Monthly Archives: November 2011

Competing online syllabus

Name of course: Competing online
Time: February 7-8, 2011
Place: Lorange Institute of Business, Zürich, Switzerland
Instructor: Espen Andersen, Assoc. Prof. Norwegian Business School

The course, a two-day seminar aimed at senior business decision-makers, will give insight into the strategic and tactical choices facing companies going into electronic commerce, whether from a pure online strategy or using an online presence as a support for their regular service and sales channels. The syllabus is not meant to be conclusive – the right to make changes is most explicitly reserved.

If you are interested, you can sign up here.

Syllabus:

Tuesday, February 7

Session 1, 0830-1000: Introduction, the promise and peril of online competition
This session will introduce the course and use a short case as a starting point for discussing the impact of online competition on traditional companies. Please read and be prepared to discuss the following:

Study questions for the case:

  • Is eHerramientas a threat to Catatech?
  • What should Marisa do to design a strategy to counter eHerramientas’ competition?
  • What should Marisa to to communicate her strategy within Catatech?

Session 2, 1030-1200: The mechanisms of electronic commerce: Searchability and findability
Google provides the context in which you will need to be found on the web. Amazon shows a company that helps you find the right product when the customer lands on the site. In this session we will study the offerings by both companies, and see how they have evolved over time.

  • Article: Rangaswamy, A., C. L. Giles, et al. (2009). “A Strategic Perspective on Search Engines: Thought Candies for Practitioners and Researchers.” Journal of Interactive Marketing23: 49-60.
  • Article: Andersen, E. (2006). “The Waning Importance of Categorization.” ACM Ubiquity7(19).
  • Google technology overview, “What is AdWords” video,
  • Article: (for the more advanced student): Brin, S. and L. Page (1998). The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. Seventh International WWW Conference, Brisbane, Australia. (this is the paper that started Google).
  • Amazon: “Inside Amazon” video, as well as this article: Linden, G., B. Smith, et al. (2003). “Amazon.com recommendations: item-to-item collaborative filtering.” Internet Computing, IEEE 7(1): 76-80.

Session 3 and 4, 1330-1700, with break: Evolving the pure online company
In this session we will study the evolution of Masterstudies.com, a company that helps graduate schools selectively recruit international students for their MBA and M.Sc. programs. We will be joined in this discussion by Mr. Linus Murphy, CEO of Masterstudies.

Session 5, 1700-1730: An introduction to disruptive innovations
In preparation for the group work for the night, there will be a short introduction to and discussion of the theory of disruptive innovations.

  • Articles: Christensen, C. M., M. Raynor, et al. (2001). “Skate to Where the Money Will Be.” Harvard Business Review (November): 73-81.

Session 6, after 1730: Group work

  • Case: Schibsted (HBS case 707474, Bharat Anand)
  • Article: “More media, less news”, The Economist, August 24, 2006
  • Assignment: On a group basis, prepare a short presentation for tomorrow’s morning session. More precise instructions will be distributed in class.

Wednesday, February 8:

Session 7, 0830-1000: Responding to online competition:

  • Case: Schibsted (HBS case 707474, Bharat Anand)
  • Group presentations, prepared the night before

Session 8, 1030-1200: Responding to the social web: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter

Social media represents many challenges to business organizations – but also opportunities for increasing brand awareness, learning from customers and .

  • Article: Mangold, W. G. and D. J. Faulds “Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix.” Business Horizons 52(4): 357-365.
  • Case: A blogger in their midst (HBS case R0309X, Halley Suitt)
  • Case: Coca-Cola on Facebook (HBS case 511110, John Deighton, Leora Kornfeld)

Session 9, 1330-1500: Responding to the technical threat

Security and disaster management is often ignored by senior management – partly because the issues are, well, technical and difficult. The iPremier case, in cartoon form for your reading pleasure, allows for a discussion of how to think about and prioritize security in an online business environment.

Case study questions:

  • How well did the iPremier Company perform during the seventy-five minute attack? If you were Bob Turley, what might you have done differently during the attack?
  • The iPremier CEO, Jack Samuelson, had already expressed to Bob Turley his concern that the company might eventually suffer from a “deficit in operating procedures.” Were the company’s operating procedures deficient in responding to this attack? What additional procedures might have been in place to better handle the attack?
  • Now that the attack has ended, what can the iPremier company do to prepare for another such attack?
  • In the aftermath of the attack, what would you be worried about? What actions would you recommend?

Session 10, 1530-1700: Short written examination

  • TBA.

Session 11: 1700-1730: Concluding remarks

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Fulfilling the status role of books

Espen Andersen (Photo: Nard Schreurs)In my office at BI Norwegian Business School I have many books, accumulated over the years. In my living room I have even more, having spent time building bookshelves and defending the wall space against family members who think it could be put to better use. And in my basement I have stacks of cartons with even more books, which I do not have the heart to throw out – hey, I might get around to reading the complete works of Hermann Hesse, in German, some day – but not the space to display.

The book collection is nice – I like books, I can remember almost viscerally where most of them are, and often all that is necessary to remember what is in them is just to take them out of the shelf. And they do tell everyone around me that I am a bona fide intellectual, should anyone wonder.

But I (almost) don’t read books on paper any more – I buy them and read them on my Kindle or PC or iPad. Electronic books are searchable, weightless, cheap, accessible and cost nothing to store. But nobody can see how many books I have on my PC or Kindle. Having many books signals status, to the point where there are companies that will fill you bookshelves for you, in any color and style you want, for a fee. The usefulness of books as status signals will diminish over time, however, just as what has happened with CD racks, which you don’t display anymore, unless you have thousands of vinyl records and cross the threshold from music lover to music fanatic. So, what to do?

The Norwegian publishing and bookselling industry, an astonishingly backward group of companies when it comes to anything digital, yesterday introduced a new concept for e-books that, even for them, is rather harebrained. They want to sell e-book tablets where you can buy books not as downloads (well, you can do that, too) but as files loaded on small plastic memory cards, to be inserted into the reader [article in Norwegian]. This preserves their business model (though they can probably stop using trucks and start using bicycles for distribution). According to their not very convincing market analysis, this is aimed at the segment of the book buying market who do not want to download books from the net (but, for some reason, seem to want to read books electronically.)

imageI initially thought I would make a joke about having to replace my bookshelves with neat little minishelves for the plastic cards, when it dawned on me that perhaps we have the solution here – i.e., a model where we could get the accessibility of digital books with the status display of the paper version. Why couldn’t the publishing industry sell you a digital book (for downloading, if you please) bundled with a cardboard book model, with binding and all, to put in your bookshelf? This would look great, allow you to effortlessly project your intellectualism and elevated taste, while avoiding the weight, dust, and (since these books would only need to be a in inch or two deep) space nuisances of traditional books. You could even avoid physical distribution by letting the customer self-print and cut and fold the “shelf-book” in the right format.

You could even electronically link the two, so that you cold pick your cardboard book from the shelf, wave it in the direction of the e-book tablet (using transponder, 2D barcoding or other identifying techniques) and the book would show up in your reader. If you really wanted to show off, you could add a little color coded bar indicated how far you were in each book, much like a download bar for your computer, to be displayed on each book. Moreover, such as book could be lent from one reader to another.

I recently bought Don DeLillo’s Underworld for my Kindle. Imagine if it came with with nice little book spine, leather as an expensive option, with a barcode and a “read” bar as illustrated here…status, spatial memory, interior decoration, and a way to gradually replace the paper library with an electronic one without disruption.

Remember, you saw it here first!

(In case you wondered: Yes, I am being facetious.)

Two books on search and social network analysis

Social Network Analysis for Startups: Finding connections on the social webSocial Network Analysis for Startups: Finding connections on the social web by Maksim Tsvetovat
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Concise and well-written (like most O’Reilly stuff) book on basic social network analysis, complete with (Python, Unix-based) code and examples. You can ignore the code samples if you want to just read the book (I was able to replicate some of them using UCINet, a network analysis tool).

Liked it. Recommended.

Search Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your CustomersSearch Analytics for Your Site: Conversations with Your Customers by Louis Rosenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very straightforward and practically oriented – with lots of good examples. Search log analysis – seeing what customers are looking for and whether or not they find it – is as close to having a real, recorded and analyzable conversation with your customers as you can come, yet very few companies do it. Rosenfeld shows how to do it, and also how to find the low-hanging fruit and how to justify spending resources on it.

This is not rocket science – I was, quite frankly, astonished at how few companies do this. With more and more traffic coming from search engines, more and more users using search rather than hierarchical navigation, and the invisibility of dissatisfied customers (and the lost opportunities they represent) this should be high on any CIOs agenda.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Human-computer interaction, indeed

This event was great fun – fun as a show, but also impressive in what both the student teams (well, MIT didn’t do that well…) and the computer could do. Jeopardy is a very complicated game, relies on wordplay (In the category “presidential rhymes”, the answer is “George W.’s bottoms”, the question “What is Bush’es tushes), obscure knowledge and word combinations (such as combining two movie titles into a new one, as in “Millon Dollar Baby Boom”).

If only the HBS team hadn’t played it safe towards the end – they bet just enough money so that they would not lose to MIT if they missed the last question – we would have had the first instance where the computer had lost to a human team. Oh well…

Addendum: A perspective from Stacey Higginbotham: Why Watson can’t talk to Siri. (I wonder if they used the same questions at that event, since Chile was an answer in the HBS one, too. Doesn’t mean they are cheating, though – it is quite easy to make a computer forget…

Big data and the study of connections

I read this very interesting article at Om Malik on Broadband, where Dr. Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins argues that Big Data – the enormously increased availability and analyzability of data as the world increasingly becomes digitized – will mean as much to science as the microscope once did.

It made me think of Douglas Adams’ wonderful lecture on “Parrots, the Universe and Everything.” One of his central points there is that science is changing – from a focus on taking things apart to understand to one where we put them together so that we can watch them interact.

On a smaller scale, I think this is extremely important for businesses, especially those that can be characterized as value networks, i.e. companies whose main value provisioning consists of connecting people and helping them exchange information, goods or money (well, OK then, money is information, I agree, but still.) At present, these companies segment their customers mainly by demographics (age, gender, location, education, etc.) or, for business customers, by size, industry and location. Massive data analysis will allow them to stop segmentation (which is only a representation reducing your market transaction cost, but also providing a less tailored product for the customer) and instead offer services and connections based on which other users each member is connected to and what they exchange.

Imagine instead if your telephone company, bank or insurance company could analyze you in terms of your interactions with others. That would allow the telephone company to group and tailor their services for the customers that create the most traffic, have the biggest impact, prevent the most accidents or in other ways cause desirable changes in behaviors of those around them. This is now done in a very primitive way and after the fact – imagine if you could do it in real time.