Tuesday, April 20, 2010
First, the facts on communities:
Gartner Group conducted an interesting research piece in 2009 where peer networking, associations and communities are the highest ranked ways that small and medium businesses learn, form opinions, and in the end, make decisions.
IDC reported the same finding when they were digging into Healthcare earlier this year. In fact, 4 of the top 5 reported resources for Electronic Medical Record (EMR) selection criteria involve associations, affiliates, colleagues, and buying groups.
With the abundance of information at our fingertips, why do people choose communities?
Business has always been transacted with some level of personal interaction. With the rise of e-commerce in the late 90’s and now with Cloud Computing growing in popularity, it will be interesting if this remains true in the future.
During this time of growing “electronic ubiquity”, the need for trusted and expert sources of information has increased significantly. The amount of competitive choices for products and services, combined with vast information on the internet and endless buzz through social media, has created a scenario where cutting through the “white noise” has become one of the most important skills as we enter the 10’s.
Communities offer a smaller group of like-minded people (perhaps even competitors), sharing similar experiences and challenges, the ability to collaborate and improve decision making. The feeling of belonging is strong, as well as the affinity of membership. There is a feeling that communities are more democratic as they are built by the membership, and participation is encouraged and celebrated.
Who starts these communities?
Tracing back some of the more popular communities to the beginning, the following sources are evident:
Malcolm Gladwell does a great job of explaining the concept of connectors in the Tipping Point. These are people that you would recognize, even dating back to grade school, that seem to be the center of the universe. Another way you can recognize connectors is in a place like Facebook. You seek out this person, and they are 1 degree of separation from everyone in your school, company, neighborhood, etc. In the business world, many connectors have translated this skill into organizing and building a strong following. They have also recognized that vendors will pay top dollar to participate in these already established communities. There is also a feeling by these connectors of altruism, or “giving back” to the industry or geography where they do business. You may think that connectors are the most extroverted and charismatic people, but in reality, not always.
2. Industry verticals
Several communities start as a result of a new technology or sub-industry. An example in the IT industry is Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Electronic Health Records or Managed Services. When the needs of a group is not being met by larger or non-related peer groups, new ones form organically from members as they branch out.
3. Traditional Media
Trade magazines and event promoters have been quick to recognize the communities trend, and have formed powerful groups under their trusted brand. Having a strong subscription or attendee following, makes the transition to community a logical step for these organizations.
4. New Media – Social Media
The fastest growth of communities has occurred with the explosion of social media. Whether Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or the dozens of other purpose built community tools, the cost and complexity to start a community is approaching zero. Many connectors started as bloggers who have built a loyal and passionate following. Many bloggers have evolved into community leaders.
5. Distributors and vendors
The fact is that some companies get it and some don’t. Several organizations now recognize communities and have built organizations around community marketing. It is not uncommon to hear Chief Community Officer in marketing circles. Organizing a community goes far beyond marketing and advertising however, with product development, pricing and programs all tightly connected.
How do these communities interact with their followers?
A dizzying array of new marketing vehicles have popped up in recent years. Traditional media such as magazines and events are very important in communicating to a community, but new media allows innovative ways to extend and enhance the message. From webinars, podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, tweets, Linkedin groups, to virtual trade shows, community groups are using as many as 30 different marketing vehicles to be pervasive within the group.
The challenge with these marketing vehicles is different than in the past. The main inhibitor to effectively marketing was money, today it is effective content and delivery. Many of the vehicles I mentioned above are free or cost very little compared with traditional media. Keeping content fresh, abundant and delivered daily takes resourcing beyond the marketing department.
Media savvy Executives who can keynote an event, tweet about it offstage, promote the message to the media gathered, and then write a blog about it later on is the new model for the future. Messaging that would have required triple-checking through legal a few years ago, needs to be just-in-time and delivered on a daily cadence. I have a mantra that is “be visible everyday”.
Finally, community members have very effective personal spam filters. Anything that doesn’t add value to the community will be rejected and have a negative result for the organization delivering. The old days of powerpoints and product spec slides doesn’t cut it.
Why are communities important?
Beyond the human requirements of personal interaction and belonging, communities provide tangible benefits to all involved. Unfiltered information based on common experience will always trump random white papers and case studies posted on the internet. The give/get relationships within a community inspire openness and, in most of the communities I have seen, a level of bluntness that is refreshing.
Some key advantages of communities:
1. Cost of entry low as compared to traditional media and other marketing opportunities. Very much a “grass roots” feeling.
2. Ability to communicate and receive value is high. Tons of touch points, combined with a high degree of passion.
3. Trusted source – community members have likely experienced your challenges, or will shortly. The feeling you can “steal with pride” best practices and contribute your own successes.
4. Ability to enter new markets or industries. Opportunities to network, build like-minded connections and potentially drive business development opportunities.
5. Credibility that comes with “member of” status. Make the affiliations and partnerships that make your organization seem larger and more connected. Getting published or quoted as an expert or thought leader is invaluable for your organization and personal brands.
Finally, what is the future of communities?
Based on the data from analysts, combined with the relentless growth of information available across the internet and the behavioral habits of people, it is difficult to predict a slowdown in the growth of communities in business. Exponential growth, in fact.
Specialization will continue to expand as well, driving more need for these groups and subgroups. There is an upper limit to the size of a community where the point of diminishing returns kicks in. The point at where coordination of the group and the generality of messaging outweigh the benefits listed above. Smart communities will organize sub-groups before the fringe members go off and launch a competing community.
Are you the next Chief Community Officer within your organization?
The value proposition (if I can call it that) of a internet enabled toothbrush is simply to drive better personal hygiene in kids. We all know (or have been guilty of ourselves) that some children race through brushing their teeth and no amount of parental guidance about the dangers of plaque, false teeth by 30 or looking funny in front of friends seems to do the trick.
What if social media was the answer? Making brushing teeth the latest craze in Wii games! I know my brushing habits would have been better if I showed up to school the next day and was the subject of ridicule. It is a crazy concept, yes. Will it work? Perhaps.
Another concept that probably has more chances of succeeding is SmartExercise. We all know that peer pressure drives behavior. Yes, in post-college adults too! If you have ever been in a Biggest Loser work competition, or joined a gym or team with a friend, we know that social pressure can deliver results.
Now you proceed to the treadmill and program a run. Do you virtually run around the neighborhood? Rome? Hawaii Iron Man?
First the treadmill posts on Facebook that you are starting a running “event” that others can join. The trash talk begins. Google Maps then kicks in with an actual route including elevation. The treadmill automatically adjusts height based on the actual route and you watch the houses fly by in “street view” mode on the display. After the run, Facebook posts your time, encourages others to run the exact same route (at any time in the future), and downloads it to their treadmill. With an avatar of you running to motivate of course. More trash talk.
The point is not to convince you that pervasive computing will be real. It will be. The point is what devices do we use in our daily lives that could get “smarter” with an internet connection and integration with your online personality?
Yes, there are privacy concerns and the concept of having technology ubiquitous in your life is unsettling for most people. However, the next generations are growing up with this reality and may not think twice about razzing a schoolmate about their flossing habits.
Enter SmartDental Floss…..
Friday, April 2, 2010
VoIP (or voice over Internet protocol) calling has been around for awhile now, but with new advancements in PC hardware and software, more and more businesses are deciding now is the time to give VoIP a try. For customers, VoIP can bring reduced conferencing and travel costs, and for VARs, there’s the opportunity for installation, consultation and hardware purchases, which makes this technology worth exploring. The PC VoIP experience has improved dramatically in just the past two years. Now you may be surprised to see lifelike quality pictures and hear your conversations like you are in the same room with the other person. When choosing VoIP PC technology, here are five areas you should take into account:
- Optimized Hardware for Sight and Sound: Part of the best listening experience starts with the right microphones, speakers and web cameras. Pick PCs that offer high definition, dual array microphones that are two watts or higher. Noise suppression and echo cancellation software also help make a noticeable difference. Web cameras have come a long way and are now up to two megapixels for a high quality image. Look for cameras with a lower lux rating so you can use them in dim lighting. To make the PC as easy to use as a phone, some PC makers include separate speaker, mic and cameara on/off buttons, which can help ensure privacy.
- Specialized Communications Software: For businesses, Microsoft Office Communicator continues to be a standard for calls, faxes, emails, webconferences and more. MS Office Communicator certified PCs mean these PCs meet standards for a quality unified communications voice and video experience. Skype is another example of a popular software “softphone” application that continues to be adopted by businesses.
- It’s About the Connection: If you have the right hardware multimedia features, but a slow Internet connection, you will inevitably experience choppy and jittery calls. With the increasing expectation of constant connectivity, WiFi using the 802.11n standard is a must. VARs will need to evaluate based on customer need whether built-in 3G and/or 4G connectivity is required, however, I recommend customers future proof their PCs with at least 3G connectivity given the small incremental cost of including the technology.
- Keep Security in Mind: Like with any other remote networking tasks, address security around VoIP with measures including a firewall and antivirus software combined with strong user passwords. Fingerprint readers are helpful features that balance user convenience and IT department standards for security.
- Remember Basic Storage Applies: For businesses solely using VoIP communications and PCs as their “softphones,” make sure to have plenty of hard drive storage for archiving voicemails and other communications data. Solid state drive storage will offer even faster recall.
- Remote Management Technology - Customers choose MSPs because they are looking for always on technical support. MSPs are looking to provide that level of support while keeping costs down by avoiding having to deploy on-site technical support. PC remote management technologies help align both these goals. Look for servers, desktops and laptops that include Intel vPro and Active Management Technology. Some PC makers also include additional hardware/software productivity tools at no charge that can be easily managed and deployed across a fleet.
- Security Features – One of the most common IT requests is resetting user passwords. Since there is time and expense associated with this, look for features like fingerprint readers to minimize forgotten passwords and remote hardware password manager tools to help minimize time spent managing passwords. Full hard drive encryption can be a useful preventative measure to protect sensitive data, however it does require good password management. Also, to protect from loss or theft, choose PCs that support Computrace and Intel Anti-Theft Protection.
- MSP Software Platforms and Programs – As the managed services field continues to grow, PC makers are teaming up with managed services software vendors to optimize and integrate hardware and software. Companies such as Kaseya, Level Platforms, N-Able and ITControl Suite develop some of the most popular platforms for MSPs. With the double-digit growth of Managed Services, a few PC makers are coming up with new programs to incent Channel Partners new to managed services or those already growing.
MSPs are in a good position to capitalize on new PC refresh cycles this year. Many businesses are expected to upgrade their PCs to take advantage of Windows 7 and new Intel Core processors. This bodes well for MSPs looking to deploy and manage these PCs through their lifecycle.
Jay McBain, Director Small and Medium Business, Lenovo
March 23, 2010
I had a very interesting and informative day last Thursday with CupcakeStop.com in NYC. Leading up to the ThinkPad Edge 14 and 15 inch launch on March 23, Lenovo wanted to spend some time with small business to see how the technology integrates into their business. The Edge was built from the ground up as a small and medium business optimized device, so seeing it in action was important. We also had the chance to give away 4 of them and the winners are announced below!
Let me first paint the picture on CupcakeStop. An entrepreneurial law student who is graduating in the top percentile of his class in early 2009 decides that an opportunity exists for selling premium cupcakes in New York. After deep market research, Lev Ekster decides that a mobile business is more practical than bricks and mortar and that social media would be at the core of its operation. Fast forward to 2010 and you have a growing business that is adding more trucks and locations, installing e-commerce with international distribution, and is in constant real-time communication with its 11,300+ followers on Twitter.
Watching a day in the life of Lev running his business using the new ThinkPad Edge 14” laptop was very cool. First of all, Lev never put down the ThinkPad Edge. His thousands of customers are following him closely and the level of intimacy with social media is something I have never seen before. From posting menu’s on Facebook the night before, to constant real-time updates on location of the truck as well as inventory remaining with Twitter, Lev uses the Edge as a lifeline to the business.
Here are 10 things that blew me away:
1. Being in a mobile business, CupCakeStop needs constant connectivity 24/7. This means seeking out WiFi hotspots during the day is not an option. Using ThinkVantage Access Connections with the embedded broadband allows access everywhere and anytime to the Internet through an AT&T connection. It also allows easy switching to the home network as well as secure access to public WiFi when available.
2. Security is very important to CupCakeStop. With over 75 varieties of cupcakes, the recipes are key intellectual capital that cannot fall into the wrong hands. Combined with employee payroll data and supplier contracts, Lev uses the fingerprint reader to access the machine and encrypt the data. Also, not having to remember passwords to all of the social media sites was a huge productivity boost.
3. With an Internet run business, including hundreds of Twitter and Facebook updates a day from customers, Lev runs the risk of clicking a bad link and getting a virus. With the Edge being his lifeline, he cannot risk being down for a few days (even an hour would hurt the business). Knowing that ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery is installed means that by the touch of a button, he can boot into a separate and protected operating system and restore to a point just prior to the virus in minutes.
4. Lev made a great quote: “EVERYTHING in this truck breaks”. A mobile business with high activity level in a tight space, it became very apparent that a robustly designed laptop was critical to the business. The large hinges and legendary Lenovo ThinkPad build quality was very important to his business continuity. Again, waiting for the machine to get serviced is not an option.
5. The power limitations of the truck. Lev made a funny comment that to plug in the ThinkPad Edge would mean he would have to unplug the cash register which isn’t good for business! All day battery life was critical.
6. On the same subject as limited power, the always powered USB port allows Lev to keep his smartphone charged and ready throughout the day – saving another outlet.
7. The high quality light adaptive camera is used to publish new menu items to Facebook and Twitter. For example, the prior day to us being there was St. Paddy’s day which had new and unique Irish offerings. Being connected 24/7 (#1) also allows Skype access with customers and suppliers with the camera.
8. Lev uses the ThinkPad Edge as his personal machine as well. With the investments into new trucks, bricks and e-commerce solutions, he doesn’t want to invest money in an additional laptop for personal use. With the High Definition screen, audio, HDMI port as well as Blu -ray drive all built-in, the Edge handles all of his personal needs with ease.
9. With a new Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive running Windows 7 Professional, Lev can power through his day with multiple applications running concurrently. Previously to his ThinkPad Edge he ran the business from a BlackBerry which started to be a limitation as the business grew in size and scope. An example was a redesign of the website to e-commerce functionality which involved hundreds of prototype back-and-forths with the developer. Having real-time access to the color-palette and sizings, Lev didn’t have to wait till 10pm to view on his home computer.
10. Probably the thing that blew me away the most was the design attributes of ThinkPad Edge. Lev represents the future of social and traditional media entrepreneurs. He was clear about his tools having design elements that represent his company as well as himself. The bold statement that a bright red ThinkPad Edge makes is important as he promotes his business. Ironically, thelaptop is the same color as the stop sign in CupCakeStop.com’s logo….a perfect fit!
Since ThinkPad Edge is a new brand, we added an element of fun to the day to get people excited about the new products with a giveaway…
The lucky winners of the random drawing are:
Ronny Walton Jr.
The media hook of a mobile, profitable business run on top of social media is what started the day. The immersion of ThinkPad Edge in the very core of the business is what made the day. The observation of how each feature and function are used in real-time provided Lenovo with the insight around product development for the future.
For Lenovo, a close connection with businesses using our products is very important. Looking beyond cupcakes, we are observing doctors in ambulatory practices work with ThinkPad Edge, as well as accountants, students, and many other industries. Products do not improve in the boardroom. They improve in the real-world.
Day well spent.
These products are at the lowest vPro prices we have ever offered, over 30% lower in some cases. This should help MSP’s position the products, not only for the obvious benefits I talked about above, but for the attractive prices available specifically to SMB clients. Beyond price, Lenovo has also worked hard on making sure the programs and incentives are relevant and profitable for MSP’s. This includes taking away reporting requirements and dropping minimum clip levels to participate. Feel free to explore lenovopartnernetwork.com for further information. The products above can be purchased at any of our authorized Distribution partners: D&H, Ingram, Synnex and Tech Data in the US.
- Fingerprint Reader – It all starts with physical access to your data. The ability on both ThinkPads and ThinkCentre desktops, workstations and servers to use biometrics for entry greatly reduces the risk of data or identity theft. Did you know that 40% of Helpdesk calls are for password resets? Lenovo Password Manager software links up with the fingerprint reader to provide easy access to protected applications and websites.
- Encryption – combining biometrics with encryption is a great one-two punch that locks down access to data even if the drive is removed from the system and the physical platters are searched for information. You can buy special drives now called FDE or Full Disk Encryption drives that have built in hardware to run as fast with encryption as normal drives do without.
- Anti-theft and Theft Recovery – with 92% of companies of all sizes reporting laptop theft, combined with 42% of non-encrypted drives, the need to protect assets has never been greater. Working with Intel and Absolute Software, Lenovo offers several layers of protection including “poison pill” deactivation, “theft mode” timers with login protection, and emergency remote data deletion. Lenovo has an exclusive with embedded Computrace software on select models.
- Wireless Security – Making sure wireless connections are secure is sometimes difficult for the end user. They don’t tend to understand firewalls, ports, and vulnerabilities and need the PC to be smart enough. Lenovo includes “Access Connections” with the PC which simplifies connections and ensures an extra layer of security.
- Physical Security – from locking the mobile PC and related components with a key lock, to blocking out prying eyes on an airplane with a privacy filter, there are several hardware options that decrease the risk of assets being stolen or data being compromised. Another example is the new Lenovo password enabled hard drive which offers encryption.
- Secure Data Backup and Recovery – storing a backup of data is a good practice for everyone, the risk associated with having data on external drives or CD-ROMs is high. Lenovo offers backup and recovery scenarios that use hidden secured partitions on the hard drive. Lenovo also offers an Online Data Backup service that is very secure and cost effective.
Jay McBain, Director, Small and Medium Business, Lenovo
For years I have been speaking about pervasive computing, the concept that technology will be ubiquitous in our everyday life. The debate has centered on whether we will focus on one powerful and flexible computing device to service all of our needs – from email, web surfing, gaming, managing personal finances to running our small business – or a myriad of devices that are optimized for our current location.
Watching people fumble with a 17” wide notebook on a regional flight or saving their work from a desktop computer onto a memory key remind us that a single device will never be optimized for all different uses. Our world has become increasingly connected, meaning that electronic devices are with us 24/7. It makes sense that these devices are becoming more web enabled and delivering more value than their intended use.
Today we are witnessing the explosion of Netbooks as a secondary device, either in the home or small business environment. These devices have changed the business model for the computer industry, for the first time offering “thin and light” for the lowest price. In the past, the thinner and lighter a Notebook was, the higher you would expect to pay. The other phenomenon behind the growth in Netbooks is price. Buying behavior research shows that the $300 price point, regardless of consumer electronics category, drives a product to be mass-market. Think of VCRs or DVD players, digital cameras, XBOX, cell phones, etc. When these devices hit $300, it seemed like everyone had them on the Christmas list.
Another segment of computer that you will see very soon is Thinbook. These devices are very thin and light, stylish, have larger screens and longer battery life than Netbook. Powered by Ultra Low Voltage technology from Intel, these devices weigh around 3 pounds, are less than an inch thick and have all day computing ability. The price point will be between a Netbook and a full function Notebook.
Looking at these growing segments from a screen size point of view, they fill the gap between smartphones and Notebooks. Thus, depending on your job or lifestyle, or simply depending on the activity you are planning, you may choose a 4-6” smartphone, an 8-12” Netbook, a 13” Thinbook, 14-17” Notebook, or 22”+ desktop to stay connected and add value.
Looking into the future, it makes sense that other electronic devices from alarm clocks to fish finders to car radios become web enabled and serve as the appropriate device based on activity. This concept of “location based computing” will better fit technology into our busy lives and make it a more natural environment for communicating. You will likely own 20 or more computers within 10 years, they will just be integrated in the things you already buy.