Trump to hold tech conf; I am holding my breath
I swear I was getting through this and trying to move on. She wasn’t my favorite candidate but when you consider the alternative she looked like George Washington in a pantsuit. Like many people I had moved on from denial and anger to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ next stage in the grief pyramid called bargaining. He can’t be that bad…they can tame him…I’m going back to work, he can’t chase me there…I’ll be okay.
But noooo! A brief story in the New York Times today says Donald Trump, incipient POTUS is planning to hold a technology conference next week. It’s right here under this headline, “Trump Plans Technology Conference With Silicon Valley Executives.” The article by David Streitfeld, Maggie Haberman, and Michael D. Shear covers a lot of ground what with Trump also seeming to have cancelled the next generation of Air Force One today, which is also in the piece.
Says the article, “The list of those being invited was not immediately clear, but they could include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Timothy D. Cook of Apple and Sundar Pichai of Google.” Sure, that’s right, Silicon Valley CEOs have nothing scheduled that far out so of course they’ll all trudge over to Trump Tower. Whatever it is, when a president asks for your time, he’s doing it in the name of all the American people so you more or less have to attend.
The one saving grace in all this might be (and we really don’t know all the details yet) the fact that these are all consumer technology mavens so far. Maybe Trump has a punch list of social media enhancements to go over or maybe he intends to build a wall between our electrons and the rest of the world. Or maybe Trump just wanted to call a fly-in for rich guys to compare private aircraft. His is bigger, you know.
Regardless, I’ll withhold judgment on Trump’s tech chops until I know if this is just show and tell for social media or if he really wants the skinny on what to expect in areas like machine learning, AI, the IoT, and a half dozen other techno-wizbangs that will rock his world soon. I’ll begin to worry when Ellison, Benioff, and Gates get summoned.
Is Salesforce Next?
In a sure sign of the times, Google announced its new holding company, Alphabet, today. Alphabet will now be parent of the search business as well as all of the other businesses like drones, android, self-driving cars, wearables, and so much more. The switch helps Google become more transparent for Wall Street while setting up the company as a first class innovation conglomerate. An article in the New York Times makes the point (several times) that by setting up Alphabet, Google is emulating General Electric or even Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s outfit that is into everything from tighty whities (Fruit of the Loom) to manufacturing, retail companies and a lot more.
Emulating either company is not a bad way to go. Since its founding in 1892 by Thomas Edison, GE has been a powerhouse of innovation in such far flung areas as medicine and healthcare, locomotives, jet engines, and a host of smaller goods that influence the lives of nearly all Americans. What GE has been (and this in no way writes off GE as a future innovator) in all of these areas, Alphabet has a chance to be in new fields during the century ahead.
Unlike Microsoft, which has remained a single entity, Alphabet will spin-up and spin-off wholly owned entities with a singular purpose that enables Google’s founders to engage in their interests in creating new companies, products, and business models while more or less insulating the cash cow from the vicissitudes of a large and possibly chaotic single company. The single company model sets up all kinds of political rivalries for resources and it saps the strength of even the best leaders.
What links GE, Alphabet, Berkshire Hathaway and many others is a Blue Ocean strategy. This approach enables leaders to be bold speculators about the future and the make products and services that fit their visions. Since many or even most bets on the future fall short, there’s a high amount of risk associated with attempting to sail on the blue sea, but when an idea works it is often game changing and paradigm building. If you think about it, Google Glass and self-driving cars define the spectrum.
All this brings to mind Salesforce.com, another company that I have said many times has a blue ocean orientation. Salesforce is tiny compared to GE or Berkshire Hathaway but those companies were small once too. So far, Salesforce has stuck relatively to its knitting building software for business. But if you look at what it is involved in from its verticals to its partners to wearables to its platform-based approach, you can see the potential makings of another GE or Alphabet, though one that is solidly focused on software, at least for the time being.
The rise of Alphabet and the emerging prevalence of blue ocean thinking suggests to me that we are at a transition point. We’re shifting from an economic paradigm focused on information and ramping up a new one that applies digital technology to many more challenges than how to rapidly store and retrieve data.
Humanity faces a long list of challenges today that will benefit from a more aggressive and engineering based approach to problem solving. Engineering is not a panacea but it is amazing how many challenges can be addressed when we start with engineering based approaches. With GE as a model, it will be interesting to see what Alphabet does next.
Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft
Note: In a bit of operator error an earlier version of this post clipped off the first para. Here it is restored.
Microsoft announced its selection of Satya Nadella to be the third Microsoft CEO today and I wish him well. In a flurry of announcements, Bill Gates also stepped down as Chairman of the Board and will re-integrate himself into product development as a kind of guru in residence. I wish him well too.
Heck, I wish everyone over there well. Microsoft is too important to the technology industry generally and software in particular for them to continue the holding pattern they’ve been in for the last several years.
Nadella’s email to the company, which was widely distributed, contains a section headed, “Why are we here?” Among the reasons Nadella gives is this: “As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.” Exactly.
I agree but I am not sure it’s enough. If I had Bill’s cash I would purchase a copy of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new book, The Second Machine Age for every employee and I’d make it mandatory reading. The central idea of the book, and the thing I think Microsoft needs, is an understanding that we’ve passed a major milestone. Up to now we’ve built increasingly powerful and complex technologies that automate away huge hunks of everyday tasks. Since its beginning, Microsoft has done this very well.
But the next phase will be all about how we leverage technology to do things that have never been thought of before. To invent things from whole cloth. Microsoft has a lot of very sophisticated technologies in stock from its sensing technologies that make its video games so realistic to its database, ERP and CRM technologies that rival anything on the market. However, these are me too products.
At this moment in technology Google is inventing Google Glass and cars that drive themselves; Apple has rung up a string of new devices and I expect that Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry’s, will have something interesting to say about wearable computing soon; Intel is actively working on multiple fronts including wearables interestingly enough; Oracle has reinvented databases and storage for the cloud; and Salesforce has pushed the concept of platform further than any company in history. There’s also social media and titans like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized society with their wares and there are other companies right behind them. These companies are inventing the future.
In this environment Microsoft looks positively dowdy with its suite of applications, Windows everywhere, and games. If Microsoft simply decides to be a player in one or all of these markets, it will fail and Nadella will be known as the guy who let it slip through his fingers. But really there will be plenty of blame to be shared by now ex-CEO Steve Ballmer and now former Chairman, Bill Gates. Knowing this Nadella has the chance to be the guy who pulled back on the stick and got the company flying high again. Will he?
What will he do first? Where will he place his bets? He needs the company to invent something that hasn’t been thought of yet, something that will get the company back into the game of being new and different. I am not sure he’s the guy or even if there is a guy for this, but as I said, I wish him well. We’re counting on him.
Deciding the Future of Mobile?
I am indebted to my friends at the Enterprise Irregulars, for the links in this piece. The IE’s, if you didn’t know, are a rag tag group of certified smarties who know all kinds of stuff about the greater tech industry and I am flattered that they let me hang out with them.
The aftermath of the verdict from the patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Samsung initially generated more heat than light. But the last few days have made up for the light that failed to emanate from the weekend’s id fest and Armageddon prediction Internet confab.
Reuters is running an interesting story about Apple CEO Tim Cook and Larry Page of Google keeping the hotline open — you really need to be a child of the 1960’s to fully appreciate this metaphor. Suffice it to say that it is the origin of the little red phone. But also, there was this really interesting post at ZDNet by Jason Perlow about Samsung and Google’s collective need for a new dress.
I particularly recommend Perlow’s article because, while the idea of product dress might seem weird to some people — especially those who take issue with the look and feel aspects of the Apple suit — it might interest you to know that product dress is a legal term.
Without giving away Perlow’s point, let’s just make the observation that the classic Coke Bottle, which has nothing to do with how the stuff tastes, is part of Coke’s dress and its IP, as much as its secret recipe. Only Coke has Coke Bottles, for a good reason. So go read that article.
My point here, other than giving a shout out to the IE’s and trying to enlighten others, is that Apple might have, at least momentarily, hit on the only look and feel for mobile devices that will ever be widely accepted. Tapping, swiping, pinching — things that come natural not only to the members of our Genus but also our Family and, who knows, maybe even our Order — might be so hardwired into our beings that coming up with an alternative might be a waste of time. Holy $%^& Batman that might mean that Apple could end up owning the mobile UI and someday soon be in a position to make a few pennies on every Samsung or HTC device running Andriod for ever.
Believe it or not, such an outcome would not be unique in the annals of business or manufacturing. It might have something to do with cross licensing (I know, but don’t confuse it with dressing mentioned above). That’s when more than one company asserts ownership rights to an invention that each came up with the old fashioned way (you know, R&D?). But rather than fighting about it for years, the two (or more) companies come to terms, some money and possibly other patents are traded and then it’s back to business.
The best example of this is the car industry. Car radios, V-8 engines, automatic transmissions, how heating and air conditioning systems work, how the controls are set up and lots more, all have patents and if all cars look more or less alike in some basic features and functions, it might be because their makers went to the same patent swap meet. Yes, patents expire so don’t go looking to fund the fifth generation grand kids college even if you have lot of patents.
So this brings us back to Larry and Tim and the hotline. May we be informal for a moment and simply refer to each other using first names like they do in the music biz (Elvis, John, Paul, George, and especially Ringo; but also Bono, Sting, Eric and many others)? So, Larry bought Motorola (early car radio patents, BTW) at least in part for its stable of patents to ward off just the kind of suit that Tim’s company is making famous in the mobile industry (Tim should file a patent! hahaha!). And Larry, Tim and their minions are keeping the lines of communication open as they say.
What are the odds that the verdict put the discussions into high gear and that there’s an informal-formal patent swap meet happening out in the Valley between these principals? Nothing would surprise me but I think that if both sides remain reasonable and use their inside voices and big words, that there will be an announcement in the not too distant future that they’ve struck a deal.
If so, the deal would create the stack of the decade. Just as Wintel described a stack of Windows OS and Intel chips that made the personal computer; or as LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for cloud application servers, some standard that combines Mobile/Google/Android/Motorola/Apple might emerge from all this chaos for mobile devices.
Let’s see, MOGAM? MOGA? GAAMMO? AGAMO? AAM? AA? Who knows, naming might be the stickiest part of the negotiations that aren’t happening on the hot line at the moment.
There is a very good article in the current issue of Vanity Fair (with Alec Baldwin on the cover) about Microsoft. In “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo” Kurt Eichenwald recounts the failures and bad decisions of the company’s “lost decade” a time overseen by current CEO Steve Ballmer.
If you are in this business you can probably recall at least some of the major inflection points related to missed opportunities and in-fighting that cost the company its market leading position. I thought it was just me, but Eichenwald even compared Microsoft to Detroit auto makers and their past glory. For good measure he ends with a long quote from Steve Jobs’ biography about the difference between having a sales or ops guy running the show and having a product guy in charge. Sad. Worth reading.
According to the article, Microsoft’s stock has barely budged over the last ten years while other tech companies flew by — Google, Facebook and of course Apple. In one recent quarter iPhone alone made more money than all of Microsoft.
The article quotes Ballmer saying he wants to remain at Microsoft till 2018 but I don’t think the company can wait that long. The article also implies that Ballmer might be a smart pick to break the company up and to take the legacy products into the sunset while more product oriented people try to salvage the core of innovation, if it still exists.
Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, “Ballmer was the second person after Roberto Goizueta to become a billionaire in U.S. dollars based on stock options received as an employee of a corporation in which he was neither a founder nor a relative of a founder.”
Ten years of stagnation can’t be sitting well with Wall Street. What will it take to orchestrate a palace coup?