Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The curious case of the missing "management" in content management systems

In the past 20 years, a lot of Content Management Systems have seen the light of the world. No matter how you count them, pretty much everybody will agree that there are thousands of products that allow you to "manage content". Yet for all those CMSs, it is surprising how little management functionality actually exists in these systems.

If we talk about Content Management, we mainly mean the ability to create content and publish it to the web and other channels like mobile apps, POS, Google Glass or smart TVs. Your CMS will most likely also contain some form of sign-off workflow, although many of the simpler ones don't. For a CMS that can be used for global communication, some form of translation management might be included: the ability to write content in one language and eventually publish in others. (this typically includes workflow for a review process as well as some export/import functionality or calls to cloud APIs that handle the assignment to translation software and the humans – or machines – that perform the translation). But that is pretty much where the management part stops. So what else needs to be managed? Let's start by looking at what management means. Wikipedia tells us that
"Management in business and organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively"
Google simply states that 

For instance, these days there is ample talk about content strategy. Is any CMS able to manage your content strategy? Do you have a CMS that even allows you to define a strategy? How about managing the creation and lifecycle of content? A CMS that manages a publishing calendar? Automatically assigns content to be written to the next available resource? Or a CMS that, based on the analytics of existing content and the stated goals of your website (or app) automatically creates new tasks for content that needs to be written?

Editorial Calendar App in Magnolia 5
Editorial Calendar App in Magnolia 5

Imagine a CMS that detects how 3% of your visitors are looking for "management self help" on your site, but no article exists to satisfy their need. Shouldn't it create a new item in your task box, or in your editorial calendar to ask for it to be written?

How about a CMS that realizes that a particular article isn't accessible anymore? Or that a certain SEO-heavy landing page uses outdated terminology? Shouldn't it notify you?

As you can see, once you start thinking about what could be done, you realize that Content Management still has a long way to go. Luckily, some systems allow you to add functionality in the form of modules or apps onto an open platform. It will be exciting to see the kind of "content management apps" we'll see in the future. What is the "management" part you miss most in today's content or experience management systems? Feel free to leave a comment or come to the Magnolia Conference 2014 and discuss your ideas with us.

Sign up in the upper right corner of this page now to never miss any of my blog posts.




Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jackrabbit Oak – the revenge of the JCR API

First of all, congratulations to the Jackrabbit Oak team for making it to the 1.0 release. This is very exciting news for every vendor whose software is based on the JCR API (aka JCR-170) like the Magnolia CMS.

Jackrabbit Oak is the next generation content repository. Its goal is to be "a scalable and performant hierarchical content repository for use as the foundation of modern world-class web sites and other demanding content applications. The Oak effort is a part of the Apache Jackrabbit project. Apache Jackrabbit is a project of the Apache Software Foundation."

And "The implementation should provide more out-of-the-box functionality than typical NoSQL databases while achieving comparable levels of scalability and performance".

So in a nutshell it is a JCR implementation for a world of big data and user generated content, where the NoSQL approach to solving scalability issues has become the mantra of the current generation of web applications. Or in even less words: it brings the MongoDB to the JCR world.

Any vendor whose software uses the Jackrabbit JCR repository will be able to switch the implementation to Oak and gain a lot of interesting functionality, e.g. concurrent content updates. Unlike the original Jackrabbit implementation, which created search indexes automatically, in Oak administrators will need to create indexes just like they used to do in the old DB world. This has long been a demand from real world users, as this allows to fine tune performance to search queries used within your application and will boost performance of queries.

If Oak fulfills its promise, as I am sure it will, Magnolia will be able to reach a new level of scalability. It also means that everybody who claimed that JCR is dead did not fully understand the beauty of a standardized content repository API: the underlying implementation can be changed if needed. And that is exactly what happened.

Here is an architecture overview slide from Jukka Zitting (a fantastic developer whose only known fault is that he is working for the wrong company ;-)). Oak Documentation and Downloads available.



Magnolia will evaluate the status of Jackrabbit Oak in the coming weeks and we'll surely let you know about our findings in the Magnolia Dev Blog.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What does Magnolia do?

"So, what does your product do?"

That's a question that I get asked pretty frequently, and there are many different answers. I could answer "It is a Content Management System". But that is like saying a car is a horse - they are equal in the sense that both can get you from Paris to Basel. Yes, Magnolia is a CMS, and we are proud it is. But the difference between, say Google Sites (does it still exist?), FrontPage (does that still exist?), Typo3 (showing signs of re-animation!) and Magnolia are about as big as the differences between said horse and a car. So, not much is won by giving that answer.

I could also answer: "Magnolia allows you to manage an organization's online communication" – something I actually say fairly often. While it sounds nice, and is true, it doesn't really explain what the product actually does. But hey, it leaves a warm fuzzy feeling, especially if I tell the person asking which organizations actually do so – our customer list includes AlArabiya, Allianz, Atlassian, Airbus Group, Fitch Ratings, Foxtel, Generali, ING Bank, LOVEFiLM, Lloyds TSB Bank, Michelin Brazil, Migros, Nissan North America, Pirelli Tyre, Rewe Group, Shure, Sony, SEAT Germany, TeliaSonera, Thomas Cook, TUI, US Navy, Virgin America, Zumba Fitness.

So, this week when I had some time to try a different approach, this is what I came up with:

Magnolia is a server-based software written in Java that enables organizations to manage their digital, or “virtual”, presence. It allows organizations to integrate all of their systems of record, enrich these with custom content managed by Magnolia and publish the results to a multitude of channels. The result are typically highly interactive, e-commerce or e-service websites, mobile sites or apps, which allow users to learn about your offerings and conduct transactions.

Magnolia CMS Page Editing Screen showing a move operation

In essence, Magnolia is a web application that renders responses to user requests. The requests come in the form of http requests – typically, a link or a navigation item on a web page. When Magnolia receives the request for such a web page, it will query its repository and render the results, usually as another web page. In other words, in its simplest form, it behaves like any good old website.

Except that nobody needs good old websites anymore. For a start, the world has gone mobile, and it has gone multi-channel. So what used to be web pages can now be content for a native (or hybrid) mobile app or pretty much any format you can think of. XML, JSON, plain text, HTML – or any other format you wish to request can be generated with Magnolia thanks to its output-agnostic templating mechanism.
Magnolia CMS allows you to preview its output on multiple devices, or channels
The "response" part also isn't just a static "page" anymore. It could be snippets of information, reused by other services. It could be the result of a database query, or for that matter, simply anything that a computer program can request from anywhere on the planet and convert into output. For example, it could be the latest news on Al Arabiya, one of our customers who serves 70 Million visitors a month. Or it could be a list of available hotels at your dream holiday destination, as provided by our customer Thomas Cook.

To accommodate such a variety of content, Magnolia provides developers with a simple way to create input forms. In essence such forms define a data type, and provide a UI that allows content authors to update data. An author would for instance use Magnolia to create content in the form of web pages, articles, news items or event descriptions.

A typical Magnolia CMS dialog. Dialogs can be used to manage content, or to manage content about content – meta-content!

But it could just as well be that Magnolia users don't create content at all. A form could be used to determine which products will go on sale next week. Or to define which output channels shall deliver which content. In such cases the actual content resides outside of Magnolia, and Magnolia will render its response by asking third-party systems, taking into account the input that it has on shaping its query.

Magnolia also manages transactions. A user request could be to update a mobile plan like for our customer TeliaSonera. In that case Magnolia not only queries other systems (for instance for the available upgrade plans for a given user), it actually tells the system to update their data, too.

Which brings us to how Magnolia is typically used: as the hub for your organization’s digital marketing, services and commerce. Magnolia connects to all of your back-end systems, and assembles the response that it then delivers to any given output channel - mobile, web, apps, smart TV's, ebooks, points-of-sale, the Internet of things – anything. And it takes requests back to those systems, like "book me a room for 2 next weekend in Venice".


Magnolia CMS acts as a hub for your organizations communication.



To top it off, we at Magnolia believe content creation (or data manipulation, if you want) needs to work equally well on desktop and tablet computers. Which is why Magnolia is built as a collection of task-oriented Web apps that run inside Magnolia.


A cut-out from Magnolia CMS's launch screen, showing some apps you can use to manage content.

Each app typically has its own data type (we typically call them "content" types) and runs equally well on desktop and tablet computers. Such apps provide the user interface to interact with the content in question – the forms for input maintenance we mentioned earlier, but also the ability to search for content items, preview them on different channels, sort them or change their hierarchical order. Some apps provide image manipulation functionality, others the ability to search for broken links. Some may connect to SAP to enrich your marketing leads, or to Hybris to present a top seller on one of you landing pages.

Magnolia CMS runs perfectly well on an iPad, too.

An example of a Magnolia CMS app – in this case the Assets app, which allows you to do image manipulation right in your browser – on desktop and tablets (desktop version shown)

Whatever it is you wish to create in terms of a digital presence, a virtual store front, e-government or news channel, Magnolia is up to the task by providing an unparalleled open foundation to bring your unique business value to the web and beyond.

So, I hope you like my answer. It is still not comprehensive, and maybe a bit long, but I do think I have made an effort to add perspective.  Let me how you would describe Magnolia – and don't forget to subscribe to my updates by adding your email in the top right corner of this page. Thanks!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Magnolia

In theory, I would have had 10 years to write this blog post, right? But in reality, I am writing this just days before we want to publish it. Things are busy. So this is it: it's been exactly 10 years since the first release of Magnolia, back on November 15, 2003 - my brother's birthday. No coincidence, like so many things we do at Magnolia. People are important here. "Here" initially was Basel, Switzerland, a unique place on the corner of Switzerland, bordering Germany and France, with the river Rhine flowing right next to our office.

Magnolia started as an experiment, the idea that we could build a CMS that would work better than any other CMS on the planet. When we released version 1.0, it certainly didn't. But in life, it is important to know where you want to go, and then take the first step. Releasing a software product into the wide open www was unprecedented for us, so it did not matter so much what we released, it mattered that we released. The first step was taken, and as you all know, many more would follow.

Things have changed. 13 years ago we were wearing ties.
We started Magnolia development with a small team - four people were involved in the first release. Pascal and myself guided and communicated the process; Sala and Sameer implemented. We thought it would be cool to release our own product, and let me tell you: it was – and it still is.

We couldn't have imagined that we would still be here 10 years after that,  working on fulfilling our original vision of a highly usable, highly flexible content management system for the enterprise. Like the river Rhine that flows through Basel, the market is in a state of constant flux. We have seen the rise of social, mobile, cloud and many other trends. With it, Magnolia has evolved from its early days, both as a company and as a product.

The barn where it all started. Our office on the first floor. Note abundance of windows.
What hasn't changed is the unique relationship between Pascal and myself. As anybody who has ever met us will readily confirm, we are two very different characters. And it is this combination that has made us strong. We always approach a challenge from opposite ends, and are forced to understand whatever we want or have to do from different perspectives. I believe that this leads to better decisions. Having somebody to discuss with, who shares your experience and history is invaluable. Together we have weathered incredible stunts, and we came out stronger every time. In one of the presentations before Magnolia's time, Pascal was standing in front of about 20 people giving a product demo. Standing in the small server room above the presentation room, I had to restart the server every time the demo got stuck – which was pretty much after every second click. In frantic but secret communication we needed to coordinate our actions to ensure the presentation was a success. It certainly made us trust in each other's abilities when it comes to presenting under stress ;-)

In our early years, survival of the company was under constant threat. We were a small,  local web agency with technology knowhow, and our revenue came from building websites, custom software, hosting and managing infrastructure. But we kept working on Magnolia, cross-financed by our services. In these early years we didn't grow - in fact, we had to lay off staff until in 2006, only 4 people remained on board – and our sole focus became Magnolia. At the time, survival meant things like not paying wages and selling the Apple shares that I had bought in times of plenty. The great thing about hitting rock bottom is that from then on, things can only get better. And getting better they did.

Retreat to Ticino in 2006 – here, Pascal and I came up with the idea to sell a Magnolia Enterprise Edition. It changed our future.
As they say, the rest is history: these days, there are about 60 members of staff, and "Here" has become a lot of places – our software is used around the globe, and we have staff working in the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and China. Our focus on people hasn't changed – and we are humbled by and indebted to all the Magnolians who have made and continue to make Magnolia such a great place to work at. I for one am looking forward to the next 10 years, hopefully with a lot of you coming along for the journey. Thank you.

Magnolians enjoying lunch on the terrace. Pascal and Boris occasionally cook for the whole team, an event known as "Chefs as Chefs". 


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The future of content management: industry insider predictions

Rasmus Skjoldan, Creative Lead at MOC has asked a group of people about their thoughts on the future of our industry.

Screenshot of slides that collect CMS industry insider statements about the future of content management

Background to this is his task to create NEOS, the new UI for Typo3, a CMS. Rasmus is a great guy, so I was happy to provide my input even though at the time we were just releasing Magnolia 5, our own take on a CMS that is ready for the future. In case you have missed it, here is my statement, meant to inspire the next generation(s) of a great UI, no matter which CMS you work on. It is also a reflection on how the world of web publishing has changed, and how many of the CMS's really haven't.


The CMS has become the center, the hub, the nexus of digital communication. Everybody has become a content creator. Organizations have become publishers to succeed in digital marketing, services and sales.
The world is on the move – it has become mobile and ever faster changing. Yet most software products are still stuck in the 90's style "death by dropdown" user interaction paradigm. Software creators need to move on, need to provide the flexibility to keep pace with the evolving web. We need to provide usability that inspires great content and allows people to produce great customer experiences.
Leave the 90s behind. Define the future. Be bold. Change the world.

CMSWire picked it up and the predictions became a highly successful post for them. You can find all of the quotes & insights in Rasmus' slides on Slideshare. It was a great initiative, and I thank Rasmus for pulling it off.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Why Magnolia CMS version 5 is like no other enterprise software before


Two weeks ago, Magnolia has released version 5 of its long-awaited CMS, to wide industry acclaim. Let's have a quick look on what makes Magnolia 5 such an unparalleled product in todays enterprise software market.



Win the feature war, lose your users.

We have worked on Magnolia 5 for years, starting with early designs back in 2008. The reason it took so long is because the market for content management keeps changing rapidly. To stay competitive, a vendor typically needs to work on features rather than on the platform or user experience. This is why typical CMS's look like they were developed in the 90's, are overcrowded with layers of options and a "death by drop-down menu" style of user interaction design, cobbled together by acquisitions of various components to build an "integrated (!?) software suite".

Topics in the CMS space in the last 5 years

So, which topics did we see since we first started thinking about Magnolia 5? In the last 5 years we have seen the rise of cloud computing, social media and mobile, the gradual switch of CMS selection responsibility from IT to marketing, the late but stellar rise of Javascript as a language for application development on the client, and constantly shifting "most important" aspects of the CMS ecosystem like content vs. meta data, navigation vs. search, SEO, analytics, personalization, experience management, suite vs. best-of-breed etc. As a vendor, trying to follow the latest analyst induced buzzword trending on twitter is a subscription to insanity.

Independent thinking needs independence

In order to stay sane, radical and independent thinking is essential. Luckily, Magnolia's independence (we have no external funding) and sustainable business model (we only sell license subscriptions) allows us to think long-term.  And so we did, back in the summer of 2011, when we decided to completely start from scratch with our designs for Magnolia 5, and think "touch first".


The driving question behind the gorgeous Magnolia 5 user interface was "what would a CMS look like if it were designed for touch". This question lead to a very interesting shift in how we approached the interaction design of Magnolia, because just "translating" a desktop UI to touch doesn't work.

Think touch first

To create a UI that doesn't suck on mobile devices, you need to think touch, think mobile, think limited screen estate, think task-focussed apps. 3000 mockups later we have released Magnolia 5. Not only does it work on tablets, it also has solved many issues users typically face in any other CMS on the market today. By "applifying" the user interface, we simultaneously make the product much easier to use, much easier to personalize and much easier to extend with custom functionality.

HTML5-based Magnolia 5 Apps to the rescue

Magnolia 5 is built to orchestrate your digital marketing, sales and service. By creating custom apps, you can easily achieve that, and with it add significant business value to your virtual presence. The combination of apps with the Pulse (our messaging system) and Favorites, which allow you to create custom "recipes" of related tasks makes using Magnolia both powerful and highly enjoyable.



Magnolia 5: a platform for future growth

As a platform for future development, Magnolia 5 is here to stay with us for many years to come. We envision a range of apps to be made available by us as well as our worldwide network of certified Magnolia partners. Already first partners have started developing apps for Magnolia, and we expect to see initial results at the Magnolia conference in September in Basel. I hope I'll see you there, showing your first Magnolia app. Meanwhile, why don't you go and download Magnolia 5 to see what the future of enterprise software looks like – on your desktop, your touch device and on the move.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

3 Reasons Why Open Source Software Delivers Where Proprietary Software Fails

"Yes, you have to pay a fee for my software but I’m going to make sure that it is available, running fast and up-to-date”, says Michael Assad, CEO of Agility CMS, in a recent article of his. The piece explores the differences between Open Source and proprietary content management systems, voicing concerns about OSS and showcasing benefits of proprietary. I don’t agree with Mr Assad at all: In the long term, proprietary software is dead. The whole model is so deeply flawed that I am amazed that people still buy proprietary CMSs. Let me explain why.

Open Source is the better development model

It starts with how a content management system is developed. Nobody ever sees the source code of a proprietary CMS. It is potentially bound to be horrible, because developers can easily and comfortably hide behind their unintelligible, bad code. They make sure they keep their job. In open source, there will always be people looking at your code - and you know it, so you better make sure it is at least decent.

Developers are artists and craftsmen. They want to share their work and discuss the best way to tackle a challenge. They know of the cost of writing bad software. In an open source company, they will avoid it because their name is attached to the code, for everybody to see. Any future employer can look at how they work and if their skills are any good. Does this help writing better code than in a proprietary company? You bet it does. In your company, developers are probably forbidden to show their code to anybody outside the company. That is bad for them, bad for the code and bad for your product.

Open Source is open and extensible by default

Open Source code is written to be extended, because that is how the model works. Our partners can do fantastic custom implementations and extend the CMS according to a client’s need - because the code is there to look at and to be worked with. Closed Source code is written such that it works for a specific functional requirement (especially if you outsource your development!). In the long term, your software will suffocate on its own gluttony (one example of hundreds: Vignette).

Open Source delivers on the promise

Sales of proprietary software over-promise, and the product under-delivers. Always. Never in my 30+ years in business have I seen it the other way round. Why? Because sales gets paid for selling, so they sell anything the customer wants. Then the primary goal becomes to simply hack the stuff to fulfill the sales promise and there it is - another feature in a bloated mess. As long as a feature runs, it is good enough for sales to sell it. But ultimately, it is another nail in the coffin of your proprietary CMS.

With Open Source, you get the better product ...

So here is the way it works for us: our developers are proud of what they do. They share it with everybody who wants to see it. They have open discussions with those that care to engage (you know Joy’s law: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”). This means they are happy and motivated to do the work they do. They build the foundation to help others implement anything they need. This is turn means the system is highly adaptable - the foundation for business agility.

A great product almost sells itself. Not as fast as your sales force can press a proprietary system into the market, but it will spread – by word of mouth. Combine this with a sustainable business model - ours is dual licensing subscription, a business model Magnolia pioneered for applications, which meanwhile is pretty common in the OS world. It allows us to keep costs low, double every two years in size and revenue and have a long term perspective on our business and product, which benefits the customers, the implementation partners and us (we actually sleep well at night).

... and Open Source vendors are the better companies.

Incidentally, most companies these days are externally funded (VC etc). Hard to see how the interest of the financiers aligns with those of the customers of a proprietary CMS. Magnolia never had external funding. We can follow our vision independently.

All these factors allow us to significantly invest in the future of our product, which will address the common concern (also voiced in Assad’s article) that CMSs are too difficult to use. For a glimpse into our biggest release yet (scheduled for June 20) look at http://www.magnolia-cms.com/five. And we are not talking Wordpress here, but a platform that powers some of the world's most demanding virtual presences. We are simply, slowly but strongly building the world's best CMS. Not saying we are there yet, but we'll get there. And it being Open Source is a big part of that journey.


Sign up here so you don't miss my next blog post: 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CMS deconstructed: is user experience all that remains?

In the last couple of years, more and more functions that are typically part of a bigger product have been "extracted" from such products and released as service available on the web, often for free. Take for example video publishing. No longer is it strictly necessary to have your own infrastructure to publish videos on the web – services like YouTube or Vimeo can be utilized, often for free. The same is true for  much of  the functionality found for example in a content management system or web experience management suite:
  • Video publishing: Youtube, Vimeo…
  • Image editing & publishing: Flickr…
  • Task Manager: Remember the Milk
  • File Sharing: Dropbox
  • Document Management: Google Apps
  • Analytics: Google Analytics
  • Comments:  IntenseDebate
  • Project Management: Basecamp
  • Publishing: tons of hosting providers
  • … uncounted others for every aspect you can imagine
Photo ©Boris Kraft. All rights reserved.

So you could say there is a trend to deconstruct content management (there is also an opposite trend, building suites that try to do everything you ever need, but I'll discuss that in a future blog post).

One very recent example is the real time web. There actually are cloud services that do nothing more than allow your content to be refreshed on the client without the user reloading a page (remember the Push web?). Great for instance for live coverage of events. This functionality clearly should and will be delivered by any good ol' CMS worth its salt sooner or later. Still it apparently is an urgent enough business objective to have spawned companies that do nothing else (not a long term viable business proposition I'd assume, but I digress)

If you take that trend to the extreme, all functionalities that you find in a software like Magnolia could eventually become individual web services provided by a host of companies. Maybe we have a company that offers workflow on the web (been waiting for that for at least 10 years), companies offering JCR storage, services to write rich text snippets and others to publish them. You get the picture: theoretically we could move all the individual bits and pieces of a product into cloud services. 

For the sake of pleasing our imaginative minds, assume that a vendor like Magnolia follows suite and keeps reducing the functionality provided by the product, opting instead to integrate a web service. To some extent, that has already happened – for instance, Magnolia uses CampaignMonitor to run email campaigns, IntenseDebate for commenting (we additionally provide our own commenting module), and Google Analytics for analytics and A/B testing. 

Continue down this road and all that eventually remains is a shell for the various pluggable web services. And what is a shell but a user interface?

So, provided one day a CMS is only a UI on web services, wouldn't that mean that the user interface is the most important part of the product? If every CMS is using the same web services (or allows you to pick from the same such services), the only difference between them will be the user interface.

Not that I believe that will actually happen (otherwise we'd no be developing so much functionality for Magnolia Five), but either way our focus on providing the best looking and best working user interface in the industry certainly allows me to sleep well even if it would.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

On Company Transformations, Rubber Boots and Perspective

Every company that wants to survive in a competitive market eventually needs to adapt to changing environments. Examples abound – Nokia, which went from rubber boots maker to global mobile phone giant may seem an extreme example, but a good indicator of how drastic such changes can be. Other examples include Berkshire Hathaway or even IBM, which narrowly survived more than once only due to drastic course changes.

Nokia Rubber Boots
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/27836510@N07/

Now Magnolia is far from being an aging multinational behemoth. But nonetheless adapt we must, and have done so successfully in the past, usually in a very conscious way. For instance we decided in 2006 that we shed our project business to focus on building the best CMS on the market. It was no easy decision, because projects directly translate into revenue, which is why most of our competitors love to do projects.

But this was to the benefit of our partners, who provide these services without us competing against them, and to our customers, who get software that is no longer driven by project features ending up in a product. Shedding our project business has allowed Magnolia to work on Magnolia 5 with vision, rigor and bravery, something we could not have done would we not have transformed Magnolia from a service company to a product vendor.

So here we are, transforming our company once more, this time in a subtle way, but one that is all the way more powerful. Until summer 2011, we were basically adding features to a product. The main discussions from a product manager perspective focussed on which feature to add next in order to stay relevant in a very agile, demanding and complex environment. Should we add Facebook support? Become more social? Do we need to offer a SAAS version? Should we rather integrate Salesforce or Hybris? Is personalization or multi-variate testing the more relevant feature for our existing or future customers?
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done– Steve Jobs in Fortune, Mar. 7, 2008 
Every product company has to make such decisions. At Magnolia, we successfully ignored many trends to focus on building an enterprise CMS with technical sophistication and an intuitive user interface. So in summer 2011 we decided that Magnolia 5 should be built for the "generation mobile". We dumped all previous user interface design work and started over, this time from a mobile perspective. How would interaction work if a CMS would be as simple to use as a smart phone? The outcome is spectacular.

What is even more spectacular, is how changing our perspective has transformed us from a feature-focussed company to a vendor with its own vision and impact on the market. The way we think about content management today is different from a year ago. Yes we still need to implement features in order for our software to do anything useful. But features have become somewhat of an afterthought. It is not the features that make Magnolia 5 an outstanding product. It is the overall product experience that makes the difference.

Much like the first iPhone, some people will find that some features are lacking compared to the competition in the first release of Magnolia five. But if you focus on features, you miss the bigger picture, the long term perspective, the big waves that alter history. Much like Nokia, who certainly had more features in their smart phones in 2007 than the iPhone. Or Microsoft. Or Blackberry.

So here we are, the new Magnolia, a company that re-envisions content management for a world that is mobile first and where organizations extend their virtual presence on multiple channels to interact with their customers, members and citizens. This is a magnificent transformation and I am totally thrilled by its implications and possibilities.
Sign up here so you don't miss my next blog post: 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Disruptive Innovation: how mobile alters the cab business

I was in Manhattan back in 2007 to build up Magnolia Americas. One of the first things I did when I got there was to buy the new iPhone (even before I had an apartment or an office). I met a lot of cool people and had to move around in taxies quite a bit, and naturally some day in Brooklyn (there are generally no cabs in Brooklyn) I thought about an App to order a cab or limousine. I am used to toying around new ideas and take them apart, build business plans around them etc, so I took it as a nice intellectual challenge but not more.


Fast forward to 2012, and these kind of Apps have arrived big time. We have recently switched to a new taxi company in Basel, and with it came an app that allows me to order a taxi and see where it is and how long it takes to get to wherever I am – the kind of app I imagined back in 2007. Naturally I started to ask the cab drivers how the business model around their enterprise works and how these apps change their life.

So let me step back a bit. About a year ago I did a workshop with the CMS Experts Europe Group of Janus Boye about Disruptive Innovation. It has become a bit of a hobby of mine to look for disruptive technologies. So naturally I was interested in the disruptive nature of the taxi app.

First, taxis usually work in two modes – you either hitch one driving by, or you order one to pick you up. In New York or London demand for taxis is high, so if you are a cab driver, it suffices to drive around a block and you will have a new guest. There is little incentive for them to go through a call center to be dispatched to a client. In London for instance, most cab drivers will not be connected to a call center (one friendly cabby estimated that  20% of London cabbies are enrolled in such a scheme there).

A call center however is useful in smaller places. Cities like Basel. A cab driver pays a monthly fee for the call center, and the call center dispatches taxies to clients. In Germany a cab driver pays e.g. 450 € (580 USD) per month to the call center in order to get a supply of clients. In Basel, the fee is nearly twice s much at 1000 CHF (1070 USD). The taxi drivers have little alternatives to the call center services to get business here.

Now enter the app. The app connects the client (me) with the cab driver circumventing intermediaries like the call center. I haven't researched their fee structures in detail, but from what I hear, for instance in Germany the cab driver pays about 1$ in fees per ride initiated through the app to the app provider. While this might not seem like a big money saver, its main value for the taxi drivers is that the fee is per ride.

In Germany, if you take a three week holiday, you still pay the monthly 580USD for the call center. If you only work part time, same thing. The call center, in other words, doesn't care if you work or not. The app however does.

And the taxi drivers seem to love the new way of doing business. First, if they just stop on the road and pick up a passenger, they will not have to pay anybody anything. Same for all sick times, vacations or other times they don't work. However, if they need to rely on a third party to get a guest, they just wait until the next request on their mobile comes in and pay 1$ for it. This is a great value proposition for them, and naturally in Germany, cab drivers are using the app pretty much everywhere. The call centers don't like it, but what can they do?

Well, in Switzerland, they simply forbid the use of the app independent of the call center. In other words, the app I use goes to the call center, they notify the taxi driver and dispatch her to me.

Is this the right approach? Will it save the taxi call centers long term? What should they do? Is there anything they actually can do?

The mobile and the taxi app are disruptive to the business of the call center. The "disruptive" part  means that it change the nature of how things get done. Unless you change as well, you will not survive. I understand that the Swiss taxi center tries to use their dominance to stem the tide, but I believe resistance is futile. Their dispatch service simply is no longer needed.

Let me end with a little story on Kodak and Fujifilm. Both companies at their heyday were quite comparable, one quintessential American, one Japanese film maker. Kodak actually invented the digital camera! Today, Kodak is dead (what a shame), Fujifilm is striving. Why?

They both new at about the same time that change was inevitable. The digital camera would be disruptive for their film business. Surprisingly, Kodak failed to act decisively and forcefully, whereas Fujifilm did. Let's skip an analysis of what Kodak did wrong (lot's of things for sure) in their demise. What did Fujifilm do? They basically said: film as we know it is dead. How can we apply our considerable knowledge, processes, relationships and intellectual property elsewhere? And they did come up with two interesting business ideas that they followed through with – one in cosmetics (turns out the human skin and film have similar needs and characteristics) and one in flat panel displays, where Fujifilm has developed a film that increases the viewing angle of the display which is market leading.

My advice to call centers: assume dispatching taxis to clients is a dead business proposition. What can you provide that will still be useful? Then act fast and decisively.

These days when I need a cab I simply download an app and press a button. Life has become much easier for this weary traveller. Where did you recently see the disruptive nature of mobile at work?

Sign up here so you don't miss my next blog post: