Why “Digital” Means Nothing, and Everything

We're getting wicked digital now.

We’re getting wicked digital now.

The more enthusiastically people use jargon, the less they understand it.

Judging by how often I see “digital” and “digitization” no one has a clue what it means.

Digital means, of course, the representation of information as ones” and “zeros.” A 1959 IBM 7000 series mainframe is just as “digital” as a Nest smart thermostat or an Uber reservation – or a telegraph from the 1830s (think “dots” and “dashes” rather than “ones” and “zeros”.)

Dig a little deeper, such as this definition (on Dictonary.com) and you come closer to what people are trying to say: “,,,pertaining to, noting, or making use of computers and computerized technologies, including the Internet.”

Or try this, from a leading market researcher:  “Digital business is the creation of new business designs reached by blurring the digital and physical worlds. It connects people, businesses and things to drive revenue and efficiency.”

Sorry, none of that is remotely new either. Connecting “…people, businesses and things to drive revenue and efficiency” was why airlines built computerized reservation systems in the 60s, we glommed onto local area networks in the 80s, Web commerce in the 90s and mobile and social applications in the 2000s.

But people will insist on using “digital” and the related “digitize” because it means something to them — actually, multiple things. And that’s where we mess up as marketers.

The Eight Flavors of Digital

From my work with clients, I see “digital” spanning at least eight real, meaningful technology and societal trends:

  • The anywhere, anytime nature of mobile, led by smart phones and mobile apps but extending to wearables.
  • The delivery of applications, data and other services from the cloud rather than internal data centers. (That’s what one research group meant when they referred to “Applications Transformed to Digital” as if all applications aren’t already digital.
  • Social: The creation and sharing of content by customers, which can be tapped to track their needs or product perceptions or encourage their engagement with your brand.
  • The Internet of Things: Ranging from cars and smart homes to industrial equipment to health care and fitness devices.
  • Big Data: Mining insights from mass volumes of data generated by devices and things to uncover hidden trends, customer needs and opportunities for cost reduction and efficiency.
  • Everything as code: Just as VMware abstracts physical servers into code files, using software to present networks and storage as code, making it easier to reconfigure and the scale IT “plumbing” as needed.
  • Skills as a service: Using the Web to tap global talent pools on demand.
  • The consumerization of IT: The need to meet demands from customers and employees for applications and services that are as easy to use as Uber or Facebook.

Color Us Confused

With all these potential game-changers to talk about (and more I’m sure I missed a bunch) it’s no wonder marketers throw up their hands and call it all “digital.” Here’s why that doesn’t work.

Each of these trends pose massively different challenges and massively different opportunities for your customers. If they respond to your “digital” pitch with an “Internet of Things” challenge and you’re really selling social technology, you’ve wasted each other’s time.

Maybe it’s OK to grab prospects with the shiny promise of “digital” this, that, or the other thing, get them talking about their needs and then figure out if you can sell your me-too network management or software testing tool as a “digital transformation solution.”

In the short run, this might work, if you don’t mind spouting nonsense to make a living. In the long run, customers who waste hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on poorly-defined “digital” initiatives will lose their jobs — and remember who misled them.

If you think I’m just being too up-tight about all this, ask your CEO, CMO, CIO and top two sales people to define what makes your solution “digital” in one sentence. Do their answers match? And if they don’t, does it matter?

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.

Can Better Training Boost Software Sales?

enterprise software sales

A recent piece in Business Week claims that the bad old days of salesmen bamboozling big customers into overpriced, overcustomized enterprise software are gone. The rise of easy-to-try cloud software and savvier customers means the profile for the ideal sales rep has shifted, has one source says, from “aggressive and persistent to technical and smart.”

Such changes will eliminate “hundreds of thousands of cushy field sales jobs,” the story predicts.  Those who survive will have to be far more technically savvy, knowledgeable about the stuff they sell and able to prove that it works.

Business Week claims enterprise software salespeople are spending less time on golf and trade shows, “more nights at home scouring LinkedIn or writing detailed consultant-style reports on how a product can cut costs or boost revenue.” (My italics.)

Sounds like content marketing, doesn’t it? It got me thinking about how we can leverage the collateral we’re already developing to engage customers to help salespeople sell.

Proving Business Value

A lot of the sales training I’ve seen starts with gauzy high-level benefits (“Digital Transformation for the Age of the Customer”). Then come dense descriptions of vaguely named “solutions”  (“Webify Customer Delight 2.0”). The real detail comes in descriptions of the money-making goodies: Complex pricing tiers, bundling options and license terms (“Use of the Framjus 2.0 framework across four or more CPUs requires enterprise licensing of the Nooknik 6.3 database or higher.”)

No wonder, as one corporate customer told Business Week, too many salesmen “were savvier about the terms of their contract than in helping us get value from the software.” To reach today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers why not train salespeople first in specific, provable business benefits, and then give them simpler, easier to sell products and clearer licensing terms.

Technical Chops

In the old days, says one software sales manager, “You could set up a lunch (with a client) and say `Meet my software engineer and enjoy the demo.’” Such salespeople, he said, are being “washed out of the business” in favor of those who can both charm customers and discuss their software in depth.

Assuming you can’t turn your top coders into extroverted sales people, that means making your sales people more tech savvy. Doing so requires understanding what deep-dive technical questions customers are most likely to ask, then translating the complex answers into terms a salesperson can understand and explain clearly. Again, a lot of this ground should be covered in the “explainer” or “technical architecture” white papers you’re already doing. Your more business-oriented white papers, on the other hand, can help your tech experts understand the bottom-line challenges facing customers and how you can help.

“Land and Expand”

This can otherwise we defined as “toot your own horn.” A salesperson “lands” a relatively small contract with one department of a large customer, then makes  sure that customer’s peers, or other departments within the company hear about how well it worked. This sharing requires close cooperation between your field sales staff and content marketing group, so the writers learn about these small wins and turn them into case studies. It might also mean integrating your content management system with your customer relationship management platform so the right wins are automatically shared with the right prospects. It also requires case studies that get properly specific about the benefits.

Were software sales ever as bad Business Week claims? Is it changing as much as they predict? And can content marketing help make with the shift?

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.

Should We Really “Think Like Publishers?”

Just when we all got used to the idea that “every vendor should be a publisher” comes word that, indeed, they shouldn’t. They instead need to be marketers who publish content to achieve specific business objectives.

It’s one of a number of good points in a very useful presentation “Yeah, it’s content, but is it marketing?”  from the PJA Advertising + Marketing agency.  It’s aimed at marketers who aren’t getting the return they need by content marketing efforts that cost too much or deliver too few leads.

Maintaining, promoting and monitoring an ongoing stream of great content takes too much effort not to tie it to concrete business goals, they point out. I like their advice to shift from a focus on “What (content) will we produce?” to “What are we trying to achieve?”

 Doing It Better

Among their specific tips:

  •  Tie branded content to business value by “understanding a conversation your buyer is interested in—and defining a valuable role for your brand to play in it. “ At each stage in the buying process, the role you play as content provider should change. (See next tip.)
  •  Make “the buyer journey your roadmap” In the awareness/education stage, teach them about why they might need a product or service. As they move into consideration, start talking about what features to look for in such offerings. As they move closer to product selection, start offering detailed implementation tips.
  • Think as hard about promoting content as creating the content. By simply using the scheduling feature in Hootsuite to schedule a series of promotional Tweets for each new post (instead of just at the original post) has boosted retweets of my posts, and my Twitter followers. Even simple steps to promote and target readers can pay off big.
  • Add a specific call to action to each piece of content, and track the uptake on them to measure the ROI of the hard work that went into it. Consider asking for something more specific than a generic “click here for more information” by asking for something that drives further engagement, such as subscribing to a newsletter, providing contact information, filling out a brief survey or registering for a Webinar.
  • Be flexible about formats. Coming from the long-form journalism world, it’s easy to think that every question needs a long, text answer. I’m finding that shorter Q&As, checklists, videos or podcast sometimes work better. An edgier format that’s more fun to produce is also likely to generate more interest.
  • Finally, and not surprisingly, the agency suggested to “grab a partner” that can handle some of the content marketing load better than you can. This isn’t as self-serving as it sounds. There’s a lot of moving parts involved in marketing automation and they’re changing quickly. By outsourcing what you don’t excel at, you can spend more time making sure you have a solid business goal for your content marketing.

Getting Started

Check out my sample content sequences for selling cloud services, security response and DevOps. And let me know what other IT products or services you’d like to see a sample sequence for.

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.

survey shows cloud concerns Senior IT buyers want the cloud to make them more agile, not just save them money. But they’re also skeptical about whether such Web-based services can meet traditional IT standards for performance, interoperability and security.

To succeed, cloud marketers need to address in detail both these hopes and fears. Those are my top takeaways from a survey of more than 300 IT executives in midsize to large organizations I helped craft for Oracle.

They are open to “up-scale” pitches for the cloud that include enabling new business models, not just cutting costs. But they need detailed, specific explanations of how these cloud services can meet traditional datacenter requirements like performance, reliability, application lifecycle management and integration.

Cloud Promise

The 87 percent ranking “lower capital expenditures” as important in considering cloud was not a shocker. I was surprised, though, to see equally high (or higher) rankings for modernizing operations and better competing in global markets. A large majority also mentioned greater business agility and more rapid implementation of new business models. That makes such business benefits important to include in marketing collateral, and not just the bits and bytes of cloud implementation.

Application development and testing remains one of the most popular uses of the private

Cloud (controlled by customers rather than a public provider such as Amazon) predicted to rise from 39 percent of respondents today to 52 percent in two years. That’s because the cloud is well-suited to the sudden, unpredictable nature of app dev and testing needs. It may also reflect the growing popularity of “DevOps” that combines development and operations to speed new applications to market.

Next up for private cloud adoption are core business applications (rising from 41 percent to 50 percent); high-performance computing, such as analytics (rising from 38 percent to 47 percent); and data storage and retrieval (rising from 46 percent to 54 percent).

With the explosive growth of mobile apps, it’s no surprise more companies are using the cloud to develop them. One reason is that development code, while sensitive, isn’t as life or death as customer credit numbers or the molecular structure of your breakthrough cancer medication.

But in a sign of caution, deployment of online transaction processing applications—long considered some of the most sensitive and business-critical—is expected to remain steady in the public cloud, at 36 percent of respondents, while rising in the private cloud from 38 percent of respondents to 44 percent.

Still Scared

In fact, doubts about whether the cloud is ready for prime time was a surprisingly constant theme.

survey concerns cloud customers

Click to enlarge

Moving existing applications with very high requirements for performance, availability and security to even private clouds concerns 78 percent of respondents. Their doubts included whether the cloud is ready to support mission-critical applications, can integrate well with applications, data and services still housed in  internal datacenters, and can be easily managed with existing tools.

Just over two-thirds mentioned legal or regulatory requirements as their top public cloud challenges. (Note: If you can track and prove whether a customer’s data is in Bergen, N.J. or in Berlin to meet European security regulations, flout it!)

Enterprises also favor private clouds dedicated to their own apps and data, rather than to multitenant public clouds shared with other customers. In two years respondents expect to have 47 percent of their workloads running in a private cloud, compared to only 15 percent expecting to run them in a pure public cloud.

 Public? Private? Huh?

Vendors make a big deal out of the differences between public and private clouds. I was surprised at how many respondents showed similar levels of concern for both in areas including:

  •  Migrating applications with very high performance, availability and security requirements.
  •  Inability to easily migrate existing application data.
  •  Lack of ability to manage/monitor or modify existing applications in the cloud, and
  •  Inability to integrate with non-cloud applications.

For marketers, these means customers might need more education about the real differences between public and private clouds and how these differences meet specific business needs. And in each of these are areas where, if you have a good story to tell, flesh it out specific explanations, proof points and explanations of how you’re better than your competitors.

 Déjà vu All Over Again

After about 25 years covering each “new” shift in the IT industry, from minicomputers to client-server to cloud/mobile/ social/Big Data, some things never change. The latest razzle-dazzle technology may be great, but the old stuff never goes away and there’s always a market for the dull, but essential, job of making sure it all works right.

As marketers, our challenge is to explain clearly and concisely how the new stuff works and how it helps the customers.

 (The survey was conducted by Computerworld Strategic Marketing Services and Triangle Publishing Services Co. Inc. on behalf of Oracle. Read the full results, check out a sample content marketing sequence for cloud services here and tips for using “how-to” stories to sell the cloud.) 

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.

Using “How-To” Advice To Sell the Cloud

cloud marketing tips By now, most everyone gets the benefits of the cloud: (Lower cost, faster deployment, pay-as-you- go pricing.)

Now, the marketing challenge is offering detailed, useful advice on HOW to move to the cloud. Two recent conversations with vendors showed how this is a great way to engage customers and prove their chops.

Approach One: A Checklist

IaaS provider Bluelock came up with an impressive checklist of best practices. I found it prospect-friendly because it:

  • Clearly states its limits: This checklist isn’t meant to serve as your diagram for migration, but rather it’s meant to help guide your plan before it’s crafted and also to service as a final pre-launch list…Depending on what you’re migrating (VM, application, or just data), you may or may not need to address every single one of the following check boxes.”
  • Is specific: Among the items are “Determine any changing OS or app licensing provisions,” consider the need to convert disk formats (…”AWS uses AMI, which is different from VMware VMDK, which is different from Microsoft VHD.  Be sure you have converter tools and know how to do the conversion…”) and the ability to recover your data (“as well as configurations, performance statistics and other metadata.”)
  • Is honest about the tough work customers just do themselves: “Before you choose the application to migrate, check the coupling and connectivity of your application to other applications…There’s no magic formula for assessing this checkbox, just knowing your architecture, how everything connects and how closely those apps need to be coupled to run efficiently…”
  • Is pitch-free: There’s no explicit, or even implicit, pitch for Bluelock’s services. They’re just helping prospects think through their migrations. In the process, they’re showing how well they understand the gritty details of migrating applications and data to the cloud. That’s a powerful advertisement for Bluelock over competitors with “me-too” messaging.

Approach Two: A Tool

Services and software provider Cloud Technology Partners takes a different tack by combining more than 160 cloud migration rules in its PaaSLane analysis tool. PaaSLane automatically finds and suggests fixes to problems with Java and .NET Application Code, even estimating how long the remediation will take.

CTP claims PaaSLane can speed migration 25% by  identifying “blockers” that would prevent an application from running in a specific cloud platform, recommending which cloud-based services can  replace third-party or custom-written services and how to optimize an application’s compatibility, elasticity or performance on specific clouds. It also identifies often-overlooked governance and policy issues to enforce corporate standards and recommends code quality standards.

For example, to avoid the excessive coupling of components Bluelock warned about, PaaSLane detects remote procedure calls or remote method invocations “that might indicate tight coupling of application components” which are “more brittle and less predictable” in the cloud than message queuing.

What’s Your Advice?

All this just scratches the surface of what it takes to move to the cloud.  Each of those 160 migration rules in PaaSLane, for example, could provide grist for a more detailed blog post. Then there are the pros and cons of various cloud providers, cloud development languages, storage technologies and approaches to cloud security.

All that means opportunity for cloud hardware, software and services vendors. If you have some specific, proven migration smarts, now’s the time to start sharing 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.

marketing mobile app development toolsWriting and supporting custom applications is the last thing a Fortune 500 retailer, pharmaceutical company or bank wants to do. They’d rather be tweaking inventory and store layouts (the retailer), unclogging their drug development pipeline (the pharma company) or figuring out how to make money in a low-interest rate world (the bank.)

But employees, customers and business partners want snazzy mobile apps and they want them now. How to best deliver these apps poses challenges, but also opportunities, for IT marketers.

Customize This

The mobile craze is forcing enterprises back into custom app development, according to Dimitri Sirota, senior vice president, security at CA Technologies FCN. (Note: CA Technologies is a client, but did not solicit or reimburse me for this post.) He argues organizations need custom apps because each has different products or services to sell, different markets to serve and different messages to convey.

The customization these apps require go beyond easily-tweaked user interfaces. They involve harder-to-solve issues, like drawing data from repositories or formats not easily accessible by mobile devices. Sirota co-founded Layer 7, which provides API management software to ease such access, and which CA acquired earlier this year. Among other things, he says, such API management can help developers solve mobile-specific challenges such as compression and caching to improve performance and battery life.

Gil Bouhnick, vice president of mobility at mobile workforce platform vendor ClickSoftware has a different take. He sees most of his customers turning to the cloud for quick, easy-to-deploy mobile apps so they can reach the market quickly and learn what works. Whatever customization they are doing tends to be done with offerings from their own app store that provide, for example, specific types of forms or data access without the need for custom coding.

Market Messaging    

Whether customers build their own mobile apps or pull them from the cloud, they don’t want to code.  Whatever brainstorming they do must be around streamlining workflows or reaching new customers with mobile, not the plumbing required for it. Just as with security, business managers want mobile apps delivered in consistent, proven and measurable ways.

If you’re selling to folks who need such industrial-strength mobile app development, some suggestions:

  • Provide examples of repeatable, proven policies, templates or frameworks you’ve provided customers. Consider sharing appropriate examples in an open-source model or creating an app store like ClickSoftware’s. That makes life easier for your customers, enhances your reputation as a “go-to” source for knowledge and tools, and lets customers and partners do some of the hard work of developing new mobile tools. Tracking such community-based development also gives you insights into what customers need but aren’t getting in tools like yours.
  • Push your customers to discuss the specific cost savings or revenue gains they’ve experienced by doing mobile app dev in a repeatable, measurable way. Yes, getting folks to agree to case studies is harder than ever. But proving they have solid mobile development processes is not only a great competitive advantage, but can help recruit top development talent.
  • Get your internal experts talking, blogging and sharing about best practices in app dev, security or any other IT discipline. This move to “industrialized IT” is still in its early stages, and there’s a wealth of market education to do and challenges to discuss.

How do you see mobility changing corporate app development, and how is mobile changing your marketing message?

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.

VMware continued its march up-market last week with the release of three new product suites that put it into direct competition with mainline management vendors such as BMC and even smaller enterprise vendors.

The enhancements to its vCenter Operations suite, and the new VMware vFabric Application Management and VMware IT Business Management suites, seek to speed the deployment, operations and management of virtualized cloud environments by spanning traditional IT silos such as development, operations and infrastructure.

VMware has 3 goals for the new offerings. The first is to build more policy-based automation into the development, deployment and operation of virtualized cloud environments. The second is to bring together formerly separate disciplines such as the creation of applications, their deployment and their ongoing management. The final aim is to allow IT to move from being a “builder” of applications and services to a “broker” of services that might come from inside the organization or be built outside.

In some cases, VMware is more tightly integrating capabilities that formerly required “bolt on” tools, says Ramin Sayar, VP of Products & Strategy, Virtualization & Cloud Management. In other cases, For example, the VMware vCenter Operations Management™ Suite gains deeper integration with VMware vCenter Capacity IQ™ and VMware vCenter Configuration Manager. In other cases, such as with the IT Business Management Suite, it is using technology acquired by buying another company (Digital Fuel) to move into the “business services” management space already claimed by traditional management vendors such as BMC, which is allegedly a partner.

 

The vFabric Application Management Suite will help customers combine and streamline work previously done by development and operations staffs, while vFabric AppDirector “will standardize and automate the release/deployment of applications to any cloud through easy-to-create blueprints with standardized templates, component libraries, and deployment workflows,” the company says.

VMware also claim it will allow customers to easily see which IT components support which specific applications. That makes it easier to determine which might need upgrading and which are redundant or are no longer needed – a capability also provided by enterprise architecture vendors. Sayar says the capabilities VMware provides are easier to use, integrated with their other management tools and are free.

The enhancements speak well to customer needs for more policy-driven automation, and even the use of template server and service configurations, to drive down the cost and time required to deliver IT as a utility. Customers will also welcome the ability to manage private, public or “hybrid” clouds from a single console, even though many are only now edging cautiously out of their own data centers into hybrid clouds.

Some of the bigger, non-technical issues vendors must tackle are lingering concerns over security, such as those I addressed in a recent Computerworld story, as well more general control and compliance issues. Then there is the cultural change required for a CIO, and their staffs, to move from being builders (real men code, you know) to mere bean counters weighing terms and conditions from the internal staff vs. an outsourcer.

Finally, for vendors, I suggest being careful with how they explain and differentiate their offerings. Management spans a lot of functions, and so do services (IT services such as database and authentication? Business services such as underwriting or order entry?) Trying to re-use established terms like “services” too many times makes the listeners eyes and brains glaze over. Using more specific words in product descriptions, such as “Service Delivery Manager” or “Service Operations Manager” will make it clearer.

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.