Dr. Radicati Responds... Well, sort of.

Friday, July 30th, 2004
It has been an interesting week for the Radicati Group and my web site activity has jumped as a result. The most recent surge in activity first began a week ago, when I asked the question: "When does Market Analysis Research" become "Marketing?"  Since then, the traffic has only continued to grow; however, I still do not have answers to my most pressing question. And now, I have one more. (Sorry)

On Wednesday, I posted my three questions about the recent Radicati Market Analysis. These questions were my own, and arose after I read the Radicati Market Analysis and the response from Michael Sampson, of Shared-Spaces Research and Consulting. As a technologist, I read both papers and I felt that the questions that I had were reasonable and that they were ones that any reader should know the answers to before making an IT purchasing or planning decision based upon the Radicati (or anyone else's) market research projections.

Here were my original questions:
1. Who is the actual author of the report?

2. Who paid for it?

3. What were the sources of information used and how did they lead to the conclusions presented in the research paper? I asked if it would be possible to see a list of citations of the sources consulted and for the figures and graphs presented?
At the conclusion of my post, I publicly solicited answers to these questions from anyone who might have been involved in the production of this particular market analysis, who may be able to shed some light on my questions. I also invited Dr. Radicati, who I assumed authored (or at least approved) the research, to personally respond to my questions, and I offered to post her response in its entirety on my blog.

I have not heard anything yet; however, this evening, I noticed that Dr. Radicati had posted an official response on her Web Site entitled, "Our Response to Ed Brill's Weblog."

Let's see if Dr. Radicati answered any of my questions:

In her response, Dr. Radicati states that the views contained within it represent the "company position," and that any questions may be directed to Sara Radicati directly. OK, so that answers question number one.  Sort of. Continuing to question number two, I read that this paper was not funded by any particular vendor and that it is "based on excerpts from the 5 full length reports..." and it goes on to list reports which may be purchased for $3,000 each. OK, that works for me. If I had five papers to sell, I too, would likely offer a summary paper, showing highlights of my best work, free of charge, so that the public might get a glimpse of the quality of my work and hopefully, want to buy my  full length reports. As far as I am concerned, I will accept that as an answer to my question number two. This leaves me with only my question number three.

Before I go on, I would like to publicly state that I do not work for IBM or Microsoft; however, I represent many clients, who make sizeable investments and purchases from both companies each year. As an independent consultant for ICA.COM, Inc., I consult on the technology integration of products from these manufacturers and others with an eye towards making technology work to increase productivity. Internally, I use Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, and Office, as well as Lotus Notes for all of my Information, Communication, and Action tracking.  Oh, I also use Outlook and I have corporate clients who use Lotus Notes, Outlook, and Exchange, for  their messaging platforms. As you might expect, I am interested to know what others have to say concerning the future of any of these products. I am also very interested to know how they reached these conclusions, so that I may learn from them and advise my clients accordingly.

That said, I now come to my question number three -- the one that was of greatest interest to me as a technologist: "What were the sources of information used and how did they lead to the conclusions presented in the research paper?" No response. Michael Sampson, a consultant and analyst in messaging and collaborative technologies, made accusations of poor quality research and analysis when he wrote:
My overall analysis of this White Paper is that it is a headline grabbing publication lacking analytical rigor, logic and appropriate follow-through. The paper is unbelievable in this respect, making me wonder whether it is really an independent publication, or marketing material sponsored by Microsoft. The author seeks to compare two platforms that are entirely different in terms of scope and imagination, and then recommends a path for clients. I strongly believe that the author entirely misses the point, is totally wrong in the commentary on Microsoft's messaging strategy, and therefore provides market share growth figures that are just plain wrong.
Well, Michael was certainly right about the headline grabbing part, and I suspect that he's probably right about the rest, too. I note that Michael did not just make his bold accusations without supporting them. In fact, He wrote a paper, complete with citations, in response: Response to the Radicati market analysis study of June, 2004. In it, he responds, point by point, to the information and projections by Dr. Radicati. (I encourage you to read both Michael's response and the original Radicati paper for yourself and formulate your own opinion. I'm curious to know what you think about either paper.)

So far, there has been no response from the Radicati group or its president, Dr. Radicati, publicly or privately. (I checked with Michael this afternoon.) This makes me wonder: why did Dr. Radicati not respond to Michael's detailed response? Could it be that he was right?

Concurrent with all of this, there has been a lot of excitement over at Ed Brill's blog, here, and here, with each generating pages of comments. (You can draw your own conclusions about this.) The issues going on at Ed Brill's web site, in my opinion, are small, compared to the alleged fundamental flaws in the Radicati research, as pointed out by Michael Sampson.  If this were a political campaign, I might wonder if the things that happened on the Ed Brill site, were intended to distract our attention from the real issue...

The Radicati response continues in Q2:
Essentially, none of the content of this whitepaper is new - the paper is entirely based on information which we have already published and market numbers which we have already made available to the press over the last 7 months in countless interviews, articles and discussions.
OK, so are my enterprise clients and I to assume that the "analytical rigor, logic and follow-through" demonstrated in this "free" paper by the Radicati Group and promoted by Microsoft is representative of what we would find if we paid $15,000 to buy the full length reports from which it was "lifted?" If so, what kind of impression should we then formulate about the suite of Radicati research papers? What should we now think about Microsoft or other vendors when they quote these reports on their web sites? Who should we trust?
In the closing of Sara Radicati's response to Ed Brill, she writes:
"Finally, we believe that the comments on Ed Brill's blog represent his own personal opinion and that of his friends, and do not reflect the opinion of IBM Lotus' management."

I am not going to get involved in the discussion about what transpired on Ed's site; however, I have been following it with amazement. I am interested to see what IBM  and Microsoft have to say. As for me, I will simply close this lengthy post by asking one last question of Dr. Radicati:

Dr. Radicati, will you post a public response to Michael Sampson's response to your paper, or should I assume, that Michael's observations and responses are correct?
My clients and I would like to know the answer to this question. A few others may be interested, too.

As before, I will close with this offer: Dr. Radicati, if you would like to respond directly, and I hope that you will, you may reach me at my email (above) or at my office, 661-242-8410 x101. I look forward to hearing from you. I promise to post any written response from you in it's entirety.

Eric Mack.

2004 Son Games VBS draws to a close

Friday, July 30th, 2004
PMCCC was hopping tonight, as our 9th VBS drew to a close, culminating in the traditional pot-providence, (I don't believe in luck) followed by a children's presentation of what they learned during the week.  

Image:2004 Son Games VBS draws to a closeImage:2004 Son Games VBS draws to a close
This year's theme, inspired by the 2004 summer Olympics in Greece, was called Son Games, and as usual, the folks at Gospel Light put together a wonderful program. Over a hundred children participated in the program, and they were joined by missionaries from Greece!

Although Kathy and I did not volunteer this year, we know all too well how much work is involved, having organized and run the Vacation Bible School ministry in the past.

We are thankful for the many volunteers, who gave generously of their time to share their love with our children and the children of this community. Thank you!

It just occurred to me ...

Friday, July 30th, 2004
For years, I have bragged about what a blessing it is to have 4 daughters.

A friend of mine, who happens to be getting married soon, recently shared with me what a wedding costs today ...

If you would like to sponsor a future Mack wedding, I will add your name to the credits on the back of the invitation. I will also list your name on a special section of this blog.

PayPal accepted.


Even with this realization, having four daughters, is still a wonderful blessing and I would not have it any other way!

Radicati Market Research Questions

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004
Michael Sampson's recent rebuttal to Sara Radicati's paper: "IBM Lotus & Microsoft -- Corporate Messaging Market Analysis," (available here), generated considerable reaction from a variety of sources, not the least of which was Ed Brill of IBM, on July 23 and July 26.  I posted  my own concerns  a few days ago and I have been following this topic with interest ever since.

Why do I care? Well, as a technology consultant, I make recommendations to my clients. If my opinions and recommendations are inconsistent with what other "experts" think, I want to know what the facts are that lead us to our separate conclusions. In the case of the Radicati research, I find myself disagreeing with many points; I owe it to myself, to my clients, and to my profession, to explore this further.

Microsoft promotes Sara's research on their web site, so I can assume that it represents a position that they believe (or would like to believe) will be true. I expect that IBM will respond publicly soon with their thoughts. (Ed?)

I'm really curious to see if a sharp industry blogger or editor will decide to investigate the facts presented in Sara and Michael's papers. It would be great to see someone like Mary Jo Foley at Microsoft-Watch or Barb Darrow, industry Editor for CRN, or someone from eWeek do an investigative write-up on this. Who knows, perhaps Robert Scoble, Microsoft's chief blogger, would care to offer another perspective.

Here are three questions I would like to know the answers to:

1. Research papers have authors.  Who is the actual author of the report?  If the author is simply " The Radicati Group," is it fair to say that the report accurately represents the expert opinion of Dr. Radicati and all of the research analysts that work for The Radicati Group as an organization?

2. Research costs money. Someone paid for it. Who was it? Was this research funded in-house, by The Radicati Group, by any of the vendors mentioned in the report, or by a third party? As a consultant, consumer, and distributor of information, I do not think that it is unreasonable for me to ask this question.

3. Research papers require research. What were the sources of information used and how did they lead to the conclusions presented in the research paper? Would it be possible to see a list of citations of the sources consulted and for the figures and graphs presented?

I publicly solicit answers to these questions from anyone who may have been involved in the production of this particular market analysis, who may be able to shed some light on my questions.

Dr. Radicati, if you would like to respond directly, and I hope that you will, you may reach me at my email (above) or at my office, 661-242-8410 x101. I look forward to hearing from you. I promise to post any written response from you in its entirety.


Wiggle Party

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004
A diversion from productivity or technology posts: Michael Sampson revealed to the world that I was celebrating an anniversary of my 29th birthday. July is a month full of birthdays in our  home. Recently, I helped two of my daughters celebrate their Wiggles Theme birthday. Kathy "volunteered" me to be Captain Feathersword, the fun-loving, kindhearted, singing and dancing pirate. So for the Sampson family, here I am as the captain...

Image:Wiggle PartyImage:Wiggle Party

 I love watching pirate movies. In fact, just last night, Kathy and I watched the Pirates of Tortuga.  I have a large collection of pirate movies I like to watch, including, Pirates of the Caribbean, Crimson Pirate, and even the VeggieTales Pirates who don't do anything. I have no problem dressing up to play the part of a pirate, but I draw the line at a dancing pirate. (I have my professional image to maintain.)

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with The Wiggles, they are a group of entertainers from Australia, who for the past 13 years have been entertaining children, young and old[er], as they encourage them to eat their fruit salad, hot potatoes, cold spaghetti, mashed bananas, and crunchy munchy honey cakes.

Image:Wiggle Party

The Wiggles are quite popular in our home, surpassed only by the VeggieTales. (That's another story!) If you have children under the age of 6 in your home, then you have an excuse to watch the wiggles. Highly recommended. Oh, thanks for the birthday greeting, Michael!

Mind Mapping for Results

Sunday, July 25th, 2004
I've just finished the second of two delightful and informative web-conference calls with Nick Duffill, of Gyronix. Nick and his associate have developed ResultManager -  a powerful add-in to MindManager, that allows it to be used as a visual project management tool. I must admit that I had initially looked at ResultManager as just a great collection support tool; however, after a brief tour with Nick, I'm convinced of its potential as a visual management tool for meetings and projects where many actions or delegated activities need to be tracked.

Image:Mind Mapping for Results

In short, the process of "Mind Mapping" will change the way that you brainstorm forever. Rather than writing down a linear list of ideas, you to collect ideas into a visual "Mind Map." Mind mapping, by the way,  is nothing new; Tony Buzan developed the concept of Mind Maps at a time when I was still using crayons to illustrate my ideas visually.

I've been using Mind Mapping as a brainstorming technique for many years; however, I have usually preferred to use colored pens and paper or a digital whiteboard to draw my maps. Most software tools that I have looked at were simply too slow or cumbersome for me to quickly collect my thoughts digitally. Of course, the appeal of being able to edit my maps digitally has kept me looking at new tools.

The MindManager software takes mind mapping to the next level  by allowing me to draw, edit, and manage my maps on my PC. Now, I can keep my mind maps in view on the wall in front of me while I keep my work visible on my laptop or an adjacent display. At the encouragement of Marc Orchant and Michael Hyatt, I might even finally consider a tablet!

Image:Mind Mapping for Results

Much has been written about the MindManager software lately so I won't attempt to rewrite what others have already said. Here's a quick 2003 write up from Innovation tools. I have also recently started a discussion in the GTD Forum on how MindManager might be used in the context of the GTD methodology. (I recall that Marc and Michael have both written on this topic as well; I'll post the links when I find them.)

For those of you who are already using MindManager and want to take digital mind mapping next level for project management, be sure to take a look at ResultManager. I've installed version 2.01 of ResultManager, which adds some powerful features for visual project management.

I'll have more to share about this in the near future as I am presently mapping out several very large project using both tools. I continue to be a student of tools and technologies for enhanced productivity. I'm excited about MindManager and ResultManager.

I welcome your comments and feedback.


PS. You can download 21 day evaluations of both products from the Gyronix web site.

New worms unleashed, racing across ...

Friday, July 23rd, 2004
... the table...

Kathy had to travel to Los Angeles recently; she left the four girls in my care for the day. As usual, when dad's in charge, there are all sorts of adventures (and sometimes, mischief) to be found.

Image:New worms unleashed, racing across ...

After we completed our lessons, the decision was made to dump out a bucket of worms we had for bait and examine them. Suddenly, the idea came to me to let the girls  build a race track and race them.

Image:New worms unleashed, racing across ...

There is never a shortage of learning opportunities in our home. :-)

Since you are reading this on the web, I wonder if this qualifies as an Internet worm report?
When does "Market Analysis Research" become "Marketing?"

If your company relies on market analysis research reports offered by the many independent research organizations, you might wonder how there can be so many widely conflicting conclusions resulting from what should be the same (or at least verifiable) sources of information. Shouldn't the facts speak plainly, and shouldn't the "independent experts," who write these reports adhere to standards of professional conduct?

Michael Sampson, has just thrown down the gauntlet in response to a paper entitled, "IBM Lotus & Microsoft -- Corporate Messaging Market Analysis". The paper, published by the Radicati Group, makes bold, yet apparently unsupported claims about the future (or lack thereof) of Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's Lotus Domino and Workplace.  

Michael's Response to the Radicati market analysis study of June, 2004, challenges the accuracy and conclusions of the paper and calls the nameless author to account for the positions presented.

I applaud Michael for his response -- not for only the questions that he asks, but for doing his part to raise the bar of professionalism for independent consulting, research, and reporting.

Many years ago, when I was CTO for Peloria Technology Corporation, I had the opportunity to serve with Michael along with members of the Radicati group on various committees of the Electronic Messaging Association, (now, the Open Group).  The commitment of these individuals to objective evaluation and analysis of the messaging and collaborative issues of the day helped propel the industry forward and I am excited to have played a part in that process.

It concerns me, therefore, whenever "independent research" is presented in an unscholarly way -- without support for the conclusions presented and without citations of sources for the "facts" and figures quoted. Further, when a paper is presented anonymously, I am forced to wonder whether the opinions presented represent the entire organization or just someone who is unwilling to stand by his or her claims. The fact that the paper is offered free of charge on the Microsoft site further suggests to me that Microsoft, at a minimum, stands by the veracity of report or at least wants me to.

I encourage you to read both papers and to draw your own conclusions.

Aside from any technical or marketing reaction to these papers, I think that the greater issue at stake is the behavior and professionalism of "Independent experts." It is my strong desire that Michael's response will serve as a catalyst that will call us consultants and research organizations to a high level of professionalism and accountability in our research, analysis, and presentations.

As independent consultants, our clients rely upon us for our expert analysis and recommendations and we have a vested interest in the reputation and perception of our industry. We can improve that reputation by following Michael's challenge to demonstrate analytical rigor and integrity in our work.

Cooking with Intel Processors

Friday, July 23rd, 2004
Intel deserves credit for creating a huge after-market for creative computing products...

As the heat output of the latest Intel processors continues to increase, new opportunities for combined cooking/computing appliances will undoubtedly surface.

Imagine: Rotisserie chicken while you surf.  A current drawback is that these new appliances are still costly; however, as market demand increases. I expect manufacturers will scramble to bring lower-cost alternatives to the market.

Grateful for Notes and Ghosts

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004
Last week, my laptop hard drive crashed; I mean it really crashed. Somehow, while working at a client's crowded desk, I managed to get my foot caught in the power cord. As I got up from the desk and walked away, I not only pulled my laptop onto the concrete floor, I accelerated its descent. It was powered on - at least until it hit the floor ...  The hard drive was destroyed, and the laptop is only slightly better.

You can learn from my misfortune and from my preplanning for disaster.

Disasters such as this never seem to happen when I have free days on my calendar. My busy schedule made recovery more challenging. Fortunately, the night before, I had made a backup of my documents, and just a few months ago, I had made a routine Ghost (I use Symantec Ghost 2003) of my entire laptop drive to a spare hard drive. Since I use Lotus Notes, which is constantly replicating with the server, I did not lose a single email or document. I was able to take Kathy's laptop, login, and continue working. It took me about a week to find the time to restore my Ghost and backup to a spare laptop and to reinstall the programs that I had added since my last Ghost. Even though it was an inconvenience not to have immediate access to my files (those, not stored in Notes), it was comforting to know that I had them. Further, because I used Ghost, rather than just a file backup, I did not have to reload my system from scratch.

Lessons affirmed:
  • The time I spend Ghosting my laptop to a spare drive  is time well invested. I plan to do this more often.
  • It was very helpful to have my key documents stored in my Notes Document libraries.
  • Having Notes to replicate every 15 minutes is definitely worth it.

Next actions:
  • I plan to make Notes my file store; I will look into products like SWING or Notes 6.x tools to accomplish this.
  • I plan to look into a directory replication  solution, so that I can keep files that are not in Notes synchronized between my laptop and my server.
  • I will check out the latest Veritas remote (WAN) backup solutions for laptops.
  • I plan to purchase a third spare hard drive, make a ghost of my system, and keep it with me for instant recovery.

Do you have a current backup and Ghost image of your hard drive?

How quickly can you recover from a drive failure?

If you would like to share your $.02, please post a comment.

PS. I have several blog entries in the queue. As soon as I get caught up, I'll proof and publish them.
Many corporations spend millions of dollars, purchasing and implementing new technologies, hoping to become more productive, while their current systems remain largely underutilized. When organizations deny themselves the productive benefits of technology that they already own, they are wasting their investment and their employees' time. For organizations that use Lotus Notes, there is no excuse. Much of what they need to be productive is already built-in or can be easily customized.

The inspiration for this post came from yesterday's rant in the David Allen Getting Things Done Forum, entitled: Corporations, technology and ROI, they just don't get it!

I provide eProductivity consulting and seminars to companies who want to get more from their investment in technology. Many of these companies already happen to use Lotus Notes, which in my opinion, is currently one of the most powerful tools for information management available. Some of these companies equip their people with the tools and training to use Notes productively, and they achieve a significant return on their investment. Others use Notes for little more than e-mail and perhaps a calendar. It is to this latter group that this essay is addressed.

There is a big difference between companies that really use technology to achieve productive results and those that just talk about it.
That difference is a willingness to invest in training and services to help them fully utilize their technology investment.

For those companies that currently use Lotus Notes, two powerful capabilities (among many) that they already have are the ability to customize Notes and the ability to replicate changes across an entire workgroup or organization with ease.

An organization can customize their databases to better support their needs by adding custom fields, workflow, agents, and a host of other capabilities. Over the years, I have helped many companies increase their productivity by showing them how to customize Lotus Notes for their needs. I have packaged many of the things that I have learned about productivity into my eProductivity template for Lotus Notes. For those of you who are familiar with the GTD methodology, here's a link to the steps that I use to implement GTD in Lotus Notes.

For my work, I took the standard Notes mail template and added several powerful enhancements to support the way that I manage my information, communications, and actions. Using my eProductivity template and methods for Lotus Notes, it is possible for anyone to easily save five, fifteen, or even up to sixty minutes each day. (Now that's ROI!) This template does not actually change any of the underlying data, only the way that the information is presented and managed. This way, compatibity is maintained with the other Notes applications that I use, including wireless e-mail on my Palm. The neat thing is that these templates can be quickly and automatically deployed, whether to a workgroup of 10 or an organization of 200,000. In a similar manner, templates can be replaced or updated just as easily. The great part about all of this is that the driving technology -- Lotus Notes -- is already sitting on millions of desktops.

The undoing of Lotus Notes usually happens from within.

Sadly, a problem that I frequently encounter is sabotage; many of the same organizations that had the vision and foresight to invest in Lotus Notes to help their people become productive, sabotage its potential productive benefits. They do this, either by poor implementation, lack of training, or refusal to consider use or deploy custom templates. Many organizations do not even train their people to use the built-in features of Lotus Notes effectively. As a result, many people never venture beyond the obvious features, using Notes for little else than e-mail and calendar.

(This problem, by the way, is not unique to companies that use Notes; I encounter the same problems with organizations that have deployed Microsoft Outlook or other productivity applications. They sabotage their deployments in the same way and the potential benefits are limited.)

Now, I understand the reason that some organizations lock down their systems: they want to prevent users from making changes and creating an extra burden for IT support. At the same time, the decision to prevent users from customizing their desktops should not translate into a policy of refusing to consider any customization or template changes that have the potential to bring significant value to the company.

Refusal to equip or allow employees to fully use Lotus Notes is not much different than prohibiting employees from creating their own spreadsheets in Excel or using macros in Word. In either case, the productive potential is wasted.

The battle for increased productivity is often lost at the desktop.

I recently consulted for a large organization that had an established policy of archiving everything in employee mail databases after 60 days. The problem I have with the way that they had implemented this is that tasks and appointments disappear after 60 days. (This is not a problem with Notes - just the way they chose to implement it.) As you can imagine, the employees do not trust their systems. The result: many do not use Notes for anything but email, and the potential for productive gain and significant ROI is lost.

If I could convince companies of one thing as a result of reading this post, it would be this: Lotus Notes is a powerful productivity tool, and there are many simple things that can be done to equip people to effectively use Lotus Notes to manage their information, communication, and action.

An organization's investment in Lotus Notes is often considerable, yet many achieve a return many times their investment. The difference between those companies that realize a significant return on their Lotus Notes investment and those that do not is usually how they use it.

I started writing this essay because I was frustrated by the large number of people that tell me that they want to become more productive in the way that they use Lotus Notes, yet their organizations will not provide training, approve the use of any third-party templates, or even allow them to customize their Notes preferences.

It seems contradictory to to me, for an organization to invest in a powerful information tool like Lotus Notes and then tie the hands of the people who stand to benefit the most.

If this sounds like your organization, please be sure to forward this essay to the people who make these decisions --  I'd like to get their reaction. Meanwhile, if you have a viewpoint, I would like to hear from you. Click on Add/Read comments (below) to share your thoughts.

Can you outsource passion and loyalty?

Tuesday, July 6th, 2004
Would you still read your favorite blog if you knew it had been outsourced, and was now being written by someone else?

Two corporate bloggers that I read regularly are Ed Brill, and Robert Scoble. Why? Because they are not afraid to passionately blog about the challenges and opportunities missed in their own companies, (and of course, in their competitor's). Even though their opinions are apparently their own, they put a human face on what are otherwise often considered impersonal behemoth organizations.

What would happen if IBM and Microsoft, in an effort to reduce costs, decided to outsource Ed and Robert's roles to an offshore company?

As I pondered my recent experience with outsourced services, I realized that the outsourced organization that I worked with, did not demonstrate any passion for what they were doing, loyalty for the company that they were supposed to be representing, or concern for their client's customer. In short, the "human" touch of IBM, at least in this experience, had been stripped away.

This got me wondering what else could be outsourced and what impact that would have on me as a consumer. I thought, "why not blogs?"

Is it possible to reproduce the passion of these bloggers as an outsourced service?  Ed and Robert add a human touch to their companies. Could an outsourced organization do as well, or better?

I raise these questions, not because I have any concerns about Ed or Robert going away -- I'm sure they will always have something to say no matter who they work for -- I just question the wisdom (and viability) of companies that choose to outsource functions that require direct customer contact and where the outcome of that customer experience will determine if the customer does business with that company again.

It may be possible to outsource select background business functions of a business (i.e. product fulfillment) without affecting the customer relationship; but when it comes to face-to-face customer relationship building, I question whether it will ever be possible to outsource passion and loyalty -- two vital aspects of any successful organization.

Just my $.02

What do you think?

Freedom is never free

Sunday, July 4th, 2004
This morning in church, our pastor read to us Red Skelton's famous commentary on The Pledge of Allegiance. Two years ago, Amy and Wendy memorized this patriotic commentary for a homeschool presentation.

Image:Freedom is never free

Red's commentary offers a glimpse into the meaning of these words and what it means to recite the Pledge as an American.

If you have never heard it, I invite you to watch this video from July 4, 2002.

Here's something else to think about: Freedom is never free.

Whether at the physical or spiritual level, the freedom that we enjoy today came at a great cost.

This Fourth of July, let us give thanks and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
As a technology consultant, I have influenced many corporate customers to purchase IBM products and services for more almost two decades. I have usually been very pleased with the response, value, and quality received. (As an independent eProductivity consultant, I do not profit on the recommendation of one vendor's products over another. I am simply paid for my expertise to design what I believe to be the best solution for my client's stated objectives.) Outside of this, the only tangible benefit to me personally is another happy client -- which is worth more to me than any consulting fee I may receive.

Unfortunately, this is changing, and I believe that the IBM's decision to outsource and their method of doing so is at least partly to blame:

Somewhere, in the process of outsourcing their most vital sales function, IBM's hardware division seems to have forgotten that customers (and their technology consultants) want to speak with people who are both knowledgeable about the products that they sell and who have access to the information and internal support services to complete the sale.

Let me share just one recent personal (and painful) experience:

Many weeks ago, I set out to order 2 rack-mount servers and 12 high-end ThinkPad laptops from IBM. I will spare you the almost unbelievable details, but I will simply say that it took over 100 communications with IBM over a 6-week period to complete the order for just the first two servers. Much to my amazement, no one that I could reach at IBM had the "information" (to be extremely polite) to be able to assist me in helping my client with their purchase. Calls to IBM management resulted only in e-mail from first level sales reps being sent back. After doing some research, I found out that I was not dealing with IBM, but an organization, located in a Southern state, to which IBM had outsourced operations.
I cannot believe that outsourcing saved IBM any money here. At least not in my case.

Disclaimer: This is not an essay about the evils of outsourcing offshore to some group that does not speak English fluently. Nor is this a rant about the potential costs in terms of U.S. jobs lost as a result. This not a rant against any particular individual at IBM or any of its outsourced divisions. This is a rant against the experience of being a technology consultant who has to deal with an outsourced organization that apparently does not understand the products, information, and process of serving its customers. The outsourced "IBM representatives" that I dealt with were --  to their credit -- all English speaking and all very polite; and, they usually responded to my email or calls within minutes. I have come to realize that these people were doing the best that they could do with what little information (or perhaps product training?) that they had access to.

The problem appears to be a complete lack of information and knowledge to complete the sale or satisfy the customer, and the unwillingness of IBM management to get involved. The walls between the outsourced organization and IBM are apparently quite high. This reminds me of why I do not shop at a certain chain of electronics store -- well-dressed people, some excellent products, but little or no information or experience on the part of the people I have to deal with to complete the sale.

If I were trying to purchase a $19.95 floppy drive or some other generic, low-markup, computer part, I might try to convince myself that there was no need for IBM to care about what I thought about the purchasing experience of their customers. This was not the case.  Just one set of purchases that could initially have reached $50,000, not to mention all of the follow-on business from this and other clients. While not a Fortune 100-sized purchase, this is still nothing to sneeze at. I'm sure that competing vendors would have been delighted to have the business.

What astonishes me is that I had previously made an almost identical purchase, apparently directly from IBM, with outstanding results. The entire process (with an IBM contact) took less than 10 days with just a few calls and emails to complete.  Both the customer and I were very pleased with the transaction. In fact, it was because of the resounding success of that purchase that I did not hesitate to give the next server order to [what I thought was] IBM again.

NOTE: Long before I decided to share this experience publicly, I tried to reach anyone in management at IBM who might have sufficient interest and authority to help me resolve my customer's problem. Finally, after 6 weeks, and after threatening to cancel this and all future orders, I received a call offering some assistance. Was it really necessary for my customer or me to go through all of that?

For any of you who have bothered to read this much of my rant, thank you. It probably will not change anything at IBM, but in a therapeutic sense, I at least feel a little better for having shared it.

As far as I can tell, IBM does not appear have an Ed Brill or a Robert Scoble on the hardware side of the house. That's too bad. Both Ed and Robert (two of my favorite bloggers) write about various software and marketing issues and they have the integrity and willingness to honestly examine the goings-on of their own companies. They are not afraid to call things as they see them - even when it concerns their own companies or divisions. In fact, Ed just blogged about this. I can only hope that this blog might encourage someone on the IBM hardware side to start blogging and change my (and my customer's) perception of this experience.

Do I plan to ever purchase or recommend IBM services to my clients again?
Possibly. I may try one more time.  Personally, I own several IBM servers and many IBM ThinkPads. ThinkPads are my favorite laptop, and I hoped to purchase a new ThinkPad T42p soon.  I even still have my first IBM PC! Many of my corporate customers are all IBM shops. IBM makes great stuff -- I just wish they made it easier for me to give them money.  Customers want to deal with people who know something about the products and who have access to the information to facilitate the sales and delivery process.  As an independent  technology consultant, I will direct my clients to purchase from those companies that provide the best service.

I am amazed that in this economy, any company would not do cartwheels to ensure that a customer -- or even a technology consultant that heavily influences his client's purchases -- was happy and that there were no impediments to receiving business from them. Happy customers and consultants will tell a few others. Unhappy ones, well,...

I believe (at least I'm hopeful) that my current problem has now been resolved. But, I still have 12 high-end ThinkPads to purchase for my clients. I really do not want to switch to another brand of Laptop. (The T42p is an awesome machine.)  So here I am, representing many IBM customers, cash in hand, trying to give IBM money, yet I'm terrified at the prospect of a repeat experience. When I told this to one sales manager that I spoke with at IBM, I was told that I would never know whether the next order experience would be better than the last unfortunate experience unless I placed the next order with them.  I will stop here.

I cannot help but wonder what the move to outsource services has "cost" IBM and other companies that have made the same choice.

I know what it has cost my clients and me, and I challenge IBM and other companies to consider that the true cost of outsourcing can be best measured in terms of their customer relationships.

What do you think? Should companies measure the cost of outsourcing in terms of customer relationships? I'd like to hear from you.