Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Product Management - How to beat the iPad?

How to beat the iPad?

This has become a multi-billion dollar question. Several companies are spending billions of dollars to develop tablet computers that can beat iPad. But till date all these alternative offerings have fallen awfully short and iPad still rules the world.

I asked this question to myself, analyzed the issue in depth and found that iPad can be beaten & here is how to do it.

Apple's iPad is a torch bearer for the future of computing. Apple has indeed opened up the doors for the next computing revolution with its iconic iPad - the cloud computing. Ipad with iCloud is the future of computing, where you can store all your files on the cloud, do all the heavy computing on the cloud and use the tablet device as an input/output (I/O) device. The basic premise of iPad is that the user is almost always connected to the Internet, and without Internet the user has limited functionality for the tablet - viewing/editing/creating of documents and entertainment - listen to music or watch videos.

This essentially implies that the iPad is mearly an end user device - more like a dumb terminal type in the main frame era. (The main frame is replaced by the cloud)

Looking at the iPad in this format opens up a lot of opportunity for other players - like HP to develop solutions that can beat Apple in the tablet market as Apple & Android devices has several short comings when it comes to enterprise computing.

Virtual Desktop Initiative

You may have heard the term VDI or Virtual Desktop Initiative. VDI is an initiative to centralize all computing into the enterprise cloud and make all the end user devices a terminal to access all the applications. The users have to login to the enterprise cloud and then they will have their virtual desktop - i.e., applications that they need to do their job.

Till date all the VDI programs were centered around using the esisting desktops or laptops as the end user device. This option was expensive and gave a bad user experience. The corporate IT department still could not control all the data and could not ensure security, and the user had to use a mix of local applications and cloud applications to get the work done. This was not the right approach to begin with as there was no ROI for VDI. The customers still needed Office & Email applications on their local machines - plus the additional cost of desktop/laptop OS, and hardware ensured that this approach to VDI was an expensive & ineffective proposition.

With the tablet computers, VDI takes a completely different meaning & becomes a viable solution if implemented the right way.

This is where others have a chance to beat Apple. Essentially, Apple iPad is not designed for VDI and iPad is not geared for enterprise usage. Current iPad is designed as a consumer device.

So here are my thoughts on how to beat iPad.

1. Create a tablet with a strong built-in security systems.

All data stored in the tablet must be encrypted and connection to the enterprise system is always over invisible VPN. One can make the VPN connection invisible - by using user biometrics as user part authentication, and a private key authentication.

2. Create an enterprise software store portal.

All applications that run on the tablet has to come via the company's software store. Users can install generic general purpose applications - as long as it is pushed through the enterprise software store. Access to other open applications is not permitted. The enterprise software/App store can be a federated store - which integrates open app stores and enterprise app store.

3. Build software solutions on mobile Internet connectivity.

Today, most of the enterprise applications need to be accessed only through the corporate network. These non-web based applications must be rewritten or re-developed to be made accessable on the Internet, preferably through a dedicated apps. For example, the time sheet entry application should be an app on the tablet that uses the Internet/VPN to connect to the enterprise systems.

4. Build better Email client for the tablet

The current email clients on Apple or Andriod or Blackberry still falls short of Outlook or Lotus Notes in terms of functionality and user experience. The webmail interface of Outlook still falls short. Simply put, redesign and rebuild the Email client on the tablet to match or beat Outlook. The current Email clients are severly handicapped when it comes to dealing with attachments from cloud storage services. As users will have multiple cloud storage services, the email client should have capability to attach/link data from any of the cloud services or the local files on the user tablets.

5. Integrate the Office Desk Phone to the Tablet.

Today, employees have a cell phone and a desk phone. This can be replaced by a softphone on the tablet - which moves along with the user. This gives the mobility to the user without the use of cell phones, and empolyees can be connected via phone network.

6. Make Audio/Video Conference Calls & Virtual meetings as an integral part of Tablet.

Today's tablet devices have multiple cameras that can be used for video conferencing as well. To illustrate this problem, look at WebEx, to log into the meeting, I need to log into WebEx client on iPad or on the laptop, while audio conference is on the phone. This locks up both the phone and the Tablet/PC. If the audio conference part can be moved to Tablet, then it will be a big advantage. Video Conference is not very common today - mainly due to its appropriateness. However for company wide meetings, or all hands meetins etc, video conferencing - i.e., video broadcasting can be done through the tablet. In short, make the tablet device a unified communication device.

7. Make the tablets presentation friendly

Apple iPad is not really designed to making presentations, the connector to HDMI is not universal and is unique to Apple. Instead cut the wire and make it wireless connections to projectors - either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect to LCD projectors or Flat Screen TVs

8. Develop a good Docking station

Apple iPad is not optimized for creating rich documents, spreadsheets or presentations. The touch screen user interface is good to browse, but not for extensive typing. There are few docking stations out there that extends the iPad with a keyboard, mouse & graphics tablet. This makes the device more user friendly to type without cramping your hands.

9. Make Databack up a thing of the past.

Since all the applications are designed to work on the cloud, all the user data stored locally on the iPad or tablet must be copied over to the cloud on the backgroud - without any user interaventions. Today there are few applications that do that on the background for the PC/laptops, the same must be implemented for iPads/Tablets. This will ensure that the users will never ever lose data - even if the device breaks down or gets stolen.

10. Enhance the Security.

If the device ever gets stolen or lost, the devices must get disabled & all local data is deleted by remote activation. As mentioned earlier - all the local data in the tablet, and all the communication between the tablet to Internet is always encrypted. But if the device is lost or stolen, then the device must have the capability to self-destruct all data/applications on the tablet when triggered. The triggers can be via Internet or on failed password/biometic access.

Closing Thoughts

The iPad/Tablet revolution is just starting. Apple has taken an early lead, but nibble competitors can beat Apple only if they cater to the enterprise needs - which Apple fails to do. Competition such as Andriod or HP or BlackBerry has to do quickly inorder to beat Apple in the game.

To win in the market place, one needs to integrate the tablets with VDI and create a strong business ecosystem - applications, security, communications & mobility.

If history is any indicator, Apple has in the past and even in the present has ignored the enterprise needs, and this creates an opening for competitor to sneak up from behind and win.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do Product Companies need CMMi certifications?

As a product manager in India, I keep getting questions from my various quarters regarding CMMi certification for software product companies.

"Do software product companies need CMMi certifications?"

The questions are often asked by people whom have worked in software services companies and they have moved to a product company and find it strange that the organisation they are working for does not have CMMi certification, and they want to be the one who will implement CMMi in their new organisation.

The answer to these questions has always been the same: Look from the customer perspective and see if it makes business sense to go for CMMi certification.

Any certification, CMMi including, costs money, time and effort. Investing in CMMi must give adequate returns - in form of increased revenue & increased profits. This means that CMMi processes must help to do one or more of the below:

1. Increase sales of the product.

2. Increase the average selling price of the product.

3. Increase the revenue opportunities for subsequent services/products.

4. Decrease the time/cost to develop the product.

5. Decrease the cost of sales.

Implementing CMMi takes money, so from a business point of view, this investment must be justified. Also one needs to look at the product from customer's point of view:

  • Do customers prefer to buy products from vendors who have CMMi process in developing the product?
  • Do customers pay a premium for the product that was developed by CMMi certified team?

If the answers to the above questions is "NO", then there is no need for CMMi certification.

If the answer is yes, then you need to look at the investments needed, and the returns it gets. The return on investments must be inline with the corporate financial requirements.

Today customers do not care about CMMi certifications while buying a product. CMMi is more applicable to services. Customers look for vendors to be CMMi certified while buying IT services.

By the time I go through these questions, answer to the first question is a resounding NO.

The next question that comes up is:

"We offer services built on top of our products, so do we need CMMi certification?"

The answer to is question is not easy, it depends on the size and scale of the services and level of customer's comfort level with the services being offered.

Are the services built only on the products being sold?

If the services are primarily for software integration or system configuration and the business is built on top of the software products, the there is not much competition, therefore there is competitive reasons to go for CMMi. In such cases there is no need to go for CMMi certifications. However if the service organisation wants to improve its competitive position and the service delivery process, then it is good to go for CMMi certification.

How long and how large is the service engagement?

If the service engagement is long and involves complex SLA and multiple deliveries, then it makes sense to opt fir CMMi certification. In such cases, CMMi certification is beneficial to improve delivery process and reduce dependency on key individuals.

Is there specific requirements in RFP/RFQ that specifically calls for CMMi certified vendor?


Does CMMi certification help in winning the business?

Well in such cases there is no option but to go for CMMi certification, as it is necessary to compete in the market place.

Closing Thoughts

The decision to choose CMMi certification should be based on market conditions and return on investments. CMMi certification carries additional overheads in terms of project delivery and implementation and one must invest in this extra processes and procedures only if it makes business sense. The need to go for CMMi certification must be driven by sales requirements and not by engineering.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Product Management - Phenomenon of Dancing Bears

On Saturday, my daughter ran up to me and asked me to watch "Super" - A talent show on TV. On that day, there was an act by a person who has lost both the legs and yet he gave a thrilling dance display. My wife, daughter and all people around (me included) was stunned by his display. Needless to say - he was judged as the winner in the show.

As the show proceeded, I began to think critically and analyze the person's dance. His dance itself was ordinary and I'd say that he was no great dancer, but the fact that he danced - as he was born without his legs was amazing. But if any other person with perfect pair of legs were to dance the way he did, no one would have liked it.

What happened in the show was that, the dance by itself was mediocre - but it was performed by a physically challenged person, and that won the audiences & judges.

This phenomenon is called as Dancing Bears. This was first described by Alan Cooper in his book "Inmates are Running the Asylum"

Remember in olden times (its illegal now), few people (mainly from the gypsy community) would roam from town to town with a bear on the tow. He would play a crapy music and the bear would dance for that music. People of all ages would gather around the bear and few would drop a few coins to the person.

Similar act was also done by snake charmers as well.

Today the dancing bears and snakes have disappeard, and has been replaced by software. Yes software such as Facebook, Talking Tom, Angry Brids etc. are today's example of Dancing bears.

When you really look at it, the bear was really a bad dancer. It was not even dancing, but trying to mimic a few human movements - which for our eyes resembles a dance, and hence we were thrilled to know that other animals can also do what humans can do. And for that thill, people were ready to drop their work to see the bear, and even part with some money to feed the bear.

The Dancing bears phenomenon has its advantages & disadvantages. As a product manager and a marketer it is important to know the basic attributes of Dancing bear.

1. Perform a task which is generally deemed impossible by general public.
2. Do not repeat the same act to the same audience within a span of 6 months.
3. Make the best use of all the opportunity and go for maximizing income.
4. The Novelty factor of the act wears out rather fast.

In the software world, we are often hit by this dancing bear problem. When a new software is being developed and making a software do a task - which till then was deemed impossible, makes the developers and the audience go ga-ga, and forget that the the real dance was rather lousy - i.e., the real utility was very little. Developers rush to release the product, customer rush to buy the product and only later after the novelty factor dies down, customers drop the product for another -which has greater utility.

The dancing bear phenomenon makes the developers, product managers and marketers ignore the apparent shortcomings of the product and rush the product to the market, and the initial success of the product makes them totally blind to the lack of utility of the product. Only later after the customers have dumped the product, everyone takes time to conduct a postmortem.

The problem of dancing bears is commonly seen in the products that was first in the market.,, etc. But as the novelty died off, so did those products.

Closing Thoughts

While developing new products, one needs to carefully examine the utility value of the product. Do not get overwhelmed by the novelty factor of the dancing bear and rush. Avoid getting dragged down by all the hype of the novelty and keep a level head to develop the utilty value of the product.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Product Management - Paradox of choices

Yesterday, I & My wife went out shopping. We wanted to buy few temple jewellery for my daughter. We went to Jayanagar 4th block - a main shopping hub for South Bangalore. Initially, we went to few shops and then finally ended up at 'Bhavani Kangan' - a well known store for fashion products. The shop was filled with people to the brink with hardly any place for me & my wife to stand. Being Indians we managed to get in and buy the stuff we wanted. The store had so many choices in each category that was mind blowing.

First we asked for necklace, and the store had 100s of designs, We started to look at all the designs, and it was taking a long time just to see all the designs he had. The range of choices we had at the store was actually making it tough for making a decision. Finally, I just decided to make a call and choose the one that met my basic needs - design, color and price.

As we stepped out of the shop, me & my wife felt drained - just by shopping. On the way back, my wife made a comment that when she was a kid, she could get nice looking designs than today.

Her comment made me think and write this blog.

The statement - "When we were kids, we used to get nice looking designs" was a loaded one. At the first level, we has humans tend to have nostalgic memory of the past. Nostalgic memory is often not true - but we tend to remember only the good things from the past and also tend to passionately cling on to them.

At the second level, more choices we have, the more confused we become - and hence when compared to the past experience of limited choices we tend to make an assumption that things were better in the past. This can be attributed to Paradox of Choice.

As a product manager and as a marketer, it is important to understand the paradox of choice.

Simply put, having multiple choices confuses customers and at the end customers often end up making a wrong choice, or defer making a decision. In the process of going through all the choices available, the buyer gets exhausted and the whole buying experience becomes painful, killing the joy of shopping.

The paradox of choice is equally applicable to manufactures and sellers. Offering too many choices to customer results in increased selling costs and lower profitability. Increasing the range of choices to customer may end up in lowering sales - as customer gets turned off by the multitude of choices.

The paradox of choice is very well described by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less. Barry Schwartz observed the human behavior of choosing and documented the fundamental reasons for the paradox of choice.

Why More is Less

Having too many choices is actually bad for the consumer. Today consumers are being offered too many choices, consumers are being bombarded with too many marketing messages, and the poor consumer is forced to "think" even for simplest of all buying decisions.

To illustrate it, just walk into a store and look at the choices you have for "drinking water" or soap or shampoo. Even in India there are so many options - that its impossible to determine the best.

Given such a wide range of product choices, the consumer ends up with a choosing one and then the buyer remorse sets in - as the customer now doubts that if he has made the right choice.

Consumers want to feel good by making the best decision or making the right decision. Making the right decision involves getting all the information about all the choices and then choosing the one that best fits his needs. In the world of unlimited choices, the customer will soon be overwhelmed by information and simply cannot analyze all the possible options and is forced to opt for a choice that meets his basic needs - a satisficing option. But with a satisficing option, the buyer is not sure if he has made the right decision and is often left in a state of doubt. This results in a unhappy buying experience.

This has been validated by psychologists David Myers and Robert Lane, who independently concluded that the current abundance of choice often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness.

Analysis paralysis

People want to analyze all the possible options. In case of simple consumer goods of low purchase price, people do not mind making a wrong decision. But when buying a big ticket items, where the buying decision has major ramifications, customer have to analyze all the options. Given a huge range of choices - customers often end up in analysis paralysis.

Missed Opportunities

Another human behavior thats particular importance here is that we tend to fret over missed opportunities. Even after making a decision, people often tend to worry about the missed opportunity. This makes them doubt their decision and hence are less satisfied with the product they bought.

Pressure to Win

In today's hyper- competitive world, people are always under pressure to win. Winning or losing is heavily dependent on making the right decision - i.e., choosing the right products. So when the person does not win, they end up blaming the wrong choice they made. And from that experience, customer are always in self doubt even after purchasing the product.
Examples of this paradox.

There are tonnes of examples of this paradox, and yet companies tend to make the same mistake. The best example of this is General Motors. In 2008, GM had more than 23 brands & 100 models of cars in 20+ variants for each model. Yet, GM was making losses, losing market share.

Another example is Yahoo Vs Google. Yahoo offers a wide range of services in their home page, while Google offers very few choice.

Apple Vs Dell. Walk into an Apple store, there are only few choices of PCs/Laptops available. Log into Dell website and you will be offered such a wide range of options - that is bound to confuse the buyer. No wonder that Apple's profit & sales are growing at such a fast clip.

Closing Thoughts

Having choices is essentialy for the consumer, but having too many choices does not help. Instead understand the customer needs and offer a select range of choices - this increases customer satifaction and greatly increases the pleasure of buying.