You heard it here first!

Now I don’t normally get into the whole joke forwarding Internet meme thing, but this has got to be one of the slickest viral campaigns I’ve seen in a while.

PalTalk, the ancient video IM platform that has been around in some shape or form for the last 7 years is responsible for this one. Looking to cash in on a topical event and some cheap laughs to get some much needed eyeballs onto the site.

CI getting easier? TechCrunch on Yahoo Executive departures

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**A disclosure up-front: I am employed by Microsoft and any comments below are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Ok, now that’s out of the way I have been seeing a growing thread on TechCrunch (as I’m sure many of you have) regarding the ever expanding list of Yahoo! execs who are leaving Yahoo! to greener pastures.  Regardless of what side you are on in the long saga of Yahoo! vs. Microsoft, clearly this is a disturbing thing to have published about your company.

The crux of this post is not to put the boot into Yahoo! any further, but to showcase how CI is getting easier in some quarters and how this impacts the decisions that may need to be made by incumbent or established players within an industry.

As of Janurary 2007, 114 senior executives have left Yahoo! for a variety of companies, some for their own reasons, some cashing out, and some jumping ship (particularly in the last 6 months).  TechCrush has nicely packed all of these departures up into a table listing title and where they went to (if known). Undoubtedly this is a great source of information, however the “newsworthiness” of this topic means that everyone is aware of the information. It’s openly discussed. Traditionally a list such as this would take weeks to collate and months to track and may yield some fantastic results.

  • Is there a pattern of people leaving from any one business or product group? (Problems at the top? Bad products? Bad strategy?)
  • Is there a pattern of people leaving to join another specific vendor? (this could foreshadow a strategic announcement or move from a non-traditional competitor).
  • Is there a pattern around timing? (When is the best time to poach star talent?)

I compared this list to my own informal list of executives in Asia Pacific who have left one large software application firm to join another. This was done in the traditional way of gaining information from associates, partners, analysts and in my case ex-colleagues who were making the move. This tells me a bunch about what’s happening at both companies and definitely gives me an insight into what could be expected from both over the next financial year. 

The underlying question is: Does having all this additional information make the job of CI easier?

Yes and no.

There is a growing trend within CI and Market Intelligence to have access to more and more information to filter and action upon. I’ve mentioned a few times the previous entries that CI’s future lies in being able to gather large flews of data and be able to filter, interpret and anticipate future competitive movements. Data becomes a facilitator, but not the creator of value or insight. That’s been the case since the beginning of time, but more and more so CI practitioners are being challenged to get get to the insight part faster.  We need to tap into the data in new ways and then add value – rather than create the data in the first place.

On the other hand, the process of gathering my list (which is slightly more pointed and niche) maintained a critical skill. It served to maintain and grow my network for data and opinion gathering.

The network helps to validate, open new ideas and keeps a certain level of objectivity to the interpretation of all of these flows of information. They can help you weed out the erroneous or less significant events from those that really matter.

So take time this week to think about how you gather intelligence in your industry and whether the questions you are being asked to add insight to are best addressed by the large flows of data that will free you up to really add value, or through mining your network for those very specific nuggets of information that, while hard to get, will make a huge difference to how your company responds or anticipates to the market.

Starbucks Sundays – Netbooks & the incredible shrinking man

This post isn’t going to be hugely competitive in nature, but bear with my little rant and we’ll get there in the end… I promise!

Last Saturday I had to venture down to that little Aladdin’s cave of technology treasures, Sim Lim Square, to pick up a coaxial cable. For any of you who have visited Singapore, it’s easily a geek’s wet dream. Dozens of IT and gadget shops all crammed together in one hell of a fire-trap. PCs, GPSs, MP3 players, you name it.

One growing trend as we’ve seen from the recently held Computex is the growth of the “Netbook” or Ultra Mobile PC market. Driven by one part Linux, one part XP, and a huge dose of affordability, these little gems are starting to pop up faster than a field of wild mushrooms after a storm. I’m very interested in getting on of these to replace my aging desktop (which is still running amazingly well on XP after 5 years), primarily to do some blogging and downtime webwork at the local Starbucks.

I ventured around the nooks and crannies of Sim Lim and managed to spend quite a lot of quality time with several models, namely:

  • Asus eee PC, both the eee PC 8G and the new eee PC 900 (with the spanky 8.9 inch display) in both XP and Linux flavours.
  • HP Mini-Note (Vista version).
  • Everex Cloudbook (XP version)

cloudbook_pr 4-8-08-hp

product_4087 asus-eee-pc-900-avialable

Now all of these have one thing in common, diminutive size. Small enough to be crammed into a school backpack, handbag or dare I say, manbag (I’d state for the record that if and when that happens to me it will be referred to as a “courier bag”, thank you for asking). Apart from that they all hit the web through WiFi and all have keyboards and screens, but that’s about where the similarities end.

There is a lot of noise around the blogosphere regarding what Operating System is being installed on these machines. Will this be a wedge for pushing Linux into the mass-market? Microsoft’s announcements around extending XP’s life on “netbooks” is another market consideration.

While this is all interesting from a software perspective, and don’t get me wrong, I think price and OS will play a big part in what machine people buy, but I firmly believe there’s a missing factor in the vast majority of estimates about how well these machines will perform.

THE KEYBOARD!

I wouldn’t say that my hands are the world’s largest (9 years of soccer goal keeping made we aware that I have a size 10.5 hand). Despite that, I brought up the notepad or word processor on each machine I found vastly differing levels of usability for typing out anything longer than a sentence.

Currently the competitive differentiators for these machines are price, screen size, battery and physical size. In reality this means a cheaper price is better, a bigger screen is better (with respect to the machines footprint) and the smaller the machine is (thickness, weight and dimensions) the better. In none of the reviews I have read does the keyboard become key differentiator. This strikes me as being a bit strange. Like saying you could buy the fastest, best handling car, but you can only drive it in a straight line because the steering is so poor.  I don’t see HP pushing the keyboard as a differentiator (and I think the Mini-Note’s keyboard is better than an iBooks).

This raises the question of how do you change people’s perceptions to focus on non-traditional differentiators?

  • HP could focus the power of blog reviews to get more and more people talking about the keyboard first and foremost.
  • Advertising could focus on usability rather than just being a “toy”.
  • Good old fashioned benchmarking with the audiences that matter (students) on ease of use. (Try going to University and banging out that final assessment on tiny keys).

These are just a couple. I’m sure HP could think of dozens more. Shifting the game away from speeds and feeds and onto usability. On the other hand, if you were Asus or Everex you’d be inclined to continue to push the lower cost – however, that lower cost may come at the expense of future users or repeat buyers. However, at that stage they’d have the money and customer base to focus on other aspects of the UMPC market.

UPDATE:

I’d like to be able to claim full responsibility for the latest ASUS annoucnement, but I’m guessing they have seen this as an area of potential customer negativity. HP – gotta be faster!

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I AM NOT A SPY

Playing around with slideshare today, a great service for sharing presentations via email or embedding them in blog posts.

Having huge problems with getting slideshare to work with my WordPress blog. Still a great service, just not the one for me.. your mileage may vary.

Also having an issue with Google Docs (again nice service, just there is a 10meg limit on PPTs).

Luckily we live in a competitive market and authorSTREAM came to my rescue.

This is for all the times my parents and friends ask me what I actually do here in Singapore!

Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “SPY not a Business ppt Presentation“, posted with vodpod

Visualizing Data – Code_Swarm

O’Reilly Radar has a fantastic post on Michael Ogawa’s “code_swarm”, an elegant visualization of the birth and development of an Open Source software project. In the case below it’s Python, but Michael has also covered Eclipse and Apache. Code_Swarm clearly shows the way interactions build into a critical mass, as new information and code is put into the project and as side-projects orbit, fuse and spin off as the software takes shape.

Visualizing data is, in my opinion, one of the hottest areas of analytics and by extension, market research, intelligence and CI.

Imagine, if you will, a series of customer interactions leading up to a unexpected loss to a competitor. Instead of code changes or documents being the swarm; emails, phone calls, marketing efforts, support interactions and so on could all be thrown into such a visualization model. Tracked back against a point in time or an specific activity, patterns could emerge that could be easily leveraged for competitive intelligence.

Apart from anything else, presenting data (at a very high level) to a senior audience would be a great opportunity to share an experience, to visualize a time series and to ultimately want to move into the “now what do we do phase”. For me, there is an increased level of buy-in that is afforded when you all share that common experience.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “code_swarm – Python on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

PS: Hoping the video embeds correctly!

Congratulations Ray Wang!

Wanted to congratulate Ray Wang on being named the IIAR (Institute of Industry Analyst Relations) Analyst of the Year.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray at the 2006 Oracle Open World event in Mumbai. From that short interaction I can definitely vouch for his insight and tenacity in getting to the core of what many IT users want to know from Vendors. Being a nice guy to boot sure helps too.  If you haven’t read some of Ray’s research, take a look at his bio page on Forrester.com

Kudos!

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Doing CI in Asia – Potential pitfalls

pitfall

I stumbled upon a fantastic excerpt from Ruth Stanat’s article "Global CI Blue Print" which was originally published in the Competitive Intelligence Magazine by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP).  (Which reminds me I really need to update my membership. The CI magazine is very focused and always contains one or two gems that you can immediately explore in your own role).

Ruth has listed a series of pitfalls that researchers fall into in emerging markets, as well as their root causes. IT’s a great list and so I’m going to put my Asia CI hat on and add a few more examples of my own. What I found important to take away is that CI information sources should be viewed and assessed in the context of the market as a whole. Gauging biases, latency and accuracy is crucial in building up a cleaner, better market and competitor assessment.

 

 

 

 

Pitfall Root Cause Some examples I’ve seen

Forgetting Demographics

Considering country homogeneous e.g. ignoring religious diversity Religious diversity aside, age composition between Asian nations differs wildly – even in the developing markets.
Useless Fact-Finding Trips Ineffective trips with little endings e.g. meetings in hotel, no exploration Gee.. I’m going to look a bit bashful here. While no trip starts out with the intention of being useless – there is ample opportunity for this to occur. Definitely food for thought for an upcoming post!
Information at Face-Value Differing data on competitor e.g. company has 3 sets of financial data Always, always check the sources of your financial or market data. This is even more critical when you consider the bias that might be involved. For example country statistics gathered by Governments. Not all government organizations or institutions are driven by accuracy.

Accounting practices differ wildly between Asian nations. Be very aware of taxation, capital gains and the way profits are managed.

Market Overestimation Overly optimistic projections e.g. product’s adoption rate This is a hobby horse of mine. Over and underestimation aside, look at who is gathering the data, how they gather it and how many people they have gathering this information. In the Technology sector the number of Analysts that various research firms have in-country differs wildly.
Dated Research Market intelligence at one time e.g. ignoring new economic factors Getting out to users within Asia can be difficult. Phone interviews often wont be effective (lots of people on mobiles, rather than land lines) and face-to-face is time consuming. For this reason studies can often be a static point in time once a year, or once every two years. In your market, how quickly does the landscape change?
Myopic CI Focus Focusing only on competition e.g. neglecting political environment I’m guilty of this one in particular. The coup in Thailand in 2006 shut down government spending (and consumer confidence) for a couple of quarters. This effected all Tech companies, not just the one that I worked for at the time.
And now a couple of my own..    
Pitfall Root Cause Some examples I’ve seen
Differing Maturity Rates Thinking that each emerging market will grow or behave like one another A slight spin on Ruth’s pitfall on demographics but a little more skewed for technology companies. Asian nations develop at differing paces and because of differing reasons. Indonesia’s wild growth is as much to do with consumer spending and stable government as it is to do with under penetration. But Indonesia’s growth is much different in scope and pace to the way Thailand or Vietnam is emerging.
Who is the real decision maker? Thinking that the end-user or the “usual suspect” is the key decision maker. Particularly in larger enterprise technology deals, Partners play a huge part in who is successful in a bid. In addition, cronyism is rife in several nations making a purchasing decision a very complex roadmap. Often the best product or solution is not the one picked. Don’t just rely on the strength of your products and services. 
Public Holidays Thinking that you will have a lot of time to do things or that business will operate to the same schedule as Europe or North America. At Chinese New Year, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore shut down for anywhere from three days to a week. Muslim majority countries have Ramadan festivities and so on. The number of times I’ve talked to people in non-Asian countries that they wont get any work done out of China for two whole weeks of the year (Golden Week) amazes me.
Questionable Ethics Believing that research and CI providers are operating to worldwide norms. Be vary aware that the same ethical laws and obligations do not bind smaller operators here. You expose yourself and your company to ethical or public relations disasters so be careful and diligent how you select and manage local research providers.
Focusing only on known competitors Taking the belief that your competitors will be the same ones you go up against in your traditional market. Smaller companies that offer unique language, process or price points can often steal market share and revenue away while you’re focusing on your traditional competitors.