Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Being average is NOT good

Two things I found out the last weeks, have convinced me that being average is NOT a good thing for IT organizations. The first was a good piece of research by CSC, which I found by browsing Christopher Koch's blog of CIO Magazine. The research stated that companies that spend according to the average in their industry are the worst performers. Furthermore, CSC found that companies that spend much less than the average are three times more successful than those in the middle. And companies that spend much more than the average are six times more successful. How about that! I have done some benchmarks, and most of the time our client wanted to be at least average, and the first question that arises when you present the numbers is: "how are we doing compared to the others?".

The second thing I found was the distribution of CMMI certification. The Software Engineering Institute (SEI), inventor and owner of CMMI certification, published figures on appraisal results every 6 months. The september 2005 version provided some interesting and surprising results, as it showed that more than half of organizations that requested appraisal, are level 3 or above. This could suggest that level 3 is average for the industry, but I can guarantee from experience that this is definately not the case, I think the average will be at most level 2. In an earlier post I already wrote that CMMI certification can be approached in different ways, but what the figures show I think, is that organizations that generally already have a more mature process, are more eager to go for formal appraisal, than organzations who are just getting started with their process. Our own figures indicate that the distribution of CMMI levels are:
  • Level 1: 50-60%
  • Level 2: 25-30%
  • Level 3: 10-15%
  • Level 4+: <5%
Earlier I already wrote that measurement data should always be interpreted within the context in which the data was collected. This is especially the case for CMMI certification. But also, the results from the CSC research show that you should never go for average, as first of all the does not make you stand out compared to your peers, and second of all, it may indicate that you are not doing as well as you think you might. So one good plan for 2006: not being average!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ryanair: test case for Web 2.0 business model

Last week the statement by Michael O'Leary of Ryaniar, saying that within 5 years airlines will offer free flights, as revenue will come from passengers gambling while on the plane, was breaking news on some web logs and web sites (yeah I am late again with this story).
O'Leary (it remains unclear whether he had too much Guiness when making his statement) said that introducing lottery scratch cards had shown that passengers were bored and looking for entertainment. O'Leary further believes that "entertainment is where the real money will be made in the future". So he launched the idea to give away free airline tickets, as money should be made by offering gambling through mobile phones

This sounds so much like the investment thesis I discussed in my posting on a Web 2.0 business model: you give away something for free, hoping to get back something valuable for free that was once expensive. Ryanair is expecting to trade seats in their air planes, for extra revenue that will exceed the revenue that will come from selling tickets for those seats. Will this work? Will Ryanair, that gained market share by taking on a different business model than their competitors (low margins, low service versus high margins, high service), succeed in expanding their market share?

It can go either way I think: either the Ryanair case will prove that the investment thesis on which Web 2.0 is based can work in reality, or it will show that in the beginning people will get interested because something is free, but once they find out it will cost them money (maybe even more than just buying a ticket) anyhow, they will lose interest and go for the safe bet (no pun intended ;-) ). Maybe it will only attract the kind of people you do not want to be on the plane with, but I must admit that I find it quite interesting what Ryanair is trying. At least it shows that they dare to be creative when looking for new ways to increase their revenue.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Should you embrace the Web 2.0 business model?

It is always interesting to try to integrate two trends that seemingly do not have much in common at a first look. I got the idea for this blog posting when I was reading the very detailed article by Tim O'Reilly on The Web 2.0. On page four, he refers to an investment thesis on Web 2.0 by Paul Kedrosky. What he writes in his thesis is the following:

Another way to look at it is that the successful companies all give up something expensive but considered critical to get something valuable for free that was once expensive. For example, Wikipedia gives up central editorial control in return for speed and breadth. Napster gave up on the idea of "the catalog" (all the songs the vendor was selling) and got breadth. Amazon gave up on the idea of having a physical storefront but got to serve the entire world. Google gave up on the big customers (initially) and got the 80% whose needs weren't being met.

Now let's get back to April 2005, when I blogged about Microsoft and Open Source. Now, 6 months later, not much has changed on the MSFT / OS situation. There is still some intiatives from the Open Source community to create tooling for .NET, but it remains doubtful whether the combo of MSFT and open source will ever really take off, as there is so much cultural differences between OS developers and MSFT developers, and there is a lack of Microsoft focus in the higher education research, traditionally a cradle of many OS initiatives / innovations. Not much news here then.
What has changed though, is that Web 2.0 is in the center of attention, and that for the first time in a long period Microsoft is not the dominant player it once was and they admit/know it. Could they turn the tide by fully open-sourcing the C# language for instance? Should they give the full .NET framework to the IT / OS community? Have they investigated this possibility? MSFT's arch rivals (when it comes to development) Sun have taken the strategy to open-source all their new products / initiatives, so you could say that they have embraced the Web 2.0 business model. The same goes to a certain extent for IBM, who are actively participating in OS initiatives, although they still make a lot of money on licences for WebSphere for instance.

IT companies should ask themselves two key questions:
  1. Should we adopt the Web 2.0 business model (in which the open source business model fits to a certain degree), where we give up something expensive but considered critical, hoping to get something valuable for free that was once expensive? (take into consideration that this could be a huge risk!)
  2. If we do so, just exactly what should we give up? Is open-sourcing one of our products (maybe all?) enough, or should we come up with something different, as more and more companies are open sourcing their offerings.
This in fact could be one of the main challenges for CEO's and CIO's of IT companies / vendors in the next couple of years, and it goes beyond the open source discussion.