terns of user reviews, rather than being influ­enced by a few overly loud voices.

Armed with a list of final can­di­dates, we went shop­ping at a family-owned local firm that spe­cial­izes in home appli­ances, rep­re­sent­ing a broad assort­ment of brands. We’ve done busi­ness with this com­pany before.

A knowl­edge­able sales­man con­firmed one of our options, but also steered us toward a model we had not ade­quately con­sid­ered. We got some prod­uct lit­er­a­ture from him, some price quotes on our two final can­di­dates, and told him we expected to make our deci­sion by the end of the weekend.

We went home and did some more online research to learn what exist­ing cus­tomers have to say about the model we had not con­sid­ered. Lots of 4– and 5-star reviews. Hooray! This was the one that would work for us.

My hus­band did some pric­ing research and found a lower price at a local big-box retailer. Given prior pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence with the spe­cialty appli­ance dealer, we called the sales per­son, cited the price issue, and nego­ti­ated a deal that made him and us happy. (We also stepped up to a 5-year extended war­ranty, given some con­cern about the long-term reli­a­bil­ity of these overly elec­tronic washers…)

Before day’s end we pulled out our credit card and placed an order. The store promised to deliver our new machine within a cou­ple of days.

The week­end ended on a happy note.

A Failed Installation

Early this morn­ing the deliv­ery truck showed up on our street. As promised, the deliv­ery team hauled away the old machine, and two brawny men car­ried the new washer up to the sec­ond floor laun­dry room.

And that’s where we dis­cov­ered, the hard way, that we had not ade­quately researched and planned the imple­men­ta­tion scenario.

As you can see in the snap­shot above, the new tech­nol­ogy has been con­nected; how­ever, the machine is not usable because it does not fit into the plumbed-in drain pan.

If this were soft­ware, I’d say we face an API pro­to­col mismatch.

Consequences

So now we have to go shop­ping for a car­pen­ter or handy­man who can cre­ate a cus­tom solu­tion for us, to ensure the new tech­nol­ogy will fit into our exist­ing infra­struc­ture. He will have to remove the old pan, ensure no dam­age to the drain, and then install a larger pan that con­forms to the dimen­sions of the new machine.

Sigh…

Fortunately, there’s enough room in the laun­dry area to do what’s nec­es­sary. In the mean­time we face the chal­lenge of no laun­dry facil­i­ties until we’ve found a car­pen­ter and resolved the instal­la­tion prob­lem. Meanwhile the July Fourth hol­i­day week­end looms.

Had we antic­i­pated this, we would have delayed the instal­la­tion — rather than suc­cumb to the charms of instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. We would have taken action to replace the drain pan with a new and larger one, before com­mit­ting to a deliv­ery and instal­la­tion date.

A Parable for Tech Buyers

This sim­ple story is a para­ble for mar­ket­ing tech­nol­ogy pur­chases, cloud-based or not.

Even though it may delay your pur­chase deci­sion, don’t for­get to think through the impli­ca­tions of in-place, legacy sys­tems and the implementation/adoption sce­nario before falling in love with the lat­est bright new shiny object…

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Some Inconvenient Truths about Marketers as Customers

Cost drivers for complex systems

Cost dri­vers for com­plex systems

Driving technology-enabled change in any com­plex sys­tem, such as mar­ket­ing oper­a­tions for a global brand, is chal­leng­ing for ven­dors and cus­tomers. When the cus­tomer is a mar­ket­ing orga­ni­za­tion, there is addi­tional risk for the ven­dor. Few mar­keters under­stand the true costs or require­ments of get­ting from today’s real­ity to their desired future state.

As a recent Financial Times report states,

Marketers report being more per­plexed than ever before amid the pro­lif­er­a­tion of media and new technologies.

Bridging the Gap

When it comes to mar­ket­ing tech­nol­ogy, part of the chal­lenge is caused by the inevitable gap between generic func­tion­al­ity (the default use cases sup­ported by the soft­ware) and the customer’s spe­cific require­ments. This gap is illus­trated here, the area shaded with green diag­o­nal lines.

For clas­sic enter­prise soft­ware at least a third of the total costs have been dri­ven by peo­ple, processes and change man­age­ment — the peo­ple side of technology implementation.

Bridging that gap costs time and money: the work to ana­lyze, adapt or cre­ate processes that take advan­tage of what the tech­nol­ogy has to offer. Even if the soft­ware has supe­ri­or­ity usabil­ity, there is still a cost to train employ­ees so they can make use of these new capa­bil­i­ties effec­tively, in the con­text of how their com­pany does business.

There are costs to ana­lyze legacy sys­tems, today’s work­flows, exist­ing media or soft­ware assets, etc., and then develop an action plan with mile­stones, pri­or­i­ties, work streams and so on. At some point this plan needs to take into account what the tech­nol­ogy can actu­ally deliver.

Special skills are required for these analy­ses, includ­ing the tech­ni­cal know-how to under­stand sys­tems (orga­ni­za­tional sys­tems and tech­nol­ogy archi­tec­tures and inter­faces). Technical savvy is also required to dis­cern the dif­fer­ence between ven­dor promises and what the soft­ware actu­ally does — to see through ven­dor hype and mis­lead­ing claims. As described in the Financial Times and else­where, this is a hybrid role, an emerg­ing func­tion called the mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gist.

Classic IT orga­ni­za­tions have tended to focus every­where but mar­ket­ing, so few IT pro­fes­sion­als under­stand mar­ket­ing tools, mar­ket­ing dis­ci­plines or the require­ments and suc­cess fac­tors for each discipline.

Who Bridges the Gap

Traditionally the work to develop solu­tions for a customer’s spe­cific require­ments is per­formed by a pro­fes­sional ser­vices team. Team mem­bers are sourced from some com­bi­na­tion of:

  • The tech­nol­ogy vendor’s pro­fes­sional ser­vices orga­ni­za­tion (if any);
  • A third party that is cer­ti­fied in this tech­nol­ogy or that spe­cial­izes in this appli­ca­tion domain, such as CRM, web con­tent man­age­ment or brand imple­men­ta­tion management;
  • A project office within the customer’s orga­ni­za­tion, often affil­i­ated with IT.

Ideally, the mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gist will lead the ini­tia­tive to doc­u­ment require­ments and develop the high-level imple­men­ta­tion plan. In some cases they also take respon­si­bil­ity for man­ag­ing the imple­men­ta­tion plan, and hold­ing every­one account­able for mile­stones and deliverables. This sce­nario has the high­est like­li­hood of lead­ing to a sat­is­fac­tory out­come for every­one concerned.

How Things May Go Awry

When the enter­prise lacks a mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gist role, there’s a risk that no one within the cus­tomer orga­ni­za­tion knows how to scope or artic­u­late marketing’s require­ments. Furthermore, they may not allo­cate enough bud­get to pay for pro­fes­sional ser­vices, espe­cially if those must be pro­vided by a third party. Under this sce­nario the total bud­get could be con­sumed by the costs of the tech­nol­ogy, with noth­ing avail­able to defray the costs of deliv­er­ing the full solution.

If the vendor’s sales orga­ni­za­tion is trans­ac­tion dri­ven, sales­peo­ple may not dis­close what it takes to fully imple­ment their sys­tem, in order to avoid pro­long­ing the sales cycle. As a result they are unlikely to set cus­tomer expec­ta­tions about the time and costs of devel­op­ing solu­tions for the customer’s spe­cific busi­ness require­ments. The ven­dor stays engaged long enough to ensure the tech­nol­ogy has been installed or deployed, and it passes accep­tance tests for the generic use cases.

But there’s still the people/process gap between the default func­tion­al­ity and the customer’s spe­cific busi­ness require­ments. When no one takes respon­si­bil­ity for bridg­ing that gap, there’s a high risk that the soft­ware will go unused and the cus­tomer will be dis­sat­is­fied, espe­cially if the tech­nol­ogy was expen­sive to license or install.

But SaaS Solves Everything, Right?

SaaS models

SaaS mod­els

Shifting from tra­di­tional server-based imple­men­ta­tions to SaaS sub­scrip­tion mod­els can lower tech­nol­ogy costs dramatically.

But what hap­pens to the cost of bridg­ing the gap between default func­tion­al­ity and the customer’s spe­cific busi­ness requirements?

As illus­trated here, the tech­nol­ogy costs are indeed lower; how­ever, there is still a require­ment to ana­lyze and adapt customer-side processes, work­flows and exper­tise to make effec­tive use of the new technology.

When SaaS soft­ware has a well designed UI/UX model, inter­nal train­ing costs may well be lower than before. Even so, enterprises still face the cost of ana­lyz­ing today’s oper­a­tions, and devel­op­ing the plan for more stream­lined work­flows and processes that exploit the software.

SaaS offer­ings usu­ally require cus­tomers to adapt their work­flows to fit within the software’s default capa­bil­i­ties, rather than offer­ing the option of cus­tomiz­ing the soft­ware so it accom­mo­dates the customer’s pre­ferred work­flows. This implies even more of a change man­age­ment bur­den than before, when the soft­ware could be cus­tomized for the customer’s spe­cific require­ments and orga­ni­za­tional culture.

Someone needs to drive the analy­sis, develop a plan and ensure its implementation.

Most SaaS ven­dors pre­fer to avoid labor-intensive activ­i­ties (like a pro­fes­sional ser­vices orga­ni­za­tion), because they lower oper­at­ing mar­gins. If the ven­dor does not offer a pro­fes­sional ser­vices option, that leaves respon­si­bil­ity for bridg­ing the gap in the hands of the cus­tomer. The cus­tomer must then decide to staff this func­tion inter­nally, or find and retain a con­sul­tancy that has the required know-how and capabilities.

If no one takes respon­si­bil­ity for bridg­ing the gap, the soft­ware is likely to go unused, and the vendor’s NetPromoter score is at risk…

Marketers are chal­leng­ing cus­tomers, regard­less of the soft­ware deploy­ment model, because they don’t know what they don’t know. As one pun­dit said in the Financial Times report,

[Marketers] don’t know what they don’t know. Even if you paraded 10 com­pa­nies in front of them, they have no frame­work for know­ing which com­pany is bet­ter than the other.

Time will change this dynamic, but in the mean­time mar­keters remain chal­leng­ing cus­tomers for com­plex sys­tems vendors…

 

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Nokia Lumia Phone: Flashes of Brilliance, But Disappointing

These days I carry an iPhone 5 for busi­ness and a Nokia Lumia 1520 for per­sonal use. As a result I’ve been con­duct­ing a non­sci­en­tific exper­i­ment for 90 days, comparing the usabil­ity of two devices and Verizon and AT&T’s respec­tive LTE ser­vices. This has enabled me to com­pare Windows Phone 8 and Apple IOS 7 for the use cases that mat­ter to me, in the places I visit most often.

Although car­ry­ing two phones is incon­ve­nient, this side-by-side test will help me choose the right smart­phone for the next 18–24 months. I wanted an informed POV on what to do next — renew or can­cel Verizon, and keep or replace my iPhone with the lat­est model — when my Verizon con­tract expires at summer’s end.

I’ve found a lot to admire in the Windows Phone, in large part thanks to the bril­liance of the Nokia Lumia 1520 device, but not enough to com­pel me to give up the iPhone for business.

Here’s a quick sum­mary of what I’ve learned — based on my idio­syn­cratic use cases. I fully acknowl­edge that this has not been a sci­en­tific comparison…

Windows Phone vs. iPhone

Comparing Windows Phone 8 vs. IOS 7

 
Windows Phone 8
iPhone IOS 7
ModelNokia Lumia 1520iPhone 5
Cellular ser­viceAT&TVerizon
Audio qual­ity (for phone)Can be hard to hear callers dur­ing nor­mal phone calls. Speaker issues?Better for plac­ing and receiv­ing calls.
LTE reli­a­bil­ity, coverageGreat band­width when avail­able, but I had incon­sis­tent and unre­li­able LTE ser­vice in the Silicon Valley for a week. (AT&T blamed the issues on bugs in the phone.)Fast, great cov­er­age in the US loca­tions I visit most often (includ­ing Cape Cod)
Email con­nec­tiv­ity & synchronizationSuperior inte­gra­tion with Office 365, faster updatesSome spo­radic issues 6 months ago, but prob­a­bly caused by Office 365 back-end issues
Email dis­play and readabilityWhat I love best — thanks to huge, crisp dis­play and attrac­tive design of email view­ing paneQuite usable, but text is much smaller
MessagingContext-aware pre­dic­tive typ­ing makes mes­sag­ing very efficientMost of my friends and fam­ily use iPhones, so iMes­sage is a bet­ter mes­sag­ing choice, espe­cially when com­posed on a Mac
Email: write or replySuperior, thanks to intel­li­gent, pre­dic­tive typ­ing — context-aware options. As a result I pre­fer com­pos­ing emails on the Windows Phone — for busi­ness or per­sonal use.Labor-intensive, prone to errors caused by “typ­ing” mis­takes on the vir­tual keyboard.
Calendar dis­play and synchronizationGreat syn­chro­niza­tion, but monthly dis­play is unus­able. Weekly agenda is great.Better UI for all cal­en­dar modes
Internet usabil­ityIE + Bing combo some­times leaves a lot to be desired; how­ever, large dis­play makes web brows­ing much more usableBetter search expe­ri­ence, web brows­ing often requires zoom­ing in or out to make web­sites usable (given small display)
CameraTakes supe­rior pho­tos by far; how­ever, color gamut is quite darkTakes great photos
Control over device set­tings and app optionsVery lim­ited; Microsoft and app devel­op­ers know best!User has mul­ti­ple options, and can gen­er­ally con­trol the set­tings that matter
Location-aware set­tingsFor all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, user has little-to-no controlUser can turn location-aware set­tings on or off, on a per-app basis
Battery lifeVery poor. After only 90 days, bat­tery is almost fully drained in less than 8 hours, despite very lim­ited useGood bat­tery effi­ciency, even after 20 months of use
Overall dis­play qualitySuperior clar­ity and size (for the apps that take advan­tage of it)Once the world’s best, but suf­fers in com­par­i­son to Lumia 1520
AppsMicrosoft apps are fine. Limited choice, over­all lower qual­ity for third-party appsHuge selec­tion. In gen­eral, devel­op­ers invest more in IOS app qual­ity and usability
ReliabilityMore fre­quent crashes (system-level and app-specific). Cellular con­nec­tiv­ity issues require reboots to restore service.Solid, reli­able — only 1 or 2 crashes in 20 months.

Short-lived Advantages?

Note that some of today’s advan­tages for Windows Phone, such as its beau­ti­fully effi­cient, context-aware pre­dic­tive typ­ing, may be blunted, if not erased, when Apple ships IOS 8. iPhone users will ben­e­fit from increased inno­va­tion in the IOS app ecosys­tem, once Apple allows third-party devel­op­ers to offer key­boards and pre­dic­tive typ­ing solu­tions to replace the one that comes pre­in­stalled on iPhones with IOS 8.

The Nokia Lumia’s dis­play advan­tages will also be some­what neu­tral­ized later this year, if leaks about the iPhone 6 can be trusted.

Rumors sug­gest that iPhone 6 will ship with a larger dis­play – a choice between 4.7– and 5.5-inch dis­play mod­els – as com­pared to the 6-inch dis­play on the Nokia Lumia 1520. In terms of clar­ity and over­all usabil­ity, the new iPhone’s 5.5-inch option will prob­a­bly come close to match­ing what the Lumia 1520 deliv­ers today. The big ques­tion will be, what about the impact on bat­tery life? The Nokia phone drains very quickly, and is risky for 24-hour use with­out a recharge…

Friends who work at Microsoft say that Windows Phone 8.1 will fix a lot of the things I com­plain about today. It’s now June, and I’m still wait­ing for the update to be released. Enough said…

Based on my expe­ri­ence to date and what I expect from iPhone 6, I will prob­a­bly upgrade to the iPhone 6. The Verizon ver­sus AT&T choice is less obvi­ous, but the monthly and total con­tract costs will be the decid­ing factor.

Why Not Android?

As a quick aside: I tried Android a year ago, but returned my device after two weeks, after dis­cov­er­ing that Android was too geeky for my pur­poses. I also did not like being caught in the mid­dle between Microsoft and Google — the war of com­pet­ing Office ecosys­tems. My busi­ness relies on MS Office apps and Exchange Server, so I did not want to be forced into the Google ecosys­tem just to use an Android device. It was just too hard to import my busi­ness cal­en­dar and con­tacts into the Android device, and keep them syn­chro­nized reliably…

My hus­band was also very con­cerned about the gap­ing secu­rity holes on Android devices, so I decided it was best to return the Android smartphone.

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OneNote: Promising, But Incomplete

OneNote at Apple's App Store

OneNote at Apple’s App Store

As a for­mer Windows OneNote user, I was curi­ous to see how Microsoft OneNote would per­form on a Mac and an iPad. Quick take: Microsoft has made a good start, but OneNote is bet­ter on Windows than Mac for a num­ber of reasons.

Highlights

There’s a lot to like about the OneNote UI and its per­for­mance on a MacBook Pro. It’s a great tool for clar­i­fy­ing your think­ing. It synchs well across the cloud via SkyDrive (or OneDrive — what­ever Microsoft calls it these days). A OneNote doc­u­ment that you cre­ate on a Mac is eas­ily viewed or edited on iPad or Windows.

The IOS ver­sion is pretty good. The UI is very attrac­tive on IOS devices.

It was eas­ier to use OneNote on an iPad than a Windows Phone (even one with a 6-inch screen), because the iPad’s increased screen real estate  makes for a supe­rior user expe­ri­ence. That said, shop­ping lists would work just fine on a Windows Phone.

OneNote for Mac Limitations

I did not do an exhaus­tive test, but here are some of the issues I encoun­tered on a Mac:

  • Cloud-based only, no abil­ity to save a local copy to your desk­top — this could be an issue when you lose Comcast con­nec­tiv­ity, as we do from time to time
  • No print­ing
  • Limited shar­ing capa­bil­i­ties; options are: email a PDF, or share a link so autho­rized OneNote users can access your document
  • Export to PDF is poorly implemented

When I emailed myself the PDF ver­sion of a 3-page OneNote doc­u­ment, I was dis­ap­pointed in the results.

I could pre­view the PDF, but not print it.  The PDF appeared to have been zoomed down to a 25% view (to fit on a sin­gle page when printed, per­haps?) which made this PDF unus­able for any prac­ti­cal pur­poses. I could not find any work-arounds to these print­ing issues on a Mac.

Because of these lim­i­ta­tions my orig­i­nal pur­pose for cre­at­ing this OneNote doc­u­ment was thwarted — to have an out­line that I could share with oth­ers in a face-to-face meet­ing. I ended up hav­ing to resort to Windows OneNote so I could print copies of my out­line before the meeting.

As a result I’ll revert to EverNote as my pre­ferred cross-platform tool of choice for note tak­ing and doc­u­ment sharing.

What I Tested

OneNote ver­sions:

  • Windows OneNote 2010
  • OneNote on a Windows Phone
  • OneNote for Macintosh
  • OneNote for iPad

Devices:

  • iPad Air with IOS 7.1
  • MacBook Pro Retina model, run­ning the lat­est ver­sion of OS X Mavericks
  • Windows 7 PC, OneNote 2010 version
  • Nokia Lumia Windows Phone with 6-inch display
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Before Content Was Digital

Image of note pad

Paper note pad from Apple

Stumbling upon this note pad from Apple was a nos­tal­gic blast from the past. As I held it in my hands, I mused about what we’ve lost in the shift from paper-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions to dig­i­tal con­ve­nience toys.

Inconvenience, Scarcity, Value

When I was at Apple, there was no such thing as con­tent mar­ket­ing, or soft­ware for con­tent cura­tion. Instead we shared read­ing rec­om­men­da­tions through hand­writ­ten notes, via pieces of paper that we clipped to arti­cles or book covers.

We shared ques­tions or com­ments on reports or doc­u­ments the same way.

The incon­ve­nience of writ­ing an “FYI note” dis­cour­aged us from send­ing these notes — except when it mattered.

It took time from busy sched­ules to jot a thought or two about why the arti­cle or story was worth read­ing. Photocopying the pages of an arti­cle took time and energy, so you didn’t bother with “pass-alongs” of lit­tle value.

You thought about the rec­om­men­da­tion before mak­ing it. Would this be some­thing the recip­i­ent might value?

You respected the recipient’s time and atten­tion… You under­stood that the scarcity of hand­writ­ten rec­om­men­da­tions meant that peo­ple would won­der why they’d just got­ten one from you. If you mis­judged their recep­tiv­ity to some­thing you’d passed on to them, it could be awk­ward for both parties…

Digital Is So Easy

Today we “curate con­tent” and for­ward or tweet links to arti­cles or blog posts we’ve stum­bled upon.

It’s so easy to do, you hardly even think about it. As Hamlet said, “therein lies the rub.”

For the sender there’s vir­tu­ally no cost to curat­ing or shar­ing, unless you do it at scale, and must pay hun­dreds or thou­sands of dol­lars to your cura­tion SaaS vendor.

Content mar­keters go to con­fer­ences or webi­nars to learn how to repur­pose dig­i­tal frag­ments, how to chunk and reuse con­tent, how to get con­tent “assets” pub­lished through as many chan­nels as pos­si­ble. Tweets, Facebook or LinkedIn posts, daily aggre­ga­tion plat­forms, weekly newslet­ters… The list goes on and on.

Have We Lost Sight of Quality?

Now that it’s so easy to find and share con­tent online, have we got­ten prof­li­gate in our shar­ing? Do we waste people’s time with too much dig­i­tal junk? Have we for­got­ten to think about what recip­i­ents might value? Or do we no longer care, because those aren’t the met­rics we track?

Call me a con­trar­ian, but some­times I won­der if the con­ve­nience of all these so-called “social” tools comes at the expense of qual­ity or relevance.

When it’s so easy to fill the dig­i­tal air­waves with nat­ter­ing tweets, or shares that take two sec­onds to exe­cute, why not do it? And as often as possible?

By shar­ing so much stuff with busy peo­ple, in our attempt to attract more atten­tion to our­selves or our company’s brand, are we not inad­ver­tently dis­re­spect­ing the recipient’s time?

The com­bined effect of so many peo­ple cre­at­ing and shar­ing so much stuff, all the time, is just overwhelming.

I’m sure that peo­ple who work for social media tools com­pa­nies will hate this post. They’ll remind me that in the hands of the right com­mu­ni­ca­tors, these dig­i­tal sound bites can be art­ful and the recip­i­ents highly appreciative…

They’ll say there are dia­monds to be found in all this dig­i­tal junk.

How Do We Measure Content Quality?

But what are the true mea­sures of qual­ity? Or relevance?

Diehards may still be count­ing impres­sions or audi­ence size or reach, but these days we should be much more focused on mean­ing­ful engage­ment and pur­pose­ful behaviors.

How long will it take before “inter­rup­tion mar­ket­ing” is finally dead and buried? Or mass media met­rics no longer matter?

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