Category Archives: Technology and Communications

After Apple and Microsoft, it is FB’s Turn Now!

The European Union (EU) has always been a headache for American companies. Facebook may have figured it now with the hefty fine slapped on it today.

What a nice and easy way to boost its kitty!

Apple and Microsoft have had a taste of the EU medicine in the past. Google is also under scrutiny now.

G Joslin Vethakumar 



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Innovation, Marketing and Why Founders are Let Go!

By G Joslin Vethakumar

I keep going back to Steve Jobs often for my posts. But it has seldom been without relevance. More so for this piece about iconic leaders being ejected from the companies they founded and about how innovation and marketing blend to give brand building the impetus businesses need.

It is not a question of what takes precedence over the other as marketing, too, requires innovative, multidimensional concepts to fuel selling through delivery of a rich Customer Experience (CX) – from solutioning to messaging.

Innovation title pic

Strong Collaboration

Bringing to the market innovative products aligned with customer expectations often involves a strong collaborative effort among key teams across all areas of the business spectrum – product development, product management and field/corporate marketing.

It is this kind of collaboration that is behind the successes of most companies with pioneering ideas and ground-breaking inventions. Whether it is Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, Uber, Airbnb or Ikea, they owe their grip on the market to their products that meet the changing consumer demand and to the innovative marketing strategies they invested in.

Relentless Focus on CX

The Ikea Catalogue app on my iPhone is conceptually brilliant, executed with finesse. It allows users to virtually place the furniture you have in mind in your room (using the camera within) and get a 3D visual feel before you make the purchase. That’s great CX both in terms of the product and the marketing effect.

For most firms, Apps have become an impactful marketing tool. Amazon even describes its vision as a “relentless focus on customer experience (CX).”

Never adele moment

“Utterly-Butterly Delicious”

To pull up another personal example from my India past, the country’s top dairy brand, Amul, enjoys a preeminent position in the market with US$3.4 billion in annual revenues.

I doubt Amul will have enjoyed the strong presence it has now without the regular creative “utterly butterly delicious” campaign (through hoardings, publications, etc.). The ad agency behind it is daCunha Communications, representing copywriting at its innovative and coolest best, always topical and fun!

Content Marketing Strategy

Significantly, they all had a broadbased content marketing strategy which has assumed great significance in an era where business success is tied to effective social engagement. Powering this strategy is a clear focus on a wide range of areas – blogging, thought leadership / white papers, traditional media, email / mobile messaging, visual communications, analytics and more.

Just as no business model can be static, even as the values and corporate goals remain stable, the content strategy can also be expected to evolve with the times. But the underlying themes can be the same – compelling, authoritative and appealing!

Phelps and Amul

The Marketing Man Who Fired Jobs

When innovation and marketing coalesce well the outcome can be phenomenal, and this is seen in the successes of both Apple and Microsoft. Shockingly, it was PepsiCo marketing man John Scully, the one Jobs hired as CEO who fired him within two years after coming on board.

Several forces may be at work when founders see themselves out of the companies they built brick by brick with avant-garde solutions they helped develop for a digitally connected world. It can be too tempting to dismiss it as the mere result of egoism or uncompromising arrogance when reasons can run deep.

When Lobbyists Become Winners – Clash of Ideas, Disagreements with Strategies

The factors that scuttle their conviction and focus include a clash of ideas, ego centricity, disagreements with business strategies and pressure from investors in a brutal short-term numbers game where lobbyists become winners.

Jobs found himself out of Apple in 1985, a decade after he had co-founded the company with Steve Wozniak. Apple had gone public in 1980, making hundreds of its staff instant millionaires.

Getting listed in the stock markets opens a company to intense scrutiny and brings into the board investors who may care more about quick returns than about innovation or long-term potential. Also, a founder having to deal with more stakeholders is hardly a welcome distraction.

No Visionary Appeal, No Revolutionary Offerings

If innovation hits the bumps no amount of marketing can save a company from slipping fortunes. The two go hand in hand as good solutions need strong market visibility which together help create a compelling brand.

The 12-year period when Jobs stayed out of the realm of Apple the company found itself hurtling down with neither a visionary appeal nor products revolutionary enough to stir the imagination of the market.

But being shown the door turned out to be a welcome augury for Jobs as he went on to start two other successful companies, NeXT and Pixar, before eventually returning to Apple in 1997 to lead it to the peak as the most valued company in the U.S. and the world’s most loved brand.

His return saw the company unleash the game-changing products of iPod, iPhone and iPad throwing then leaders Blackberry and Nokia out of gear.

Cisco Founder was Fired Too

For five years during 2005-2010, I worked for Cisco Systems, a visionary company that was the darling of investors before the dotcom bubble burst and the stock market went bust. The company was founded by Sandy Lerner and her then partner, Leonard Bosack, in 1984.

Cisco went public in 1990 and Sandy found herself fired soon after. One of the company’s early investors was said to be behind her dismissal. In protest, Leonard quit Cisco and that left the two founders out of the company.

Amazon AirFacebook co-Founder Saverin Lives in Singapore

Among the popular leaders who had faced a similar predicament is Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who moved to Singapore in 2009, renounced his American citizenship two years later and is now an angel investor. Saverin was let go from Facebook after disagreements with co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

A similar experience also befell Noah Glass, one of Twitter’s cofounders. He is credited with having coined the Twitter name but was sacked from the company in 2006.

Such examples abound in the ruthless world of business. But they are innovators who go on to make their presence felt through other ventures.

Celebrity CEOs

Only a handful of the founders become celebrity CEOs – like Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page / Sergey Brin (Google/Alphabet), Jack Ma of Alibaba, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jerry Yang (Yahoo) or Tata and Birla in India.

Some brands become market icons (the likes of Sony, Nikon and Toyota) with their founders staying away from the limelight. Their marketing focus is rightly on the products they push with the business impact intact.

Whichever way we look at it, innovation and marketing are integral to the future of business. At least until the next bold new evolution!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Apple’s $210-Billion Cash Chest Must Have Got EU Excited!

After all, who does not want easy big bucks?

A cash chest of US$210+ billion is bound to invite more than just eyeballs. It can have thieves lurking, for sure.

Analysts with a complete focus on manipulation of markets will work extra hard to deceive unwary investors so they can profit from any stock turmoil they trigger. If they cannot go anywhere near the reserves, they can at least bring down the company’s market valuations.

AppleEven governments or regional groupings comprising member States that are perennially in a financial mess can devise ways to try to dip into the chest through devious ways for some easy big bucks.

This I guess is precisely what has sparked the European Union’s 14.5-billion settlement claim from Apple for allegedly dodging European taxes during the last 25 years through sweetheart deals with Ireland.

Brexit was Good, after all!

The 25-year tax ducking charge makes the entire EU claim laughable. Ireland itself is contesting the EU claim. This is just another instance that can justify Brexit!

The EU order has left the U.S. wondering if it would hit American taxpayers.

iphone-7-appleBut Apple CEO Tim Cook dismissed the EU move as “total political crap motivated by anti-US bias.” His strategy to deal with the issue is to work with the Government of Ireland to try and have the order overturned.

This is a huge distraction for Apple and is bound to involve hefty legal costs which will eventually impact the consumer, with iPhone 7 just days away from hitting the markets.

It is not uncommon for companies to park their revenues in tax havens. If countries continue to enforce a wildly unreasonable tax regimen on companies, it is quite in order for the latter to resort to ways that will protect their hard-earned cash.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Small Thai Firm’s Chat App with Survey Application

A small Thailand-based firm, G Softbiz, has developed a secure enterprise chat messaging app and also offers a survey tool, per a report in The Nation newspaper –

Thai firm G Softbiz develops enterprise chat messaging app with protection

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Cisco’s Cloud Confusion!

IoE, Passing Cloud?: For a company making the bulk of its big bucks from selling networking equipment, the Cloud may mean whittling down of its profits.

Hence, it was no big surprise when Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins told the media at the company’s Partner Summit in San Diego yesterday that: “Cloud is not what customers want. The benefits of what they’re gaining from the cloud are what they want.”

Cisco has been betting big on IoE. Is that a passing cloud? A fad? Mercifully, he acknowledges customers want the benefits of the Cloud.

Mr Robbins warned partners to be wary of new players coming in with “some technology that’s got a lot of buzz and excitement about it.”

I can read his caution differently: “Don’t get swayed by new technologies that have caught Cisco on the wrong foot.”

Down But Not Out: This Bloomberg report can offer some insights into Mr Robbins’ rant. “From 2000 to 2010, the networking equipment pioneer averaged 13 per cent annual sales growth. Since then, 4.3 per cent!”

Without such facts at my disposal I still quit Cisco in July 2010 after a five-year stay with the company that I considered visionary. Looks like I timed it very well! Cisco may be down but it is still experiencing growth, that is to its credit!

The cloud that Cisco had to embrace driven by market factors is seen as one of the technology disruptions impacting business in a world that is going digital.

This CIO report is enlightening – touching on cloud trends that will dominate this year.

Bur Mr Robins has left me confused. Perhaps so is he!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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The “Solid Quarter, Weak Guidance” Syndrome Back to Haunt Cisco Again!

Delivering sterling results that beat the market but issuing weak guidance for the next quarter is a standard practice with Cisco Systems.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

CEO Chuck Robbins appears to have inherited this culture from his illustrious predecessor, Mr John Chambers, now Cisco’s Executive Chairman.

I have seen that happen quarter after quarter during my five-year stay (2005-2010) with Cisco.

The democratic traditions within Cisco had been such that, as a regular blogger in the company’s portal, I had held no punches back then with posts questioning the company’s motives. No questions asked!

Share Buyback: As Cisco had the practice of buying back shares (I think it still does), I had wondered, maybe naively, if the negative projections were aimed at letting the stock price slide so it can have some bargain pickings. But perhaps they were to stem any free-fall!

Even after I quit Cisco to join BT, I did not give up keeping tabs on the market as I held (and hold even now) Cisco shares.

Cisco Executive Chairman and former CEO John Chambers

Cisco Executive Chairman and former CEO John Chambers

In fiscal Q1 2015 (November 2014), too, Cisco had let the markets down with weak guidance after some strong results. By way of a Q1 assessment and Q2 outlook then, Mr Chambers pointed to capital budget cuts by service providers such as AT&T and weak sales in emerging markets as potential challenges. I blogged about it here!

One of the rare occasions when there was no downward guidance was in Q2 2015 (Feb. 2015) when Mr Chambers was upbeat about the company’s prospects. It made me think if one strong quarter was enough to signal good tidings for a company!

The history aside, per Cisco’s Q1 2016 results announced yesterday, revenue rose to $12.68 billion from $12.25 billion. Net income stood at 59 cents, higher than the 56 cents expected by analysts.

Lower orders due to macroeconomic factors and currency-exchange issues made Cisco warn of turbulence ahead! Not surprisingly, it sent the Cisco share price crashing.

In any case, that was a return to tradition for Cisco, with Mr Robbins following from where Mr Chambers left. That is the result of Cisco going with an internal candidate to succeed Mr Chambers. The culture sticks!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Technology, Terminology and the Smart Island

What’s in a Name – Old Wine in a New Bottle?

The web of technology has seen changes in terminology often accompanying what may simply mean old wine in a new bottle.

Just-combine-a-few-old-wine-bottles-with-string-lightsIndeed for all the magic that emerging technologies weave around the Web they tend to get trapped in a terminological mesh.

Even as the Internet of Things (IoT) has become the new frontier revolutionising the way we live, it is the evolution of an idea that could be traced to M2M (Machine to Machine) communications.

But, wait a minute, what then is the Internet of Everything (IoE)? Does the use of multiple names to convey what is essentially an identical concept make sense?

Are tech businesses at loggerheads with one another in the race for one-upmanship? When trends get stronger is it necessary to dabble in marketing ploys and go for twists in nomenclature? To me, it is largely a branding game just as companies keep changing their corporate logos to draw marketing mileage. When innovations slow they need an excuse to market themselves.

IOE CiscoCloud and the Network Computer

We all know that the cloud has been making waves the last few years but what makes it different from the network computer that Sun Microsystems conceptualised about two decades ago.

Have we forgotten their tagline, “the network as a computer”? Sun then thought it would be the beginning of the end of Microsoft’s domination!

Sun may have been ahead of its time then, but today Microsoft remains as powerful as ever though the likes of Google and Facebook have earned a niche for themselves thanks to the Internet and the might of social networking.

What are “Things”?

Let’s get back to the IoT. Just what are the “Things” that IoT refers to?

  • Does the expression adequately capture the essence of technology-enabled transformations the world has begun to expect?
  • Doesn’t it sound too rudimentary when it represents change steeped in sophistication?
  • Is that why Cisco Systems likes to give it a little twist while embracing what it calls the Internet of Everything (IoE)?

what-is-cloud-technologyThe “things” in IoT can be anything that is assigned an IP address and embedded with sensors to build intelligence into everything that could mean a world of difference to society.

The “thing” could mean a person, an animal or even a thing (object) facilitating smart communications, equipped as they are with the necessary apparatus for transfer of data over a network.

Singapore and the Smart Island Factor

silogo01newNew-generation concepts gain traction in modern, forward-looking countries such as Singapore that is now into its 50th year of Independence. A milestone that has prompted the launch of Smart Island, a portal designed to:

  • stimulate debate in a spirit of intellectual freedom with responsible restraint which can make its citizens keep aside the fear factor deterring free speech
  • celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50) in alignment with its tradition of innovation and technological excellence, and
  • evolve into an all-embracing e-commerce platform with primary focus on the youth.

Tech Overhaul

Exciting happenings await Singaporeans as the Government has set about to give the country a technological overhaul to give them rich experiences in every sphere of activity by turning data into meaningful actions.

MerlionHere are a few things that will combine to make Singapore the world’s first Smart Nation by 2025, transforming life for its citizens.

  • Internet of Everything / Internet of Things / M2M communications
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Cutting-Edge Sensors
  • Wearable Technologies with meaningful applications (monitoring health, for instance)

To that extent, Smart Island is a relevant launch – an idea conceived in year 2000 but born only in 2015!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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