Are you renewing your your business model before it is too late?

Business Model Change will cause many organizations to loose market share
Business Model change will cause many organizations to loose market share

Business Model change will cause many organizations to loose market share

Many organizations are feeling the pain of spinning-out-of-control with their business model. I have spent the last few weeks contemplating on everything that I have learned the past two years in software technology and I have to say that it has even got me off guard how quickly things are changing for companies. Organizations that used to have a solid business model are running into huge difficulties, and mostly not because of bad products, but more or less of not having understood the market correctly. Dallas Morning News wrote about Nintendo’s surprise profit warning today where they say that the game console Wii U has sold 70% less than expected. That is a huge miscalculation from Nintendo, but the issue is not just the console, it is that the market has moved on to games on smart phones and Sony and Microsoft has taken the market with more innovative products that appeal the current gamers. Nintendo is not on their own, we have seen this with many other sectors/players. Who would have thought 3 years ago that BlackBerry market share would drop to be almost non-existent?

What I have also seen happening is the struggle among system integrators and the current business model that is starting to fail them. I have had the luxury to serve not only software vendors and system integrators, but also end user organizations and what I am seeing clearly is an acceleration of interest in providing more cost effective, flexible with full support for mobility with a reluctance to customized and tailored solutions. This has a tremendous impact on system integrators specifically. My guidance to end user organizations is to look at the ecosystem players to identify the best-of-breed solutions, ensure that these solution vendors have defined an API strategy that enables seamless integration between modules without having to do everything from scratch. This is of course not something that many system integrators want to see as many of them have based their survival on selling hours, and doing it with long-lasting projects. The problem with this approach is that many of these long-lasting projects fail as smaller system integrators do not have the skills to manage projects and if the end user organization has negotiated a good contract with penalties, the system integrators ends up “paying for the solution”. I have seen this many times and specifically and this does not have a good impact on any ecosystem in the long run. This is one of the reasons why smaller system integrators have been “swallowed” by the larger ones as system integrators need scale.

Another way to differentiate from the masses is to be very specialized in a given vertical domain (or functional domain) where  you can command the pricing for your delivery. This is something that larger SIs have difficulties with as their scalability comes from using offshore and in these scenarios it is not easy to maintain highly skilled vertical experts where the client is prepared to pay a higher price.

The problem that I see in the market does not apply only for system integrators, there is a huge pressure mounting for traditional software vendors that are still making good money, but with new and exciting entrants popping up from different areas such as Silicon Valley, it is evident that many software vendors will have the same path as Nintendo and BlackBerry. I do not want to sound pessimistic or doom organizations to fail, but I have seen the signs of radical transformation and this is based on my numerous hours each week tracking the market, studying software and working with clients. Just look at the valuation of Dropbox from last week where the investment was based on 10 Billion dollar valuation. It is amazing to even think about this, but I think it is logical. It is a sign from the marketplace that things are changing and valuations are based on what people want and see as being the next wave of things.

Vendor ecosystems are also making huge bets on the next wave of computing. Microsoft is adding data centers around the world like recent announcement of Azure data center in Brazil. IBM is betting their farm on IBM Watson that is in the cognitive computing space and IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer will increase the competition in the cloud space especially now when IBM announced that they will invest 1.2 Billion in data centers around the globe. What this means to me is that the acceleration of software solutions to the marketplace using new modern ways. This means that it is not good enough to “repurpose” what you have, but  you have to think about how your solution is going to be consumed and how it will fit into other ecosystem players. Think about Dropbox for example. The concept is very simple what they do and there are a myriad other players doing the same thing. They have understood the role of ecosystem and their technology is embedded in every app that is relevant and that has to include document sharing/distribution of some sort.

photo by: PSParrot

The App Economy – How should we view app monetization?

The blogosphere is all about apps and how different ecosystems compete for the eyeballs of these and the money of course. You might still remember the the news when a far app pulled as much as $10,000/day in revenue but since then there is tens of similar applications on the marketplace. This started a trend where people left their well-paid jobs to chase their dream of creating apps and living a life without pressures. The growth of app economy is one of the most promising trends, but people/organizations that want to make real money of it, need to include some risk management into it as well. The app industry has become similar to film industry where relatively few people make money and the ones that make, are hugely successful like Angry Birds phenomenon from Finland.

One might of course ask oneself is whether this is a shift in our society and how work is performed. according to Erik Brynjolfsson (director of the M.I.T. Center of digital business), “technology is always destroying jobs and always creating jobs, but in recent years the destruction has been happening faster than the creation”. There is no question that technology is creating new jobs and apps can be part of this opportunity as can be seen in many of the reports that have studied this trend towards “app economy”.

What I have not seen many discussions around is how the app economy is linked with the enterprise software business. I have researched around this and identified the “dimensions” that are typically linked to the app business, but not that much is said how established software vendors should view this space and how these vendors can make a entry to the app space in a way that makes sense and where there is also a sustainable economical model.

So, the question that we should ask ourselves is how much of the app business is truly geared towards the consumer business and how much of this will gradually move into enterprise business? Should software vendors keep the app business in their plans when building enterprise solutions specifically using the cloud? If they should keep this in mind, what kind of pricing should the ISV use? Maybe free as the real money comes from the enterprise solution and not the app that accesses it? As you can see, it is not that clear and my own experience when working with both small and large enterprises, the app business hardly ever comes up in discussions. I am convinced that this will change and it will change very quickly. One of the drivers will be Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 developers that will create solutions that will be based on app technology and not on traditional desktop app architectural model even if these will be able to run in Windows 8 Pro environment.

Another valid question that we need to ask ourselves is whether app economy should be see purely from mobile app development perspective or should we view it from a perspective where the device is just the means to get to what you want and the backend (typically the cloud) is the one that provides the services and brokers the interaction between different services. Shouldn’t we in fact be talking about services economy instead where organizations build apps to consume and combine information from different sources using different SOA interfaces that organizations/developers have exposed to the world. Isn’t this what we have always dreamt about?

NokiaExpressI downloaded today a Windows Phone 8 app (Nokia Xpress) to my shiny Nokia Lumia 920 and this app really demonstrates where things are going. After having installed the app, it asked me whether it can use location information (which most apps want to use), but what really made me to think about the future of apps is that developers really have to think “outside the box” on when developing apps. The thing with this Nokia Xpress app is that it enables users to store and read articles on your phone (locally) so when you travel, you do not have to use expensive data roaming. I know.. there are many of these apps from before, but what this app has specifically thought of is to really monitory and minimize data usage and provide a combination of technology such as Microsoft SkyDrive technology to store videos and images without having to use the data plan. Why is this relevant to me? Just this week, my son’s data plan was going over the limit and I found out that it was all about video streaming and 2 gig data plan does not cope well with this.

The topic of “app economy” is very interesting to me as researcher, but also as practitioner. A recent paper written by Dr. Michael Mandel and Judith Scherer (commission by CTIA (The Wireless Association) and Application Developers Alliance provides an interesting view on the app economy. According to Mandel, the entire “App Economy” was coming to use in early 2009 and was popularized by a cover story run by BusinessWeek in November 2009.

The way that Dr. Michael Mandel describes App Economy in his February 2012 report resonates well with what I have educated my customers in respect to ecosystems:

“ App Economy is a collection of interlocking innovative ecosystems”. Each ecosystem consists of a core company, which creates and maintains a platform and an app marketplace, plus a small and large companies that produce apps and/or mobile devices  for that platform. Businesses can belong to multiple ecosystems and usually do”.

There is no question in my mind that this topic is relevant to anybody that works in the software industry and it is fascinating to see how this evolves with time and what kind of new companies will rise to take advantage of this.

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem, I highly encourage you to read the article “Microsoft’s cloud vision: Why Azure is the linchpin of the firm’s new devices and services strategy”. Another great article from Information-Management.com that predicts Enterprise Apps to go mobile big time and that money apps will move to the cloud. The article lists quite a few things that are very interesting and I encourage you to read that article as well.

Stay tuned for more, there will be more to come on my research on different topics and this app economy being one of them!

The end of brick-and-mortar shopping and the rise of online shopping

I admit that I am one of those that do not want to be pushed and have to sweat in traditional retail stores. I much rather do my shopping at my laptop, have a cup of coffee by my side and enjoy the selection not just by looking at the product, but also looking at comparisons and reviews that are posted on the Internet.

According to Economist.com, last years online sales in America reached $188 Billion which is roughly 8% of total retail. Of this, Amazon.com did last year $48 Billion, so we are talking about a pretty sizable giant. Some even have concluded that it is Amazon.com that is killing the traditional retail. According to Economist article, retail sales is going to grow to $270 Billion by 2015. See chart below:

RetailSalesuntil2015

I do not have to even read any statistics to know that there is a tremendous change in consumer behavior. I just have to watch how my family behaves. My wife told me this Christmas that she tries to do everything online to avoid the traffic and crowds at malls. This was not the case in the past. Consumers where doubtful whether online was going to cut it and in many cases people avoided to even buy as they wanted to try out first. Today, you can ship everything back if you do not like it.

We used to spend lots of time in local Barnes&Nobles and also malls, but I can’t remember when I have done that. The only reason for me to go to a local Barnes&Noble is to meet a friend or business acquaintance for a meeting as they typically are adjunct or have a Starbucks cafeteria. I can get everything online when it comes to magazines and books and in fact what I have noticed is that bookstores do not even carry anymore their entire inventory as that is costly. The same thing is happening to BestBuy who has really struggled this year. CompUSA and Circuit City already want belly-up and these used to be places where I went on regular basis.

According to Jose Alvarez of Harvard Business School, traditional retailers with pricy products will probably lower their inventories and focus instead on big investments in showrooms while commoditized items should have large inventory and less flashy displays. This of course makes sense, but many retailers can’t afford maintaining inventory in ways that Amazon.com has.

Amazon has been pressured to charge sales tax in states where they have distribution centers (34 now and 15 in the workings). This year, every Texan has to pay same sales tax as any traditional retailer would charge and that has evened out the play for some local retailers. Other well-know electronics online retailers such as Newegg.com still do not charge anything in Texas, so if it is one-to-one, Amazon will loose as the sales tax adds to the bill.

It is going to be interesting to see how 2013 is going to play out in the online shopping space. I would expect smartphone shopping to increase and based on some research from Aegis Media Americans, by 2014, mobile internet will overtake desktop internet usage in shopping. Those are pretty radical numbers and we that work in the software space, need to keep in mind the behavioral change that is taking place also in respect to devices and how things are done.

Did Google find out that open source does not pay out as expected?

Here we go again. The mobility world is changing with Motorola Mobility being acquired by Google for $12.5 billion. This was widely reported this morning when I woke up. Doug Barney from Redmondmag.com concludes that this move from Google might anger device manufacturers. My personal belief (that many other analysts support) is that Google woke up to realize that it might be good to make money on the phone business and not have it “free” as it is now.  The fallacy of open source might have finally caught up even with Google….. It could be that Google executives also realized that the winning formula is about ecosystems and  not only about the operating system as Galen Gruman conclude in his blog entry today.

I have stated in many of my writings that I do not believe in the open source model for an ISV and there are many reasons for it. One reason is obvious: the more success you get, you will have patent trolls suing your ass with our without reason. I have seen it so many times and it is frightening. Yes, large companies do the same thing to each other, but I guess the reasons are little different. Large companies can afford lawsuits but for the small ones this can be a death sentence.

Another reason has to do with valuation of the company in case you want to sell it in the future. There is no question that a company with real IP has more value that the one that assembles things from pure open source. In some cases this might be OK, but if you want to build something that has real value, some pieces have to be closed from competition to view it. I have been part of software organizations that have been sold (both as CEO and as Chairman of the Board) and there is no question in my mind that the buyer is interested in where the code (and algorithms) came from. I am sure there is a place for open source as well… If I had to start a company today, it would not be based on open source.

The announcement from Google to acquire Motorola is has caused a stir in the marketplace with speculation of whether Microsoft is now going to buy Nokia to have the same situation with Google. One blog entry suggested that even RIM might be a target now, but based on CNBC analyst interview this morning, RIM does not bring any additional value to the table so the market does not expect them to be bought up. This is going to be a race between Apple iPhone, Microsoft Phone and Android.

How should we now read the market and the intentions from these three players? Nokia’s share shot up 10 percent today: maybe Nokia will also be bought and or Android will be loosing attractiveness to players such as HTC and Samsung that are now going to compete directly with Google in hardware design and manufacturing. Interestingly, I read today from the news that Apple has ordered 95 million iPhones for the fall and Samsung is going to be one of the largest manufacturers, which makes this game very interesting. Samsung and Apple are fighting for the same markets and are in fact even in a lawsuit on patent infringement but still doing business together. Go and figure out……

The Business Insider blog entry today concludes that the deal between Google and Motorola might end in a disaster mainly because of Google stabbing HTC and Samsung in the back by now competing against them. At the same time, Microsoft now became the only big player that does NOT manufacture its own handsets and this could potentially be really good for Microsoft and Microsoft Phone future. It could be that Microsoft ends up also acquiring Nokia going forward, but this is purely my own speculation. Some bloggers from ZDNet think this would be the most logical option for Microsoft. It seems that the embedded software/hardware design ala xBox Kinect could work well where Microsoft would design the best handset to be optimized with Microsoft Windows Phone operating system. This is probably what the Nokia-Microsoft partnership is trying to do.

Another interesting perspective that Galen Gruman provides is to claim that Android really isn’t open source and now with the Motorola deal we are most probably going to see more closed sub-systems within Android that Google will not disclose from algorithm perspective. Gruman also concludes that the Android open source system development does not have an iron fist to make decision like it has in the Linux development environment with Linus Torvalds in the helm. Failed attempts such as Moblin, Maemo and MeeGo are examples of open source mobile platforms that never really got the traction that the platform needed.

What today’s acquisition confirmed to me was that the future of smartphones really does not have anything to do with just to operating system, but it is about software ecosystem and how software developers, handset manufacturers can manage the user experience. Nobody besides Apple is making really serious money on smartphones today as the entire market has matured and margins have come down.

IT IS ALL ABOUT ECOSYSTEMS AND FIGURING OUT WHERE EVERYBODY WILL PROVIDE VALUE.