Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT

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It’s been a couple of months since my last guest post and the withdrawal symptoms have started to kick in. So here it is, my latest article at Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The Future of Marketing and IT

A short extract for your perusal:

Just a few years ago, asking the question whether the CIO and CMO roles were merging would have been madness. They couldn’t have been further apart. The CMO was a key part of a company’s leadership team, driving performance and changing the course of the organization, while in most cases the CIO didn’t even have a seat at the table.

That’s no longer the case – or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. If you believe Gartner’s January 2012 report entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO” and IBM’s annual CIO surveys, it would seem these two roles are on a collision course. Is it true?

Read the full article at Central Desktop.


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Central Desktop: Should you open up your internal network to external users?

Logo for Central DesktopGood things come in threes!

It’s true, even Wikipedia says so, and as we all know, Wikipedia is always right. Without it what would we do? Social Media Today’s article ‘What Would Happen If Wikipedia Died?‘ suggests that we would just “get along with other sources”. Obviously, the author doesn’t live in the same world that I do. Anyway, back to threes. Wikipedia says:

“The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes.”

That’s why it’s so important to read my third article at Central Desktop “Should you open up our internal network to external users?

It sounds like a no-brainer, of course you should, but beware! There are, as always, pros and cons. And now, the obligatory extract:

“Collaboration is essential to any business – mediated and controlled collaboration via cloud platforms even more so. But how far do you extend the borders on collaboration? Within your department? Your organization? Your vendors? More? After all, cloud platforms are the perfect vehicle for this kind of collaboration, being equally accessible by all parties involved.

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There are positives and negatives to working in a truly collaborative and open way with your external partners. But for those willing to tackle the risks head on, the rewards may pave the way for even further collaboration in the future (with more diverse partners and potentially greater reward).”

You can find out more over at Central Desktop.


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Central Desktop: Why you should keep IT off your cloud

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I’m on a roll at the moment, working on a lot of guest posts, so apologies for the lack of updates right here on the blog: there will be more in the next few weeks. Having said that, here’s the latest article at Central Desktop: Why you should keep IT off your cloud (if you don’t want to make the most of the opportunity.)

It’s something that’s close to my heart as an IT nerd – the changing face of IT and why you should keep them close when implementing cloud services. I promise, we are useful. What’s more, you also get to watch a clip from the brilliant UK sitcom, The IT Crowd.

Here’s a short extract:

Cloud systems – the perfect opportunity to take control of your processes and practices. A system that can boost your productivity and that you can mold to your exact requirements, all without the interference of IT. No infrastructure requirements, no development, no overcomplicated business analysis and project management – just the appointment of a vendor who can take away the pain and make things happen.

Or is it?

Here are four reasons why you should break out of this fallacy and involve IT when implementing cloud solutions.

Read the full article at Central Desktop.


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Central Desktop: Security and Privacy in the Cloud

Logo for Central DesktopMyths perpetuate, but your internal processes cause the biggest risk in cloud services

Another guest post went live at Central Desktop yesterday. This time looking at the misconceptions around the security of cloud services. It’s often thought that the cloud solutions is inherently insecure, but it’s much more likely that the security breach will occur through lax processes or simple human error within the client organisation.

Here’s a short extract:

Cloud services: the future of computing and service provision or simply one more headache? If you read enough press, you’ll be convinced that both are true. In reality, when you remove the opinions and biases, the truth is in between, but probably not in the way that you would expect.

Read the full article at Central Desktop.


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Central Desktop: All-in-one Collaboration Solutions vs Specialized Solutions

Logo for Central DesktopA second guest post has gone live at Central Desktop today.

All-in-one Collaboration Solutions vs Specialized Solutions looks at the pros and cons of each solution type and gives guidance on which might be best for your needs. If you’re looking at collaboration solutions, or are interested in finding out more, please take a look.

Here’s a short extract:

So you’re thinking about collaboration software. You’ve read up on the benefits and you’re convinced it’s a good idea and your company will really benefit. The question then is who and what? Who should I get my solution from? What should the solution be? Tough questions for the uninitiated. What it really comes down to is: do I go for an all-in-one or a specialized solution? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each approach, starting with all-in-one solutions.

Read the full article at Central Desktop.


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Central Desktop: Eight Tips on Successful Adoption of Collaboration Solutions

Logo for Central DesktopA new guest post has gone live at Central Desktop today.

Eight Tips on Successful Adoption of Collaboration Solutions pretty much does what it says in the title. Sounds niche, but even though it’s focussed on Collaboration Solutions, the tips are valid for any large-scale solution that has the potential to upset the status quo – from ERP to Innovation to CRM.

Here’s a short extract:

Successfully adopting new working paradigms, especially those that have the potential to move employees out of their comfort zone, can be tricky. Luckily, there are some tips that can make the whole process a lot smoother. Here are eight to consider when you’re faced with implementing a collaboration solution into your business.

Tip 1 – Lead from the top

There’s a reason why this is number one. It’s the most important of all the tips. Whenever you’re undertaking a project like this, make sure you have a sponsor from within the senior management team, preferably the CEO. With buy-in from senior management, you’ll be much better equipped from the start. Everyone has to fall in line; if the CEO says jump, the vast majority of staff will jump.

You can read the full article at Central Desktop. Thanks to Adam at Central Desktop for the opportunity to virtual pen to virtual paper.


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Central Desktop: Are ad agencies ready for the cloud?

Logo for Central DesktopA new guest post has gone live at Central Desktop this evening. Are Ad Agencies Ready for the Cloud examines the ways in which agencies can harness cloud services to increase their business agility. Here’s a short extract:

Businesses love their agencies. Why? Because they have three perceived qualities that bigger organizations want to reclaim: creativity, innovation and agility. But do agencies really have these qualities or are they, for all the slick presentations and trendy ideas, just as wedded to old working methods as everyone else?

You can read the full article at Central Desktop.


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From product to platform (why Hipster sucks and Contently doesn’t)

Contently versus Hipster

What makes a successful product? It’s the question that people all over the world try to answer, day after day, month after month, year after year. And not just in the technology sector. But at the moment, it’s the technology sector that should be looking hard at itself. The last two years have seen a few so called ‘products’ garner heavy investment from venture capitalists, when, in reality, there has been very little to invest in. Color raised $13 million in Series A funding in 2010, only to fail with its ‘revolutionary’ take on social photo sharing. Hipster had more technology press coverage than if the Pope got caught in a girl’s school gym locker, only to underwhelm massively on launch (yes, they were bought by AOL last week, but since when did AOL make something work?) Jason Freedman’s post from the 8th April highlights some of these issues, and this from the perspective of the start-up.

That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with failing. The ability to companies to ‘pivot‘ their products shows an agility and a will to succeed that is admirable; it is a lesson we should all learn. Both Color and Hipster have done this, but I think we should ask some serious questions when we see the amount of money invested in these products.

What does make a successful product?

Facebook logoThe true measure of success is to make the transition from product to platform, that’s where the real money is. On a day that saw Facebook ready itself for a May 2012 $5 billion IPO, we can see the real effect of this transition. Facebook has made the jump from a standalone social network – if that’s not a oxymoron – to a platform upon which many other brands and products depend. From social reading apps to gaming, Facebook facilitates sharing and communication; it provides the infrastructure behind the social in the same way as switches and routers are the infrastructure behind the internet.

They’re not alone in making this transition. Here are some other examples:

Amazon

Amazon started off selling books, plain and simple. But it has evolved into the shopping platform. The introduction of Amazon Marketplace, giving other sellers the ability to sell directly through Amazon to its userbase, was the turning point. Amazon no longer has to source all its goods – although it still does – as it can generate revenue from the transactions that flow through its shopping platform.

iTunes

Steve Jobs took a different approach when building iTunes – he started with the device, the iPod, and used it as the basis for building a closed infrastructure for purchasing music, TV and films. It’s not an open infrastructure in the way Amazon or Steam is, but due to the ubiquity of Apple devices (phones, music players, tablets, laptops or desktop), it doesn’t need to be. Now, being on iTunes is essential for content producers.

Steam

Steam started with Half-Life, the smash-hit game from Valve. Following the hug success of the first game and its expansions, the sequel was launched with the Steam platform baked in: installing Half-Life installed Steam. The reaction wasn’t great at the time, but it was a shrewd move. It’s large initial userbase meant that Valve could now use its platform to deliver games from other publishers, taking that all important percentage cut. This in turn has allowed Valve to innovate: the platform funds game development, including hits such as Portal 2, and allows new business model, such as the one found in Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress went free to play last year, but has its own in-game (in-Steam) marketplace where players can buy additional content (yet another revenue stream). In 2009, Steam was estimated to have 70% of the digital games distribution market.

Google

And of course there is Google. Google’s control of the search marketplace has enabled it to create the most powerful ad platform in the world.

Hipster and Contently

So why does Hipster suck? Simply because they went to market with something that can never make this transition. The ability to create postcards doesn’t make for a platform, just an interesting application of existing technologies. Hipster was built only to be a talent or IP sell – short-term.

And why doesn’t Contently? I believe that Contently has found a niche will allow it to transition – albeit in a limited fashion. In an environment where content is becoming more and more important, Contently is positioning itself as the glue between the content makers and content consumers. By putting writers in direct contact with publishers, they creating a commercial relationship that has legs. If they develop it in the right way – thinking of themselves as representing all groups of content producers, not just writers – they have the opportunity to be come a pivotal service in the new content economy. For me, that’s admirable.

Whether Hipster or Contently are successful in the long-run, only time will tell, but I know who I’m supporting.

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What is… Groupon

Now that the dust has settled, and the hyperbole surrounding Groupon’s growth has subsided, we can now take an objective look at the service it provides. Here’s a 5-minute guide – or at least a 5-ish paragraph guide – to Groupon.

What is Groupon?

Groupon LogoGroupon is a collective buying service. Put simply, it offers discounts on products and services which only become valid once a set number of consumers buy into them. The numbers required may change, as will the amount of discount you get, but the principle remains the same: once enough people buy, the discount becomes active and everyone benefits. Consumers get the discount and businesses have the peace of mind that they have generated new customers and have enough take-up to make the offer pay off.

Sounds great in principle

And so it is. However, businesses need to be careful when they construct their offers. In January, a Japanese café was inundated with buyers for the traditional New Year’s meal “osechi”, leaving them unable to meet demand and leading to disappointment. Predictably, complaints were widely posted on the Internet. Usually, Groupon provides advice to businesses to stop this happening, but due to their rapid growth, the Japanese employees had not yet been trained to provide this service.

How did it get so big, so fast?

Groupon was launched in the US in November 2008, and its growth since then has been outstanding. It now covers over 565 cities around the world and has seen its web traffic grow from just 2 million unique visitors per month to over 15 million (source: Crunchbase). Annual revenue is around $2 billion. They are the market leader in the group-buying category by some distance.

In December 2010, they turned down a $6 billion offer from Google, a defiant move that shows the confidence they have in the marketplace and in the group-buying concept. This was after turning down approximately $2 billion from Yahoo in October 2010.

Their growth has been fueled by a mixture of acquisitions (Japan, Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Phillipines and Taiwan), aggressive IP protection (MobGob), partnerships (eBay, Ning) and smart deals (Gap). But also, and in some ways more importantly, they’ve come to the fore at the right time, catching the zeitgeist for the hyper-local service.

Zeitgeist… ?

As I’ve written before, following globalisation is localisation. The rise of mobile devices and geo-location technologies has led to a upsurge of interest in creating personalised web experiences. Service providers from search engines to advertisers are using these technologies to get closer to consumers, offering them more targeted information. And while pure online spend may be rising, connecting consumers with local businesses will always generate good return as that’s currently where the majority of our spend takes place.

FourSquare is also based around these principles, but works the other way around to Groupon. Rather than introducing new customers to a business, it rewards consumers for their loyalty, with regular customers earning greater rewards. Using the two services together could provide a strong basis for generating and retaining consumers.

Shoppers queuing at a till

Groupon makes the queues a little more bearable (Credit: George Yi)

Does it have any value for B2B Marketers?

There’s no doubt that Groupon started out as a pure B2C proposition. It’s perfect for lower-value, impulse-led purchases, but it may well hold value for B2B organisations as well, even though the decision-making process is much slower. March saw the first B2B deals being made available, led by IT consulting firm Ajilitee. Their daily deal offered 50% off $25,000 of consulting and proved a great success for them, not in direct sales but as a demand generation tool. Although Groupon would prefer deals to demand, this has led to Groupon putting more resource behind B2B deals through Groupon Stores and redemption-tracking software.

Despite its market-leading position, the future isn’t completely clear for Groupon. It must continue to provide relevant offers and not become a home for drab low-value voucher code discounts, and it also faces competition from Living Social. However, it’s size and stature should keep it ahead of the game in the B2C space.

And B2B? Only time will tell whether B2B collective buying services will be successful, but (excuse the pun) they should certainly not be discounted.

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The future of the internet isn’t mobile…

But surely it must be? With 230,000 iOS devices and 200,000 Android devices activated every day how can it be anything else? Even Facebook is building a phone.

The near-future of the internet is mobile, but as B2B marketers we must be aware of how internet usage is changing in the long-term, and what this means for our campaigns and communications. Thinking in terms of individual channels and devices will only limit our ability to fully deliver for our clients in the future.

So how is the internet changing?

1. Our ability to access the internet is becoming ubiquitous
The most amazing thing about the internet is arguably not the content, but the creation of the infrastructure that carries it. Millions of interconnected computers, millions of miles of cable to carry data between them, and all the protocols and hardware that direct traffic from one place to another. This process hasn’t stopped yet, and being ‘online’ is becoming a more and more ubiquitous experience. The data on the internet is available through many channels and in many locations.

2. We are increasingly using web-based services, not web-based content
More and more we are basing our internet usage around key services and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Spotify. Users are blending these services together to create their own online experience: Facebook for social life, LinkedIn for professional life, Delicious for bookmarks, Remember the Milk for tasks, Spotify for music. These services feed information to us, rather than us having to seek it out, which makes our online life more integrated with our offline life.

Some of these services are tied to a single device, but the majority are available wherever you are, and it is this portability that makes them so useful. For example, Netflix allows you to watch movies online, but not just through your PC, you can access them on your Xbox, PS3, Wii, iPad and internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray player as well.

3. The content available on the web is changing
In 1990, most traffic on the web was based around FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which took up 57% of the available bandwidth, but twenty years later video owns 51% of this bandwidth. Standard web-based traffic such as web pages and other downloads is now only 23%, down from approximately 55% in 2000. Video is the big growth area and the available content is growing rapidly. The ability to access this video-based content is also growing, with users no longer restricted to their PC. Cisco’s latest forecasts see 66% of mobile data usage being video-based by 2014 (see Figure 2 here)

What do these changes mean for those of us in the business of creating content?
It’s important that we aren’t overly rigid in our approach to creating content; we mustn’t think in terms of devices. Today we are producing mobile apps and web-based sites to deliver our services, but in a few years’ time we may be looking at a completely different landscape where it is impossible to know exactly where and how our content is being viewed. Some of these changes – Internet TV for example – may be game-changing as the distinction between online and broadcast blurs even further.

In some cases, we may well be faced with the decision to concentrate on particular devices and channels at the expense of audience numbers, or to take a more general and less tailored approach that can be viewed across the widest spectrum.

Regardless of which route we take, the ability to deliver a consistent experience across all channels is paramount, and our ability as an industry to understand the options and deliver this consistency will be crucial.