Archive for September, 2008
By far, this blog post has been the hardest to write. To start, I went back to Jim Collins to see what he had to say on the subject. This tenant is one of the most complex in the Good To Great thinking.
“Put another way, the most enduring and successful corporations distinguish their timeless core values and enduring core purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world).”
To clarify what Kodak’s mission is, I looked in the history section of their website. I found this very clear message “make photography simpler, more useful and more enjoyable”.
Kodak has managed to preserve the core of their business, while undergoing technological changes. As the film industry continues to wither into nothingness, Kodak has jumped into the digital camera world. They have also extended into the online world with websites like Kodak Gallery that lets you print and share photo.
They have even forge relationship with local drug stores including CVS to you can order online and pick them up in the store. That is a model being used by several online e-commerce leaders.
What I have realized in searching for these stories is that there are more stories about companies that have ‘lost their way’ than about companies who got it right. There are a lot of companies that are just a flash in the technical pan.
In a hyperfinicky marketplace, technology companies need to stay on their toes, but they still need to keep their eye on the same spot of the horizon and keep moving toward it – no matter how far off it might seem.
As we know, there is a huge amount of growth in the mobile market. One of the biggest questions is how do you create products that are effective for mobile? I just wrote about a taxi service available through a calling short code.
I think that feature uses the calling capacity of mobile nicely, but it doesn’t really take advantage of the fact that your mobile phone is a camera, a video and audio recorder and a messaging service.
Some mobile companies have been using QR codes to do mobile marketing. However, it is a concept that most people find hard to understand. A company called SnapTell is using the combination of image recognition, mobile photography and text messaging to create campaigns.
I discovered this technology by reading ESPN magazine. They devoted a two page spread to the new technology and enlisted partners such as Target, Progressive, Sony, Toyota and Champs Sports to do an inaugural campaign.
From the edition with this promotion, I took a picture of a Target ad (see photo at top) and text it to the designated number. There is also an email address for the mobile challenged.
Low and behold, I got a few confirmation texts, then I got the free ring tone from the Misnomber(s) that was touted in the ad – all within a minute or two.
So what is going here? SnapTell’s has created a highly accurate and robust algorithm for image matching – they call it ASG. The concept behind image matching is to take a photo and send to it SnapTell. They will ‘efficiently’ and accurately match it against a database of images. The company claims they use patent pending indexing techniques to organize a large, scalable database of images for the purpose of efficient lookup.
Even better than the idea of image recognition instead of QR codes is that it expands the technology to several media. The technology works in a wide variety of contexts including magazine print ads, outdoor billboards, posters, product packaging, etc. The flexibility of multiple delivery mechanisms make the impact of this technology advance important because instead of needing to be up close to snap a clean picture of a box of dot, you just need to get the picture int he frame.
The campaign is relatively cool – it is definitely targeted to a younger audience in ESPN magazine). I think the real challenge will be how to make this technology work for larger, less sexy organizations. However, I think the diversity of delivery methods might allow for that growth.
With the increased popularity of the iPhone, more functions are easier for the mobile web. However, the iPhone is growing but still only has a 0.3 percent market share in August 2008.
What if you don’t have an iPhone. What other services are out there to help you leverage your good old standard mobile device.
I recently discovered #TAXI.
There are several times when I have been visiting a new city and wanted to get a cab, but had NO idea what the local cab numbers are. If you don’t know the name of a company #TAXI will recommend one for you.
The one drawback is that the service is available only to Alltel, AT&T, Boost Mobile, and Verizon customers. It does work in both the United States and Canada.
From a brand standpoint, it is a great idea to have such an easy to remember way to access the technology. The company has also formed a relationship with MADD and MADD Canada as part of their Tie One On For Safety campaign.
In my continuing discussion of Good To Great Technologies, I started looking at the Hedgehog Concept. As part of the hedgehog concept, a company is challenged to understand what it is the best at doing. Not what it will be or can be, but what it does the best.
A company that leaps to mind in this regard is 37 Signals. It has focused it efforts on creating a suite of productivity tools such as Basecamp and backpack.
As it has expanded its product offering, it has kept itself in the same realm of product offerings that surround the concept of communication and project productivity. It works on refining its programs and listens to its customers.
This company definitely figured out what it was best at doing. So much so that it has a 94% approval rating from customers.
When considering this, it makes the constant expansion of Google, Apple and Microsoft seem counterintuitive. It also helps account for some less than profitable ventures by those companies.
Another company to look at is Distributive Networks. The company made Deloitte’s 2007 Rising Stars list and is focused on Mobile. They work on Mobile technology, content and mobile donations.
They list Barrack Obama as a client. Their singular focus on a specific industry and the three elements that will make it powerful and accepted has helped them rise through a very crowded market space.
I think there is merit in also looking at companies who didn’t have a hedgehog concept has suffered. The first example I think about is AOL. While they were trying to diversify their company, they lost focus of their core business – internet access. The company got left behind in the internet access world as DSL and cable invaded their space – maybe to never recover.
As a matter of fact, McKinsey Quarterly just wrote an article about Where software vendors should focus and said their findings suggests that “they do better when they focus on specific capabilities that are crucial for their particular products and customers, rather than trying to be great at everything. A self-assessment can help identify strengths and shortcomings.”
With the release of Google Chrome, I thought it would be good to look at some of the browsers that are out on the market.
CNET had a nice link to the Downloads.com page for browsers that gave the following stats on downloads for the week of Sept 14th.
|Internet Explorer 8||20,186|
I have been hearing mixed reviews about Google Chrome. When I went to use the version my father had downloaded, it bombed out on me. I think I am going to wait for a few subsequent releases before I do any further investigation.
I have been writing a series of columns about the Good to Great concepts and how they apply specifically to technology. As I have been writing these, I have been spending more time examining the business side of the technology world.
There are a lot of products that are worth investigating and might have some gee whiz factor. However, are these companies successful? Not only in comparison to themselves, but to others.
For example, I might be great at volleyball and beat all of my friends, but I am never going to match the skill and success of Misty May and Kerri Walsh. It is important to compare success to your peers.
I was reading a BNET article about Apple where BNET did a nice comparison with some peer companies.
Apple stock slid $5.09, or about 3.2 percent, to $152.83 in afternoon Nasdaq trading.
The stock had been off just over $40, or a little over 20 percent in the year-to-date, but has weathered the sell-off in stocks tied to the U.S. credit crunch far better than most other shares, including many technology names.
By contrast, once high-flying Google Inc (GOOG) is off almost 40 percent this year. Rival Research in Motion (RIM)(RIMM), maker of the Blackberry is down only 9 percent in 2008 on Nasdaq.
What does this say, Apple is doing great in comparison to Google – who seems to be all over the technology map these days. However, when compared to a company selling like products such as RIM, they don’t seemed to be such a Gold Medal team – maybe more like silver.
With Apple’s launch of the new iPod, are they going after the repeat technology customer, much like the mobile companies do. Considering the incredibly high penetration of their products in that segment, is it worth it?
When I started doing research for this blog post, I started with Jim Collin’s entry about confronting the brutal facts. There were two main messages that I gleaned from the website: 1 – keep faith that in the end you will prevail and 2 – confront the ugly truth about what it will take to get there.
In this lesson, there is a counter idea of which to be aware: Charisma. I think that is an interesting concept. It could be so easy to be seduced by a very charismatic leader who has a lot of their own pet projects.
I started looking for companies that managed a technological turnaround. Companies that were given a challenge and have used this tenant to come out of it. I thought about Apple. However, I think that Steve Jobs is an brilliant ego maniac, but without him, the company fails. Even with him, it pursues pet projects with sometimes horrible results. With its current string of winners, it is hard to remember and see that fact, but it shouldn’t blind the overriding principle.
I wanted to say Eastman-Kodak. Once the world of digital photography became so pervasive, it was looking at the loss of a massive portion of its business. Granted, Kodak has bandaged the bleeding by getting into that arena, but it is not the company that it once was.
That idea lead me to use Nikon as the main example of Confronting the Brutal facts. I wouldn’t normally consider Nikon, a camera manufacturer, a technology company. However, that has changed in the past few years. The company has realized there is not a future in making manual cameras and made a move to focus on digital. It also evaluated it business decided to eliminate it eye wear division to invest it other parts of the company.
Nikon started moving not only to digital, but to the places that were natural extensions of digital – the social web. Nikon formed a relationship with Flickr to create the Nikon Digital Learning Center.
It also seems like Nikon has hopped on the mobile phone theory of disposable technology. I bought an Coolpix S51 camera last November that was already obsolete in the camera aisle this summer. Consumers want faster shutters, better features and more megapixels.
So what does this mean, look at the market, understand what it is demanding from you, and be honest with yourself and your company about how you can succeed.
Do you know a technology company that managed to do that?