Hard Times For Big Vendors and Little Ones Alike?
In cold times it would seem mobile telecoms are still a Hot item (Tim Bray, Sun Microsystems, at FOWA London). People will give up that glass of wine, but not a $1.50 iPhone Application that gives them real value. And now that iPhone and Google have offline capability you can do a lot of great stuff. It is indeed a great time to build mobile applications, but I would also caution that 1998 was a great time to build a website, and building a website doesn't have a great reputation as a sure fire way to making you rich. Today the New York Times features Sun prominently as a company with big problems, so perhaps Tim's FOWA talk was from the heart. Some of these problems are good old fashioned competitive pressure in core product markets, and others are good old fashioned product development slippages. These are combined with the "slower than anticipated" update of its open source programs and initiatives (BTW: great piece from JP here on why Open Source may be stalling at the large enterprise level).
If you are thinking of building an application, Tim says "build it for yourself, its hard to understand the needs of others", there are others out there a lot like you and they will probably buy it. And watch out for the VC's, they don't understand 2.0, and they don't bring value (mmm, not sure of that one, know plenty of smart VC's). Gosh, this sounds like a sure way to end up on the bread line to me (but you will have your snazzy iPhone to keep you occupied). There is a reason people like "product managers" exist, just saying ye know. Its probably safer to think of Tim's comments as prods to get yourself multi-skilled, and to develop a "Career Portfolio".
The Elephant in the room is that most people are going to want to pay zero upfront to save money and are now being educated to "think like Google". I want it for free, or some version of it for free. I want it super simple. I want it to do one thing really really well. Agreed. One of my take aways from JP's posting is "the Enterprise has been trained to think like Microsoft", and this frames all enterprise adoption arguments in Microsoft's favour. What I particularly found interesting was the focus not on Excel, but on Excel Micros as a significant barrier to adoption of OpenOffice, and that the cascading effects this had on the need to redesign the Macro's, estimate the cost of the same, estimating the cost of failure. At the end of the day, the purchasing dept used the study to beat up Microsoft on price, and buy, uh hum, more Microsoft product.
What Do Tough Times Mean For The Enterprise?
Tim Bray was of the opinion that tough times might mean that companies look more to SaaS and to Open Source solutions. I do like the emphasis on "SaaS" and "cloud based" applications and services, of course I do, that's what we do around here. But the take away for me is the need to seriously look your "customers life right now" (i.e. the real life issues they are facing, the hard choices, the unpalatable trade offs). In my opinion, its easy to say "we are your partner" in good times and ask for some hefty integration and consulting fees to prove it. Lets see how good a problem solver you are now; lets see how flexible and adaptable you are now; lets see how your DNA shines through?. As a provider of SaaS you should now be looking deeply at some strategies for maintaining your value proposition. Tough times for the Enterprise customer means even SaaS entities need to bring a razor sharp focus on time to meaningful ROI.
I think its a great idea that Tim was encouraging developers to not only skill up, but look at legacy skills (Cobal etc), and cross-skilling. Companies can equally do the same thing.Taking charge of your own Identity by building your own personal network, blog, twitter, get into social networks, and social network at events are great personal brand builders. Get known, and get known for something. Now ask yourself, "what is Sun now known For"?
Some Cool New Media Business Models
Have you ever needed to read a children's book from cover to cover before you bought it because let face it, you will be reading it every night for a long long time. Lookybook lets you see the whole book before you buy it. And here's the one we have to buy (Its Not Fair), as we have a new arrival due in March 2009. Music sites like Ineem and LaLa have similar models for music in that they let you play the content, in its entirety, while you remain browsing on the site, no doubt hoping that the longer you hang around the more likely you are to buy a web song for 10c. I think a lot of companies are going to have to look at approaches that enable you to have a complete "experience" and that you may then proceed to commit to buying it, owning it, sharing it or some other upstream action that is predicated on shared value creation. It is a deep delayering of the digital value chain, with the understanding that some parts of the chain can better gather and aggregate data from multiple services and location, and that this will help them outpace offers that are more vertically integrated.
So here's the tie up: people buy experiences.
The enterprise customer is a person like you, and they want a great experience of your service, they want to be able to test and trial it and experience it and not pay for it until they know they like it, that it works. They want reliability, they want security, they want credentials, but these are "hygiene factors". The Enterprise's professionalised buying process will simply not allow them to buy in services that don't "stack up" in the traditional purchasing decision cycle. I personally believe that their will be an iTunes for Applications at the Enterprise level. Click Click Click. Done.