Must-read book on business & strategy

I just finished the book “Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future – and What to Do About It”. It is a fascinating book that explains clearly and well the importance of a customer-obsessed subscription business model nowadays.

I have been to Strategy classes at universities. The classes usually involve academic lectures and outdated case studies. Although hindsights are always great and strategies can only make sense after a while, the technological advances (cloud computing, machine learning…) have changed significantly how companies interact with customers and how customers want to be served. It is of little value to analyze what companies did 15 or 20 years ago (I used to be asked to analyze Google while it was still competing with Yahoo in 2003). The principles and theories of strategy remain the same, but the landscape under the influence of technology has changed dramatically. For instance, nobody is installing software by buying a disk any more. Software is delivered over the Internet now mostly in the subscription-based model. Lectures taught by professors at Ivy League and certificates can be accessed online at MOOC. With a small fee, guys can receive shaving blades every month. The days of having to buy hardware for IT services are over. IT is now delivered over the cloud and on the pay-as-you-go basis.

This book details the underlying factors contributing to the meteoric rise of subscriptions and what it is like to be customer-obsessed. It also discusses the ramifications of adopting subscription-based model ranging from HR, Marketing, Sales and organizational structure. It is choke full of successful subscription companies. If you are interested, you can do a separate study on each one.

I believe this book should be a must-read for college students, whether you major in business or not. If you have sometime to waste, I highly recommend it.

Gmail new look and ZenHub add-on

Gmail new look

I have been using the new UI of Gmail for around one or two months. While I am not a professional user, here is what I think about the new look.

So far, the look and feel is more sleek and modern than its previous predecessor. In the past, the Calendar & Task were hidden under the Compose button. Now, they are more visible by being on the right-hand column of the screen. If you use Calendar & Task frequently, it is a nice improvement to have.

The new Gmail offers recommended responses, depending on the content of the received message. Below is an example. A schoolmate of mine thanked me for helping me with a matter. Gmail offered three suggested responses and all I have to do is to click on one of them. Perhaps, it’s interesting, but to some extent, I don’t feel too comfortable when Google outright shows that our email is read. Nonetheless, if I keep using the service knowing that my emails are read anyway, the new feature may come in handy as some point, especially when I am on the go.


Another feature I noticed was reminders. I received an email from a friend 5 days ago. Detecting that I haven’t replied for 5 days, Gmail has a subtle reminder as you can see below. I don’t have much traffic to my mailbox, but if you are a busy person with a lot of email exchange, this may be useful.


So far, I have been pleased with the new Gmail experience. I wasn’t a big fan of Google products’ UX and UI in the past, but this time I have to say that they did the right thing here.


I have been in a couple of software development courses at school. Trello was our go-to Kanban tool to manage stories and tasks. While the tool does its job, I was suggested to use another tool called ZenHub.

ZenHub is a free add-on on Chrome browser. It’s integrated into your Github account. If your team shares a private GitHub repository, ZenHub can be integrated into that repository and your team can manage epics & stories without changing browser tabs.


As you can see on the screenshot, ZenHub offers many more features than Trello. The default set-up includes more than three columns that are offered by Trello. The tool also comes with Reports function as can be seen on the screenshot. The Reports function imports information you put in each epic/story and helps create burndown chart with an extra manual step on Excel.


Of course, more features in a new tool require some getting-used-to. Nonetheless, I think it’s a convenient software. Shout-out to the ZenHub team and I look forward to using it more often in the future.

Business – IT – Organizational Strategy. Google Case

I was supposed to work on the business case at school with regard to the relationship between business, IT and organizational strategies. For some unknown reasons, other than the obvious one – my stupidity – I picked the wrong case. Nonetheless, I figured: why not using it for my blog instead of wasting a few hours of work? So here we go. In this piece, I am going to cover how Google has been a fine example of integrating business, IT and organizational strategies.

Critical Facts

Founded late 1990s, it has taken Google not so long to become one of the biggest corporations in the world. As of this writing, Google or Alphabet, its current parent company’s name, is valued at approximately $751 billion (Yahoo). Google’s original mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Originally, its primary revenue stream used to be advertising with the two programs: AdWords and Adsense. In 2015, all that changed. Google’s founders created Alphabet (D’Onfro, 2015), which immediately became the parent company of Google. Sergey Brin and Larry Page became the showrunners at the parent company while each of the affiliated companies is run by its own CEO (D’Onfro, 2018).

  • Google – the biggest affiliated company. Led by Sundar Pichai
  • GV – Venture Capital Fund. Led by David Krane
  • CapitalG – Growth Equity Investment Fund. Led by David Lawee
  • Verily – Healthcare and Managing Disease. Led by Andrew Conrad
  • Calico – Biotech with Focus on LifeSpan. Led by Arthur Levinson
  • Jigsaw – Technology & Geopolitics Think-tank. Led by Jared Cohen
  • Nest – Smarthome Device Maker. Led by Marwan Fawaz
  • Chronicle – Cypersecurity Firm. Led by Stephen Gillett
  • DeepMind – Artificial Intelligence. Led by Demis Hassabis
  • Waymo – Autonomous Vehicles. Led by John Krafcik
  • Sidewalk Labs – Urban Innovation. Led by Dan Doctoroff
  • X – Secretive R&D Lab. Led by Astro Teller
  • Access – Internet Provider with no current CEO

Google org

Alphabet’s Organizational Chart (Sullivan, 2017)

Alphabet is no longer about search. It is created to allow the company which is now a collection of subsidiaries “to do more, and to do important and meaningful things with the resources we have” (Alphabet). As Alphabet now functions in different industries or verticals, its revenue no longer flows through exclusively advertising. 99.5% of Alphabet’s revenue in 2017 was from Google while the rest was from other businesses. Within Google, almost 86% of its revenue came from advertising while 14% came from other businesses such as apps from Google Play, Google Cloud Platform or Hardware (Alphabet, 2018).

Regarding Google’s advertising business, it generates revenue through two programs:

  • AdWords, which allows businesses to place ads on Google and its network of publishing partners
  • AdSense, which pushes advertisements on publishing partners’ Web sites targeting specific audience and shares ad revenue with the publishing partner

In order to make the targeting work and attract traffic, Google offers a host of free services such as YouTube, Google Map, Google search function itself, Gmail…

At Google, creativity and innovation are the key. The company does many things to grow those two important factors. All employees are given 20% of working time on personal projects. Employees are informed on all projects of the whole Alphabet and encouraged to provide input into new features at meetings. Perks at Google include free meals, on-site gym, internal dentist and washing machines to make employees comfortable and spend more time on premise.

Information and data security are of utmost importance to companies like Google. Though employees do not encounter stifling policies, but instead enjoy quite a high degree of freedom with their own freedom, the company focuses intensely on prevention, detection and security infrastructure.


This analysis will revolve around the connection between mission statement, business strategy, information strategy and organizational strategy. The frame work is as follows:

strategy triangle

The Information Systems Strategy Triangle (Pearlson & Saunders, 2013)

To fulfill its original mission, Google was set out to collect information online as quickly as possible, and offer it to users for free. Fighting against the Internet behemoths at the time in Yahoo or AOL, Google chose to focus on search instead of spreading their resources on email, weather forecast or finance. They also concentrated on making the user interface of the search engine as clean and user-friendly as possible (Iqbal, 2016). Plus, their PageRank algorithm was superior to that of their competitors, yielding fast & accurate results and making Google search engine popular among Internet users in a short amount of time (Hormby, 2013). From the very beginning, Google adopted the Focus strategy. They relentlessly strove to be the best in search rather than invested and competed on multiple fronts such as Yahoo. Had they tried to emulate Yahoo, I doubt they would have been as successful as they have been. Once their search engine gained traction and attracted users, the increase in user base allowed them to fine-tune their search algorithm even more, making it return search results more quickly and accurately.

Their mission guided them to offer free access to information to Internet users. Once they had significant traffic, they allowed advertising on their platform to generate revenue. I’d say that early Google’s business strategy was spot on and very in line with their mission statement.

To support the business strategy, Google adopted a shrewd information strategy. While Yahoo opted for an architecture that was fast to build and easy to use, Google chose to painstakingly build their infrastructure in a way that could support future services, endure and scale efficiently (Aron, 2016). It took the Mountain View-based company 4 years to bring their infrastructure to a point where it could support critical operations. The patience paid off. While Yahoo struggled to use their resources efficiently and scale effectively, Google suffered no such trouble, responding to the changes in user demand and technology more quickly and efficiently than Yahoo.

Google also made critical and strategic acquisitions that permitted them to strengthen their information systems and support the business strategy. In 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion (AP, 2006). In 2007, they acquired DoubleClick for $3.1 billion (Story & Helft, 2007). The former allowed Google to feed useful and interactive content to users, making them stick around on their platforms longer. The latter improved their advertising algorithm by being a liaison between users and advertisers. Geary (2012) argued that DoubleClick gave advertisers cookies to collect user data and a self-serving feature to run targeted ads. Coupled with their focus on scalable and reliable infrastructure, these acquisitions formed a robust foundation for Google’s meteoric rise and beat the competition. In 2008, Google’s ads revenue already doubled that of Yahoo. (Evans, S.D., 2009)

google profits

Google’s profits up to 2010 (Fuchs, 2012)

Google puts a lot of focus on security, especially on infrastructure level. There is constantly an army of security engineers to look for threats and monitor their environments (Google for Work). Moreover, Google employs a team of audit and compliance officers whose job is to constantly audit their environments to make sure they meet the highest standard of security. On top of that, Google implements authorization and access management, giving access to sensitive information to only authorized personnel. They also customize their data centers which are located around the globe in disaster-free locations (Google, 2012). In my opinion, it is a wise decision. Google cannot afford to have their system contaminated or their intellectual (patents, projects) stolen or downtime. In the age of Internet, being secure and safe from threats can also be considered a strength and competitive advantage.

Regarding organizational strategy, Google’s organizational structure and culture are designed to foster collaboration and innovation. As the case stated, employees are given resources to work with and encouraged to stay on campus with perks as long as possible to work in teams. They are also informed of what is going on in the whole Alphabet. Steiber & Alänge (2013) argued that their unyielding focus on recruiting the right personnel that fit the culture and flat organization foster innovation and the obsession with users. Allegedly, Larry Page is still very involved in the hiring process. To ensure that everyone understands the overall culture and uses it as the guide for their actions, Google publishes their 10 core values widely (Google).

Google is also famous for allowing employees to work on personal projects 20% of their time. Some of their best products came from this policy. For example, Gmail was originally a side project of an employee at Google (Mckracken, 2014). This policy is a testament to the commitment to innovation at Google and also contributes to the business strategy. Projects derived from this policy contribute to the ecosystem Google tries to build and enhance user experience. When users use more free services that Google offers, Google collects more data and becomes more valuable in the eyes of advertisers.

Later on, when Google grew so big and became a subsidiary of Alphabet, the founders were wise to hand over the day-to-day business of each subsidiary to a CEO. This type of delegation allows focus and maximizes the expertise of their personnel.

As I mentioned above, Google originally adopted the Focus strategy to beat Yahoo in the search war. Over the years, they have relentlessly offered new free services to users in order to bolster their grip on the search dominance and generate more revenue from advertisers. When their host of ventures grow beyond search, they restructure the company and allow subsidiaries to focus on each vertical individually.


Of course, it is exceedingly challenging to pinpoint and isolate a few factors that can explain the astronomical success of a company like Google or Alphabet. Rather, I focused on the connection between business, IT and organizational structure at Google, mostly, and how it evolved over the years.

Based on what I have gathered and analyzed, I think that Google has been brilliant with their strategy and focus. They based their business strategy on the vision and mission from the founders and committed their personnel and resources to support the business strategy. As soon as the company grew substantially and took on other verticals than search, they shrewdly changed organizationally to maintain the type of focus that was there from the very beginning, and support the new vision that their founders had. It’s no longer to give access to information to users only. It’s to make their life easier and contribute to the human life, including the original mission.

Looking ahead, I think Google will be a technology giant for a foreseeable future. They have a monopolistic competition in search. Their offerings at Google are now more diverse than ever, especially the growth at Google Cloud Platform. The business is reportedly earning $4 billion annually (Novet, 2018). The revenue stream is getting more diversified. I imagine that the revenue from cloud platform will grow in the future with the explosion of cloud adoption. Google will lessen the risk of over-reliance on advertising. In their annual report 2017 (Google, 2017), the company mentioned the risk of over-reliance on advertising and the increasing pressure from regulations and laws, especially those on data privacy. These risks can significantly affect the cash cow of Google. Hence, generating revenue from other businesses can help alleviate such risks.

In other bets, if they succeed, the bets can be a significant source of revenue in the future such as Artificial Intelligence or autonomous cars. Personally, I quite doubt that these highly adventurous businesses will materialize anytime soon.



Alphabet. (2018). Form 10-Q.

AP. (2006). Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion.

Aron, M. (2016). Why Google beat Yahoo in the war for the Internet.

D’Onfro, J. (2015). Google is now Alphabet. Business Insider.

D’Onfro, J. (2018). Here are all the businesses owned by Google’s parent company and how they contribute to revenue. Business Insider.

Evans, S. D. (2009). The Online Advertising Industry: Economics, Evolution, and Privacy. Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol 23(3): 37-60.

Fuchs, C. (2012). Google Capitalism. Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society. Vol 10(1).

Geary, J. (2012). DoubleClick (Google): What is it and what does it do?. The Guardian.

Google. Ten things we know to be true.

Google. (2012). Google’s approach to IT security.

Google for Work. (2014). How Google protects your data.

Google. (2017). Form 10-K.

Hormby, T. (2013). The Rise of Google: Beating Yahoo at Its Own Game.

Iqbal, U. (2016). Google business secrets. Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce, 21(2), 1-2. Retrieved from

McKracken, H. (2014). How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago.

Novet, J. (2018). Google says its cloud now brings in $1 billion per quarter.

Pearlson, E. K. & Saunders, S. C. (2013). Managing & Using Information Systems – A Strategic Approach 5thEdition. John Wiley & Sons.

Steiber, A., & Alänge, S. (2013). A corporate system for continuous innovation: The case of google inc. European Journal of Innovation Management, 16(2), 243-264. doi:

Story, L. & Helft, M. (2007). Google Buys DoubleClick for $3.1 Billion.

Sullivan, M. (2017). Will Alphabet’s new structure make Google’s business more transparent, or less?. Fast Company.

Yahoo Finance.


What I learned at a Managed Service Provider

It has been 9 months since I started working at a managed service provider in Omaha, where I am living now. It’s not a long time, but I have learned quite a bit and some are more profound than others.

To back up a little bit, a managed service provider is a fancy term for an IT outsourcing company. In simpler words, consider it like an advertising agency, but for IT services. If your company doesn’t have the personnel or expertise for IT needs, managed service providers are where to seek help

In this post, I’ll get to some of the things I learn and considered among the most profound personally.

IT space moves at an unbelievable speed.

In the IT world, innovation happens vertically and horizontally. Once a new breakthrough was brought to this world by one or a few pioneers, it won’t take long before many followers copy and offer alternative options to the original innovation. Some popular points of differentiation can be pricing, integration with other tools, user experience, speed, flexibility of contracts or, my favorite, customer service. As a result, innovation takes place horizontally.

Another direction for innovation in the IT space is to invent a new technology that supports or is built upon the incumbent/existing ones. It is crucial to know that no tool or technology is perfect. By identifying and trying to negate the weaknesses in every tool, service or product, innovators in the IT space give birth to new offerings. From what I have observed so far, that process happens at a lightning speed. As a result, innovation takes place vertically.

Let me give you examples with popular services that you are more likely familiar with. In the past, companies had to buy expensive servers to run their applications. That approach had a lot of downsides such as

  • Slow time-to-market (red tape, slow purchasing process)
  • High-maintenance – staff has to monitor around-the-clock in case there is a glitch
  • Lack of scalability – if businesses want to expand the capacity a little bit, they have to invest in the whole new hardware; which is a waste
  • Inefficiency – Servers usually aren’t used to their capacity. As a result, running them around the clock is a waste of time. Plus, staff has to spend time on updates, maintenance and security
  • Lack of customization – On top of a piece of hardware can there be only one operating system. Hence, if an application needs to be run on different operating systems, companies have to add more hardware. It would add to the waste of resources
  • Lack of expertise – small companies that don’t have IT staff cannot afford to hire IT personnel and invest in infrastructure at the same time

Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a solution to that, addressing the weaknesses of traditional on premise servers listed above. With IaaS, companies outsource the most foundational parts of their IT infrastructure to suppliers. AWS was the first IaaS provider and it didn’t take long for them to have competition in Rackspace, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure, each claiming to have advantages over the others. They are called Public Cloud Providers. Then, companies copy the model at a smaller scale, building enterprise-grade architecture and leasing it to other firms. From there, a complementary tool allowing a comparison of these providers’ prices is needed and of course, was born.


After a while, people realized even though some components of the infrastructure are already outsourced, there is still a lot of work left that can be outsourced too. Hence, a new model called Platform-as-a-Service was born. In this model, companies only have to worry about developing applications. The rest is already taken care of. Obviously enough, the task of developing applications was soon “outsourced” too, resulting in what is called Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). With SaaS, companies buy ready-to-use software from vendors without having to care about anything else. Examples are what we use almost on a daily basis: Google Drive, Dropbox, Salesforce or Mailchimp, just to name a few. Each software serves a particular function and in that particular market, rest assured that it will have competitors.

I hope with that oversimplified example, I make my point that innovation (competition) can take place horizontally and vertically in IT. One thing leads to another and more. And that process happens, I can’t stress it enough, breathtakingly fast. AWS was introduced in 2006. 12 years later, there are so many public and private cloud providers. We have container technology and its providers such as Kubernetes or Docker. We have Pivotal Cloud Foundry as a Platform-as-a-Service and countless Software-as-a-Service offerings none of which would be impossible without cloud technology.

If you work in it, be prepared to read constantly

As I mentioned above, innovation happens constantly in IT at every single level. Look at the image above. Innovation doesn’t take place at the model level. It happens at the component level such as storage, networking, virtualization, etc…If you want to be reasonably informed, let alone being an authority or expert, reading constantly every day, understanding hundreds of concepts as well as various acronyms, and linking everything together is a must. The silver lining here is that with the Internet, there is no lack of resources to learn.

Be careful what you wish for

Data is the lifeblood of business today. Invest in the data. Analyze. Extract the insights. Act. Sounds easy, right? Not quite.

As almost all businesses go online and everybody has access to the Internet at any given time in a day, acquiring data shouldn’t be an issue. To manage the data; however, is another story. Statistical methods used to extract insights from data grow in effectiveness as data grows in quantity. The problem is that the more data a firm has, the more it has to invest in IT infrastructure. Everything from servers and storage to network has to be upgrade accordingly to accommodate the growing data. Plus, data analytics tools such as Tableau are highly expensive. The alternative is to hire data scientists skillful in free language such as R or Python. However, those individuals are in high demand nowadays and command a hefty salary.

But that’s not over. As data controllers, your responsibility for securing the data and using it responsibly is more important than ever. Compliance regulations are tighter than ever. Failure to comply can result in serious consequences. Industries such as healthcare have to invest to comply with HIPAA, for instance. Unfortunately, the required security services that help businesses comply can be very expensive. Here are a few things, including but not limited to, that are needed to comply with HIPAA:

  • Data at rest
  • Security information and Event management (SIEM)
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)
  • Data Loss Prevention
  • Backup

As you can tell, the bills can be more expensive than your expectation, fast.

IT – The powerful enabler

I believe people and processes in an organization decide its fate and success. And I believe IT is a powerful enabler of those two vital factors. Tricky, fast changing and possibly expensive as it is, IT is an indispensable piece of the puzzle, helping firms, at the end of the day, do two things: save money and time.

Let’s take a look at a few examples. Dropbox used to host their application and data on AWS, but decided to build their own server. The move saved them $75 million. Regarding application development, Pivotal Cloud Foundry, a fairly new but meteoric Platform-as-a-Service, is reported to save millions of dollars and hours of work for developers. Without a robust disaster recovery (a service that quickly brings a server back up in case it goes down), companies in some industries can lose at least $6 million per every hour of downtime. These examples go to show that IT, if deployed properly, can bring a firm a competitive advantage, or improve the bottom line at the very least.

I hope that one day, this experience can be one of the dots I can connect