Content Marketing For IT Vendors Archives

blockchain marketing tips One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “always explain what you’re talking about. Never assume your audience knows the background – even if they’re experts.”

I’m especially careful to do that now around blockchain, the distributed database technology that assures the integrity of transactions or data without a central clearing house.* The hype around blockchain is so great, and the marketplaces in blockchain-based virtual currencies so hard to understand, that one billionaire investor recently called digital currencies based on blockchain “an unfounded fad.” In one story, he freely admits he is stumped by such cryptocurrencies and isn’t alone among savvy Wall Street investors puzzled by their popularity.

How’s That Again? 

To understand where we’re going wrong, check out one company’s response to the successful hacking of its peer to peer platform for initial coin offerings. These allow individual investors to help fund startups, creating a more democratic alternative to initial public offerings of stock that are usually only open to insiders or big investors.

In a July 24 post on a discussion thread, this company (which will go unnamed to protect the accused) said “We were hacked, possibly by a group. The hack seemed to be very sophisticated… the hacker(s) made away with $8.4M worth of tokens.” Doesn’t sound good, does it?

Here’s a sample of their explanation, edited for brevity. See if you can make heads or tails out of it.

“Although I hate to see assets stolen, and I hate thieves, the incident proved both the resilient demand for our tokens and the utility of the decentralized exchange…the amount stolen was miniscule (less than 00.07%) although the dollar amount was quite material.. .(the tokens stolen) are software that represent our knowledge, advisory and consulting skills, products and capabilities. Without (our) team, the tokens are literally worthless…we aren’t selling currencies, we aren’t selling securities. We are selling capabilities…We have already landed (a regional stock exchange as a client) just 30 days after the initial token offering…now you can see how inconsequential the mere hack of a few million dollars”

 Get all that? It’s reasonably clear that this company is offering tokens, on its blockchain-based platform, that customers can exchange for their consulting services. But while the dollar amount was miniscule, the dollar amount was quite material. So that means…what?

It’s Only A Few Million Dollars

The mention of the stock exchange as a customer (right after the company said “we aren’t selling securities”) is needlessly confusing. So is the rest of the post which I didn’t quote, as it goes into rambling detail about meetings they had with senior hedge funds executives who are thrilled with what they are doing. Also left unanswered is the central question: If a hacker could steal millions of dollars of worthless tokens from their platform, why should a stock exchange trust them with actual securities?

Finally, I love this sentence: “Now, you can see how inconsequential the mere hack of a few million dollars.” Not to me. The writer failed to remind readers of the essential context that no actual money was stolen – only tokens for the company’s service, which the company could disavow. A phrase like “…the mere hack of a few million dollars” is and should be a red flag for a customer or investor who is already skeptical about blockchain.

What we are left with, then, is a chasm between the enthusiasm for, and investment in, blockchain among major industry, financial and technology players such as  IBM, Bank of America and Amazon  and the skepticism that naturally results when we can’t explain what a blockchain is, what we’re using it to sell, and why a security breach on one isn’t such a big deal.

Into the breach, as always, step marketers like us. Our job is to explain complex concepts in ways that clearly show how they help the reader, viewer, or listener (for those into video or podcasts.) If we can’t do that well, we shouldn’t respond at all, as we’re only contributing to the problem.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

No Robot Overlords at MIT CIO Symposium

The recent 2017 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass. was full of talk about “digital transformation,” driven by everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain to the Internet of Things. Among the insights, for me, were the current limits and future potential of AI, and how much a real (rather than hyped up) story of digital transformation stood out.

Are the Robots Coming for Your Job?

Some reports predict that artificial intelligence (software programs that can teach themselves how to do complex tasks) will take as many as half the jobs humans now do in the next decade. For those of us not made of silicon and algorithms, Tom Davenport, President’s Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Management at Babson College, had some comfort from his survey of 160 such projects. He found no evidence of job loss, although there was some reduction in outsourcing.

The bad news, he said, is that smart machines are not yet delivering increased productivity, and that doing so may require the layoffs the experts are predicting. Nor is machine learning yet delivering other dramatic breakthroughs optimists had hoped for. He cited the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which spent $52 million in an attempt to use IBM’s Watson AI system to diagnose, treat and cure cancer. Not a single patient has yet been treated with the technology, he said, and the project is “pretty much on hold.”

However, the use of AI for more basic and labor intensive tasks, such as helping patients schedule visits and determining which patients are unlikely to pay their bills and thus need prodding, are delivering “huge and rapid” return on investment, he said.

He is still predicting big, and impressive, long-term results from AI, with an “amazing” breadth of projects underway spanning functions from legal to human resources to auditing. He also was careful to say his predictions about the limited impact of AI could change dramatically with the rapid, ongoing increase in machine intelligence (one of the programs he studied taught itself Italian.) When the “singularity” arrives (the point at which machines become more capable than humans), he said “all bets are off.”

Marketing/PR tips: Stay informed about AI developments and aggressive in understanding how they affect your industry, no matter how “low tech” it seems. Don’t underestimate AI and how quickly it is developing. One sweet spot for thought leadership (on which I’m working with one client) is how to ensure smart machines act ethically and don’t harm humans. With luminaries such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warning of the dangers to the future of the human race this has obvious headline value.

Real Digital Transformation, at Last

The meaningless (to me, at least) “digital transformation” buzzword was all over the symposium, although not one speaker took the time to define it. Naturally, this meant discussion of how to achieve it was all over the map, and some of the examples were, shall we say, less than compelling.

The most convincing story at the conference came from Tetra Pak Group, a leader in the not seemingly digital nor transformative business of supplying milk and juice cartons and the machinery to fill and seal them. (Yes, they make those little juice cartons with the plastic straws that litter the back of every parent’s car.)

As CIO Mark Meyer described it, this 60-year old family-owned firm has dominated its space for years. Expansion came from entering new geographies, which it did with a classic razors and razor blade strategy: Sell the packaging equipment at a low margin to make higher margins selling the packaging material the machines need.

With increasing competitive pressures, the packing firm is increasing the amount of monitoring data it gets from its machines in the field, so it can sell services such as preventive maintenance and information about best production practices to reduce waste. Eventually, he hinted, it might get into the business of running its customers’ packaging equipment, “selling” a certain number of packed cartons guaranteed to meet their freshness, sterility and cost needs rather than just equipment and packing materials.

This is similar to the much-touted GE strategy of moving from selling jet engines to selling “time on wing”  – a jet engine on an airplane guaranteed to meet specific levels of reliability, thrust and fuel consumption, enabled by GE’s wealth of data about engine performance. The appeal of the Tetra Pak story is that it is an attempt to “transform” an even more old-style manufacturing company through the smart use of data, and in a fundamental and permanent way.

PR/marketing tips: if you’re touting a “transformation” story make sure the change your client is aiming for is 1) fundamental and 2) permanent. The more common and every day the product or service (i.e., milk cartons) the more dramatic the story. Be ready to capture reader attention by explaining the change in business models very clearly, and then sell to the tech reader with details such as the types of data required, the sensors that gather it, the networks that transmit it, the data models used to organize it and the AI capabilities required to analyze it.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Driving Thought Leadership in Blockchain

blockchain thought leadership

Kosta Peric of thge Bill & Melinda Gates foundation describes a blockchain-based digital payment platform for the poor.

So you’re convinced of the potential of blockchain (networks of encrypted ledgers in which the nodes automatically and continually assure the accuracy of all the data on the chain without the need for a central authority.)

And you think you have some deep thinking that will help you ride the blockchain rocket. If so, what content marketing strategies will make you a blockchain thought leader?

Here are some approaches based on my own recent work on blockchain thought leadership, and from the recent “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. (Videos of the event here.)

Use the “D” Word – Decentralization

The technical rebel (or rebels) who created blockchain were driven by a desire to decentralize power and authority from the centralized gatekeepers that now make the rules, handle the transactions and keep much of the money in today’s economies and societies.

For example, Uber looks like a decentralized ride-sharing service that lets drivers make money when their cars would otherwise sit unused. But the information about who needs rides and which drivers are available sits with a central authority (Uber), not the drivers or riders. And it is Uber that sets many of the rules and takes a percent of each transaction. Same with the home-sharing service Airbnb.

While blockchain since gone mainstream, with the likes of IBM offering “enterprise production ready blockchain services,” the disruptor mentality is still strong. And since blockchain is meant to be so disruptive, much of the talk at the conference was about who will be disrupted, and how.

Not all the answers are clear. Amber Baldet, blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, for example, cited the upside that blockchain can dramatically lower processing costs. But the downside is how blockchain could eliminate, or greatly reduce the need for entities like J.P. Morgan at all. How will this all play out? No one knows. Therein lies your thought leadership opportunity.

In your content marketing strategy, be bold in identifying  middlemen (even yourself) that are ripe for replacement through blockchain. What can or must they do to survive if blockchain replaces their “utility” function of providing safe, cheap transactions? Should they rethink who they can serve as customers, or how? Are their new value-added services they need to develop now to prepare for the loss of revenue if blockchain takes off? What will your industry look like in five or ten years if blockchain eliminates or reduces the need for today’s middlemen?

 Noodle on the Big Legal, Regulatory and Social Issues

Much of the talk at the conference was not about technology, but rather how laws and regulations will need to change if blockchain is to reach its decentralizing, empowering potential. For example, Lawrence Orsini, principal and founder of LO3 Energy, waxed poetic about the potential for local, decentralized solar powered micro-electric grids to produce greener power at lower cost. But in countries such as Germany, the rise of such renewable energy has sent traditional utilities into a nosedive as their revenues drop, while their costs stay the same for standby power plants for when renewables aren’t available, and the electric grids over which renewable producers sell their energy.

Use your industry smarts to think deeply about how blockchain could change your business, and what role regulators as well as traditional middlemen play. In the case of utilities, should regulators allow them to spin off legacy infrastructure into safe but low-return businesses that maintain power grids as a public good while putting more investment into smart grids that allow the dynamic sharing of power across markets? Why (and if so, how) should governments or regulators change how rates are sets and financial returns regulated to encourage such a shift? If a blockchain is corrupted or allows the theft of a cyber currency, who is liable for the loss? What issues should lawmakers and industry groups be tackling now?  

Think Social Good

Multiple users, and even entire sessions at the conference, were devoted to how blockchain can help the world. Ideas (and actual projects) range from delivering credit and secure transactions to the billions the billions who are now “unbanked” to low cost identity assurance programs that can widen access to government aid and even fighting human trafficking.

In some cases, the messaging spans the commercial and public realms.  Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project, an open source blockchain initiative, told the conference his  “aha” moment occurred when he learned of blockchain’s potential to securely record property claims and thus prevent the theft of land from the poor in Latin America.

 If you have a genuine social strategy, go for it in your content strategy. If you don’t, or are mixing social good with private gain, be careful. If you “greenwash” your blockchain thinking with an idealistic spin the rebel zealots in the blockchain community will delight in shredding you. Look instead for areas where your interest and society’s align, such as a utility that needs to reduce peak power generation costs while meeting greenhouse gas emission laws, and can use blockchain to do both.

The potential of blockchain is so great there’s plenty of room to think big thoughts and answer (or raise) big questions. Don’t be afraid to think big, and to focus on the vertical market and business issues you understand, not the blockchain technicalities you don’t.

What do you do when a client, or your executives, issue the trumpet call for blockchain thought leadership?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Get Off the Commodity Bus!

differentiate IT service providersDo you feel like you’re stuck trying to differentiate yourself in a crowded, “me-too” market like, for example, local IT service providers?

Take a lesson from Southern New Hampshire University, maybe best known for the bus they send around the country delivering diplomas to graduates of their on-line programs.

They escaped a death spiral of rising costs and falling enrollment by recognizing an underserved market, reorganizing itself to serve that market better than its competitors and thus lifting itself out of the muck of “me-too” competitors.

Find the Underserved Customer…

The first step out of the commodity swamp was accepting SNHU had no compelling draw for the conventional market — high school seniors looking for a four-year residential experience.

The second step was realizing there was another, even bigger, underserved market. Fully 80 percent of the post-secondary education market is made up of working adults with families and other “non-traditional students.” For them, flexible course timing, fast help with anything from coursework to financial aid and a return on their investment are far more important than life in a dorm or weekend football games.

Understanding the new “customer”, and building on the school’s existing online offerings, SNHU President Paul LeBlanc reorganized everything from admissions to courses to financial aid to provide what these students need anytime, anywhere.

…and Cater to Them

How many traditional colleges, for example, pay more than 160 “admissions counselors” to stand by to answer phone calls (especially on weekends) to help prospective students find the right degree program? Rather than telling a busy applicant to find and send their own transcripts for transfer credits, SNHU hunts them down and even pays the administrative fees. And rather than wait for students to fall behind in their work before offering help, SNHU uses predictive analytics to alert instructors when a student goes too long without logging on to a course or spends too much time on an assignment.

By late last year, the school was nearing $535 million in revenue, a 34 percent compounded annual growth rate for the past five years. Over that time it grew its online offerings to 180 programs serving 34,000 “customers.”

The story isn’t perfect, as completion rates are still stuck at about 50 percent, and some students and faculty) question whether the highly standardized courses deliver a true quality education.

But think of how USNH stands out of the pack by having admissions counselors picking up the phone on weekends, which may be the only time a working person has time to think about college. Think about the competitive advantage of understanding that a non-traditional student might not know when they’re falling behind, and reaching out to them for help before they waste their hard-earned tuition. Even if the education is no better (however the student measures it) than a traditional school, the ease of access and focus on the customer’s real need is a major competitive advantage.

What “Job” Does Your Customer Need Done?

One tactic that helped SNHU zero in on these underserved students was asking what unfinished “job” their students (customers) wanted the school to complete for them. The unfinished work might be getting enough education to make more money without taking on too much debt or dropping the ball on work and family obligations.

What would such a customer-focused approach look like for, let’s say, a regional service provider that has trouble differentiating itself from the competition?

Ask yourself who is the real customer? Are you selling to a line of business manager, the CEO or the IT “super user” who got stuck with handling support? What do each of them really need in an IT service provider that they’re not getting? Easier to read monthly bills? More prescriptive analytics about performance issues? Getting to a human rather than a series of voice prompts? And are there new types of customers (say, those who got started with a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services but have grown so large they need outside management help) you could tap that you have not?.

Taking the “jobs” perspective also leads right to the business problems (or opportunities) your customers are trying to meet. All too often the on-site techies are too focused on incremental milestones or internal tweaks than on the business-critical “job” the customer hired them for, such as improving customer service, or bring new products to market more quickly.

In some cases, the “job” might be something the customer didn’t even think someone could do for them. In the case of SNHU, their prospective customers were often stuck with debt from previous schooling, and had stopped trying for more education because they thought the only option was more conventional schooling that had failed them before.

Find an underserved market, understand its needs and then turn yourself inside out to meet them. Not easy, but if you do it right you’ve got huge growth potential.

Are there any untapped niches left in the local/regional IT service provider market or it is “just” all about local presence and customer service? What’s worked for you in differentiating yourself or your clients?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Blockchain Will Be Huge. We Think.

Blockchain – the distributed ledger system meant to handle financial and other transactions without the need for banks or other central authorities – will be huge.

Those is, if dozens of players with competing agendas can solve multiple complex technical problems, and convince regulators to overturn centuries of rules in everything from finance to utilities.

That was my takeaway from this week’s “Business of Blockchain” event, organized by MIT Technology Review and the MIT Media Lab. (Videos of the event here.) (Blockchain is a network (or chain) of encrypted ledgers, in which the node hosting each copy of the ledger automatically and continually assures the accuracy of all the data and transactions on the entire chain without the need for a central authority.)

Speakers at the conference speculated that blockchain could today be where the internet was in 1990, 1985 or even 1969 –- a seemingly arcane technology poised to fundamentally change economies and societies.

But getting there is by no means certain and will require a lot of work. This post is about where blockchain is today, based on buzz at the conference and my blockchain work with clients. Follow-up posts will describe 1) tactical themes for your blockchain marketing content, and 2) more strategic questions to tackle for blockchain thought leadership.

Blockchain is Real…

Among the proof points for blockchain are:

  • UK-based Everledger uses IBM’s blockchain to prove the authenticity of 1.2 million diamonds worldwide, assuring customers they’re getting the gems they paid for and reducing counterfeiting. “Smart contracts” on the blockchain check each diamond for compliance far more quickly than previous methods.
  • Global derivatives trader CME Group is testing a blockchain-based “digital record of ownership” for ownership of gold stored in the vaults of the Royal Mint in England. This will give buyers and sellers better visibility into pricing and availability in a market that’s “screaming for disruption,” said Sandra Ro, digitization lead at CME Group. (Video of her presentation here.)
  • The Moog Aircraft Group is combining blockchain with additive printing to transmit designs for parts (and the paperwork proving the part is up to spec) to 3D printers at, say, a local airport or aircraft carrier at sea. James Regenor, business unit director for Additive Manufacturing and Innovation at Moog, told the conference this will reduce not only inventory and shipping costs, but the time required to send the documentation without which parts cannot be used. (Watch his presentation here.)

Both Ro and Amber Baldet, executive director and blockchain program lead at J.P. Morgan, pointed out the potential of blockchain to reduce transaction costs in an industry under intense cost pressure in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. IBM, a co-sponsor with Deloitte, referenced a survey showing 14 percent of its global financial services customers expect to deploy production blockchain applications this year, and said more than 400 customers are using its own IBM Blockchain.

…But Still Very Young

But even those who believe blockchain could be as revolutionary as the Internet stressed how much work is yet to be done. One described blockchain, for example, as nowhere near the “tipping point” the Web reached when HTTP (the Hypertext Transfer Protocol) put a pretty graphical interface (in the form of Web pages) on the underlying technology in the mid-1990s.

Baldet noted that while there are more than $18 billion in bitcoins (a “cryptocurrency” and payment method based on blockchain) in circulation, this is dwarfed by the $97.4 in conventional currency in circulation globally. Although bitcoin is the most widely known use of blockchain, some speakers argued over whether such cryptocurrencies are even a necessary part of blockchains. (Ro can be seen on YouTube asking whether bitcoin is a currency, a commodity, or something else altogether.)

Blockchain Busters

Even on the technical level, there are serious questions over whether blockchain can deliver. Associate professor Emin Gün Sirer of Cornell University listed the three essential promises of blockchain. They are 1) that every transaction must be valid, 2) the history of each transaction must be immutable (impossible to change) and 3) all nodes must reach a consensus on which transactions are valid.) Production blockchains have failed all three tests, he said, with software bugs allowing the creation of fraudulent bitcoins and forcing the roll back of fraudulent transactions.

One vulnerability, he told the conference, is the consensus model by which blockchain nodes continually check the validity of entries in the distributed ledger. If a hacker can take over enough nodes to force a consensus, they can block a valid transaction, or commit a fraudulent transaction. This threat is heightened, he said, because in many blockchains, the same code is used to run all the nodes, making them vulnerable to the same hack.

Yet another challenge is proving that a participant in a blockchain (whether a person or an organization) are who they claim. This was a major sticking point for conference speakers, who had trouble agreeing how to define “identity,” much less how much identity a participant might need in various cases or how to assure it.

Non-technical governance, regulatory and legal questions loomed as large, if not larger. If hackers steal a digital currency but don’t cash it in for “official” currency, has a crime been committed? Would regulators, or customers, accept a financial system where 51% of blockchain nodes could “vote” to roll back a transaction? What will it take to convince regulators that blockchains are safe replacements for today’s “middlemen” such as banks and electric utilities?

Marketing Blockchain? First Steps

All this makes an unusual challenge if you want to play in the blockchain space, but don’t have a finished product, service or business model to talk about in your marketing content.

To start, be sure you have answers to (or at least a feasible approach for) dealing with the security and other limits of blockchain, and the regulatory or governance hurdles it faces in your specific industry.

Second, as several speakers warned, don’t just use “blockchain” as a way to sell your current offerings. One example that surfaced repeatedly was database vendors disguising their wares as distributed ledgers, whether they meet the unique needs of blockchain or not. The blockchain community prides itself on being “disruptive” of existing technologies and businesses, and the true believers will be all too happy to trash tacky marketing ploys.

Finally, broaden your content marketing mindset – as many of my clients are — beyond getting leads to generating interest and involvement from potential partners, investors, regulators and governments. Getting blockchain right will take a lot of bright minds, and content that attracts them may be just what you need at this point.

How does this square with your view of blockchain acceptance in the marketplace? Are you or your clients even thinking of marketing your blockchain chops or still trying to get your mind around the concept?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

DevOps Hits A “WTF?” Snag

DevOps marketing It’s hard to get where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going.

Consider DevOps, the merger of development and operations processes to speed applications to market. If the buyer and seller have different definitions of what it is, they’ll expect different results. Which is a recipe for wasted time and money, not to mention unhappy customers.

You Say “DevOps,” I Say…”?????”

For dreary confirmation of the confusion, look no further than a recent report from B2B ratings and review firm Clutch. Clutch surveyed 247 IT professionals about their use of, and views about, DevOps, starting with a question about what DevOps is. The four leading choices, with the percent choosing each:

  • 35%: “… a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other [IT] professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes.” (from Wikipedia.)
  • 24%: “…an approach to operations … uniting development and operations teams to automate and standardize processes for infrastructure deployment…” (From Rackspace.)
  • 21%: “…a philosophy or ideology [with] many of the underlying principles and language … grounded in a combination of agile software development plus Kaizen, Lean Manufacturing, and Six Sigma methodologies.” (from Hewlett Packard Enterprise.)
  • 20% “…the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity.” (From Amazon Web Services.)

What is This, Religion?

Culture? Philosophy? Ideology? This spread of answers, with no definition getting support from more than about a third of the respondents, shows an alarming fuzziness around what customers expect from DevOps, and thus how providers should sell it.

Before you all start shouting that you can’t “sell” DevOps like a network router or a software testing project, I get it. But there is “stuff” you definitely do sell around DevOps, whether it’s cloud infrastructure, code repositories, training or consulting.

So to sell those DevOps-related products and services, how about focusing on the consistent themes across the definitions of 1) collaboration, 2) communication 3) automation and 4) standardization, all of which deliver the holy grail of faster time to market for new software and services.

DevOps Positioning

In developing marketing content around DevOps products and services, then, avoid the religious wars around jargon and definition and focus on the key features and the benefits.  For example:

  • How our new chat software, code repository or staff training enable collaboration. 
  • How our workflow management, service monitoring or performance analytics software, or our best practices frameworks, improve communication.
  • How our scripting tools, automation server or support for Puppet and Chef enable automation and
  • How our development, orchestration or monitoring platforms increase standardization and thus improved reliability, performance and security.

And don’t forget, of course, examples from actual customers about how your products and services not boosted agility and sped new applications to market, but reduced costs or increased sales – the real bottom line.

If you’re looking for DevOps tools, by the way, check out this great list of 50 top DevOps tools, which does a great job of explaining the benefits of each. You’re also free to use, adapt or steal my sample drip campaign for DevOps products or services.

Do your customers, or clients, agree on what DevOps means and when they’ve achieved it? And does the confusion get in the way of effective marketing and customer success?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Want some serverless BS with your FUD?

selling serverless architecturesI hadn’t heard of serverless computing until I saw this post by storage maven Greg Schulz. Put simply, “serverless” reduces the need for conventional servers by off-loading functions such as authentication onto other systems, such as those in the cloud.

Even though he’s deeply technical, Greg cuts through the hype and provides a great road map for differentiating a technical solution by describing it clearly and focusing on the value your solution provides.  This is reprinted by kind permission of Greg’s Server and Storage IO Blog where you can find the full version with illustrations.

By Greg Schulz

A few years ago a popular industry buzzword term theme included server less and hardware less.

It turns out, serverless BS (SLBS) and hardware less are still trendy, and while some might view the cloud or software-defined data center (SDDC) virtualization, or IoT folks as the culprits, it is more widespread with plenty of bandwagon riders. SLBS can span from IoT to mobile, VDI and workspace clients (zero or similar), workstations, server, storage, networks. To me what’s ironic is that many purveyors of of SLBS also like to talk about hardware.

What’s the issue with SLBS?

Simple, on the one hand, there is no such thing as software that does not need hardware somewhere in the stack. Second, many purveyors of SLBS are solutions that in the past would have been called shrink-wrap. Thirdly IMHO SLBS tends to take away from the real benefit or story of some solutions that can also prompt questions or thoughts of if there are other FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) or MUD (marketing uncertainty doubt). Dare to be different, give some context about what your server less means as opposed to being lumped in with other SLBS followers.

Data Infrastructures (hardware, software, services, servers, storage, I/O and networks)

Moving beyond SLBS

Can we move beyond the SLBS and focus on what the software or solution does, enables, its value proposition vs. how it is dressed, packaged or wrapped?

IMHO it does not matter who or why SLBS appeared or even that it exists, rather clarifying what it means and what it does not mean, adding some context. For example, you can acquire (buy, rent, subscribe) software without a server (or hardware). Likewise, you can get the software that comes bundled prepackaged with hardware (e.g. tin-wrapped), or via a cloud or other service.

The software can be shrink wrapped, virtual wrapped or download to run on a bare metal physical machine, cloud, container or VMs. Key is the context of does the software come with, or without hardware. This is an important point in that the software can be serverless (e.g. does not come with, or depend on specific hardware), or, it can be bundled, converged (CI), hyper-converged (HCI) among other package options.

Software needs hardware, hardware need software, both get defined and wrapped

All software requires some hardware somewhere in the stack. Even virtual, container, cloud and yes, software-defined anything requires hardware. What’s different is how much hardware is needed, where it is located, how is it is used, consumed, paid for as well as what the software that it enables.

What’s the point?

There are applications, solutions and various software that use fewer servers, less hardware, or runs somewhere else where the hardware including servers are in the stack. Until the next truly industry revolutionary technology occurs, which IMHO will be software that no longer requires any hardware (or marketing-ware) in the stack, and hardware that no longer needs any software in the stack, hardware will continue to need software and vice versa.

This is where the marketing-ware (not to be confused with valueware) comes into play with a response along the lines of clouds and virtual servers or containers eliminate the need for hardware. That would be correct with some context in that clouds, virtual machines, containers and other software-defined entities still need some hardware somewhere in the stack. Sure there can be less hardware including servers at a given place. Hardware still news software, the software still needs hardware somewhere in the stack.

Show me some software that does not need any hardware anywhere in the stack, and I will either show you something truly industry unique, or, something that may be an addition to the SLBS list.

Add some context to what you are saying; some examples include that your software:

  • works with your existing hardware (or software)
  • does not need you to buy new or extra hardware
  • can run on the cloud, virtual, container or physical
  • requires fewer servers, less hardware, less cloud, container or virtual resources
  • is the focus being compatible with various data infrastructure resources
  • can be deployed and packaged as shrink-wrap, tin-wrapped or download
  • is packaged and marketed with less fud, or, fudless if you prefer

In other words, dare to be different, stand out, articulate your value proposition, and add some context instead of following behind the SLBS crowd.

Watch out for getting hung up on, or pulled into myths about serverless or hardware less, at least until hardware no longer needs software, and software no longer needs hardware somewhere in the stack. The other point is to look for solutions that enable more effective (not just efficient or utilization) use of hardware (as well as software license) resources. Effective meaning more productive, getting more value and benefit without introducing bottlenecks, errors or rework.

The focus does not have to be eliminating hardware (or software), rather, how to get more value out of hardware costs (up front and recurring Maintenance) as well as software licenses (and their Maintenance among other fees). This also applies to cloud and service providers, how to get more value and benefit, removing complexity (and costs will follow) as opposed to simply cutting and compromising.

Next time somebody says serverless or hardware less, ask them if they mean fewer servers, less hardware, making more effective (and efficient) use of those resources, or if they mean no hardware or servers. If the latter, then ask them where their software will run. If they say cloud, virtual or container, no worries, at least then you know where the servers and hardware are located. Oh, and by the way, just for fun, watch for vendors who like to talk serverless or hardware less yet like to talk about hardware.

Ok, nuff said for now…

Greg Schulz – Microsoft MVP Cloud and Data Center Management, vSAN and VMware vExpert. Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier) and twitter @storageio. Watch for the spring 2017 release of his new book “Software-Defined Data Infrastructure Essentials” (CRC Press).

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

finding ideas for marketing contentAre your pitches, blogs, videos, podcasts and white papers rehashes of vague buzzwords like transformation and digital?

To avoid pumping out “me-too” messaging, push yourself (and your in-house subject matter experts) to dig deeper and come up with specific, actionable advice for your potential customers.

One great example comes from a story about data analytics on the TechTarget publishing and marketing site. Don’t let the fact it is old (December 2013) stop you from reading it carefully. The subject (data as a corporate asset) is as fresh as ever. More importantly, this story shows how to take a common, even overhyped, topic and bring fresh, compelling insight to it.

The secret: Asking tough questions based on real-world experience with customers — the kind your sales, support and marketing staff get every day.

Five Meaty Questions

After describing the new (as of 2013) trend of older industries such as manufacturing using Big Data, the piece gets to the good stuff – a five question quiz one vendor asks CIOs to see if they’re serious about treating data as a corporate asset.  The questions include “Are you allocating funding to data, just as you would for other corporate assets?” “Do you measure the cost of poor, missing or inaccurate data?” and “Do you understand the “opportunity cost” of not delivering timely and relevant data to your business?”

While each question has a “marketing spin” (a “yes” answer makes them a better prospect) each is also valuable because they help a prospect understand the real-life challenges of implementing new technology.  Note that each question:

  • Drills beneath good intentions to coldly measure how committed a customer really is. (How much are you willing to spend on this new technology?”)
  • Talks about the non-technical issues that often derail IT projects. (Does this initiative have its own budget?)
  • And describes specific processes (such as measuring the cost of poor quality data and the “opportunity cost” of not delivering high quality data) that can improve how a customer implements the new technology.

Providing detailed insights like this helps establish you as a trustworthy, experienced technology provider and makes it more likely customers will listen when you come to them with a more product-specific pitch.

Finding the Nuggets

Now, how do you wring such insights from your sales, marketing or product support staffs? Whether the subject is Big Data, security, containers or any other buzzword of the week, ask them questions like:

  • How do you know a prospect is serious about our product or service rather than just going through the motions?
  • What are the non-technical factors (such as budget, corporate culture, office politics or management processes) that make implementation of our product succeed or fail?
  • What words, phrases or questions do you hear from a customer or prospect that tell you working with them will be a nightmare, or a pleasure?

The answers to these questions are your “raw material.”  Your next steps are to decide which of the answers are most valuable and relevant, flesh them out with real-world examples and follow up questions from your SMEs, and don’t publish until you can provide detailed, specific and actionable recommendations.

Do all that, and you’re not just another echo chamber in the IT hype factory. You’ll deliver usable, actionable content that will keep your prospects reading — and buying.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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