Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on November 25, 2014
Perhaps you have noticed that my Twitter handle is @theebizwizard. You may have even noticed that my Skype handle is as well. It occurred to me that I’ve never told the story about that handle. I’d say it’s about time.
Ebusiness, as we gray-haired geezers are happy to relate, is a hype term from the dot.com crazy period of the late 1990s. The e prefix stands for electronic, as in e-mail. Well, if we can electronic-ify our mail into email, and we can electronic-ify our commerce into ecommerce, let’s take the next step and do the same thing with our entire business!
The core idea made perfect sense. Even as long ago as the 20th century, many businesses became increasingly dependent on their IT, and in some cases, we could even say that their business was IT. Take banking, for example. Money was no longer cash in a drawer, it was bits on a wire. Everything a bank does touches its technology.
But then two things happened to this essentially good idea. First, the pundits and vendors took the term and hype-ified it, essentially turning ebusiness into dot.com insanity, the enterprise version. Ebusiness rode the wave up to the top and predictably crashed along with the rest of the dot.com nonsense.
The second thing that happened to ebusiness, however, is more important. We finally realized that even ebusinesses aren’t made up entirely of technology. In reality, businesses are made up of people, just as they have been since the dawn of commerce back in the stone ages. Technology only gives us tools – increasingly powerful tools, but tools nevertheless.
What about Wizard?
There’s more to the theebizwizard story, however – the word wizard. This story begins in 1996, when my first wife and I were thinking about buying a mansion in Pittsburgh and turning it into a bed and breakfast. We never ended up buying the mansion, but I did buy the domain name rhodes.com, as a fellow named Rhodes originally owned the mansion.
It may be hard to believe now, but in those days it was bad form to own domain names you weren’t using, so I turned rhodes.com into my personal web site. For my email address I concocted firstname.lastname@example.org – to indicate I could have selected any email address, not to indicate any kind of magical ability on my part.
But to my surprise, in 2006 someone agreed to my price -- $50,000. For a domain name! It seemed the dot.com craziness hadn’t entirely gone away after all. (The buyer put up a tourist site promoting Rhodes, Greece, until they went out of business. To this day www.rhodes.com is still on the market.)
So, to make a long story, well, even longer, when it came time to create a Twitter handle, I put together ebusiness and wizard – not to indicate I was a wizard at ebusiness (although thank you for thinking that!) but rather as a reminder of the two sides of hype. Yes, ebusiness as a term came and went, but the fact I was able to sell a domain name for more than I made in two years as a high school teacher shows the true power of hype if you know how to use it (or if you just get lucky).
Now It’s Digital
In the 2000s, I successfully rode the SOA hype term up and then down. Today I’m doing the same thing with digital transformation. I’m the first to admit this new term – especially the word digital – has its flaws, but it represents a set of very powerful and important ideas nevertheless.
In fact, we’ve come full circle with this story, as digital business more or less means the same thing as ebusiness. Admittedly, today digital technologies include mobile and social media, where ebusiness focused primarily on the web, so the technology story today is noisier and more confusing. But the fundamental principles still remain: in particular, the fact that digital is about people.
Today, the fundamental driving force behind digital transformation is the shifting preferences and behaviors of users – either consumers or employees, who after all, are also consumers. Consumers demand multiple technology touchpoints, and it is for that reason (and only that reason) that digital is about technology at all.
Nevertheless, people are missing this fundamental point, just as they did with ebusiness back in the day. It seems that every day I spot yet another digital consultant or digital analyst hanging out their shingle, promising to help companies with their digital strategies. And what do those strategies consist of? Mobile strategies. Twitter strategies. Even web strategies. The list goes on and on. In other words, technology strategies.
What about customer strategies? Not sexy enough. Businesses have needed customers since the dawn of time, after all. What’s new or exciting about that? Today, people are confused about mobile and social media and don’t even get me started about the Internet of Things. Those are the hot topics! And hot topics are where the money is!
Well, yes and no. Yes, there’s money in hype – that’s the lesson email@example.com taught me, after all. But never forget that people are – and will always be – at the center of business. Even ebusiness, or now, digital business.
Avoid Shiny Things
The reason it’s so easy to miss this fundamental principle is due to what I like to call the shiny things problem. People like shiny things, after all. Why? Because they’re shiny. The shinier the better. And if something is really shiny, you’ll forget all about what problem you’re trying to solve.
Techies frequently fall for shiny things. It seems that every new programming language or open source product is the next shiny thing. Ooh, Haskell! We gotta program in Haskell! Docker! We gotta use Docker! Etc. Etc. Believe it or not, SOA was a shiny thing in its day. I spent half a day in my SOA class trying to convince a roomful of architects that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Don’t do SOA because it’s shiny!
Now digital transformation is the next shiny thing. People want it because, well, because it’s shiny! My advice: don’t fall for the shininess trap. Sometimes you do really need shiny things, and then by all means, go for it. But start with the problem you’re trying to solve. In the case of digital transformation, that starting point always centers on the customer, not the technology.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on November 19, 2014
I’ve started using the phrase digital professional, in particular in my recent article dinging Amazon’s cloud division Amazon Web Services (AWS) for not having a clear digital strategy. However, I haven’t been very clear on what I mean, so it’s time to put a finer point on this terminology.
Others were designated as creatives, including graphic designers and the like. A third subset of the web professional community were the marketing people: hammering out web strategies, focusing on key performance indicators like conversions and churn, and figuring out how to communicate to users using this newfangled World Wide Web of ours.
And finally, there were the information architects, designing page flows and form interactions, making sure site maps made sense and navigation worked as expected.
On Beyond the Web
Cut to 2014, and the digital professional sports all these roles and more. Today digital is much more than the web, as it also comprises mobile, social media, and a burgeoning class of newer technology touchpoints that are currently undergoing a phase of rapid, disruptive innovation – everything from iBeacons to thermostats and other consumer-facing parts of the Internet of Things (IoT). We might classify anybody who works in any of these areas as a digital professional.
However, in spite of its technology-centric label, digital is not really about the technology per se. What’s important about digital today is the fact that customer preferences and behavior are driving organizations’ technology choices – most notably in the B2C world, but also in B2B as well.
Digital transformation, therefore, includes more than technology change. The real transformation is organizational, as customers are driving enterprises to change the way they do business in fundamental ways.
Transforming the Role of Marketing
This transformative nature of digital predictably impacts the roles of digital professionals. While the first-generation web was first and foremost a marketing channel, digital goes well beyond marketing – or from another perspective, marketing itself is undergoing a digital transformation.
If we define marketing broadly as the part of an organization responsible for communicating with current and prospective customers, then digital is shifting and expanding the roles of marketing to include data scientists, engineers, and architects of many varieties, as well as operational personnel, both on the business side as well as within IT.
As a result, digital teams tend to be cross-organizational. For innovative enterprises, these teams should be self-organizing and only loosely connected to the management hierarchy of the rest of the organization. Most importantly, digital teams should not contain only techies. They should have a mix of different skillsets from different parts of the organization, where ideally the team self-selects and self-organizes to tackle the task at hand.
Will Everyone Be a Digital Professional?
My definition of the digital professional is necessarily quite inclusive. However, while it might sound like everyone in the organization falls into this category, such an eventuality is unlikely and often undesirable. Certainly, as enterprises ramp up their digital transformation efforts, most of the organization will have a much broader variety of roles and goals than the members of the digital teams.
Even as digital transformation takes hold, I would expect only some organizations to end up essentially becoming all-digital. True, it’s possible some web-scale companies may fall into this extreme case (Netflix and Spotify come to mind as possibilities), but it’s unreasonable to expect every bank or manufacturer or government agency to transform into the next Netflix.
Nevertheless, even for traditional enterprises, digital transformation will spread horizontally across the organization, recasting and re-purposing people as they shift from their traditional roles to becoming digital professionals. You don’t need to be a techie in IT, and you don’t need to be a web guru to qualify. But you do need to focus on the shifting needs and preferences of your customer.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on November 13, 2014
OK all you techies, time to go back to English class. The word “data” is the plural of “datum.” If you use either word improperly, I’ll hit your knuckles with a ruler, so pay attention.
Wrong: This data is important.
Right: These data are important.
Wrong: Big data is useful when we use it properly.
Right: Big data are useful when we use them properly.
Wrong: Which piece of data am I looking at?
Right: Which datum am I looking at?
And so on. Now, before you freak out and realize your entire existence has been meaningless up to this point because you never saw a datum in your life, relax. Most language experts admit that correctness follows common usage, and since people commonly use the word “data” as though it were singular, that means it’s OK to do so. So carry on, you wretched English destroyers, you.
Common usage or not, treating “data” as plural is still correct. It’s up to you whether you wish your language to be correct, and presumably, as long as people understand you then it doesn’t matter in many situations. But in other situations, it’s important to be correct – or at least to know what is correct, so that if you break the rules, you do so intentionally.
In my writing, I predictably use the word “data” quite frequently, and I endeavor to use it properly every time. And while correctness is important to me, I’m willing to break rules when I feel like it. After all, the previous sentence began with “and,” now didn’t it? In the case of “data,” however, I stick to the rule book for a particular reason.
Data, you see, are inherently plural. When we have a data set, we have a set of many things, not just one thing. In many cases those data are varied and diverse. Especially in today’s big data world, our data are likely to be quite heterogeneous. Referring to them in the plural, therefore, emphasizes both the diversity and the discreteness of our data.
“Information,” however, is a collective noun. We cannot count our information the way we can count our data. We never say “informations” – and for good reason. Information is fluid. It’s difficult to quantify, unless we break it down into data first. And most importantly, information depends upon the recipient: data only become information if there is at least potentially a person on the receiving end that can understand it. Otherwise they’re just noise.
Each datum can be thought of as made up of individual bits or bytes, concrete units that we can count, move, and calculate with. Information, in contrast, must inform – an essential abstraction of the data that brings humans into the loop. Emphasizing this distinction is why I always treat “data” as plural. Break this rule if you wish, but remember, I still have my ruler.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on November 6, 2014
I attended a Business Architecture/Enterprise Architecture power panel yesterday at the Building Business Capability conference in Miami. Since I knew two of the panelists personally, I expected a lively conversation—and in that respect I wasn't disappointed.
However, there was one word that nobody mentioned the entire session, neither panelists nor audience members: agility.
From my perspective, agility is—or at least, should be—the primary driver for Enterprise Architecture (EA), as well as Business Architecture, for that matter. But no one seemed to be on the same page.
True, there was a discussion of change, and John Zachman did state that the primary reason to do EA is to help organizations change. But no one suggested that EA should help organizations become better at dealing with change. And therein lies the critical distinction.
EA (as well as Business Architecture) have long clung to the "final state" myth. If we can define a final state and help the organization get there, then we can consider ourselves successful. By then, of course, the desired state will have changed, so we pick up our skirts and rush to the new destination, bouncing from one purported final state to another, as though we were trying to pounce on some kind of enterprise leprechaun moving his pot of gold.
It's time to stop the madness! Jumping from one illusory goal to another doesn't serve our organizations well. Instead, let's raise our game. Focus on embracing change. Live it. Breathe it. That's what business agility is all about.
And for what it's worth, nobody mentioned the word innovation, either. Why am I not surprised?
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on October 30, 2014
The latest cyberattack to hit the news is POODLE (Padding Oracle on Downgraded Legacy Encryption). While POODLE wins points for both the cutest title and including Oracle in its name, I’m cheering it on for a different reason.
POODLE compromises the obsolete protocol SSL 3.0. That alone wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s sneakier than that, since it tricks browsers and other applications that use more recent, more secure transport-layer security protocols to downgrade to SSL 3.0, thus becoming vulnerable to attack.
The best way to protect yourself from POODLE is to disable SSL 3.0 across your entire IT environment – servers, browsers, the lot.
And that’s why I’m cheering. You see, the bane of many an IT manager’s and web developer’s existence is Internet Explorer Version 6. This browser version has been obsolete for years, but numerous enterprises still insist on remaining standardized on it. It doesn’t support HTML 5, which is one of the many reasons web developers hate it. But that deficiency alone hasn’t forced shops to switch browsers.
The good news, however, is that IE 6 doesn’t support any transport-layer security protocol newer than SSL 3.0. So not only can POODLE drive a big truck through IE 6’s security defenses, but now every IT shop must disable all SSL 3.0 support to protect the rest of its applications. And that means finally getting rid of IE 6 once and for all.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on October 24, 2014
As I built my first Web site – and wrote my first article about the Web – back in 1995, I have the privilege of counting myself among the senior citizens of the Internet. So for all you young pups out there, gather around and let grandpa tell you a scary story, just in time for Halloween.
Once upon a time, there was a speculative bubble, as more and more people saw the stocks of fledgling dot.coms go up and up, in spite of the fact that many of them hadn’t turned a profit, and in fact, several didn’t really have any viable plans to do so. But we all started believing our own hype, and the VCs and other investors piled on, and companies who rushed to go public saw insane ramp-ups of their stock prices, mostly on the relatively new NASDAQ market.
Until, of course, the speculative bubble burst, and the whole shebang came crashing down, taking with it the fortunes of many established technology players as well as the telcos, leading to what I snarkily like to call “Bush Recession #1” around 2001.
But while dot.com darlings like Kozmo, Boo.com, and TheGlobe.com are relegated to the history books, others like Amazon.com, Google, eBay, and Yahoo are still with us. It took a few years, but the technology and telco sectors are now going full steam, in spite of the financial crisis and – you guessed it – the 2007 – 2009 “Bush Recession #2” (two recessions, same Bush). But while the financial crisis hit banking and real estate, it only presented a speed bump on the road to today’s insane technology run up, as the all-time NASDAQ chart below will attest.
That ominous spike around 2000 was the dot.com bubble, of course. The little dip around 2008? Well, that was Bush Recession #2, aka the financial crisis.
Sure Signs of a Bubble
As we complete our scary Halloween story, the question now is, do we live happily ever after? Direct your attention if you will to what’s happened with the NASDAQ since the last recession. A rather sharp run up, wouldn’t you say? Now my crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else’s, but my bet is that we’re in the midst of yet another speculative bubble – and all bubbles pop sooner or later.
I’m no financial analyst, but I do follow the technology marketplace, and I have the perspective of someone who lived through the dot.com bubble. The reason I make such a dire prediction isn’t primarily based on the chart above, but rather the following similarities between what’s going on today and the period during the dot.com run up.
Crazy Money: Acquisitions. In “normal” times, a small tech company with a few dozen people and no profits might sell for a few million bucks. Well, you don’t have to be an avid reader of the financial press to know that there have been a series of such acquisitions, only in the billions of dollars. Facebook picked up WhatsApp for a cool $19 billion. Google buying Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Facebook again using its clout to buy Instagram for the bargain basement price of only a billion – to name a few.
These transactions in and of themselves aren’t necessarily the primary indicator of a speculative bubble. Rather, it’s the effect they have on other small tech companies and the people who work for them – or who might want to join such a company. When people start or work for companies because they see them as lottery tickets with billion dollar jackpots, rather than opportunities to make some money solving problems for customers, you have a huge “party like it’s 1999” red flag on your hands.
Crazy Money: Investments. Remember Zefer? No? Well, listen to Grandpa again. Zefer was one of a group of dot.com consulting darlings we liked to call iBuilders (I worked for a time at another iBuilder, USWeb/CKS, which became spectacular dot.com flameout marchFIRST, but I digress.) Zefer made history back in 1999 when they snagged a $100 million VC investment – unheard of at the time for a professional services firm.
Today, $100 million is chump change. So far this year alone, we’ve seen VC investments of $1.2 billion for Uber. $325 million for Dropbox. $250 million for Lyft. $200 million for AirBnB. $160 million for Pinterest. $160 million for Cloudera. $158 million for Box. And too many deals in the $100 million range to list (numbers from here). And those are just some 2014 deals – many of these companies had received many tens or hundreds of millions in earlier rounds.
And just what are these companies supposed to do with all this green? Grow. Big. And fast. The VCs are looking for “multiple baggers” – a simple 10% or 20% return on investment isn’t good enough for this group of one percenters, oh no. They want to multiply their investments many times over. 1000%. 2000%. Those are the returns they’re really hoping for.
When investors put $10 million into a company hoping to get $100 million out that’s one thing. But just what will that NASDAQ chart have to look like for the investments like the ones above to pay off? Might as well invest in tulips.
Hype about Hype. Hype – which I might define as overblown rhetoric touting products or services with a limited current value proposition – is a common phenomenon at all times, and doesn’t necessarily indicate a speculative bubble. But when we start seeing hype about the hype, that’s when my alarm bells go off. Case in point: when The Motley Fool investing site publishes an article entitled Believe the Hype: The Internet of Things Is No Gimmick, then in my opinion, it’s time to sell all your stock in the market in question, which in this case is the ridiculously overhyped Internet of Things.
How to Mitigate the Fallout
The great thing about playing musical chairs is we all have a seat until the music stops. So get while the getting is good to be sure. Also remember that it’s anybody’s guess whether a correction in the technology marketplace (or the broader digital marketplace, as the Ubers and AirBnBs of the world aren’t really technology plays) will lead to a broader market recession. After all, unemployment in the US has been going down steadily for years (yes, the “Obama Recovery,” naturally), and the Federal Reserve has yet to even start raising interest rates to cool inflation, both signs that we have a good while to go before the broader market cools.
In the meantime, my advice is the same advice I’d give any business at any time – only during speculative run ups, this advice becomes even more important: focus on the fundamentals. Businesses exist to serve their customers. Customers pay for products and services they want or need, and companies make money by providing them at prices customers are willing to pay. So simple, and yet so easy to forget during times of insanity. Keep your eye on your customer and you’ll do OK – even if everyone else is partying like it’s 1999.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on October 17, 2014
At Intellyx our focus is on digital transformation, so I spend a lot of my time helping digital professionals understand how to leverage the various technology options open to them to achieve their customer-driven business goals.
Who is a digital professional? People with titles like Chief Digital Officer, VP of Ecommerce, VP of Digital Marketing, or even Chief Marketing Officer – in other words, people who are marketers at heart, but who now have one foot solidly in the technology arena, as they’re on the digital front lines, where customers interact with the organization.
One of the most important activities that enables me to interact with such digital professionals is attending conferences on digital strategy. To this end I have been attending Innovation Enterprise conferences – first, the Digital Strategy Innovation conference a few weeks ago in San Francisco, and coming up, the Big Data and Marketing Innovation Summit in Miami November 6 – 7.
Full disclosure: Intellyx is an Innovation Enterprise media sponsor, and I’m speaking at the upcoming conference as well as chairing the first day – but choosing to be involved with these conferences was a deliberate decision on my part, as the digital professional is an important audience for Intellyx.
Nevertheless, my traditional and still core audience is the IT professional. Most of the conferences I attend are IT-centric, even though the digital story is driving much of the business activity within the IT world as well as the marketing world.
Even so, I find most tech conferences suffer from the same affliction: the echo chamber effect. By echo chamber I mean that tech conferences predictably attract techies – and for the most part, only techies. The exhibitors are techies. The speakers are techies. And of course, the attendees are techies. The entire event consists of techies talking to techies.
The exhibitors, therefore, are hoping that some of the techies that walk by their booth are buyers, or at least, influencers of the technology buying decision. And thus they keep exhibiting, hoping for those hot leads.
There were exhibitors at the Digital Strategy Innovation show as well – mostly marketing automation vendors, with a few marketing intelligence vendors mixed in. In other words, the vendor community expected the digital crowd to be interested solely in marketing technology. After all, the crowd was a marketing crowd, right?
True, that digital crowd was a marketing crowd, but that doesn’t mean their problems were entirely marketing problems. In fact, the audience was struggling much more with web and mobile performance issues than marketing automation issues.
So, where were the web and mobile performance vendors? Nary a one at the Digital Strategy Innovation summit – they were at the O’Reilly Velocity show, a conference centered on web performance that attracts, you guessed it, a heavily technical crowd.
What about the upcoming Big Data and Marketing Innovation Summit? True, there are a couple of Big Data technology vendors exhibiting, but the sponsorship rolls are surprisingly sparse. We media sponsors actually outnumber the paying sponsors at this point!
So, where are all the Big Data guys? At shows like Dataversity’s Enterprise Data World, yet another echo chamber technology show (although more people on the business side come to EDW than to shows like Velocity).
The moral of this story: the digital technology buyer is every bit as likely to be a marketing person as a techie, if not more so. For vendors who have a digital value proposition, centering your marketing efforts solely on technology audiences will miss an important and growing market segment.
It’s just a matter of time until vendors figure this out. If you’re a vendor, then who will be the first to capitalize on this trend, you or your competition?
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on October 9, 2014
IT industry analyst behemoth Gartner is having their Symposium shindig this week in Orlando, where they made such predictions as “one in three jobs will be taken by software or robots by 2025” and “By year-end 2016, more than USD 2 billion online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants,” among other deep and unquestionably thoughtful prognostications.
And of course, Gartner isn’t the only analyst firm who uses their crystal ball to make news. Forrester Research and IDC, the other two remaining large players in the IT industry analysis space, also feed their customers – as well as the rest of us – such predictions of the future.
Everybody knows, however, that predicting the future is never a sure thing. Proclamations such as the ones above boil down to matters of opinion – as the fine print on any Gartner report will claim. And yet, at some point in time, such claims will become verifiable matters of fact.
The burning question in my mind, therefore, is where are the analyses of past predictions? Just how polished are the crystal balls at the big analyst firms anyway? And are their predictions better than anyone else’s?
If all you hear are crickets in response to these questions, you’re not alone. Analyst firms rarely go back over past predictions and compare them to actual data. And we can all guess the reason: their predictions are little more than random shots in the dark. If they ever get close to actually getting something right, there’s no reason to believe such an eventuality is anything more than random luck.
Of course, anyone in the business of making predictions faces the same challenge, dating back to the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece. So what’s different now? The answer: Big Data.
You see, Gartner and the rest spend plenty of time talking about the predictive power of Big Data. Our predictive analysis tools are better than ever, and furthermore, the quantity of available data as well as our ability to analyze them are improving dramatically.
Furthermore, an established predictive analytics best practice is to measure the accuracy of your predictions and feed back that information in order to improve the predictive algorithms, thus iteratively polishing your crystal ball to a mirror-like sheen.
So ask yourself (and if you’re a client of one of the aforementioned firms, ask them) – why aren’t the big analyst shops analyzing their own past predictions, not only to let us know just how good they are at prognostication, but to improve their prediction methodologies? Time to eat your own dog food, Gartner!
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on October 1, 2014
In some ways, Oracle’s self-congratulatory San Francisco shindig known as OpenWorld is as gripping as any Shakespearean tragedy. For all the buzz today about transformation, agility, and change, it’s hard to get a straight story out of Oracle about what they want to change – if they really want to change at all.
First, there’s the odd shuffling of executives at the top, shifting company founder Larry Ellison into a dual role as Executive Chairman of the Board and CTO, a role that Ellison joked about: "I’m CTO now, I have to do my demos by myself. I used to have help, now it’s gone.” But on a more serious note, Oracle has been stressing that nothing will change at the big company.
Nothing will change? Why would you appoint new CEOs if you didn’t want anything to change? And isn’t the impact of the Cloud a disruptive force that is forcing Oracle to transform, like it or not? Perhaps they felt that claiming the exec shuffle was simply business as usual would calm down skittish shareholders and a skeptical Wall Street. But if I were betting money on Oracle stock, I’d be looking for them to change, not sticking their head in the sand and claiming that no change at all was preferable.
And what about their Cloud strategy, anyway? Ellison has been notoriously wishy-washy on the entire concept, but it’s clear that Cloud is perhaps Oracle’s biggest bet this year. However, “while those products are growing quickly, they remain a small fraction of the company's total business,” accounting for “just 5 percent of his company's revenue,” according to Reuters.
Thus Oracle finds itself in the same growth paradox that drove TIBCO out of the public stock market: only a small portion of the company is experiencing rapid growth, while the lion’s share is not. Of course, these slow-growth doldrums are par for the course for any established vendor; there’s nothing particularly unique about Oracle’s situation in that regard. But the fact still remains that Wall Street loves growth from tech vendors, and it doesn’t matter how fast Oracle grows its Cloud business, investors will still see a moribund incumbent.
The big questions facing Oracle moving forward, therefore, are how much of their traditional business should they reinvent, and will the Cloud be the central platform for that reinvention. Unfortunately for Oracle and its shareholders, indications are that the company has no intention of entering a period of creative disruption.
As Ellison said back in 2008, “There are still mainframes. Mainframes were the first that were going to be destroyed. And watching mainframes being destroyed is like watching a glacier melt. Even with global warming, it is taking long time.” Only now it’s 2014, and mainframes aren’t the question – Oracle’s core business is. Will Oracle still use the glacier metaphor? Given the accelerating rate of climate change, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Posted by Jason Bloomberg
on September 25, 2014
A decade ago, back in the “SOA days,” we compared various Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) vendors and the products they were hawking. When the conversation came around to TIBCO, we liked to joke that they were the “Scientology of ESB vendors,” because their technology was so proprietary that techies essentially had to devote their life to TIBCO to be worthy of working with their products.
But joking aside, we also gave them credit where credit was due. Their core ESB product, Rendezvous, actually worked quite well. After all, NASDAQ, FedEx, and Delta Airlines ran the thing. TIBCO obviously had the whole scalability thing nailed – unlike competitors like SeeBeyond back in the day, who competed with TIBCO in the Enterprise Application Integration space (the precursor to ESBs).
Cut to 2014, and TIBCO’s fortunes are now in question, as the stock market has pummeled their stock price, and a leveraged buyout (LBO) is in the works, with deep pocketed firms hoping to take the company private.
Sometimes, going private can be a good thing for a company, as it gives them the money as well as the privacy they need to make bold, innovative changes before relaunching as a public company. But in other cases, LBOs are opportunities for the venture capitalist vultures to sell off the company in parts, squeezing every last penny out of the assets while shifting all the risk to employees, customers, and basically anybody but themselves.
Which path TIBCO will take is unclear, as the buyout itself isn’t even a sure thing at this point. But TIBCO’s downfall – noting that I’m sure no one at the company would call it that – has some important lessons for all of us, because TIBCO’s story isn’t simply about a dinosaur unable to adapt to a new environment.
Their story is not a simple Innovator’s Dilemma case study. In fact, they’ve moved solidly into Cloud, Big Data, and Social Technologies – three of the hot, growing areas that characterize the technology landscape for the 2010s. So what happened to them?
It could be argued that they simply executed poorly, essentially taking some wrong turns on the way to a Cloudified nirvana. Rolling out a special social media product only for rich and important people – a social network for the one percent – does indicate that they’re out of touch with most customers.
And then there’s the proprietary aspect to their technology that is still haunting them. Today’s techies would much rather work with modern languages and environments than to have to go back to school to earn a particular vendor’s way of doing things.
Perhaps the problem is price. Their upstart competitors continue their downward pricing pressure, one of the economic patterns that the move to the Cloud has doubled down on. From the perspective of shareholders, however, TIBCO’s biggest problem has been growth. It’s very difficult for a large, established vendor to grow nearly as fast as smaller, more nimble players, especially when it still makes a lot of its money in saturated markets like messaging middleware.
Adding Cloud, Big Data, or Social Media products to the product list doesn’t change this fundamental mathematics, even though those new products may themselves experience rapid growth, since the new product lines account for a relatively small portion of their overall revenue.
So, how is a company like TIBCO to compete with smaller, faster growing vendors? Here’s where LBO plan B comes in: break up the company. Sell off the established products like Rendezvous to larger middleware players like Oracle. I’m sure Oracle would be happy to have TIBCO’s middleware customers, and they have shown a reasonable ability to keep such customers generally happy over the years.
Any SeeBeyond customers out there? SeeBeyond was acquired by Sun Microsystems, who renamed the product Java CAPS. Then Oracle acquired Sun, rolling Java CAPS and BEA Systems’ middleware products into Oracle SOA Suite. No one would be that surprised if Rendezvous suffered a similar fate.
The owners of whatever is left of TIBCO would focus their efforts on growing smaller, newer products. The end result won’t be a TIBCO us old timers would recognize, but should they ever go public again, they have a change to be a market darling once more.