Aligning IT providers. Who is eliminated?

IT (Information Technology) is changing

It is no secret that Information Technology continues to evolve. Both IT providers and their clients continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of stakeholders. These needs run the gambit from outside security threats to device migration to application development to alignment with the organizations strategic goals.

As demands for IT providers continue to change, so do the IT departments they serve. In a nutshell, the internal IT departments are becoming irrelevant.

OracleThe dilemma that IT providers, like Century Link Business or Oracle, face: How to overcome the hurdles that internal IT personnel present and be preferred by them and the C-suite? Put in blunt terms, can IT providers do more than just soften up internal personnel for the kill?

I know. Many of you are asking why would IT providers even care what those their technology is replacing thinks?

The simple answer: To gain new business, IT providers have to overcome a litany of hurdles. The C-suite needs to understand why they need this technology. It also will wonder if outsourcing important data isn’t a Mr. Robot situation. It will also want to know why your company is the right one when they are so many competitors thirsting to win that business.

Overcoming those hurdles means you need an ally.

Internal IT employees can be your friends

IT was once a novel thing, something that few understood so companies were forced to hire IT experts as employees. Otherwise, you’d be out of business fast.

IT employess for IT providersNow, though, IT is no longer the domain of just computer geeks and nerds. CEOs understand IT. Maybe not the individual details, but they know what IT accomplishes and the advantages of hiring third parties to host servers and troubleshoot any problems.

Companies, therefore, are turning to the cloud for a whole host of services they traditionally relied on their internal IT departments to handle. These managed cloud environments are doing everything from app development to analytics to storage to security. Logging into a web application with just a few clicks can even launch enterprise-wide software deployment. Cloud services manage entire corporate IT infrastructures  – and do it more cheaply.

This is a boon to the IT services companies, but the process of being hired is complex. The fewer hurdles you have to overcome, the better.

It’s easy to say that IT service providers have it easy during this phase of evolution. They are the ones benefiting. And they know that IT professionals are in effect training the person that is replacing them. Human nature is to dig your heels in and protect what’s yours. IT professionals are not signing on with this change willingly.

This is the quandary for IT service providers. They want to pull more and more of the workload from the traditional IT department to cloud-based services. But, in order to do so, they must not alienate those IT professionals they will inevitably replace.

IT providers must realign their brands

For many years, IT industry buzzwords floated around like big data. In some ways, the term big data was a reflection of the companies that helped create it, such as IBM, Cisco and SAP, just to name a few. Up until a few years ago, these companies focused mostly on creating things (software, infrastructure, etc.) that is used in the corporate environment. Though always viewed as big, their work wasn’t a threat to IT administrators. It was viewed as a means to increase the importance of IT departments within the organization. Perceptive IT departments could identify what the next big thing was and use it to almost justify their existence.

Today, their size and expertise are exactly what corporate IT departments are tying to sell against in order to maintain their relevancy.

So, what are IT service providers to do? The movement to the cloud is clearly a wave that won’t likely ebb. But these companies can realign their brands to make the change a bit more palatable to those they are going to affect. They should demonstrate that their technologies would make the jobs of internal IT employees easier. More importantly, they should demonstrate to the C-suite that, in order for the new technology to fulfill the unique needs of the company itself and that means involving internal IT employees.

In effect, your technology can make those employees more important.

The caveat is that, in realigning their brands, IT service providers must not appear to be pandering. Be single minded and aspirational, particularly to those IT professionals who present the most significant hurdle. Don’t tell them what you think they want to hear. Rather, take a systematic and analytical approach so that you understand this audience better than any of your competitors.


BlackBerry Failed. Marketing lessons to be learned from BlackBerry.

BlackBerry Failed. What can we learn from their mistakes?

By Tom Dougherty

Blackberry changed how business phoned.
Blackberry changed how business phoned.

The world truly changed in 1999. We saw Europe introduce the Euro, the tragedy at Columbine, the world was dealing with Kosovo and SpongeBob SquarePants debuted. But the world also saw a revolution in communication – one that, for better or for worse, changed everything.

Research In Motion introduced the BlackBerry

The first BlackBerry was the 850 and it was little more than a two-way pager with email and some limited HTML functionality. However, it could not be used as a phone. It did, however, give users something they had never had before: an “always on” connection that allowed users to synch with Microsoft Outlook.

In the early days, the 850 was not even yet called a BlackBerry and it was only available to enterprises. Neither of those factors detracted from its desirability. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was a status symbol. The person using it felt like they had made it. The 850 was the epitome of a brand reflection.

I say that becuase brand is really the reflection customers see when they use your product or service. It is the emotional connection people have with things and RIM had a product that elicited such an emotional response that people became addicted to the device.

RIM owned some very valuable emotional territory. It owned innovation/technology. It owned status. It owned first. It owned prized emotional ground that should be held on to as vigorously as possible.

Blackberry failed to change. They overestimated the golden handcuffs
Business thrives on simplicity

And for nearly a decade, RIM appeared to do just that. RIM grew significantly. From 1999 to 2007, RIM/BlackBerry’s stock price went from about $1.50 to a little north of $230 at its peak, a 15,233% increase. It was the darling of Wall Street and the envy of businesses the world over.

The 850 turned into the 950 and the 950 turned into the 957, which stood for 15 years as the iconic BlackBerry design – large screen with the unique keyboard below. They were defining devices in mobile technology but there was still no BlackBerry that you could use as a phone. In order to make a phone call, you still had to have a different mobile phone with a separate agreement.

In 2002, BlackBerry gave us the ability to use data and voice on the same device. The BlackBerry 5810 was born, complete with an ear bud that you used if you wanted to make a call. The 6810 and 6820 came not long after that, the ear bud was removed and allowed the user to make normal calls. Keep in mind that BlackBerry is still really only for enterprise use at this point.

In the next few years, BlackBerry models showed up with color screens and RIM even created a new form factor geared towards the consumer market with a new keyboard system called SureType that combined two letters to a single key. Eventually, the Pearl, perhaps BlackBerry’s second most influential device after the 957, was loaded with a camera, color screen and even a trackball. This was the height of BlackBerry and also marked the beginning of its death spiral.

The Mobile Category

Mobile devices were in a rapid stage of evolution. Features were being added and removed on the whims of consumer taste and RIM found a set of features that really met the needs of the emerging consumer mobile phone market at time. Additionally RIM had strong brand equity in the BlackBerry name and people, both consumers and businesses, coveted its aspirational brand.

But here lies the problem. In a changing market, stasis often means death. Things are only aspirational as long as people see them that way. In BlackBerry’s case, there was a duty to protect that emotional high ground that it didn’t fulfill.

BlackBerry saw itself only as a producer of mobile phones and forgot to protect that high emotional ground with a brand that said why their mobile phones were important.

Its success was due only to being first to market with a highly innovative product. The 2006 launch of the Pearl, which allowed the brand to be enjoyed by everyone, was really the last innovation for BlackBerry in mobile devices.

From that point on, BlackBerry played defense. It rested too heavily on what it thought was its impenetrable enterprise business. BlackBerry thought it was untouchable. Even in 2003, as other device companies were entering a rapid stage of innovation, BlackBerry’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis quipped, “Camera phones will be rejected by corporate users.” It was not until 2006 that a camera was added to a BlackBerry.

Companies whittled away BlackBerry’s market share with brands like the Nokia and the Palm Treo, which brought us the first color displays (before the abovementioned Pearl) and firms like Motorola and LG began to change the mobile phone into a stylish accessory.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War, “If we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows… the defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows.”
Business is very much like warfare and, if an enemy continues to come after you, they will eventually wear you down.

At this point, BlackBerry’s responses were always just that. Blackberry simply responded to new features by competitors by simply aping them. It was at this point when BlackBerry lost its emotional high ground of innovation because it became known as a fast follower.

Then came the iPhone.

Overnight, the mantel of innovation was ripped away by the iPhone. More importantly, Apple had uncovered an emotional intensity that trumped them all, simplicity. Given the rather complex nature of smartphones at the time, simplicity was not only welcomed, it was embraced. So much so that people waited in lines for the iPhone.

Blackberry failed to match iPhone's Cool factor
iPhone Changed the game again

The brand promise of simplicity for the iPhone was further solidified by its stunning innovation. Jim Balsillie, the other co-CEO of BlackBerry, said of the iPhone in 2007, “in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.” All emotional intensities that made BlackBerry popular over the course of the past eight years (with the possible exception of the keyboard) were voided by a single product launch that did not take eight years to blossom.

Reeling from impact of the iPhone, BlackBerry again tried to “add that feature” in the form of the BlackBerry Storm. But instead of a volley across the bow to Apple, it was really a flag of surrender.

So what are the lessons here? What can we learn from BlackBerry?

First off, BlackBerry was and always will be the founding father of the modern mobile phone. Some may argue that the addition of an operating system and the full panel touch screen with the iPhone is the true ancestor, but RIM, now BlackBerry, started mobile device companies on their current course. But here lies the first lesson:

In innovative industries, staying the course is a dangerous proposition.
Consistency and stick-to-it-ness are great attributes of a brand. Often, these attributes make the difference between a brand that succeeds and a brand that fails.

But when your brand is based on innovation, you are always chasing the newest innovation and are doomed to fail. BlackBerry needed a brand promise that was emotional in nature and not dependent on features.

If you have the luxury of being first to a market, you must defend that position with all of the resources at your disposal.
This is related to the first point but not a restatement of it. Being innovative does not mean you have to be revolutionary at each step. As a market leader, you have brand equity that allows target audiences to believe you own innovation. (Read how being first in a market is not guarentee of success)

This is the crux, however: a company that does not possess expertise to continually innovate must either find it or buy it. The best news is that most people have no idea if an innovation is purchased or developed internally. BlackBerry had access to sufficient cash and resources to purchase forward-thinking talent and companies.

Again, however, a brand that was focused on an emotion would have allowed customers to remain loyal despite other innovations. When your brand is about innovation, you have taught customers to always seek out the newest innovation.

CEOs must have a pragmatic view of the business environment and articulate that view to the public, shareholders, and employees.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but Balsillie and Lazaridis, the co-CEOs, had substantial influence in the organization and made it seem, at least publicly, they did not believe they ever had a problem. Even ex-CEO Thorsten Heins believed that tablet computers would not last.

A company that claims to be innovative should have leadership that has vision. Good employees absorb vision and want to execute it. Part of it is cult of personality (see: Steve Jobs) but most of it is sweat. The power of any brand, BlackBerry included, gives the organization reason for being. If the leadership does not convey it at every step and in each interaction, it is really meaningless and fodder for any company in a position to take it.

Brand arrogance is one of the worst things that can happen to any brand.
All of the above mentioned lessons result from this one: all brands, no matter how big, iconic or influential, can fail. When a brand thinks it is above the fray, it will almost always land below it. BlackBerry thought it could simply copy features of other providers, keep its keyboard and everything would be fine. It thought its customers would still aspire to use the BlackBerry. Everyone wants a BlackBerry, right?

At this point it is doubtful that the BlackBerry device business lasts much longer. It stood for innovation, taught audiences to seek innovation and, when BlackBerry became a follower, it became emotionally irrelevant.

The company began to shift toward services such as the popular BlackBerry Messenger on all mobile operating systems, allowing users of its BlackBerry Enterprise Services to manage both BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices within an organization’s network. But they are too little too late.

The Time Warner-Comcast merger is what consumers deserve

Time Warner and Comcast are looking to merge. Good luck trying to fight this one. If we learned anything by the approval of the American Airlines/US Airways merger, it’s that the “brand of the American consumer” is dead.

You better have a much stronger reason to block this merger than simply saying it is not in the consumer’s interest.

comcast-time-warner-press-releaseReally, can anyone argue that this merger is in the consumer interest? Let me get this straight, the two largest cable providers in the US want to merge even if the merger does not even promise the possibility of consumer savings.

After the American Airlines/US Airways deal, it is not even a necessary condition that the merger must provide consumers with more choice or market competitiveness. All that matters is that the merged companies make more money for its shareholders. This is about increasing their margins as we unplug our cable boxes.

Why is the consumer no longer represented? Because we have laced our consumer brand with indifference.

There is no such thing as the American Consumer and, because the brand no longer exists, it is no longer represented. Don’t mistake what I am saying with the idea that no one is speaking to the consumer’s benefit. What I am saying is that no one listens.

In an age when the business of America is absolutely the business of investor return, we actually believe that we sit squarely in that seat. We believe we are more investor than we are consumer. As long as we believe that, we can predict where the axe will fall. On us.

Brands are owned and honed by those that hold it dear. All great brands do this – Apple, Google, BMW, and your favorite beer. But we all hate the cable companies and yet no one really cares.

Think about it. The cable industry says it won’t limit competition because it doesn’t currently compete. And it would be right. Shame on us. We don’t get the oversight we need. We get the oversight we deserve.

Yahoo! needs more than a new CEO

Yahoo’s Scott Thompson is stepping down. The swinging door reminds me of the Union leadership during the Civil War. There were so many changes in generalship that the average enlisted man could barely keep count. Each was shown the door by a less than impressed Abe Lincoln — hoping he would eventually find someone who could beat General Lee.

Until Lincoln found U.S. Grant, each promising general fought the war according to standard practices of the day. And each ran from the battlefield, tail between his legs after that old grey fox, R.E. Lee, bested them again. The stakes for Lincoln were high. He had to find a way to beat Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia or the game might be up.

Yahoo is in the same life and death struggle. It doesn’t need a new CEO. It needs a new approach to the battle and it needs to find a way to beat an enemy (Google) that so far has won every battle.

Will Yahoo succeed and win?

What Yahoo needs is to rebrand, desperately. I am not talking about a name change. I am talking about a new strategy that delivers a meaningful relationship with its search engine.

Rebranding is not just a marketing ploy. It is a cultural shift in thinking that challenges all of the assumptions of the past and moves with alacrity and vigor towards a new vision for who they are and what they need to accomplish. These secrets will not be found by the “smartest guys in the room” but they will need to be embraced by the very same.

Grant understood Lee’s weakness and doggedly pursued his celebrated rival until the tide of war had turned. Yahoo will win or lose depending on how out of the box it is willing to go, who it puts in charge, and its willingness to rebrand. Anything less and it will fade away to become another “Lotus” — a company instrumental in the formative days but obsolete in the new ways of computing.

Steve Jobs: A bulb that burns twice as bright burns half as long

I was thinking about typing this note on my old Mac Plus, which I pulled from under the attic eves last night. I abandoned the idea, not because my old Mac no longer worked (it did), but because I realized I had no way to email or connect to what I wrote except with 3.5 floppy discs. I suddenly realized that my personal connection to Steve predates the Internet and goes all the way back to 1984.

I’m not going to write a blog that lauds all of Steve’s insanely great accomplishments and I need to say upfront that I never met him personally. But that is Steve’s magic after all, isn’t it? The products that Steve created are so intuitive, simple, personal, intimate, and magical, if you will, that I feel as if he is family. I took personal satisfaction in his success and now suffer a deep personal loss at his passing.

Screen-shot-2011-10-06-at-8.17.44-AMDo you remember the pop culture book that was popular a decade or so ago “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”? Well, I can honestly say that everything I ever needed to learn about branding, simplicity and focus I learned from Steve.

So today I am deeply sad. Greatness passes as naturally as time, but Steve passed much too soon. I assumed it was soon to happen but found myself completely unprepared.

Will I ever again tune into another Apple Keynote with childlike anticipation? Will I stay up all night ever again trying to place my order for the newest and coolest product from the pied piper of elegance and simplicity? Will I still visit the Apple Store with the smile of a kid in a candy store? Will I still feel like somehow everything Apple creates in the future is somehow a personal win for me?

I do hope so. Steve showed me a path and I will settle for nothing less.

Sometimes, when I get full of myself, I remind my ego that Steve is one day older then me. Very humbling. He changed the world.

Fare thee well Steve Jobs and thank you for sharing. I know I will never see your like again.