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Tag Archives: Dell Inc.
Cloud computing single-handedly invented the concept of on-demand, programmable infrastructure that could be accessed over the Internet. Over the last five years, companies like Amazon are tirelessly innovating to provide better security and faster, more efficient networking to meet the demands of start-ups, consumers, and enterprises.
Much of the media attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) surrounded new computer styles, shapes and sizes — perhaps signaling a change from the tried-and-true laptop form factor popularized over the past two decades. One attention-getting device is the Dell Inspiron Duo, which looks like a typical netbook at first glance but actually transforms into a tablet when you remove the LCD touch display. Lenovo offers a similar model called the LePad U1, but that hybrid was first announced over a year ago. Another laptop, which uses dual touchscreens instead of a physical keyboard, is the Acer Iconia. The main advantage of this new form factor is that the keyboard can be customized or changed altogether depending on what you need the laptop to do. Another model, the Razer Switchblade, has keys that display different words or icons depending on the application — say, for gaming or for getting real work done. So, are these new form factors innovative? Sure. Practical? That’s another — and perhaps more important — consideration altogether. As usual, the hardest part about deciding whether these new form factors make sense is just being careful to avoid the lure of something being new and interesting, and then determining whether they will actually make sense for real work. To find out, we caught up with industry experts to weigh in on the pros and cons of alternative computer styles. Does ‘one size fits all’ work?“We’ve all been conditioned into believing that something that’s remained fundamentally unchanged for decades is a classic, successful, perfect design that needs no additional modification,” begins Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst based in London, Ontario. “In the case of the basic laptop, however, classic doesn’t mean ideal — despite the fact that the basic laptop has become an icon of business and consumer computing, it’s been apparent for years that its one-shape-fits-all form factor falls short.” Levy says enterprise and consumer buyers are often “complacent,” and in turn stick with a familiar design. “Because of this, hardware vendors, afraid of introducing the PC world’s equivalent of the Edsel, have shied away from stretching the form factor envelope.” Times might be changing, however. “The tablet is the first truly successful post-laptop design for a mobile productivity device in a generation — it has opened the door to other hybrid hardware designs by softening buyer resistance anything that strays too far from the trusty old laptop design.” The new laptop-tablet hybrids may just be a smart new form factor, he says. “The Dell Inspiron Duo (aka Sparta) is just close enough to existing form factors that buyers might be willing to give it a shot. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, and that could be more than enough to begin to give Dell some sales momentum in this emerging market slice.” Options are goodOn whether small-to-midsized businesses should invest in a nonconventional design, Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner, says it all depends on the needs of the company. “A tablet, for example, is really designed for media consumption rather than content creation — therefore those who need to do a lot of typing should probably stick with a physical keyboard.” Fiering says the question isn’t “Should I go out and buy one of these new kinds of computers?,” but rather “What can I do better with an alternative form factor over my existing hardware?,” she asks, rhetorically. That said, Fiering concedes she’s not a big fan of the virtual keyboard in general. “They tend to be more error-prone because they don’t give feedback; I’ve seen people use these [onscreen] keyboards after three months and they still make the same mistakes and some start getting bone soreness through the pad of the fingertip,” adds Fiering. On the flipside, Fiering says on-the-go types who spend a lot of time viewing or listening to content might benefit from a keyboard-less computer. While she’s “skeptical” about two operating systems, Fiering says the Lenovo LePad U1 hybrid — a Windows laptop with a snap-off screen that becomes an Android tablet — offers the “best of [of both] worlds, as you get a slate and keyboard to dock it in.” Businesses open to changeThe surge in new form factors can also largely be attributed to Apple’s success with the iPad, says Levy, as they “force buyers to realize that laptops aren’t the exclusive choice for mobile productivity.” Rob Fleischer, partner and executive vice president at Sandbox Strategies, a public relations and marketing firm that handles videogame and tech clients, says they use iPads at work. “We have iPads and we use them regularly as they’re great for entertainment when traveling [and] we’ve adapted business presentations to show on iPad, which has worked out well.” While Fleischer admits there are times when a physical keyboard is a more ideal interface than touch, he’s open to new concepts. “Out of the new products on display at CES, I’m most excited about the Motorola Atrix,” says Fleischer. The Atrix is an Android-powered smartphone that can be docked in a 2.2-pound laptop shell with 11.6-inch screen, full-sized keyboard and trackpad. Therefore, when docked, users can interact with the smartphone’s content as if it were a PC — and the dock charges up the phone at the same time. “Sure, we’re all using iPhones right now, but the idea of having a single phone/laptop is awesome,” says Fleischer. “The phone with the laptop dock looks like a really great solution for us: we can travel light, work remotely, and have the ability to really get stuff done.” In the end, that’s the ultimate goal: being productive, even if the laptop is completing new and different.
After surviving the bust at the end of the ’90s, online retail has done quite well in the first decade of the new millennium. From being just 0.6 percent of all retail in early 2000,online commerce has now grown to account for nearly 4 percent of all retail in the United States. In this article, we review some technology trends that are likely to further accelerate this trend. Our focus will be around looking at technologies that help consumers find the right product easily as well as help retailers put the right merchandise in front of customers. While most of these technologies trends apply to a wide spectrum of applications, their impact on online commerce deserves a special mention. Many of these technologies have been around for a while, but it’s only now that they are gaining wide adoption. Semantic Web and structured data The semantic Web and structured data will make product search dramatically better. Last year, Google made two subtle announcements that have the potential of completely transforming how users search for products. The first affected Google’s organic (or unpaid) results, when the company launched what it called rich snippets, using microformats and Resource Description Frameworka (RDFa) standards. Google was late to the game, as Yahoo had already announced similar support a year ago. The second change applied to Adwords, Google’s paid search program, when the search engine started listing richer product listing ads from retail advertisers, displaying an image of the product, the price, and many other attributes. These ads will be priced on a “cost per action” basis, as opposed to the standard “cost per click” model that’s offered for all other Adwords advertisers. It is interesting that Google’s rich snippets were first rolled out only for 2 applications, one of which is closely related to online commerce: • Providing a summary of reviews, when searching for products or services.• Distinguishing between people with similar names, when searching for a person. Similarly, Google’s CPA program was also rolled out only for product searches. Search-engines are already a very important tool for online shoppers, and a Nielsen study had found that more than one third of shoppers use search engines. Richer snippets and richer ads will make search engines even more important to shoppers, and consequently to retailers. According to Yahoo, “enhanced search results” drive 15 percent more clickthroughs for many websites. With results like that, it’s no wonder that adoption is picking up among websites. In the same blog post, Yahoo reported an increase of more than 400% in the RDFs structured data driven by Search Monkey. Best Buy recently released their entire product catalog in RDFa, perhaps becoming the first Fortune-500 company to join this trend, and has reportedly seen strong results. Recommendations and personalization engines Recommendations and personalization engines are now available as plug and play components. Outside of search, one of the most important ways for shoppers to discover products has been through recommendation engines. Personalization and recommendation engines have been around for a while and have been a strong driver of sales. For example, Amazon’s recommendation system was said to account for up to 35 percent of sales in 2006. Recently, the adoption of recommendation engines has increased substantially because of the emergence of third party services that are easy to plug into your ecommerce store. For instance Urban Outfitters has seen a triple digit percentage increase in sale by using a solution offered by Baynote. Other companies like Mybuys and Certona also deliver hosted solutions for personalization. Creating application programming interfaces (APIs) Creating APIs that distribute products across the Web is easier. Over the last few years, the Web is increasingly becoming a collection of Web services that can be accessed through APIs. Retailers like Ebay and Amazon have for a long time used APIs to expose their data to the external world, primarily to affiliates and partners who then sell these products at other places on the Web. Now many traditional retailers are jumping into the fray, utilizing services that make it easier to create and manage APIs. For instance, Best Buy recently launched Best Buy Remix powered by API management infrastructure from Mashery. In addition to these, in one of my previous columns I had written about how the real time Web is becoming an increasingly important tool, and how companies like Dell are using it to increase their online retail sales. The increasing adoption of these technologies sets up online commerce for an exciting new decade, for shoppers as well as for retailers. Vijay Chittoor is a co-founder of Six Times Seven. He was previously director of product management at Kosmix. A former McKinsey consultant, Chittoor is a graduate of Harvard Business School and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He shares his thoughts on technology at his blog.
One of the biggest technology trends in 2009 has been the emergence of the “Real-Time Web.” The real-time Web is a made up of technologies and practices that can inform users as soon as information is published, instead of requiring users to check for updates. The real-time Web discards the traditional notion of the more static “webpages,” and instead adopts the notion of dynamic “streams” of information. The real-time Web is also very conversational because it makes it possible to get instant responses across very large networks of people. Action in the real-time Web started with companies like Twitter and Friendfeed, which built their own infrastructure for large scale delivery of real-time messages. By providing Web service application programming interfaces (APIs), these companies enabled many other developers to create applications based on the real-time Web. However, Anil Dash, a prominent blogger, points out that real time services need not be built on the back of Twitter and Facebook anymore. Due to emerging technologies, the pieces are falling together for creating a free, open and decentralized “pushbutton platform,” which makes it easy for websites to add real-time messaging services. With these developments, we can expect many more websites to jump onto the real-time bandwagon. Growing importance to business The real-time Web is becoming increasingly important to businesses in multiple ways. Firstly, as many webmasters and Web analytics companies have pointed out, the real-time Web is starting to rival search engines like Google as a source of website traffic. For example, Mark Cuban talked a few months ago about how his blog receives more visits from Twitter and Facebook than from Google. Secondly, the real-time Web opens up communication opportunities that the traditional Web could not have provided. For instance, if an airline wants to sell off its last minute tickets, the real-time Web provides a great outlet for advertising this very time-sensitive deal. Thirdly, by making information instantaneously accessible, the real-time Web can create, or erase, instances of information arbitrage. As an example, take a look at Skygrid, a service that provides high quality financial news in real time, giving its users an edge, but at the same time leveling the playing field between professional investors and amateurs in terms of the speed of access to reliable information. Finally, because the real-time Web is very conversational, it becomes a repository of people’s sentiment, and mining this sentiment can be very useful to marketers and others. Taking advantage of real-time Web Beyond creating an account on Twitter, how can you take advantage of the real-time Web? Here are some thoughts to get you started: Engage with the real-time Web with tailored offers and content. Several companies are seeing success with time-sensitive programs that could not have been conceived without the real-time Web. Jet Blue’s “cheeps” and United Airlines’ twares are exclusive Twitter promotions for last minute fare deals. Another company that has encountered great success with offering exclusive deals on Twitter is Dell. A Dell blog post from June mentioned that Dell had surpassed $2 million in Twitter sales fro Dell Outlet, which sells refurbished items, scratch and dent items, and previously ordered new laptops. The real-time Web also acts as a place where people express their intent to shop (e.g. someone may tweet “thinking of buying an ipod touch.”) Selectively targeting such users, without spamming them, might also be a great way to help your customers make real time buying decisions. A service like Twitterhawk can be used to automate this kind of marketing. Make use of real-time Web tools for business intelligence. The real-time Web is a great source of knowledge and sentiment about your customers, your competitors and your industry. You can use services like Firstrain to research the real Web for the news that matters to you. You could also use Twitter’s search functionality in simple ways to keep track of some of this information, or go to one of the many real time search engines. A recent article in mashable talks about the many tools that help analyze Twitter content. Join in the conversation about your company. In one of my previous articles, I had talked about how companies like Comcast are using Twitter to understand their customers’ concerns and address them. The conversational nature of real time web can be very powerful in building relationships with your customers. Create the infrastructure that allows your company to respond in real time. Real-time enterprise data integration has been around for a long time. However, with the emergence of the real-time Web and the opportunities it creates, it is becoming increasingly critical for companies to be able to access all their internal data in real time. In other words, “real-time data integration is no longer a luxury.” Vijay Chittoor is the director of product management at Kosmix, an exploration engine that offers a 360 degree view of any topic on the Web. A former McKinsey consultant, Chittoor is a graduate of Harvard Business School and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He shares his thoughts on technology at his blog.
Boloco, a burrito restaurant chain with 16 locations often runs ads in a Boston newspaper. The ads contain coupons for the chain’s popular burritos for a special price of $3. It makes sense to advertise in Boston, since 13 of the chain’s 16 restaurants are there, but CEO and co-founder John Pepper wished the ads could also bring customers to Boloco restaurants in New Hampshire and Vermont. So, when he ran one recent ad, Pepper also posted a photo of the coupon on Twitter, inviting diners to bring in any image of the coupon — a photocopy, printout, or even an image on a mobile phone — to get the discount. “It was a way to bring people outside Boston in the print advertising, and a way to increase our visibility,” says Pepper, whose Twitter ID is @boloco. The tactic proved wildly successful, he says. “Usually we get about 350 coupons on that kind of promotion. This time we got 900, including the mobile phones. About 25 percent of our transactions that day came from the coupon, which never happens.” In effect, he says, posting the ad on Twitter decreased cost per reader by increasing circulation. Connecting with customers Most business that use Twitter think of it mostly as a promotional tool, a way to announce new products, perhaps gain readers for a blog. But some smarter companies are actually using Twitter to sell products, such as Dell Corp., which recently acknowledged that it had made $3 million in sales in two years over Twitter, primarily by posting coupon numbers for discounts of 10 percent or more on Dell Outlet items. “There’s no reason not to try Twitter,” notes Stefanie Nelson, marketing manager for Dell, who created Dell Outlet’s Twitter campaign. “There’s no cost, and it’s a limited time commitment, at least it was for me at the beginning. Before we built up the following and reach that we have now, it took me literally minutes a week.” (Things have gotten a bit busier now that @DellOutlet has over 700,000 followers.) According to Nelson, the most important first step is to know exactly what you want your tweets to accomplish. “Understand why you’re on Twitter,” she says. In her case, she adds, the objective was to quickly sell Dell Outlet items, which are usually excess inventory. And, she says, “If you know your objective, and who your target audience is, Twitter can be just as effective for a small company as a large one.” Boost sales with Tweets Using coupons to create boost sales is only one way to reach customers with tweets. Here are a few others: Give your company a human face. Pepper uses TweetDeck to track mentions of “Boloco” on Twitter, and one day it flagged a tweet in which a woman bemoaned the cool, rainy weather this summer and pondered whether to spend the afternoon at Boloco or a different restaurant. “I’ll respond to that one, with something like, ‘I vote for Boloco!’” he says. Twitter users are usually pleasantly surprised, he adds. “They expect @Boloco to be like @DunkinDonuts. They don’t expect to hear from the head of the company.” There’s a delicate balance between making human contact, and sharing too many everyday details that may not interest your customers, Nelson says, a dilemma she partly addresses by using @StefanieatDell for more personal tweets. Whatever you do, she advises, avoid spamming followers with promotional direct messages not specifically written for them. Find customers when they’re looking for your product or service. Searching Twitter can be a very effective way to find new customers. For instance, Rocky Mountain Ace Stores, an affiliation of Denver area Ace store owners, uses monitter to search Twitter for both keywords and locations of tweeters. One day, the group flagged a Denver man worrying about insects in his lawn. “So we tweeted to him about beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, which will eat bugs all summer, and which we sell,” says Andy Carlson, who owns an Ace store in Denver and is on the group’s board. “He wound up coming in to one of our stores and buying ladybugs.” Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, a video-sharing site for business use, advises putting some thought into picking the terms you search on Twitter, just as you would for meta tags. “Research the most frequently searched terms in your market on Google and other search engines,” he says. “Then search or monitor those terms on Twitter. Deal with disgruntled customers — fast. One evening Ace customers posted an angry tweet because a tool he’d bought from a Denver area store broke after one use. “We got in touch, recommended which store he should go to to return the item, and alerted the manager at that store,” Carlson says. “He didn’t know that Ace hand tools all carry a lifetime guarantee.” The man was very impressed, and went from being angry at Ace to being a devoted Ace customer. The complaining tweet came through late at night, Carlson notes, well after the stores were closed. And, he says, it was especially important to intervene quickly. “You don’t know whether he’s going to go back to the store right away, or stew about it for three or four days and tell more people. The more time between the bad experience and the resolution, the more likely he is to tell his friends, so the quicker we can solve a problem, the better.” And that’s the nice thing about Twitter, he says. “You can catch a problem when it happens, and do something about it.”