Okay, for those of you who saw my post of t'other day on the revival of The Steppin' Out Awards AND on the heels of last Sunday's Grammies – an ordinary show capped by pretty much ordinary performances – with the exception of Shakira/Wyclef Jean and Christina Aguilera (Mary J. Blige, while totally sincere about her renaissance as a good person, was a bit too involved in telling me and the rest of the world about it, for my taste).
So given all of this, to heck with the Grammies. Its now time to release the finalists names for the 2007 Steppin' Out Awards.
Though I often joke around and don't take myself totally seriously (I'm a good person now, really. Let me tell you all about it…), these awards are not jokes nor should they be taken as some brief exercise in marketing on my part. They are by no means that. I spent a good deal of time over the last roughly six months doing initially high level investigations of companies that I thought would have an impact in the market that could be a potentially (good) disruptive force though perhaps not that far. I narrowed the list initally to something less than 40 companies by my count and began a much more in depth examination of the remaining companies. I didn't care whether this was a long established company or a start-up with potential. My focus was on whether or not they have a highly significant impact on the direction of business in the customer ecosystem. Which meant that what they did could help transform a marketplace – though the candidates didn't have to be the sole piece of the transformation puzzle. That meant I had to look at their offering – no matter what state it was in – their culture to the extent I could uncover it without their participation in telling me about it; their strategy as I could ascertain it; what was being said about them by others including customers and pundits; how well they "got it" – meaning their understanding of how the marketplace was changing as dramatically as it was to the 2.0 world and a myriad of others.
In no way was I able to ascertain all of that for all the possible finalists or candidates for finalist. So they were held to the standard that involved what I said in my last posting on the awards, which I will repeat here:
- The company must be innovative and attuned to the Web 2.0/CRM 2.0 (for some of the details on CRM 2.0, go to the always popular CRM 2.0 Wiki, where the very discussion of what CRM 2.0 is is ongoing) world. Meaning that their offerings have to reflect any one or multiples of the following
- Collaborative or personalization tools that make the customer experience more engaging or interactive (social networking, user communities, ecommerce personalization, offer/price optimization)
- Contemporary technological innovations like service oriented architecture or AJAX or web-based set of applications/services
- An innovative pricing model (e.g. the on demand subscription model comes to mind here)
- A corporate culture that encourages innovation among the employees and that customers, partners and suppliers find engaging and "advocacy inducing." That includes good people at the decisionmaking level. This could be a culture that supports open source for example as a part of its approach.
- A sense of design (and hopefully, play) that increases customer delight.
- A sense of who their customer is (a.k.a. knows the voice of the customer) and shapes their customer strategy on that understanding and with the customer's collaboration/involvement.
- It has to be clear to me that the company "gets" it.
Number 7 is the only one that they all had to adhere to and that was a subjective judgment of mine. If I didn't think they got it, they didn't make the cut.
That alone wasn't such a small thing. For example, as you'll note below, Microsoft is one of the choices. Well, if you check out this post just a few months ago, I was seriously concerned about whether or not Microsoft "got" it. I think that they've since done several things – briefly outlined in the section on why Microsoft here – that indicate that they've changed their tune and their thinking and thus, can possibly make the impact in 2007 that they are capable of.
Otherwise, I was satisfied if they met 3 of the 6 criteria – but the more the better.
Some of what was interesting was who didn't make the cut. One that comes to mind is Apple.
What? You say with a look of astonishment! WHAT?!!!
Why Apple Didn't Make the Cut
Simple. The ONLY thing they get is design and user-friendly features and functions. You look at the iPod from a design standpoint and its stunning engineering and you just think "cool." Commoditized cool but cool. You look at the iPhone and think, Whoa, that is among the most gorgeous phones – no, it is the most gorgeous phone that I ever saw.
And it is.
But it is not a functionally wonderful phone. It is pretty ordinary. Their claims of inventing much of the technology in the phone are untrue. There's very little original beyond the design and packaging.
But that alone wouldn't be enough to eliminate them.
What is enough is that they are a company committed to Apple and Apple only. Their standards are proprietary. They guard them with their life. They are litigious bulllies (their longstanding battle with the Beatles, for chrissakes) – though I have to give them the iPhone name battle with Cisco. They don't allow any sharing of IP and they even had the nerve to tell people to not upgrade to Vista until they fix iTunes!! Like iTunes is the most important application on your desktop…? You might not want to upgrade to Vista (I did already and I'm glad I did actually) but frankly, it won't be because Steve Jobs doesn't want you to.
At least I hope not. It's enough to make me switch totally to the Zune.
Though I won't switch totally.
I'll use both.
Too much of a geek.
In more Steppin' Out Terms, the ONLY criterion they do meet is number 5.
Which means they aren't even close to the Top 40, much less the finalists.
And Now the Finalists for the 2007 Steppin' Out Awards
In alphabetical order (and in no relationship to their possibility of victory) the 2007 Vendor Category Finalists for the Steppin' Out Awards are:
Microsoft – Funny. If this were a few months ago, I would NEVER have considered them a real possibility for impact. But they have seen the light and I'm a big fan of their bulbs. They are showing me in multiple ways that they "get it." First, they're releasing their multitenant version of MS Dynamic CRM (4.0) in the next quarter this year and already have a number of specific products being developed for it. Second, they are moving quickly to develop the appropriate collaborative tools so that they are a leader in the consumer/customer experience world, not just the operating system. With their work with the Zune and the Xbox 360 as a dynamic entertainment system that is wirelessly integrated along with the release of Vista and its multimedia and user-friendly features and the intelligence with with they are moving through the Windows Live "experiment" in combination with their use of social media tools to make their corporate impact known, they are just at the cusp of potentially being a different kind of force than they are historically used to and one that I think has genuine vision. Do they have flaws, sure they do – as do all the finalists here. But the combination of their re-focus and re-engineering around customer experience and their concept of a total ecosystem to meet the needs between the home and the enterprise gives them the chance to blow the doors off this year as only Microsoft could. They might not succeed, but they very well might. Watch out.
Neighborhood America – You may know these guys. You may not. You will if you don't. They are a Naples, FL-based enterprise social networking company that has the technology, the culture and the vision to crack the walls that stand between CRM and the consumer-consumed 2.0 world. Their acquisition last October of Movo Mobile gives their already world-class social networking architecture a mobile component that moves them squarely into the peer to peer world and can only enhance what is already a remarkably strong platform. The client base of Neighborhood America are major players ranging from sensitive federal government networks revolving around multiple agencies to ABC News and other major media and retail companies. Their corporate culture, leadership and vision are just simply great. They are very cool people with a very cool technology and a foresighted vision. Did I tell you they were very cool? Of course, by the end of 2007, you'll say "pffft. I KNEW that. These guys are famous!"
NetSuite – Simple. They are ready to go public this year and have an idea that they could be valued at a $1 billion and I currently don't doubt it. The reason I don't (though I was an early skeptic of that number) is that they've made quality and quantifed leaps forward in the past 12 months in a number of areas ranging from their creation of customization tools (the SuiteFlex toolset) to their vertical market focus so that there are highly specific vertical processes attached to different versions a la carte of NetSuite. They have a fabulous corporate culture that not only understands the business value of an order driven suite of enterprise application services but the morale and "love to deal with them" value of a fun culture with upscale knowledge. Their downside? They love the Oakland A's and not the Yankees, but I have a hard time holding that against them, since Billy Beane sits on their Board of Directors. On the upside, aside from Director Beane, they have a terrific CEO in Zach Nelson who helps shape the corporate culture and the vision of the venture and the best PR person in the business, Mei Li, who even the traditional press LOVE. And, if you've ever dealt with the traditional press, you know that's no mean feat. Their technology is AJAX through and through for version 11 and there is just so much more on the table. This year and beyond could be their breakout year when it comes to true impact.
Rearden Commerce – Rearden Commerce? Who dat? If you don't know, shame on you. They are the first company I've ever seen who claimed a fully realized service oriented architecture (SOA) and actually had one. If that were it, no way would they have been a finalist, though they would be important enough. But they have a visionary business model that recognizes that businesses are aggregators of products and services, if they are smart and that the needs of business travelers are complex and can be unmanageable if not aggreggated and focused, managed and compliant. They have 135,000 plus services in their self-styled "online marketplace for services" that are associated with airlines, car rentals, limo services, entertainment venues, restaurants, airport parking, shipping, document handling, and video conferencing among other things. Using their "Personal Assistant" each employee can get access on demand to the services both appropriate to them and within the bounds of corporate policy. This smart and aggressive approach has these guys on an incredible fast track with multiple major deals - their most recent prominent one being a deal with American Express Corporate Services which has AMEX taking an equity stake in the company and offering the Rearden services to their entire corporate customer base. The success rate has been astounding – 136 of American Express' corporate customers signed up for The American Express Intelligent Online Marketplace (AXIOM) in the first 45 days. And there is far more to come.
Salesforce.com – It's simply impossible to ever rule them out as a disruptive force, given that when it comes to both CRM and now the entire ondemand model for business services, they have been THE disruptive innovation for 21st century technology. Three years ago, their now Chief Strategy Officer Tien Tzuo told me that they were going to be a platform, not just a CRM services offering. Damned if that isn't what they currently are. They've achieved it and done it brilliantly with both their partner model built around AppExchange and their release of Apex, their programming and customization tools so that killer apps can be developed with their platform and not necessarily be wed strictly to salesforce.com, though it would be nice. They continue to innovate with their incubators for their partner-chicks. They are not just building platforms – they are extending ecosystems and THAT is a far more powerful business model. They remain formidable and definitely a true contender to continue to disrupt – in a good way of course.
Zoho (a division of Adventnet) – This engine that could is probably the smallest of the companies here which means that if they succeed as I think they very well might, their impact just well might be the most dramatic. Zoho has been developing competition to Microsoft and salesforce.com for the small business and desktop productivity in a decidedly 2.0 fashion. But you have to think about their model here. As the on demand guys we all know go upmarket, these guys are poised to provide an entire small business ecosystem that involves collaborative tools for customer/small business collaboration, office productivity tools that rival the initiatives of Google, tools for CRM focused around a highly functional web based version of sales force automation, tools that will allow small businesses to create their own applications etc. In other words – a platform and an environment all within a remarkably inexpensive model that works for the small business market with certainty. They get the 2.0 world that we're dealing with now so they get how to handle the new generations of customers and business people – which puts them ahead of most of the companies that vie for the small business space. They are constantly innovating with new ideas for products and services. In other words, they may be at the Sundance Festival right now, but they have a serious shot at an Oscar. Watch these guys closely. Real closely.
Okay. The finalists are announced. My next set of things to do:
- Create and send the finalist logos for putting up on websites – if the finalists want to.
- Write a press release that I'll drop onto the wires
- Begin the extensive profiles that each company will get in an individual blog entry
- Polish the final draft of the questionnaires to send out to the finalists
- Collect the questionnaires from the finalists
- Pick a winner and let the world know why.
Do you want to vote on the finalists and try to influence my decision? Let me know and if you do, I'll set up a running vote on the blog right or left column.