27Dinner strategising

At the geek 27Dinner event, we got the opportunity to see a demo model of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab – one of the tablet devices that will take on the Apple iPad.

It has a nice look and feel, and runs on the Android operating system which, to me, means a more open platform. To get more information and comparisons, see these TechRadar and Engadget articles, and CNN’s analysis of Sumsung vs. Apple.

Seeing the Galaxy Tab led to a discussion at my table about open vs. proprietary tablets – in other words, others vs the Apple iPad. Apple has history of bringing out proprietary devices and getting huge kudos and attention, together with early profits, only to be overtaken by a device with similar capabilities that runs on an industry-standard platform. The first case was the original Apple computer which was overtaken by the PC, the second one was the graphical user interface on the Macintosh which was surpassed by Windows. Will the same happen with the iPad?

During the dinner, we heard the news that Microsoft would hand over its Windows Live Spaces blog platform to WordPress.com. When we tried to figure out how what the upside was for Microsoft,  Doug Vining of the FutureWorld think tank, commented that perhaps Microsoft would now develop a means for WordPress.org to be run better on the Windows platform (currently the preferred platform is Apache on Linux), this would provide pull-through for sales of more Windows platforms.

That led to a discussion on why companies should be prepared to cannibalise their own products in order to take advantage of new technology innovations and developments. Specifically, we wondered should Microsoft make Windows free, or almost free? The reasoning behind this is that the general device world (mobile + tablets + Netbooks + PCs) is an area in which Microsoft is losing its marketshare rapidly. The only way for Microsoft to get back into the game would be to make its operating system cheaply and easily available to device makers and so provide a viable alternative to Android and Linux. Making Windows free or very cheap would obviously affect Microsoft’s bottom-line in the short-term, but this would likely make Windows a standard and Microsoft could continue to get revenue from the Office product line. In a world where the personal device (tablet or phone) will become the de facto computing hardware, rather than a Windows-based laptop, Microsoft needs a basis on which to ensure ongoing revenue.

The reason many companies fail to adapt to technology change after dominating an area (e.g., IBM and computing, Sony and the Walkman) is that they believe that they have control. As Doug pointed out, in the 21st century, control is an illusion. Companies that institute IT standards for controlling Internet and social media access believe they can control how their staff access the Internet, forgetting that employess will use their mobile phones. In the brand arena, companies that think they control their brands are mistaken; it is the public that determines how the brand is communicated. For countries, a number have learned that it is practically impossible and hugely expensive to try and control their currencies.

A few of the points Doug raised I have blogged about already when commenting on Don Dodge’s new platform post. The concept of making Windows free is radical, however. It would require a lot of courage and commitment from Microsoft, as well as a major organisational change project. Do you think Microsoft needs to do it, or has the capacity to accept such a proposition? On the issue of devices, could Apple’s proprietary stance lose out to the other tablet manufacturers using Android? Lastly, will businesses ever be able to accept that they do not have control, but should rather focus on trust?

Big moves by international business into South Africa

In the past two months there has been news about international businesses making big moves into South Africa.

The first news was in July when the Japanese telco conglomerate NTT made an offer to buy Dimension Data; the take-over was recently given regulatory approval.

The next story was banking giant HSBC’s offer to buy Old Mutual’s controlling stake in Nedbank.

The last story, which came out yesterday, was the US retailer Wallmart announcing it was looking at buying Massmart.

This seems to be a sign that Africa’s economic growth and potential is at last being recognised by more than just mining companies.

On the down side, there are some concerns about international companies buying local ones that are listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), as this reduces the size of the local stock market, especially as the companies being bought are major entities on the JSE. On the plus side, it’s a sign of the recognised excellence of the SA companies and that their experience is critical to strategies that involve entering the larger African market.

Feel free to make your comments about these acquisitions here. I wonder if this might start big international software companies from thinking that a territory called EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) is appropriate, but instead have Europe, Middle East and Africa as separate divisions.

Mobile platforms – size vs. profit

I have previously commented that a trend in the US does not necessarily transfer globally – in Internet bandwidth, and other technology developments.

An interesting stat in Fortune, shows that the big mobile handset manufacturers – Nokia, Samsung, LG – ship over 400 million handsets a year, compared to Apple’s meagre 17 million. However, Apple has 39 percent of the profits of the industry – the big manufacturers combined have 32 percent.

My question is: does leading in profitability, or in units sold, indicate which vendor handset will become a global leader? 

South Africa’s WEF global competitiveness

The highs and lows of South Africa’s World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness rankings (from Business Report, 10 Sept 2010)

High ranking   Low rankings  
Strength of auditing and reporting standards 1 Business impact of HIV 138
Regulation of securities exchange 1 Quality of maths and science education 137
Efficacy of corporate boards 2 Business costs of crime and violence 137
Protection of minority shareholder’s interests 6 Hiring and firing practices 135
Financial market development 9 Quality of primary education 125

S.Africa’s overall ranking was 54th out of 139 countries

What’s so special about integration to SAP?

I saw a short news article (registration required) that Microsoft’s Dynamics AX (the old Axapta) could now provide integration of documents between AX and SAP (the Microsoft press release is here). My initial thought was “what’s so special about that”, until it dawned on me that some people think SAP integration requires something magical. Granted, SAP is not the easiest application to work with, but it does have integration hooks – Netweaver being one.

If you are not sure why SAP integration is needed, the reason is that many large national and mega international corporates run SAP at the head office or for large divisions, but they don’t necessarily run SAP everywhere. There are large multi-national companies which uses SAP in their main offices, but the dozens of smaller divisions don’t run SAP, they use SYSPRO. Why? Because SAP is so complex and expensive it makes no business sense for a smaller organisation to use it, but SYSPRO provides all the functionality they need (for distribution and manufacturing) at a much lower cost and far less complexity. Analyst R ‘Ray’ Wang has discussed in more the ERP needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) and when companies should have a two-tier ERP strategy.

Microsoft will try to sell you their Biztalk product to help the process. However, Biztalk is costly and adds another layer of technological complexity to the integration issue. If you run SYSPRO you don’t need Biztalk for SAP integration.

SYSPRO solved the problem a long time ago when it introduced its e.net integration software and a feature called Document Flow Manager (DFM). SYSPRO e.net solutions (the proper name of the product) is a set of components that enables access to SYSPRO business logic and data without using the SYSPRO client interface; it was one of the first applications to take advantage of Microsoft .NET Framework for interoperability and application integration. The DFM module consists of a group of services that:

  • poll a data location (ie, folder) looking for files (documents), or for incoming email looking for particular attachments,
  • compare documents against specified ‘contracts’ for a match,
  • places the matched documents in a message queue,
  • processes the message queue and applies an appropriate SYSPRO business object to process the document and return a result

The contracts can be configured to specify file types that must be located and which SYSPRO e.net business objects must operate on the files.

Incoming documents do not need to be in XML format. A contract can specify pre-processing using XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), an XML-based language used for the transformation of documents into XML documents. The same process can be applied in reverse to ongoing documents.

You will need .Net Framework and a few other bits of Microsoft software (such as MS Message Queue), but they are essentially “free features” available in Windows.

While the skilled work is in setting up the XSLT transform and configuring the contracts, the important work is getting suppliers or customers to agree to using electronic document processing and a standard for the documents. Ten years ago, some vendors started talking about inter-company transaction processing using integration software. Now the reality is here and the functionality is available. Remember, SAP integration is not difficult if you have the right technology and, of course, the budget and commitment to do it.

Are you considering a more cost-effective ERP for parts of your organisation but worrying how to link to the head office SAP system? Have you been told you need Biztalk, or some other costly specialised software, to allow you to transact and operate electronically with partners or larger divisions? Have you looked at SYSPRO? I would be interested to hear your comments.