Communication Technology

Interface time (again) – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

You know that something is changing when Google talks about a “beautiful interface”…   As the world tries to figure out how to keep their day job and still find time to check up their facebook, twitter, linked in and Google Plus accounts, it seems we are going full circle to the operating system debate again.   Whether it is thin clients, cloud computing, mobile or whatever.

Google and Microsoft have shown which way they are going, trying to make it all “seamless“.   Same buttons at more or less the same place.   Get used to it.  Literally, that is an order:  “Get used to it!”  and then “buy our stuff, not the competition!”   That is what the interface wars are always about.   More than a decade ago I publicly predicted Nokia’s demise based on the premise that their interface couldn’t make the upgrade to a smartphone world.   Even things that seems minor, like the way Google real time operates, quickly become addictive, our brains just demand them afterwards.

And now I would put my money on…Wordpress!   Not the interface so much (yet, though they are improving) as the design of a personal publishing platform.   I don’t want Facebook to organise the presentation of my information.   Nor Google or Microsoft.   Tumblr is very pretty and visually entertaining but no, I want a no-nonsense environment in which to make decisions about the stuff I care about.  I don’t want folders of Google Docs.   I need what comes when you put together the dynamic development rates of with the user friendliness of with…all that social stuff.   I don’t want comments from my friends to be in Facebook OR Google plus OR anything else.   I want them under my blog post where I can collect them and control them.  Without having to log in and out of ten different systems or hope that Hootsuite will get it right.

My nieces just started a blog, just for the family, all about their holiday in Greece and what they are doing in the three weeks they are over from the U.S.   Nope, they couldn’t do it on Facebook, they don’t have accounts and I don’t think they should have accounts in a social network at their age anyway.    I have used WordPress for collaborating with just one other person (writing a kids book) or for a group of people on a work project which ended up running for more than a year and now has more than 150 very useful posts; it has become an internal resource to them.    To me it is testament to my skills as a consultant.   Beats a powerpoint presentation on many levels and it is alive.   But it couldn’t be done without Worpdress.   It is the business model as much as the technology.   You can start up a free personal blog one day for fun and end up at whatever other side of the publishing world the next.   I put some basic FAQs about electric bikes simply because I was tired of people stopping me to ask the same questions.   A few months later it is the No1 resource (and any Google search in Greek on the topic will get you there) for ebikes in Greece!  It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious:

Mary Poppins:  “You’d better use it carefully or it may change your life. ”

Bert: “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s my wife!”

Sure, there are other platforms which do some of this stuff well.   But I will be looking at “My Dashboard” on with renewed hopes that if “there can only be one” interface, these guys will get it right.

Business Communication

Why the Business Software Alliance can’t sue me

When the BSA started out, it was pretty obvious that they were making up the numbers.   Having studied statistics and living in the IT world, to me, it was painfu to watchl.  Not only were they generalising in a bad way but they were communicating too forcefully.     This is a recipe for a backlash.

In the past week I put out a series of articles explaining why BSA Hellas has dropped in revenues this year in Greece and how they are terrible at what matters most right now; social media.   They have bought their way into mainstream (=boring + nobody notices) media references but blogs and social media are simply disregarding them.   To add insult to injury my guide with “ten things the BSA doesn’t want you to know” seems to be going viral.

BSA has structural and communication problems.   Initially it was just a few major American software companies teaming up to clamp down on piracy.  They spent on promotion and rode on the novelty.  They lobbied hard.  In Greece Bill Gates shook hands with the prime minister and received a number of agreements behind the headlines going as far as getting civil servants in tax enforcement to work for BSA!   But on this basic level, software piracy is more like pharmaceuticals than the music industry.  Especially in times of economic crises the question will inevitably pop up:   Why should a poor country, months away from restructuring it’s debts, be paying billions of dollars to extremely profitable companies for a recipe they invented many years ago?

Adobe or Autodesk will be hard pressed to claim they are innovating much in features that really make a difference to productivity.  They throw together teams to produce incemental improvements and then do the rounds collecting update revenue.

BSA is also languishing in committee-itis.  They can’t catch pirates for the same reason countries around the region can’t clamp down on Somali piracy.   As more member companies joined in, it slowed down.   Less decisions, less forcefull, slower reactions.  More companies, more opinions, more objections, more need for transparency.  It is becoming clear to the public that this is more a consortium for lobbying of private interests than anything to do with the good of the economy like they tried to portray themselves when they started.   So individual members are just improvising, like Adobe’s CEO saying that cloud computing will reduce piracy.

On a communicational level they made mistakes.  Plenty mistakes.   The scandals about piracy whistleblower payments, hyperboles about piracy encouraging violence and kidnapping, ridiculous quasiscientific generalisations about the relationship between software piracy and the economy or job losses.   Microsoft’s otherwise quite admirable PR machine overdoes it by making claims like the “fact” that Indians are quite consious about piracy.

As the dust settles and the world focuses on getting over this crisis we could rename BSA as the Bull Shamefully Advertises… except they aren’t even advertising much anymore! It would only take a nudget in social media to position the Business Software Alliance as a first class legitimate enemy.    So please, someone from the BSA, please come after me.  I have three PCs at home more or less doing everything online with no software installed and two at work.  I think it is all legal but I am sure you can find some ridiculous way to go after me.   Maybe I don’t have the “proper” (in BSA terms) invoices or proof of purchase for one of the preinstalled software on my laptop.   You know the drill.   Maybe you expected me to do a software audit annually.  I will just wear a Tshirt saying “today I am acting as network administrator” and waste a day doing it and five days communicating with BSA members to ask if they have changed something in their terms.  (I won’t be sure I am legitimate even after all that effort – many Greek reps of software companies don’t really know how it all works.)   Or maybe I will purchase some used software just to ensure a good legal precedent.

So please sue me.   Make my day.

Business Technology

Nokia-Microsoft. A serious case of “I told you so”

People in the technology sector often get their predictions wrong.   Many saw a “multimedia revolution” coming back in the 80’s but few knew what it would entail.  Would we sell speakers and CD-roms, or more software and color printers?   And sure, we need a new DVD format but will it come now or in ten years?

And there are other predictions that take guts.  Back in 2000 on my TV show I first went on record to state that Nokia has a serious long term problem.   Then in 2007 I explained it forcefully in a blog post.  “Why I would not rush to buy Nokia stocks or buy their stocks” was heresy.  My point isn’t so much that I am good at predicting technology trends but that there is a serious communication problem.   Journalists are all too often caught up in their own agendas.  Even more so in an economic crisis where they are being converted to machine cogs producing more and more content for various channels.  Journalists were never good at this game because they were never close enough to the action.    Somewhere between trade shows, closed door meetings, technology previews and actually trying to sell the stuff, people in the industry have a much much more rounded picture of what is really going on.
So it is people in the industry that need to learn to communicate more.  Get blogging.
Business Communication Technology

Social CRM is better than flossing

A long time ago I helped develop what was at the time the cutting edge of CRM.  My gripe with traditional CRM systems, even the really big, fancy, expensive ones, was that they made you do double work.  Keep your contact details in one system and then remember to fill in all the details in another one.  Finish a meeting and then don’t forget to open up a different system, find the contact and write what happened.  It is too much like a visit to the dentist for me: yeah I know I should floss every day, it just never finds its way into my schedule!

So my CRM system made sure all the inputs where automatic.  Send an email through Outlook if you want but with the press of a button it gets attached to your contact’s activity record.  Incoming emails can even be tagged automatically based on rules.  They can even autogenerate actions like being considered a lead.  Same with phone calls or any other action.  The CRM is integrated with the ERP system so all products, knowledge base items, prices and customer or company information is in one single database.  Even setting up a meeting is better as it can link to a touch screen enabled monitor at your entrance or meeting room door.  “Enter your invitation number to enter” it says to the visitor.  When you finish your meeting and get back to your desk there is an open window showing that your guest left two minutes ago (he checked out using the same touch screen) and asking what happened at the meeting.  Like everything else in this CRM you can generate next actions easily from any item.

It was cool.  It still is cool and you can buy it as a finished product, complete with a web front end that seamlessly allows you to make any of this information available to the customers themselves as any self respecting company needs to do in 2010 in order to be transparent and online.

Enter sCRM.  Yet another acronym, but this one makes sense as it solves many new problems in one.  What it gives you is a way to very quickly “touch” many contacts.  Open up a project and see all the people involved in the decision.  It shows you how long since you “touched” them in some way.  A “touch” is a contact, but in this day and age it doesn’t have to be an email, phone call or visit.   It could be a comment on their status on LinkedIn or a discussion in a group.  You are in “touch” and in a way that is much more meaningful than calling up out of the blue.

In many ways, the “S”(social) in front of CRM is not necessary.  Customer Relationship Management is one acronym which will always be around as business and life itself will always be about our contacts, the people around us.  We can call it People Relationship Management or whatever else in the future but that is what it is about.  Who are my friends and what can I do for them?  So, if you haven’t tried out Flights, I thoroughly recommend it.  If there are other similar systems out there, I am not aware of them yet.  (Please tell me!)

You can use the free version of Flights (up to 5 objectives and a few other limitations) even for personal goals.  Heck, most people have turned to professional networking tools like Xing, Plaxo, Viadeo and LinkedIn in order to find a job in this climate, they might as well be a bit more systematic about it!

Business ENGLISH Technology

Why on earth did you leave CRM implementation to the IT department?

I was talking to the CEO of a market leading services company recently.  He was trying to entice me to get involved, I was trying to avoid telling him too bluntly that the cosy family-style management he had lived with all these years was about to crash completely.  We skirted about the issues.

“With your sort of market position, it sounds like you could really do magic with a good CRM” I suggested.  “Oh yeah, we bought one of those last year…I think the IT guys are doing it.”

Here’s what I propose:  go get some social scientists to do it instead.  Anthropologists would be great, sociologists if they are not too wishy washy.  Because focusing on the customer should no longer be the domain even of the traditional marketing department.

Marketing has always been squashed between a sales department gung ho attitude and some magical creative juice produced on demand to impress.  Throw a CRM project their way and yes, they will do a better job than IT for sure.  But is that what we need these days?

What sort of salary is your customer living on?  Where is she living?  How on earth do you expect to relate to someone so different unless you have developed the methodological toolset?  This does sound a lot like anthropology, because this is what you need to do.  I would willingly have one of my fingers chopped off for access to Facebook, VISA or Google customer data.  Not that I wouldn’t miss playing the guitar, but the social scientist in me would be in heaven.  It is not about finding shortcuts to selling to them.  It is about understanding how they think and how they feel.

You can do a lot of this without losing any fingers.  Work a different position in your company.  Dress up and play a different role on any sidewalk.  Talk to strangers.  But companies need to be a bit more systematic about this effort.  And what the social sciences have learned over the past half century is an invaluable starting point.  Call him a CCO or whatever you want, but someone near the top of the organisation has to want to understand customers and to add value to their lives.  It isn’t just market research or R&D that has to come under this position, but it is a good place to start.   Any customer facing function needs to be rethought with this hat on.  And in a position to get things done about it. 

Because the customer isn’t going to wait around for you to get it right much longer.