The Crux #5: Systems doing what they do

This week we saw a bunch of wailing about financial earnings, Intel winning and losing, Amazon having another go at healthcare, and Alibaba pulling back.

We also have yet another PostgreSQL-based database startup, Pure Storage getting into mainframes, a UEFI rootkit and some maniac put a chat client inside a PDF.

I’ve got a long read on cybernetics and systems being systems, plus this week’s tip is on writing communications briefs.

Let’s dive in!

Things to note

Earnings season is upon us, and we had a flurry of results from GoogleFacebook (fine, Meta), AppleMicrosoftServiceNOW and others. My general impression is that there was a big spike for most companies last year because everyone flooded online due to the pandemic, and this year is reversion to the mean. Reading too much more into it absent other information is likely a mistake. Dig into the specifics, don’t rely on the Just So stories of the financial press.

Interestingly, Microsoft apparently asked Google and Oracle to help it to counter AWS’ dominance in US government cloud. They’re all still really salty about JEDI, huh? It’s not really surprising that they’d do this, but it’s also apparently not collusion or racketeering either. Just a quiet chat between global behemoths who want a bigger slice of public money. Totally fine.

Intel has landed a chip contract with MediaTek as a “multi-sourcing” strategy by MediaTek. Details are scant, so my intuition is that Intel offered a pretty sweet deal. This is an early step in a longer-term strategy to rebuild Intel.

Getting a sweet deal out of Intel is made a lot easier by the US passing the CHIPS For America Act which provides subsidies and tax benefits to US-based semiconductor businesses. After decades of US corporations sending manufacturing offshore to save money, the US has decided that was possibly a strategic error given how important semiconductors are for modern society. Isn’t laissez-faire fun?

In further Intel news, Optane persistent memory is dead. There’s about two years of inventory, so existing buyers (like VAST Data) will be fine and have plenty of time to shift to alternate suppliers of persistent memory devices if they haven’t already (VAST has). I have opinions about CXL, particularly CXL2.0, but they’re too long to fit here. Get in touch if you want to pick my brain.

The Right to Repair movement that turned farmers into tractor hackers has some enterprise software fans. It’s always puzzled me why massive multi-national corporations can ship software with major security flaws but you’re forbidden from fixing them yourself. And then they charge you big bucks for security subscriptions.

Amazon buying One Medical is a puzzler and this post goes through some of why. I hope they’re right that a lot of “tech-enabled” businesses go through a correction because slapping a -tech suffix on something doesn’t magically make it a 50x P/E worthy business, no matter what bloviating VCs say.

The USA is trying to wrestle with spyware vendors that aren’t based in the USA. NSO Group has really exposed how murky the whole infosec/intelligence nexus is. Time for new thinking here.

Neon is a new PostgreSQL-as-a-Service thing that is calling itself serverless because tech marketing is mostly about confusing people into buying things they don’t understand, apparently. Neon has some kind of scale-to-zero pricing model and their release says they’re pre-revenue which does make that a lot easier. It’ll be interesting to see what the willingness-to-pay is here, especially given how much competition there is in databases right now.

Oracle OCI pitched a client win as a switch from AWS but it was actually a conversion of an existing Oracle database customer to use Oracle’s OCI. The customer tested out AWS, and decided not to use it for this workload. That’s not really a switch, that’s just due diligence. This is disappointing from Oracle marketing.

Alibaba wants to add a primary listing in Hong Kong to its NYSE listing. This looks like trying to add more Chinese investors to diversify away from US-centric investors, which seems prudent given the political climate.

Alibaba’s issues aren’t just with foreign investors. Alibaba has removed all Ant executives from its partnership. This appears to be continuing fallout from Chinese regulators halting the Ant Group’s IPO in 2020.

European antitrust regulators are taking a more thorough look at the Broadcom acquisition of VMware given Broadcom’s past behaviour. Broadcom appears happy to wait.

More infosec binfire news this week with a new UEFI rootkit apparently out in the wild since 2016. People haven’t really been looking for UEFI rootkits much because they were believed to be rare and hard to build. Not so much, it seems.

Pure Storage (a PivotNine client) has gotten into mainframe backups in partnership with Model9. Model9 software replaces complex and costly setups that mainframe shops have and saves them money in the process. Mainframe is big money, so Pure getting a slice of it should help revenues quite a bit.

Some absolute madman wrote a chat app using SOAP… in a PDF. I applaud this level of unhinged chaos.

Longer reads

This week I commend to you Stafford Beer’s keynote address to the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS) conference in May 1974. It is about systems and changing them.

Institutions are systems for being what they are, and doing what they do. If the systems scientist finds that the system is, in fact, something no one wants, he should work towards changing that system.

It’s at DOI 10.1080/03155986.1974.11731586 and you can find the PDF readily via Google Scholar. Your local library may also subscribe to various journal databases and you can find it there. Libraries are great. Go join one or three.

Weekly Tip: Communications Briefs

This week I was speaking with a copywriting agency we’re looking to refer clients to and they spoke about a common challenge we see all the time: clients that don’t know what they want.

Specifically, clients often engage a copywriter to write blogs for them to “do some thought leadership” or “get people excited” but it’s not clear what they want to say or why. They aren’t able to provide guidance to the copywriter, and this makes it hard for the project to succeed, because a copywriter isn’t in charge of your marketing strategy. You are.

Sadly, a lot of clients lean on PR agencies or marketing firms do this strategic thinking for them, but without providing them the information they need to make good choices.

One way we help with that is teaching clients how to brief well, and giving them a template to guide their thinking.

We use this shorthand template to summarise a communications brief:

Get [audience] who currently [think/feel/do X] to [desired think/feel/do] instead by [communication proposition/point of difference] like this [tone/style]. Success will be measured by [metric of think/feel/do]. The specific call to action is [call to action].

This is enough to clearly explain who you’re trying to talk to, why, what you want to say, and how you’ll tell if you did it successfully.

If you come armed with a good brief, you’ll save a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted trying to figure out what you want, and probably failing a few times. Experienced copywriters (and other creatives) will sigh with relief, because they know that a client that knows how to brief well is much easier to work with. You can be much more confident of success.

You don’t have to wait for a big project to use the template. Taking a moment to step through each one is helpful, even if you’re just writing an email.

Try it out yourself when communicating with someone today.

Let me know what you think of our template. Did it help you?