Jan 012012

This morning I came across a post by Chris Brogan about his three words for 2012, and for once, I was pleased with what the blogosphere had to say during this new year time period.  Usually we’re all inundated with articles about “the top 10 whatevers of 2011″ or “the 7 things to do in 2012″, or posts with predictions for the new year.  Chris wrote about how he sets his goals for the new year, which is exactly how I do it as well.

So in the spirit of sharing (and to begin executing on one of mine immediately), here are my three words for 2012: Plan, execute, network.

  1. Plan. For me, planning encompasses big picture thinking, strategy, and consistent weekly planning.  I intend to spend some time every week thinking about how I’m spending my time, and whether it’s the best use of my time in pursuit of my goals.  I will also continue my practice of planning by the role in my life (husband, father, student, employee, etc.), as suggested by Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“, which I had to re-read this year for a class I took.  I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now, and together with the help of OmniFocus for the iPad, it’s been working very well for me.
  2. Execute. This is about focus for me.  Part of the changeless core within me is that I find everything interesting, and typically think I can get anything (and everything) done, regardless of how busy my life is.  Though I know that I have my limits, I always struggle with this.  In 2012, I intend to take pause before I commit to taking on a new project of any kind.  I need to learn to separate my enthusiasm from my workload, and pay more attention to the latter.
  3. Network. This is a big one for me that encapsulates several things at once, namely strategic thinking in IT, making new industry connections, solution selling, relationship development, and social media.  That may seem like just a big list of stuff, but it does all come together.  Now that I’ll be a bit more freed up this year since I’ll complete my MBA in May, I intend to spend some of that newly found time developing my base of knowledge regarding what CIOs are thinking about and struggling with.  I expect to do some blogging along the way, make new connections in pursuit of that knowledge via Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., and use that knowledge to help solve problems for my customers and prospects.

So those are my three words for 2012.  I’d love to hear what you think about it, so please, drop me a note here, or catch me on Twitter.  What are your three words for 2012?

Jan 232011

I’m currently taking International Business as part of my MBA program at Rutgers, and decided to share my outline for what I’m studying at the moment – international trade theory.  These notes are a combination of my own interpretation of the materials presented in “International Business” by Charles W. L. Hill, and direct quotes from that text (which I did not explicitly demarcate).  Assume all thoughts and ideas presented here are Hill’s.

1. Mercantilism

  • 1630, Thomas Mun: “…to increase our wealth…sell more to strangers yearly than we consume of theirs in value”

2. Absolute Advantage

  • 1776, Adam Smith.  A country has an absolute advantage in the production of a product when it is more efficient than any other country in producing it
  • If two countries specialize in production of different products (in which each has an absolute advantage) and trade with each other, both countries will have more of both products available to them for consumption

3. Comparative Advantage

  • 1817, David Ricardo - Even if one country has an absolute advantage in producing two products over another country, trading with that other country will still yield more output for both countries than if the more efficient producer did everything for themselves.
  • The country with the absolute advantage in producing both products would still produce both products, but less of the one they would trade for, allowing them to essentially allocate more resources to producing the product that they’re comparatively most efficient at producing
  • Assumes many things:
    • Only 2 countries and 2 goods
    • No transportation costs
    • No price differences for resources in both countries
    • Resources can move freely from producing one product to producing another product
    • Constant returns to scale
    • Fixed stock of resources
    • Free trade does not affect production efficiency
    • No effects of trade on income distribution within a country
  • There are some descriptions of potential outcomes of relaxing some of these assumptions, but I’ll leave this as a thought exercise for you, the reader

4. Heckscher-Ohlin Theory

  • 1919, Eli Heckscher and 1933, Bertil Ohlin – Comparative advantage arises from differences in national factor endowments, such as land, labor, or capital, as opposed to Ricardo’s theory which stresses productivity
  • 1953, Wassily Leontief – The Leontief Paradox – theorized that since the U.S. has abundant capital compared to other nations, they would expor capital-intensive goods and import labor-intensive goods.  Data showed that was not the case.
  • Therefore, Ricardo’s theory seemed to be more predictive.
  • However, controlling for technological differences (e.g. eliminating them) does yield a predictive model based on factor endowments

5. The Product Life-Cycle Theory

  • 1960′s, Raymond Vernon – attempts to explain global trade patterns.  First, new products are introduced in the United States.Then, as demand grows in the U.S., it also appears in other developed nations, to which the U.S. exports.  Then, other developed nations begin to produce the product as well, thus causing U.S. companies to set up production in those countries as well, and limiting exports from the U.S.  Then, it all happens again, but this time production comes online in developed nations.  Ultimately, the U.S. becomes an importer of the product that was initially introduced within its borders.
  • Weakness – Not all new products are created in the United States.  Many come from other countries first, such as video game consoles from Japan, new wireless phones from Europe, etc.  Several new products are introduced in several developed countries simultaneously

6. New Trade Theory

  • 1970′s – Via the achievement of economies of scale, trade can increase the variety of goods available to consumers and decrease the average cost of those goods.  Further, the ability to capture economies of scale before anyone else is an important first-mover advantage.
  • Nations may benefit from trade even when they do not differ in resource endowments or technology
  • Example – If two nations both want sports cars and minivans, but neither can produce them at a low enough price within their own national markets, trade can allow each to focus on one product, allowing for the achievement of economies of scale that will increase the variety of products in both countries at low enough prices
  • Example – Airbus spent $14 billion to develop a new super-jumbo jet.  Demand is estimated at 400-600 units over the next 20 years, and Airbus will need to sell at least 250 of them to become profitable in this line of business.  Boeing estimates the demand to be much lower, and has chosen not to compete.  Airbus will have the first mover advantage in this market, and may never see competition in this market segment.
  • New trade theory is not at odds with Comparative Advantage, since it identifies first mover advantage as an important source of comparative advantage
  • Debate – should government provide subsidies that spawn industries such that companies can gain first mover advantages?  Later chapter (and blog post) covers this.

7. National Competitive Advantage – Porter’s Diamond

  • 1990, Michael Porter – seeks to answer the question of why a nation achieves international success in a particular industry.  Based on four attributes:
    • Factor endowments
      • Basic factors – natural resources, climate, location, demographics
      • Advanced factors – communication infrastructure, sophisticated and skilled labor, research facilities, and technological know-how
      • Advanced factors are a product of investment by individuals, companies, and governments
      • Porter argues that advanced factors are the most significant for competitive advantage
    • Demand conditions – if customers at home are sophisticated and demanding, companies will have to produce innovative, high quality products early, which leads to competitive advantage
    • Relating and supporting industries – If suppliers or related industries exist in the home country that are themselves internationally competitive, this can result in competitive advantage in the new industry.
    • Firm strategy, structure, and rivalry
      • Different nations are characterized by different management ideologies, which can either help or hurt them in building competitive advantage
      • If there is a strong domestic rivalry, it helps to create improved efficiency, making those firms better international competitors
  • Porter also notes that chance (such as new breakthrough innovations) and government policies (such as regulation, investments in education, etc.) can influence the “national diamond”

Implications for Managers

  • Location – productive activities should be done in the location in which it is most efficient
  • First-mover implications – “the idea is to preempt the available demand, gain cost advantages related to volume, build an enduring brand ahead of later competitors, and, consequently, establish a long-term sustainable competitive advantage”
  • Policy implications – lobbying for or against free trade or government restrictions.
  • It’s in a firm’s best interest to invest in upgrading advanced factors of production; for example, to invest in better training for its employees and to increase its commitment to R&D
  • Businesses should lobby for investment in education, infrastructure, and basic research and any policy promoting strong domestic competition
Oct 212008

I just got around to watching Friday’s webinar by Optaros about Alfresco in the media industry.  In it, Bob Fitzpatrick highlights three major points regarding how to increase online revenues:

  • Increase user engagement with your content
  • Extend the reach of your content
  • Enable API access to your content

As a prerequisite though, companies should be converting their content into assets that can be managed centrally.  In so doing, content can be easily related to other content and then be syndicated, retrieved by third parties, or composed and presented to users.

In addition to the aforementioned strategic goals, companies should strive to deliver on them in an efficient manner.  According to Bryan Spaulding, this means building a system with a Media Service Architecture that scales and enables exposure to PCs, mobile devices, and TVs.  And don’t forget to instrument your system such that feedback can be obtained to enable reporting and thus tweaking of the platform.  Jeff Potts reminds us that Alfresco and Optaros can be levaraged to get you there faster via their awesome capabilities.

What is interesting to me about all this is the different approach to the problem.  At Ringside Networks, we focused on the “beefy middle”, as Shaun Connolly so eloquently put it.  In a nutshell, this meant enabling social interactions in the context of existing web sites with existing users and content.  Restated in terms of a Ringside customer’s objectives, those three goals might look like this:

  • Increase user engagement with your web site
  • Increase the reach of your company/brand
  • Enable API access to your site’s social capabilities and/or users

In the Alfresco/Optaros case, the underlying premise is that content is of the utmost importance, and that people will pay to enable their users to interact with your content, or better yet to advertise around your content.  In the case of Ringside, it was all about identity and interaction on your site amongst your users, with new eyes sourced from various social networks.  SocialPass is taking yet another approach, which brings people to your site, regardless of where they came from.  Either way, people would pay to bring users to their web sites.

I think the best of both worlds can be achieved.  There will be some shops that won’t be positioned to re-architect their content management systems, and will pay to bring new users to them.  Hopefully their advertising revenue will more than offset the costs of customer acquisition.  Other shops will be well positioned to capitalize on their content via a solid Media Service architecture.  Finally, there will be shops that do both.  I can imagine the NY Times online syndicating images, videos, and stories, providing API access, and serving photo galleries and videos along side related stories with personalized SocialPass conversations involving Facebook users, MySpace users, E-Mail invitees, and Twitter invitees all on the same page with integrated ratings and persistent commentsThis is nirvana!!!

Apr 262008

Every Wednesday I leave work at 4:30pm to go to school (I’m going for my MBA at Rutgers). When I get there, the first thing I do is get my $4 latte. Sometimes I stop by a different Starbucks on a major highway on my way to work. When I look around, people are hosting job interviews and business meetings in the seating area of the store. For years, my wife and I have frequented the Starbucks counters that are inside Barnes & Noble stores for a coffee after a dinner out (which was the case this evening). When I look around, people are reading, working on their laptops, or just enjoying conversations together while sipping their lattes.

The point is that Starbucks has found a way to make itself part of people’s lives, and has done so successfully for years. These days however, Starbucks is facing a recession, new competition, and the loss of customers. But not to worry, I have an idea: Starbucks should focus on making themselves part of the online lives of their customers, particularly in a social way.

Starbucks could build applications that enable users to publicize their favorite Starbucks drinks to their friends, to rate drinks (existing and new), or even to send their friends a latte, virtual or real. They could tie their social application to a Starbucks loyalty card…I can foresee a ‘buy five, give one’ type of program that could potentially bring new customers into the store, or into Starbucks’ social network. And these applications are just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless, Starbucks could increase customer engagement with the brand, tap into the viral nature of social networking to attract new customers, and increase brand loyalty by providing a high quality, fun online experience to its customers and their friends. Oh, and let’s not forget, such a solution would be yet another valuable channel for market research.

Starbucks is a very, very strong brand. Everyone knows Starbucks, and they know what they stand for. Therefore, Starbucks shouldn’t settle for a social networking solution that lives behind someone else’s branded look and feel, such as Facebook or MySpace. Nor should they have to invest millions of dollars for a consulting company to build a custom social networking solution on their behalf. Ringside Networks has already provided a starting point, and better yet, the software is free. For little expense (maybe 1-3 consultants) and in a short period of time, they can stand up their own Starbucks branded social network that immediately taps into the Facebook community, and within months the Myspace and Orkut communities as well (pending Ringside’s implementation of OpenSocial support to be delivered in June).

In my opinion, such a move by Starbucks is a no brainer. Customer acquisition is currently expensive, and a social solution, particularly one that requires minimal investment, is likely to have a return on investment that is off the charts.

Feb 142008

I read an article today in WSJ on network neutrality, and it got me wondering – what’s the big deal?

Apparently Comcast has admitted to delaying or blocking peer to peer (P2P) traffic on its network, thus allowing more bandwidth for non P2P traffic. On the surface, I thought, so what? A good portion of the traffic on P2P networks is illegal copies of movies, music, and software. Shouldn’t that get less of a priority than “righteous” traffic?

P2P software providers are likely to say they’re being discriminated against, and cite the fact that P2P technology enables the transfer of information in an efficient manner, etc., and who is Comcast to judge what types of traffic deserve prioritization? Good point. Unfortunately for Comcast, the bandwidth available to subscribers depends on the usage levels of their neighbors since the technology is not switched. This is distinctly different than Verizon’s offerings, DSL and Fios, which are both switched technologies (meaning that the bandwidth you pay for is not available to anyone else but yourself). So I would venture to say that Verizon doesn’t have as much of a problem, though certainly they could prioritize traffic on their network backbone if they wanted to.

So what this this all mean? It seems that network providers are in the unique position to affect the financial prospects of many businesses that rely on network connectivity and performance. If I was running a media business whose delivery mechanism primarily used P2P technology that was delayed or even blocked merely because it uses the technology, that could have devastating consequences to my company’s performance. Taking it a step further, if the network provider discriminates based on the technology used, who is to stop them from prioritizing based on content? Maybe Comcast will reduce the priority of traffic to/from specific web sites, which could be anti-competitive.

On the other hand, if I were a Comcast executive, I need to be worried about quality of service. If 15 year olds are degrading service for each of their neighborhoods across the country because they’re downloading movies 24/7, that will lead to defections to Verizon or other competitors. If I’m Comcast, I need to do something to ensure that my customers are satisfied, or my business my lose many customers. Why shouldn’t I be able to preserve quality of service for the masses if I have the ability? It’s my network isn’t it? I own the lines don’t I?

It seems to me that there ought to be a balance between network providers’ ability to manage levels of service on their own networks and openness to policing. Technologies probably would have to be developed to enable accurate identification of content traversing the network, and there would have to be some clear definition of what content can be prioritized across known service levels. Of course, that is easier said than done since there are so many voices in the conversation. I guess my take is that network providers shouldn’t be forced to keep things completely open at the peril of their business.

What are your thoughts?

Jul 052006

Recently I purchased and began reading “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter Senge, as I was doing some work on developing processes for organizational training as per the requirements of CMMI. I was hoping to gain insight into how to design a training program for our company which thrives on learning and continuous improvement. Instead, I learned about a whole new area of interest for me: systems thinking.

As an experienced software developer, I’ve learned to employ design patterns in certain situations to create well understood and easily maintainable programs and components that transcend my own understanding. When you see a singleton pattern in use, you know what it is. When you discuss implementation approaches and call out the command pattern by name, the details are well understood.

When I came across the concepts of systems thinking and system archetypes such as the ‘limits to growth’ archetype, I was very excited to learn that such concepts existed. Immediately I thought, these are design patterns for business! By giving names to these patterns of behavior and the tools to model them, business systems can be clearly communicated to anyone. Those who are familiar with these concepts will know exactly what you mean when you utter the phrase ‘shifting the burden’ and indicate a problem symptom and a fundamental solution.

Needless to say, I’m excited to master these concepts and those that build on top of them. In my head, I’ve discovered a whole new set of ‘design patterns’ specifically geared towards communicating and solving business problems. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

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