Superstorms, Management S**t Storms, and Brainstorms

The east coast had its “superstorm” and as is often the case people’s view of Sandy varied considerably depending on where they were.  Some areas, including where I happen to live, saw little more than a brisk northeaster, and we were only perhaps 40 miles north of landfall.  Other areas had major damage even though they were further.  You can’t tell about storms.

You can’t tell about markets either.  Apple surprised everyone by announcing the departure of two key executives, one often seen as the most “Jobs-like” of the group.  Some are putting a brave face on the process, saying it will pave the way for the integration of iOS and MacOS into one common platform, but it’s pretty clear that the problem was one of execution.  Despite the fact that Apple is seen as the market juggernaut, the maps issue was definitely a screw-up and Cook seems unwilling to tolerate management that’s too idiosyncratic.  It messes up execution.

Network World offered a view of  what Juniper needs to do to “reignite growth” and it also leads with execution, but while we agree at some level with the points we think most of them are short of the mark at least.  Number one on the list is “execute better” which isn’t much more insightful than saying “sell more”.  Since “market better” is the second point, I guess “execute” means “sell” anyway.  Anyone who ever sold anything knows that marketing and selling depend on POSITIONING, which is establishing a relationship between the product and the buyer’s own value propositions that’s compelling enough to move a deal forward.  That’s the area where Juniper has problems, particularly for its data center and cloud offerings.

NWW’s third point is “sell more QFabric”, which (forgive me) seems like it would fall under the first point.  It is true, however, that you can’t have an enterprise strategy these days unless you have a data center strategy, and QFabric was Juniper’s chance to take the lead in cloud data centers and agile applications, since they announced it before the main spurt of the cloud had happened.  Juniper was actually the first network vendor to talk about what we now call the cloud, at least 18 months ahead of anyone else, but they booted the QFabric launch.  Given that, it’s hard to say how selling more of them could be accomplished.

The fourth point of the piece is “articulate an SDN strategy” and here I agree, but I think the articulation problem is broader.  Juniper has had a problem articulating ANY strategy, largely because strategies are the harmony of products that achieve a buyer goal.  Juniper has been focused on point product from the first, and thus has little interest in harmony of products, and buyer goals are increasingly set higher up on the IT stack than bit-pushing, and it’s there that Juniper has wanted to create value.  The SDN issue is just an example, but I agree it’s a serious one.  While Juniper has talked strategically and at a high level about SDN, at the same time it’s been making nonsensical SDN statements at the product level.

The final point is “better engage with enterprises”, which also seems to overlap the other points.  There are two critical points buried in it, though.  First is that absent strong enterprise sales, Juniper is doomed to decline because it’s clear that service providers alone won’t drive their bottom line to where it needs to be.  Second, “engage” means make a commitment in return for a commitment, and that kind of buyer empathy has been hard to develop when the subliminal goal has been to push boxes on the customer regardless of the value proposition.  What are enterprises trying to do, push bits?  No; Nike and Reebok make sneakers, not networks.  Application software has held up the best in the downturn because application software is about APPLICATION of IT, the foundation of all other value propositions including networking.  The cloud is the closest thing a hardware vendor can get to an application strategy, and SDN is the closest thing that a network vendor can get to a cloud strategy.

I know a lot of Juniper’s sales force; I survey their buyers.  These people are good.  They’re not muffing execution, but they’re being badly served by headquarters, and that’s the thing Juniper has to fix if they hope to reignite their future prospects.  Juniper needs a strategic brainstorm, pure and simple, or no amount of execution is going to help them.

But it’s not fair to beat Juniper up here.  Cisco is sticking its head at least as deeply into the sand as Juniper.  Their cloud and SDN story is better articulated but in a real technical-value sense it’s pathetic compared to what Cisco could do.  Cisco has servers.  Cisco has released a cloud distro.  If there’s a company on earth that should be leading the cloud, it’s Cisco, and yet Cisco is rated below HP in the cloud even though HP has had formidable management challenges and has been perceived as a strategic vacillator.  Alcatel-Lucent has had the assets needed to frame the perfect service provider cloud story for years, and has yet to rise above its own product-silo problems to do that.  Ericsson has the best SDN strategy of any network vendor, and nobody knows about it.  NSN is gaining in buyer credibility faster than anyone but Huawei by riding the mobile/LTE wave, but even though service-layer technology is a small step from where they are it’s a step they haven’t taken.

All of this is demonstrating a lack of buyer engagement, so Juniper has company.  But because Juniper is close to a pure play bit-pusher, they have less latitude to absorb errors, and they are making them as fast as competitors when they need to be doing better just because they lack the mobile and enterprise assets that would cover them for less-than-optimal positioning.  Juniper could tell a great story, if they really tried.  Why don’t they?  Jim Duffy wrote the NWW story, so my challenge to Jim is to find THAT answer and write about it.

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