All posts in “Entrepreneurship”

Study: Community-Owned Broadband Beats Commercial ISPs on Price

By John P. Mello Jr.
Jan 16, 2018 5:00 AM PT

Community-owned fiber-to-home broadband networks generally charge less for entry-level service than private providers, according to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, which released its findings last week.

Despite lower “teaser rates” private providers offer during the first year of service, publicly-owned fiber-to-the-home networks in 23 of 27 communities examined offered lower-priced service when averaged over four years, researchers working on Berkman’s Responsive Communities project found.

In the 23 communities, prices for the lowest-cost program that met the federal definition of “broadband” — minimum speeds of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads — were between 2.9 percent and 50 percent less than the lowest-cost such service offered by a private provider in the market.

In the four cases where a private provider offered lower pricing, its service cost between 6.9 percent and 30.5 percent less.

Difficult Data Collection

In total, the researchers collected advertised prices for fiber-to-home plans for 40 community-owned providers, but only 27 met the study’s criteria: 25/3 download/upload; at least one private competitor offering broadband in their market; and data available for comparison purposes.

Data collection for the study was challenging, the researchers noted. They explained that the Federal Communications Commission does not disseminate pricing data or track broadband availability by address.

Additionally, service offerings follow no standard speed tiers or definitions, such as the specifics of video or phone service bundles, the researchers pointed out.

“We focused on comparing entry-level broadband plans in part because of these complexities,” they wrote.

Better Competition

Because of data availability problems, many public policy questions remain unstudied.

“If comprehensive data were available, we’d be able to study many important public interest topics, including the relationship between cost and consumer broadband adoption, the precise effects of competition, and how pricing strategies play out across different demographic groups,” observed David Talbot, leader of Berkman’s Responsive Communities project and a coauthor of the research report.

Nevertheless, communities can reap real benefits from a municipal broadband network.

For example, it’s a way for a community to get what it wants when it can’t get it from an incumbent provider.

“There are many times when incumbents are not willing to provide the broadband service a community needs and wants,” explained Heather Burnett Gold, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.

However, “by and large, most communities don’t want to get into the telecommunications business,” she told the E-Commerce Times, “so they look for outside operators to partner with them.”

Net Neutrality Hedge

“In general, well-run municipal systems — including ones where a private provider offers service over a publicly owned fiber network — tend to provide benefits that are the natural result of competition in the marketplace,” Berkman’s Talbot told the E-Commerce Times.

Among them are “the potential for lower prices and better service from all players in that market,” he said. “In addition, the existence of locally run systems allows for local governance, and this can include locally set rules around data privacy and Net neutrality.”

With the FCC repealing the Obama administration’s Net neutrality rules, municipal broadband networks could play a role in keeping private broadband providers on the straight and neutral path.

“Municipal broadband is the last defense for cities to ensure they have an open Internet,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute on Local Self Reliance.

“It’s not a substitute for good federal policy, but for a city that needs to ensure that it has open Internet access, I think it makes a lot of sense to build a municipal network and keep it neutral,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“If the big players violate Net neutrality, it will be good for municipalities with their own networks,” Mitchell added, “because it will make more people want to subscribe to the municipal network.”

The Power of Three

Howeber, the big draw for consumers to municipal networks is pricing.

Municipal broadband introduces competition — not only competition, but a special kind of competition.

“Price competition is different when you have three providers, and typically municipal broadband is the third provider in the market,” Mitchell pointed out. “That leads to a more of a competitive dynamic than when all you have is DSL and cable. “

What’s more, some municipalities have taken a very aggressive stance on pricing. In Fort Collins, Colorado, for example, the city plans to offer gigabit upload and download service for US$70 a month.

“Right now, it’s $300 for a comparable service from our incumbents,” said the city’s mayor, Wade Troxell.

“There’s no way that the incumbents can offer gigabit symmetric service,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “because right now they’re milking their coaxial cable, which is copper, and we’re going to provide fiber.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

Namogoo CEO Chemi Katz: Malware Can Ruin the Customer Journey

Chemi Katz is CEO of Namogoo.

In this exclusive interview, Katz discusses the threat of online customer journey hijacking and offers advice on how to combat it.

Namogoo CEO Chemi Katz

Namogoo CEO Chemi Katz

CRM Buyer: What is online journey hijacking, and why is it important to prevent it?

Chemi Katz: The customer journey is the journey that e-commerce customers go on when they come to a site, and hopefully it ends with buying a product. Hijacking interferes with the customer’s journey. It can be a pop-up that the company didn’t put there, or something that will lead a customer out of the website. It’s any interference that doesn’t come from the e-commerce business itself, but from a third party that does it for malicious reasons and to make money.

It’s important to prevent it because it causes e-commerce businesses to lose money. Every e-commerce company brings a customer in to enjoy the experience and eventually buy a product. Journey hijacking leads customers to a different product, so eventually the e-commerce company loses money. When you click a product, eventually you go to a different website. It all comes down to money, and having a good experience and journey on an e-commerce website.

CRM Buyer: What are the best ways to prevent online journey hijacking?

Katz: Our installation involves adding one line of code into every page that you want to protect, and all of our clients put it on 100 percent of their pages.

Basically, the code is a living code on the client’s page and mobile device. Because of the nature of dynamic pages and the dynamic content of e-commerce, there isn’t any one truth for every page. We use machine learning and algorithms to understand what the page is on the fly.

For every client, we have some kind of model for how we think the pages should look. This code is updated many times a day, because e-commerce businesses change the content all the time, and we need to change this all the time.

CRM Buyer: Why is machine learning an important part of preventing online journey hijacking? What makes for an effective machine-learning system?

Katz: Machine learning is 70 percent of the system, and I’ll explain why. We need to be very efficient about what we do. We don’t want to add anything to the page that hinders performance, and we want to remove anything that does that.

There’s a lot of malware hijacking going on, and one of the most important things is knowing how to learn about new attacks all the time. When it sees suspicious evidence in the page or inside the code, it sends it back to our machine-learning servers, and they digest the data. They decide if it’s legit or not.

Also, if we find a malware element on one e-commerce site, we send it to others, because it’s an ongoing attack. The whole system is refreshed all the time, learning all the time, and referring from client to client and between different verticals.

CRM Buyer: How do you see client-side digital malware evolving? What’s in the future? What new threats will it pose?

Katz: In the last six months, we’ve seen a lot of this kind of malware coming from public WiFi networks at places like coffee shops and airports, and we see a lot of it even on clean devices, just from browsing.

It infects the devices through the WiFi. When I’m in Starbucks and connected into the Starbucks WiFi, I can basically by mistake or unknowingly download some kind of malware, and then I get it. We see a lot of surveys that pop up from a website, but they actually didn’t come from that website itself.

Another thing we’re witnessing is when you’re missing a plug-in, and then when you install it you get nasty malware. It’s shifting all the time, and it’s changing all the time. We need to remember that they have one goal in mind: to make money.

CRM Buyer: Does ad-blocker software protect consumers from this kind of malware and journey hijacking?

Katz: Most of the people that have ad blocking will still see banner ads, because they are competing with ad blockers. They know how to bypass them. They know how to bypass most of the ad-blocking software.

CRM Buyer: In addition to affecting the bottom line, does online journey hijacking affect other parts of the e-commerce experience, like the experience and understanding of a brand?

Katz: Yes, it affects all kinds of things: how the website looks, the color, the pictures. Malware can change anything. We see malware that puts ads when there was nothing. They create white space. For example, they can push the homepage down, and have advertising on the top.

Eventually, what the e-commerce business wanted on top of the fold can go to below the fold. All kinds of things that the e-commerce sites are working on to make the journey perfect can be ruined by this kind of hijacking.

Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

Top 5 Data-Driven Mobile Services for a Competitive Edge

The mobile data market has been approaching saturation in major industrialized nations. Mobile data consumption has increased steadily over the past several years, but consumers have found new ways to avoid paying extra for services they don’t need or use — and intense competition among mobile carriers has allowed consumers to switch from fixed-data to unlimited plans and pay less in the process.

Operators increasingly have been turning to targeted data-driven services in order to drive higher data usage and find new monetization strategies. Parks Associates recently released the industry report Mobile Data Services: Business Model Assessment, which includes an analysis of the top five data-driven services in the U.S. market.

1. Social Media and Chat

The most commonly used type of mobile application is social media, according to Parks Associates’ data.

More than 80 percent of U.S. smartphone owners under the age of 25 use social media and chat apps such as Facebook and Snapchat on their phones, the firm’s research suggests.

Providers in emerging markets have been using social media to drive mobile data adoption and, in some cases, bring people online for the first time. In more mature markets, MSPs have used zero-rated (free of charge) access to social media as a means to attract subscribers.

Livestreaming, embedded video content, and voice and video chat have become part of the social media and messaging experience. Eighty-two percent of Twitter users watch video content, and 90 percent of Twitter video views take place on a mobile screen, according to recent research.

Video calling and voice chat can drive heavier adoption of data while reducing reliance on legacy networks. Almost half of U.S. broadband households regularly used video calling and chat apps in 2015, and that usage will increase as messaging services such as Facebook Messenger gain increased adoption.

Chart: Use of Social Media/Chat Apps on Smarphones

2. Streaming Video

Video content accounted for roughly 50 percent of mobile data traffic in 2016, and its portion is expected to grow to 75 percent of mobile data traffic by 2021, according to Ericsson.

YouTube, the most popular over-the-top service globally, has more than 1.5 billion logged-in users visiting its site per month, which equates to about 20 percent of the world’s population.

Consumption of streaming video content via smartphone has a strong correlation with size of a user’s data plan. Among U.S. broadband households, the percentage of those consuming streaming video doubles between those with a 1-GB or smaller data plan and those with a 10-GB or greater data plan.

Unlimited data plans are highly effective in promoting adoption of streaming OTT services. Mobile service providers have been taking advantage of this trend by offering unlimited data and video subscription bundles, such as AT&T’s DirecTV bundle.

3. Streaming Music

Streaming music is more popular than streaming video, but it is not as data-intensive. Even music streamed at a high quality (320 kbps) uses less data than low-quality video.

Streaming music is effective at driving data plan adoption in regions where 3G and 4G technologies have become dominant but where the mobile market has not reached maturity. While streaming music will not drive as much revenue as video, it has less impact on networks and network quality, and it represents less of a risk to operators’ quality of service.

Consumers in the U.S. spend an average of four hours per day listening to music, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Digital revenues made up 78 percent of the total music industry in 2016, with streaming music generating the majority of revenue in the United States and some other countries.

4. Mobile Gaming

More than half of U.S. smartphone owners in broadband households play mobile games, Parks Associates’ data suggests, and mobile gamers spend an average of five hours per week doing so.

Gaming is not a new phenomenon, but has become a dominant application for mobile devices. Revenue models for mobile games typically include in-app purchases and advertising.

Mobile service providers traditionally have benefited from the popularity of mobile gaming by offering paid downloads from their own app stores, but the popularity of OS-bundled app stores such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store largely killed that model in developed markets.

Instead, mobile service providers have turned to newer models, such as partnerships with the makers of popular games and game store subscriptions with carrier billing.

5. Cellular-Connected Devices and the IoT

Over the last several years, an increasing number and variety of non-smartphone products have begun to connect to mobile networks for fast and ubiquitous Internet access.

Those products — including tablets, e-readers, smartwatches, cameras and cars — require their own data plans, which may be sold either individually or as a part of a shared data bucket.

Adoption of connected car data plans, for example, is relatively low at present but growing sharply — both in terms of direct-to-consumer data plans and partnerships with automakers and connected car managed service providers. When self-driving cars hit the market, car data plans will become commonplace.

Chart: Mobile Device Adoption 2017-2017

Although the mobile data market is nearing saturation, MSPs still have opportunities for revenue growth and consumer loyalty. By integrated the top data-driven services with their offerings, MSPs can offer differentiated data-intensive applications or partner with top application developers to drive revenue and improve customer satisfaction.

Kristen Hanich is a research analyst at Parks Associates.

Cloud Training to Boost Competitive Advantage Strategies

By Jeffrey M. Kaplan
Jan 11, 2018 3:24 PM PT

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations of all sizes trying to move to the cloud is finding and retaining the skilled workers necessary to implement today’s rapidly expanding assortment of on-demand services.

This skills gap cost companies more than $250 million in lost business opportunities in just one year, according to a recent survey conducted by the London School of Economics and sponsored by Rackspace. The 2017 study polled 1,900 IT professionals and executives in the U.S., UK, Europe, Mexico, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

Cloud Computing Skills Gap

More than 70 percent of respondents said they had lost immediate revenue opportunities because of a lack of necessary cloud skills. The skills gap prevented 42 percent of respondents’ enterprises from adding cloud platforms that would have enabled them to pursue new business opportunities.

As a result, 70 percent of the survey respondents acknowledged that their companies needed to do more to invest in their people to improve their cloud skills.

High expectations that the cloud would make it easier to obtain computing power and software functionality to keep pace with escalating market demands have not become a reality for many organizations. Instead, the cloud has added another layer of complexity to many already complicated IT and enterprise application environments.

The rapid pace of innovation in the cloud industry has made it even harder for many organizations to keep up with the latest cloud alternatives and requirements.

Because most cloud companies operate in very competitive market segments, they have been forced to compete on price to win new customers, and to keep their operating expenses low to achieve profitability.

Customer training and support are the operating expenses that most often have been shortchanged so they could invest as much money as possible in the product development, sales and marketing functions that drive cloud vendor revenue growth.

Technology Adoption Curve

Customer training and support traditionally have been viewed as people-intensive cost-centers — and a necessary evil in doing business. Many cloud vendors have attempted to circumvent this burden by relying on a variety of new technologies to reduce the cost of customer training and support, ranging from bots to self-service wikis fueled by powerful new artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities.

Although these new tools can expedite some aspects of meeting escalating customer training and support needs, they still fall short in keeping pace with the expanding array of real-world challenges facing many organizations in an increasingly diverse cloud marketplace. Even the smartest support system can’t satisfy the iterative needs of many cloud customers, as one question, issue or concern leads to another.

While most of us don’t like to rely on traditional tech support mechanisms to solve our problems or satisfy our needs, it is almost always gratifying to have a good support experience that makes you feel better about your vendor choices. A quick answer served up by a bot can keep us moving forward, but the added insight of a knowledgeable support person can bring even greater value. It also can create a tighter bond to the service provider.

Since the inception of the cloud “as a service” business model, vendors have been obsessed with their customer acquisition costs and churn rates. Spending too much to acquire customers that ultimately abandon a cloud service is the best way to fail at this business.

As it turns out, many cloud companies have discovered that getting new customers up and running quickly is equally important. Shortening adoption time enables cloud vendors to recognize revenue quicker in today’s pay-as-you-go subscription services economy.

Short adoption cycles are a key determinant of a customer’s willingness to make add-on purchases. This willingness is essential to enabling the cloud vendor to achieve long-term profitability via the classic land-and-expand strategy.

Quick adoption cycles also play an important role in the customer’s willingness to recommend a cloud service to others — another route to reducing the cost of new customer acquisition and accelerating the profitability process.

Salesforce Trailhead

Reducing adoption cycle time has become an increasingly important issue for Salesforce over the past few years, as its cloud offerings have expanded via acquisition and organic growth. The company has faced escalating pressure to help its customers adopt its broadening array of cloud-based applications and take full advantage of their functional capabilities.

In response, Salesforce has hired many more support people and enlisted more service partners to address customers’ growing adoption challenges.

Still, as the company plotted its course to double its revenue from US$10 billion to $20 billion in 2022, it recognized that it could not continue to bring on more people and partners at the same pace to sustain its growth.

So, Salesforce decided to rethink its training program and radically change how it delivered customer support. The company’s relatively new Trailhead program relies on peer-to-peer, end-user training techniques fortified by gamification tactics that recognize and reward Salesforce customers who help others.

Trailhead capitalizes on the willingness of Salesforce software admins to share their knowledge and experience with their peers in the same way software developers have shared their innovations with others via the open source movement.

In the two years since the Trailhead program’s launch, it not only has helped Salesforce satisfy its customers’ escalating training needs and accelerate their adoption cycles, but also has created a larger and more vibrant end-user community. Many have become zealous advocates for the value of Salesforce’s solutions.

Salesforce executives believe the continuous feedback cycle created by the Trailhead program community has changed dramatically how Salesforce prioritizes its product development efforts and launches new products. It has reduced the guesswork and increased the success rate of new products and features.

In a market in which competing on the strength of specific product features is a treacherous tactic, given the steady stream of new innovations being created in the cloud, vendors must find new methods to achieve a competitive advantage. Access to training tools and a community forum to achieve business success can give customers the sense of empowerment and respect that fosters a new form of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The Salesforce Trailhead program has redefined how a company can gain competitive advantage, by showcasing the power of its customer community via a new form of training and support.

Jeff Kaplan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on cloud computing, SaaS, IT management, managed services and the Internet of Things. He is managing director of
Email Jeff.

The Platform Wars of 2018

The new battleground in enterprise software is likely to be the software platform. This is not to say that analytics and security are not important, but they are being handled in different ways.

Security is being handled in ways that address both hardware and software vulnerabilities, but these things aren’t what customers or consumers spend their days thinking about. While everyone wants security, few know enough about it, and the attitude is that security is someone else’s job.

Both of these topics will be dealt with, but they aren’t likely to be competitive differentiators, at least not yet.

Platforms, on the other hand, affect more people — and importantly, they are key to making and saving money, topics the C-suite cares deeply about. Some of them might not know data from database, but they all know profit and loss.

The software platform can be directly linked to making and saving money, which is why it is such a potent potential differentiator. We live in an era of commoditization. It’s hard to find true differentiation among competing products, which naturally leads to price wars.

More than that, the pace of new product and new category introduction has declined precipitously over the last decade, meaning that vendors find themselves in zero-sum competitions in which winning new business means poaching someone else’s customer.

If there’s a lack of strategic differentiation, there’s a load of tactical opportunities. Without strategic differentiation, we face a market in which the first to react often wins the prize. Since so much of business is undergirded by information technology, the most adaptable technology — embodied in a platform — is the one most likely to help a vendor either make or save money. So we have the platform, but where do platform wars come in?

Platform-Level Change

A generation ago, we faced a similar situation in which the answer was not the platform but the whole product. However, in retrospect they are the same. “Whole product” refers to all of the things a vendor in a mature market hangs to attract customers aside from the core product. Whole product consists of not only the core, but also the policies and procedures, financing and documentation, and many other things.

The need for whole product was a driver of CRM’s evolution. Systems were imagined and built to capture customer feedback and to support employees striving to satisfy them. However, CRM was an expensive proposition — especially in customer service, which initially required agents. It’s one reason so much energy has gone into developing indirect and self-service support.

Today’s problem is slightly different, in that vendors all more or less recognize a need to alter their processes on the fly. It’s no longer enough to offer the support a vendor feels is right, even in multiple channels. We now must support and service customers as they wish to be treated, and that dimension is always changing. Such change happens at the platform level.

In this scenario, it stands to reason that a vendor with a superior platform likely will succeed more, or more easily, in tight competition — but that’s not the end of the story. You can’t logically run a business on a platform unless your people know how to use it, and that requires training — ongoing training.

Making Money vs. Saving It

All of this came into sharp relief last week as I attended the annual analyst kick-off event sponsored by Salesforce. The company has been developing its platform for a long time. Just as importantly, over the last two to three years, it has brought forth an online training utility that develops platform skills in the rank and file. Giving customers a usable and powerful platform is the future, in my mind. Interestingly, I don’t think the messaging has come together fully.

There’s more substance than shine to the mix, an enviable situation for any vendor. In detail, there’s a fine platform and a very useful training utility in Trailhead. Also, there is an extensive list of plug and play platform-based applications on the AppExchange. Think of it as the three-legged stool we’ll all need in the future.

What’s somewhat missing in most quarters is the realization and effective communication that this stuff is no longer optional, that business supported by platform fundamentals is what successful vendors will be using for the foreseeable future.

Other vendors — for instance, Amazon with AWS and some others — see a different need and work to meet it. However, primarily providing cloud infrastructure only addresses half of the challenge and amounts to saving money. That’s a great thing, but when faced with making or saving money, 10 out of nine (I said that right) executives who are given a choice will opt for making money over simply saving it.

That’s why platform is so important today, and why I think the decision point for many business leaders in the next year or two will be over which platform to select. It’s a choice that will have far-reaching consequences, because platform is foundational and not easily changed.

So, welcome to the new platform wars. It will be a thrilling time if you are a software vendor and you have one. Other vendors, not so much.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at