An Insider’s View on Product Management

June 14, 2009

Developers, developers, developers, developers

It’s all about developers, developers, developers and developers. Steve Balmer put it better than anybody during his memorable performance where he was jumping around on stage or recently at MIX08.

What’s at stake?

Don’t get fooled by Steve Balmer, there is more to it than just a dance. Indeed any platform is only as good as the applications running on it. There is hardly anything new to this. You can build the most intuitive, powerful, robust and scalable platform in the world. It means nothing until you get applications that can take advantage of those capabilities and bring value to the end-users.

The demise of NeXT Computer

The best example is the raise and demise of NeXT Computer. When NeXT released its first computer in 1989, the operating system was second to none. It was crushing the competition and dwarfed Apple and Microsoft offerings. The OS was brilliant, robust and was swarming with innovations way ahead of his time. The hardware? Powerful, slick and stylish. In 3 words: a dream machine… As for marketing, the charismatic Steve Jobs was wowing crowds at conferences around the world. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everybody was in awe but nobody would buy it. Granted the hardware was expensive at $6000 for a box but that should not stop people to pay if they see value in it. People pay for Mac even if they are twice more expensive than PCs because they judge it’s worth it. In fact the major issue for NeXT was really the lack of applications – NeXT never bothered to attract developers until it was already too late and some industry insiders even touted them as arrogant. They thought developers would come on their own, but they never did. As a result the public never bought the machines because it could not do anything useful for them and the company died from lack of applications.

Steve Jobs won’t get caught twice

Since then, Apple’s CEO has learned his lesson. The iPhone success can be attributed to its operating system, its well designed hardware, and the marketing genius of the Cupertino’s giant. However Steve Jobs, this time is well aware that Apple supremacy can be ephemeral and smart phones are an excellent base for distributing applications. To get more market shares and consolidate their position Apple needed to provide the most value-add above any other phones. Indeed in July 2008, Apple launched the App Store program to sell third-party applications for iPhone and iTouch. The store has been successful beyond expectations – they reached last winter their first Billion applications download in less than a year. Naturally, the competition has finally woken up and is trying to catch up. Nokia, Research in Motion, Palm, Google and Microsoft have all launched or announced their own version of the store.

The war is raging

If we look around us, the war for developers is raging and is all but limited to the mobile market – it’s all over the internet and has never been as intense. Companies small and big are exposing Open APIs, providing SDKs and creating developer communities. Indeed, the stakes are colossal for those who want to control the technologies of tomorrow:

  • Cloud supremacy: Microsoft Azur, Google App Engine, Amazon EC2 or somebody else?
  • Social Media dominance:  Facebook and its 50,000 applications or MySpace, Open Social, and others?
  • Rich Interface Application (RIA) control: Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe Flash, Sun FlashFX or will developers stick with AJAX?

Make developers a priority

Undeniably today more than ever, third-party developers have become strategic assets for companies. Thus, product managers should prioritize developer programs in their business strategy (when adequate for their product line). Yet, such requirements are too often discarded because not contributing directly to the bottom line – it’s well known that developers are cheap and don’t pay. In consequence companies are running the risk of missing incredible opportunities or to get caught unguarded as competition has already made its move.

April 21, 2009

Embracing the cloud

Filed under: Business Strategy — Gregory @ 11:45 pm
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The lure of cloud computing is getting increasingly difficult to ignore for IT organizations.  For the last 2 years, cloud’s adoption has been strong and shows no sign of slowing down. A lot more cloud platforms are now available for companies to choose from; new vendors are following suit behind Amazon’s EC2. Solutions range from behemots like Google’s App Engine and Microsoft’s Windows Azure to pure players like GoGrid and FlexiScale. Early skeptic voices are now acknowledging cloud computing has some merits. As a result, although most fortune 500 CIOs still dismiss the importance of cloud as part of their future strategy, they are getting more concerned about their datacenter efficiency. IT initiatives are popping up to build private clouds, promote servers virtualization and experiment with public clouds for new R&D projects.

However, this is still in the startups world that you will find the most fervent adopters. Here are a few reasons why the cloud is so attractive to startups:

  • Startups have typically poor visibility into their service adoption and they don’t want to incur huge upfront hardware costs. Cloud technologies give them the flexibility to scale up and down their processing capacity as their business evolve.
  • Startups need to focus on their core business and keep innovating as fast as possible. Hardware and datacenter management should not come into the way of development. If the business becomes more predictable, administrators and operators can be always brought on board later.
  • Startups can only spend limited resources and time on high availability. Cloud providers are almost certain to do a better job than a startup staff. Furthermore disaster recovery is an extremely expensive proposition. Having hardware sitting idle, waiting for an unlikely disaster scenario is not a good option. Leveraging the cloud for spawning new instances or using automatic failover is a sounder approach.
  • Finally, let’s not underestimate the buzz associated to cloud computing. If you do nothing different than your competitors but are running in the cloud, chances are that you will be the one noticed by the community.

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