Analysts


I’m a big believer in the value of in-the-field observation. What people do is more important than what people say. What some investors, analysts and IT professionals have been saying recently is, “Nobody wants on-premise IT. Everything is moving to the cloud.” The first part might be true, but the second part is utter nonsense, and ignores what is easily observable. Let me describe a recent purchase to illustrate.

We’ve had a cold winter in New England with plenty of snow. Almost 2 feet of snow had accumulated on the northern side of my roof. I have experience with ice dams and knew that if I didn’t get the snow off the roof, I would be facing water damage, as the ice made its way into the attic, melted, and dripped onto the ceiling. The tool of choice is a roof rake, of which I had none. I called the local Home Depot, which is about 6 miles from my house, but found that roof rakes were out of stock. No big surprise. I then went online to HomeDepot.com, and found that there were about 50 at a store only 20 minutes away. I quickly placed an on-line order and requested in-store pickup. I also selected the option that directed the store to text me when my order was ready for pickup, since I didn’t want to drive the round trip unless the order was ready. My order was confirmed, and a few minutes later, I received a text saying my roof rake was available for pickup at the service desk. An hour later, I was pulling mountains of snow off my roof and onto my head, and after a couple of hours chilling work, I successfully avoided thousands of dollars in potential water damage. For me, it was another happy Home Depot buying experience.

Now, imagine for a moment if all of Home Depot’s IT was centralized to the cloud. If “the cloud” went down, would I have been able to order anything online? If the communications link between the store and “the cloud” failed, would I have been able to know the actual inventory in the store? If I placed the order on line, but the link to  the store then went down, would the store have been able to fulfill my order? Would they have been able to notify me that the order was ready for pickup? Would they have been able to avoid a scenario where I ordered on line, but the store sold it to someone else?

Retailers are increasingly combining on-line retail with in-store shopping. This extends to everything from order entry, fulfillment, and payment processing, to returns processing and customer  loyalty programs. Some functions can and should reside in the cloud (or core data center). But for an optimal customer experience, some IT functions will need to remain in the store. And at the edge, retailers need an infrastructure that is both highly available and affordable.

In the interest of disclosure, I am a board member of StorMagic, an enabler of affordable, high-availability infrastructure at the enterprise edge.

 

A meeting this week with Amy O’Connor, Senior Director of Analytics at Nokia and author of the Im AmyO blog, has led me down an interesting path at the end of the year. Normally, I might spend the last day of the year in self-reflection: Am I happy with how I spent the past year? Do I feel good about the results? What will I resolve to do differently next year? This year, however, instead of self-reflection, I’ve decided to end the year in a little self analysis. What’s the difference between reflection and analysis? Data.

To help me with that, I’m re-reading “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning,” written by Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris and published by Harvard Business School Press back in 2007. The first thing that became abundantly clear was that I didn’t have enough data on myself, my activities, and the results of those activities.  So, I decided to collect some. As a starting point, I decided to analyze my activity publishing content on Wikibon.

I posted my first article, “StorMagic Announces SvSAN and Offers Free Download,” on Wikibon on February 19, 2009. It’s the only article I published that year, and it was an experiment. It was also, admittedly, a little self serving, since I’m a non-investor director on the board of StorMagic. Upon analysis, the results of the posting were pretty good. It’s been viewed over 3000 times and received a community rating of 4 out of a possible 5. Perhaps it was ranked a little lower, because the article was a little self serving, though defensibly 100% accurate. Given the results, you’d think I might have published more, but I didn’t.

In 2010, I posted 18 articles on Wikibon, and I posted another 6 in 2011, despite an amazing amount of disruptions, which I won’t go into here. So over the almost three years, I’ve posted a total of 25 documents. The total views across all of my documents is almost 48,000, the average number of views is a respectable 1900+ and the average community rating is 4.8+, despite my lower starting point. I guess I’ve improved with age.

The documents were all relatively short (at an average of 525 words, a very quick read) and designed to be actionable. Personally, I think articles are best, when they spark a dialogue or provoke a comment, and I’m sorry to say that the average number of comments per post was just over .7 and more than half had no comments.  That’s something  that’s worth figuring out how to improve.

Reporting on minimums, maximums, totals, and central-tendency are interesting first steps. But they are just that: Reporting. The key now is to get to the next level, and evaluate the impact of article length, keywords, topics and themes on views.  If anyone can suggest an open-source text-analytics tool, I would be very grateful.

Over the next year, I have resolved to write more, measure more, and analyze more. Expect to see more articles published by me on Wikibon, because I like the team, and it’s an easy platform to use. I enjoy the exposure to end-users that Wikibon affords me, and I like the fact that when I publish content there, I know how much it’s being read. I also enjoy the opportunity to have an occasional conversation with an IT industry executive, with whom I have no current business relationship. I’m a curious and rather social guy, so it doesn’t have to all be about my business and potential business opportunities.

I also plan to learn more about the rapidly developing field of data analytics, currently promoted under the term “Big Data,” which is either a subset or super-set of analytics, depending on your point of view.  I’ve always enjoyed mathematics and analysis, but back when I was a math major (along with majors in Physics, Education, and Psychology), about the only opportunity for a B.S. graduate in Mathematics, outside of academia or education, was to become an actuary at an insurance company. Frankly, I didn’t want to spend my life figuring out morbidity rates. But the life of a data scientist, especially when that skill can be applied to making better products and creating more jobs, is significantly more interesting.

Finally, Amy O’Connor tells me that Nokia plans to re-invigorate a local Big Data user group that has been meeting at the Microsoft offices in Waltham. So you can expect to find me there. I’ll post details as soon as I get them. I hope to see you there.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Many startups are using free, online survey tools. Today I helped StorageVirtualAppliance develop a survey targeted at users of VMware and other virtual-server solutions. The survey was developed using FreeOnlineSurveys, similar to Survey Monkey, with which I was more familiar.

As I was working with StorageVirtualAppliance, I was reminded of some rules in survey design.

1) Know the purpose of the survey: Lead Generation, Evangelization and Market Awareness, Actionable Information for Product Marketing, Actionable Information for Product Management

2) Think about how you will categorize and summarize the data. Open-ended questions may provide great color commentary or quotable statements, but in large volume are difficult to categorize and summarize.

3) Have an incentive for those that take the time to complete the survey. The incentive could be as simple and inexpensive as a summary of the results, it could be an opportunity to be entered into a prize drawing, or it could be a small cash award.

In addition to helping with the survey, I also offered to help get the survey out to a broader set of participants. So, if you know any IT professionals, please send them to this blog and have them click on this survey link.

Thanks in advance. Participants could win a copy of Eco-Tech Warrior, Greg Schultz’, new book, The Green and Virtual Data Center.

One of the things we used to discuss, when I was running the storage research practice at IDC, was “When will a market disappear and just become a feature of some larger market?”  Examples are numerous.  Remember when there was a market for browser software? And, while NetApp is going strong, both Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are trying to make NAS a feature of the operating system.

One of the reasons I joined the board of StorMagic was that I saw the potential for the company to be a market disruptor.  Today, StorMagic announced SvSAN software, which, when installed on a VMware ESX server, converts the internal storage of the ESX server into an iSCSI SAN.  VMware leverages the fact that most single applications don’t need all the computing power of today’s servers.  SvSAN leverages that same fact to provide the storage management function within the ESX server, and also takes advantage of the fact that the internal storage capacity of an ESX server, perhaps the least expensive storage you will ever purchase, is more than enough capacity for a large number of VMware ESX server-hosted applications.  (more…)

Most people I work with now know that I am a relatively active user of social media and business networking tools, including Facebook, Twitter, DeliciousLinkedIn and Plaxo.  In fact, over the past six months, my blogging dropped off significantly, but my use of social media and business networking tools accelerated.

One of my clients was asking about the size of the installed base of Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS), wondering if it was a market large enough to justify the investment needed to integrate with  their own solution.  They also wondered about the penetration rate for GDPS within the installed base of z/OS licenses.  That’s rather esoteric stuff, unless you cut your teeth on IBM mainframes, as I did. (more…)

A Google search on “Top 10” will get you all kinds of interesting results.  When I did the search this afternoon, the first listing was “Top 10 Naked People on Google Earth.” Sorry, but I’m providing no hyperlink, and for the record, no, I did not go there.  Next is Time Magazine’s  50 Top 10 Lists for 2007, which shows a surprising lack of appreciation for symmetry.  Then comes The Late Show with David Letterman, which I thought should have come up higher on the list.  There’s also the Top 10 Dunks and Top 10 Women Drivers of the Year available courtesy of YouTube. I’m just going in order here.  No offense intended. 

For any startup or new technology, it’s difficult to get the door opened long enough to allow the first presentation of a product, company or concept to a potential customer or partner.  It’s not that customers don’t want to look at new stuff.  It’s just that there’s so much new stuff, and who’s got the time to look at everybody. So whether it’s analysts, or bloggers, or the press, it’s nice to have a little bit of focused attention on new companies and new technologies, and have them do some filtering.  Thus the creation of Top 10 lists that say, “Hey, pay attention to this.  It could be big.” (more…)

At the very kind invitation of my former IBM rep (I mean former as in two companies and 13 years ago, when I was an IT buyer spending multiple tens of millions of dollars on mainframe computers and storage each year and her youngest son wasn’t yet riding a bicycle, much less driving a car), I went to a seminar today hosted by Mainline.  I’ve been told Mainline is IBM’s largest value-added reseller.  I think it was someone at Mainline who told me that.  Anyway, the topic was VMWare’s Virtual Desktop

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By the title, you might be wondering how this post could be in keeping with the stated goal of this blog: to be “A business resource for entrepreneurs and inventors. ” But I thought it might be useful to prompt a discussion around the definition of an “analyst.” Perhaps more accurately, I should say “types” of analysts. The reason this is important is that, if you have an idea or an invention, and you decide to seek outside investment to build a company around your idea, at some point in the conversation you will be asked the question, “How big is the market for your solution?” So who do you ask? Sorry: “Whom do you ask?” The only logical answer, in my opinion, is a “market analyst.” By the way, that’s what I was for eleven years, so you need to consider that, when you evaluate the credibility of my statements.

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