Moving to a New Managed WordPress Hosting Vendor

GoDaddy Management Portal

Moving to a new managed WordPress hosting vendor is not an undertaking one should take lightly. I wrote today in my company blog some of the reasons that made me to make that move. One was the cost and one was the fact that I believe that the previous hosting provider WPEngine was not really a good fit for my small management consulting practice. I spent some time contemplating on this move and the final push was when I had to implement SSL for a shopping cart in my educational site TELLUSAcademy.com. The final push was when I was not able to implement SSL without upgrading and doubling my monthly subscription with WPEngine. After some research on the available options I ended up with the new Godaddy.com Managed WordPress hosting with the Business plan.

The move could not have been easier. The only thing I had to do is to point to the URL where I wanted to move site from (www.tellusacademy.com), provide the WordPress admin user name and password and then provide the FTP host location with FTP user name and password. That’s it. I did initially have issues as I did not read the text on the screen where it said clearly that one has to deactivate any custom login plugins (which I have) and once I realized this, I was able to move my site and let Godaddy.com do the work for me. The management portal in Godaddy.com environment is very clean with every site that is under my management can be easily accessed in following way:

GoDaddy Management Portal

If one selects the “manage” button, it goes directly to the WordPress site in admin mode. The button “Settings” lets one change some important settings:

GoDaddy WordPress settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I really like in this management portal is that I can get directly to all of my sites and change/manage all of the most important settings. The only additional  thing that I had to do was to  create a CNAME (alias) to enable people to get to the site when they enter “www” as part of the URL. That’s it.

It is almost scary how easy it is now to move from one hosting site to the other and this is of course the way it should be. I also explained in my previous blog entry that I believe that the market is changing rapidly and I have to admit that Godaddy.com was not one that I would have selected for WordPress hosting a couple of years ago.

This case is a good example of market changes where a company that one might have ignored in the past have a comeback with a service that is  at least “good enough”  and will gain market share with pricing and other criteria that former players do not have. Godaddy.com is a pretty sizable company so they can price their service in a way that is compelling to organizations such us mine. I have to say though that so far everything has been very smooth, my sites are much faster than before and now my TELLUSAcademy.com site has the needed SSL for shopping cart functions.

Learnings of using software tools to run your business – Part 3

Moving information to SharePoint

Evaluation and ProcessIn my previous blog entry I gave the overall view how our Dynamics CRM 2013 account/contact entities have been used and what kind of Dynamics CRM 2013 custom fields I have used with those entities.

In this blog entry I will describe the process how we integrate to SharePoint 2013 Online (part of Office 365). The built-in integration between Dynamics CRM 2013 Online and SharePoint 2013 Online is not built in a way that satisfies my our needs and as I told you in my previous blog entry, I was not willing to do custom app development and maintain something I could not potentially support in the future.

The Dynamics CRM 2013 built-in integration today between these two systems do not utilize the benefits of the power of SharePoint so I decided to enable synchronization between Dynamics CRM 2013 entities and SharePoint 2013 Online custom lists. What this means in practice is that account and contact information from Dynamics CRM 2013 is synchronized with account/contact custom lists in SharePoint 2013. The synchronization is one-way where the Dynamics CRM 2013 is the hub and the SharePoint 2013 is the slave. My policy is that Dynamics CRM 2013 database with account/contact/project information is the “kernel” of our information and everything else pulls information from this source. Yes, I could have implemented two-way synchronization, but I wanted this to be simple and just tell people to maintain the CRM database with any new information or updates.

Moving information to SharePointTo initiate the synchronization, the only thing the end user has to do is to click the button “Move to DMS” and all of the needed fields are moved to a SharePoint list (account).

SharePoint Account listing

 

 

 

The synchronization can be defined in the settings of the synchronization tool that we are using and in our case it is 120 seconds. The tool runs in its own Microsoft Azure instance, which makes this solution completely cloud-based. I do not have to have anything installed on the laptop/desktop/mobile phone, everything runs automatically in the cloud. This is really the way I envisioned a solution architecture when I looked at the options what I had with the integration itself.

Let’s look at the use case itself. How does the end user act when working with both the Dynamics CRM 2013 and SharePoint 2013? First of all, I do not want all of the account/contacts to flow into a SharePoint list, just then ones that are relevant and associated with a document(s). Secondly, the idea is that CRM is not the UI for searching documents, it really is not optimized to do that in any respect. Once the account/contact is synchronized to a SharePoint list, the documents are entered into SharePoint and tagged to relevant people and accounts. The synchronization will refresh any updates on the account/contact records so there is no need to worry about getting updated information to SharePoint. Any search activity happens in SharePoint as that is really optimized for it.

I am not using the SharePoint list within Dynamics CRM 2013 whereby the account/contact record has no knowledge of the documents in the SharePoint site. In our case it has not impact as we work with larger projects and there are not that many clients at any point in time. The rule of thumb is that when any document is created, that is the time to click on the “Move to DMS” button in CRM as we want the account/contact information to move to the SharePoint repository.

The other rule that we have set is that a lead is converted (if lead is used) when a document is generated of any reason. Therefore, there is not a need to synchronize leads to SharePoint as it has been already converted to account/contact due to the requirements we have set.

I will dig into more detail of how we use SharePoint 2013 with its built-in content types and what kind of power we get from SharePoint itself. I have been extremely impressed with the content types and the inheritance structure that it enables for developers. However, it is very easy also to make the metadata structure too complex so what I did in my case, I really took time to learn/read and talk to SharePoint architects before I made my final decisions on the SharePoint structure I wanted to get in place.

In summary, our Dynamics CRM 2013 is the hub for our account/contact information and some of this information is synchronized to SharePoint 2013 lists using a Microsoft Azure instance. We do also maintain two other custom entities within Dynamics CRM (project and education events) and I will explain how these link to the over solution in future posts.

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Learnings of using software tools to run your business – Part 2

social crm

social crmIn my previous blog I concluded that we typically make our solutions to hard to use and non-intuitive for our users. I also told that I have over engineered many solutions and I guess I could blaim my accounting degree for that. I just wanted to make sure we collect everything that we might need in the future. Guess what, people just don’t care about that requirement of they do not get any benefit of it. If you present a “metadata card” or list of 10 items they have to pick, they will just not do it. They much rather brake the rules than spend time filling in things. I also told in my previous iteration that I decided to take another route this time when implementing both my Dynamics CRM 2013 and SharePoint 2013 solution: minimal time spent in putting in data. Let’s just focus on what we really need for finding things and also categorizing things for different purposes. As we work with many clients and 0ne of our roles is to do outbound marketing/channel development, we need to make sure that we know what solution we have promoted to what company and what the result of the has been. We are known to present and help ISVs to build channels so our ecosystem also expects us to present solutions that might benefit solution partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.

In this blog entry, I will be focusing on the “kernel” or core of our company, which is our CRM solution. Every company/contact and lead are collected in the database and we maintain and nurture it every single day. It really is about making sure that all of our customers and contacts are kept up-to-date and informed about what is going on in the ecosystem. In the past, I used to customize both the account and contact entity within our CRM to the extent that I did not even know what each field meant anymore. I just wanted to be on the safe side that we would collect everything. That was a mistake. We ended up having lots of fields that were not used and many that did not make sense in the end of the day. I also confused before what  to put on the account entity and what should go into the contact entity in respect to custom fields and sometimes I ended up replicating the fields. Not good. This time around if I have to reuse a field I am using “option sets” that can be regarded as “centralized metadata” that you can share across your Dynamics CRM 2013 entities. They are powerful and in my previous round of development I did not understand to use them. Having a centralized repository for your terms is powerful and helps you with your maintenance. In fact, I learned this from my 20 years in business intelligence/analytics/data warehousing. If you can centralize some thing, you should do it. There are of course some exceptions, but for the most part this approach has worked for me. In my future blog posts, I will explain how I used SharePoint 2013 term store as they are unbelievably powerful when used in the right way.

As you probably have heard about “app model”, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 has a powerful concept of “solutions” which I find extremely useful and exciting. In the past, I did not realize that I should have created a solution from the beginning so any change that I made was made as part of my solution and if I created something useful, I could even potentially resell my solution. The inheritance structure and the way the solution works is in my mind one of the crown jewels of Dynamics CRM 2013.

You might now ask how much customization did I do for my account/contact entity. Not much.

Account-custom-fieldsIf you look at the picture of my custom fields, you can see that my fields relate to very basic things such as ” Account Type”, “Lead Quality”, “Lead Source” and “Target Segment”. I also have two special fields, “movetodms” is a field that enables the user to tell CRM if the company information should be moved to SharePoint lists and the second one “Unique Import ID” is a field that is used when reading in data sets and they are tagged with the import identification. A good example is if we go to a conference, the conference id will become the ID for the data set. Data set is treated differently that “Lead Source” whereby the “Unique Import ID” will never change while the “Lead Source” can be edited. Another important factor that you can see from the picture is the prefix “tellus” which is automatically attached to the field name as I have defined a solution with the name “tellus”.

The “contact” entity has also custom fields that I have created and in this case there are more in this  entity (contact) as most of our actions/tracking relate to specific contacts in companies. We do use lead entity every now and then and I was really struggling with the lead concept initially and we came to the conclusion that every name of a person could potentially be important for us so most of the lists are important as accounts and contacts. Keep in mind that we serve many companies and a solution/offering might not interest this company but another solution we are soliciting might be interesting in the future. If there is a “bulk list” of some sort, then I would definitely start by importing it as a lead list, but in our case and business model, account/contacts are what we track and are interested in.

In future posts, I will explain further how I keep and categorize things within these entities (account/contact) and how we know what offering/solution has been solicited for a specific contacts (I am using custom activity entities).

Contact-custom-fieldsThe picture of our contact entity has a bit more fields, but most of the fields are self-explanatory. I have added some social footprint fields such as LinkedIn and Twitter as they are not part of the “out-0f-the-box” Dynamics CRM 2013 entity. Some of the fields are the same as for the account entity, but they are needed as the data import is typically run as separate run and I want to keep track of each data import and it is very handy also for search and other classification initiatives.

As  you can see, I have used mostly the “out-of-the-box” entities within Dynamics CRM 2013 and just added a few fields that we need for our own tracking. I have also removed aggressively sections from both account and contact forms that have no relevancy in our management consulting and channel development business. In future posts, I will explain some of the additional custom entities such as “ecosystems” and “solution types” are part of the account form and how they are used.

 

Company-formAs you can see from the company form, all of the custom fields are listed in a nice and self-explanatory way and is easy for the end user to enter.

 

Contact-formThe contact form has a bit more information that I felt was important to collect. The two additional fields of interest are “Contact Profile” and “Target Ranking”. The first one lists the options that the end user can select and in our case they are things such as ” TELLUS Customer”, “Channel Lead”  and in fact anything that let’s use list different types of contacts easily. What I have found out during the years is that end users are reluctant to create views and queries so I have tried to make some fields to act as filters for some of the information we are collecting.

In summary, it has taken me years to come to this simplistic approach, but when I look back at all of the companies that I have worked with in the management or as a consultant, people have always said that “lets keep it simple”. I am proud of this iteration of development and once you get to see the entire solution scenario, I am sure you can agree that we try to minimize the data entry and maximize the output. Keep in mind, my intention was NOT to use programming in our solutions as I want this to be maintainable without heavy-duty maintenance. My company does not have special needs and our business model is very simple, but we need to execute marketing an outreach for many companies so our CRM really has become the centerpiece of it.

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Learnings of using software tools to run your business – Part 1

Learnings of using software tools

I have quite a few years behind me running companies and also helping out companies to grow the business with some key learnings. One of the key questions that has puzzled me all these years is how to make solutions to support information workers and not the other way around. Solutions are unfortunately still built based on what the company wants, and not what the end users want to use. Humans are lazy and due to this, we avoid doing things that will complicate our daily lives. I am sure you agree with me on this. If you don’t you must be exceptional employee.

I admit, I have failed many times with our internal solutions and typically the failure had to do with too complex thinking and “over engineering” things that in the end might have made sense for the organization, but not for the end user. I did blog about this topic already back in 2011, but 3 years is a long time so I thought to come back with some of the new experiences that I have accumulated during the past 3 years.

I will write about my experiences in multiple blog posts to keep it simple and more easy to consume. When you read these blog entries, you should read them as an extended case study of how a management consulting company runs its business using specific software tools. Some of my views might be biased, but they are based on my personal experiences not only building these solutions, but also using them on a daily basis.

My company serves other software companies in both management consulting as well as field execution such as channel development, so it is important to have solutions that support this type of environment. If you really boil it down to the core,  we need a CRM solution, a document management solution and  accounting solution. Besides these, we need to have all of the productivity tools to create different types of documents.

The first question that I had was whether I wanted to have my documents saved in our CRM system and it was very quickly evident to me that that was not the way to go. Dynamics CRM 2013 is not meant for document management and the only documents I would suggest you keep are some basic templates or marketing materials that you can attach to your emails. Microsoft’s platform for document management is and will be SharePoint so my logical choice was to have documents to be saved in SharePoint. However, the built-in integration between Dynamics CRM and SharePoint is not optimal and does not let me do things they way I wanted to build my metadata architecture in SharePoint. I used content types and document sets extensively in my information management architecture and there are many reasons for this. The way the current integration has been done between these two solutions would not let me use SharePoint native architecture without having to do custom plugins in Dynamics CRM. Whatever we do in our environment I do not it to be based on custom programming. I also wanted to use SharePoint Term Store that enables us to reuse terms across the entire site collection that I have decided to use.

The question remained for a long time what would be the best way to integrate these two solutions (CRM and SharePoint). My decision was to synchronize entities from CRM with SharePoint lists in a way that the end user could selectively decide what entities should be synchronized (such as customer, contact, project information). Our core IP is really two things: who we know and our skills in our domains. The who we know is maintained in our CRM and the skills are maintained in form of a knowledgebase which is our case is our SharePoint repository. We help software vendors with business modeling and  channel execution so we keep making lists and marketing campaigns towards our database of contacts. We have been doing this for almost 10  years, so when we do outreach, some already know what to expect from us like getting information about interesting products on an ongoing basis.

I learned an important lesson from an experienced business owner 15 years ago and this is what he said: “Petri, the only thing I have is what I know, who I know and all of this information is in a central customer relationship management system repository”. I took this statement as the core when building my company and take pride in really maintaining our lists.

The role that Dynamics CRM has in our environment is to be the central hub for all company/contact/lead information. Besides this, I have built a custom entity “projects” that is automatically syncronzied to a SharePoint list. Another customer entity that I have in CRM is “education” that includes all of the educational sessions that I am running either via www.tellusacademy.com or seminars in different parts of the world.

I want our CRM to be the place where people enter and update data and every record that is updated needs to flow whatever other solution needs the information. In our case, I found out software tools that enables us to synchronize information from any CRM entity (also custom entities) to any list in SharePoint. The synchronization happens by the user selecting a radio button on the CRM record and this is the “kicker” for the record to be synchronized to SharePoint lists.

In summary, the two core solutions that we use every day to run our business is Office 365 that includes SharePoint 2013 and Dynamics CRM 2013. Both of these are cloud-based and my company does not own any servers, in fact I made that decision already back in 2005 when I started TELLUS International that we would not invest in servers.

In the next blog I will go in more detail of the integration and the process/workflow we have when we work with these solutions. It might sound simplistic, but in the end of the day, we are not talking about rocket science here, we are talking about solutions that one wants to use every day.

Changing business model due to external factors

Competition

Changing business models due to external factorsSometimes there is a need to change the business model due to some external factors that we can’t control. This morning I read an interesting article David Linthicum who is known to track the cloud market and write about current trends. Today, he wrote about the fight between Netflix vs. Verizon and how these companies are escalating their fight of who owns the customer and whose fault is it if Netflix content does not stream well. Lets analyze the core business for both parties seen from consumer perspective. Netflix get paid by the consumer to be able to stream movies and Verizon gets paid for the consumer to use the bandwidth. The question that now remains is whether the consumer has the right to restrict the consumer what services they use, how they use it and if this creates a monopoly for Verizon in the service delivery if they force the consumer to only consume Verizon content. The same formula applies to other vendors such as AT&T U-Verse and many others. I am using U-verse in my household and if there is a day when AT&T starts to dictate my consumer behavior, I will be moving on to another service.

It is interesting to see how success always leads into trouble for the one that is successful and in this case it is Netflix. Verizon wants to block the success by restricting and causing an unpleasant user experience for the consumer. It is the consumer that pays the penalty in the end of the day. If you love Netflix, you need to have a service that supports it and you can’t have a service provider dictating your tastes. That is the old-fashioned way and the new generation of users will not tolerate this type of service delivery.

The point in this article is really to provide yet another example of a business model that is evolving and in this case I am talking about Verizon. This organization needs to realize and build its model in a way that enables consumer to see value in its service and not create artificial blocks for its customers. I do understand that Netflix is using Verizon bandwidth, but that is the same with any service that the consumer is going to utilize. Same applies to Hulu and whatever other video/movie service happens to be popular. We have seen so many drastic moves in business models the past 3 years from market leaders going under and new service provides appearing. Just look at the new transportation service Uber. Last week we heard that it is valued as much as $18 Billion dollars. Some cities are trying to block its success to protect traditional taxi and transportation service. There is a business model change happening in transportation business as well and new players will win in the end of the day as that is what the consumers are going to choose.

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Is your software SaaS solution channel friendly?

Channal friendly

Channel friendlyEvery software vendor needs to think about the question whether its SaaS-solution is channel friendly. And I am not talking about channel friendly from a financial perspective, but also from the perspective how your channel partners can administer its end users customers and deploy the solutions.  One of the biggest challenges that many software vendors as well as system integrators/managed service provides are facing is the deployment and automation of software solution to end users. In the past, the software vendor was able to ship the bits on a CD/DVD or as download, but now the expectation is that the software vendor provides an instance of its cloud in an automated way and in a way where the channel partner can manage not only the deployment, but also the provisioning, billing, support and all of the associated functions that a software solution delivery needs to include.

Most software vendors are missing all of the key ingredients in transforming the business model to a SaaS business model as it is changing almost every single aspect of the business. The first question is who is going to provision the solution? Is it the software vendor that will be notified of a new client by the channel partner or is it the channel partners that has a solution (UI) that enables them to manage everything themselves? Who is going to do the billing? Is it the channel partners or is it the software vendor? What  happens when the end user customer does not pay to the channel partner? Will the software vendor send a threat letter to the channel partner for non-payment of owed use of service? Is the end user customer going to call channel partner first, or directly the end user organization?

I could keep asking these questions and most of the traditional software vendors have not mapped out these changes and will handle them one-by-one as they come. That is not the most effective way of dealing with change as it is managing one crisis after the other while the better model would be to map out the process, ask the hard questions before anything gets shipped.

I got inspired about this topic today as I read in Redmond Channel Partner about Microsoft Office 365 current status, business growth and perspectives of the environment on channel partners. Based on the most recent quarterly financial report from Microsoft, Office 365 was one of the key highlights where the commercial cloud business for Microsoft has doubled year-over-year and both Office 365 and Azure are performing extremely well according to Microsoft new CEO Satya Nadella. He even concludes that Office 365 should be “a gold-rush time in some sense of being able to capitalize on the opportunity”.

The Office 365 business is already a $2.5 Billion business for Microsoft on an annual basis and when you calculate the entire ecosystem of Microsoft partners, it is easy to say that the overall revenue that the ecosystem is generating is many times that number. Microsoft CFO Amy Hood is concluding that it is the partners that are helping in the growth and this is exactly what one want’s to see when working in an ecosystem. The more Office 365 seats are sold, the better opportunity for third-party vendors to build solutions on top of the platform itself. We have to keep in mind that Office 365 can be seen as a platform and any platform should and will always have innovation extensions built by the ecosystem. If you look at SharePoint ISV ecosystem, there are lots of different solutions that people need to complete the platform. I mentioned in my previous blog entry the Office 365 scanning solution GScan Online from Gradient that enables end user organizations to scan document directly into SharePoint libraries without having to install heavy desktop software to do the job. The app is installed centrally and every user gets the ability to scan in documents using any scanner or image on a share folder. This is exactly the type of innovation that software vendors need to be thinking about and identifying what type of solutions are needed, what part of the ecosystem they fit in and create the right type of messaging around it.

Back to the question whether you are channel friendly. What Microsoft has done with its Office 365 channel partners is to provide a new partner tool that enables partners to manage the Office 365 service on behalf of its customers. Based on the feedback from his channel partners, Microsoft has now announced the brand new admin tool that will help Office 365 to be even more channel friendly for its partners.

If you want to scale your business to the next level, you will have to think about how you provide the needed tools for your partners. You can’t expect channel partners to wait you to provision, manage, support and do everything on their behalf. Most of the channel partner want to own the customer relationship and you as software vendor need to provide the tools to enable this.

Software Ecosystems and APIs

Ecosystems and APIs

Ecosystems and APIsI wrote about software ecosystems  and their importance in my previous blog entry and what needs to be added to this discussion is the use of effective APIs (Application Programming Interface). This is not the first time I have emphasized the need for software vendors to focus on APIs and build solutions that can be consumed by other vendors. Software vendors that build old-fashioned “stove-pipe” solutions will be left behind and smaller and nimbler vendors creating services for others could run into amazing opportunities going forward.

I read today an excellent case study in InformationWeek of how Ancestry.com has built its platform with the idea that it has well-defined interfaces that can be consumed by Ancestry.com developers as well as ecosystem partners. However, based on the article, standardizing development and building a common architecture takes time and lots of education of the developers and architects. The article explains the misery of  having to deal with APIs that have not been architected in a way that they are easy to use. At Ancestry.com, the management has decided to commit time and money on an internal development platform which in the end of the day should shorten time to market and should become a good foundation for additional software solutions in form of software product lines.

Ancestry created helps and tools to guide its developers in the process and some of these tools were things such as a wiki portal, documented development standards, a technical knowledgebase, posters and newsletters, API design training and a documentation hub.

The Ancestry.com case demonstrates not only that software vendors need to be more disciplined how software is developed. It also shows that software vendors have to turn their view on how other organizations can consume services of the platform. This could become a revenue generator for the software vendor and with some innovation built into the solution such as use of multi-tenancy in a new way, a solution can be built to service channel partners in a way that was not possible in the past.

A good example of such a solution is the solution from Ancile, a software organization with a solution that enables channel partners to include guided help (Help-as-a-Service) as part of the solution. In this scenario, Ancile uGuide provides a consumable APIs that  channel partners can consume and each channel partner will get is own instance of the Ancile uGuide. This type of solution was not possible before. The solution is powered by Microsoft Azure, which have given also other benefits for Ancile as part of the technology platform.

The learning and takeaway from this blog entry should be to look around at the ecosystem that you want to serve and build a solution with effective APIs that you can provide and serve and make some money along the way.

 

photo by: Olaf_Janssen

Velocity of Business Models

velocity of business models

velocity of business modelsIt is amazing to see how the velocity of business models is changing the entire cloud landscape. I read  an InformationWeek article this morning about Gartner’s Magic Quadrant 2014 for cloud, its winners and losers and how for example Rackspace business model has change drastically the past year or so. Rackspace used to be the poster child in hosting and providing high value services, but now they are forced to look for new market segments besides the more traditional developer market that they have been aiming mostly according to the InformationWeek article.

The price decrease from larger players such as Microsoft, Amazon and many others have forced Rackspace’s of this world to look at their business model and try to figure out what to do to survive in the ever increasing competition.  It is not easy, no question about it. What is interesting to me at least from a research perspective is the speed of change that has definitely increased during the past years in software and IT business. If you look at service providers that used to manage internal IT infrastructure environments are now feeling the pressure of enterprises moving to the public cloud, whereby the service provider has to reinvent the business model as well.

Rackspace is not the only one that is feeling the pressure. According to the InformationWeek article, Dimension Data was in the Challenger Quadrant last year and has now been dropped to the Niche Player quadrant in the same way as Rackspace. WMware is listed as a Niche player this year, but Gartner cautions that they are offering services to managers that are responsible for virtualization and these managers are different from the business managers that want to build next generation solutions and these are typically the ones that will use public cloud such as Microsoft Azure. This is exactly what I have seen myself when working with both software vendors and enterprises. Enterprises especially were slow to move to Microsoft Azure, but that has really accelerated and even Gartner has noticed the rise of Microsoft Azure market share. This was also reported by Redmondmag where there are only two leaders in the Magic Quadrant, Amazon Web Services. and Microsoft. What is interesting in the new Magic Quadrant is that there are no challengers at all in the quadrant.

I think specialization is really what organizations such as Rackspace needs to do. All of my web-sites are based on WordPress and I have selected a hosting provider that is specialized in providing WordPress hosting only. WP Engine does WordPress only hosting and their site says exactly what I wanted “Hassle-Free WordPress Hosting“. What this means in real life is that they know WordPress inside out, they apply all of the WordPress fixes and monitor the security, take backups etc. Yes, all of this would be able to do on Microsoft Azure, but I would have to do it myself, but I am not in that business. I much rather have a premium hosting provider that I know is not all over the map and based on my experience, they really know what they are doing. I am running a solution on Microsoft Azure that integrates our Dynamics CRM 2013 Online and SharePoint 2013 Online and I will post another blog entry about this exciting integration case.

What is it that we should learn from this blog entry? The first learning is that nothing stays the same, even if you are a market leader or perceived as market leader. The second learning is that the change has definitely accelerated and this is causing bloodshed for the ones that have been resisting the change. The third and maybe the most positive thing is that the change is also creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs that identify gaps in the current offerings. We need to remember that business will continue, but maybe with new players. That is the name of the game.

photo by: jpctalbot

The importance of ecosystems

Ecosystems

If you work in the software industry, I am sure that you have heard people using the word “ecosystem”. A good example of an ecosystem is that of Microsoft that spans globally and has more than 500k partners of different types and with different focus. If you want to focus on Microsoft ecosystem, you have to divide it into sub-ecosystems as each of them have their own nuances.

EcosystemsThe included picture shows how a large Microsoft ecosystem can be divided into  sub-ecosystems and in this case a sub-community could be for example business intelligence professionals that work with Microsoft technology in different roles.  The community is built based on interest and maybe having a specific solution that fits into the sub-ecosystem or community.

My personal interest areas within Microsoft ecosystem is anything that has to do with collaboration solutions such as SharePoint. Another area of my interest is Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem, which represents both solutions in enterprise resource planning as well as customer relationship management. I have put huge amount of time in learning about solutions that are built on top of SharePoint and Dynamics CRM. Many new software vendors are building solutions that run natively in Office 365 environment such as award-winning Gradient that has built a native SharePoint scanning solution that works in Office 365. This solution (GScan Online) is a good example of new generation of solutions that you will see “popping up” in ecosystems such as Microsoft SharePoint.

A common mistake that I see many software vendors do is to not do their homework and really understand how an ecosystem works and understand the players within it. Software vendors typically skip the validation phase when setting their business model, assuming that the solution will be well perceived by the ecosystem.

Another common mistake is to not understand the competition. If there is competition, the software vendor has to understand how to position the solution so it won’t be “yet another of these”. Business intelligence is a good example of this. There are tens of different business intelligence vendors in Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem and when you try to differentiate them, they all use the same slogans and terms. How are the end users going to be able to differentiate what the differences are? I was able to see this myself in the latest Microsoft Convergence 2014 event in Atlanta. It was interesting to see and talk to vendors and see how the vendors positioned themselves. I am a true believer in competition but I am also a true believer in differentiation in the same way as you segment your market with your solution. When I run business modeling workshops, most of the focus is always on the value proposition and market segmentation. If you get them wrong, it really does not matter what you do as you will not reach the right audience and you will probably also fail building your solution to be appealing and valued by your customers.

 

Does your social network know you?

Social Network Map

Social Network MapIt is amazing to look back how the world has changed in respect to how we connect with people and how we can become influencers in our network. I stated already back in 2007 in my first business book (“Become successful in the big World”) that anybody can become an influencer in a topic that he/she wants to master. When I was growing up, you could become an influencer mainly by participating in conferences or via traditional press. Today, anyone can demonstrate deep skills in any topic and become known globally. There are still some rules that I think one needs to consider when branding your skills. The first rule is that you need to make sure that you pick the segment where you want to be known for. I have seen too many cases where a person is “all over the map” and even I know a person by name, I really do not know what he/she represents. With focus, you can become world known as anything that you do and sometimes it takes years of practice. Think about a gymnast, a dancer, or anybody that is top in his/her domain. You have to practice your skills to become good in what you do. During my career as CEO of a software company in Finland, I recruited people to the team and I asked them if they wanted to become best in the world in what they do.  There are no reasons why somebody could not become best in the world regardless of where you live. We will see new innovative entrepreneurs everywhere and only time will tell who will become leader in the field.

Let’s discuss how I have tried to change my way of thinking when it comes to learning and my social network. The past couple of years, I have specifically paid attention on how to become more effective in my personal working habits. How do I sell, how do I connect people and how do I maintain all of these relationships? I have learned with time that it is your connection that matters as well as focus that you put in our daily work. You need to define how you want to be seen in the marketplace as people tend to “position” each one of us based on what they have seen in social media and other interaction. I am pretty sure that my network knows my passion for SaaS business, my continuous travel I have made during the past few years and it goes without saying, people know that I work with Microsoft and Microsoft ecosystem on daily basis. People might also know that I am a passionate learner and believe in continuous learning to keep myself valuable for my clients and the ecosystem. That is why it is so important to keep focus on whatever we do. You do not want to be everything to everybody as that will not do any good to anybody.  People might also know that I am passionate about my family and this is especially important to me as we live far away from our native country (Finland). We have established our lives here in the United States of America and we love every day of it. It is not to say that one needs to forget our roots, but I feel that US gave us a second opportunity to build something that is different and sometimes also challenging.

I must admit that I also evaluate people based on their digital footprint. If you are in sales roles and have 58 contacts in LinkedIn, that gives me a picture of your interest in using social  media as a vehicle to get your company known. The first thing people do when you mention a name is that they will check your LinkedIn profile to see who you know and what kind of recommendations you have. If you have 58 contacts and no digital footprint, I have no way to evaluate your impact and influence. I know there are many that do not believe in this, but unfortunately this is a similar discussion as whether the cloud will happen… it has already happened and if you are a software vendor and still only considering it, you will have younger and nimbler competitors that will start eating you up piece by piece. I had a discussion with an executive recruiter a couple of years ago and I asked him whether digital footprint mattered, and he said already then that a person that they are considering in sales and marketing executive roles will have a problem if digital footprint is non-existent.

Social networking brings in other factors that people do not always remember. You need to value your network as if it were an asset. You do not misuse your asset, you do not put your network in painful situations and you certainly do not spam your network with nonsense. As I have a pretty broad network, I get continuously requests to make introduction to senior level executives that are part of my network. My answer is typically that I will not make an introduction until I know the reason for the introduction as I know that my network knows that I respect them. If I do an introduction, my network also knows that it might be worthwhile to do something about it.

How are you building your future in respect to social networks and have you learned how to be effective in it? I am in the process of testing some interesting tools that use social networks as a resource. I think sales is also changing and each one of us has to evaluate whether we are up-to-date how we go about our daily lives.

photo by: ButchLebo