Monday, December 26, 2011

What is "Customer Service?"

If you asked most businesses, great "Customer Service" would be one of their primary goals.  But what is "Customer Service" really?

Over the course of my 15 years in Information Technology my definition of customer service has changed and expanded, but really, I learned the basic concept well before I built, sold and repaired my first computers.  I learned customer service at Pizza Hut and K-Mart.

At Pizza Hut I was taught to take orders.  Someone wanted a pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni?  I delivered one... and quickly, while it was still hot.  I couldn't wait for my first customer to receive their pizza before going on to the next though, so I also learned to multi-task.  I needed ALL of my customers to be happy if I wanted to earn my tips.  Also, if I provided bad service, people would remember and ask for a different server next time.

At K-Mart, I learned to sell.  Once upon a time, when Best Buy wasn't around, people bought TVs and VCRs and stereos at K-Mart.  I was on commission and quickly learned that the more I sold, the more I made.  I became positively eager to help anyone that happened by.  I learned to talk to my customers and understand what their needs were so I could help them purchase the right thing.  If I sold them too much they would bring it back and be unhappy.  If I sold them something too cheap they would be unhappy with the quality.  It was my responsibility to ensure they left with the right product and ensure they realized all of the value it had to provide.

So, that's Pizza Hut and K-Mart. But what do fast pizza and a discount department store have to offer an IT Professional?

Long-term customers are more profitable than short-term customers.

Good customer service is really that easy.  If you keep that one idea in mind all the rest will follow!  So how do you create long-term customers?  Don't over think it, it's simple:
  1. Be genuinely interested in their success... yours will follow naturally.
  2. Don't give them any reason to go somewhere else.
Is that it?  Really?  Yes.  If you can put your customer's success, happiness, and profitability ahead of your own and really help them achieve their goals their company will grow and require more and more of your products and services.  Don't go for the quick buck!  It just doesn't pay off.  When customers know that you enabled their success or helped them make more money or made their lives easier, they will think of you next time and look for you to do the same over and over again.  When you take them for a quick buck they WILL realize it sooner or later and they'll never be back.  That's part 1.

Part 2: Don't mess it up!  Once you have a good thing going with a customer, don't give them any reason to look elsewhere.  Make sure you have the products and services they want when they want them.  Know them well enough so that nobody else can provide the same value that you do.  And, don't ever, EVER, take them for granted.  It's as easy to lose a customer due to inattention as it is through competition.

I built a successful IT consulting business over the course of 7 years using the two rules above.  I built long-term customers that came back month after month and year after year.  They didn't use my services just because they had before; they came back because we had a relationship that they valued.  It wasn't quite personal but it wasn't just business either.  I really enjoyed working with them and helping them achieve their goals.  Both they and I knew that if they were successful they would require more of my help and I could ride their coat tails all the way to the bank.  Our goals were aligned and as long as I did my job and didn't mess it up I had guaranteed happy customers for as long as I wanted them.

I wasn't always perfect, and I became complacent and took a couple customers for granted.  I lost them.  It was, perhaps, the most painful lesson I learned during that 7 years and I learned it VERY quickly.  I built processes and procedures to ensure that even when customers were at a maintenance level for a long time I continued to actively add value to their business.  I learned to not mess it up.

So, it turns out that Pizza Hut and K-Mart really do have something to teach us about customer service in IT after all.  How did you learn customer service?  What does it mean to you?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Certs, Degrees, Experience. How do I Get Hired?!?

Technology changes so rapidly that anything you learn in college or are tested on in a cert exam is almost certainly out of date within 3 years.  That doesn't mean they are worthless, but it DOES mean that the longer you've been certified or had your degree the less meaningful it is.

There is no substitute for experience.  Degrees and certifications are used by recruiters and hiring managers to do an initial sort of job applicants and after that they mean little or nothing.  Once you sit down in an interview you've exhausted the usefulness of qualifications and must prove your suitability through your capability to communicate how your past experience would add value to the position you are applying for.

Also, recruiters are making the mistake of asking for the moon on job postings, incorrectly thinking that it is an employers' market.  In reality, Information Technology is one of the few growing sectors of the economy and it is much more difficult to find well qualified candidates than they think.  They would do much better to just ask for the most critical skills and educate their clients (the businesses they hire for) on some more realistic expectations on what they can get and how much it might cost.

Adding to the problem, many companies continue to refuse to train new staff, thinking that there are so many candidates on the market that they can afford to be picky and choose only the best qualified candidates with all of the required skills.  In reality they are only hurting themselves.  By ignoring the benefits of doing their own training they are losing an opportunity to build leaders for their organization, train people to do business THEIR way, and are leaving positions unfilled due to a lack of overqualified candidates.

So, how do you get hired in an upside-down technology employment market?  You get noticed.  If you can get recruiters and hiring managers to come to you instead of sending resumes out to them and posting yourself on Dice or Monster or Careerbuilder then you've won the game without even playing it.  Getting noticed requires you to build a reputation, prove you have skills by participating in social networking and local events, and network with people in your industry.

When more people know you are well qualified more people will ask, "why isn't he/she working for us?"  And they *WILL* come.  I've spent the last couple months on this strategy and I can tell you without reservation that it does work.  For two months after I sold my business in June I had no interviews and had been struggling to make anything happen.  At the beginning of October I began a social media marketing campaign that included making blog posts, networking on LinkedIn and Tweeting significant online activities.  I've had a couple job interviews now and I have recruiters calling me daily.  I could have taken several of the jobs I was called about, but when you're getting this kind of attention you can afford to be choosy.

You can prove you are well qualified without any letters behind your name.  You can do it without a degree.  All you need is a computer, some internet, something you know that other people want to learn about and to tell your story.  I'm confident now that my career will continue with a job I love, and soon.  You can do it too.  You can get hired.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gigabit Google - Kansas City Event Summary

This evening I attended the IASA Kansas City quarterly event and their topic was "Google Fiber and Kansas City."  Rachel Hack, the local Google Community Manager for Kansas City spoke about their plans for our area and had lots of good information.  Some of it I've seen other places and some not.

Here's a summary of what I heard and thought was notable:
  1. Google is running fiber in to homes, not businesses.  They have no timeline or significant plans to run it for businesses, even small ones.  So, if you want Google fiber for your business buy a house in Kansas City and start a home office!
  2. Google wants to enable everyone in the community with high speed internet access, especially those currently without it.  This means they like the diversity of Kansas City's neighborhoods.  They like that they can find lots of places with the wealthy and the financially challenged literally within sight of each other.
  3. They're interested in municipal buildings like libraries and schools and hospitals.  I heard the word "free" although I'm guessing I heard wrong.  It's an interesting idea though... put in free internet in public places to encourage communities and neighborhoods to work with Google on the rollout.
  4. The installation will be in Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO proper ONLY at this point.
  5. There are no current plans to go to other cities.  Rachel was asked about this several times and stayed with the company line: this is just about Kansas City right now.
  6. Rachel was asked about whether this was just a short-term test or if Google was in Kansas City for the long haul.  She said that the cost to deliver fiber to the home is significant and Google plans to make their investment work.
  7. Google will be evaluating neighborhoods based upon demand.  In neighborhoods where lots of people want Google fiber, they'll be higher on the list.  She said that Google will factor in neighborhoods where there aren't a lot of highly educated people that know to raise their hands and ask for the service.
  8. I asked about whether Google plans to give network preference to their own services over those of competitors.  I specifically asked about Microsoft's Office 365 products versus Google Apps.  She said that no, Google isn't planning on preferring anyones services over anyone else's.
  9. Someone asked about privacy over the fiber connection.  She said that Google takes people's privacy very seriously and will consider that.  By the way, it's harder, but not impossible to tap fiber than it is older copper wire infrastructure.  It should be somewhat more secure just because of the medium.
  10. Rachel mentioned that Kansas City, KS. schools give their kids laptops and that the lower income kids didn't have internet access at home to take full advantage of them.  Google hopes to remedy this and enable everyone.
  11. Google doesn't plan to open a local office anytime soon and is doing all their work with local contractors at this point.  There is one open position in Kansas City though for a "Technical Project Manager, Google Fiber - Kansas City" listed on the Google website.  if you've got lots of experience with fiber and project management this might be a job for you!
  12. Google is planning to encourage local entrepreneurship through partnerships with organizations like ThinkKC and the Kauffman Foundation's StartupWeekend.  The next Startup Weekend will be in April and Google may be a sponsor or partner of some sort.
I'll do some analysis on the event later.  The one thing that really surprised me was that Google doesn't plan to make their fiber available to businesses anytime soon.  Rachel really stressed that this move was about homes and helping bridge the digital divide.

Thanks to the KC IASA chapter for putting on the event!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dogfooding IT with Office 365

Have you heard the term, "eating your own dog food?"  Microsoft manager Paul Maritz wrote an e-mail in 1988 that created the term and loosely it means... use what you sell.

I took the challenge to heart a while back and decided that if I was going to sell cloud services I needed to use them myself.  This idea really took off for me with Office 365 this year.  As I started talking to more and more clients about the benefits of cloud-based e-mail I first signed up for Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS, the precursor to Office 365) and then the beta of Office 365.  I used BPOS and the beta as test beds to learn the products and to assess their viability for my clients.  I wasn't ready to migrate to them internally yet however.

Eventually, just as Office 365 was releasing my first client wanted to get moving.  I had been talking to them about it for months.  My experience with the beta had been good so we went ahead.  I signed up for the full product and started moving over e-mail at the same time I was installing it for this client and actively selling the product to my other clients.  I figured it was time to eat my own dog food.

So, here's what happened: my client had some growing pains but Office 365 has turned out to be a good solution for them; I've had several other clients express interest and installed it for them successfully; I love using it internally and am recommending it to anyone that listens.  I did learn some lessons though:
  1. Doing your research really pays off.  It did for me!  I avoided several land mines by doing a beta assessment first.
  2. The entry-level Office 365 SKU (P1) doesn't come with phone support.  It isn't worth the $4/mo savings... get the E1 SKU, you won't regret it.  There's also a 50-user cap for the P1 SKU.
  3. You cannot switch from the P1 to E1 SKU.  Tell me it ain't so!  This was a real bummer for me.  I still don't understand why.  I'm sure there's a good technical reason.  You have to do a full migration to move between these SKUs.
  4. I know Office 365 is supposed to be easier than self-hosted Exchange, but it's no cakewalk and still requires significant technical knowledge and capability.  Your average tech-savvy client isn't going to do a migration without assistance.  Some of the migration stuff gets pretty complex.  Besides, most businesses just don't *want* to do the administration.  They have other stuff to worry about... like running their business and making money.
  5. The amount of money you'll make on Office 365 (aside from ancillary services) is negligible until you get in to hundreds of  deployed licenses.  Don't plan to make your money on monthly recurring revenue.  It's a 6% share per year plus 12% if you're the initial partner of record that signs up the client.  That's a maximum of 18% the first year plus 6% per every year after.  Make your money on services, that's all I can say about it.  It's not nearly as profitable as providing a hosting service if you do that.  If you do provide hosting services plan on this being a big competitor!  Stress the customization options you offer that Office 365 does not.
  6. A properly run and well maintained Exchange server doesn't take much more work to service than Office 365.  You'll still get the bulk of your work on user adds/deletes, adding new domain names and aliases and on the user-side support of Outlook.  You just don't need to monitor the hardware any more.  Oh, and you have a new administrative interface to learn.
  7. Including Microsoft Office in your Office 365 subscription seems like a good idea and it may be for some clients that have very seasonal workforces.  Do the math before you decide on this course though.  You have other options for subscription based Microsoft Office, like Open Value Subscription and sometimes Services Provider License Agreement (SPLA).
  8. There's no private branding or resale of Office 365.  It's 100% direct bill from Microsoft.  You don't get to mark it up.  This makes it hard to include in a fully managed service agreement by the way.  Microsoft really needs to fix this to increase adoption by Managed Service Providers (MSPs).
  9. Just like any service IT WILL GO DOWN.  Make sure your clients understand that 99.9% of the possible 8,760 hours in a year equals about 9 hours per year of down time.  That's a full day and then some and it could happen at any time.  Just the same, it's likely to be much more reliable and secure than self-hosted Exchange for most small businesses and may make sense for larger ones as well.
  10. It comes with some nifty additional products you may or may not use.  Bear in mind that you don't get as much of each product with each Office 365 SKU so learn your product before you sell it.  Also, don't try to sell Lync to people using Office Communication Server as an onsite VoIP unified communications system.  There's no integration with the public communications infrastructure yet.  That means for right now it's an internal-only system.  Cool, but not blow-me-outta-the-water awesome.
I like Office 365.  I've tried Google Apps and while that worked okay, Office 365 just feels more like a business solution to me.  It's been reliable and pretty easy to set up.  Most days I don't even notice I'm not hosting my own Exchange server any more.  And isn't that the idea?  Apparently, dog food ain't so bad!

Are there any best practices with regard to Office 365 that you've found and I've missed?  How many seats do you have on Office 365 and how has it been as a profit center for your business?  Let us know with your comments!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Job Title Soup. Making Sense of IT Job Titles.


Have you looked at job postings lately?  If you're one of the 14 million unemployed in the U.S., odds are you have.  Even with information businesses and providers of professional and business services increasing payrolls there are still a depressing number of people in Information Technology looking for work.

So, how do you interpret the job titles employers use to understand a potential job's responsibilities?  Human resources people and recruiters are often tasked with finding the perfect candidate for a position without really understanding what the position is.  Often, the hiring manager just gives them a list of requirements and a title. There may not be any guiding policy from the company about filling the position and the same job, posted by two different managers may have very different titles and descriptions.

Let's take a look at some of the titles used to describe technology services positions.  I'll try to make a few observations about each... I'm going to be stereo-typing each of them on purpose.  If you disagree with me or have a differing opinion I'd love to hear it.

Wikipedia definition:
An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical and practical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, safety and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin root ingenerare, meaning "to create".

My take:
Engineer has a professional connotation and generally refers to a very technical person.  When you say engineer it brings up visions of people using Autocad or some other design software and the word often is used to refer to non-IT people who are professionals in one of the engineering disciplines.  It is used in IT for very technical software and infrastructure positions.  It is similar to the technician title, but engineer positions often require more experience or training.


Wikipedia definition:
A subcontractor is an individual or in many cases a business that signs a contract to perform part or all of the obligations of another's contract. [...] While the most common concept of a subcontractor is in building works and civil engineering, the range of opportunities for subcontractor is much wider and it is possible that the greatest number now operate in the information technology and information sectors of business.

My take:
Contractor is actually a term referring to the type of employment rather than a position title in itself although it is often misused as a title by sloppy recruiters.  Being a contractor is actually a shortening of subcontractor or independent contractor.  Businesses hiring contractors may actually be referring to someone doing anything from coding to infrastructure to plumbing or janitorial work.  You'll need to look deeper in the job description for a useful clue about just what is required.  Often, businesses will use contractors to outsource internal business processes when it is too expensive or unjustifiable to keep someone on staff.  Contractors often are used for long periods of time rather than for shorter projects.  1099 employment is often referred to as "contractors."


Wikipedia definition:
A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. A consultant usually works for a consultancy firm or is self-employed, and engages with multiple and changing clients. Thus, clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.

My take:
Consultants tend to be higher trained, sometimes with advanced degrees or certifications. In reality consultant really just means "professional."  A consultant generally works for a company that provides consulting services on particular subject matter like IT Infrastructure services or application development.  Just like contractors, the word is more of a description about the type of employment rather than the work they will do. Often, consultants are used for shorter projects rather than long contracts where contractors are used.  Consultants work for a business that provides services rather than directly for a client as 1099 contractors do.


Wikipedia definition:
An architect is a person trained in the planning, design and oversight of the construction of buildings. [...] The terms architect and architecture are also used in the disciplines of landscape architecture, naval architecture and often information technology (for example a software architect).

My take:
In the IT industry the word is often used to describe one of the most senior level technical positions available. The technical architect or software architect is generally the person responsible for the highest level design of a system or application.  They provide a higher level of technical capability that also goes hand in hand with some level of business savvy and a great deal of experience.  The IT architect is generally a mid or late career position that has much higher requirements than normal.

(System) Administrator

Wikipedia definition:
A system administrator, IT systems administrator, systems administrator, or sysadmin, is a person employed to maintain and operate a computer system and/or network. System administrators may be members of an information technology (IT) or Electronics and Communication Engineering department.

My take:
Administrator generally indicates the person most responsible for a particular system.  This might be a system, network, server, database or other administrator.  It is generally a role for someone with an IT infrastructure background rather than in coding with the exception of database administrators.  In larger organizations, this may be a low management position where a number of other "administrators" are part of a team headed by the head administrator.  The term is often misused to mean just about anything the job posted would like, however, and the actual position may be a more junior position than the word seems to indicate.


Wikipedia definition:
Specialist frequently refers to an expert in a profession. An expert [...] is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain. An expert, more generally, is a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study. Experts are called in for advice on their respective subject [...]. Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.

My take:
Specialists tend to concentrate on a particular technology to the exclusion of most others.  You often see this title used with regards to particular software packages or hardware technologies.  For instance it is not uncommon to see positions like "Cisco Specialist" or "SAP Specialist."  Sloppy wording may apply the word to something that requires a lot of additional skills in addition to the primary one, so once again, be careful to read the entire description.


Wikipedia definition:
A technician is a worker in a field of technology who is proficient in the relevant skills and techniques, with a relatively practical understanding of the theoretical principles. Experienced technicians in a specific tool domain typically have intermediate understanding of theory and expert proficiency in technique. As such, technicians are generally much better versed in technique compared to average layman and even general professionals in that field of technology. [...] Technicians may be classified as either skilled workers or semi-skilled workers, and may be part of a larger (production) process.

My take:
Technician connotes a more technical, closer to entry-level position generally.  Technicians may be very experienced but will generally move in to a job with a different title before long.  Generally, you move out of technician positions when your communication and business skills develop.

(Business) Analyst

Wikipedia definition:
A Business Analyst (BA) analyzes the organization and design of businesses, government departments, and non-profit organizations; BAs also assess business models and their integration with technology. [...] The role of Business Analyst has evolved from someone who was a part of the business operation and worked with Information Technology to improve the quality of the products and services being delivered by the IT organization to someone who apart from gathering Business Requirements, also assists in Integration and Acceptance Testing, supports the development of training and implementation material, participates in the implementation, and provides post-implementation support. Business Analysts today are also involved in the development of project plans and often provide project management skills when these skills are not available in other project participants.

My take:
Analysts or Business Analysts are generally higher trained, more mid-career positions.  They often have advanced degrees in business or management.  Positions may include some technical components but are much more focused on business.  Unlike consultants (who may be business analysts also) a business analyst is expected to understand the effect of Information Technology on the business and to assist in the evaluation and manage the implementation of appropriate technologies.

These are just some of the job titles you might see if you looked on a job board like Monster, Career Builder or Dice.  If you took any three similar jobs at different companies and compared their descriptions they would all be very different.  There is no standardized language or use of titles especially amongst recruiters who often barely understand the actual requirements for the positions they are trying to fill.

I find that the most successful recruiters are those that take the time to educate themselves about the technologies and detailed requirements for the positions they are responsible for filling.  The most successful candidates understand that to get their dream jobs not only will they need to get noticed, but they'll need to navigate the alphabet soup of IT job titles successfully.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Snips and Snails or Sugar and Spice? Just what are Consultants Made of?

"What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of!

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!"

Mother Goose Nursury Rhyme

Have you ever heard the phrase: "It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round?"  Well, it does.  Especially in Information Technology.  But, I'm of the opinion that IT people come roughly in two flavors.
  1. Technicians (or Engineers)
  2. Consultants (or Analysts)
What's the difference you say?  Well, here's my definitions:

Technicians are technical.  They understand the *how* of a technology, how to make it run, how to service it, install it, create it.  They're great with machines, coding, and complex troubleshooting.  Often they're the kind of people that just can't stand to *not* know why something broke and want to fix it no matter how long it takes.

Consultants look at business process and are more interested in why and where and who and what rather than the how of a particular technology.  They may also be very technically capable, but they generally marry superior customer service, business analysis, and communication skills with that technical capability.

Here are some common questions I've heard about technicians and consultants:

Q. Can you train technicians?

A. You can give people knowledge about a technology, but it's much harder (if not impossible) to train the intuitive grasp of *how* technology works.  Contrary to what most people think, the creation, operation and support of technology is as much an art as it is a science.  It changes so rapidly and the complexity is so overwhelming that if all you have is book knowledge and you don't just "get it" you're not going very far.  This is one of the real advantages young people have in growing up with technology that their parents did not... they just get it since they've been dealing with it their whole lives.

Q. Can you train consultants?

A. You can train consulting skills for sure.  You can teach people to look at business process and to consider the business implications of using one technology or another.  You can train people to be good with customer service and you can educate them in the use of written and verbal language skills.  But, once again, there's a certain something that separates good consultants from technicians.  You have to not only "get it" the same way a technician does but you need an intuitive grasp of how people think and how they interact with technology.

Q.Can a technician become a consultant?

A. Certainly!  I did!  I think we all begin as technicians.  You only develop an ability to see the larger picture and the business savvy required for consulting over time and with experience.  It requires development especially of your communication skills, both verbal and written.  If you didn't learn to spell and your grammar depends on Microsoft Word's spell checking you're in for a hard ride as a consultant.

Q. What's wrong with being a technician?

A. Absolutely nothing.  We need both technicians and consultants.  Technicians do things with the actual technology that consultants just can't.  Someone has to make this stuff!  Someone has to code the applications and build the servers.  But would you put a technician in front of a client and ask them to deliver a presentation to C-Level management?  Definitely not.  It's not a good use of their skills and they probably wouldn't enjoy it.

So, which is better?  Technician or Consultant?  It depends on your business needs.  And since I'm a consultant, would you like a presentation on the topic?

IT Management Gets Cloudy

CIOs and IT managers are slowly realizing the benefits of Cloud Computing but there's still a long ways to go. Product offerings for hosted services have matured and exploded but there are so many options now that it's hard for IT management to keep up.

So, here's a quick guide to the Cloud technologies that are out there.  I've broken it out in to the three major Cloud services areas to help you better understand what's available and how:
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or HaaS (Hardware as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)
Infrastructure as a Service
* In a nutshell: you pay for full access to a server that someone else hosts for a monthly fee.  These services generally include some sort of terminal access to a virtual computer instance that you populate with your own operating system and software license.  Often, you'll access the server through a terminal service client of some sort. *Note: HaaS often is confused with IaaS and generally refers to on site (not Cloud) equipment provided along with support services by a service provider for a monthly fee rather than as an up front capital investment.

* Who needs it: anyone that needs full configuration capability for a server but doesn't want to actually host the server themselves.

* Benefits: host equipment so you don't need to build your own Tier-1 datacenter for access to a highly reliable and secure environment.

* Challenges: even though you have full access to the "box" your applications are deployed on the "box" may actually be a virtual server rather than a full server... limiting the configurations on the actual hosting hardware.  If you're trying to move a locally hosted server to the Cloud the performance may not be the same since your connection now goes over the internet.

* Prominent vendors/examples:, Amazon Web Services, GoGrid.

Platform as a Service
* In a nutshell: highly-reliable hosted operating system software that totally obscures the hardware infrastructure. Services may be accessed through a web browser or application client of some sort.

* Who needs it: application developers that need a platform (.NET for instance) for their applications but do not require complicated customized infrastructure.  Anyone who wants their application to "scale" quickly on a fully virtualized platform without downtime for software and hardware upgrades.

* Benefits: the infrastructure disappears. You get a reliable and scalable service for a monthly fee.

* Challenges: customization of the platform may be restricted to enable broad use by many types of applications. You may not have all the options you would like. Some PaaS services do not provide all the debugging, test and development tools you'll need or may use tools you're unfamiliar with.

* Prominent vendors/examples:Amazon Beanstalk, Google AppEngine, Microsoft Windows Azure, Salesforce

Software as a Service
* In a nutshell: perhaps the first and most recognizable of the cloud services, SaaS obscures the whole back end and simply provides a web-based application generally accessed through a web browser.

* Who needs it: anyone wanting to host a highly reliable web site or service generally accessed through a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox.  Some applications may be quite complex and may even interface with hosted databases and other web services but require no access to the underlying operating system or hardware on their own.

* Benefits: the cheapest and least complex platform and also the easiest to develop for.  Applications can be deployed very quickly.

* Challenges: configuration options are often accessed through a web console and are limited in scope.

* Prominent vendors/examples: (main CRM app), 1&1 Website Hosting, Carbonite Backup.

There's something for everyone in Cloud computing.  With so many options, the question is not whether you need Cloud computing any more, but WHERE you need Cloud computing.  Many companies are taking baby steps in to the technology through obvious Cloud computing targets like hosted e-mail and CRM.  Especially small and medium sized companies that have difficulty investing capital in secure, highly reliable onsite infrastructure will be interested in the opportunities that Cloud computing presents.

Even large enterprises can find Cloud computing synergies.  How powerful would it be to pay a monthly fee for an application you don't need to deploy across hundreds or even thousands of desktops?  Wouldn't it be nice to simply deploy a shortcut to a hosted application instead?  There would be no need for internal development and no need for additional help desk resources.

If you're a CIO or IT manager, do yourself a favor.  Get educated and get moving.  The Cloud is here like it or not.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Impressions of a trip to Seattle

On a more personal and non-technology front, after selling my business I decided to take a short break before going back to work, so I took my family up to Seattle.  I had not been to the Northwest US before and we all needed a break from the Kansas heat.

The trip out was uneventful except for on the second leg of the flight when we flew by a large circular lake with an island in the middle, tall cliffs all around and a mountain off to one side.  Any guesses what it is?  I'll post the answer at the end of the post.

So, Seattle.  After recovering from a trip out with small children in a confined space we started our scheduled activities.  This is where the fun started.  We made a hiking excursion to the Dungeon of Spit (actually the it's the Dungeness Spit - a 5 1/2 mile long and very narrow strip of land on the north end of the Olympic Peninsula just west of Seattle - my kids made up the Dungeon thing and I thought it was funny).  Anyway, I saw a hiker with a Microsoft t-shirt on.  You know the t-shirts... the geeky looking ones that Microsoft hands out at events that nobody ever wears and end up as car wash rags.  He was wearing it proudly and hiking through the wildlife refuge.  I stifled a snigger.  You wouldn't be caught dead in one of those back home in Kansas, but I was close to the home of Microsoft, so I just accepted it and moved on.

Throughout the trip, even from people I knew didn't care for Microsoft I heard what good things they've done for the community in Seattle... how the city has thrived due to the employment of thousands and service projects and whatnot.  What was going on?  Steadfast Microsoft haters saying good things about Microsoft?

We also spent time at Hurricane Ridge, canoeing on a lake, visiting Paulsbo (a beautiful little town with a Norwegian heritage), going up the Space Needle, visiting the Seattle Aquarium and more.

I noticed something else both while in Seattle proper and in the surrounding areas.  There were people... lots of people... around.  I mean... they were out, doing stuff, not hiding indoors just getting in and out of cars like we do in Kansas City.  There is a sense that Seattle is a real community where the people like to get out and around other people and see each other.  I've bragged in the past about how we have more freeway miles of roadway in Kansas, per capita, than anywhere else in the US.  Now, I'm not sure that's as good a thing as I thought.  Since we spend so much time in our cars in the KC area we see each other walking about the city less.  We interact with each other less.  We get in the car each morning, go to work, see the people there, get back in the car and go home.  In Seattle you might drive or walk down to the ferry, motor across Puget Sound, then take a bus or light rail to your destination.  All the while you talk with and are around other people.

It's a very different style of living in the Northwest than here in Kansas.  The suburbs of KC and the residential area around Seattle couldn't look more different.  In KC the fairly level ground makes it easy to plan grid-like streets and subdivisions of houses.  In Seattle the hilly an heavily wooded terrain make that kind of development much harder or impossible.  So, instead, they develop around the natural features of the land, giving the area a much more outdoorsy feel.  In KC you can see the sky from horizon to horizon, you can see the weather coming and aside from some tornadoes it's really fairly predictable.  In Seattle, there are numerous micro-climates including one of two rain forest regions in North America.

The city itself is much different also.  Actually, the Seattle area is really several cities, and there is more than one downtown... all within 1/2 hour of each other.  And the water... its everywhere!  Seattle sits between the Pugot Sound and lake Washington.  There are little fingers of the sound that dive in and out of the shore areas and create all kinds of interesting features.  I went to Venice a long time ago and the amount of water in and around Seattle reminds me a bit of that, although otherwise the two are nothing alike.

In any case, I'm back in dear old Kansas now, getting back to work.  My wife and I haven't really thought about moving outside the area much although we talked about it some after we got married.  We're both thinking about it a little more now though.  It's hard not to be impressed by the Northwest.  Especially when the temperature up there never got above 85 while the thermometer topped 110 at home.

Oh, and that lake I mentioned at the top... it was Crater Lake in the north of Oregon near the border with Washington.  The lake was formed when the volcano blew up and created a caldera.  It was amazing to look at from the plane and I would consider making a trip back to the area just to see it again.  Off to the side is Mount Scott, a stratovolcano (a tall volcano unlike the wide ones in Hawaii which are shield volcanoes).  The Mount Scott volcanoes tired themselves out thousands of years ago and left us some of the most spectacular terrain in North America.
Crater Lake, Oregon

Friday, June 10, 2011

Skype, Typing, Security on Tablets

Here are a couple questions I was asked today:
How easy is it to type on tablets?
Typing on a tablet is typing on a touch screen.  You one-finger or two-finger type.  If you have something like my Iconia A500 you can attach a USB keyboard.  You could also pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard for wireless typing.  Using the touchscreen keyboard is definitely slower than a keyboard but faster than on a phone.

Does Skype work on them?
You can use Skype on Android tablets.  See for some details.  It's on iPad (  Looks like not on Playbook (
E-mail, Skype, and Internet need to be speedy and secure, are they?
Security - the Playbook is potentially more secure but it requires pairing with a Blackberry phone I think.  It's half-baked, but better than iPad and Android.  Wireless security is good on all of them... assuming you connect over a secure wireless network with decent encryption.  It doesn't matter which device you have, if you connect over an open wireless connection your transmissions can be intercepted and read.

I use a Sprint Overdrive 3g/4g hotspot in combination with my Iconia for on-the-go internet.  If you get a tab with built-in broadband you wouldn't need to do that.  I don't do any significant work on public wi-fi though for security reasons.  If you stay of public wi-fi you're pretty safe.

Security options for business use of tablets are few at this point.  The Microsoft tabs based on Windows 8 should be good but those won't be out for a while.  The Playbook should be good for security but there's a whole lot of downside for the Playbook in my opinion.

This is a brand new form factor with several new software platforms.  It's going to take it a while to mature to the point where a lot of businesses are comfortable depending on them.  For limited use and if you're careful though I think they're ready now for those that want to be on the leading edge.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tablet Wars! VHS or Betamax? Android, Apple, or Playbook?

I have clients asking me about tablets on a regular basis now.  They want to know which platform is going to win.  They need something, but they're just not sure what.  So, here's my attempt to compare the platforms.  Since I only have experience with the Android tablets, I'm looking for community input on the Apple iPad and Blackberry Playbook.  How are they working for you?

I give my best evaluation of each platform and stamp each with VHS (it's going to survive) or Betamax (going the way of the dodo bird).

Android Tablet
Apple iPad 2
Blackberry Playbook

As I said, I cannot speak to the iPad and Playbook except for what I hear from others, so be prepared for some hearsay. I use an Acer Iconia A500 - a Google Android tablet. It's somewhat larger than the Galaxy Tablet (the 7" one) and has a 10" screen. It's a little on the heavy side due to the long-life battery. The construction is solid, performance is very good, and it is expandable in a way that none of the others are (without docking stations anyway)... it has a full-size USB connector. This means you can plug a mouse, keyboard, thumb drive, or external hard drive directly in to the tablet if you wish.  The Androids are showing up in lots of different configurations, some with keyboard docks, some with charging-only docks, the Transformer looks like a notebook and the "screen" opens and closes when docks.  So far as I know, Apples and Playbooks are coming in limited configurations, with Microsoft devices being more flexible, although maybe not as much as the Androids.

The iPad 2 and any of the Android devices with the dual-core processors should be nice and quick.  I’m guessing the Windows tablets will use the same type of hardware platform as Android, providing good performance.  Once again, I don't know much about the Playbook.  In general, the Android tablets (and theoretically Microsoft as well) will have a shorter hardware lifecycles than the others and they will be delivered by multiple manufacturers.  This means you’ll see more new and more recent hardware on the Android platform. 

VHS – Android & Microsoft
Betamax – Apple & Playbook

Apple allows less customization (mostly backgrounds and icons) of the tablet than do the Androids (extreme... change almost anything). This means that there is more you can mess up on Androids also though. I prefer the extra options, personally.  I cannot speak to customization on the Playbook really, there's not much good information out yet.  Peanut gallery… any input?  We also know little at this point about the Microsoft tablets, but I’m going to guess they come out somewhere between the Apple and Androids.

VHS – Android
Betamax – Apple
Unknown – Playbook & Microsoft

Apple has more apps - at least for now. For the next year or two Apple is expected to stay fairly far ahead in the app war. Google and the new Microsoft tablets are expected to take a great deal of market share from Apple though, with the Google Market perhaps exceeding the Apple App Store sometime in 2014. Microsoft Windows 8 will be released in the next year or so and will potentially allow you to share apps between your desktop and tablet in a way you cannot with the other platforms. Plus, the Microsoft focus on the developer ecosystem should encourage rapid development.  But... it's a long ways off and who knows what will happen between now and then.  The Playbook has a small app store and they’re coming from far behind.  Tablets are a new form factor and the number of business applications for them are still somewhat limited.  This will be a challenge for all of the platforms over the next couple years… to become relevant in the enterprise.

VHS – Apple & Android
Betamax – Playbook
Unknown –Microsoft

Platform Staying Power
The Playbook is an unknown at this point. Some people consider it a last flailing attempt by RIM to stay relevant with Blackberry phones rapidly losing out to Apple and Google devices.  Apple and Android devices aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  I personally think the Playbook is DoA.  Microsoft is very late to the game, but as a platform I think they're going to be around for a while.  The tablet form factor for Microsoft is largely an unknown then.  They're certainly betting a lot on making it succeed.

VHS – Apple & Android
Betamax – Playbook
Unknown –Microsoft

Theoretically the Playbook should do well in this category due to RIM's experience managing mobile devices on their Blackberry platform. It is largely unknown how well this will work so far though.  The iPad and Google tablets have limited security options so far, and neither has good built in enterprise management features for remote wiping as far as I know. There is some data encryption available, but it is limited. Mostly you'll need apps to add security to these devices. Expect better security when Windows 8 comes out eventually. Because Windows 8 will be a shared platform you should have Active Directory integration, Group Policies and remote mobile device management support.  You’ll also have access to the existing Windows security app base.  That should push the other vendors to beef up their security so as to not lose market share to Microsoft.

VHS – Playbook & Microsoft
Betamax – Apple & Android

Tablets are fun and can be a great addition (not replacement) to your mobile arsenal. They aren't expected to replace laptops or mobile phones either one, but to compliment them. In general, they excel at light to medium gaming (not quite as good as a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS) and heavier multimedia (audio and video playing), and light web browsing.  Most of them will connect to an HDTV so you can display content in HD on the larger screen.  How well they do each of these depends largely on the apps you have loaded, so it’s hard to do an Apples to Apples comparison (pun intended!), but I'm just going to go out on a limb and say they'll all be roughly equal in the fun department.  The problem is going to be for the Playbook in the apps and games categories.  Their app store is starting way behind the other two.  Windows tablets (when they arrive) should have a leg up if they can run PC platform games natively.  There's a decent Windows app store, although it isn't as big as either of the two leaders - and they have no tablet apps in the store right now.  I'm not sure how (or IF) the existing Windows Phone apps will transfer to the tablet either.

VHS – Apple, Android, Microsoft
Betamax – Playbook

So, here's a summary:
Android – 5 x VHS, 1 x Betamax
Apple – 3 x VHS, 3 x Betamax
Microsoft – 3 x VHS, 3 x Unknown
Playbook – 1 x VHS, 4 x Betamax, 1 x Unknown

Winner: Android!

Like I said at the top, my experience is limited to the Android mostly.  My industry knowledge and hearsay let me make some projections about Microsoft, but I may be off on some of the Apple and Playbook stuff.  Please correct me and feel free to elaborate on features and specs that I am unfamiliar with.  In any case, this is a fun new technology field and we’re going to have a great time watching all the players compete for the top one or two spots!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rebranding my Blog

This morning I was reviewing my blog after posting the update about mobile computing yesterday and I realized... I haven't been posting about any topics aside from mobile and cloud computing for months now.  I like these two subjects and I find that there is lots to talk about that is relevant not just to technical people but to end users and decision makers.

So, I've decided that Consulting Notes is no longer an appropriate title for the blog.  To reflect the content that dominates my articles I have changed the name to "Cloud Notes by Scott Cameron."  I apologize for any confusion this may create for existing readers.  The old content is still here for those that want it, I'm just not going to focus on delivering content for consultants and IT providers any more.  Many of the topics I cover will be of interest to them I am sure, however.

The focus of my content will for the most part be on mobile and cloud computing topics.  I will try to use non-technical language as much as possible to make the content accessible to those not in the IT industry.  That doesn't mean there won't be some good technical nuggets in there as well, though.  I hope you find the topics I cover illuminating and am looking forward to a good discussion.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Smartphones, Tablets and All Things Mobile

I was recently asked "What's the one hot technology to watch in 2011?" and my response was immediate: Mobile devices without a doubt.

The explosion of new form factors for mobile computing is staggering to behold. Smartphones and tablets are changing the face of information technology.  New devices are released monthly and highly anticipated by users.  Owners of mobile devices fanatically scour the app stores for good deals on the highest rated apps.  Services ranging from Netflix access, to CRM software, to electronic medical records (EMR) are revolutionizing how and more importantly WHERE we access and interact with our digital lives.  When combined with cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) the possibilities are staggering.

Smartphones have been a challenge for the enterprise for several years now. Starting with the Blackberry and then moving through Windows Mobile, Apple ios and now Google Android, end-users are demanding mobile access to corporate resources with their personal equipment and businesses are being forced to support them. It's not just rank and file information workers either, executives have bought in to the productivity gains to be had by delivering high-quality mobile products on the smartphone platform. And most everyone agrees... mobile is just plain fun.

Regarding tablets, some consider them just a larger form factor smartphone, but they're only partly right. Many consider them mainly entertainment devices, but that's only the start. Tablet computers (iPad and now Android and maybe Microsoft Windows 8 and the Playbook) are a new type of device with many of the capabilities of a full desktop or notebook computer, but that run an embedded "system on a chip." This category of device is changing how operating systems are developed and delivered. Trying to understand how having a single-chip appliance with all of the capabilities of a desktop computer will change information technology is going to be a full time occupation for R&D analysts for the next several years.

Mobile technologies are the place to watch this year. They're rapidly maturing after being in the marketplace for several years now. Businesses are in the process of determining how they can harness their capabilities and as we see new products come to market that take full advantage of the mobility that we've been granted by them there's going to be a massive change in how people interact with their information technology systems.

For a taste of how "hot" mobile is check out the articles linked here:
1. This cnet article mentions that almost 20 BILLION apps have been downloaded from the Apple and Google marketplaces. Apple developers alone have made over $4.5 billion since the release of the Apple App Store in 2008.
2. Susan Fogerty at TechTarget wrote a great article about the surging popularity of tablets today. According to their research, tablets lead even smartphones as the mobile technology of choice for 2011. Both technologies far outstrip traditional notebook computers in their survey.
3. Gartner analyzes tablet use in the enterprise in the final link. Gartner says that tablets are neither "better laptops" nor "better smartphones" but will compliment and enhance both.

Keep your eyes on mobile technologies in 2011 and 2012 and you won't be disappointed.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Small & Medium Business Case for Office 365

The Small & Medium Business Case for Office 365 - An Evaluation of Microsoft's Cloud E-mail and Collaboration Services
For some background on Office 365 see my previous post  I'll assume that everyone is passing familiar with hosted e-mail and collaboration services for the purposes of this article though.

Like Punxsutawney Phil, the economy saw its shadow in 2010 and returned to its hole for another 6 weeks (months) of winter.  Spring is here now, though.  Businesses are spending money and hiring again and they've learned a few things.  First of all, they're a little more cautious... especially with regards to technology and purchasing systems that require a great deal of ongoing maintenance.  They continue to be interested in new ways of doing more with less.  What's new, though, is that they are willing to take some calculated risks, give some new ideas a try.

I'm going to make some generalizations about businesses... see if any of this sounds like your business:
  1. You have limited capital assets to invest on computer technology, software and services.
  2. You need to keep up with technology trends within reason... to keep in line with vendors, partners, clients, etc.
  3. You require solutions that are reliable, business tested, and easy to manage.
  4. You have one or more in house computer servers now providing e-mail and collaboration services.
  5. Your organization includes several people that require the ability to not only send e-mail but to collaborate with each other and external users efficiently.
  6. You've delayed renewing your systems for the last couple years due to the recession but you just can't wait any more. Your systems are aging and it's just time to upgrade.

Does any of this sound familiar?  If so, this is a great time for you to evaluate some of the maturing solutions for hosted e-mail and collaboration services.  Small and medium-sized business have had it hammered in to their heads over the last 10 years that they can now do all the things that large businesses can do with technology:  they can have their own e-mail; they can have web portals, not just plain old websites; they can host web training and deliver presentations to hundreds remotely; they can have instant messaging and unified communications systems that deliver voicemail messages to their e-mail inboxes.

There's a problem though.  All of these solutions require a LOT of maintenance.  And experts to maintain them.  Not to mention that the solutions themselves are not cheap.  They're much more affordable than they used to be, but it's still hard to part with capital.  Didn't we just have a recession?  And are we really SURE it's done?  How can businesses take advantage of all of these technologies that extend productivity and give critical advantages over competition... but do it without the large investments and risky baggage they come with?

Well, they're in luck.  If you really have been hiding in a hole for the last 3 or 4 years you've missed a revolution in computer technology.  It's called Cloud Computing and Microsoft is there in spades with their new Office 365 product.  When I say new though, don't get the wrong idea.  This is not a version 1 product.  Hosted e-mail and collaboration services have been around for several years now.

Back to the business case for Office 365 then.  Let's talk about some of the reasons why businesses have NOT been moving in droves to hosted cloud services up to now.

Road Block #1: The Solutions are Just Not Mature.
Your business cannot depend on a hosted service you cannot control.  Hosted solutions aren't reliable and are probably not secure.  Also, the service level agreements are not sufficient and they're just not ready for prime time.

What's Changed?
Microsoft deployed its first hosted Exchange e-mail service (the 1.0 product) in 2002, re-released it in 2006 (Exchange Hosted Services - the 2.0 product) and expanded it to include the collaboration product Sharepoint 2007 (Exchange and Sharepoint Online - the 3.0 product), finally reaching the current product - Business Productivity Online Services (or BPOS - the 4.0 product) in November 2008.  Office 365 is expected to release fully in the US around mid-year 2011.

So, if you look at the full history of hosted Microsoft online services, Office 365 is most definitely NOT a version 1 or even version 2 product. It's a mature and well-thought-out suite of services with offerings that are appealing to a broad range of business types and sizes. With everyone's concern (often for good reason) over trying version 1 products it's important to understand just how mature hosted "cloud" services have become over the last 5 years.

Road Block #2: Access to Adequate Internet Connections
Up until recently, many small businesses struggled with obtaining reliable and speedy internet service.  This kept them from considering hosted solutions because of the perceived low quality of those services.

What's Changed?
With the expansion of cable companies in to the business space and the resulting innovation by the phone companies, small businesses now have extraordinary options for high-speed, reliable internet services.  T1?  Old news.  Got fiber?  No?  Check it out.

Road Block #3: Didn't We Buy that Last Year?
Pre-existing investments by medium-sized businesses in some of the very technologies being moved to the cloud have kept them from fully investigating outsourcing those services.  There's a lot of infrastructure that was purchased to enable some of these solutions and you can't just throw it away!

Microsoft Office Communications (OCS) server and Sharepoint have both experienced a renaissance in medium businesses over the last 5 years.  Integration of phone systems with OCSSharepoint has become a major productivity tool on par with e-mail in many offices.

What's Changed?
Many of these investments are now aging.  Staff has been downsized during the recession.  Businesses want to keep these capabilities but do it with less staff and capital investment in infrastructure that needs refreshing every three to five years.  The online solutions have matured and now offer many if not all of the same features as their more traditional cousins.  If it's time for a tech refresh, it's time for an online services evaluation!

So, with most of the major road blocks removed, why haven't businesses been moving to the cloud in droves?  Expertise.  The industry requires a new generation of consultants and engineers that specialize in Cloud Infrastructure Services.  They're coming, believe me.  Those who see the writing on the wall are already well in to delivering these services to their clients, but full penetration will take some time yet.  There is a fundamental shift in how Information Technology is delivered.  Microsoft calls it "Software Plus Services."  You won't see onsite computer servers, software and services disappear from businesses entirely, at least not for a long while.  But, the slow movement of services to the cloud has begun and will only accelerate.

Back to the business case again then.  You can now:
  • Pay for your e-mail, collaboration portal, instant messaging, and meeting/web conferencing solutions via a monthly subscription that is a true expense and saves you from calculating depreciation of assets.
  • Obtain all of these services without a major capital investment.
  • Bring capabilities that only large enterprises previously had available to small and medium businesses quickly and easily.
  • Future-proof your technology - don't invest in new technology that will be obsolete again within 5 years.  These services include all upgrades - performed invisibly in the background and without major interruptions (mostly) in service.
  • Access services from anywhere - it's incredibly easy now to open a new office.  Who cares about connecting to the servers in your old office, it's all hosted online!
  • Access more and better solutions - the rate of development for new applications, services and solutions on the web is much faster than the traditional model.  A company can create a product and have it deployed to customers overnight now.  React faster with more relevant solutions than ever before.
  • Right-size your solutions.  Need more seats?  Add them and they're available within minutes.  Downsize?  Remove some seats and pay less next month.  This is an absolute revelation to seasonal businesses.
How much does all this cost?  An arm and a leg, right?  Not at all!  The entry level product with 99.9% guaranteed uptime and limited support is available for only $6 per user per month.  For larger businesses with more substantial needs or those with higher SLA requirements there are solutions that range in price up to $27 per user per month.  The upper-level options also include a license of Microsoft Office Professional Plus for each user.  This is yet another way to move a capital expenditure in to the expense category.

So, while not every "cloud" offering is worth evaluating, the Microsoft Office 365 services coming to market in the next several months are mature services worth a hard look by small and medium-sized businesses.  Cloud services are ready and they're here.  You should be actively looking at them and figuring out how they will change your business.  You can be sure that your competitors are.

Credit for the history of Office 365 goes to Zdnet's Mary Jo Foley's blog: The road to Microsoft Office 365: The past.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

If I were Microsoft I would put Skype in...

Microsoft's acquisition of Skype has a lot of people scratching their heads.  It also has a lot of people thinking about Microsoft product integrations, feature enhancements, revenue opportunities for new advertising, and what to do with Skype's user base.

Well, *IF* I were Microsoft here are a few of the things I would do with Skype:
  1. Skype + InTune = A powerful driver to help InTune push in to small and medium sized businesses with multiple locations and centralized support teams or that work with an external partner for support.  Imagine just clicking an icon next to the time in your system tray and clicking "chat with support" or "call support" and having an instant Skype conversation with the support team... regardless of whether you were in your main office, working from home, or in a hotel room half way across the world!
  2. Skype + Lync = Compete with Google Voice/Talk as a consumer voicemail solution and you could partner with Verizon, T-Mobile (anyone but Sprint) to provide their voicemail services.  Offer plans and special deals for small businesses to allow their mobile devices to "upgrade" and fully integrate with a hosted Lync service.  You're pulling an Apple here... get the consumers and have them drive the technology in to the business.
  3. Skype + Lync = Run virtual "pbx" companies like GrasshopperRing Central, Voice Nation out of business by doing the same thing but offering integrated Skype.  If you add on on-site VoIP phones you can then compete with 8x8, Vocalocity and a dozen other hosted VoIP providers.  Skype provides the vital outside-line capability that Lync lacks to compete in these spaces now.
  4. Skype + Sharepoint the Microsoft Partner Network = virtual partner teams.  Microsoft makes use of "virtual teams" right now... this is Microsoft employees scattered across multiple teams with different goals and concentrations to do a particular project together.  Do the same thing with partners.  Push Microsoft's infrastructure out to Partners and engage them together with a combination of technologies to enable instant, powerful collaboration across a wide geography, across multiple partners and internal Microsoft teams.
  5. Skype + CRM + Lync + Outlook = a leg up over  Imagine not only having all your CRM data but being able to click a contact in CRM, hit the Skype button to instantly connect to them and then have a note made in CRM for the date/time for that contact.  All of this without an expensive onsite VoIP phone system.
  6. Skype + Outlook = more easy recurring revenue.  Bundle Skype with every Outlook client sold and call it Outlook Everywhere (not to be confused with Outlook Anywhere!) and, wait for it... give it away for free (not Office though).  Enable people to natively connect to others that have Outlook Everywhere.  Here's where the money comes in... if they want to dial out of Skype there's a "Buy Points" button RIGHT IN OUTLOOK and instantly charges their card and shows their remaining personal (or corporate if they're set up that way) Skype credits.  You still get the revenue from selling Office licenses and you could make two versions... one supported by ads in Outlook Everywhere and a corporate one that comes with Office and no ads.
  7. Skype + Live Meeting = make them a single product with a "lite" version that lets you attend Live Meetings, use the base Skype features but not host meetings.  Maybe you could use a reduced set of Live Meeting features with just one person at a time.  Allow in-app purchases for single-session upgrades to host larger meetings.  You just pay $3.99 (or whatever) and then your Live Meeting Lite becomes a full Live Meeting and you can host a full meeting for up to 10 users.  Scale it up for larger numbers.  They could still purchase subscriptions for unlimited use as well... perhaps also from within the application itself!
  8. Skype + Bing Videos = record Skype video calls straight to Bing Video and then share them either with a small group or with the world!  Have a family reunion on Skype and save it for posterity.  Have a business video conference and instantly archive it for reference later.
  9. Skype + Android/iPhone = a Microsoft foothold on competing devices through application software their owners already use.  Do it slowly and unobtrusively and without splattering the Microsoft logo across everything.  Start with "enhancing" Skype mobile with integration to a free mobile LiveMeeting/Lync/InTune client.  Depending on the product synergies you can either target consumers or businesses.  Consumers get a "free" video conferencing client that gives them a powerful voicemail system in Lync.  Marry it with presence features and make it a "social" version of Skype that works well cross-platform with Windows Phone.  For businesses, give them a way to manage those Android/iPhone devices with an InTune client and instant access to their support desk with full remote viewing of the mobile device for support.
  10. Skype + Microsoft = lots of product synergies.  This marriage makes lots of sense... if the products are intelligently, no... cleverly integrated.  If Microsoft does it right they can keep the recurring revenue that Skype generates now... everyone loves recurring revenue and subscriptions... they can add features to their enterprise and especially SMB products... and they can become a name to reckon with in the consumer space once again.  No longer is Microsoft just for businesses.
What would you do with Skype, if you were Microsoft?
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