The outpouring of remembrance and appreciation of Steve Jobs reflects the breadth of his influence: on technology, on industries ranging from music to retail, on consumer behavior, and on individuals — it’s nigh impossible to think of a CEO about whom consumers feel as passionately. Steve Jobs was many things — visionary, business disruptor, marketing genius — but his most indelible mark is in the products he created.
Of course, it’s overly simplistic to advise product strategists that they should emulate Steve Jobs — I might as well say “be visionary!” or “create the future!” But there are key lessons in product strategy that spell success for mere mortals:
Simpler is better. Too often, reviewers and commentators characterize Apple’s products and interfaces as “intuitive.” For an entirely new product like the iPad, there is very little intuition on which to draw — therefore it is critical to ruthlessly simplify and make it abundantly clear to the customer how a function works. One reason that people love Apple products is that they spend their time doing, not figuring out how to do. Keep it simple.
Have the courage of your convictions. Steve Jobs has many famous quotes along the lines of “we all do this today . . . and it sucks” — in every case, he believed these experiences could be better, asked himself how things should work, and took it in hand to realize that vision. Apple famously eschews market research in its product ideation and design (which is not the same as not valuing market research) because it believes in its vision for a better experience. Believe in your vision.
I was at Marc Benioff’s subversive non-keynote at Oracle OpenWorld yesterday, and while it was fun to see all the hoopla (employees holding posters of Benioff cast as a dissident, shouting, honking, donuts, cocktails), it was also cool to have the "I was there when" moment as Oracle’s future biggest competitor draws the lines of battle that are likely to shape the enterprise software industry for the next decade. Truth be told, I think that Benioff was a bit too caught up in the fuss and the cloudwash to make me think he’s a mature and credible competitor yet, but he is clearly getting his gumption up.
Benioff pointed a finger at Exadata as a new mainframe, locking customers into proprietary hardware and forcing them to buy over-expensive gear from an industry monolith. He described his own company as “open,” allowing customers to move to any platform or any cloud; "philanthropic," donating $24 million in grants and using their OOW booth as an engine for giving; and "social," leveraging their internal social media engine Chatter to coordinate their rapid mobilization to deliver the non-keynote within 16 hours of being cancelled by Larry. And all of that is cool, but I think he skewed to tech industry buzz rather than focus on the real competitive forces between Oracle and Salesforce.
Whoa! Hold your horses. If this is indeed a key challenge that you’ve tried to address in the past without much success, consider switching jobs. This is not a joke. Business intelligence (BI) is an employee market right now; a key challenge for most BI employers is finding, recruiting, and retaining top — or actually any, for that matter — BI talent. Consider that IBM BAO alone added more than 4,000 (!) BI positions in just over a year! Every other major, midsize, and boutique BI consultancy I talk to is struggling to find BI resources. So if you’ve been fighting this uphill Sisyphean battle for a while, consider new channels for your noble efforts.
Now, some more practical advice — albeit not as exciting. Start from the top down. In a few minutes I am getting ready to talk to yet another large client whose CEO does not “get” BI. Can you rightfully blame him/her? Yes and no. Yes, because how can you manage any business without measurement and insight into your internal and external processes? So if your CEO didn’t learn that in his/her MBA 101, suggest that he/she look for another job. And if you’re still standing after that and have suffered only a mild concussion, consider that many BI projects have been less than successful, and ROI on BI — one of the most expensive enterprise apps — is extremely difficult to show. So can you really blame your CEO?
On Wednesday afternoon, Oracle's Larry Ellison unveiled the Oracle Social Network. The fact that he did so on the same stage Marc Benioff used in San Francisco's Moscone Center to announce Salesforce Chatter's centricity to the "social enterprise" won't go unnoticed, and not simply for all of the not-so-subtle shots Mr. Ellison took at his former colleague's outfit. For content & collaboration professionals, the thing to note about these dual announcements is they mark, along with IBM's "social business" strategy, an attempt by vendors to make social software relevant to the entire workforce by tying them into specific business processes.
Steve Jobs brought us the future. He did not cajole us with clever arguments or dangle shallow technology candy in front of us. He delivered the future quite literally to our fingertips. Millions reached out to touch that future. Millions more will.
Steve did not separate imagination from success.
More than anything else, Steve is a human being just like all of us. Our DNA is the same. If only a small percentage of the 6 billion people can find the Steve within themselves, a magical future awaits us.
OK, out of respect for your time, now that I’ve caught you with a title that promises some drama I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that I definitely lean toward the former. Having spent a couple of days here at Oracle Open World poking around the various flavors of Engineered Systems, including the established Exadata and Exalogic along with the new SPARC Super Cluster (all of a week old) and the newly announced Exalytic system for big data analytics, I am pretty convinced that they represent an intelligent and modular set of optimized platforms for specific workloads. In addition to being modular, they give me the strong impression of a “composable” architecture – the various elements of processing nodes, Oracle storage nodes, ZFS file nodes and other components can clearly be recombined over time as customer requirements dictate, either as standard products or as custom configurations.
After three days of cloudwashing, cloud-in-a-box and erector set private cloud musings at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco this week, CEO Larry Ellison chose day four to take the wraps off a legitimate move into cloud computing.
Oracle Public Cloud is the unification of the company's long-struggling software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio with its Fusion applications transformation, all atop Oracle VM and Sun hardware. While Ellison spent much of his keynote taking pot shots at his former sales executive and now SaaS nemesis, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff, the actual solution being delivered is more of a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services than Force.com. The strongest evidence is in Oracle's stance on multitenancy. Ellison adamantly shunned a tenancy model built on shared data stores and application models, which are key to the profitability of Salesforce.com (and most true SaaS and PaaS solutions), stating that security comes only through application and database isolation and tenancy through the hypervisor. Oracle will no doubt use its own Xen-based hypervisor, OracleVM rather than the enterprise standard VMware vSphere, but converting images between these platforms is quickly proving trivial.
Last Saturday, I moderated a three-person panel at the Syntel annual customer meeting in Charleston, SC. While discussing the business's penchant for going around IT to buy IT solutions and services, an astute panel member and CIO said, “IT doesn’t solve business problems, so shadow IT proliferates.” This CIO has spent the last 18 months “consolidating shadow IT” in order to reduce costs and, perhaps more importantly, deliver solutions to the business more quickly and safely than the business can self-provision. Putting a halt to shadow IT is not to punish anyone or to reduce anyone’s power; it is to help the business innovate and grow. Not surprisingly, the key to this consolidation has been establishing a project management office (PMO) comprised of business analysts and project managers who are responsible for understanding business requirements and then developing and delivering solutions to meet those requirements as quickly as possible, using internal staff or third-party consultants or cloud solutions. While the consolidation is still underway, business leaders at this company are already beginning to view this as a value-added service rather than a punishment.
Well actually I meant mobs of flash, but I couldn’t resist the word play. Although, come to think of it, flash mobs might be the right way to describe the density of flash memory system vendors here at Oracle Open World. Walking around the exhibits it seems as if every other booth is occupied by someone selling flash memory systems to accelerate Oracle’s database, and all of them claiming to be: 1) faster than anything that Oracle, who already integrates flash into its systems, offers, and 2) faster and/or cheaper than the other flash vendor two booths down the aisle.
All joking aside, the proliferation of flash memory suppliers is pretty amazing, although a venue devoted to the world’s most popular database would be exactly where you might expect to find them. In one sense flash is nothing new – RAM disks, arrays of RAM configured to mimic a disk, have been around since the 1970s but were small and really expensive, and never got on a cost and volume curve to drive them into a mass-market product. Flash, benefitting not only from the inherent economies of semiconductor technology but also from the drivers of consumer volumes, has the transition to a cost that makes it a reasonable alternative for some use case, with database acceleration being probably the most compelling. This explains why the flash vendors are gathered here in San Francisco this week to tout their wares – this is the richest collection of potential customers they will ever see in one place.
A few days ago at Oracle OpenWorld 2011, I attended a presentation from one of the major consulting companies. The topic: banking in 2020. I heard about big data, the need for real-time analysis of information (in particular from the Internet), and a few other trends. While many of these trends were not new, I could only agree that they would be important in the future, as they align with Forrester’s 2008 research on what banking will look like in the future. (If you are interested in details regarding Forrester’s research on this topic, please see “Financial Services Of The Future: Collaborative Competition Will Be The Norm” and “Banking IT In 2023 Updated,” keeping in mind that 2023 is a metaphor for a longer-term perspective.) However, there was one statement within the presentation that I seriously disagree with.