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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tablet Wars

Early in my career I had the good fortune to work with Dick Hackborn while he was still running the LaserJet printer business for Hewlett-Packard. Hackborn was a very smart guy, and one of the business and marketing strategies he most often employed was “never attack a fortified hill.”

What he meant was that it’s rarely a good idea to enter a market that has many competitors, with mature product lines and lots of loyal customers.

I thought of Hackborn’s fortified hill this week when I read that Apple had sold more than 1 million iPads in the first month they were on the market. That’s a lot of tablets. And Apple’s users are among the most loyal in any industry. So you think that competitors would think twice about entering the tablet market. Wrong.

Instead, competitors are entering the market as fast as they can.

Already in the market with Apple is the WeTab from German-based Neofonie, Fusion Garage’s JooJoo, and France-based Archos 9. Other expected entrants into the tablet market are Toshiba, Dell and other PC manufacturers. HP has already given sneak peaks at its Slate, which is Flash enabled (unlike the Apple iPad) and runs Microsoft’s Windows 7. Google also is rumored to be working on a tablet.

Google, Microsoft and the Palm OS (recently acquired by HP) will all vie for the operating system of choice on the new tablets.

But the question remains, what will it take to avoid getting slaughtered as these companies attack Apple’s fortified hill.

The key to success will most likely lie in their ability to create easy to use APIs designed to attract as many application developers possible. Apple has an unbelievable head start with more than 140,000 apps. Most industry analysts are betting that HP will have the best shot at battling Apple for tablet supremacy, while others are leaning toward Google.

Here at 3Point, we provide our clients with business and marketing strategy, so when we view the “tablet wars” through our marketing lens, it’s hard to bet against Apple. After all, they beat all odds when they attacked the fortified hill of MP3 players with their iPod, and won with an all-out marketing campaign. I’m betting they’ll be just as fierce protecting their iPad fortified hill.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Little Johnny, Say "Hello" to the Cloud -- Your New Classroom

I've lived in Massachusetts my entire life and I've never heard of Greenfield, Mass., a town of less than 20,000 souls situated in the western part of the state and home to the Franklin Country Fair, the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra, Greenfield Community College and its newspaper --The Greenfield Recorder. Technically, Greenfield is part of Franklin County, and frankly, as a native of eastern Massachusetts it might as well not exist at all. No offense to Franklin County and all the other counties west of Suffolk and Essex counties in Massachusetts. But if you're from eastern Massachusetts, you know what I mean.

But hold on a second. The Greenfield of 2010 isn't your grandfather's Greenfield.

This week, Greenfield announced that it will be the first town in the Bay State that intends to open, as early as this fall, a virtual school catering to children in grades K-8. The virtual school, and others that are sure to follow, will be allowed to operate via a state-wide education law that went into effect in January. The law encourages innovation in the classroom and gives the authority to local school leaders to develop public schools that are virtual.

Little Johnny, say "hello" to the cloud, your new classroom.

Virtual classrooms aren't entirely new. States such as Colorado, Texas and Arizona have been experimenting with virtual public schools for some time and have been attracting an increasing number of students for reasons that include convenience as well as students' desire for a curriculum that is more challenging that what is offered in some of the brick and mortars.

And what makes all of this possible is technology, and in almost all cases it's cloud computing technology that is responsible for delivering the classroom to the bedroom.

Less than a month ago, for example, the Oregon Department of Education announced that any school in the state is free to use Google Apps for Education, a free suite of applications (email, calendar, online documents, etc.) based on cloud computing technology. Google claims more than seven million students are using Google Apps. And as you might imagine, Microsoft is right there as well with it's own suite of cloud-based services for education - Microsoft Live@edu.

It will be sometime before virtual schools are widespread. Many school districts question the viability and effectiveness of virtual schools, especially at the elementary school level when children are still developing social skills. My wife, a public middle school teacher, echoes this same concern.

For now, students enrolled in a virtual school still have to spend some number of hours inside a school building. However, overtime, I'm sure these restrictions will also ease as advancements in cloud computing technology will one day allow the watchful eye of a caring teacher to be right there with the student slogging through another MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) exam -- right there, virtually.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Hard Can the Federal Government Drive the Cloud?

While many of us automatically equate the phrase App Store with Apple's iPhone, there is another App Store that may have far more importance.  It is, the app store launched last September within the federal government.  Created collaboratively between federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the General Services Administration, the store was one of several steps undertaken by the Obama administration to introduce cloud computing and a more modern IT infrastructure in general to the federal government.  The app store was established as a storefront (it is still very limited in its offerings) to let federal agencies quickly identify cloud-based solutions.  It offers four simple choices to the visitor: Social Media apps, Productivity apps, Business apps and Cloud IT services.  Click on one and you are taken to a list of free and paid solutions.  In addition to serving as an introduction to the power of the cloud, the store is intended to make procurement easier and cut acquisition cycle times.

Wait a minute!  Speed, simplicity, ease...we know these are touted as benefits of the cloud, but clearly they are not attributes of government  -- a place where new technologies evolve slower than fine wine ages and end up a generation behind by the time they are selected, funded and deployed. So what's the rush?

First, there is a new administration with a greater emphasis on technology innovation.  Second, money to procure technology is tight and the potential of the cloud is fast approaching a level of maturity that the government finds acceptable.  Further, other nations are moving aggressively to use the cloud and finally, by adopting the cloud in various forms, the government can reduce IT costs and invest or help lead the way in deploying new technology. may be more symbolic of a greater push throughout the administration and its agencies to move to the cloud.  Cloudbook Magazine cites seven different federal agencies directly engaged in one form of cloud initiative or another.

In addition to from the GSA, these include:

The adoption process envisioned by government observers will seem familiar to those of us in the private sector:
1. Start by virtualizing data centers, consolidating data centers and operations, and then adopting a cloud-computing business model.
2. Use test beds to demonstrate capabilities, satisfying major concerns about security and privacy protection, and
3. Allow pilots to grow from test beds into agency capabilities.

This represents significant economic opportunity. While federal IT spending is projected to grow at a compound rate of 3.5% to $90 billion by 2014, federal cloud spending will grow almost 8X faster.  Input, an analyst firm tracking the public sector, forecasts 30% annual growth rate in cloud spending during the same period!  Input believes federal spending on cloud computing services will triple over the next five years, growing from $277 million in 2008 to $792 million annually by 2013, reaching more than $1billion by 2014.

The evolution is not without obstacles. Speaking at the University of Washington in March,  Kundra said the federal government, which has 1,100 data centers and more than 24,00 websites, needs to pool buying power rather than work as a loose knit federation. Standards need to evolve faster and security concerns need to be better addressed, but it seems hard to imagine that the efforts underway will be derailed.  But now, the only questions seems to be how quickly will the train leave the station and how many cars will it pull.