Businesses that thrive and grow in the age of the customer are obsessed with customer delight: the most successful companies are reinventing themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. This business reality creates new imperatives for everyone inside an organization, and infrastructure & operations (I&O) professionals are not immune. So the question becomes, how does I&O participate in the transformation of the enterprise toward customer obsession?
The answer to this question is important, because technology's role in business is rapidly changing -- from a world in which Information Technology (IT) enabled a company to function more efficiently, to a world of Business Technology (BT), which we define as technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers. Yet customer-facing technologies aren't always (or even often) the traditional role of I&O. So how can I&O participate?
How about starting with a simple dictum? Spend more time on technologies that will inspire and delight customers, either directly or indirectly. To start this journey, I'd like you to watch this short video of how a digital billboard has gone viral:
Infrastructure professionals are now all too familiar with the dynamics of bring-your-own (BYO) technology and devices: Their workers walk into the office with consumer technology all the time. This post is one in a continuing series on how consumer retail stores act as de facto extensions of the IT department in today's BYO world.
The rumors have abounded for more than six months: unconfirmed whispers that Google will open up its own major chain of consumer retail stores. The company has dipped its toes into the retail waters with Chromebook-focused kiosks in the U.S. and the U.K. over the past few years, with installations inside larger retailers like Best Buy, Dixons, and Currys.
A Google Kiosk in the U.K.: Not Yet Reaching Revolutionary Heights
Yet while kiosks – particularly those staffed by Google employees – offer some value in promoting Google’s products and services, the company has a much greater opportunity for late 2013 into 2014. Kiosks aren't going to foment a retail revolution. To quote the popular Star Wars geek meme, "these aren't the droids you're looking for."
No, it's time for Google to think big – to go gangbusters. To do something nobody has done as well previously. Why is this imperative?
My Forrester colleagues Ted Schadler and John McCarthy have written about the differences between Systems of Reference (SoR) and Systems of Engagement (SoE) in the customer-facing systems and mobility, but after further conversations with some very smart people at IBM, I think there are also important reasons for infrastructure architects to understand this dichotomy. Scalable and flexible systems of engagement, engagement, built with the latest in dynamic web technology and the back-end systems of record, highly stateful usually transactional systems designed to keep track of the “true” state of corporate assets are very different animals from an infrastructure standpoint in two fundamental areas:
Suitability to cloud (private or public) deployment – SoE environments, by their nature, are generally constructed using horizontally scalable technologies, generally based on some level of standards including web standards, Linux or Windows OS, and some scalalable middleware that hides the messy details of horizontally scaling a complex application. In addition, the workloads are generally highly parallel, with each individual interaction being of low value. This characteristic leads to very different demands on the necessity for consistency and resiliency.
Today, Samsung places much greater strategic emphasis on its enterprise business, which is now a “top three priority” globally for the company. Symbolizing this new commitment to enterprise customers, on June 11th Samsung openeda new Executive Briefing Center (EBC) in its Ridgefield Park, NJ office. The EBC offers enterprise customers and Samsung’s many partners an opportunity to experience Samsung’s vertically-optimized enterprise offerings in context.
I attended the opening, which enjoyed executive-level support from the President and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America Yangkyu (Y.K) Kim, President of Samsung Electronics America Tim Baxter, and Senior Vice President, Samsung Enterprise Business Tod Pike. I also spent an hour learning more about the Samsung value proposition for enterprise customers from Tod, including the excerpted Q&A below.
Samsung’s Enterprise Business Division focuses on a vertical strategy that includes Education, Healthcare, Retail, Financial Services, and Hospitality... and which isn’t just about devices, though their product offerings in hospitality TVs, notebook and tablet PCs, virtualization, wireless printers, and digital signage play a prominent role. Samsung also brings together enterprise-savvy partners like Crestron and Nuance Communications – along with numerous systems integrators and other channel partners – to deliver software, content, and services along with those devices.
In his 1956 dystopian sci-fi novel “The City and the Stars”, Arthur C. Clarke puts forth the fundamental design tenet for making eternal machines, “A machine shall have no moving parts”. To someone from the 1950s current computers would appear to come close to that ideal – the CPUs and memory perform silent magic and can, with some ingenuity, be passively cooled, and invisible electronic signals carry information in and out of them to networks and … oops, to rotating disks, still with us after more than five decades[i]. But, as we all know, salvation has appeared on the horizon in the form of solid-state storage, so called flash storage (actually an idea of several decades standing as well, just not affordable until recently).
The initial substitution of flash for conventional storage yields immediate gratification in the form of lower power, maybe lower cost if used effectively, and higher performance, but the ripple effect benefits of flash can be even more pervasive. However, the implementation of the major architectural changes engendered across the whole IT stack by the use of flash is a difficult conceptual challenge for users and largely addressed only piecemeal by most vendors. Enter IBM and its Flashahead initiative.
What is Happening?
On Friday, April 11, IBM announced a major initiative, to the tune of a spending commitment of $1B, to accelerate the use of flash technology by means of three major programs:
· Fundamental flash R&D
· New storage products built on flash-only memory technology
I was part of a Forrester Team that recently completed a multi-country rollout tour with Emerson Network Power as they formally released their Trellis DCIM product, a comprehensive DCIM environment many years in the building. One of the key takeaways was both an affirmation of our fundamental assertions about DCIM, plus hints about its popularity and attraction for potential customers that in some ways expand on the original value proposition we envisioned. Our audiences were in total approximately 500 selected data center users, most current Emerson customers of some sort, plus various partners.
The audiences uniformly supported the fundamental thesis around DCIM – there exists a strong underlying demand for integrated DCIM products, with a strong proximal emphasis on optimizing power and cooling to save opex and avoid the major disruption and capex of new data center capacity. Additionally, the composition of the audiences supported our contention that these tools would have multiple stakeholders in the enterprise. As expected, the groups were heavy with core Infrastructure & Operations types – the people who have to plan, provision and operate the data center infrastructure to deliver the services needed for their company’s operations. What was heartening was the strong minority presence of facilities people, ranging from 10% to 30% of the attendees, along with a sprinkling of corporate finance and real-estate executives. Informal conversations with a number of these people gave us consistent input that they understood the need, and in some cases were formerly tasked by their executives, to work more closely with the I&O group. All expressed the desire for an integrated tool to help with this.
At its recent analyst event, Ericsson outlined its strategy, product, and service ambitions. Ericsson remains the overall benchmark for network infrastructure vendors. The company has a leading market position in the growth segments of mobile broadband and network services and delivers a solid financial performance — despite the disappointing Q3 2012 results. Still, in my view, Ericsson has several challenges that it needs to address:
· The cloud strategy is built on a questionable assumption.Clearly network infrastructure is becoming more, not less, important for cloud-based solutions. Ericsson therefore assumes that carriers are well positioned to be cloud providers. But CIO perceptions suggest otherwise. CIOs tell us that carriers are far from the preferred choice for cloud-solutions (see Figure 9 in the “Prepare For The Connected Enterprise Now” Forrester report). Carriers therefore need help in addressing the potential of cloud computing. For instance, Ericsson’s cloud solutions ought to help carriers cooperate with cloud partners regarding embedded connectivity in devices and applications.
At its 2011 Analyst Event in Boston, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) outlined more details of its recently announced strategy review. In our view, the new focus NSN is taking is right. NSN is focusing on growth segments of the infrastructure market and will generate large savings from operating expenses and production overheads. In addition to its focus on providing the most efficient mobile broadband network infrastructure, NSN also highlighted the importance of customer experience management (CEM) as an integral part of its strategy.
NSN also provided more guidance on which market segments it no longer considers core. These include wireline, microwave, Wimax, perfect voice, and business support systems. Some of these, microwave and Wimax, it already spun off. NSN estimates that the overall revenue impact of its non-core disposals will total 10% of its current revenue base. The impact on profit will be less than 10%, as these non-core disposals are low-margin operations.
NSN believes that telcos increasingly demand end-to-end solutions from their equipment vendor partners. No equipment vendors can credibly deliver such end-to-end solutions on their own. Hence, NSN is positioning itself as an ecosystems manager for end-to-end solutions. As part of its innovation drive, NSN increasingly focuses on devising concepts for solutions rather than simply focusing on product upgrades. For instance, Liquid Net is a concept for network infrastructure design that supports a more efficient usage of underutilized infrastructure capacity based on a range of NSN products. Similarly, NSN places great emphasis on its CEM solution, which helps telcos to transform their services offerings by enhancing network-related features that affect customer experience and satisfaction.
Nokia Seimens Networks’ top management has finally pulled the emergency brakes, after months of unsuccessful attempts to find a buyer. Going forward, NSN will focus on mobile network infrastructure and the services market. All other areas are non-core and subject to disposal. We estimate that about two-thirds of NSN’s current portfolio will remain in this new focus area. NSN will retain an attractive product and services portfolio and innovative solutions, as for instance its Liquid Net offering. However, some elements, like convergence offerings, will be difficult to pursue credibly in the future.
In our view, the new focus NSN is taking is right:
NSN is focusing on growth segments of the infrastructure market. NSN aims to provide the most efficient mobile networks (including network outsourcing and sharing) to extract maximum value for telcos’ operations by developing intelligent network solutions and boost customer experience management.
NSN will generate large savings from operating expenses and production overheads. NSN targets savings of €1 billion annually by the end of 2013. NSN tries to achieve this goal be focusing on organizational streamlining, real estate, information technology, product and service procurement costs, G&A, and supplier consolidation. Despite good revenue growth in recent quarters, NSN’s revenues per employee remain well below that of Ericsson’s in 2010 and even lags Huawei’s. NSN’s plans to reduce its global workforce by 17,000, or 23%, will go some way to address this imbalance.
I just spent several days at Dell World, and came away with the impression of a company that is really trying to change its image. Old Dell was boxes, discounts and low cost supply chain. New Dell is applications, solution, cloud (now there’s a surprise!) and investments in software and integration. OK, good image, but what’s the reality? All in all, I think they are telling the truth about their intentions, and their investments continue to be aligned with these intentions.
As I wrote about a year ago, Dell seems to be intent on climbing up the enterprise food chain. It’s investment in several major acquisitions, including Perot Systems for services and a string of advanced storage, network and virtual infrastructure solution providers has kept the momentum going, and the products have been following to market. At the same time I see solid signs of continued investment in underlying hardware, and their status as he #1 x86 server vendor in N. America and #2 World-Wide remains an indication of their ongoing success in their traditional niches. While Dell is not a household name in vertical solutions, they have competent offerings in health care, education and trading, and several of the initiatives I mentioned last year are definitely further along and more mature, including continued refinement of their VIS offerings and deep integration of their much-improved DRAC systems management software into mainstream management consoles from VMware and Microsoft.