• Freemium – A Word of Caution


    I’ve been harkening back to the good old days recently – the days when real companies made real products for real customers who paid real cold hard cash for said products. Call me old-fashioned but I still see value…

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  • Apptio Helps Enterprises Run IT As A Business

    Image representing Apptio as depicted in Crunc...

    Image via CrunchBase

    Apptio, with its headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, offers Technology Business Management (TBM) solutions to enterprise customers. It helps enterprises run their IT more efficiently like a business. Their TBM solutions helps enterprises make ROI optimized decisions using various templates, to fine tune how they run their IT. Their SaaS based business intelligence tools will make IT fit their organizational needs while saving tons of money.

    Technology Business Management is a new category of business management solutions that will help CIOs and IT managers take decisions on their IT environment based on the cost, quality and value using the industry’s best practices. CRM changed the way Sales teams operate and Technology Business Management has the potential to do the same thing to IT. In a way, enterprise IT is a blackbox for many of the businesses. TBM has the potential to change this situation and put IT managers in the drivers seat. Making proper decisions by analyzing the cost and benefits in IT is no easy task. Even in the traditional IT, where there is some amount of predictability in the costs, we have seen enterprises making bad financial decisions. With the proliferation of clouds in many different forms and with majority of expenditure moving from capital costs to operational costs, it gets more and more difficult to make good business decisions for IT. TBM is well poised to solve this hard problem and Apptio is emerging as one of the important players in this category. From the perspective of CIOs and IT decision manager, TBM is a must have kit while formalizing their cloud strategy.

    Apptio today announced new capabilities that enable IT leaders to make cloud cost comparisons leveraging the intelligence contained in Apptio’s Cost Transparency Templates. With this insight, IT can quantify the fully-loaded in-house cost of supporting traditional IT services, like email, CRM or storage, and compare that to the cost of moving them to external cloud service providers or internal private cloud operations. This enables IT and business leaders make informed decisions on which services would be the best, most cost effective candidates to support in the cloud.

    In the current cloud mania, there is so much confusion going on from both the cloud vendors and naysayers. The, sometimes, far reaching claims made by the vendors and the fear mongering adopted by companies who are on the verge of losing to cloud computing vendors, are confusing the IT managers in a big way. On one hand, we have “cloud naysayers” making claims that cloud computing will actually increase the enterprise spending and, on the other side, we have cloud evangelists making simplistic claims that cloud computing is a miracle cure for today’s terrible economy. Calculating the actual TCO is not an easy task. According to Lydia Leong, research director, Gartner, Inc., in an April 20, 2009 report entitled, “How to Select a Cloud Computing Infrastructure Provider, companies should “evaluate solutions on a total cost of ownership basis. Ensure that you capture the differences in employee time, licensing schemes and risk mitigation; don’t just compare the cloud with your hardware costs.”

    Apptio is trying to solve this exact problem. With this release, Apptio delivers integrated cloud cost analysis for each of its out-of-the-box Cost Transparency Templates, allowing IT to compare baseline costs with cloud offerings. Apptio’s Cost Transparency Templates provide best practices in costing standard IT objects such as servers, storage and labor. This offering will fundamentally change how an enterprise will approach the migration to the clouds. With the access to Apptio in their hands, IT managers can make informed decisions on which workloads to move to the clouds and which ones can stay inside the firewall by tapping into the private cloud infrastructure in the enterprises’ own datacenters. I am pretty excited by the potential of TBM solutions and Apptio is trying to emerge strongly in the market with this powerful IT intelligence dashboard.

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  • Speed, Search and Aptimize


    I’ve written before about Aptimize, a company whose sole wish (beyond, I assume, making some money) is to see the web get faster. Well it seems Google just did them a big favor.

    A little while ago on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google announced that speed is now becoming one of the metrics they utilize in their search ranking algorithms. In justifying their move Google says:

    Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.

    Which is great for companies like Aptimize who help companies speed up their website – with this announcement I can imagine an entire new generation of services springing up – like the SEO services of today perhaps tomorrow will see a plethora of website speed improvement services on offer.

    Google themselves came in for some criticism in the comments to the post – many people complained that Friend Connect and Analytics slow websites significantly – either way this move will see people concentrate more on their site speed along with its usability.

    And, in the process, Aptimize might just make their secondary aim, the one about the money 😉

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  • VCs Coming Thick and Fast – Box the Latest to Benefit


    News releasing right now that Box.net (more on them here) has just secured a $15million C round. Led by Scale Venture Partners and with previous box investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson and US Venture Partners both taking a share of…

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  • Changing the Game, Inside and Outside of the Box (and The Final Frontier)


    Exciting times at box.net headquarters. Yesterday I had a briefing with Aaron Levie, Co-founder and CEO, Michael Smith, Product Manager, Mobile and Sean Lindo, Marketing Communications Manager. That’s a lot of heavyweights for a simple briefing and especially something so apparently subtle as a new mobile app.

    Yes, box.net were demoing their new iPad application and it’s no overstatement to say that it’s an example of the long promised benefit of the combination of both the cloud and mobile computing finally being realized. The application itself does pretty much what one would expect of it – allowing users to access, share and interact with business content stored on Box.net. But at last it does so in a form factor that is really viable – one which realistically works with the use case that Smith gave me, that of an office worker commuting by train and working on collaborative files en route.

    The Box.net crew were quick to acknowledge the visual cues they’d taken from Apple in the design of the iPad application UI, namely the left hand navigation – I’m not so sure about that – kind of reminds me of Windows Explorer to be honest – but either way you can see a nice flow between a view of all of your files and honing in on specific detail within a particular file.

    Box - Updates screen

    The next version of that app (due soon) will even further expand on this cloud/local combination by including the ability to download files from box.net to the iPad and edit them within a third party application. The reverse will also be possible – allowing users to launch the box.net app from within a third party application and then have file uploaded back to the box.net account in the clouds.

    As Aaron Levie said when I spoke to him:

    This application drives home the power and the potential of the cloud and shows the utility of cross device integrations

    It seems we’re reaching a world that, ironically enough, delivers Microsoft’s previous vision of software plus services. Semantics aside – it’s a great thing that’s happening.

    space On another note (what date was it again?), box.net has announced that it’ll be implementing a space computing program including:

    • Interplanetary file redundancy – Geographic redundancy is great, but what happens when a meteor hits Earth and destroys it? Box has that solved with interplanetary redundancy. Your files will be stored on a minimum of 3 planets with at least one in another galaxy, reducing the risk of black holes, alien invasions and yet-undiscovered space things.
    • WarpTravel CDN – To decrease file loading times with our new system, we have implemented a WarpTravel content distribution network using an Alcubierre drive, which serves files to the planet closest to you, at any time.
    • Secure file deletion – Rest assured, when a file is removed from our service, its gone forever. Using our patented black hole algorithm, we ensure your file is sent through a black hole of at least 4 million solar masses.

    As Levie says:

    It became abundantly clear that cloud computing is on its way out when Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft is ‘all in’, fortunately, Box.net is already light years ahead, pursuing the next great technology frontier with our space computing initiative.

    Live long and prosper…


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    • Xactly – and Managing a Company Through Growth


      Recently, while in San Jose for the loud Connect conference, I took advantage of an offer from Zuora (see disclosure) to visit a number of different vendors – in part to look at how they’re utilized third party subscription services to power their businesses but more specifically to look at the pain points they’ve encountered in scaling their businesses.

      I visited Xactly in downtown San Jose. Xactly is a five years young SaaS vendor of sales performance management solutions – basically they power the systems that automate the administering, tracking, reporting and analyzing of sales performance. In other words they give functionality and visibility to the compensation of sales staff – think CRM, but for the post-sale, rather than pre-sale part of the cycle. Xactly was founded in 2005 by Chris Cabrera
      who remains on as CEO.

      For some background, Xactly has received $57million worth of venture funding, is on target to be profitable at the start of 2011 and has around 140 employees split between the US and India. What was interesting in my discussions with Cabrera, was the fact that for the first three years post launch, they achieved triple digit revenue figures – that’s significant growth and I wanted to talk to Cabrera both about the operational barriers to achieving that growth, and also about the communications strategies used to hit those figures.

      In this first post I’d like to dive into the operational issues they saw when scaling. Like other SaaS vendors selling a product that, at least to some extent, replaces an incumbent offering, Xactly often comes across organizations happy to use manual processes to run their sales compensation systems – and like other similar vendors Xactly is trying hard to push the concept of the added value that a real time, completely visible, and connected system can bring. In Xactly’s case this is around creating a “sales web” a connected series of people interfacing with customers to up and cross sell – often these aren’t salespeople per se – Cabrera gave the example of a bank clerk talking to a customer about home loans and their system giving some visibility into this.

      Xactly does this by integrating with the main CRMs (salesforce.com, Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics) to run sales compensation as an integrated part of customer relationship management. To do this Xactly uses a complex series of seven modules and, much like the organizations they’re selling to, encourages their sales staff to cross and upsell their products.

      Until a year or so ago Xactly ran their subscriptions manually, using excel to do so – their business however places complex demands on these systems due to the seven individual products they sell with extensive cross and up sell activity and the multiple price points and deals they run – as Cabrera said, the reality for a SaaS business is that almost every deal has it’s own specific situation and parameters – meaning that almost every customer has a specific subscription and billing process.

      Cabrera, in a refreshingly honest admission, recounted the tale from a couple of years ago of a sheepish looking financial staffer admitting to him that, due to a breakdown in the completely manual billing system they were running at the time, they’d not billed around $300000 worth of product several months previously. In his mind this was a direct result of running a manual system – it works fine…. until something goes wrong. Cabrera was adamant that deciding to use a third party service to automate these parts of the business saved Xactly from an administration dive bomb that would have threatened their very growth.

      All in all my visit to Xactly was interesting on a number of levels – it’s always great to visit a SaaS vendor that is really executing on their growth plan, hearing Cabrera recount some of the mistakes they’ve made was interesting and I had the chance to take a reasonably deep dive into yet another SaaS vendor – a morning well spent!


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    • Nice Marketing Blackbox Republic – But Maybe I Was Right to be Skeptical


      Nearly a year ago the blogosphere went wild about Blackbox Republic, a social media site that “focused on reinventing the online relationship market” or whatever that means. It’s a social network for “sex positive” individuals or people who are…

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    • Crowdsourcing for the Stars


      I posted late last year about how Zendesk (more on them here) had crowdsourced the translation of their application into different languages. At the time CEO Mikkel Svane commented that;

      Within just a few weeks of releasing the Zendesk internationalization tool we had support for more than 25 languages, and hundreds of customers had already enabled the new languages on their support portals. We see this as a trend that clearly shows companies are amenable to living with minor inaccuracies in favor of agility and speed

      Well the other day I was having a noodle around inside my box.net account and I discovered that it’s not only bootstrapping startups who find crowdsourcing attractive. Yes, down the bottom of my account page in box was this text:

      As I mentioned in my post about Zendesk – their translation cost them the paltry sum of a Zendesk T shirt per translator. Box too have some cool shirts – I wonder if their rate for translation services is the same as Zendesk’s. Care to comment Aaron?

      On another, but somewhat related – note, I have a couple of gift cards for a one year, 5GB box.net accoutn that are left over from a conference schwag bag – first two people to either leave a comment here or otherwise contact me get the gift card. Nice.

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    • Xero Personal – Is That It?


      Six months ago Xero (see disclosure statement) announced that they’d be building a personal finance application to go with their business one. I was pleased at the time, in part because I believe the personal/business divide is an artificial…

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    • Without Standards, the World Falls Down


      This was meant to be a happy post. Unfortunately OggSync gets to bear the brunt of my frustrations over standards and portability. But first some background:

      I run a pretty busy schedule – to give you an idea of what that means in real terms I have 12 separate calendars – my manufacturing business alone has half a dozen calendars I need to keep an eye on (marketing, production, board stuff and operations). Add in my personal calendar and that of my wife, the calendar feeds from both myself and my wife generated by my favorite little web app of all time, TripIt, school term dates and the like and you see that my calendar feed gets kind of busy.

      Add to this the fact that I’m travelling more and more (half a dozen international trips before May) and have to work mobile and you have a recipe for disaster. Until now I’ve made do with the single calendar sync that Google provides for in its Google cal to win mobile sync. That’s fine… until I need to check on the time for a flight that is trapped within TripIt.

      Roll up my lifesaver, OggSync. OggSync provides a lovely little synchronization service that allows users of the pro version to sync multiple calendars with multiple clients, both desktop and mobile. It’s a full, two-way synchronization and backup application that also performs these tasks on contact data.


      Or so I thought….

      I’m sitting in a hotel room in Sydney, looking at eight or so Google calendars that have become almost completely useless. You see it happened like this…

      I installed OggSync and set it up and was stoked to see all the events from my different calendars appear on my Windows Mobile device. So far so good… Yesterday however I flew to Sydney which is in a different timezone from home. I turned my device on at the airport and saw that Windows Mobile, as it’s designed to do, picked up the new timezone from the mobile carrier I was roaming on.

      OggSync sprang into life and synchronized all my events… but… Unfortunately OggSync doesn’t know that Windows Mobile changed my timezones – so every single event in every single calendar I synch now appears two hours early – great if you’re anally retentive, terrible if you’re busy.

      OggSync were really supportive, I need to point out this isn’t a failing of theirs per se, they told me it was a new issue with the latest version of WinMob and that they’d help me restore from backup once I got back to my home timezone – but this isn’t really the issue. Fundamentally this is an example of why using a third party to integrate different applications is a dangerous and fraught thing. Roll on open standards and open data…

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