December 1, 2010 By Rob Enderle
As the end of the year nears its time to look back at the firms that set positive examples of how to do things right in the technology market. Each of these companies stood out for excellence either in marketing, products, or services. These aren’t in any particular order.
Apple in 2010 and for much of last decade defined itself with a blend of mostly strong complete products with good marketing and support. Their iPhone 4 – even with some initial hiccups and tied at the hip to AT&T, one of the least liked carriers – still ranked consistently at the top of its class, which is like someone winning a Marathon while pulling a truck. No other company has been so consistently good over such a long period of time. While they at times are a bit overly controversial, no other firm hit so strongly on all three vectors last year.
One of my personal big hot buttons is customer care and customer loyalty. EMC is the only company that takes this aggressively up to the CEO level, and it continued to push the envelope this year. With some of the other companies in EMC’s enterprise segment seem to take customer satisfaction and loyalty for granted, this focus enables EMC to stand out as an example of what we want our companies to do – care about us, and take our own feelings about their products and services very seriously.
2010 was Microsoft’s year. While most of the decade it executed well with enterprise products (with the clear exception of Windows Vista), they did substandard marketing until last year. In 2010 they stepped up to working on their image with a vengeance and have done stunning work with Windows 7, the most successful operating system in terms of volume in the history of the planet, and with Windows Phone 7.
In this last, only Hyundai is doing better TV work with commercials tied to product use in the shows the ads are connected to. Xbox Kinect, Ford Sync II, IE9 beta, and Office 2010 were all sharply improved and generally lead their class in terms of innovation or execution. Microsoft heads my short list of most improved companies in 2010.
HP stands out because its board of handpicked members stood up in front of an entitled CEO and said the rules apply to him as well as all other HP employees. We seem to live in a time where CEOs feel strongly that rules shouldn’t apply to them. While HP’s CEO was flying private jets and receiving massive bonuses, HP employees were shoehorned into coach and had benefits, profit sharing and even their jobs stripped from them.
The HP board finally said “enough” and booted his sorry butt out of the company. And if more boards would make a similar effort to do their jobs we probably wouldn’t have had as many problems with firms misacting in a number of segments over the last two years.
Lenovo brought on board David Roman, who came up with the most creative PC marketing campaign of the last decade for HP. What made this campaign unique is that it utilized HP’s philanthropic budget to get free celebrity support, providing huge interest for a fraction of the money.
Technology companies are often defined by poorly funded and executed marketing largely because they use too many untrained practitioners. Lenovo chased down one of the best in the business. This was a best practice and bodes well for them next year. As an aside, in a breakdown of what PC analysts actually use as their carry laptops, the Lenovo ThinkPad remains No. 1 with a significant lead, followed by Dell and Apple.
The company that led the large scale hardware and services market for decades realized that the emphasis on the cloud and Oracle’s acquisition of Sun required a major change in strategy, and put Steve Mills in as the number 2 executive at the firm.
Companies that reach IBM’s scale are often defined by an inability to change and react to major market moves and IBM has historically shared this problem under earlier executives. Sam Palmisano has stepped out and broken with tradition by putting software in the lead position and better positioning IBM for its likely future. In a year often defined by firms with misbehaving CEOs, Palmisano stands out as a true asset to his company and Steve Mills is right behind him.
Qualcomm emerged as the vendor in Smartphones. It was the only vendor to both anticipate the need for better graphics by acquiring technology for AMD and buy a company building next-generation Transflective displays. Of the vendors in their space they seem to be the most driven competitively and most strategic and focused in terms of acquisitions and internal development efforts. For instance, their coming Skifta application could redefine both the smartphone and the universal remote control, connecting the control to content directly and not just to the devices that play it.
Strategy is often a term that is often used but relatively poorly understood by most companies; Qualcomm appears to be the exception that understands and funds big strategic moves best.
NVIDIA is doing the most work to promote GPU computing and much of what is being done is in pharmaceuticals and medical research. They seemed to get that they had to step out of the box to compete with Intel and by so doing created the least expensive super computers on the planet. This power is currently being used to create solutions to medical problems. Of all the firms, it is the most likely to be connected to something that could save each of our lives. Staying alive remains a high priority and helping me do that puts NVIDIA on this list.
If it is a product I cover and Panasonic is in the space, they have the best one. This includes digital cameras, 3D TVs, and particularly hardened laptops. Panasonic is the only laptop builder that consistently builds products that you can stake your life on. The Toughbook remains the best-hardened laptop in the world. They also were the only vendor that recognized the need for a combined solar/fuel cell solution for the home and presented it at the last CES. The company acquired Sanyo to complete the solution.
Saving lives and thinking ahead of the market puts them on this list. On a related point, it was founded by Konosuke Matsushita, who built the company out of nothing and held customers and customer loyalty as his primary goal. He remains one of the greatest examples of how to be successful by treating your employees and customers well. Something too many companies forgot last year.
We, as analysts, tend to spend a lot of time as critics and not enough time pointing out what companies did right. I don’t expect that will change, but this week is about excellence and these firms each stood out in my mind in the technology market as firms that exceeded one or more key expectations and demonstrated excellence in 2010.