Tag: Amazon

Is Amazon’s HQ2 Strategy Viable? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Unique, bold, unprecedented…those are just some of the words that describe Amazon’s announcement to establish a second headquarters in North America, with an end-state over the course of 10-15 years of 50,000 employees with an average salary exceeding $100,000.

The intent is exciting, both for potential employees and the cities that Amazon identified as location contenders. But is Amazon’s strategy viable? We believe it’s realistic to the extent that Amazon can keep its mojo going over such a long period of time.

Four factors driving Amazon’s HQ2 location selection

Scalability of talent

For Amazon to be able to amass 50,000 employees in 15 years, it will need to add 3,000 to 5,000 employees per year. These employees will have to be a mix of recent college grads and mid-management-level workers. So Amazon will have to take into account how many local universities and businesses there are in the selected location and the city’s relocation attractiveness.

Business mix

This is all about what Amazon intends HQ2’s business concentration to be. For example, will it have a retail focus like its Seattle headquarters? Does it intend to grow its advertising business in its new location? Will its focus be on the government sector, shipping/transportation/ logistics, or Latin American market growth? Whatever its intent, the new location will have to be a hot-bed of activity.

Time zone

If Amazon wants its second headquarters to help lead its international growth or manage suppliers based in Europe or Asia, the time zone overlaps of a location in the eastern or central U.S. time zone will be a huge business advantage.

Physical proximity

This relates to how easy it is to get to other geographical markets of interest. For example, if Europe is a target, a site in the northeast or central U.S. makes sense. But if Mexico, Central America, and Latin America are on the radar screen, a major city in the southeastern U.S. would be a good option.

Of these four, the biggest issue and most important consideration is: can Amazon get the volume and quality of talent it needs to fulfill its HQ2 vision? As we said above, the company will need to add up to 5,000 employees each year to get to 50,000 strong in 15 years. That’s a massive hiring agenda. For comparison purposes, when we’ve worked with other leading brand name organizations that are scaling new IT shops, they’ve typically been able to hire 200-350 people per year.

Can Amazon do it, or might it ultimately revert to a hubbed model, first establishing HQ2, and several years later HQ2.5? Only time will tell.

The six cities on our short list

Although Amazon recently winnowed its options down to 20 cities, we think only six of those are truly viable. Here, in alphabetical order, is a quick look at our short list:

Atlanta is a diverse economy, with UPS and Delta-driven strength in shipping and transportation, and Home Depot in retail. There’s a lot of impressive university talent available, in Georgia as well as the neighboring states of Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina

Boston is a great education center, and is known for large, corporate innovation. It would be a wonderful place for Amazon to build on what its been doing with Siri there, and to continue its growth in the high tech space. It’s also an airline hub with comparatively short flights to Europe.

Chicago is strong in the consumer and retail industries, and that obviously overlaps nicely with Amazon. It also has good connectivity to Europe, Seattle, and, to a reasonable extent, Asia.

Dallas has a good history of relocating companies’ operations and a strong tech talent pool and ability to pull talent in from universities in the region. One unique aspect in favor of Dallas is Amazon’s AWS business. As that matures, we expect it will need to increase the sophistication of how it sells to enterprises. And because Dallas is considered the original home of outsourcing enterprise IT services in North America, Amazon could find a lot of sales, marketing, and other talent in the area that wouldn’t be as common in the other cities.

New York City is by far the largest labor market, and Amazon could attract a lot of talent. If the company is trying to really increase its advertising business, the Big Apple would be a good choice. And because of the city’s diversity, Amazon wouldn’t be too limited in any one direction.

Washington, D.C. has a fairly large labor pool with a lot of high tech, much of it government-oriented, which may be both a pro and a con, depending upon Amazon’s mission. It’s well connected internationally, and is a fairly interesting place to try to establish a large corporate.

To learn more about our take on the viability of Amazon’s HQ2 strategy, please read our viewpoint, and listen to a discussion I recently had Ryan Takeo, host of KING-TV’s The Sound Podcast, called, “Talent, not incentives, most important in HQ2 search.”

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway & JPMorgan Chase, Team Up to Tackle the Messy Business of Healthcare | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

On January 30, 2018, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.  announced a partnership to address healthcare for their U.S. employees. The goal is simple – provide their employees and their families with simplified, high-quality, and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost, through technology solutions. They intend to pursue this opportunity through an independent company that is free from profit-making constraints.

The rationale behind this move

While this might not be the big Amazon-disrupts-healthcare reveal the market had been hoping for, it is still a meaningful move. Employer-sponsored health insurance currently covers around 157 million people in the United States, and people are not satisfied with the present state of affairs:

  • Insurers and employers are shifting the burden of increasing healthcare costs to the employees. Employees are now facing much higher deductibles and insurance contributions.HC PremiumsEmployers are moving towards programs with narrower networks. And if employees choose to visit a doctor outside the network, they have to spend more out of their own pocket.

HC Deductible_1

  • Health insurance premiums are growing faster than employee wages for both private and public workers. On average, premium as a ratio of wages has increased by four percentage points in the last five years.

The new healthcare normal calls for a fresh approach

Amidst rising costs, evolving consumer preferences, changing operating models, and an uncertain regulatory environment, stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem are trying to create innovative partnerships and business models. For example:

  • CVS is buying Aetna for US$69 billion, creating a mini healthcare ecosystem
  • Anthem broke up with Express Scripts, its long-term pharmacy benefit management (PBM) partner, and is building its own PBM capabilities with some help from CVS
  • Intermountain Healthcare is leading a collaboration with Ascension, SSM Health, and Trinity Health, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to form a new, not-for-profit generic drug company. The goal is to make essential generic medications more available and more affordable, bringing competition to the market for generic drugs
  • At last count in 2017, there were 923 accountable care organizations (ACO) covering approximately 32 million lives.

The Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JPMC trio could well lay down a marker on how employers shape and drive their own healthcare mandates. Consider the firms’ complementary skill sets:

  • Amazon has the deep technology expertise and experience-first approach crucial to addressing needs of an evolving workforce and consumer base. And from a data standpoint, AWS has already stated interest in leveraging longitudinal health records for population health and analysis efforts. E.g., it could use expertise in logistics to rethink warehousing and distribution to make drugs more cost efficient.
  • Berkshire Hathaway and JPMC can help improve the financial engineering that underpins the new endeavor, provide scale, and improve collective bargaining power.

 How might the mega-alliance play out?

This alliance can potentially have a huge impact on all the healthcare stakeholders.

HC Impact_1

The road ahead

The mega-healthcare company will currently focus on its combined employee base of approximately 1 million employees – plus their families – in the U.S. If it’s successful, it can take the model to other employer groups to help them address inefficiencies in their current healthcare setup.

However, it’s critical to keep in mind that healthcare differs from other areas disrupted by tech. It is often messy, fragmented, and lacks interoperable/standard data. Strikingly similar initiatives have faced hurdles and shut down (…remember Dossia?) Many initiatives to reimagine healthcare from outside have failed to move the needle meaningfully.

Given the lack of clarity around specifics of this partnership, some amount of skepticism is warranted. But for now, everybody’s looking at what the future holds.

What is your take on this mega-alliance? We would love to hear from you at [email protected] and [email protected]

‘Unprecedented’ Hiring Could Make The Amazon HQ2 Shortlist Much Shorter | In the News

Amazon’s HQ2 bidding process has advanced to a shortlist of 20 locations.

That narrowing field has some questioning how feasible creating a 50,000-person office from scratch will be for smaller contenders not known for their tech base.

“When this first came out, our reaction was: ‘Holy cow. That’s big, and it’s quick. Can they do it?’” Everest Group Managing Partner Eric Simonson said.

Amazon’s aggressive HQ2 building plans, coupled with its desire to hire 50,000 employees, would be a difficult task for any city to fulfill, Simonson said — but particularly those smaller markets like Columbus, Ohio; Raleigh, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; and Indianapolis. An Everest Group report on HQ2 bidders said Amazon is going to struggle with filling seats if it considers regions with populations of less than 4 million people.

Read more in Bisnow

Clues into Amazon’s HQ2: What Does the Vancouver Announcement Tell Us? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

In early November, Amazon announced that it will expand its presence in Vancouver from 1,000 jobs to 2,000 jobs by 2020. Although this did not receive nearly the same attention as Amazon’s request for proposals for the 50,000 employee location dubbed “HQ2”, there are some valuable clues to glean (see our earlier detailed assessment on the viability of Amazon’s HQ2 strategy and potential locations for our more complete analysis).

We read three important clues in this announcement.

  1. Vancouver is not a serious HQ2 candidate. Although Amazon is clearly comfortable enough with Vancouver to continue expanding there, it is a signal that Vancouver is not a serious candidate for the second headquarter location. If Amazon felt otherwise, the announcement did not need to be made and lose leverage in negotiating incentives for HQ2. There are multiple reasons why Vancouver may not be a strong candidate – size or cost of talent pool, too similar to Seattle, no time zone diversification, or that the complexities of operating in Canada outweigh the benefits of mainly operating in the U.S.
  2. The targeted scalability of HQ2 is going to be REALLY HARD. Assuming that Vancouver and HQ2 will have roughly similar mixes of talent, we can see that Amazon is scaling at only 15% of the rate targeted for HQ2. After setting up in 2015 and reaching 1,000 employees in 2017, Amazon is planning to reach 2,000 employees by 2020. Let’s assume that is 2,000 people over four years for an annual rate of 500 net-new employees. HQ2 is targeting 50,000 employees over 15 years, which is over 3,000 per year – 6 times what is being achieved in Vancouver. This supports our earlier view that any city under 4 million in population is clearly not viable (Vancouver is under 2.5 million) and even the largest cities (which are 7-15 million) will struggle to consistently grow at the rate indicated by Amazon for HQ2.
  3. Hmmm…is Amazon truly serious about HQ2 as stated? For purposes of our earlier analysis, we assumed that Amazon truly intended to pursue its stated vision (up to 50,000 employees in 15 years with an average salary in excess of US$100,000 and the HQ2 acting as an equal to Seattle). The announcement about Vancouver is interesting and revealing because it is inconsistent with Amazon seeking to aggregate its scale into large locations. A 2,000 employee location is certainly large, but it is much smaller than currently located in Seattle or the planned HQ2.

If centers at much smaller scale are valuable to Amazon, why even pursue the HQ2 strategy?

First, Amazon might realize that a single 50,000 location is likely too big and contemplating whether it can make “clusters” (cities within very short distances from each other) produce similar benefits as a single location, which would be multiple buildings anyway. If Amazon believes this, it might be looking to select multiple cities within a cluster for the HQ2 strategy (think Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC).

Second, Amazon may have intentionally set a very, very large 50,000 employee target to get maximum attention and creativity, but is planning to structure the eventual single location agreement to only commit to 5,000-10,000 employees. Still very large, but something it has a much easier chance to fulfill and then potentially exceed as it so desires.

In summary, we believe these clues Echo many of our earlier perspectives and underscore that the eventual outcome may be quite different than stated – we remain Primed to hear what Amazon decides in 2018.

Amazon in the Headlines | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

I’m sure many of you have read the reports of Amazon’s new CEO’s steps to revitalize the company’s growth. News of restructuring that could involve widespread layoffs that cut deeply across Amazon, including some of its key development areas are also driving changes across the company’s management ranks.

Meanwhile, there’s at least one part of Amazon that is taking aggressive steps to fuel growth rather than cutbacks.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced today that it is reducing prices for the 19th time in the last six years. And it’s not just a nudge downward:

  • EC2 prices for longer term (3-year) Reserved Instances in some configurations are dropping by 35 to 40 percent
  • EC2 On Demand prices for high memory instances are now 10 percent lower
  • Similar price reductions span services beyond EC2 as well (e.g., RDS, EMR, ElastiCache)

While the reductions are meaningful for its flagship EC2 On Demand services, I interpret the very large reductions for longer term Reserved Instances as yet another salvo that plays to the enterprise market. Moreover, the introduction of volume tiering that enables additional discounts should turn many CIOs heads who are in the midst of pilots that test the value of cloud services in a modest way.  Spend over US$250K on Reserved Instances and get 10 percent off the amounts above that level – more than $2 million steps that up to a 20 percent incremental discount. And finally, in a distinct departure from previous positions, AWS is inviting “one off” deals by asking those spending more than $5 million to “call me!”  Some of AWS’ largest users are ending up with pricing that is over 50 percent lower than before these actions.

The business case for broader adoption across the enterprise continues to get stronger. Enterprises should be including ongoing pricing improvements in their Infrastructure-as-a-Service models; can internally-delivered infrastructure be cost competitive with options that are likely to drop another 20 percent over the next few years?

AWS appears to continue its leadership in cloud infrastructure services with this pricing action, and it continues to add solutions and features that should appeal to enterprise buyers. Recent discussions with enterprise CIOs, however, suggest a gap continues to exist – at Amazon and most of the other cloud service providers – around the ease of enterprise solutioning. The low touch, self-service approach enables attractive price points but still leaves the enterprise with do-it-yourself tasks that impede their widespread adoption of mainstream solutions.  AWS’ strategy appears to rely on the VAR / SI channel do the solutioning, focusing on the horizontal cloud delivery platforms (which we suspect may be higher margin, at least for AWS). This provides an opening for other cloud pioneers – Rackspace, Savvis, Terremark, and others – to step up to fulfill the enterprise market’s needs for true enterprise-class solutions that include the all-important solutioning capabilities. Competing on price is essential – but the value player is likely to seize the enterprise leadership role in the long run.

Live from Bangalore – the NASSCOM IMS Summit, September 22 | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

Hello everybody! I’m back, reporting from day two of the NASCOMM IMS Summit in Bangalore. Today’s conference was focused on discussing alternative models of cloud computing and what works best for who.

First, Adam Spinsky, CMO, Amazon Web Services (AWS), told us his view of what happening out there in the cloudosphere. An interesting factoid to chew on – as of today, AWS is adding as much data center capacity every day as the entire Amazon company had in its fifth year of operation when it was a US$2.7 billion enterprise.

Even more compelling proof of the fact that the cloud revolution is really happening were Spinsky’s examples of the types of workloads AWS supports – SAP, entire e-commerce portals that are the revenue engines of companies, and disaster recovery infrastructure…all are hosted on the cloud. Fairly mission critical stuff, rather than “ohh, it’s only email that’s going to go on the cloud,” you must admit.

Next up, Martin Bishop of Telstra spoke of the customer’s dilemma in choosing the right cloud model. This segued nicely into the panel discussion, “Trigger Points – Driving Traditional Data Center to the Private Cloud,” of which I was a part.

M.S. Rangaraj of Microland chaired the panel and set the context by talking about the key considerations of cloud implementation. According to Rangaraj, the key issues are orchestration and management, as the IT environment morphs into new levels of complexity with multiple providers delivering services across a multitude of devices.

I spoke of the business case for a hybrid cloud model. While private cloud is good, and current levels of public cloud pricing provide slightly better business value, a combination of the two enables clients to reduce the huge wastage of unused data center resources they now have to live with. Today, infrastructure is sized to peak capacity, which is utilized once in a blue moon. The dynamic hybrid model enables companies to downsize capacity to the average baseline. Associated savings in energy, personnel, and maintenance imply dramatic cost advantages over both pure public or private models.

Kothandaraman Karunagaran from CSC took up the thread and spoke of the role of service providers in this new paradigm. While outsourcing may not “die” as a result of the cloud movement, it’s jolly well going to be transformed. Service providers will need to spend far more time in managing, planning, and analyzing usage and consumption data, and less time on monitoring and maintenance. In other words, service providers’ roles will evolve from reactive to proactive management.

Some of my key takeaways from the conference include:

  • Everybody agrees that there is no silver bullet model, meaning that there are no clear winners in a cloud environment, and the hybrid model will keep getting traction as the world becomes increasingly, well, hybrid.
  • Until not long ago, we spoke of the need to simplify IT. Well, the only part of IT that’s going to get simplified is the consumption bit. If you are a CIO reading this, we’ve got bad news for you. Management of IT is going to get more, not less, complicated. Multiple service providers, networks and devices, reduced cycle time, and self-provisioning means that management just got a whole lot tougher.
  • Service providers need to rapidly engage with this new reality and figure out business models can adapt to it. The unit of value is no longer the FTE. It’s what the FTE achieves for the client, or even more complicated, what the consumer actually ends up using. We live in interesting times, and they will only become more interesting as time goes on.

That’s it from my end. I enjoyed the conference, look forward to more illuminating discussions next year, and, hopefully, to seeing you there!

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s conference – or even if you were – you can download all speaker presentations at: http://www.nasscom.in/nasscom/templates/flagshipEvents.aspx?id=61241


What If the Hackers Had Attacked Sony Through Microsoft Azure Instead of Amazon’s EC2? | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

There is widespread speculation that the recent attack on Sony was accomplished by utilizing credit card information stolen via compute resources purchased from Amazon’s EC2 cloud offering. This high profile incident has attracted attention in the mainstream press and in the blogosphere, underscoring the interconnected and anonymous nature of cloud computing, as well as the need for vigilance and improved security. Interestingly, there has been little attention paid or blame allocated to Amazon’s EC2 offering in the public discussion. Amazon, rightly or wrongly, has largely escaped unscathed, and the cloud infrastructure services sector – of which EC2 is the most visible champion – continues to enjoy increased adoption, favorable press, and commentary largely unaffected by this incident.

There are many good reasons why Amazon’s EC2 has not been vilified and cloud adoption continues at its frenetic pace. But what if the circumstances had been different? What if the credit card information had been stolen utilizing Microsoft’s Azure platform? Would the world have responded with the same collective yawn? Would there have been an attempt to hold Microsoft accountable for the nefarious use of its compute power? Would open source enthusiasts have suggested it to be another reason to move to open source from Microsoft products? To explore this, let’s first examine why it might have made a difference:

  • Microsoft plays a different role in championing cloud than Amazon. Azure is the Microsoft answer to the Windows operating system (OS) and bundled IP provided through the cloud. As such, it represents Windows and the dominant OS at this time.
  • As the dominant OS provider, Microsoft appears to be held to a different standard than most other providers; if there is a hole in Windows, we are all vulnerable (except, of course, Apple fanatics).
  • Microsoft acts as a lightning rod like no other, drawing negative attention from all quarters.
  • There seems to be a preference to excoriate past monopolists in favor of newer entrants that may yet gain similar market power, akin to market behavior that favored the Microsoft upstart over the established IBM in the 1980s.

So, what would have happened? Would the steady march to the cloud be delayed as we criticized Microsoft and questioned more deeply not only its culpability for how its service is utilized, but also the requirements for security in the cloud more broadly? Would regulators be initiating inquiries threatening further changes in compliance security laws, or attempting to add responsibility to providers of compute power? Or would there have been a similar yawn? It’s interesting to speculate… and as we do, what does this tell us about where we are headed and where we have been?

IT Services: A Market that Works | Gaining Altitude in the Cloud

Large company competition is a high stakes game. In many industries, major investments change the course of company fortunes – perhaps for decades at a time. Last week’s announcement of a landmark deal by American Airlines (AA) to modernize its fleet with a record-setting order of 460 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing typifies the game. AA is the only U.S. airline that lost money last year (US$470 million) and is expected to lose money this year (AA announced a US$286 million loss for the second quarter of this year at the same time announcing their aircraft order). Saddled with a relatively ancient fleet (an aircraft average age of 15 years), AA’s less efficient planes burn fuel at rates surpassing every one of its competitors, making profitability a distant goal as gas prices continue to rise. These “stranded assets” of sort created an anchor from which AA had to seek relief. In boldly moving to modernize its fleet, AA structured a deal that could hobble their key competitors. Some reports suggest that AA’s order will tie up much of the aircraft manufacturers’ capacity, making it very difficult for other carriers to match AA’s new young fleet of fuel efficient and passenger-friendly aircraft. (After all, turnabout is fair play!)

Flying in one of AA’s relics as I write this, I am reflecting on how different today’s emerging IT Services market is. Everest Group’s recent discussions with executives about cloud services suggest that the questions that C-level executives are contemplating are shifting rapidly from “if” to “how”. They are recognizing that these Next Generation IT services provide unprecedented levels of flexibility and efficiency for many types of applications while placing the “stranded asset” ownership with parties who are much better positioned to manage investment decisions than individual enterprise users. It is like buying an option for future and current benefit at a price that is less than your traditional option for just the current services.

The CXOs that are farthest along the cloud services path recognize that capturing the compelling flexibility and efficiency benefits do not come without hard work. Crafting the organization approach to actively manage these Next Generation solutions, which nearly always encompass a hybrid of classic and new services, requires vision, dedication to building different skills and processes, and discipline to enforce principles that guide a strategic roadmap to value realization.

Early returns, however, suggest that the “juice is worth the squeeze.”  Those who have taken the first steps are already reaping benefits of advanced capabilities at very attractive economics. These capabilities and economics are on a trajectory that will deliver even greater returns for the enterprises taking advantage of them. Amazon Web Services, for example, continues to drive pricing down:

Other cloud services providers, including many Software-as-a-Service providers, continue to advance their offerings to add more features and capability at the same or lower prices. Unlike those in the airline industry who are hobbled by investments that must last for decades and potentially yield subpar results, the IT Services industry appears to be a market that works with service providers driving innovation and value that buyers of all sizes and types can select to fit their requirements.

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