Friday, October 10, 2014

PCM Takes an H-P "Snapshot"

PCM, a major H-P distributor and services provider, has produced a very informative graphic encapsulating the H-P split. Thanks, PCM!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

HP's Corporate Evolution

October 8, 2014: It was all over the news this week that Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman will be splitting the company in two, with Whitman leading Hewlett-Packard Enterprise in selling business IT. The other company, HP Inc., will focus on PCs and printers. (Each will have revenue of more than $55 billion.)

Whitman went on to explain that the H-P Enterprise company will be dedicated to helping companies "get from traditional IT -- and by the way, run that traditional IT better -- but to get from there to the new style of IT characterized by cloud and security and big data and mobility." Whitman said the four main parts of the enterprise business are infrastructure ("the foundation for the new style of IT"), services, software, and the cloud.


As Chris Murphy pointed out in InformationWeek, "HP is adapting to a world where the data center matters more than ever as an engine for business growth, but the individual pieces of that data center matter less."

Many Incarnations
Hewlett-Packard has been through many, many incarnations. It got its legendary start in Palo Alto in the single-car garage of William Hewlett along with his partner David Packard in January 1939. They both got electrical engineering degrees from Stanford in 1935 and established their company with an initial investment of $538. It was incorporated in 1947 and went public ten years later. 

According to Wikipedia, "Of the many projects they worked on, their very first financially successful product was a precision audio oscillator, the ModelHP200A. Their innovation was the use of a small incandescent light bulb (known as a "pilot light") as a temperature dependent resistor in a critical portion of the circuit, the negative feedback loop which stabilized the amplitude of the output sinusoidal waveform. This allowed them to sell the Model 200A for $54.40 when competitors were selling less stable oscillators for over $200.... One of the company's earliest customers was Walt Disney Productions which bought eight Model 200B oscillators (at $71.50 each) for use in certifying the Fantasound surround sound systems installed in theaters for the movie Fantasia" in the 1950s."

In the 1960s they specialized in electronic test equipment: signal generators, voltmeters, oscilloscopes, frequency counters, thermometers, wave analyzers, and so on, most of which which were more sensitive, accurate, and precise than other comparable equipment.

Hewlett-Packard's HP Associates division, established around 1960, developed semiconductor devices primarily for use in test instruments and calculators. Some of these scientific calculators were extremely sophisticated and purpose-built. I still have an HP-12C Financial Calculator in its original packaging, designed for finance, real, and banking applications, programmable up 99 steps on 20 storage registers, "RPN logic" to reduce keystrokes, do bond management functions, calculate depreciation, and do statistical analysis (mean, standard deviation, linear regression, and correlation coefficient). It was a gift to me from HP when I paid them a visit in the 1980s, and I have the original packaging because I can barely understand what it does, let alone how it works!


Computers
HP got into the computer market in 1966 with the HP 2100/HP 1000 series of minicomputers. These had a simple accumulator-based design, with registers very similar to those used in the Intel x86 architecture. 

"Wired" magazine called HP the producer of the world's first device to be called a "personal computer," the Hewlett-Packard 9100A, introduced in 1968. The company called it a desktop calculator because Bill Hewlett said, "If we had called it a computer, it would have been rejected by our customers' computer gurus because it didn't look like an IBM. We therefore decided to call it a calculator, and all such nonsense disappeared." An engineering triumph, the logic circuit had no integrated circuits; the CPU was made of discrete components. With a CRT display, magnetic-card storage, and a printer, the price was around $5,000. The machine's keyboard was a cross between a scientific calculator and an adding machine and had no alphabetic keys.

The HP3000
This is where it gets interesting, and close to home. The HP 3000 series is a family of minicomputers released by Hewlett-Packard in 1972. It was designed to be the first minicomputer with a full-featured operating system with time-sharing (for access by multiple users simultaneously). The first model of the 3000 was withdrawn in 1973 until speed improvements and OS stability could be achieved. When reintroduced in 1974, it became known as a reliable and powerful business system that regularly won HP business from companies using IBM's mainframes. Hewlett-Packard initially called it the System/3000, then changed that to the HP3000.

It was a "workhorse," a rugged and powerful machine that was extremely popular in a wide variety of business environments. The Energizer Bunny of computers, it refused to die and was not withdrawn from support by HP until Dec. 31, 2010(!). 

The Sales Phenomenon

The reason I wanted to write this blog post is that I became personally acquainted with this very important part of HP's corporate culture in the mid-1980s, when I began a 30-year career consulting with direct marketing and catalog companies (now also eCommerce companies, of course) to help them select a system to manage their business. There were a couple of dozen systems designed specifically to manage that kind of enterprise at that period of time, and one of the most aggressively marketed of these ran on the HP3000.



This was no accident. And this is the key thing here. HP hired a very professional sales force of field sales reps who had a simple but nearly fool-proof approach to getting the job done. Their success in the catalog field will serve as an example of their methodology.


The HP rep in New Jersey was contacted by the Musical Heritage Society (MHS), a company in Ocean, NJ, near Asbury Park, that sold LP records by mail on a club basis, much like a book club (one of their most popular records included Pachelbel's famous and much-loved Canon in D.)  Since MHS mailed millions of packages of club offers and LPs each month, it needed a powerful computer system that would help it manage these activities more efficiently, and better yet, analyze the results of their mailings.

The person who contacted HP was a fellow by the name of Will Smith, their in-house programmer who had already developed his system, tailored specifically for MHS, and discussed migrating it to the HP3000. Very shortly thereafter, Smith, sensing a major opportunity, decided to leave MHS and set up a software company with a partner, Gary Brooks. The company was called Brooksmith Associates, and the catalog management system they brought to market was called "Prophit." 

And here's where the story really takes off. The HP rep in New Jersey, now in league with Brooksmith Associates, had rocket fuel in his engines. He approached a major, very well known company, Edmund Scientific in Barrington, 12 miles southeast of Philadelphia, with a compelling but simple sales pitch: "I have a system designed specifically for catalog companies that happens to run on the HP3000, one of the most durable and reliable hardware platforms available." I don't know for sure, but I'm quite certain the lead time on this sale was extremely short. An in-depth demo or two, plus the knowledge that Edmund Scientific would be the first, "showcase" user of the Prophit system and would have Prophit tailored specifically to meet their needs, would almost certainly have sealed the deal. I doubt there was much in the way of a discount on the system cost, but the modifications to meet Edmund Scientific's requirements could have been done at a reduced price, or some such similar deal (maybe a few years of free "support" fees). 

In any case, it worked like a charm. Goldberg's Marine (another catalog company, now in NYC but I believe at that time in New Jersey) bought it shortly after Edmund Scientific.  


The system was a huge success for the following reasons: (1) it worked! That was more than could be said of many competing catalog management systems in those days. (2) It was being used by two very well known direct marketing companies, MHS and Ed Sci. (3) It ran on an undisputed workhorse of a computer that was already widely acknowledged as a rock-solid machine. (4) It had the HP sales force as a ready-made sales behemoth to sell the system nationwide, although Will Smith was a very effective salesman in his own right and always liked to brag that whenever a Prophit user needed to upgrade his hardware Will would sell him "more disk." And disks in those days were plenty expensive!

The National Roll-Out

That chemistry is the critical piece of this entire puzzle. The New Jersey rep from HP was not a lone wolf. He was just like a dozen or so other HP reps in other territories across the country. BSA could focus mostly on software development and system implementation and configuration, while HP was almost completely in charge of sales and marketing, which they did very well, indeed, working in league with BSA's very solid systems sales team.

This was a "marriage made in heaven." And it depended on the very strong, exceptionally tenacious sales skills of the HP3000 sales reps. This was elite team, and they had a powerful weapon in Prophit that they employed with world-class success. 


Hewlett-Packard in those days was exactly that kind of company, very well-tuned to selling hardware with a software solution tailored to both the HP3000 platform and to what we now call "the vertical market" that the software would be used by. 


Not long afterward, Gary Brooks cashed out and Will Smith partnered with Allan Gardner to form Smith Gardner & Associates, Inc. They renamed Prophit as "Ecometry," and in the mid-'90s relocated from New Jersey to Florida, did an IPO in 1999, and then in 2004 sold the company to a partnership consisting of equity firm Golden Gate Capital and a group of Ecometry executives led by then-CEO John Marrah. Via Golden Gate they also brought the Blue Martini eCommerce platform into the fold. When John Marrah took over, Smith and Gardner cashed in their chips, leaving behind one of the single largest groups of HP 3000 application customers in the world.


At about the same time under Golden Gate Capital, Ecometry merged with a company called GERS Retail on the West Coast to become “Escalate Retail,” developing an “open” version of the system running on either SQL/Server or Oracle on Windows or UNIX boxes. They were actually ahead of the game in supporting mCommerce apps. The company was acquired by software giant Red Prairie in 2011, then in late 2013 it was sold to global powerhouse JDA, with Escalate Retail rechristened “JDA Direct Commerce," which is how things stand today.


The Moral of the Story

HP has long since abandoned its aggressive hardware field sales force and its software-leading strategy, at least as far as I know and at least in the terms described above. To the best of my knowledge, it has gone through quite a few "incarnations" since the 1980s when BSA and Prophit got off the ground on the strength of HP's sales chops. 

But obviously the company continues to evolve. The whole point of this blog post is to demonstrate that what HP just did in splitting itself in two is not a break with the past but rather a continuation of a tradition that goes back to the founders, emphasizing technical innovation, corporate refabrication and reincarnation, and redefining the state of the art in systems management. 


P.S.
I remember in either the late '80s or the early '90s when H-P starting pushing its newly developed laser printers (which quickly became the most popular printer for awhile), there was a rather public cadre of "purists" both inside and outside the company who complained that this was a "distraction" from their primary corporate mission. It was anything but, and is another example of H-P's being a step or two ahead of the market.

Friday, October 03, 2014

MarketLive Offers Cloud-based Transaction Processing Platform via Amazon Web Services

Online commerce platform MarketLive has announced mCloud, a hosted database and online transaction processing engine based on Amazon Web Services (AWS). After extensive pilot testing, MarketLive is offering the AWS infrastructure for all customers. 
Some of the benefits of mCloud on AWS include:
  • Auto-scaling — the ability to automatically increase capacity as traffic spikes during peak times
  • Enhanced Disaster Recovery — provided at no additional cost to all customers
  • Real-time analytics of transaction data — allows retailers to monitor and constantly optimize their commerce
  • Global Commerce Expansion — AWS provides MarketLive with ability to rapidly expand into international markets.
In addition to global infrastructure, customers will benefit from redundancy capabilities.

"At both the technology and the service level, mCloud is one of our strongest offerings to date for our commerce customers," said Ken Burke, founder and CEO of MarketLive. "We can continue to offer the highest performance levels, state of the art integration and security, and redundancy across all customers. In addition, we can help our customers rapidly expand into new international markets with minimal cost."

Monday, September 15, 2014

GoECart Partners with Kount for Fraud Protection

GoECart is putting an emphasis on security before the holiday season begins, as the eCommerce solution provider has announced a new partnership with Kount, a supplier of fraud protection and sales-boosting technology.

With this new partnership, GoECart merchants can take advantage of Kount’s fraud protection services at a discount and without any integration barriers. 

Although GoECart already offers secure, PCI-compliant and scalable solutions for B2C and B2B merchants, this new partnership adds another layer of protection, according to Manish Chowdhary, CEO of GoECart. 

To provide its security services, Kount analyzes hundreds of relevant variables associated with online payment activities in real time worldwide. Kount uses this information to flag an order when components of the transaction appear suspicious, based on norms involving similar variables from other transactions. This minimizes the effort, time and volume of transactions merchants must manually review for suspected fraud.

“Public concern over fraud, data breaches and other cyber criminal activities continues to rise as millions of consumers have been exposed to identity theft, spurring online merchants to provide the best protection for themselves and the customers they serve.” said Brad Wiskirchen, CEO Kount. “Our partnership with GoECart extends the reach of our technology to thousands of merchants through fully-integrated solutions. Together we share a common goal, to help online merchants succeed by boosting sales and reducing costs and losses, especially those caused by fraud.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sales Tax DataLINK Gets Patent for Sales Tax Filing and Analytics Solution

Sales Tax DataLINK in Bentonville, AK, has received one of only 15 sales tax-related patents ever issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for sales tax software known as its “System and Method for Tax Filing, Data Processing, Data Verification and Reconciliation.”

“Sales tax compliance becomes more sophisticated and complex every day, so businesses need new technologies to stay ahead of these challenges,” said Noel Hamm, CEO of Sales Tax DataLINK. “The new era of filing software needs to safeguard businesses and accounting firms that want to be certain their sales taxes are being collected and remitted in the most accurate way.”

 “Sales Tax DataLINK is first and foremost a tax-filing software company, producing a suite of sales and use tax tools that engage sales tax analytics,” Hamm said. “Our software brings an unprecedented visibility and patterning to your tax data that eliminates the error gap from invoicing to tax filing.”

The patent was awarded on the basis of innovative technology that gives companies the ability to evaluate the health of their sales tax systems and to make educated corrections resulting in more accurate tax filing each month, Hamm said. Other sales tax software, according to Hamm, merely populates forms with no means of automatically validating the numbers.

More information is available at www.SalesTaxDataLINK.com

Monday, September 08, 2014

TaxJar Handles Sales Taxes for Square Sellers

According to Website MagazineTaxJar, an online service that manages sales tax filing for eCommerce merchants, has announced that it has opened up its services to Square users.

The new integration lets merchants link their Square and TaxJar accounts so TaxJar can manage and report the merchant’s taxes to state and local authorities, saving sellers the time and effort of doing it themselves and helping to avoid missed deadlines and tabulation errors.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yahoo Launches Robust eCommerce Platform

According to FierceRetail, Yahoo has introduced Stores, an eCommerce platform for retailers to build and grow businesses online.

"Yahoo Small Business took the best of everything we've learned from our million-plus customers over the past 16 years, and applied it to Yahoo Stores to give small business owners a more powerful, streamlined and beautiful way to turn their ideas into a business," wrote Amit Kumar, head of Yahoo Small Business, in an announcement.

The new platform makes it easy to create an online store and automatically integrate a PCI-compliant payment processing system, which connects retailers to a payment service provider in just a few clicks. The new platform also includes automatic SEO. 

Stores is intended to give neophyte eTailers the same serving technology used on Yahoo.com, including relevant keywords in the Website URLs, concise descriptions of the Website's content, a full product catalog schema, and tools for merchants to organize and promote their products.

Additional features include assistance with Website building and Website aesthetics, as well as the Live Web Insights mobile app that allows users to manage their Websites from their smartphones.

The Yahoo site offers three price points for Stores: $10.95 per month for the Starter edition (less than $12,000 a month in sales), $25.95 per month for the Standard edition ($12,000- $80,000 in monthly sales, with upsell/cross-sell capabilities), and $254.95 for the Professional edition (more than $80,000 per month in sales, and featuring the lowest transaction fees).  

Yahoo is actively competing with other search engines in the eCommerce platform business. This past spring, reports FierceRetail, Google launched a program to help retailers understand how their online ads were generating in-store sales
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