US VCs should get off their arses

US VCs should get off their arses

US-based VCs (venture capitalists) should get off their arses and realize that there is a greater world out there than what they hear about on the US East or West coast. I’m not talking about Europe or Israel either. I’m echoing what Ben Parr said in a recent Tech Caucus email that:

we in the Silicon Valley / LA / NYC bubble have no clue what’s happening in Africa.

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Why monolithic systems of record will disappear

cloud-computingI thought that having left the ERP industry I would not have any reason or inspiration to write about it, but I was wrong. My experiences since I started working in the cloud application market have led me to believe that the era of the monolithic systems of record, as typified by ERP, might be coming to an end. Continue reading

Why is Windows 8 taking so long?

I wrote previously about Windows 8 as Microsoft’s similarity to IBM’s OS/2. Then I read a Forbes article which nicely summaries why Windows 8 adoption is so slow. Reading the article took me back to something I wrote in 2012 about my move from a Nokia feature phone to a Nokia Lumia running Windows Phone.

What became clear to me when I moved to the Nokia Lumia interface was not just that I had to learn new things, but also had to unlearn old things. So when the Forbes article refers to the issue of  the new touch-centric ‘Modern’ (previously ‘Metro-style’) user interface, it’s not just the huge training to acquire new skills, but also the support burden needed to help people with the process of changing from old ways to new ways.

According to the article, to make proper use of the Windows 8 user interface, a computer needs to have a  touch input device. This may be true, but I’ve just seen someone give a presentation on a Windows 8 machine without using a touch interface, and look quite comfortable doing it. So I don’t think the lack of a touch interface should be as big a problem as the Forbes article makes out.

However, I agree when the article notes that Windows 8 is an “all or nothing upgrade”; unlike the upgrade from Windows XP, or even Windows 2000, to Windows 7. In other words, moving to Windows 8 is similar to the move from DOS to Windows, which was over 20 years ago.

I don’t recall hearing much in the early 1990s about the big issue of moving to the first Windows versions. I think that is probably because computers in the workplace were not as ubiquitous in those days; only a relatively few people had a PC on their desk. Also, people were happier to upgrade to Windows because DOS was not considered very user friendly. That also shows how familiar people have become to a standard user interface with Windows, and that Microsoft should have considered that.

The Windows 8 upgrade experience is a salutary reminder that the world of work has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop created for them one of the dilemma’s of an incumbent during discontinuous change (as described by the Disruptive Innovation theory). Namely, how do you change to a new disruptive environment but keep your current hold on the old environment. In years to come, we may see the Windows 8 introduction as one of the case studies of how an existing leader tried to cope with disruptive innovation.

Microsoft Partner Summit and the new economic landscape

Mteto NyatiI attended the Microsoft Partner Summit Africa, and heard some interesting points in the keynote address made by the two executives who run Microsoft’s business for most of Africa – Nteto Nyati, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa, and Hennie Loubser, Regional General Manager for Microsoft WECA (West, East and Central Africa).

HennieLoubser

  • The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) are now areas where most growth is projected;
  • 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa;
  • a number of Microsoft employees from Africa who have been working abroad are repatriating from Europe and the US back to Africa;
  • there are 1300 large and mid-market companies in Africa from which Microsoft gets 75% of its revenue in this region;
  • Africa has become a continent of hope and opportunity;
  • on the African continent, the community expects companies to become an integrated part of the society – profitable returns to company owners must also accompany returns to society.

This led me to these thoughts:

  1. the focus of economic growth in the world has moved from developed economies (the so-called North) to the emerging and developing economies (the South);
  2. this change should have some impact on the issues and location of technology innovation;
  3. a good deal of technology innovation focuses on mostly ‘northern’ business, consumer and societal issues;
  4. there is an expectation, particularly in the North, that the source of technology innovation should still occur in certain ‘northern’ locations;
  5. Points 1 and 2 do not agree with Points 3 and 4

It makes me proud therefore to say that SYSPRO is an African company that supports the real issues of small and medium businesses throughout the world. Comments of “how can innovation come from Africa?” should now be discarded for the irrelevant and arrogant rubbish that they are.


Some other information from the keynote

Microsoft SA’s FY2011 growth areas:

Public sector 43%
Entertainment and devices 32%
Enterprise services 28%
Enterprise group 22%
Small & medium business group 20%

Microsoft SA’s FY2011 market share changes:

Web browser + 11 pts
Email, calendaring + 17 pts
Unified communications + 7 pts
Database server – 2 pts
Smartphone – 7 pts

Some Microsoft Africa stats (via IDC):

PC shipment growth 15%
Serve shipment growth 6%
Software piracy rate > 80% (US $785 mill) in 2010

Google disrupts the tech industry life cycle

Google is renowned for disrupting established standards. In the book Googled,  Ken Auletta discusses several times where Google’s engineering approach disrupted previously long-established business models. I wonder whether Google isn’t doing it again in another area.

A few years ago, an MIT Sloan Review article ‘Shifting Cultural Gears in Technology-Driven Industries‘ asserted that:

In technology-driven industries, as core technologies mature and mainstream customers proliferate, the primary source of customer value inevitably shifts from product innovation to business innovation, which focuses on processes (product development, procurement, manufacturing, sales, distribution or services) and marketing (partnering, segmenting, positioning, packaging or branding). To meet the changing needs of customers, technology-driven companies must effect a corresponding shift in their own competencies. However, attempts to accomplish that through changes in strategy, structure, processes or rewards without changing the company’s underlying cultural assumptions are almost always doomed to failure because culture strongly shapes both the competencies and rigidities of a company.

Then along comes Larry Page, reinstalled as CEO of Google, and starts changing his company is a way that seems to do the opposite of the MIT article.

The main theme that seems to be emerging: An elimination of Google’s more centralized functional structure–where Rosenberg was one of several manager kingpins–to one in which the individual business units and their engineers, such as its most independent Android division, rule more autonomously.

Reimagined like this, Google would become an ambidextrous organization with more powerful unit line execs, mostly engineers, doing what needs to be done to succeed

So is Google moving in the opposite direction to that suggested in the MIT Sloan article?

So enterprise tech lacks innovation?

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff was reported as saying that enterprise technology is lagging consumer technology in terms of innovation. The quote is:

Mainstream social-networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter are having an impact on the way people work that is not being matched by older technology companies … IBM is still selling mainframes, Microsoft is still selling Windows software, but they’re not leading innovation and they’re not creating new markets. Companies are either leading or protecting cash-cow monopolies.

I think he is wrong on several counts.

How do motor manufacturers innovate? The Japanese car companies are innovating, in manufacturing and supply chain, which is important to customer service and satisfaction. The outward innovations – ‘green’ cars – are too expensive for the large majority of their customers and their impact seems to be marginal.

IBM and Microsoft are innovating. Look at how IBM is moving into new markets by building (through acquisition) new types of services. For Microsoft, Dynamics CRM was an innovation from them, especially if you were a customer considering Siebel’s CRM. Although Microsoft haven’t been very successful in some areas (e.g., Live, tablet PCs), but they keep trying (e.g., Windows Phone 7).

It’s important to appreciate the cash-cows that provide the funding for innovation. In time, I reckon Salesforce.com will have a few cash-cows, and then someone else will be accusing them of lacking innovation.

What type of innovation have Twitter and Facebook brought for the enterprise? The basic processes of an organisation – order-to-cash, procure-to-pay, record-to-report – as well as other types as processes like supply chain and design chain operations (SCOR and DCOR) have hardly been scratched by the social media applications. These processes and operations are absolute core to businesses and will continue to be needed.

Commentators like Dennis Howlett and Vinnie Mirchandi have attacked enterprise software vendors in the past for lack of innovation, but the vendors are still providing products and solutions demanded by their customers. Ten years ago, the concept of a Tier 2 level of ERP vendors was hardly discussed, now it’s one of Gartner’s Magic Quadrants. That doesn’t mean that the Tier 1 vendors have lost business – Tier 2 ERP addressed another market niche. The innovations that Dennis and Vinnie applaud could well be opening other market niches.

There are several synonyms for innovation – novelty, invention, revolution, modernization, improvement, advance. The last three have all been done by ERP systems, however ERP customers are very wary about their vendors applying the first three. So from where, and why, is there a demand for innovation?

I wonder whether innovation has become such a mantra, that some people are forgetting that a large number of customers are getting the solutions they want. Perhaps innovation is a generational thing – the change of business control to Generation X and Ys might produce innovations in managing business that us Boomers cannot envisage.

In what areas do you see a need for, or believe there should be, innovation in enterprise software? Is it in the area of business processes, or in the user interface and experience, or another area?

How has the cartography industry fared?

There is lots of discussion about how digital innovation has affected the newspaper, music and publishing industries – newspapers disappearing, music downloads, e-books – but has anyone looked into how the cartography (aka map making) industry has fared?

For our trip to the southern Cape in July I used Nokia Maps on my phone and Google Maps on my laptop; in the ‘old days’ I would have gone to the AA or a shop and bought some maps of the area. If I am going to a new address in Johannesburg, I now use the same technology instead of referring to the creased road map that is in my car.

In my early working years at Wits University, I played squash with the main cartographer for the university – he did all the maps and diagrams for academics who needed them for their publications. He left S.Africa and went to work at Cambridge, and I wonder how his job has changed?