Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Social Networking and the Enterprise

One of the things I recently started thinking about was the relevance of social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc. have to enterprises. While there are certainly individual usage of these sites, is there a play for the enterprise? Ann All of IT Business Edge, had a post about two weeks ago titled, “Facebook Not So Useful as a Business Tool,” quoting a study from Flowing Data that “just a tiny percentage of Facebook’s 23,160 applications are business-oriented.” In the comments that followed, one reader named Peter stated “businesses should take a serious look at integrating social media in their marketing strategy.”

The more I thought about this, the more I agree with Peter. If your company has individuals as either direct or indirect customers, I’m sure that the marketing department has segmented them into different groups each with their own strategy for how they will be marketed. I don’t know of any enterprise of significant size in the U.S. that doesn’t have an internet presence, and I’m willing to bet that nearly all of their marketing departments see their web sites as more than just a place to get electronic versions of paper documentation or marketing materials. In other words, the web site has gone through three phases.

  1. The Information Web: In this phase, everything revolved around pushing information out to the visitor.
  2. The Transaction Web: In this phase, the communication is bi-directional, predominantly focused on information from the enterprise, and business (i.e. money) coming from the visitor.
  3. The Participatory Web: Here, the emphasis shifts from the individual to the community. It’s not just the enterprise pushing information out, it’s the full ecosystem all of the site visitors and all of the enterprise’s partners.

The big challenge with this third phase comes down to community. When an enterprise tries to own the community, it will probably work very well for established customers, but it may have a hard time bringing in new members. In contrast, a site focused on enabling communities of all sorts, like Facebook or MySpace, is better positioned for community growth. If this is the case, why wouldn’t an enterprise try to involve these sites in their marketing strategies as a growth tool. The point would not be to own the community, but to attract new members to its community. This is no different than the physical world where a company establishes a branch office or a retail location in a community. It has to compete with others, but at the same time, if it is perceived as valuable and meeting the needs of the community, it will survive and thrive. The time is ripe is to think about how your company can build applications and content for these sites to attract new interest.

Focus on the consumer

The latest Briefings Direct: SOA Insights podcast is now available. In this episode, we discussed semantic web technologies, among other things. One of my comments in the discussion was that I feel that these technologies have struggled to reach the mainstream because we haven’t figured out a way to make it relevant to the developers working on projects. I used this same argument in the panel discussion at The Open Group EA Practitioners Conference on July 23rd. In thinking about this, I realized that there is a strong connection in this thinking and SOA. Simply put, it is all about the consumer.

Back when my day-to-day responsibilities were programming, I had a strong interest in human-computer interaction and user interface design. The reason for this was that the users were the end consumer of the products I was producing. It never ceased to amaze me how many developers designed user interfaces as if they were the consumer of the application, and wound up giving the real consumer (the end user) a very lousy user experience.

This notion of a consumer-first view needs to be at the heart of everything we do. If you’re an application designer, it doesn’t bode well if you consumer hate using your application. Increasingly, more and more choices for getting things done are freely available on the Internet, and there’s no shortage of business workers that are leveraging these tools, most likely under the radar. If you want your users to use your systems, the best path is make it a pleasant experience for them.

If you’re an enterprise architect, you need to ask who the consumers of your deliverable are? If you create a reference architecture that is only of interest to your fellow enterprise architects, it’s not going to help the organization. If anything, it’s going to create tension between the architecture staff and the developers. Start with the consumer first, and provide material for what they need. A reference architecture should be used by the people coming up with a solution architecture for projects. If your reference architecture is not consumable by that audience, they’ll simply go off and do their own thing.

If you are developing a service, you need to put your effort into making sure it can be easily consumed if you want to achieve broad consumption. It is still more likely today that a project will build both service consumer and service provider. As a result, the likelihood is that the service will only be easily consumable by that first consumer, just as that user interface I mentioned earlier was only easily consumed by the developer that wrote it.

How do we avoid this? Simple: know your consumer. Spend some time on understanding your consumer first, rather than focusing all of your attention on knowing your service. Ultimately, your consumers define what the “right” service is, not you. You can look at any type of product on the market today, and you’ll see that the majority of products that are successful are the ones that are truly consumer friendly. Yes, there are successful products that are able to force their will on consumers due to market share that are not considered consumer friendly, but I’d venture a guess that these do not constitute the majority of successful products.

My advice to my readers is to always ask the question, “who needs to use this, and how can I make it easy for them?” There are many areas of IT that may not be directly involved with project activities. If you don’t make that work relevant to project activities, it will continue to sit off on an island. If you’re in a situation where you’re seen as an expert in some space, like semantic technologies, and the model for using those technologies on project is to have yourself personally involved with those projects, that doesn’t scale. Your efforts will not be successful. Instead, focus on how to make the technology relevant to the problems that your consumers need to solve, and do it in a way that your consumers want to use it, because it makes their life easier.

Podcast on Customer Loyalty

You can get a lot of blogging done in airports and on planes as evidenced by my output today. I’m currently listening to a great podcast from IT Conversations. This one is from the Adaptive Path series. It’s Lou Carbone, Founder, President, and Chief Experience Officer of Experience Engineering, Inc., speaking on Creating Customer Loyalty. Not only is he a great speaker with some great anecdotes, but the topic is very interesting, at least to me. Give it a listen.

The Reuse Marketplace

Marcia Kaufman, a partner with Hurwitz & Associates, posted an article on entitled “The Risks and Rewards of Reuse.” It’s a good article, and the three recommendations can really be summed up in one word: governance. While governance is certainly important, the article misses out on another important, perhaps more important, factor: marketing.

When discussing reuse, I always refer back to a presentation I heard at SD East way back in 1998. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the speaker, but he had established reuse programs at a variety of enterprises, some successful and some not successful. He indicated that the factor that influenced success the most was marketing. If the groups that had reusable components/services/whatever were able to do an effective job in marketing their goods and getting the word out, the reuse program as a whole would be more successful.

Focusing in on governance alone still means those service owners are sitting back and waiting for customers to show up. While the architectural governance committee will hopefully catch a good number of potential customers and send them in the direction of the service owner, that committee should be striving to reach “rubber stamp” status, meaning the project teams should have already sought out potential services for reuse. This means that the service owners need to be marketing their services effectively so that they get found in the first place. I imagine the potential customer using Google searches on the service catalog, but then within the service catalog, you’d have a very Amazon-like feel that may say things like “30% of other customers found this service interesting…” Service owners would be monitoring this data to understand why consumers are or are not using their services. They’d be able to see why particular searches matched, what information the customer looked at, and know whether the customer eventually decided to use the service/resource or not. Interestingly, this is exactly what companies like Flashline and ComponentSource were trying to do back in the 2000 timeframe, with Flashline having a product to establish your own internal “marketplace” while ComponentSource was much more of a hosted solution intended at a community broader than the enterprise. With the potential to utilize hosted services always on the rise, this makes it even more interesting, because you may want your service catalog to show you both internally created solutions, as well as potential hosted solutions. Think of it as on the inside + with amazon partner content integrated from the outside. I don’t know how easily one could go about doing this, however. While there are vendors looking at UDDI federation, what I’ve seen has been focused on internal federation within an enterprise. Have any of these vendors worked with say, StrikeIron, so that hosted services show up in their repository (if the customer has configured it to allow them)? Again, it would be very similar to When you search for something on Amazon, you get some items that come from amazon’s inventory. You also get links to Amazon partners that have the same products, or even products that are only available from partners.

This is a great conceptual model, however, I do need to be a realist regarding the potential of such a robust tool today. How many enterprises have a service library large enough to warrant establishing this rich of a marketplace-like infrastructure? Fortunately, I do think this can work. Reuse is about much more than services. If all of your reuse is targeted at services, you’re taking a big risk with your overall performance. A reuse program should address not only service reuse, but also reuse of component libraries, whether internal corporate libraries or third-party libraries, and even shared infrastructure. If your program addresses all IT resources that have the potential for reuse, now the inventory may be large enough to warrant an investment in such a marketplace. Just make sure that it’s more than just a big catalog. It should provide benefit not only for the consumer, but for the provider as well.

Your next task on the apprentice…

I want to turn on Donald Trump next Sunday night and see him task the teams with the successful creation and marketing of SOA within an enterprise. Okay, so it can’t be done within the day or two that they normally have, and outside of some Dilbert-esque quotes, it probably wouldn’t make for good TV. What it would do, however, is allow IT to see what their culture needs to be like in the future.

There’s a discussion just getting started in the Yahoo SOA group that raises some questions about the importance of marketing in SOA. A frequent complaint in the boardroom on “The Apprentice” is that the marketing strategy didn’t cut it and as a result, the person responsible for marketing on that task is fired. IT isn’t made up of bunch of people with MBA’s from Harvard, Wharton, or even Trump University. I have two degrees from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. During my stay there, I was not required to take any marketing courses, although the Computer Science department did require students in their undergraduate engineering program to take 4 courses outside of the department (independent of other electives) to which CS could be applied. The most popular area was business, with my choice, psychology, being second. The typical techie does not have formal training in marketing or other aspects of running a business, so it’s no surprise that we have a hard time with it.

We need to bring some business savvy into the IT department. I’m not talking about an understanding of the business being supported by IT (although that’s important too), I’m talking an understanding of how to succeed in business. Marketing, sales, product development, research, etc. A service provider needs to think of themselves as a vendor. They need to have a customer centric focus, with an understanding of the market trends (i.e. the business goals), customer needs, product lifecycles, resource availability, etc. to be successful. IT cannot simply be order takers in the process, because technology usage within an enterprise is not a commodity. The business side can’t simply go to IT Depot at the nearest shopping zone and pick up what they need. There are elements of technology that can be, and this will continue to fuel SaaS and other managed services, but here and now, the need for the IT department still exists. It’s time to change the IT culture, and get the development teams thinking about Service Management and a more business-like approach to their efforts.

Update: While the whole idea of bringing MBAs in was somewhat in jest, this is exactly what IBM did. Joe McKendrick’s eBizQ SOA in Action blog brought it to my attention, here’s a link to the original eBizQ story.


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