For the Week: March 7th 2011

It’s obvious that the big question this week, politically and economically, will be what happens in Libya.  Politically, the situation poses a kind of double threat.  First it’s a continuation of a kind of Middle-East-domino problem that might or might not result in democratic sweep of the region.  Second, the turmoil puts western governments in a quandary, balancing the hope of reducing the loss of life against the risk of effectively entering in on the side of the rebels.  Economically, the problem is the rising cost of oil and its effect on consumer prices (gas and goods) and the recovery.

There really isn’t a supply problem with oil; the Saudis have pumped enough to make up for the Libyan loss.  The issue is speculative purchase of futures contracts, which is what’s drive up oil most of the times it’s jumped in the recent past.  Some curbs on the financial industry (which certainly needs curbing overall) could help the situation more than actions like releasing oil from the strategic reserves, but the administration knows that a credible threat to release reserves could curb speculation and help pricing.  It’s not helped so far this morning.

In tech, we’re counting down to the RIM tablet and wondering how competitors will manage the new iPad 2 in their plans for the fall.  The challenge for them all at this point is the sense that there’s still got to be another generation of Android tablets to catch up, which means that the current generation may be obsolete even before it’s released.  Not only does that hurt sales, it could even discredit a complete product line by stomping on its launch and limiting early interest and market share.  It’s the first announcement that gets the most ink.

Enterprises are also starting to work through the issues of tablet-based collaboration, and interestingly that’s one of the things that RIM is expected to try to exploit.  A tablet is most valuable as a collaborative tool for “corridor warriors”, in what my research identified as “supervisory intervention” applications rather than team activities.  In supervisory collaboration, a worker seeks approval or answers on a particular issue, an issue normally represented as a document or an application screen.  The process demands the supervisory/support person share the document/application context and simultaneously discuss the problem.  Thus, you need voice and data together.  Some tablet vendors and media types have suggested that video collaboration is the answer—tablets have the cameras after all.  The problem is that video takes a lot of capacity, people don’t like random video calls that intrude on their current context, and there’s no evidence that video helps pairwise relationships be more productive.  Voice is the answer, but how exactly do we use collaborative voice with tablets?  RIM’s answer is likely to be by creating a tight link between the tablet and a Blackberry, and that may be a good approach.  We’ve noted this issue in some enterprise comments on the difference between iPhones on AT&T and the same phone on Verizon; the collaborative multi-tasking support is better on the first than on the second, obviously.

In the service provider space, I’m seeing renewed activity on service-layer projects, but not so far any conclusive sign of forward progress.  We’ve been working with five operator projects in monetization and two of the five are now looking like they’ll actually start doing something in the next three or four months.  The barrier is still the question of how to insure that assets created to monetize a specific opportunity like content delivery are compatible with the monetization of other opportunities that may or may not be targets of projects at the moment.  The need to repurpose assets across services is clear to the operators, and while it’s becoming clear to at least some vendors (IBM has been pushing this with increasing effectiveness) it’s not universally recognized.

The thing that seems to be catalyzing the service layer is the cloud.  Network operators see cloud computing as a revenue opportunity, and they also realize that cloud-compatible infrastructure is a good platform for OSS/BSS and feature-generating software—even for content delivery.  IBM’s renewed push into the service layer is coming through its Cloud Service Provider Platform, which it explicitly touts as reusable as a service-layer framework in addition to hosting retail or wholesale cloud computing services.  How far this sort of thing gets is hard to predict, though.  It might be that by this fall real projects will be committed, and real money spent.


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