October 07, 2003
Big Business Online Dating (Stefan Smalla's Info Feed)
Some interesting facts about online dating from a New York Times article; all proving the fact that this is one of the perfect online business models and becoming mainstream more and more.
There have been 45 million US visitors to online dating sites in May 2003.
Visitor numbers have been growing more than 5% per month between end of 2002 and today, which would translate into 83% annual growth if sustained.
Quarterly revenues in the sector are estimated to come in at $100 million this year.
Market leader Match.com has almost 800,000 subscribers for $24.95 per person (roughly $20 million of revenues per month).
What's A Kid To Do?
Scribbled by Doug Radcliffe
After installing Windows XP Professional on my system, I was
confronted with the offer of the new .NET Passport account. I
dutifully filled in all the information it asked for, but when it
wanted to know my birthday, I did as I always do: I typed in the
month, the day, and the current year, rightfully assuming that my
age is nobody's business. Apparently they figured my age IS their
business and so they promptly issued me a "Kid's Passport." After
all, we don't want 10 month old toddlers making credit card
purchases on the Internet.
No problem. I'll just go in and update my profile with the correct
information. Wrong. Toddlers can't get in to update their
profiles. Well, then... I'll just delete my Passport and start all
over. Wrong again. I can't get to that link, either. Well,
Microsoft can surely help here, I thought. Their response to my
first email was simply to update my profile. Great idea - if I
could do it. The response to my second email told me that I would
need to get parental consent to change my profile. Unfortunately,
my parents have been deceased for more than twenty years and can
no longer help me in my hour of need. The third email response
(again) reminded me to get parental consent or to delete my
passport and start over - neither of which is an option. They gave
me an encouraging bit of news, however: a subsequent release of
.NET Passport may contain a way to solve my problem. When this
will happen wasn't stated.
In desperation, I created another passport with a different email
address, thinking I could become my own grandpa. No luck here,
either. I'm a kid and they know it. Meanwhile, I get a lot of
"Page Cannot Be Displayed" messages. But that's okay. I'll be
celebrating my first birthday next month, and if I can just hang
in there until 2019, I'll be able to fix all of this on my own.
Why Compaq Is The Devil (Advice)
Scribbled by Don Walter
I purchased a new Compaq about a year ago and wanted to transfer
files from my old hard drive to the new one; I put the old HDD
into the new tower. I called Compaq tech support to make sure I
wasn't voiding the warranty by inserting third-party hardware, and
they confirmed that it was okay. Well, for some reason, the old
HDD didn't like the new Compaq and the thing wouldn't turn back
on. I called tech support and they told me that I had voided my
warranty by putting third-party hardware into it. So, after paying
for tech support (Which was NOT helpful), I called back for a
supervisor. He informed me that I DID still have my warranty - and
gave me a number to call to get a refund. I called the number and
their [automated] system asked for a credit card; then, it said
that my purchase had been approved. So, I called Compaq back (yet
again) and they told me that I had just called the wrong number
and paid for another tech support session.
After getting all that worked out, about a month later, our DVD-
ROM wasn't working. So, I called tech support and they gave me a
number to call (the DVD drive's manufacturer). I called the
number, explained the situation, and the man on the phone asked
where I got this number. I told him 'Compaq' and he replied that I
must have been mistaken - because they haven't dealt with Compaq
for 3 years. Now, either Compaq is using three-year old hardware,
or nobody over there knows what they're doing.
Corporates find that instant messaging can be used to good advantage
White goods maker LG Electronics India Ltd’s top managers were alarmed to find that the company had run up telephone bills of Rs. 10 Crore in 1999-2000. True, sales had been growing at a fast clip, but Rs. 10 Crore was too much to simply talk away. At the same time, there could be no compromises on customer care. After some brainstorming on reining in costs, LG’s information technology department suggested that he company’s 200 employees in 50 locations use instant messaging (IM) as the primary communication tool.
What LG now uses is a free Web based IM utility ICQ, shorthand for “I seek you”. It allows users to send notes to anyone else online at that time. By 31 March 2001, the company estimates that it had saved at least Rs. 50 Lakh in telephone and fax charges.
At present, LG is using ICQ internally, but from January 2002, its dealers (accessing http://www.lgdealersnet.com) and vendors (http://www.lgesource.com) will be able to download messaging software form the respective sites. The company now estimates the savings by the end of next year to be Rs. 4 crore.
Nobody questions IM’s potential to emerge as a major communication tool. Global research firm IDC estimates that the number of corporate users will increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 140% form 5.5 million in 2000 to over 180 million in 2004; and they will send almost 2 trillion messages a year. Gartner, another international research outfit, expects organisations using IM internally to generate 40% fewer emails.
You might be familiar with IM through your use of MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or America Online’s (AOL) AIM. Other companies developing IM software include Jabber, Mercury Prime, QuickSilver, 2Way lkimbo, Ezenia, ACD Systems, Bantu and Pune based Ruksun Technologies. Simply download a copy of the free software client for your computer – and you are ready to swap messages in real time.
Today, IM has moved ahead of just providing a text exchange facility to include video, images, voice, document exchange and mobile access for users using both WAP and SMS protocols. With Windows XP Messenger, it is possible to share applications. For instance, you can share a Word file or Powerpoint presentation with your colleagues in remote locations.
Ruskin Software Technologies has recently developed im2go, an IM toolkit that offers a comprehensive set of presence, awareness, messaging and conversation abilities. It has also launched Voice Messenger Force (VMF) with voice and chat capabilities. Windows XP’s messenger offers all the current features and voice, video and online collaboration.
Says Yahoo India country head Deepak Chandnani: “IM can be used as a complete CRM solution. It can also be sued to increase the level of involvement with the brand since the messenger is a sticky property. We believe IM usage will see a quantum jump. This will be helped by the availability of greater bandwidth that will make applications like video instant messaging come alive.” But LG Electronics IT head Arindam Bose disagrees: “We do not think video messaging will be too helpful in a business environment.” So, to start with, these will probably be little more than fun tools.
Others, however, think that if efficiently used, IM’s video conferencing and whiteboard (an interactive, multiuse tool that includes drawing space and a chat box) features can not only lower costs, but also reduce time-to-market. Already, Delhi-based Creatnet Services, which provides technology solutions in supply chains for the apparel industry, is working in this area. Twenty-two-year old National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) graduate R. Gauthaman worked with Creatnet on design development software.
Gauthaman says: “Almost six months’ work goes into making the collections before you see the model on the ramp. Designing itself takes two months. This is when various designers in different locations might be collaborating to fine tune the trims, the cuts, the colour, choice of fabrics, threads, buttons and so on. At present they courier the designs. Delays are inevitable. IM could trim time to put a collection together by almost 25% and bringing it out ahead of the others.”
Shortage of bandwidth is one reason that IM is yet to take off in a big way in India. Yet there are some success stories, with benefits ranging from savings in communications costs to improvements in efficiency.
Let us take the instance of call center Spectramind. It found in IM a useful tool to improve remote customer care and efficiency. It undertook a two-week pilot about three months back and has seen an improvement in first-time resolution of complaints, has closed calls quicker and also improved the quality of service. The input costs have been nil, while benefits include by-products.
Spectramind technology AVP Parminder Singh says: “All messages go into the database. This is analysed and ploughed back for training needs. We also get a list of future FAQ’s.” At Spectramind’s technical help desk, whenever a query comes in at the junior agent’s (Level 1) desk and he is unable to resolve it immediately, instead of asking the client to call up later, he contacts the senior agent (Level 2) on IM to sort out the problem. Nine out of 10 queries are routine, but for the rest IM is a boon, as it not only helps quicker resolution but also generates fresh updates on FAQ’s.
Even consultancy company PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC) routinely uses Net Meeting for specific projects and believes that as far as possible employees must ‘chuck phones and use messaging’. PwC e-business practice head Prithwis Mukerjee says: “Call costs are high, hence there is an incentive to look at alternatives. This is where IM fits in. Also, the medium is far richer than phones, s in enabling low cost text, data, voice and video interaction.”
IBM, which uses Lotus Sametime, another IM tool, has seen savings in travel costs, quicker problem resolution and improvement in internal collaboration. However, as IM proliferates, security concerns will also get amplified. Cautions Global E-Secure COO Rajeev Wadhwa: “The biggest danger of IM software is the always on kind of application. These render corporate LAN’s and WAN’s vulnerable, because it is easy to use any of the desktops operating one of these IM’s and attack the entire network. The possibility of emails being wiretapped, confidential folders accessed remotely and passwords being known to unauthorized users is pretty high.”
Elaborates Neel Ratan, partner (global risk management solution), PwC: “IM is inherently insecure. The moment you include voice and video exchange, 64,000 ports, (virtual gates controlling flow of information within an enterprise) are opened, exposing the systems to hacker attacks. Also, a typical communication on IM is not encrypted, neither can the identity of the user be estabillshed, increasing chances of masquerading. The free IM software user information carry a warning that it should not be sued for business-sensitive information. Till better encryption is available, it would be best to limit its use within enterprises.”
This is one reason why Samsung India has not yet installed IM solutions. Says Rajesh Chopra, Samsung India DGM (information systems): “Availability of bandwidth is another reason. Though by the second quarter of 2002, we will install IM solutions. The security testing is currently going on at out headoffice in Koria.” Samsung India is currently using SAP office and a VSAT network for communication at its 35 locations. This has helped bring communication costs down to Rs. 6 Lakh a month from about Rs. 13-14 lakh a month earlier. With IM, it hopes to further reduce it next year.
The risk for corporates may be higher as messages and connection information are maintained on servers controlled by the IM utility provider. Most utilities offer some encryption, but it is not secure enough for sending confidential information.
A disgruntled employee of the US based Internet company eFront made public its CEO’s conversation and ICQ logs, which had information and comments about business partners, employees and Web affiliates. The result was not a happy one for eFront. Partners distanced themselves from eFront and others initiated legal action against the firm. The top management, including the chief technology officer, had to quit following the embarrassing leaks.
Such a situation would be difficult to check. Viruses and Trojans can easily be disguised within files and it’s mandatory for messages to be screened by a firewall. Says Sameer Adhkoorie, country manager, MSN: “IM is just like other software applications, in that it resides on the user’s computer. Consumers should protect themselves with the latest anti-virus software and refrain from giving credit card details and other such information on IM.”
Apart form security, there may be a problem due to lack of cross communication. Ruksun Technologies’ development manager Sharath Embrandiri observes: “Different proprietary protocols are used by IM service providers which hampers inter-operability. If this goes on, IM will remain divided and restricted to proprietary messaging islands.”
Thankfully, all major IM players are part of the Internet Engineering Task Force working on instant messaging and present protocol, but no acceptable standards have emerged from this task group as yet. Other forums include IMUnified, presence and Availability Management, Wireless Village (a mobile IM standards body promoted by wireless industry leaders Ericson, Motorola and Nokia). It remains to be seen who will emerge the winner and how soon others fall in line.
At present, there are third party IM systems that attempt to work around the barriers and establish some form of inter-operable solution. The most notable of these are the open source initiatives from US-based Jabber and Odigo.
But whatever the hurdles, the future definitely looks bright for instant messaging. However, free IM services, particularly those enabling video and voice aren’t likely to be free for too long as they require big investment in bandwidth. Meanwhile, the popularity of instant messaging in corporate environments will continue to grow.
And if economic conditions seriously dampen network investment, the low bandwidth, plain-text version may be the service of choice for some time to come.
Advantages of using IM
Voice, Video, text and application sharing. You can talk, send images and work on files remotely in real time.
Reduce phone and fax bills, and even travel costs.
Undertake remote customer care more efficiently.
Messages can be archived. (Choose File – Save as option.)
Improve internal knowledge and competency.
Improve collaboration, e.g. doctors can use it to know patient status and meet emergencies quickly.
Quick project completion. Web links help in knowing everything from stock quotes to weather forecasts. Simply type the link (for eg. http://www.yahoo.com) and your friend can click on it to visit the page.
BusinessWorld - 10 December 2001
Facts, Not Force Of Personality, Rule The Day
Alfonso Di Ianni
Senior Vice-President, Marketing, Oracle
One billion dollars in savings in a single year. Behind that ad line of Oracle Corporation lies a fascinating story about how a company finally put what it had been preaching - and selling - for some time to practice. Oracle's remarkable savings story began when, in 2000, it decided to start using the latest versions of its own application software to transform itself into an e-business. Oracle had been selling these products to its clients for some time, but it wasn't using the products itself. And like any of its clients, Oracle found that to implement the new software and systems in the organization, it had to confront numerous hurdles. In this interview with Business World's Manish Khanduri, Alfonso Di Ianni, senior vice-president, marketing, provides glimpses of what Oracle the organization had to go through.
Could you tell us about the recent changes at Oracle?
At the start of fiscal year 2000 we announced that Oracle would become an e-business and in doing so, save $1 billion. We would use our own application software, the Oracle e-business suite, to put every aspect of our business on the Internet. The success of our move into the 'new economy' would be measured the 'old economy' way. The question was: once Oracle became an e-business, would our margins improve enough for us to save a billion dollars? The answer turned out to be no. We were going to save a lot more!
What were the imperatives that lead Oracle to this decision?
Oracle was the first software company to move its applications products to the Internet - we started moving all our software way back in 1995. Having all our customers, suppliers and employees online made Oracle a more responsive and efficient organization, but the productivity gains we were looking for some how eluded us.
The problem was our information was scattered across hundreds of separate databases. Each one of our organizations - marketing, sales, service, etc., had its own computer system. Each computer system had its own database. We had hundreds of databases around the world. Our data was so fragmented that it was difficult for people to find the information needed to do the jobs. Separate databases also made it difficult to share information between organizations. If groups can't share information, they don't cooperate. And lack of cooperation led to duplication of effort and inefficiency. The solution was quite simple, if we put all our information in one place - a global database on the Internet - then every one would know where to look for the right information.
How differently are things done today at Oracle as compared to, say, three years ago, after this process of change?
Oracle's business is divided into four geographic regions - North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Each region was managed by a senior executive with regional headquarter staff. Each country had a general manger plus a team of people doing marketing, sales, service, accounting, legal etc. every regional headquarter and every country had its own computer systems to support its own activities.
This distributed computer systems, along with divided management responsibility, conspired to add to our duplication of effort problems.
But today it is all about the Internet and globalization. An e-business uses a global network - the Internet - and a global database to integrate all aspects of business. Every business function - marketing, sales, supply chain, manufacturing, customer service, accounting, human resources, everything - uses the same global database. An e-business runs on one unified computer system. Everybody is connected. And all the information is in one place.
Could you elaborate with an example?
Marketing was a typical example. We had a marketing group at corporate headquarters. We had another marketing group at our European headquarters. We had a marketing team in every country. In the end, our country managers would invent the marketing strategy they felt was best for each of their countries. So, every country had different marketing policies, processes and programs. Oracle was, in effect, a feudal operation run by a group of autonomous General Managers. We would set global prices and global polices at corporate headquarters, but it was difficult to moni9otr and enforce them. For years, our general managers set their own prices, invented their own polices and procedures and run their own computer systems, as long as they delivered, we left them alone to run their business.
This loose federation of independent organizations had worked reasonably well for along time. But, in an era of increasing globalization, it was breaking down. Our customers wanted us to offer the same prices, products and services around the world. And we wanted to eliminate duplication of effort. We wanted to set a price once - not 150 times. We wanted to develop a marketing program once - not 150 times. We needed to globalize the business.
How did the management actually drive through the process of change? Was there any resistance?
When we first began to move our business processes to the Internet and our information into a global database we encountered a lot of resistance. Most Oracle managers wanted to proceed cautiously. But we felt that if we did not move fast we were going to miss the biggest opportunity in the history of business. It took a while for us to understand that changing technology was the easy part of becoming an e-business. Convincing the people to change the way they worked, that was the hard part.
Before you can change, you have to admit that you have a problem. You have to understand your problem, and communicate the problem clearly, so everyone understands why the change is needed. In our case, the problem was quite clear - our information was so fragmented that people did not have access to information they needed to do their jobs. For instance, when it was thought that we had to globalize IT, our general mangers fiercely resisted this change. They were not enthusiastic about relying on corporate headquarters for their essential automation system. They were used to being self - sufficient. How could we convince them to support our globalization program?
We changed their compensation plan. Our general managers have always been paid a bonus based on how much they increased sales and profits. If they continued to run their own IT departments, they had to pay for it out of their budget, thus lowering their profit margins and their annual bonuses. Or they could use the global IT system for free. We would not charge them for global service. Resistance diminished, but it did not go away. Our general managers just did not trust a corporate headquartered organization to deliver all the computer systems they needed to run their businesses. But, with the huge success of the global IT program, they embraced it happily.
The very first organizational change we made was globalising IT. We decided to move all the IT people from all the countries and regional headquarters to a new global organization. Global IT first had to prove itself. Its very first project - Global email - was a stunning success. Oracle saves over $30 million a year as a result of the Internet. And, in the process, the new global IT organization had proven itself.
So what's the new marketing model at Oracle now?
We kept marketing people in the various countries, but they now report to a global marketing executive, not the country or regional managers. In the end, only sales and associated consulting services still report to the country managers. Even theses activities are automated and monitored by our new global computer system. Oracle has abandoned the model of distributed general management. Management specialization was part of our globalization process.
How has the marketing function benefited from this process?
Marketing cost went down because duplication of effort was eliminated. Every country stopped designing its own marketing program. Doing its own pricing. But global marketing's most important accomplishments center around using the Internet to increase the reach of all marketing programs. We moved all our product demonstrations to the Internet. So, now we demonstrate our products at our Internet seminars and in our Web store. Internet product demonstrations and our Web store delivered big productivity gains to our sales force. That was just the beginning.
What have been the biggest learnings to emerge from the process?
The introduction of Internet technology led us to globalization, which, in turn, changed the culture and values of the company. Oracle ahs become a company of interdependent business groups managed by specialists who value their knowledge and excel at teamwork. There are fewer management conflicts because decisions are based on up-to-date shared information. Facts, not force of personality, rule the day.
BusinessWorld - 29 October 2001