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Friday, September 10, 2010

You Know It's Real When It Enters the "Trough"

In August, Gartner Group released its annual Hype Cycle on Emerging Technologies. We here at 3Point Communications were awaiting the release of this year's Hype Cycle because we were particularly interested to find out if cloud computing -- which had been at the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" in 2009 -- would begin its descent into what Gartner terms the "Trough of Disillusionment."
You see, the ultimate goal of any emerging technology is to become an accepted technology as quickly as possible, go mainstream, thus lowering the cost of production. It is then that the investment in the new technology can be recouped and profits realized. This doesn't happen until the emerging technology makes the perilous trip through the Trough.
Some emerging technologies enter the Trough of Disillusionment never to be seen again, such as broadband over power lines, while others, such as interactive TV and speech recognition, are well on they way to mainstream adoption.
It is our belief that cloud computing will quickly become standard operating procedure for businesses and consumers alike, and this was confirmed by Gartner's recent report which has cloud computing going mainstream within 2-5 years. So seeing cloud computing entering the Trough was a welcome sight.
Here are five reasons we think cloud computing is here to stay:
  1. It's already here. If you've used a photo-sharing site such as Shutterfly or accessed email on a friend's PC, then you've already tapped into the power of cloud computing. These simple applications, and countless others like them, don't exist on your PC, laptop or mobile device, they "live" in the cloud and are accessed on an as-needed basis. On the business front everything from email to CRM to customer support has migrated to the cloud. Not every company has moved every application from internal IT systems to the cloud, but the trend is well underway and in our opinion inevitable.
  2. Cloud computing saves money. When businesses move infrastructure, platforms and software applications to the cloud, they save money. If your core business is not IT, why invest resources, time and money in owning and managing an infrastructure? A good example is, the first government-wide system moved to the cloud, which expects to save $700,000 in its first budget cycle with more savings to follow.
  3. Cloud computing is more secure than people realize. The number one concern among CIO and IT professionals is security when moving a company's data and resources to the cloud. But in many cases, cloud-based security is more secure than a company's internal systems. For example, an Aberdeen Group report found that a company's email security may improve by as much as 53% when moved to the cloud.
  4. Going mobile. With the success of Apple's iPad, new tablets hitting the market, smartphones and other mobile devices, businesses and consumers are both accessing information on the go. These devices simply don't have the storage capacity or internal power to house thousands of apps. Rather, mobile devices are portals into the world of cloud computing. And IDC predicts that more than a quarter of a billion smartphones will be sold this year and numbers will increase next year by 10% or more. All will access the cloud.
  5. Money talks. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, HP, IBM, Cisco, CA, Oracle and thousands of other companies big and small, are investing billions of dollars in cloud computing. Some, like Microsoft, have made bold claims that cloud computing must be the future of the company if it is to survive and thrive. With this much momentum behind the cloud, it is only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream.

We would interested in your thoughts on cloud computing. Are you there yet? Have you begun the journey? Or is something holding you back?

For the record, 3Point Communications embraces cloud computing and uses cloud-based applications to manage and run our business.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Better RFPs Yield the Best Results

It appears that a  number of tech companies are taking the advice I imparted last week in Beyond the Arc:  that it's a great time of year for corporate communications teams to ask themselves a question.

"Are we getting the desired results from our PR agency?"

OK, so perhaps it's just coincidence that we're seeing increased interest from prospects, as is the competition, on the heels of last week's post, "Six Key Categories for Gauging the Client/Agency Relationship."

Whatever the reason may be (OK, OK, it's the time of year and not my post...I know, I know), companies coast-to-coast are gearing up for an end-of-year sit down with their agency or are further along and may be putting the finishing touches on a PR agency "request for information" (RFI) or the more elaborate "request for proposal" (RFP).

A prospect's invitation to compete in an agency "bake-off" is reason for celebration at most agencies, whether it's a boutique shop with a deep speciality or a full service global firm.  Of course, once the excitement of being considered by the prospect wears off, it's time to get to the hard work of fulfilling the proposal's many requirements.  Responses numbering 40, 50, 60 or more pages are not unusual.  Fulfilling the request can monopolize a small shop's time for weeks as well as the time of key employees at larger agencies.  Personally, I much prefer an RFP with a shorter deadline.  In this business, the more time you have, the more time you take.

Once the response is submitted to the prospect, it's pretty much out of the agency's control.  It's during this period that a participating agency holds its collective breadth, works on other business and tries to pretend that they're not phased or worried by the lack of communication from the prospect.  A prospect's silence is deafening, especially during business climates like this one when so many great agencies are hungry and pulling out all the stops to compete for new business.

And, while you're finally busy working on other projects, an email or phone call arrives from the prospect telling you what you had hoped to hear: that you're agency made it to the next round, typically a live meeting with the prospect and the key decision makers.

The agency review process is equally intense for the client.  But when done thoroughly and thoughtfully, the process should yield a successful and sustainable agency/client relationship.

Of course, some companies run end-to-end agency reviews better than others.  Kathy Cripps of the Council of PR Firms pointed out that some RFPs act "more like a barrier, rather than a gateway to a productive client/agency partnership."

From what we're seeing, RFIs and RFPs are getting better and better at clearly stating company objectives, what the organization truly values and wants from an agency, the scope of work, fairer timetables, etc.  So as an industry, we're making progress.

If you're interested, there are a number of RFI/RFP building tools and resources for companies to leverage.  Here are a few:

To include 3Point Communications in your agency review, please get in touch with the appropriate 3Point partner from our "Contact Us" page.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Five Factors Driving The End of "Passive Media"

There was a time not that long ago when most Americans got their news and information from a combination of the nightly network news, the morning or evening newspaper and the local weekly newspaper.  We passively awaited delivery in print or broadcast and shared what we learned orally with family and friends. There are still places in America where that routine is the norm.  But even in the most distant outposts of the country, the days of passively awaiting information is waning as technology moves from top-down distribution of information to an open, many-to-many networked media environment.   

I would suggest that any of our readers who who are interested, involved in or impacted by this change take a look at a study by the American University's Center for Social Media in Washington, D.C.  The authors set out to explore the impact of this change on public media and published an excellent white paper titled, Public Media 2.0: Dynamic, Engaged Publics.  In part, the research offers an assessment of the impact of new media on traditional media. While many of us have written about these changes, the AU research pulls them together in an interesting framework that makes sense out of a number of technologies that seem headed on a collision course.

The AU paper identifies five elements creating this massive change in the way we interact and access media. These "five C's:" Choice, Conversation, Curation, Creation and Collaboration are having a massive impact on our use of video, databases, social networks, location media, distribution, platforms and metrics.  

In the words of the researchers, here are the specific items they identified:
  1. Choice: Rather than passively waiting for content to be delivered as in the broadcast days, users are actively seeking out and comparing media on important issues, through search engines, recommendations, video on demand, interactive program guides, news feeds, and niche sites. This is placing pressure on many makers to convert their content so that it’s not only accessible across an array of platforms and devices, but properly formatted and tagged so that it is more likely to be discovered.
  2. Conversation: Comment and discussion boards have become common across a range of sites and platforms, with varying levels of civility in evidence. Users are leveraging conversation tools to share interests and mobilize around issues. 7 Distributed conversations across online services, such as Twitter and FriendFeed, are managed via shared tags. Tools for ranking and banning comments give site hosts and audiences some leverage for controlling the tenor of exchanges. New tools for video-based conversation are now available on sites such as Seesmic. News is collaboratively created, gaining importance by becoming part of electronic conversation.
  3. Curation: Users are aggregating, sharing, ranking, tagging, reposting, juxtaposing, and critiquing content on a variety of platforms—from personal blogs to open video-sharing sites to social network profile pages. Reviews and media critique are popular genres for online contributors, displacing or augmenting genres, such as consumer reports and travel writing, and feeding a widespread culture of critical assessment.
  4. Creation: Users are creating a range of multimedia content (audio, video, text, photos, animation, etc.) from scratch and remixing existing content for purposes of satire, commentary, or self-expression—breaking through the stalemate of mass media talking points. Professional media makers are now tapping user-generated content as raw material for their own productions, and outlets are navigating various fair use issues as they wrestle with promoting and protecting their brands.
  5. Collaboration: Users are adopting a variety of new roles along the chain of media creation and distribution—from providing targeted funds for production or investigation, to posting widgets that showcase content on their own sites, to organizing online and offline events related to media projects, to mobilizing around related issues through online tools, such as petitions and letters to policymakers. "Crowdsourced" journalism projects now invite audience participation as investigators, tipsters, and editors—so far, a trial-and-error process.
The research then makes an interesting connection that illustrates how our changing media habits are affecting the tools we use and the ways we use them.  Again, in the words of the researchers, these trends involve:
  • Ubiquitous video (choice, creation, collaboration) Professional and amateur video alike are migrating online to sites such as Hulu and YouTube; nonprofessional online video is becoming part of broadcast news and newspaper reporting; live streaming and podcasting are routine aspects of public events.
  • Powerful databases (curation, creation) Deep wells of data and imagery are increasingly valuable for reporting, information visualization, trend-spotting, and comparative analysis. Databases also now serve as powerful back-ends for managing and serving up digital content, making it available across a range of browsers and devices.
  • Social networks as public forums (conversation, collaboration) Durable social-networking platforms, such as Facebook, and on-the-fly social networks, such as the open-source Ning, allow multifaceted media relationships with one person, a few, or many people.
  • Locative media (choice, creation) GPS-enabled mobile devices are allowing users to access and upload geographically relevant content, and a new set of "hyperlocal" media projects are feeding this trend. Conversely, maps are becoming a common interface for news, video, and data.
  • Distributed distribution (choice, curation) News feeds, search engines, and widgets are allowing content to escape the traditional boundaries of the channel or site. Users are coming to expect access to anywhere, anytime searchable media.
  • Hackable platforms (creation, collaboration, curation) Open source tools and applications are becoming increasingly customizable. Media makers can tailor their platforms, sharing tips across a broad community of developers, and users can pick and choose how they will interact with content.
  • Accessible metrics (creation, curation) Ranking and metrics sites, such as Google Analytics, Alexa, and Technorati, make it easier for media makers to compile and compare their audiences—and for outsiders to more easily judge and note success.
  • Cloud content (choice, creation) Applications, media, and personal content are migrating away from computers and mobile devices and onto hosted servers—into "the cloud" of online content. On the one hand this offers simplicity, easy sharing, and protected backups; on the other, it threatens control and privacy.
  • Pervasive gaming (choice, collaboration) Gaming—playing computer, Web, portable, or console games, often connecting with other players via the Internet—has become as ubiquitous as watching TV for young people.
When we look at these in isolation, the media universe may first appear as a random set of trends propelled toward some kind of chaotic convergence with an unknown and unpredictable outcome.  But when seen in relation to each other, there appears to be not only an order but at least a set of potential outcomes that we will look at in a future post.