Windows has been running on the majority of PCs for many years now. Microsoft successfully translated its client monopoly into a stronghold server position. However times are changing and it is no surprise that the new CEO of Microsoft is a Cloud expert. Cloud can make Windows irrelevant.
On the cloud you no longer use a client-server architecture. HTML5 has come a long way and is close to feature parity with most Windows GUI applications. HTML5 means that you can do mobile, tablet and PC without installation or client-side version management. This means that Salesforce, Google Apps, Workday and other SaaS solutions have become enterprise successes overnight. Mobile first means Android and iOS first.
However the cloud is also bringing deeper changes. Innovation has never been cheaper. You don’t need to invest in anything. Hardware is almost for free. Software solutions are just an API away. Storage is infinite. Distribution is global.
Mobile game companies were the first to experience overnight successes whereby on Monday they launched 2 servers and by Sunday they managed 5000.
The next frontier will be business software. Small and nimble SaaS players will become overnight successes. Their software stacks will be different however. SQL Server and even worse Oracle and DB2 database clusters are no longer enough. They technically don’t scale. They financially don’t make sense. They are extremely hard to manage compared to nimble alternatives.
Windows on the server is in no better shape. Docker and CoreOS are promising lightweight fast scale out. Ubuntu’s Juju is showing instant integration everywhere. The operating system is fast becoming a liability instead of an asset. Restarts of minutes to upgrade are not in line with 24×7 100% SLAs. In a time where each container tries to be as small and efficient as possible and upgrades need to be transactional and expressed in micro seconds, Windows is no longer the platform of choice. The cloud gave Ubuntu, an open source Linux operating system, up to 70% market share and growing. Remember what happened with Netscape and Real Player the moment Windows reached 80-90% penetration.
So what should Microsoft do?
The first thing is acknowledge the new reality and embrace & extend Linux. Many companies would love to migrate their .Net solutions to efficient Linux containers. Office on Linux Desktops is overdue. Why not give governments open source desktop solutions? They will gladly pay millions to boost their national pride. China did. Why would India, Russia, France, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UK be different. Active Directory, Sharepoint and Exchange will loose market dominance if they do not embrace Linux. Windows phones with a Linux core could actually run Android apps and would level the playing field. Linux developers have been secretly jealous of the easiness to build great looking GUI apps. A Visual Studio for .Net on Linux and let’s be disruptive Go lang, Rails and Python would win developers mind share.
IoT and embedded solutions that hold a Microsoft Linux kernel would make Android swet.
Microsoft Open Source solutions in which you get the platform for free but developers can resell apps and extensions will deliver Microsoft revenue shares, support and customisation revenues. Pivotal is showing how to do just this. Instant SaaS/PaaS enablement and integration solutions are hot but CloudFoundry is not a Windows play.
But all of this is unlikely to thrive if Microsoft would keep its current internal structures. Just plainly buying some Linux thought leaders is unlikely to be enough. Microsoft could inspire itself in EMC where most people don’t know that RSA, VMWare and Pivotal all float into the same pockets. Consulting services & sales from one company are rewarded for selling products owned by the group. Office, Cloud, Phone, IoT and Business Software as independent units that can each determine how they interact with the Windows and Linux business units would accelerate innovation.
Let’s see if Redmond is up for change. The new CEO at least seems to have vastly improved chances of change…
Data volumes are growing exponentially. Unstructured data from Twitter, LinkedIn, Mailling Lists, etc. has the potential to transform many industries if it could be combined with structured data. Machine learning, natural language processing, sentiment analysis, etc. everybody talks about them, hardly anybody is really using them at scale. Too many people when they talk about Big Data unfortunately start with the answer and then ask what the problem it. The answer seems to be Hadoop. News flash: Hadoop is not the answer and if you start from the answer to look for problems then you are doing it wrong.
What are Common Data Problems?
Most Big Data problems are about storage and reporting. How do I store all the exponentially growing data in such a way that business managers can get to in seconds when they need it? Ad-hoc reporting, adequate prediction, and making sense of the exponentially growing data stream are the key problems.
Big Data Storage?
Do you have relational data, unstructured data, graph data, etc.? How do you store different types of data and make it available inside an enterprise? The basics for big data storage is cloud storage technology. You want to store any type of data and be able to quickly scale up storage. RedHat did not buy Inktank for $175M because traditional storage has solved all of today’s problems. Premium SAN and other storage technologies are old school. They are too expensive for Big Data. They were designed with the idea that each byte of data is critical for an enterprise. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. You mind loosing transactional sales data. You don’t mind so much loosing sample tweets you bought from Datasift or Apache log files from an internal low-impact server. This is where cloud storage solutions like Inktank’s Ceph allow commodity storage to be built that is reliable, scalable and extremely cost effective. Does this mean you don’t need SANs any more? Wrong again. TV did not kill Radio. Same here.
Cloud storage technologies are needed because each type of data behaves differently. If you have log data that only is appended then HDFS is fine. If you have read-mostly data then a relational database is ideal. If you have write-mostly data then you need to look at NoSQL. If you need heavy read-and-write then you need strong Big Data architecture skills. What is more important: short latency, consistency, reliability, cheap storage, etc.? Each of these means that the solution is different. No latency means in-memory or SSD. Consistency means transactional. Reliability means replication. You can even now find inconsistent databases like BlinkDB. There is no longer one size fits all. Oracle is no longer the answer to everybody’s data questions.
What will companies need? Companies need cloud storage solutions that offer these different storage capabilities like a service. Amazon’s RDS, DynamoDB, S3 and Redshift are examples of what companies need. However companies need more flexibility. They need to be able to migrate their data between public cloud providers to optimise their costs and have added security. They also need to be able to store data in private local clouds or nearby hosted private clouds for latency or regulatory reasons.
The future of ETL & BI
Traditional ETL will see a revolution. ETL never worked. Business managers don’t want to go and ask their IT department to make a change in a star schema in order to import some extra data from the Internet followed by updates to reports and dashboards. Business managers want an easy to use tool that can answer their ad-hoc queries. This is the reason why Tableau Software + Amazon Redshift are growing like crazy. However if your organisation is starting to pump terabytes of data into Redshift, please be warned: The day will come that Amazon sends you a bill that your CxO will not want to pay and he/she will want you to move out of Amazon. What will you do then? Do you have an exit strategy?
The future of ETL and BI will be web tools that any business manager can use to create ad-hoc reports. The Office generation wants to see dynamic HTML5 GUIs that allow them to drag-and-drop data queries into ad-hoc reports and dashboards. If you need training then the tool is too difficult.
These next-generation BI tools will need dynamic back-office solutions that allow storing real-time, graph, blob, historical relational, unstructured, etc. data into a commonly accessible cloud storage solution. Each one will be hosted by a different cloud service but they will all be an API away. Software will be packaged in such a way that it knows how to export its own data. Why do you need to know where Apache stores the access and error logs and in which format? Apache should be able to export whatever interesting information it contains in a standardised way into some deep storage. Machine learning should be used to make decisions on how best to store that data for ad-hoc reporting afterwards. Humans should no longer be involved in this process.
Talking about machine learning. With the volumes of data growing from gigabytes into petabytes, traditional data scientists will not scale. In many companies a data scientist is similar to a report monkey: “Find out why in region X we sold Y% less”, etc. Data scientist should not be synonymous for dynamic report generators. Data scientists should be machine learning experts. They should tell the computer what they want, not how they want it. Today’s data scientists pride themselves they know R, Python, etc. These tools are too low-level to be usable at scale. There are just not enough people in the world to learn R. Data is growing exponentially, R experts at best can grow linear. What we need are machine learning GUI solutions like RapidMiner Studio but supported by Petabyte cloud solutions. A short term solution could be an HTML5 GUI version of RapidMiner Studio that connects to a back-end set of cloud services that use some of the nice Apache Spark extensions for machine learning, streaming, Big Data warehousing/SQL, graph retrieval, etc. or solutions based on Druid.io. For sure there are other solutions possible.
What is important is that companies start realising that data is becoming a strategic weapon. Those companies that are able to collect more of it and convert it into valuable knowledge and wisdom will be tomorrow’s giants. Most average machine learning algorithms become substantially better just by throwing more and more data at them. This means that having a Big Data architecture is not as critical as having the best trained models in the industry and continue to train them. There will be a data divide between the have’s and have-not’s. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others have been buying any startup that smells like Deep Belief Networks. They have done this with a good reason. They know that tomorrow’s algorithms and models will be more valuable than diamonds and gold. If you want to be one of the have’s then you need to invest in cloud storage now. You need to have massive historical data volumes to train tomorrow’s algorithms and start building the foundations today…
LTE roll-outs are taking place in America and Europe. Over-the-top-players are likely to start offering large-scale and free HD mobile VoIP over the next 6-18 months. Steeply declining ARPU will be the result. The telecom industry needs new revenue: telecom revenue 2.0. How can they do it?
1. Become a Telecom Venture Capitalist
Buying the number 2 o 3 player in a new market or creating a copy-cat solution has not worked. Think about Terra/Lycos/Vivendi portals, Keteque, etc. So the better option is to make sure innovative startups get partly funded by telecom operators. This assures that operators will be able to launch innovative solutions in the future. Just being a VC will not be enough. Also investment in quickly launching the new startup services and incorporating them into the existing product catalog are necessary.
2. SaaSification & Monetization
SaaS monetization is not reselling SaaS and keeping a 30-50% revenue share. SaaS monetization means offering others the development/hosting tools, sales channels, support facilities, etc. to quickly launch new SaaS solutions that are targeted at new niche or long tail segments. SaaSification means that existing license-based on-site applications can be quickly converted into subscription-based SaaS offerings. The operator is a SaaS enabler and brings together SaaS creators with SaaS customers.
3. Enterprise Mobilization, BPaaS and BYOD
There are millions of small, medium and large enterprises that have employees which bring smartphones and tablets to work [a.k.a. BYOD – bring-your-own-device]. Managing these solutions (security, provisioning, etc.) as well as mobilizing applications and internal processes [a.k.a. BPaaS – business processes as a service] will be a big opportunity. Corporate mobile app and mobile SaaS stores will be an important starting point. Solutions to quickly mobilize existing solutions, ideally without programming should come next.
4. M2M Monetization Solutions
At the moment M2M is not having big industry standards yet. Operators are ideally positioned to bring standards to quickly connect millions of devices and sensors to value added services. Most of these solutions will not be SIM-based so a pure-SIM strategy is likely to fail. Operators should think about enabling others to take advantage of the M2M revolution instead of building services themselves. Be the restaurant, tool shop and clothing store and not the gold digger during a gold rush.
5. Big Data and Data Intelligence as a Service
Operators are used to manage peta-bytes of data. However converting this data into information and knowledge is the next step towards monetizing data. At the moment big data solutions focus on storing, manipulating and reporting large volume of data. However the Big Data revolution is only just starting. We need big data apps, big data app stores, “big datafication” tools, etc.
6. All-you-can-eat HD Video-on-Demand
Global content distribution can be better done with the help of operators then without. Exporting Netflix-like business models to Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin-America, etc. is urgently necessary if Hollywood wants to avoid the next generation believing “content = free”. All-you-can-eat movies, series and music for €15/month is what should be aimed for.
7. NFC, micro-subscriptions, nano-payments, anonymous digital cash, etc.
Payment solutions are hot. Look at Paypal, Square, Dwolla, etc. Operators could play it nice and ask Visa, Mastercard, etc. how they can assist. However going a more disruptive route and helping Square and Dwolla serve a global marketplace are probably more lucrative. Except for NFC solutions also micro-subscriptions (e.g. €0.05/month) or nano-payments (e.g. €0.001/transaction) should be looked at.
Don’t forget that people will still want to buy things in a digital world which they do not want others to know about or from people or companies they do not trust. Anonymous digital cash solutions are needed when physical cash is no longer available. Unless of course you expect people to buy books about getting a divorce with the family’s credit card…
8. Build your own VAS for consumers and enterprises – iVAS.
Conference calls, PBX, etc. were the most advanced communication solutions offered by operators until recently. However creating visual drag-and-drop environments in which non-technical users can combine telecom and web assets to create new value-added-services can result in a new generation of VAS: iVAS. The VAS in which personal solutions are resolved by the people who suffer them. Especially in emerging countries where wide-spread smartphones and LTE are still some years off, iVAS can still have some good 3-5 years ahead. Examples would be personalized numbering schemas for my family & friends, distorting voices when I call somebody, etc. Let consumers and small enterprises be the creators by offering them visual do-it-yourself tools. Combine solutions like Invox, OpenVBX, Google’s App Inventor, etc.
9. Software-defined networking solutions & Network as a Service
Networks are changing from hardware to software. This means network virtualization, outsourcing of network solutions (e.g. virtualized firewalls), etc. Operators are in a good position to offer a new generation of complex network solutions that can be very easily managed via a browser. Enterprises could substitute expensive on-site hardware for cheap monthly subscriptions of virtualized network solutions.
10. Long-Tail Solutions
Operators could be offering a large catalog of long-tail solutions that are targeted at specific industries or problem domains. Thousands of companies are building multi-device solutions. Mobile & SmartTV virtualization and automated testing solutions would be of interest to them. Low-latency solutions could be of interest to the financial sector, e.g. automated trading. Call center and customer support services on-demand and via a subscription model. Many possible services in the collective intelligence, crowd-sourcing, gamification, computer vision, natural language processing, etc. domains.
Basically operators should create new departments that are financially and structurally independent from the main business and that look at new disruptive technologies/business ideas and how either directly or via partners new revenue can be generated with them.
What not to do?
Waste any more time. Do not focus on small or late-to-market solutions, e.g. reselling Microsoft 365, RCS like Joyn, etc. Focus on industry-changers, disruptive innovations, etc.
Yes LTE roll-out is important but without any solutions for telecom revenue 2.0, LTE will just kill ARPU. So action is required now. Action needs to be quick [forget about RFQs], agile [forget about standards – the iPhone / AppStore is a proprietary solution], well subsidized [no supplier will invest big R&D budgets to get a 15% revenue share] and independent [of red tape and corporate control so risk taking is rewarded, unless of course you predicted 5 years ago that Facebook and Angry Bird would be changing industries]…
The last player to join the attack on the telecom operator’s business is Apple: How to bypass carriers, Apple-style? (Special thanks to Dinesh Vadhia).
Apple never played according to the telecom rules in the first place. They have been the only mobile hardware vendor that could set the rules instead of negotiate them.
Who is attacking my assets?
So which telecom assets are currently under threat:
- SMS – instant messaging has been attacking SMS for years but now with the next generation of smart phones the number of SMS killer apps has exploded.
- Voice – Skype and VoIP providers have been attacking voice calls for years. However also here smart phones are accelerating decline.
- Roaming – Apple’s independent SIMs could easily attack the roaming segment. Also VoIP on Smart Phones will.
- Billing – Micropayment solutions from Paypal and Google Checkout are trying to enter this domain. Squared from a former Twitter-employee is attacking the mobile payment terminals in shops.
- Spectrum – Google’s CEO is the chairman of the New American Foundation that is trying to convince the American government to open medium-distance spectrum for free. Sort of WiFi but with kilometers reach.
- High-speed interconnect networks – Google is paying part of some of the under-sea links that connect multiple Asian countries.
- Fiber to the home – Google is rolling out fiber to the home.
- VAS – mobile apps are taking over from the value-added services.
- PBX like Business solutions – on-site premise equipment is being substituted by virtualized Cloud-based solutions.
- The telecom network – telecom operators are becoming bit pipes. New bit-pipe-only companies however are trying to specialize in this domain, making it hard for communication service-oriented operators to keep on making the same profits.
What should operators do?
If there was one simple answer, I would not be writing this post but living on my own private island 😉
However if history can be a teacher, let us look at an industry that has been facing similar threats: Hollywood. Prices of distributing digital content have fallen close to zero. However the industry has been trying to keep on charging €12-€30 for CDs and DVDs. They have hardly embraced digital distribution and are now in a negative spiral of demise.
Telecom operators can easily get stuck in this same vicious circle. History has been cruel in the past: extremely lucrative postal monopolies were destroyed by email. There is no rule that states that economic wealth from one business model is substituted by a similar lucrative business model afterwards. Often analogue dollars are traded for digital pennies.
Accept digital pennies but collect them all
The first survival strategy is to embrace change and to go for digital pennies. This is often hard to do within existing companies. As such the proposed strategy is to set-up a parallel organization whose objective is to focus on these new business models and how to make money with them. Let the main company focus on the telecom hits (Voice, SMS, etc.) and the other company on the long-tail telco services.
Long-tail telco services are all about enabling communities of developers and companies to create new and innovative telecom solutions that they can sell to others. The focus should be on enabling others. Not on building them yourself. Being an App Store for telecom network-assets-based applications and not a builder of telecom services.
This parallel organization should be in close collaboration with partners and even dotcoms. If you can´t beat them, join them. Find ways of enabling startups to become successful with your network and other assets, not on building a parallel solution around your assets.
The music industry never understood this message but hopefully the telecom industry does.
Go IP and forget Circuit
Accelerate IP solutions and forget about circuit networks. The speeds at which services are rolled out in a circuit-based network are too slow to fight off competition. Isolate the circuit-based network elements and put an IP-based front-end.
Use the Cloud to quickly launch beta services.
Avoid building infrastructure and use the Cloud to innovate. In the telecom world services are often not launched until they are perfect. But perfect for who? It is better to launch beta services quickly and get real customer feedback instead of marketing-surrogate feedback. Launch multiple services. Check which are the successful ones. Kill the others and heavily invest in the successful ones. Cloud computing and open source can dramatically reduce innovation costs.
Build long-tail services and a common innovation-ready architecture
If you are going to work with hundreds of partners to quickly innovate then the way to interact with them is via self-provisioning. Build billing, telco network app stores, customer care, monitoring, etc. solutions that allow a third-party to automatically provision and test their solutions. Be open with interfaces and light on approval. Let them approve a web-based contract instead of sign a physical paper.
Also enable innovation via the right infrastructure. Let teams focus on the business and services. Not on storing data, managing users, billing, monitoring, etc. Common service APIs to interact with assets and common ways of building new services should accelerate time to market and avoid reinventing the wheel.
This is a time for innovation together with smart partners. Not a time to focus only on CAPEX reduction. Too many effort is spend on operating as cheap as possible and not on generating new revenues. At the end the best CAPEX reduction is to shutdown a telecom company that does not innovate at market speed and became obsolete 😦