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

Are you renewing your your business model before it is too late?

Business Model Change will cause many organizations to loose market share

Business Model change will cause many organizations to loose market share

Business Model change will cause many organizations to loose market share

Many organizations are feeling the pain of spinning-out-of-control with their business model. I have spent the last few weeks contemplating on everything that I have learned the past two years in software technology and I have to say that it has even got me off guard how quickly things are changing for companies. Organizations that used to have a solid business model are running into huge difficulties, and mostly not because of bad products, but more or less of not having understood the market correctly. Dallas Morning News wrote about Nintendo’s surprise profit warning today where they say that the game console Wii U has sold 70% less than expected. That is a huge miscalculation from Nintendo, but the issue is not just the console, it is that the market has moved on to games on smart phones and Sony and Microsoft has taken the market with more innovative products that appeal the current gamers. Nintendo is not on their own, we have seen this with many other sectors/players. Who would have thought 3 years ago that BlackBerry market share would drop to be almost non-existent?

What I have also seen happening is the struggle among system integrators and the current business model that is starting to fail them. I have had the luxury to serve not only software vendors and system integrators, but also end user organizations and what I am seeing clearly is an acceleration of interest in providing more cost effective, flexible with full support for mobility with a reluctance to customized and tailored solutions. This has a tremendous impact on system integrators specifically. My guidance to end user organizations is to look at the ecosystem players to identify the best-of-breed solutions, ensure that these solution vendors have defined an API strategy that enables seamless integration between modules without having to do everything from scratch. This is of course not something that many system integrators want to see as many of them have based their survival on selling hours, and doing it with long-lasting projects. The problem with this approach is that many of these long-lasting projects fail as smaller system integrators do not have the skills to manage projects and if the end user organization has negotiated a good contract with penalties, the system integrators ends up “paying for the solution”. I have seen this many times and specifically and this does not have a good impact on any ecosystem in the long run. This is one of the reasons why smaller system integrators have been “swallowed” by the larger ones as system integrators need scale.

Another way to differentiate from the masses is to be very specialized in a given vertical domain (or functional domain) where  you can command the pricing for your delivery. This is something that larger SIs have difficulties with as their scalability comes from using offshore and in these scenarios it is not easy to maintain highly skilled vertical experts where the client is prepared to pay a higher price.

The problem that I see in the market does not apply only for system integrators, there is a huge pressure mounting for traditional software vendors that are still making good money, but with new and exciting entrants popping up from different areas such as Silicon Valley, it is evident that many software vendors will have the same path as Nintendo and BlackBerry. I do not want to sound pessimistic or doom organizations to fail, but I have seen the signs of radical transformation and this is based on my numerous hours each week tracking the market, studying software and working with clients. Just look at the valuation of Dropbox from last week where the investment was based on 10 Billion dollar valuation. It is amazing to even think about this, but I think it is logical. It is a sign from the marketplace that things are changing and valuations are based on what people want and see as being the next wave of things.

Vendor ecosystems are also making huge bets on the next wave of computing. Microsoft is adding data centers around the world like recent announcement of Azure data center in Brazil. IBM is betting their farm on IBM Watson that is in the cognitive computing space and IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer will increase the competition in the cloud space especially now when IBM announced that they will invest 1.2 Billion in data centers around the globe. What this means to me is that the acceleration of software solutions to the marketplace using new modern ways. This means that it is not good enough to “repurpose” what you have, but  you have to think about how your solution is going to be consumed and how it will fit into other ecosystem players. Think about Dropbox for example. The concept is very simple what they do and there are a myriad other players doing the same thing. They have understood the role of ecosystem and their technology is embedded in every app that is relevant and that has to include document sharing/distribution of some sort.

photo by: PSParrot

Software Vendor – are you moving your SharePoint Solutions to the App World?

sharepoint content typesSharePoint and its market penetration in enterprises can’t be denied. It is used by a massive amount of organizations and there are hundreds of thousands of developers building solutions using SharePoint as foundation for developing solutions. According to AIIM, one in two corporations are using SharePoint.

SharePoint is a popular platform for system integrators (SI) as well as independent software vendors (ISV). The former category typically sells custom application development services based on time and material or fixed cost projects. These solutions are typically “one-offs” even if the SI accumulates software assets in their internal code repositories. Effective SIs try to reuse these assets as much as they can, but that is unfortunately not a common practice among many organizations.

ISVs want to create productized solutions where the software assets can be reused in many organizations. However, creating real packaged solutions that can be deployed “as is” requires different skills than implementing customized solutions for different companies. I have seen quite a few system integrators struggling with productizing their offerings even if there is a real pressure for SIs to sell solutions due to price pressure on projects based on time and material. Creating solutions with real intellectual property (IP) provides a springboard to better profitability as well as higher hourly prices if the business model is built in the right way.

I have been part of organizations using SharePoint 2007 and 2010 in solution development but the architectural model and delivery methods have not been very flexible specifically for ISVs. For an SI that wants to sell time and material, the platform is perfect as some things are labor intensive and just need time to get done. Both of these releases of SharePoint (2007 and 2010) are built on “full trust” model while the new SharePoint 2013 is based on a new “app model” that Microsoft introduced in this new SharePoint 2013 release. What makes this model exciting is that it opens up the world for ISVs to reuse existing codebase as the foundation of the architecture is not to build intelligence in the SharePoint Server, but outside SharePoint. Besides this, Windows Azure is a perfect companion that can be used to house some of the solution. I am convinced that there will be quite a few solutions that combine technology from both SharePoint as well as Windows Azure.

SharePoint in some scenarios becomes the user interface (UI) to information and the logic resides outside SharePoint. An example would be a calculation engine that resides outside SharePoint and provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for other applications to consume. Microsoft guidance for SharePoint developers is to develop an App for SharePoint rather than classic solution whenever that is possible. There are of course many scenarios where this is not possible.

Most of the current SharePoint 2010 solutions have been implemented by using the “full trust solution” approach and these solutions can’t run for example in current Office 365 environment (with SharePoint 2013 Online). Microsoft enabled a new model in SharePoint 2010 (Sandbox) where some of the code would live in a “Sandbox” environment. However, the current recommendation is not to use the “Sandbox” approach due to different restrictions.

When I read about this new SharePoint 2013 app model first time, I thought about ISVs that have existing code assets that can be reused in different scenarios. I also got excited about this model as it provides a better experience for end users and IT to provide upgrades of the app in the same way as you would upgrade any tablet app. The application logic and the heavy-duty lifting can in many cases live in Windows Azure or even existing private hosting environments where the ISV just services new types of user experience to end users in a form of an app.

There is going to be lots of users in on premise SharePoint environments for quite a while, but starting to learn and review the possibilities in SharePoint 2013 environment should be a top priority for any ISV and SI that want to stay on top of the game.


App Ecosystem and APIs

Design by connectionI am a big proponent of APIs (application programming interfaces). Many of you might think that I must have a sick sense of humor, but I am seriously excited about this topic. We have finally moved to a new era where software development is moving away from trying to build colossal solutions that take years to implement and are hard to use. I gave an example of this in one of my previous blog posts how PowerObjects have been able to solve a business problem for me.

I am a true believer in assembling solutions of top-of-the-breed solutions and not trying to reinvent the wheel. If you felt a pinch in your heart, you should think about this and how you develop your software within your organization. Are you building things that already exist or are you building things that provide value-add to the overall solution based on your own core competence? I have led development teams an built more than 30 international software products with my teams, so I know what it means.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) can change your business and is a way for you to transform your business. It enables smart developers to create functional entities (consumable services) that can become a part of a larger entity. You do not have to go far to understand that quite a few companies have taken this approach such as Facebook etc. What is interesting is that APIs do not have to be only tied to external connections (messaging across organizations), but some large organizations are executing on effective API strategy within the company firewall. I truly think that the massive “one-fits-all” era is gone and the new era will be more about how you become part of your own ecosystem.

What we are seeing when working with large ISVs is the trend to not try to replace the old legacy solution, but to simulate a start-up by creating a MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that can meet the requirements of “good enough” for the end users. I think we have really come to the end of an era where more functionality is better, people do not have time to learn and re-learn things that should be self-explanatory. I am very excited about this MVP approach and will be writing more about this in my upcoming posts. I think this gives a new opportunity for legacy vendors to be competing towards new market entrants than every before.

I am excited about the potential with software, software apps and the cloud. I have been in the business for more than 20 years (hard to admit) and I feel like a young boy with the opportunities at hand. I like to challenge my brain (and keep myself relevant) by developing solutions and last weekend I spent customizing our internal Dynamics CRM 2011 Online instance to include the ability to collect information of TELLUS Academy students and also how to integrate all of this with our SharePoint 2013 Online instance. All of these are of course cloud-enabled and can be used from anywhere, anytime and independent of device. I set the objective in 2005 when I founded TELLUS to NOT have any servers that everything had to be surfaced from the cloud. Think back to 2005 and you will realize that there were not that many native cloud applications at the time.

If you are in the software business, you should look at the opportunities around apps and how you can build something exciting using the cloud. Unfortunately many organizations tend to think that creating an app has only to do with smart phones, but there is much more into apps than that. The app is just the “window to a service” that lives in the cloud and the user gets the benefit of this from many perspective such as scalability. I has been fun to see many organizations going into this direction with Windows Azure as backbone for the cloud services and Windows apps as the foundation. Windows Azure supports other mobile technologies such as Android and iOS as well.


Will your web-site work with different devices?

It surprises me how few software vendors have realized to change their web-site to work with any type of mobile or tablet device. Almost a year-and-a-half ago I made a decision to make things simple and base my web-sites on technology whereby I do not have to think about different devices, the web-site technology will take care of it and I can focus on content.

During the history of our company, we have had many attempts by having external designers doing the web for us and we ended up having an everlasting fight to keep our web-site compatible not only with different browsers, but also different devices. Every time we needed to change something on the site, it was a major hassle and it seemed like having a house or cards that would collapse as soon as anything was touched. It was time to move on and change the approach. I bit the bullet and decided to make a chance and  research what would be the best platform to base our  consulting company and our educational portal on. I looked at many different factors such as richness of component ecosystem, reviews from industry analysts of pros and cons of each CMS and also how our web-site would be integrated to our Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online that has become the heart of our daily lead management.

I ended up with WordPress as the foundation and a big plus was also that Microsoft supports WordPress on Windows Azure platform so it became and opportunity for me to learn Windows Azure Internet Web Sites technology as well. We had invested quite a lot of time and effort into DNN (DotNetNuke) in the past, but I felt that WordPress gave us the simplicity what I was looking for and the huge ecosystem of software plugins and themes made it as an easy selection. There was absolutely nothing wrong with DNN, but I just felt that WordPress was the right choice for us at this time of our company evolution and that is why I ended up changing horse.

I listed all of the needed functional elements that our site would have to support and I spent time looking for the right theme that would support our multi-device and browser requirement. Once those had been selected, the rest was just execution. All of our sites have commercial skins that are updated by the designers to include the latest and greatest features of the platform and the WordPress can be managed from my Lumia Nokia device using an app that support WordPress backend.

In the end, what I ended up is having following things when moving to our new web-site technology:

  • Simple and well-known CMS technology (WordPress) with thousands of commercial themes and plugins
  • Support for any type of device  either via an app or via native browser
  • Scalable backend server technology by using Windows Azure
  • Simple and fun to use CMS solution that just “make sense”
  • Lots of third-party integration solutions that can be applied to our web-site
  • Etc.

My new mantra “keep it simple” has really worked in our new strategy and I will be writing more about our modules that we are using to run our business in later posts.

The App Economy – How should we view app monetization?

The blogosphere is all about apps and how different ecosystems compete for the eyeballs of these and the money of course. You might still remember the the news when a far app pulled as much as $10,000/day in revenue but since then there is tens of similar applications on the marketplace. This started a trend where people left their well-paid jobs to chase their dream of creating apps and living a life without pressures. The growth of app economy is one of the most promising trends, but people/organizations that want to make real money of it, need to include some risk management into it as well. The app industry has become similar to film industry where relatively few people make money and the ones that make, are hugely successful like Angry Birds phenomenon from Finland.

One might of course ask oneself is whether this is a shift in our society and how work is performed. according to Erik Brynjolfsson (director of the M.I.T. Center of digital business), “technology is always destroying jobs and always creating jobs, but in recent years the destruction has been happening faster than the creation”. There is no question that technology is creating new jobs and apps can be part of this opportunity as can be seen in many of the reports that have studied this trend towards “app economy”.

What I have not seen many discussions around is how the app economy is linked with the enterprise software business. I have researched around this and identified the “dimensions” that are typically linked to the app business, but not that much is said how established software vendors should view this space and how these vendors can make a entry to the app space in a way that makes sense and where there is also a sustainable economical model.

So, the question that we should ask ourselves is how much of the app business is truly geared towards the consumer business and how much of this will gradually move into enterprise business? Should software vendors keep the app business in their plans when building enterprise solutions specifically using the cloud? If they should keep this in mind, what kind of pricing should the ISV use? Maybe free as the real money comes from the enterprise solution and not the app that accesses it? As you can see, it is not that clear and my own experience when working with both small and large enterprises, the app business hardly ever comes up in discussions. I am convinced that this will change and it will change very quickly. One of the drivers will be Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 developers that will create solutions that will be based on app technology and not on traditional desktop app architectural model even if these will be able to run in Windows 8 Pro environment.

Another valid question that we need to ask ourselves is whether app economy should be see purely from mobile app development perspective or should we view it from a perspective where the device is just the means to get to what you want and the backend (typically the cloud) is the one that provides the services and brokers the interaction between different services. Shouldn’t we in fact be talking about services economy instead where organizations build apps to consume and combine information from different sources using different SOA interfaces that organizations/developers have exposed to the world. Isn’t this what we have always dreamt about?

NokiaExpressI downloaded today a Windows Phone 8 app (Nokia Xpress) to my shiny Nokia Lumia 920 and this app really demonstrates where things are going. After having installed the app, it asked me whether it can use location information (which most apps want to use), but what really made me to think about the future of apps is that developers really have to think “outside the box” on when developing apps. The thing with this Nokia Xpress app is that it enables users to store and read articles on your phone (locally) so when you travel, you do not have to use expensive data roaming. I know.. there are many of these apps from before, but what this app has specifically thought of is to really monitory and minimize data usage and provide a combination of technology such as Microsoft SkyDrive technology to store videos and images without having to use the data plan. Why is this relevant to me? Just this week, my son’s data plan was going over the limit and I found out that it was all about video streaming and 2 gig data plan does not cope well with this.

The topic of “app economy” is very interesting to me as researcher, but also as practitioner. A recent paper written by Dr. Michael Mandel and Judith Scherer (commission by CTIA (The Wireless Association) and Application Developers Alliance provides an interesting view on the app economy. According to Mandel, the entire “App Economy” was coming to use in early 2009 and was popularized by a cover story run by BusinessWeek in November 2009.

The way that Dr. Michael Mandel describes App Economy in his February 2012 report resonates well with what I have educated my customers in respect to ecosystems:

“ App Economy is a collection of interlocking innovative ecosystems”. Each ecosystem consists of a core company, which creates and maintains a platform and an app marketplace, plus a small and large companies that produce apps and/or mobile devices  for that platform. Businesses can belong to multiple ecosystems and usually do”.

There is no question in my mind that this topic is relevant to anybody that works in the software industry and it is fascinating to see how this evolves with time and what kind of new companies will rise to take advantage of this.

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem, I highly encourage you to read the article “Microsoft’s cloud vision: Why Azure is the linchpin of the firm’s new devices and services strategy”. Another great article from that predicts Enterprise Apps to go mobile big time and that money apps will move to the cloud. The article lists quite a few things that are very interesting and I encourage you to read that article as well.

Stay tuned for more, there will be more to come on my research on different topics and this app economy being one of them!

Why software is still relevant and even more so going forward

When I reflect my past more than 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to be part of the software industry on a global level. First 10 years I spent in Europe working for software companies and the past 15 years I have lived and worked in the US as entrepreneur helping out software companies both domestically and internationally to expand their business.

I happened to run into a blog entry from TechCrunch by Jon Evans where he reflects on Journalism and how everything has become tech. The reference he makes is to a blog entry with the topic Software is eating the world  and is written by  Marc Andreessen whom most of us know already from the Netscape time. Marc Andreesseen is co-founder and general partner in a very well known venture capital company Andreeseen Horowitz with investments in many well known companies such as Facebook, Groupon, Twitter and many more

When you read the article from Andreessen, there are a few things that confirms some of the things that I have pondering on and also telling my software vendor clients in discussions. Software has not only become a necessity, it has become a must even for traditional hardware companies that one would not think that they need to ponder about software. This trend has been going on for a few years and we see this happening in the for example auto industry and what makes things even more exciting is that cloud technology is now part of this formula of success. Some mature industries are using new cloud technologies to achieve competitive edge towards the rest of the industry.

There are software companies such as MetaCase that will benefit of this trend. This software development tools company is the leading domain-specific modeling software company in the world that has very impressive clients working on embedded software solutions in different industries, including mobility and auto industry. The development environment MetaEdit+ enables organizations to create software product lines more effectively and also with higher quality.

Andreessen claims that we are in the midst of a huge and dramatic technological and economic shift where software companies are poised to take over a large part of the economy. It is easy to see this happening for real. Just think about how insurance companies and financial industry are able to use the cloud to execute heavy-duty risk calculations by submitting the request to the cloud and the only question that the cloud will ask is how much time it can take. Following picture shows pretty nicely how a company with pre-existing infrastructure investment (Datacenter) should view when considering a PaaS environment (Platform-as-a-Service) and in the figure we are referring to Windows Azure.

Azure vs. datacenter

The more capacity is allocated for the calculation, the more it will cost but this cost could easily be justified by opportunities to make more money due to time savings. In the picture above, it is easy to see that there will be a point in time when your own datacenter just does not scale where it needs to scale and that is why solutions/platforms such as Windows Azure will come to the play. This is also why we have to understand that new technologies such as cloud will bring new innovations to the market and this will definitely reflect on the valuations of these companies.

Andreessen gives lots of software related examples from different industries and I have had the luxury to work with many new an innovative (small and large) software companies that are now making this change in a very rapid pace. There will be lots of losers in this game as well. These will be the ones that feel that they already “own” the market and suddenly realize that smaller and more nimble players suddenly take the market and run with it.

The message that I want to send with this blog entry is to really emphasize that ignoring the change that is happening due to multiple factors such as mobility and cloud is probably one of the biggest mistakes that one can make as software leader. I encourage each one of you to do some due diligence in your own operations and answer to this simple question: “ will I still be relevant in 5 years”. If the answer is no, then you might have bigger issues on your hands than just the cloud transformation.

DrSalonen WordPress site is now running natively in Windows Azure environment

One of the benefits of having some down-time due to holiday season is to be able to do more of things what you can’t do when you are in full swing with work. For me this has meant throughout my career that I do research, write books, study technology or do things when I am not distracted from different things. Now I am listening to the wonderful Swedish singer Eva Dahlgren (got a CD from my wife as Christmas present) and writing this blog entry in late Dallas evening.

Azure-website-001What makes me very excited about this transfer of my WordPress site is that I wanted to upgrade the WordPress platform and get myself ready for 2013 where I will start making blog entries of my experiences that I have gained during 2012. It is time for me to start working on text again as it is already 2 years since I published my latest book. However, due to the projects in the cloud transformation, it has been so fascinating to learn new stuff so I am OK even if I have neglected the writing for a while.

Stay tuned for blog entries during 2013 and later today I will post some of my experiences in this transfer of my WordPress site from a private hosting site to Windows Azure environment.

Cloud ISV: Do not focus on building infrastructure, but focus on building value add for the end user

Software developers love to challenge themselves with things that make them feel good and the trickier the problem, the merrier it is to find the solution. In some cases, this could obviously be the killer innovation that nobody else has ever done, but if it is something that already exists and can be purchased from a third-party organization, it is waste of time and money to rebuild something that is already available. Do you remember the saying “ it can’t be good as it was not invented by us?”. I do remember vividly and have been the witness multiple time during my career.

Ten years ago software developers had to work on basic infrastructure before getting the solution built, but today, the focus should be mostly on innovating and assembling solutions that bring something new to the marketplace. I still see SaaS ISVs to claim that they need to build a billing solution as part of the solution, but there is plenty of other solutions already on the marketplace that do that well an can be integrated to the overall solution scenario.

I happened to view Microsoft Windows Azure homepage today to see if there was something new and was very happy to see the homepage to include the same statement that I am bringing here: “Focus on your application. Not the infrastructure”.  A good place to start looking at other SaaS components/solutions is to visit Windows Azure marketplace that includes listings of different solutions that the ISV can use as part of their solution delivery. If you are a system integrator, you should also spend time understanding what the software ecosystem has to offer so you can become a trusted advisor to your clients.

I do recognize that in some cases there is a need to build “glue” components that can be regarded as infrastructure components, but at the same time, the ISV needs to realize that those components will be replaced by commodity software whereby the original solution needs to be reengineered in some way or the other. In the past, as a leader of a software development team, we had to spend lots of time creating infrastructure for our solution to even work. I used to be the lead for several business intelligence solutions and at that time, there just weren’t enough components or infrastructure that would take care of the basic functionality. I still remember vividly our fight in going from 16-bit Windows to 32-bit technology and we had to support APPC communication between the mini computer and the Windows desktops.  The bad news was that IBM decided to redo most of the router software with a pace that we as an ISV had really hard time to follow and we run into pressure from our clients to upgrade our 16-bit technology.  You typically do not want to be the first one on the planet to test new technology, but in this case we did not have a choice. We spent multiple months “running against the time” when trying to get our solution to work with the latest Windows router technology and it was not fun and it was very expensive.

I mentioned that SaaS ISVs should look at other SaaS solution to bring functionality as billing and organizations such as Zuora, Inc is an example of an organization that brings subscription billing and commerce platform that can be used by other SaaS vendors.

My message to cloud ISVs is simple: learn your cloud ecosystem, learn what there is that you can consume as part of your solution and focus on innovation on the solution and not on the infrastructure.

Software solutions we are using on a daily basis when running a consulting business with people distributed in different parts of the world

I get questions from other entrepreneurs what software we are using to run our business and it has been my intention for a while to create a blog entry about this and I finally got to do it so here it is.

I founded TELLUS International six years ago after having been part of a software company exit (sales of a software business intelligence company). When founding TELLUS, I made a firm decision not to invest any money in hardware which forced me to select solutions that would run as a cloud solution (SaaS).  This was a pretty bold statement back in 2005 as the cloud really became reality and part of “accepted” much later and there really wasn’t that many SaaS solutions back then.

Throughout this blog entry, you will see that solution integration plays an important role when running a business. Integration is by far the most important thing that an organization should pay attention to. You do not want your personnel having to re-enter things to many applications, the focus should be on sharing information across different applications. For us, Microsoft Office Suite with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project, OneNote etc. are obvious selections for the office productivity tools but all fo the data and documents have to live in the cloud.

There are some applications that are better suited to run as desktop apps with the ability to save data to the cloud and therefore I really see a hybrid model to be the case in many solution areas and I have some examples of this later in this blog entry. If we work in Microsoft Word, the document will be saved a cloud vault so nothing will be lost even if the laptop/desktop fails or hard drive goes bad. In our case, M-Files document management solution was the right choice due to many reasons that I explain later in this blog entry.

Let me start this journey by working through each operational area where software is needed. I will start by looking at company accounting as that is what is usually needed immediately after the company has been created. You could potentially keep your books using Microsoft Excel (I have seen this happening as well), but I decided to base my company on a real foundation from get-go and Excel was not the solution for TELLUS accounting and was not cloud based either.

Accounting in the cloud back in 2005

Back in 2005, the only real SaaS vendor for accounting was Intuit with QuickBooks Online and that is what we have been using from get-go. I had exposure to QuickBooks Online already before 2005 when I was running a business intelligence software company so I knew what I was getting myself into. The reasons why we went initially to QuickBooks Online from regular QuickBooks was due to the need to share financial information with the headquarters in Finland. A SaaS solution enabled any user get immediate access to the books. What a great concept and Intuit was the first one to get a SaaS solution to the marketplace.

The benefits of having accounting in the cloud are many such as:

1)      I can have my CPA review on my books anytime, anywhere without me having to worry about hardware or software to be installed.

2)      I can generate invoices and have people to enter their time for billing purposes just using the browser

3)      With the mobility era coming even stronger, the mobile interface to QuickBooks Online are getting even better what it is today.

Communication tools with the external world

As a Microsoft partner it was very natural for us to select Microsoft-hosted Exchange environment for our email needs. We have been using Microsoft-hosted version since it came out and could not be happier. The environment supports different types of mobile devices as well and which is the reality of many organizations today. The days when everything was standardized into one specific device are gone.

Document Management Solution – Getting documents and workflow processes into control

A key part of any consultancy is to standardize how documents are managed, where they are saved and what type of workflow processes are attached to different document types. During the past six years we have tried many solutions and luckily I was able to find something that not only made sense to the users, but also supported my vision of having a cloud-based solution for our document management. The solution is M-Files with Windows Azure backend (storage) and a small plugin that enables fully integrated user experience when working with Microsoft office environment. Let me explain what I mean by fully integrated document management experience.

First of all, the end user does not have to think about document management when using M-Files.  M-Files is like a drive on a laptop/desktop with the difference that the user does not have to worry about directories or file naming when saving the document to the M-Files Azure repository. The user is presented with a metadata card that includes information for that specific document type (document class) and this is much more meaningful to the user as everything then becomes searchable and structures can be changed without really having to think about directories. How many times have you wondered where you saved a document and whether the document is the last one that has been touched? According to some studies, a document exists on average 19 times in a typical corporate environment. What a horrible way to spend money and time for nothing.

In our case, we have also integrated M-Files with Dynamics CRM 2011 Online environment with full two-way synchronization. What this mean in practicality is that all customer names and contacts are automatically synchronized from Dynamics CRM 2011 Online to M-Files Windows Azure repository. The synchronization is two-way where any change in M-Files is automatically synchronized back to Dynamics CRM 2011.

The reality is that all of us use Microsoft Office as the main environment when working with documents and what M-Files brings to the table is a native plugin to each one of these apps, including Microsoft Outlook: each application has a button to save the document to the M-Files Azure Document Vault and that is very powerful. Nobody in the organization has a need to explain that he/she does not have time to save documents, because the effort is in fact less as the document metadata card is automatically driving the saving process.

We also use the workflow engine in M-Files to drive our approval processes in proposals which is important to keep the quality high on the documents that are sent to the prospects.

If you reflect on the text above about how we integrate things within our organization it is easy to say that M-Files is almost like the traffic controller sitting in the middle and documenting what we are doing. We have seen many organizations with disintegrated applications with lots of re-entry of data and that is not only useless but also frustrating to the end users.

On top of the integration capabilities between M-Files and other operational applications on the metadata and metadata related records, any document that flows through any of the employees will have metadata associated to it and any document will have full support to audit trail as well as company/contact information associated to it. M-Files enable organizations also to integrate the solution into ERP/accounting database whereby M-Files really becomes the central hub for any information flow.

Sales and Marketing in the Cloud is a pioneer in SaaS-based sales force automation solutions, no question about that. Back in 2005 when I had made my decision to only use SaaS based solutions, I had to go with SalesForce initially but we agreed in the management team that once Microsoft comes with its own SaaS-based solution, we would convert to Dynamics CRM Online. We did exactly that with the Dynamics CRM Online that Microsoft introduced to the marketplace. I am glad that I did this transition. With the new Dynamics CRM 2011 Online release, the third-party market was given the opportunity to create add-on applications whereby the use of the CRM could be extended to new functional areas.

A key element in our CRM use is a Microsoft Outlook plugin from a company called Linkpoint360 that enables us to save emails either to Account/Contact or Lead contacts. What makes this different to the very effective native tracking in Dynamics CRM is the easiness to flag things to the database. It is just one click “Record to Microsoft CRM” and you will be presented with a dialog box where you can select how you want to save it and if you want to add a follow-up action on the account/contact/lead. This solution is one of those things that you can view as a “non-brainer” and I would highly recommend to test it out and you will see that the money you pay for it is worth and the return on investment from productivity perspective is just ridiculous.

Another related technology to CRM use is marketing and email automation and we made a decision to use CoreMotives Marketing Suite that has a native Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online solution that enables tight integration to the CRM use. What it really means is that the CRM becomes “the place” to go to for everything. When we send out emails as part of the campaign, everything will be tagged inside the CRM and the analytics will give us a 360 degree view of how the campaign has progressed, how many reads the campaign message has had and what type of actions the user has taken. Very effective and what makes it also interesting is that Coremotives uses Windows Azure as the backend for the solution which is obviously something we like ISVs to do when building solutions. That is part of TELLUS educational series when making selections of technology. This is exactly the same technology that M-Files is using as it backend cloud technology.

As our business model is to work with Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Systems Integrators (SIs) we depend on our marketing and sales process as we apply this to both channel building for our ISV clients, sales to end user organizations but also to market our services to prospective ISVs and SIs.

With M-Files integration to our Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online with LinkPoint360 and CoreMotives we have a fully integrated lifecycle management of our entire marketing/sales process.

Research tools

My life is about research and writing and part of this process I have had to search and pick the best tools for this work. When you think about the process that one performs in research, the internet with search engine becomes one of the most important tools. The question now becomes where you save all of those links that you might need, the regular “favorites” folder in an Internet browser just isn’t enough. I ended up by selecting Microsoft OneNote 2010 as the most important tool for me to collect data and this has become invaluable to me in everything I do. Besides Microsoft OneNote, I also use mind mapping tool from Mindjet to plan and categorize things as I explained further down in this blog entry. The main tool for any of my writing is Microsoft Word 2010 that has been the foundation for two of my latest books and the third one I am working on.

Other productivity tools

Besides the operational tools that I explained above, we use a few other very handy tools when working on projects.

Graphical tools

One that has become a key and core software solution for me is Snagit from a company called Techsmith. Snagit enables me to grab anything from my current screen and reuse that image in my presentations or documents that I am authoring. Snagit has really become a core tool in any work that I do.

Mindmapping tools

Another application is a mind mapping software MindManager from Mindjet. We have used mind mapping in all of our research projects as it gives a nice overall view on the information that you are trying to portray. This has been extremely useful in our influencer intelligence studies that we have worked on during the years.

We started by using the Windows version of Mindjet, then signed up for the SaaS-based version of Mindjet called Mindjet Catalyst but realized pretty soon that it was not able to scale to the mind maps that we were building so we discontinued the use of the SaaS solution. I believe that the horsepower that this type of application takes is not really suited for a pure web-based solution seen from a usability perspective.

Presentation tools

The key presentation tool for our TELLUS workshops and events is Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. For the online video presentation we use Camtasia Studio Screen recording & Video Editing software from the same company Techsmith that is the creator of Snagit software. This software enables us to record PowerPoint slideshows with voice/and video capture with lots of different output options for different devices.

Scanning software for business cards

One of the key tasks that I do after a conference or having met a person is to scan the business card by using Dymo Cardscan 800c device with its embedded software. I have been using this technology for years, but unfortunately since it was acquired by Dymo, I have seen no developments for the software or integration to other solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online environment. They have their own SaaS environment where you can synchronize the cards from the desktop software but that environment does not have any other integration possibilities so it remains to be seen how long I keep using this package. Once somebody invents or creates a solution that integrates well with Microsoft Dynamics CRM environment, I am ready to move over.

I will add new tools/software by updating this blog entry and in future blogs I will go in more detail to explain how each of these tools are used from a practical sense in our daily lives. I would love to hear what other tools you are using and also the use cases behind them.