For the Week of February 16, 2004
As with anything worth doing, business analysis is a lot more complex than it appears from the outside.
For instance, all customers will tell you they want a strategy. But some want only short term, tactical thinking, not long term, strategic thinking. I have long specialized in the longer term, and have often gotten ahead of myself. For instance, in 1982 I persuaded my late father that a PC was the way to handle his bookkeeping. He got what was then a top-of-the-line Kaypro, and was lost in its intricacies for years while his vision for where his business was going disappeared on him.
What do you do when a client claims to want a strategic report, but will only accept a tactical fix. In that case you give them the big picture at your peril. They won't appreciate it and (worse) they won't implement it.
Here's my Clue from this. It's the Big Think that changes the world, but it's the details that grow the business. It's a lesson I still need to learn.
In an attempt to learn that lesson I have separated "The World of Always-On" into short-term and long-term components.
- Short-term components represent opportunities that can be pursued now, that can be delivered quickly, and that can lead to profits.
- Long-term components take a wide view of things most don't see as part of either mainstream computing or communications, but which will be absorbed as the short-term vision is adopted.
One short-term thought I have hammered on is the basic need to combine computing and communications into a single platform that takes the best of both. I'm talking here of Linux-based Internet Protocol solutions, either burned-into silicon or simply developed as part of a product solution, from companies like Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments, Atheros, and Cisco's Linksys unit.
There are several good versions of embedded Linux out there, and all should be compatible. The key is the "fat kernel," a basic set of features, input-and-output, that you can build on in a modular, scalable way.
Consumer communications systems today are mostly built with a consumer electronics perspective. An access point, or AP, for instance, moves data between Point A (the computer in your hand) to Point B (the computer at your desk) and vice versa. You can buy these things for $100, even less.
But if you want security, if you want to make your Voice Over IP connection cordless, and if you want any other applications routed through that link, you need something more than what a consumer electronics system like VXWorks or Nucleus can give you. The key word in that last sentence is routed.
We're thinking of wireless broadband products as end-states, as clients, when in fact the PCs become servers and the links, routers. Application solutions must be stacked on top of one another, the way a volcano layers lava to the height of a Mauna Loa (or, if you're European, a Mount Aetna. Japanese, think Fuji.) Even if the application stack built with a consumer electronics platform is high, wide and handsome, the whole thing will blow like Mt. St. Helens (or Krakatoa), eventually, if you keep trying to build on it.
There are many companies that need to hear and understand this message. Chip makers need to hear it, obviously. So do product manufacturers. Some customers already hear it. That's why we read about there being a difference between the "business" and "consumer" access point markets. Businesses can immediately route a lot of traffic through an access point, within a corporate campus, a hospital, or a college. They need to think now about how all this traffic will be routed through the wireless AP. Consumers think they're getting a cul de sac, but businesses know they're buying highways, and they need enough expandability to justify a three-year return on the investment before they plunk down the dollars.
But the mass market is the consumer market. Consumers need to hear this too, through the media, paid for by manufacturers, by chip companies, and (here we go toward the longer-term) by service providers.
The big opportunity, for carriers and ISPs, is in selling solutions, not bits. Sell bits and you're replaceable. Solve problems permanently and you're irreplaceable, no matter how cheap the other guy's bits are.
So what seems like a short-term vision to, say, Intel, becomes a medium-term, even a long-term, sell to companies like BellSouth, to Comcast, and to Earthlink. How are you going to retain your customers, how are you going to get a price for your bits when costs drop to the floor? By adding value.
Given the reality of telephone number portability, this is also a message the cellular providers need to hear, companies like T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and Cingular. Stop looking at 802.11 as a threat, stop looking merely at "billable events" for special-purpose bits. Start looking, instead, at recurring service fees for applications, things those bits can do.
Listen up, ADT and Wal-Mart. What if an ADT home security system could take advantage of the big pipes people are putting into their homes, analyzing images from security cameras so you learn a home's patterns, so your service center can really tell when something doesn't match-up? What if Wal-Mart's RFID tags provided a service to consumers when they brought them home, so expired foodstuffs made their way onto shopping lists, along with scratched shampoo bottles and tossed ink jet cartridges? Collect those numbers, and (maybe) when you get to a set dollar figure arrange for delivery.
Now we're starting to talk about long-term stuff, because we're starting to think about how to apply a wireless broadband platform to common life problems. From the point of view of retailers and service providers, we're talking about making them "sticky." Look at where medical monitoring is heading. Imagine how that ADT security system could, if pointed inside the house (not just outside) keep grandma or grandpa safe at home, longer, instead of warehoused at 75? What's that worth to you?
Exactly. Once you see wireless broadband as a platform, not just a product, once you see the combination of IP and Linux as something you build on, not just as a connection, then you can really start thinking. You can start climbing the application tree. You can start collecting data no one ever thought of collecting before, in places no one thought about collecting it. You can analyze that data, use that data, create value from that data that makes your company the only choice for life-affirming, life-easing, even life-changing and life-saving services.
This is the World of Always-0n. It starts in the short term, with a very specific tactical message. But then it broadens out, in all sorts of directions, providing new values, and sticky services, to all sorts of people. But, most especially, to consumers. They, in the end, are where all the dollars you need to build your business come from.
I work as a business analyst with Progressive Strategies, a New York research firm that has the ear of the world's top technology companies.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
Another Look At DRM
Stories about moves toward "digital rights management" on mobile platforms are missing the point.
Even a prison has two sides, the inside and the outside. If you're on the inside and want to get out, those barbed wires and guard towers are fearsome. If you're on the outside and want to be safe, they are comforting.
The argument against DRM is based on fear, fear that content you bought on other platforms will have to be re-bought, and re-licensed, each time you want to use it on a mobile system. I have no doubt this is the dream of the content industries. They like being paid again-and-again for the same crappy stuff. That's what makes software a better business than hardware. Once you buy a microwave oven it's yours, after all, even though there's software in there.
But that misses the point of where mobile systems are heading in The World of Always-On.
In fact, I can turn the fiercest opponent of DRM into an equally fierce advocate, with one word.
In the World of Always-On you create the content, and it's vital content. Your heart murmer is content. Your blood sugar level is content. The contents of your fridge are content. The moisture level in your garden is content. God knows the view onto your front porch is content.
It's content that must be protected. Digital Rights Management represents a good scheme for protecting content that belongs to you.
Consider. Under DRM the holder of the content has the absolute right to control where it goes, and the conditions under which it is used. Right? Isn't that what you want, when the content is personal, even intimate, knowledge about you, your body, your possessions? Isn't that the very basis of privacy?
Now, there are people you will want to share that content with, or some of that content anyway, in The World of Always-On. If your security system detects an intruder, you want to share that with police. If your medical monitors detect a life-threatening condition, you want that shared with your doctor, the hospital, and the ambulance techs. If you need, say, $50 worth of groceries to be ready for a party tomorrow, wouldn't you like to share that with the grocer?
But when you share that data, you must retain legal protections, and binding legal controls, over it. You're not giving the cops the combination to your safe without a warrant. You're not giving your employer that medical information. You're not sharing your grocery needs with the grocer so they can try and "up-sell" you.
Again, DRM provides the framework. When the information in your life belongs to you, when it's on a mobile, scalable platform in the air, DRM is the best protection you can have. And you should want it in any mobile device. It should be baked into the World of Always-On.
But the rule should be clear. Once you buy something, whether it's a can of peaches, a microwave, or a song by Nelly, it's yours.
Technologies can explode onto the public consciousness very quickly. They usually do.
But the speed with which they are accepted and become politically applicable seems fairly set. They move from curiousity, to experimental use, but don't become decisive until about a dozen years have gone by.
Mass-produced newspapers began appearing in the 1880s but did not begin to move politics until the late 1890s, when Hearst and Pulitzer were able to push the Spanish-American War. Radio first reported the 1920 Presidential contest but it only became a decisive political instrument in the mid-1930s, through Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats." Television appeared in time for the 1948 election cycle and, while Eisenhower got Disney to do a great campaign commercial for him in 1952, it only became a decisive political instrument in 1960.
The Internet, as a mass-market technology, first appeared in the 1996 election cycle and I covered it. It was used in 2000, just as it was in 1952, but it was not decisive.
By that reckoning, this is 1956, not 1960.
This is the sad fact that may derail Howard Dean's campaign. He mis-calibrated the use of grassroots power in Iowa, over-loading the state with Internet-driven volunteerism. The TV ads he got from supporters were, often, better than those produced by professionals, but they weren't used because they couldn't be professionally tested.
The people who drove the Dean Internet campaign, like Matt Gross and Zephyr Teachout, knew the technology but were not politically experienced. The people driving the campaign, like Roy Neel, knew politics but didn't really know the Internet. Joe Trippi, who seemed to know both, was in fact merely an ennabler.
Thus, there has been a period of active experimentation, followed by failure, followed by more experimentation. As you read this I have no idea where things stand. Perhaps a comeback is in the works, perhaps not. Regardless, it seems safe to say that while the Internet is impacting politics this year, it's not yet decisive, more like the famous photo of Adlai Stevenson's worn shoe than Jack Kennedy using cortisone to craft a warmer, winning TV image.
Sad to say, these things can't be rushed.
The Spammers Stamp
Personally, I always wash my mail with Mailwasher . Because of that I don't worry about spam, or pseudo-spam, hitting my inbox. Even if it's a message I asked for, if I don't want to read it, I can delete it before it gets into my inbox.
In this way, my definition of spam rules. And that's the way it should be.
This has never been the way Madison Avenue saw it. To their way of thinking they should decide what's spam and what isn't. Their definition, protecting "spam-that-is-not-spam," was recently written into law.
But the law isn't working. So they have another proposal, an "e-mail stamp" . Even their captive media's headline on this one is phony -- "Major ISPs Ponder 'Postage' To Stem Spam."
This is nothing of the sort. What it is, once again, is a proposal to legitimize spam, by allowing "legal" spammers -- spam that is not spam -- to bribe ISPs into carrying their traffic.
This is being done by an outfit that calls itself Goodmail. A bulk e-mailer (read spammer) pays Goodmail, which shares the money with ISPs, who then send that spammer's stuff straight to your inbox. Suddenly ISPs are in financial cahoots with spam-that-is-not-spam. Spam-that-is-not-spam gets a quick pass to your inbox, while everything else has to go through filters. Individual e-mails should pass through those filters, and this mail should pass through those filters, although those that read the text of a message and ban "certain words" that they won't tell you now have killed dozens of a-clue.com subscriptions in the last few months.
Let's be clear. Spam is any unsolicited bulk e-mail, period. I don't care if it's from Michael Dell -- if it's a mass mailing and I didn't ask for it it's spam. If you want to solicit my business, ask my permission, and take an audit to prove you have it.
Clued-in is Rajesh Jain of Mumbai , who understands technology, even Always-On, on a deep level. He is a far more serious threat to America's technology supremacy than any of India's millions of programmers.
Clueless is American Blind's lawsuit against Google. It leads to a slippery slope in which all ads are banned and even search must be conducted only with prior permission of trademark owners. A simpler rule is, "separate advertising from editorial."
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