Virtual Software: Changing Business Models

One of the best texts I’ve ever read about business models was written by Cory Doctorow, a famous writer and entrepreneur. His novel Makers was not only a great story, but virtually a doctoral thesis on how business models can change and have a radical impact on everything they touch.

A couple years ago, I helped launch a new virtualized software product line for Dialogic. The PowerVille™ Load Balancer was different in many ways from other products I’d managed. The software was totally agnostic to the underlying hardware, courtesy of a Java code base which was highly portable to multiple topologies. As a result, it fit nicely into a variety of virtual environments and also was poised to make the leap into emerging Cloud architectures, in line with trends like the emerging Virtualized Network Function (VNF) and approaches like the use of HEAT templates for configuration.

A few months into the launch, my manager and I talked about how to take this product to the next level and realized that we needed different business models for this kind of product. The traditional load balancer provided by industry leaders such as F5 was built on top of proprietary hardware platforms, and the business model followed suit. Pricing was typically based on a purchase, where all of the hardware (and software) was purchased upfront, accompanied by a service agreement which was renewed year by year.  This approach is often called the perpetual model.

But with the Cloud taking over, customers were looking for different answers. Cloud Services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and lots of industry software had moved to subscription or usage based business models. For example, if you buy a subscription to to a software product like Adobe Acrobat, you get the right to use the product so long as you keep paying the monthly subscription fees. Amazon went further. You can buy rights to AWS services and only pay for the usage of the Cloud infrastructure you have purchased. In the world of virtual services, this permits customers to scale up for high usage events—think of the capacity need to support online voting via text for a television program like American Idol—and then scale back down as needed, perhaps even to zero.

We considered these kinds of changes for the Dialogic load balancer, but other virtual software products at the company ended up taking the lead in becoming available under subscription or usage based models. The implications were huge. Salesreps loved the perpetual model, since they’d get a big chunk of commissions every time they sold a big box.  In a subscription or usage based model, the revenue—and the commissions—move to a “pay as you go” model. Hence, no big upfront commissions payout and you need to keep the customer happy to get that recurring revenue stream. By contrast, finance executives now had a revenue stream which was less bumpy, since there was somewhat less incentive for Sales to go out and close those end of quarter deals. Customers also like the flexibility of subscription models. Typically, they may pay more over the long haul vs. the perpetual model, but they also have the option to change to a new product or service mid-stream. In summary, the move to virtual software and related technical innovations such as Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or by extension Anything as a Service is likely to drag in new business models.  These new business models change the finances both on the customer and vendor side and not everybody will be pleased with the results, but momentum for these trends continues to grow.

If your organization has participated in the evolution from perpetual to subscription or usage based business models, please  weigh in with your comments. If you’d like to explore strategies on how to evolve your application solutions or other communications products in this rapidly changing business environment, you can reach me on LinkedIn or on our web site.

 

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Testing Product Proof of Concepts

Product managers are called upon to accomplish many tasks at different points in a product life cycle. One which can be important and potentially even a game changer is to develop a proof of concept for a product and then test the idea out.  I’ll provide an  example.

In one case, my division wanted us to explore a potential product concept for a hot business area — the Internet of Things (IoT).  The first challenge was to look at the market and see if there was’s a value proposition that made sense for the company.  My company was well known for being able to integrate hardware and software, so a product that built on that approach potentially offered both a technical and business fit.  Next came study of the market and examining the current players. In the IoT space, it’s somewhat crowded, but various companies like Intel offer starting points in the form of toolkits, white papers and architectures, and there are several industry organizations that also offer guidance to would-be participants. Based on those resources and other investigations, we developed a product “Proof of Concept” presentation.  It addressed the product concept, identified where our company added value and a contained a series of questions for potential partners / customers.

The next step was to test it out.  Our division put the word out to our sales team that we had a product concept we’d like to review with potential prospects.  When a couple of candidates were identified, we set up calls.  We shared the product concept in the form of a presentation and used it to discuss three main areas with the prospects:

1) What did they think of our concept?

2) What had their experiences been with similar products?

3) Could they share any pain points?

The results were interesting.  The prospects were intrigued by the concepts, but immediately began to compare them with existing products. That quickly led to the third phase, a discussion of pain points.  All of this discussion provided helpful clues on where the markets were being well served and where there might be openings for new products. By meeting with multiple prospects, we got diverse perspectives and also heard some common themes.  The testing confirmed the product concept had potential and could be the basis for further explorations and refinement if the company chose to take those next steps.

In summary, one way to test the viability of a product concept is to create a “proof of concept,” which may be as simple as a presentation or at the next level, a more complete working model. Then, it’s important to test the concept and how well it meets the needs of potential customers, before making the larger investments needed to bring a final version of the product to market.

Has your company seen similar challenges in considering new product offerings? What approaches were taken to test the new product concepts?  Please feel free to offer comments on your experiences. Or, reach out to me on LinkedIn at http://http://www.linkedin.com/in/james-rafferty-ma to discuss needs for similar projects.

 

 

 

 

Refining the Product Vision

One advantage I gained when I went independent for over a year was to consider how to be an effective Product Management leader with a fresh perspective. As a Product Line Manager, it’s very easy to get caught up in the product, the enhancement of various features and dig deep into the technical aspects. All of this is fine, but may overlook opportunities to go beyond the product itself and work with a broader team to build more success in your target markets.

In this post, I’ll discuss an example from my own experiences of how Product Management can be transformed to go beyond the product and create new success stories. In particular, let’s consider an example of refining the product vision and then creating additional marketing tools to support that.

In my last product management role at Dialogic, we had a media gateway product which was doing well in the marketplace, but most of the sales were for the traditional use cases of translating between circuit-based networks based on Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) and the newer SIP-based Voice over IP networks. When I did Google lookups for related search words, the presence of our product was much less than I would have expected based on our market performance of being #2 in the market for low density trunking gateways sold to service providers and related customers for several years running.

To address this, I worked with marketing colleagues to build an updated marketing plan. A core element of the plan was to look at use cases and create content which would explain why the use case was important and how the right kind of media gateways could help provide a solution.

For example, SIP Trunking has been a major driver for growth in the Voice over IP market for several years running and is usually tied to the sales of Session Border Controllers (SBCs). With SIP trunking, enterprises communicate with the outside world by connecting from their enterprise campuses to a service provider. Traditionally, service providers made this connection using ISDN trunks, which needed a fair amount of advance setup time to establish. Since SIP trunks run over IP and don’t require dedicated circuits, the time to deployment can be much faster and the price to the enterprise customers are reduced. As a result, the payback time for moving to SIP trunks can be  very fast. But… Yes, it always seems there is a but.

But, in order to make this change, the enterprise needs to either change their existing phone systems so that they are fully IP-based or establish a transition plan. In the latter case, the transition plan needs to enable them to use their existing TDM phone system infrastructure within the enterprise, but still connect to SIP trunks and gain savings in operating expense. This was consistent with industry data which showed that 40% of enterprises still had investments in TDM-based infrastructure. And it turns out that a media gateway which can manage that transition from TDM to SIP could be a valuable part of that strategy.  As a result, we created a white paper which talked about SIP trunking and why Media Gateways were an effective solution for the related TDM to IP use cases. In addition, we updated our marketing collateral on the web and in our product presentations to make sure this SIP Trunking use case was highlighted.

Within weeks after the new content was posted, we started getting much more visibility in our search rankings on the web and many prospects were downloading the new white paper. In turn, we were also hearing about related business opportunities which aligned closely with this refined product vision. We also highlighted the revised strategies in a webinar.

This was just one example of how we expanded the product vision and re-focused the sales team on a broader set of opportunities for this product.

In summary, in this post we reviewed an example of expanding the product vision to highlight an important high growth use case and then implementing related marketing content and tactics to reinforce the vision.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, please leave a comment. If you’d like to explore how similar approaches might benefit your company’s product strategy, you can reach me on LinkedIn .

 

 

 

 

 

Going Independent — Again

After a challenging but rewarding three year stint in product management at Dialogic, I am now independent again early in 2018. Four years back, I ran my consulting business for a year and gained some additional training before re-joining Dialogic. In this post, I’ll talk about some new and different approaches I took in my role with the company during the past three years that produced positive results.

  1. Using Agile to Manage and Change Priorities – In 2014, I took a course in SCRUM at Quality and Productivity Solutions and got certified by SCRUMStudy as a SCRUM Product Owner.  At Dialogic, I wore many hats and had frequent changes in priorities. By creating SCRUM Epics and Stories, I updated my priorities weekly and was able to make fast changes when needed in reaction to market changes, new projects or other internal factors.
  2. Building and Managing Teams – In earlier Product Management roles, I mostly focused on the product in areas such as managing the roadmap, setting pricing and training Sales. During the past three years, I reached out to the other departments and convened cross functional meetings about once every two weeks. In other words, I managed the products as programs.  This way, our departments worked together to drive success for our products and the results were very positive for both startup products and more mature product lines. For example, we identified customer pain points and then the team created solutions to deal with them.
  3. Going Virtual – My products varied over the three years, but included a mix of hardware and software, or were purely software.  A trend which cut across several of the product lines was the need to run the software on Virtual Machines, notably in the VMware and Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) environments. For example, by running in a virtual environment, customers got to use their own choice of servers for routine management tasks. For our virtual load balancer product, Dialogic® Powerville™ LB, we took it a step further and could run all of the software on VMware or other virtual environments and included sophisticated features such as built-in redundancy.
  4. Marketing via Effective Content Management – In the past year, I worked with the Dialogic marketing team to devise a marketing plan for the Dialogic IMG 2020 Integrated Media Gateway and revise our content management to help drive more leads.  We wrote several new white papers on important use cases such as SIP Trunking, Transcoding and SS7 to SIP interworking.  We also promoted recent design wins and market leadership via press releases and conducted webinars which tied into all of these marketing themes. The net result was to bring more attention to these products, improve our SEO rankings for related product searches and reinforce our position as a market leader in the low density trunking media gateway market.

These four approaches are examples of ways we were able to innovate.  They enabled me to both be a product-focused individual contributor and lead broader team efforts that produced lasting results. If you’ve had similar needs or experiences, I’d love to hear your feedback.

I’ll write more about my recent experiences in Product Management, Marketing and Communications Technology, plus thoughts on the year ahead within upcoming posts.

 

 

 

Need to Manage a Career Change? Try SCRUM

One of the major challenges of a career change is to manage all of the details. Whether you are looking for a new full time position or would prefer consulting assignments, you’ll need to have a clear direction and an execution strategy. Some of the tasks are to identify prospective companies and potential roles, make networking contacts within the companies, apply for positions, conduct company research and prepare for interviews.  And the list of potential activities goes on.

I found my local career center was a great resource for learning the “how to’s” for a job search in 2014, but that managing and executing the activities was a full time job in itself. A few months ago, I took training courses in two of the leading project management methodologies: PMP and SCRUM. PMP reviews the classic methodology for managing large complex projects and includes up to 49 different processes in the latest (5th) Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). It’s very thorough and well regarded, but is really best for truly complex projects with lots of interactions between the steps. I also took a course in SCRUM, which is one of the Agile methodologies for managing projects. What’s the difference? SCRUM is much more lightweight, has fewer processes and is designed to enable very rapid responses to change.

A few weeks after taking the courses, I decide to put these skills to work. I looked at what I needed to do in my job search and decided that SCRUM was probably a better fit for the task than PMP. Why did I choose SCRUM?  First, I liked it’s lightweight approach. I already had a pretty clear idea on my goal — looking for a full-time position which used my product management, marketing or project management skills. I also had lots of potential tasks every week — identifying companies, networking, creating cover letters and tweaked resumes, making followup contacts and so on. Plus, depending upon what happened from week to week, I might need to change the emphasis — for example, to do company research for upcoming interviews and reduce the amount of prospecting for new companies. SCRUM also is useful for promoting action. I wanted to track my activities and be able to monitor progress with some visible metrics. With SCRUM, you can assess progress day by day and week by week.

If you’re in the process of making a change in your career, what approaches are you taking? Have you considered using project management methodologies such as SCRUM or PMP?  In my next post, I’ll talk about the steps I took to put SCRUM to work to help manage my job search.

Lean Six Sigma – Taking it Forward

This is the second post in a two part review of the discipline called Lean Six Sigma.  The first part of the discussion can be found here.

When I was in college at RPI, I segued from the core Engineering curriculum into a degree called Management Engineering. This degree had elements of Industrial Engineering, but also dove very deep into computers, statistics and operations research. As a result, graduates could pursue a variety of career paths including manufacturing, software development and various quantitative careers. I chose the software development direction, but also used the problem solving skills I’d learned. Later, a manager noticed those problem solving skills and offered me a position in operations management. I worked with teams to solve problems, organize processes and eliminate waste, but we did it on an ad hoc basis and had nothing like a Lean Six Sigma methodology to guide us. I’m proud of the work we did,but I soon got interested in products and moved into product management and R & D. In software project management, I tracked defects using databases and graphics, but never dove back into the statistics that I’d enjoyed so much in college.

I later shifted into product management for other products. In one particular case, we had a multi-million dollar customer who was very upset because the product process for an embedded voice mail system had fallen out of control. I was asked to solve the problem and took over program management for the product. I worked closely with our customer, manufacturing, sales and our quality department. We listened carefully to the customer and improved both the quality and efficiency of the product process. Within a year, the customer awarded our team a quality award in recognition of our progress. Once again, I’d worked with a team to solve problems, this time for an external customer. Our quality team used a number of statistical techniques to demonstrate our improved process quality and we used Pareto charts to identify and solve major problems. Sounds a lot like Lean Six Sigma.  We listened carefully to our customer and let them guide us on which problems were the most important to solve.

Fast forward to this year and my participation in this course. The cool thing about Lean Six Sigma for me is that is takes ALL of the skills I learned in my university studies, plus lots of hard earned learnings from different points in my career and weaves them together into a coherent methodology which is great for solving problems.  The review of statistics and other analytical tools in the course was an excellent refresher — I’d studied most of these techniques at RPI — and the techniques are highly relevant in today’s business environment. Analytics and quantitative analysis are hot in a wide variety of fields today, including politics, social media, medical devices, telecom and marketing. Companies like people with experience, but they like it even more if people can analyze data and use it to back up their ideas. The course also offered a variety of approaches for getting information from customers, including ideas on data driven approaches such as surveys and interviews. This ties well into contemporary marketing approaches where listening to the Voice of the Customer is critical and analytical tools such as A / B testing for new marketing campaign ideas are increasingly common.

In short, I’m really glad I took the Lean Six Sigma course. It’s equipped me with a useful philosophy for process and quality improvement and the tools we studied should be useful for numerous business situations. Lean Six Sigma. Check it out.