Tag: consumerization

Slack and the Future of Enterprise IT | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard of Slack. It is not another enterprise collaboration application. It merely aims to redefine how organizational communication takes place and upstage this little thing called email. As far as start-ups go, the company has witnessed a meteoric rise. In its most recent round of funding in April 2016, it raised US$200 million at a post-money valuation of US$3.8 billion (with an annual recurring revenue of US$64 million last year), which is all the more impressive when you consider that it launched just three years ago and has raised almost US$540 million. An incredible amount of money at a time when VCs are supposedly tightening the screws and we are witnessing a ‘correction’ in the investment climate. To Slack’s credit, it has built an incredibly popular platform. In May, it reached a significant milestone when it announced three million Daily Active Users (DAUs; a much revered metric of app usage vs just installs) and two million connected users. It has grown at breakneck speed – less than a year ago, it had one million DAUs, and in October 2015, one million connected users.

The changing face of enterprise IT

Slack is built on the premise of seamless communication in an increasingly complex enterprise world across platforms, teams, and applications. It has 430 employees and counts NASA, CNN, LinkedIn, Harvard, McKesson, Ogilvy, and Spotify as enterprise customers. Slack represents the true vision of what is often referred to as “consumerization of IT”. It refers to the confluence of consumer imperatives such as seamless user experience (UX), BYOD/CYOD convenience, and boundaryless communication within an enterprise IT framework. Digital technologies are reshaping the workplace of the future while enterprise applications tend to be stuck in a bygone era. Slack, and its ilk, aim to redefine this paradigm. Slack, in particular, aims to make messaging the primary form of communication among co-workers. As an illustration, they can place documents saved in Dropbox into their chat streams, collaborate on revisions and assign tasks without leaving Slack, and search previous conversations and files. It also has fully native apps on iOS and Android with syncing across devices.

This is a far cry from current legacy enterprise collaboration applications, which have seen their fair share of experiments. The most high-profile one was probably Yammer, which was sold to Microsoft in 2012 for US$1.2 billion. One primary reason why Yammer has not scaled as hoped is that it still operates as a separate tool from the rest of the enterprise workflow, much like the IM tools that came before it, which also fall short of meeting the requirements of digital enterprises. Microsoft has tried to salvage its Skype bet with the integration of Lync (now Skype for Business), but the jury is still out on it.

Peers of Slack (Campfire, HipChat, Skype) can copy its core features, but the implications of its network effect and ecosystem of integrated apps/chatbots are quite profound. It meaningfully differentiates on the basis of its pricing models as well. While other SaaS providers typically charge on a per-user basis (regardless of how many users actively use the software), Slack tweaks this to activity-linked pricing. For example, with other applications, if you buy 1,000 seats but only use 100, you still get charged for 1,000. Slack, on the other hand, will charge on the basis of how much it is actually used (say number of messages exchanged).

Challenges and the road ahead

That’s not to say Slack is not facing intrinsic issues. The enterprise version of the software was initially delayed and there are reports that ride-hailing company Uber dropped Slack because it couldn’t handle the number of communications it required. Scaling from micro-teams to coordinate multiple Slacks in a large organization has been a problem. As Slack aims to replace email as the standard of organizational communication, there is a very likely danger that it might end up having the same problems that have made modern-day communications so tedious and sub-optimal. Execution will be a key area of scrutiny. There are very few industries where companies experience this type of hyper growth, especially on the enterprise IT space, so managing the pitfalls become all the more tough.

To Slack’s credit it has not displayed a lack of ambition when it comes to pivoting its future, which clearly needs to be a platform-based play for any meaningful and scalable business model to emerge. The goal now will be to turn its software into a platform that integrates with other software so that a user can accomplish all enterprise objectives inside the ecosystem and thereby create stickiness. To further this ambition, Slack announced an US$80 million investment fund in December for developers to build apps that integrate with the platform. Right now, the Slack Platform consists of a new Slack App Directory (with ~160 apps), a Slack Fund (to invest in new apps), and Botkit (a new framework to easily build new apps). As Slack scales up its aim to be a ubiquitous SaaS ecosystem, it can unlock a significant opportunity by becoming the identity layer of the enterprise. This is similar to the intent Microsoft is driving toward with the US$26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn. Ultimately, if Slack’s platform picks up, it can drive other services such as single login and identity access, effectively serving as the singular identity provider for an employee across the enterprise ecosystem. Slack has the momentum and intent on its side to redefine the enterprise application paradigm, and it’s hard to see anyone else (apart from Microsoft) having a bigger opportunity to succeed.

Hadoop and OpenStack – Is the Sheen Really Wearing off? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Despite Hadoop’s and OpenStack’s adoption, our recent discussions with enterprises and technology providers revealed two prominent trends:

  1. Big Data will need more than a Hadoop: Along with NoSQL technologies, Hadoop has really taken the Big Data bull by the horns. Indications of a healthy ecosystem are apparent when you see that leading vendors such as MapR is witnessing a 100% booking growth, Cloudera is expecting to double itself, and Hortonworks is almost doubling itself. However, the large vendors that really drive the enterprise market/mindset and sell multiple BI products – such as IBM, Microsoft, and Teradata – acknowledge that Hadoop’s quantifiable impact is as of yet limited. Hadoop’s adoption continues on a project basis, rather than as a commitment toward improved business analytics. Broader enterprise class adoption remains muted, despite meaningful investments and technology vendors’ focus.

  2. OpenStack is difficult, and enterprises still don’t get it: OpenStack’s vision of making every datacenter a cloud is facing some hurdles. Most enterprises find it hard to develop OpenStack-based cloud themselves. While this helps cloud providers pitch their OpenStack offerings, adoption is far from enterprise class. The OpenStack foundation’s survey indicates that approximately 15 percent of organizations utilizing OpenStack are outside the typical ICT industry or academia. Moreover, even cloud service providers, unless really dedicated to the OpenStack cause, are reluctant to meaningfully invest in it. Although most have an OpenStack offering or are planning to launch one, their willingness to push it to clients is subdued.

Why is this happening?

It’s easy to blame these challenges on open source and contributors’ lack of coherent strategy or vision. However, that just simplifies the problem. Both Hadoop and OpenStack suffer from lack of needed skills and applicability. For example, a few enterprises and vendors believe that Hadoop needs to become more “consumerized” to enable people with limited knowledge of coding, querying, or data manipulation to work with it. The current esoteric adoption is driving these users away. The fundamental promise of new-age technologies making consumption easier is being defeated. Despite Hortonworks’ noble (and questioned) attempt to create an “OpenStack type” alliance in Open Data Platform, things have not moved smoothly. While Apache Spark promises to improve Hadoop consumerization with fast processing and simple programming, only time will tell.

OpenStack continues to struggle with a “too tough to deploy” perception within enterprises. Beyond this, there are commercial reasons for the challenges OpenStack is witnessing. Though there are OpenStack-only cloud providers (e.g., Blue Box and Mirantis), most other cloud service providers we have spoken with are half-heartedly willing to develop and sell OpenStack-based cloud services. Cloud providers that have offerings across technologies (such as BMC, CloudStack, OpenStack, and VMware) believe they have to create sales incentives and possibly hire different engineering talent to create cloud services for OpenStack. Many of them believe this is not worth the risk, as they can acquire an “OpenStack-only” cloud provider if real demand arises (as I write the news has arrived that IBM is acquiring Blue Box and Cisco is acquiring Piston Cloud).

Now what?

The success of both Hadoop and OpenStack will depend on simplification in development, implementation, and usage. Hadoop’s challenges lie both in the way enterprises adopt it and in the technology itself. Targeting a complex problem is a de facto approach for most enterprises, without realizing that it takes time to get the data clearances from business. This impacts business’ perception about the value Hadoop can bring in. Hadoop’s success will depend not on point solutions developed to store and crunch data, but on the entire value chain of data creation and consumption. The entire process needs to be simplified for more enterprises to adopt it. Hadoop and the key vendors need to move beyond Web 2.0 obsession to focus on other enterprises. With the increasing focus on real-time technologies, Hadoop should get a further leg up. However, it needs to provide more integration with existing enterprise investments, rather than becoming a silo. While in its infancy, the concept of “Enterprise Data Hub” is something to note, wherein the entire value chain of Big Data-related technologies integrate together to deliver the needed service.

As for OpenStack, enterprises do not like that they currently require too much external support to adopt it in their internal clouds. If the drop in investments is any indication, this will not take OpenStack very far. Cloud providers want the enterprises to consume OpenStack-based cloud services. However, enterprises really want to understand the technology to which they are making a long-term commitment, and are cautious of anything that requires significant reskill or has the potential to become a bottleneck in their standardization initiatives. OpenStack must address these challenges. Though most enterprise technologies are tough to consume, the market is definitely moving toward easier deployments and upgrades. Therefore, to really make OpenStack an enterprise-grade offering, its deployment, professional support, knowledge management, and requisite skills must be simplified.

What do you think about Hadoop and OpenStack? Feel free to reach out to me on [email protected].


Photo credit: Flickr

Services Sales through the Looking-Glass | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Lewis Carroll is famous for his novel, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.” In this whimsical world, everything starts out as familiar things but, on examination, turn out to be nonsense. It puts me in mind of many service providers’ sales pitches.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Looking-Glass novel is Jabberwocky, a poem in which Carroll strung together nonsense words. When put together, they sound impressive and one wants to believe they tell a story. But as you can see in the verse below, the words are just nonsense.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

It’s like service providers’ sales teams that talk to potential clients about a transformation agenda and driving business value from IT. They throw in words such as “agility,” “flexibility” and “cloud.” Or phrases such as “consumerization of IT” and “as a service.” They even sprinkle in entire sentences such as “outsourcing will allow you to variabilize costs.”

These pitches sound wonderful and sound like there is deep thought associated with what the speaker says. But on examination, one finds the claims are largely nonsense. For instance, there is no variabilization of costs; it’s virtual, and there is little time to business value. And the supposedly agile environment is anything but agile.

It’s very easy to grasp for platitudes and read blogs and take the ideas without really understanding them.

So just like Alice, we find ourselves asking, “Which way should I go?” Well, like the Cheshire Cat says to Alice, “It all depends on where you want to get to.” Providers’ impressive-sounding presentations, on examination, are often just gobbledygook and attempts to intrigue the audience and get them to buy services. But they fall apart on close examination.

Successful sales depend upon a clear understanding about what the customer and provider will try to accomplish, how they will do it and the steps necessary to accomplish the goals. The best presentations use common, plain language to identify the issues and how to meet the goals.


Photo credit: Flickr

Oscar and the Emergence of Consumer-Centric Healthcare | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

As I’ve blogged before, the healthcare space is at the cusp of a transformative change. Consumers are assuming greater ownership, control, and responsibility of health outcomes. Consequently, the decision making is shifting to the individual. Consumption patterns have undergone a significant change owing to disruptive mobile computing, rapid adoption of social media, next-generation sales/engagement channels, and ‘‘anytime-anywhere’’ information access. As individual consumers (patients and physicians) become more empowered, healthcare is transitioning to a principally patient-centric operating paradigm, with focus on cost, efficacy, and equity.

Analogous to what Uber has done to transportation, in progressive (and controversial) ways, there is a fundamental transformation in healthcare, placing patients at the center of all the action. These changes are reflected in the way reimbursements are distributed (moving from volume-based to outcome-based) and the onset of personalized medicine therapies based on real-world evidence. These gamut of changes are also aided by various cultural and socio-economic forces. The disruptive shift – from a healthcare provider-centric to a more customer-centric model – is driving significant healthcare investments in digital enablers of consumerization – social media, mobility, analytics, and cloud.

Healthcare consumerization levers

The New Kid on the Block

These winds of change have given rise to an immense opportunity to cater to this new patient-centric paradigm leveraging next-generation technology channels and enablers. Which brings us to Oscar, a New York-based health insurance start-up. Health insurance in the United States has conventionally been complex and non-transparent. With the advent of PPACA and health insurance exchanges (HIX), there has been a greater sense of accountability. Oscar aims to bring big data/analytics, design thinking, and transparency to the often-puzzling world of health insurance, making it smart, intuitive, and simple for consumers.

The idea for Oscar was born when one of its co-founders received his health insurance bill and realized that none of it made sense to him. The complexity and high entry barriers to health insurance can be gauged from the fact that Oscar was the first new health insurance provider to launch in the state of New York in more than a decade. The start-up sells coverage to individuals through insurance marketplaces in New York and New Jersey. The insurance plans offer free basic care including doctor visits, phone calls with doctors, preventative care, and generic drugs.

The company is backed by seasoned venture investors Peter Thiel and Vinod Khosla as it attempts to bring Silicon Valley mojo to health insurance. It was co-founded by venture capitalist Josh Kushner (an early stage investor in Warby Parker and Instagram), Kevin Nazemi (a Microsoft veteran), and Mario Schlosser (MIT Media Lab and hedge fund experience). The company’s strong digital health ethos is reflected in the senior leadership team – CTO Fredrik Nylander is a former Tumblr executive, Dave Henderson (ex-Cigna and EmblemHealth) is Oscar’s president of insurance, board member Charlie Baker is former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and senior medical executive hires from EmblemHealth, a leading health plan in New York state.

Oscar

What’s different?

Oscar’s value proposition is on being a more personalized health insurance provider, with a strong sense of convenience and personal attention, aided by marketing, design, and consumer service practices that are aligned to the needs of the millennial generation. It has a sizable emphasis on telemedicine (offering it free of charge), and lets customers speak to doctors 24×7 with a goal of 10 minute wait time or less. To help answer medical questions, the company has doctors on call to chat online or over the telephone with customers. Oscar also lets customers check prices for procedures ahead of time and offers three free in-person doctor visits and free generic drugs.

The company faced minor bumps in the beginning with poor reviews and complaints (an average Yelp rating of 2 stars), but has instituted a feedback input mechanism based on customer interactions. The company aims to productize every customer interaction by implementing feedback as soon as it receives it. It has a slew of partners and tie-ups in line with its strategic focus.

In December 2014, Oscar announced a partnership with Misfit (a wearable tech company), by offering members free fitness trackers, along with Amazon gift cards, as part of an attempt to incentivize healthy behavior and bring down employee healthcare costs. Oscar also offers services at many hospitals and retail locations such as New York CVS CareMark. It is a health insurance company that resembles a technology start-up rather than a faceless insurance behemoth, sort of a health insurance start-up for “born digital” natives.

The future

Since commencing operations in July 2013, Oscar has had a reasonable start. It had about 15,000 members and estimated revenues of U$72 million in 2014. It doubled that member base to 30,000 in January 2015, with one month of enrollment left to go. Oscar is seeking approval to enter California’s individuals exchange by 2016. The primary litmus test for Oscar is going to be the same as for any health plan – managing risk, keeping premiums reasonable, maintaining margins, handling payer-provider convergence, and improving health outcomes. Oscar is a prime example among modern companies looking to shape consumer-driven healthcare in the United States leveraging next-generation technology. As it looks at a reported valuation of significantly more than US$1 billion (implying a handsome 14x sales multiple!), the bet might just pay off.


Photo credit: Oscar

Health Insurers Grappling with the New Dawn | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

If you’re a stakeholder – any stakeholder – in the United States’ healthcare system, the data in the following charts is troubling and flummoxing.

The U.S. Healthcare System Paradox

 

 

Although the country’s outlay on healthcare (as a share of GDP and per capita) substantially exceeds that of other developed countries, it ranks behind most nations on many measures of health outcomes, quality, and efficiency. In fact, a June 2014 study by the Commonwealth Fund ranked the U.S. dead last on most performance dimensions – e.g., access, efficiency, and quality – when compared against 10 other developed countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom).

Winds of Change

The health insurance space in the U.S. is undergoing a radical transformation driven by regulatory changes and consumerization of demand. So it is not surprising that the current focus of the massive reform underway in the country focuses on cost rationalization and efficiency enhancement.

Health Insurance Themes

Reforms (primarily rising from the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) are reshaping health plans’ operating model. The onset of a value-based reimbursement model (moving from “defined benefits” to “defined contribution”) raises fundamental questions about current business paradigms. The impetus provided to Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and the blurring lines between payers and providers are leading to a fundamental realignment of incentives, ownership, and priorities. Obamacare and ICD-10 have had a sizable impact on payers’ technology portfolios as they look to leverage next-generation IT and modernize legacy platforms.

Payers are embracing the challenge of consumerization as their customers take increasing ownership of health outcomes, signaling the shift from large national accounts to the individual segments. This directly impacts their sales, outreach, and member engagement channels and methodologies. There is a renewed focus on approaching traditional buyer segments through non-traditional channels, primarily Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX) and direct engagement. These wide-sweeping changes are leading to a rethink of current systems, processes, interfaces, and vendors.

Payers Looking Ahead

Reform mandates key driver in healthcare ITO deals

Payers are marrying reform-driven changes with their overall technology portfolio in an effort to pivot from a primarily B2B business to a B2C model. These regulatory changes call for increased systems integration efforts, establishment of public portals, customer outreach, remediation, testing, and revenue cycle program management.

Healthcare reforms, a dynamic regulatory landscape, and consumerization of demand are transforming the healthcare industry. Payers need to understand, assess, and be proactive in navigating these choppy waters.

For further insight, check out our recent publication,  “IT Outsourcing (ITO) in the Payer Industry – Annual Report 2014: Regulations on Payers’ Mind.” This report provides an overview of the ITO market for the payer industry. Analysis includes market size and growth, forecasts (up to 2020), demand drivers, adoption and scope trends, key areas of investment, and implications for buyers and service providers.

Digital Transformation: P&L for the CMO? Really? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Sigmund Freud once said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” Had he added a phrase about fear of business ownership, the father of psychoanalysis could easily have been talking about most Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) in the current world of digital transformation. The freedom given by digital disruption to transform marketing function may come with a frightening responsibility of owning a P&L.

Today’s CMOs are expected to leverage disruptive technologies, and thus are receiving more technology funding than their IT counterparts. However, many CEOs will push their CMOs to own P&L if they need that funding for digital initiatives.

While most marketers dread the prospect of P&L ownership, the reality is that digital transformation has the power to enable them to assume a more strategic and central leadership role. And mobility, analytics, social platforms, and cloud services – many of which are available outside the control of corporate IT – can give them the needed ammunition to transform marketing into a business builder and create real impact than being a strategic overhead.

Those marketers looking forward to the challenge realize that unlike the traditional models, the rapid digital transformation of the marketing function enables the CMO’s office to influence and generate revenue, as well as run operations efficiently. Digital transformation provides significantly more engaging, flexible, and agile platforms to attract, retain, and grow consumers than traditional models. They allow “fail fast” with manageable cost repercussions. These new mechanisms give marketers direct, quicker, and clearer access to the end-consumer. Marketers now have the technology to run data-driven real time analysis of consumer buying behaviour and enhance their strategies accordingly.

However, to make this a reality, marketers need to work more closely with different departments within their organization, and develop perspectives on the various business units. While their lack of knowhow of organizational operations will be a recipe for disaster, increasing use of collaboration platforms and process digitization can help. Marketers can now communicate and collaborate with their counterparts from other units more effectively in a shorter time span leveraging digital services.

It’s always challenging to transform a cost center to own a P&L. In marketing’s case, it’s not only about revenue attribution, but also:

  1. a complete change in the thought process of the marketers themselves
  2. their self-perception and confidence in running a business (rather than just enabling it)
  3. staking claims at the high seats of the corporate hierarchy
  4. changes in the hiring, incentives, and retention strategies of marketing organizations

P&L ownership also impacts the way marketers are perceived in their organizations, as well as senior business leaders’ attitude toward them. Marketers will have to undertake a lot of internal selling of the idea. And a lot of organizational machinery will need to be oiled and transformed to make the marketing department own a P&L.

Most client conversations indicate this is still a utopia. However, some executives do believe it’s high time that the digital transformation makes marketing more accountable. They consider the CMO to be everything related to a customer (Chief Experience Officer, Chief Customer Officer, etc.) and believe that marketers now have the right technology and tools to create real business impact.

The onus is on the CMOs, and the opportunity is vast. However, they need to get out of their mindset as a business support function, where they are assisting businesses to leverage digital services much like an external consultant, and instead take center stage. But it’s not going to be easy.

Sigmund Freud today would probably have said “CMOs who want to enjoy the freedom bestowed by digital transformation must not scare away from the responsibility of the P&L.”

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