Archive for July, 2014

Does Cloud Increase Vendor Risk?

Friday, July 25th, 2014

cloud-lock-in-300x225For all the marketingspeak from technology providers about open systems, seasoned CIOs know that every software purchase is accompanied by a certain vendor risk. User comfort, proprietary programming language and opaque database structures are a few factors that contribute to vendor lock in.

And this is in the case of onpremise software.

Cue to the world of cloud.

A SaaS / PaaS vendor can:

  • Change features without the customers’ consent. And many of them do so not infrequently, as I’d highlighted in Three More Ways How Tech Vendors Can Accelerate Legacy Transformation.
  • Abscond with the customer’s data when they shut down. This happened to us recently with 1daylater, a cloud-based provider of timesheet and invoicing software. The SaaS company promised to send us our data going past three years when it closed shop six months ago. We still haven’t got anything. Meanwhile, we’ve gone back to Excel – warts and all, it’s simple, the data is stored on our own servers and we’ll always have access to it.
  • Threaten the existence of companies by raising platform costs overnight. Let me quote Twitter Doghouse as a recent example. This app allows users to temporarily UNFOLLOW Twitter accounts of people who flood your timelines – e.g. tweeters from live events – and FOLLOW them back automatically after a predefined interval. Great app. It even won a prize in Canada. But the company that developed it was pushed into an existential crisis when its platform provider trebled its prices recently.
  • Literally turn off the software tap. This might happen only under extenuating circumstances but when vendors resort to this extreme step, many of them do so unilaterally and without any prior consultation with their customers.

Therefore, cloud computing seems to raise vendor lock in to the next level compared to onpremise software.

That said, its inherent pay-per-use / subscription business model helps customers substantially mitigate this risk.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Have Your Content And Eat It Too

Friday, July 18th, 2014

In his blog post titled Wasted Words – Why Marketing Content Longer than 3 to 5 Items Does Not Work, Gartner Research Director Hank Barnes makes a strong case to technology vendors for simplifying their story and emphasizing only two or three things that matter most in their marketing collateral. He goes on to explain how most people he talks to agree that it is a good thing but, in the same breath, laments about regularly seeing

  • Feature Lists with dozens of features
  • “Company Differentiation” Powerpoint slides listing 7 to 10 items, and
  • Benefits pages with too many bullet points to count

We come across this “content size conundrum” regularly while providing GTM solutions to IT companies.

According to Barnes, “all that extra stuff might just be wasted words”. To support his contention, he quotes from psychological studies that highlight the limited capacity of the human mind to retain new things. Per one such study cited in the B2C blog post How to Sell Complexity Beyond the Customer’s Capacity to Understand, “our limited short-term working memory (is) … capable of remembering only 3-4 items of new information at a time.”

As a marketer who is especially passionate about consumer behavior, I readily accept most of these research findings. However, with my ringside view into how the content development process works in a typical IT company, I doubt if all this psychobabble will change much.


They fail to take cognizance of certain fundamental factors within IT companies that cause overcrowding of marketing collateral in the first place:

  • Overarching belief that “more the merrier”
  • Dear hope that, if they put in 10 points, the prospect will at least read 3-5
  • Nagging feeling that taking a list of 10 points and removing seven of them does injustice to their product / service
  • Risk of alienating key team members whose points are omitted
  • Misguided notion that it should be left to the prospect to select what’s relevant and ignore the rest.

As a result, it’s not so easy for technology vendors to take a scalpel to long feature lists, differentiator slides or benefits pages. 

That said, in an increasingly crowded market, prospects are simply not going to take the trouble to find the most relevant piece of marketing collateral from a content maze, so marketers can’t reconcile themselves with the status quo. Change is a must. To drive it, marketers need to secure the buy-in of their C-suite and sales leaders, who’re respectively the budget approvers and internal customers of all the content they’re creating. What’s the chance that all the cognitive science mumbo jumbo will work with them? 

We thought so too.

Our Marketable Items offer an alternative approach to develop more effective content.

Marketable Items package product features and service capabilities into compelling reasons to buy that resonate strongly with the target market’s pain areas and hot topics.


By individually restricting content to 3-5 points that matter most to the given market segment but collectively conveying the whole enchilada of the vendor’s capabilities and credentials, Marketable Items provide a highly practical way of breaking the content size conundrum.

Warts And All, The System Works

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Since I wrote Running From Pillar To Post To Link Aadhaar Card To Bank Account last year, several things have happened in the financial services world.

Aadhaar Card enrolment has crossed 500M people. But, still, roughly half the population eligible for LPG subsidy still haven’t managed to get their Aadhaar Cards. But, it doesn’t matter.

Politicians figured that it was a bad idea to make people pay the full price for LPG cylinders and then tell them to wait for the end of the year to collect the subsidy transfered directly to their Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. Therefore, the government recently scrapped this scheme. With the benefit of hindsight, I always found this scheme harebrained. Much as the media and intellegentsia have regretted the demise of the Aadhaar Card’s only – er, most powerful – use case, I’m glad that better sense has prevailed finally.

Even if it didn’t do so within the promised seven working days, my bank did eventually manage to link my Aadhaar Card to my bank account well before the government transferred the LPG subsidy to me. Oops, I meant, scrapped the scheme.

Meanwhile, by fixing a simple typo five months after I’d brought it to its notice, my bank has given me one more reason to reinforce my strong belief in the BFSI version of Bill Gates’ famous saying, “We always overestimate what banks can do in seven working days but underestimate what they can accomplish in one year”.


Collectively, I’m convinced that, warts and all, “The System” works. Whoever scrawled “If system was the answer, your question wasn’t profound” on a London Subway decades ago is still right.

Omnichannel Fiasco #2: M-PESA

Friday, July 4th, 2014

In Omnichannel Fiasco #1: Standard Chartered Credit Card, I’d described a recent omnichannel experience that started well but went downhill soon thereafter.

In this post, let me describe another encounter with omnichannel that was a fiasco from the word go.

This was with Vodafone M-PESA mobile wallet.

A few years ago, when M-Pesa was on the drawing board, my company was invited to bid for developing the solution by Vodafone’s HQ in UK. Although the MNO decided to do the development inhouse, my early involvement with M-Pesa piqued my curiosity in the mobile payment service that enjoys a cult status in Kenya, where it was first introduced.

Not surprisingly, as soon as the service was launched in India a couple of months ago, I was eager to try it out.

1I went to the Vodafone store near my office, filled a form and deposited the minimum amount of INR 200 required to open an M-PESA account. The salesperson at the store warned me that, since the picture on the copy of my identity proof document was slightly smudged, my application might get rejected.

I was relieved when, a few hours later, I received an SMS from Vodafone with a PIN number that I was required to enter into an USSD app to activate my account. When I followed the instructions, the activation failed, with the app displaying a cryptic error message about something called MIME.

Since I couldn’t figure out what the problem with the app was, I went back to the store two days later. The friendly attendant at the store took my phone, dialed up the USSD app, selected an esoteric option that was unrelated to account activation and tapped a few buttons. Lo and behold, I got an SMS confirming that my account was activated.

I was thrilled that I could now add money into the wallet and pay my bills using M-PESA.

My joy was shortlived.

A few days later, I received an SMS asking me to submit the required documentation and, in the same breath, telling me to ignore the message if I had already submitted them.

Not knowing whether to go to the store or ignore the message, I decided to hop channels and called Vodafone’s customer service instead. The CSR confirmed that my account was alive and kicking and told me to ignore the SMS.

However, two days later, I got an SMS saying my account would be closed shortly since I hadn’t submitted the documentation.


I went back to the store, where I was told that 89 out of 105 applications received by the store were rejected on KYC grounds, but that mine wasn’t one of them. So far so good and someone from the store would call me if my application got canned. Taking me aside, the store manager whispered that his own application had gotten rejected and account opening amount, blocked. I didn’t know whether to commiserate with him or console myself that I was better off than him or both, so I beat a quick retreat from the store.

Several months later, my near-surreal omnichannel experience with M-PESA continues. I still can’t access the money deposited into the wallet. At least it’s much lower than the INR 2000 paid in by the aforementioned manager.