Bharti at last gains a foothold in Africa

Bharti Airtel is one of the fast-growing mobile players in India, and it has been looking to expand overseas for some time. It identified Africa as a target, and last year it tried (and failed) to merge with MTN of South Africa. This would have created the second largest mobile player in the world. But Bharti is nothing if not persistent.On Tuesday this week Bharti confirmed that it had acquired the African assets of Zain the Kuwaiti mobile company. As a result Bharti becomes the fifth largest mobile operator in the world.


So what? This deal means that Bharti is now a partcipant in what we have described as "the new scramble for Africa" alongside France Telecom, Vodafone and Etisalat. Because Africa is one of the last continent to embrace mobile communications, the potential benefit for Bharti and others is that those mobile operators who get in early can get carried along by the rapid growth phase and can build substantial businesses quickly. So this deal catapults Bharti into the mobile premier league.


But what is even more interesting is that Bharti is not just another mobile player -it has a unique business model as outlined in our report New Business Models Emerge For Telcos. Bharti describes itself as a services business, so it concentrates on providing service to customers and outsources all it's IT (to IBM) and networks (to Nokia and Ericsson) in return for a slice of the call revenues. So Bharti does not own its networks and IT stacks. It's reasonable to assume that it will replicate this approach in Africa, and, if it is successful, this will put pressure on the other mobile players to consider copying their unique business model.


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Oracle’s Attack On The Mainframe Vendor(s)

Oracle has just made two major announcements around Tuxedo and Mainframe Migrations


Tuxedo is Oracle’s application environment for the non-Java languages. Like most “legacy” transaction servers, Tuxedo provides major large enterprise functionality to the programming languages prior to Java. Tuxedo had focused on C/C++ and COBOL until now. Among a couple of innovations, the most exciting news in the just-announced Oracle Tuxedo 11g release is the support for Ruby and Python. This pushes these newer languages immediately up the enterprise performance and reliability scale, making them comparable to COBOL, ABAP, and NATURAL.


The huge challenge for Oracle after this move will be to get access to the Ruby and Python developer communities. Most of them are looking more at open source runtime environments than at heavyweight enterprise transaction environments. However, this latest move by Oracle may resonate with these young open source natives, who’ve gone from university to their first job at banks, insurance companies, and other traditional mainframe shops. Ruby and Python on Tuxedo could be appropriate choices for those developers who want to move stuff off a mainframe but don’t want to get into COBOL on the new platform again.


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M2M - back again but it's different this time.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is back - judging by the number of press announcements released by various players. The Vodafone/Verizon Wireless/nPhase announcement at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona illustrates the point. Forrester is on to the M2M case too. Earlier this month my colleague Michele Pelino published a paper titled The M2M Market Is A Blossoming Opportunity. We have also published a case study on the topic too - see the Forrester paper titled Case Study:How Orange Business Services Is Building a Machine-To-Machine Market. The two reports were planned to complement each other, explaining the big picture and giving a practical illustration of how Orange Business Services is addressing the M2M opportunity.


Of course, those of you with long memories will recall that we have been here before. In our view M2M initially failed to take off because the ecosystem was not in place to enable solutions to be put together easily. But this time it is different - AT&T, Telenor, and Telefonica are all active in the M2M market in addition to Vodafone and Orange Business Services. But what about you - what do you think. I'd be happy to hear your take and discuss further.

Sneak preview for P-Camp Austin 2010

I'm still finishing up the actual presentations that I've proposed for the Product Camp in Austin this Saturday. You can go to the official site for more details about the presentations, but in the meantime, here's a sneak preview of all three. Topics include:

  • From Product Management To Social Product Management. Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love social media as a way to make smarter product decisions.
  • The Strategic Role of PM. Yes, really, PMs are increasingly playing a strategic role in tech companies. Why is this change happening, and what does it mean for you?
  • The Old Launch Codes Won't Work. A tell-all expose about why tech companies are generally unsatisfied with the results of launches, and how some major trends in the industry are providing ways to fix that problem. 

Since this is your conference, if you like these topics, please vote for them.

Tata and Huawei: New-style competitors and change agents in the ICT ecosystem

I recently attended the Tata Communications Analyst event in central London, and fascinating it was too. Tata Communications is a domestic Indian, South African and International communications service provider comprising the former businesses known as VSNL, Teleglobe, Tyco, Neotel and DishnetDSL. All were acquired in the past few years. Tata Communications is part of the Tata IT and Communications division (ITC) that also includes Tata Consultancy Services (TCS - the systems integration, applications, and outsourcing business) which in turn is part of the Tata Group conglomerate.


So what? What makes Tata Communications interesting is they are part of the ITC division alongside TCS. If anything symbolizes the fusing of IT and communications into ICT (Information and Communications Technology) over the past decade in one business then this is it. This is important because the traditional telecoms cascade supply-chain is being replaced by an integrated ecosystem (see Forrester research Farewell to the Traditional Telecom Ecosystem). As a consequence Tata can play multiple roles (rather than predominantly one as is the case for many of their rivals) and so is a new type of player. 


But Tata are not alone. Late last year I spent some time with Huawei - the Chinese Network Equipment Provider (NEP)- at their EMEA H.Q. in Germany. Apart from posting spectacular revenue growth figures (in contrast to their established western-based NEP rivals) it is also busy creating a systems integration business too. They have seen the parallel growth of the IT Services sector and have decided they want a slice of this pie too. With the resources and determination they have it would take a brave person to bet against them succeeding.

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Please yell at me for doing my job badly

Last Saturday, at the Silicon Valley Product Camp, I was part of a panel on PM metrics. Any topic that's at the same time important and unsettled keeps you thinking long after the panel, so not surprisingly, almost a week later, I'm still chewing on it. Here's an observation I'll make today, after further pondering:

You know when you're doing well as a PM when someone yells at you for getting a persona, user story, use case, or task analysis wrong.

Understanding the world from the standpoint of the individual buyer or user is one of the primary responsibility of PM. According to some schools of thought, it's the core responsibility, especially since no one else in a technology company is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and distributing these deep customer insights. (There are other core responsibilities, too, related to the company's business and the technology itself.)

That information may look academic, but it should be immediately pertinent in very important ways. Understanding the way in which people in a variety of roles assess, purchase, and adopt technology is critical for making smart decisions about everything from product design to the product roadmap, from crafting messaging to choosing marketing channels. Unless you live in a Soviet-style command economy, in which manufacturing 3,000 left shoes is a problem for the consumer, not the producer, customer insights need to inform both strategic and tactical decisions.

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An abstraction layer for IT operations

Technology growth is exponential. We all know about Moore’s Law by which the density of transistors on a chip doubles every two years; but there is also Watts Humphrey’s comment that the size of software doubles every two years, Nielsen’s Law by which Internet bandwidth available to users doubles every two years, and many others concerning storage, computing speed, and power consumption in a data center. IT organizations and especially IT operations must cope with this afflux of technology, which brings more and more services to the business, as well as the management of the legacy services and technology. I believe that the two most important roadblocks that prevent IT from optimizing its costs are in fact diversity and complexity. Cloud computing, whether SaaS or IaaS, is going to add diversity and complexity, as is virtualization in its current form. This is illustrated by the following chart, which compiles answers to the question: “Approximately how many physical servers with the following processor types does your firm operate that you know about?”

Physical Server Installed

If virtualization could potentially address the number of servers in each category, it does not address the diversity of servers, nor does it address the complexity of services running on these diverse technologies.

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Privacy, regulation, and reputation

I wrote previously about Google's challenges with respect to privacy, and since then it has incurred the wrath of consumers with its initial rollout of Buzz. And my colleague Chenxi Wang blogged about Facebook's issues with its privacy policy.

What's intrigued me about these two incidents is that the companies each ended up making serious missteps by publicizing information that at first blush seems innocuous. Google exposed information about who you email with; Facebook made public your circle of Friends.

Nor does this type of data fall into the category of PII (personal identifiable data). So despite the ever-growing regulatory climate on privacy (HITECH, Massachusetts 201 CMR 17.00, PCI, etc.), the nature of consumer concerns far outpaces any legislative efforts.

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Don't outsmart yourself

In product marketing, you always want to sound like the smartest person in the room. However, you shouldn't prove it with marketing messages that only you fully understand.

At last, someone who can understand my brilliance
Colleague Mary Gerush and I are working on a market segmentation for requirements tools. It's a great excuse to get into a lot of very interesting conversations about some very deep topics. The requirements market is in transition, from an era of heavy-weight tools designed to address information management challenges, to something very different. (You'll have to stay tuned to find out what the new market looks like.) We're starting from scratch, with no particular attachment to the traditional terms and concepts for describing what these tools are supposed to do.

That's the entree into the very interesting conversations. Vendors in this space, whatever it is, are very smart people who think about the shape of the requirements market all day long. Not surprisingly, their opinions about the market, which are reflected in their marketing messages, are very smart, too. In fact, in a couple of occasions, I wonder if they were being a little too smart.

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You do not understand collaboration

I swore that I was not going to say anything further. I really, really tried, but I'm going to have to throw away the little plastic medal that says, "Two Weeks And No Buzz." Here's a must-read quote that a colleague forwarded to me:

So why exactly did Google Buzz launch with some key social features missing? Jackson said that while Google employees were testing out the product internally, they never had much desire to mute any of their coworkers, and that their email contact list closely matched the people they wanted to follow on Buzz. Obviously, that wasn’t true for most people once the product was released outside of the Googleplex. Which is why Google is considering pre-releasing new Buzz features to a few thousand opt-in users long before they’re rolled out to the public.

The short version: "It worked for us inside the firewall, so we never thought it'd have a problem outside the firewall." Of course, an enterprise collaboration tool is a wholly different kind of solution than a social networking tool, so the requirements for the former do not completely cover the latter.

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