In brief: A sneak peek at my upcoming personalization report and a request for case studies. The second in the series on mobile personalization examines Openwave and features an exclusive Q&A with Mayur Pitamber, Openwave Product Management Strategist. We ask the question: Is Openwave gearing up for something big?
It was great to have the last few days off and even better to map out an exciting line-up of MSearchGroove projects for the next few months. One that I am particularly honored to announce: my collaboration with GigaOM Pro, the new research arm of the highly respected tech blog GigaOM. By way of background, GigaOM Pro has brought together an impressive roster of industry authorities and analysts (including my esteemed colleague Chetan Sharma) to “address the gap that exists in real-time expert industry analysis on emerging technology markets.” The GigaOM Pro solution: Make timely, highly relevant analysis and insights accessible and practical.
I’m on board to write an in-depth examination of personalization and recommendation technologies and business models, a natural next step given my long track record analyzing mobile search and my deep involvement in the recommender space. (This includes work with Strands, a major provider of recommender systems, on recommender industry events including RecSys 09 – October 22-25, NYC.)
The report is an ambitious undertaking and I am naturally interested in connecting with personalization/recommendation companies –so please contact me directly if you wish to be considered for inclusion. email@example.com
Why the buzz about personalization?
The advance of Internet-specific smartphones and the spread of app store schemes turns up the pressure on mobile operators (and their content providers) to decipher data transactions (on and off the network), combine it with location and demographic data and use the results to create a 360-degree view of the individual.
Where does this shift leave mobile operators?
They are hard pushed to turn analytics into competitive advantage. Sensing this business opportunity (that execs tell me they estimate hovers in the hundreds of millions of dollars), a slew of companies (such as Amdocs, Bytemobile, Novarra and Qualcomm) are among the first out the gates with revamped offers to arm operators for the ultimate battle with Web giants for the mobile customer. This special series profiles the players jockeying for position in the marketplace.
The solution – designed to aggregate usage data and behavioral information across a variety of sources, including on-portal surfing and open Web browsing, to generate meaningful reports –dovetails with other Openwave offers (behavioral targeting, profiling, usage pattern analysis) to lay the groundwork for the delivery of relevant content and advertising.
I caught up with Mayur Pitamber, Openwave Product Management Strategist, to discuss the role of the mobile operator, debate the value of personalization and what we can expect next in the Openwave product roadmap.
AN EXCERPT OF OUR Q&A
Q: Let’s talk about the fit with mobile advertising. You have just launched the complement to your own mobile advertising solution, which is Mobile Analytics. What’s the level of interest in mobile advertising? I’m hearing some operators get it, but many more don’t…
A: There was some hype about it at first, but operators are starting to see the value of it now and they are also beginning to understand the real value of the data they have. The last months have been marked by a surge of activity and RFIs and RFPs specifically for mobile analytics solutions, which is new in this market. We didn’t see this last year.
A lot of what happened and the initial excitement around mobile advertising industry was quite premature. It’s not just about offering targeted advertising; it’s about offering relevant products and services based on the user’s behavior. The operators can use analytics to gain profiles of these users, the sites they frequent and what they do while online. It’s when this information can be aggregated and provided to media agencies and brands that it really becomes valuable.
Q: There are, of course, other solutions in this space. A long list of gateway providers: Qualcomm, Amdocs, Ericsson, Nokia, Bytemobile, Novarra. And the space is getting crowded.
A: Obviously, there are competitors out there. All gateway providers can provide parts of this sort of solution. However, I haven’t come across a solution [similar to ours] with this [breadth] out there in the market at this point in time. Being a gateway provider for the last 10 years, we’ve been providing this type of reporting to operators. But now we’ve added more features and made it more user-friendly. So, it’s a mature business intelligence product that we’re bringing to the market.
Q: In early August, Telstra announced it had implemented your Mobile Analytics solution. The press release says it’s all about providing Telstra a “dashboard view of intelligent analytics and rich reporting capabilities across its mobile device portfolio.” To start, how many of your operator customers have this solution or perhaps the analytics solutions that preceded this?
A: We have deployed previous versions of this analytic solution to some six tier-1 operators around the world.
Q: Let’s say I’m an operator and I don’t have a solution from Openwave, but I like the analytics. Can I just have that, or is it a package deal?
A: Previously, the solution was just built around Openwave products. But obviously, we want a bigger market share, so we’ve designed the solution such that it will work with any other gateway, any other vendor of gateway products.
Q: You said before competing on analytics is the way for operators to be “a vital part of the ecosystem.” Can operators really play this central role?
A: That’s a really good question. I think it’s quite difficult to answer as well. The operators have traditionally been sluggish. Their bread and butter has been voice revenues and SMS revenues. To really get them incentivized to offer new services such as mobile advertising, you need a compelling business case. I’ve spoken to dozens of operators around the world. Some of them are in advanced stages of creating any-time mobile advertising organizations. Others have only one or two mobile advertising product managers. For these operators, the business case – for whatever reason – is just not compelling enough for the decision makers to say okay, let’s really invest in this.
Q: This jives with what people told me while I was conducting interviews for Mobile Advertising Research UK. As one executive at a mobile infrastructure company that counts over 300 network operator clients observed: Mobile advertising only becomes interesting for an operator when “the type of revenue they can envisage is around 2 percent of their overall revenue to 5 percent, and with an opportunity to grow to 10 percent of revenue. This is the revenue that will really make them sit up and make it work.” Another figure that stands out: GBP 28.6 million, which is what the IAB reckons was the mobile ad spend in 2008. What’s your take?
A: I can believe the ad spend for the U.K. I think the hold up is the thinking about the role of the mobile operator. We have to be clear about what they can do. In my view, the role of the mobile operator will be to provide incentives for people to use new services so that additional inventory and mediums become available to insert ads. And obviously, once those mediums become available, that becomes attractive to brands and advertisers. But, right now, it’s difficult for operators to manage their inventories. They have SMS inventory, MMS inventory, on-portal, off-portal. All of these are different systems and it’s difficult to provide brands and advertisers a consolidated view of what is available out there. So, it’s when there is a clear view of the different inventories out there and the tools to manage these inventories, and make these inventories available to third-parties such as the brands and media agencies, that I think mobile advertising will really take off.
Q: Are you convinced operators can start acting like media companies? Or are there going to be a lot of carriers that focus on access over audience?
A: The tier-1s I talk with have created organizations to manage mobile advertising. They’ve created sales forces to go out and sell inventory. So, they are already acting as media agencies and helping brands identify which inventory they want to use. But again, these are just the big tier-1 operators.
Q: Advertising is messaging – and loads of it. Or it could borrow from TV and be video-centric? We don’t know. In any case, we have more data usage – both from people surfing with their smartphones and brands that want to reach them. What is the potential impact on the network side of things? What are you seeing?
A: We’re seeing huge increase in data traffic volumes. A data tsunami is going to hit operators within the next 12-24 months. And some operators are quite oblivious to this. So, [with Mobile Analytics] we’re helping the operators to identify trends on the operational front as well. We’re saying ‘Hey, you need to do capacity planning and optimize your networks because this is going to be your traffic in 6 months or 12 months.’
Q: Let’s move to the report on North American mobile Internet trends you issued that may have got lost in the CTIA shuffle. It made some interesting points, and I understand you are about to release another one soon. What were some of the key observations and what were the surprises?
A: That report was basically based on data from one of our customers in North America. Many of the trends we saw confirmed what the market was thinking. For example, everyone is doing social networking on mobile. The top sites, as you could guess, were Facebook and MySpace.
In terms of search, we were able to also track some keywords. Something that was interesting: people – when they wanted to find Google — wouldn’t enter Google on their mobile phone and go to Google. They would actually enter ‘Google’ in a Yahoo search engine. This operator had Yahoo as a search partner. Anyway, that tells us that a lot of search use may be because of usability. It’s easier to type it [a destination] in a search box than to navigate to it on the Web.
Q: Finally – what about app stores? They’re hot. What is the value-add, if any, from analytics?
A: One of the operators we’re working with is in the process of opening an app store. They know that not all users are going to go through the apps. If you figure the iPhone app store has tens of thousands of apps and growing, users would lose patience sifting through all that. This operator wants to analytics specifically on this [operator] app store to identify the top ten apps. But it goes beyond this to include how many times have the apps been downloaded; who has consumed them; and whether the users have shared apps with other people. More importantly, the operator is providing this app store data to the application developers, so they also have insight into how their apps are being used and how many people have downloaded their apps. So, Mobile Analytics can be used to identify the audiences going to these app stores – and that can be used to build the business.
Generally speaking, the value of data is not in the data itself, but in the mashups we create when we combine it with other data stores. Put another way, the way to wring the value out of analytics is to combine it with location and demographics data, which is why Openwave is keen to feature both in its Mobile Analytics solution. Mayur tells me we can expect location in the next months. (Openwave is also gearing up to announce another customer win for its analytics offer in South East Asia.)
Likewise recommendation capabilities are moving up the list to take a center spot in Openwave strategy. As Mayur put it: The next version of Mobile Analytics will come with recommenders “bolted on.” No word yet on what the recommender will allow (delivery of content or advertising – or both?), how it will achieve this (based on item-to-item or user-to user – or both?), or how it will integrate with Openwave’s underlying Integra platform. But read between the lines, and the sharpened focus on recommendation is at least a welcome testament to the timing and importance of my upcoming GigaOM report on the same topic.
Openwave, unlike some of the gateway providers I’ve examined/profiled in this series, is also bullish about mobile search. The company demo points out that Mobile Analytics potentially improves mobile search, allowing operators to deliver relevant results individuals will find useful.
I am reminded at this juncture of a related post I wrote about the potential for operator-centric, operator-powered, operator-controlled mobile search. With the right tools and technology mobile operators can follow our virtual breadcrumb trail to optimize our mobile search (and advertising) experiences, using our actual usage patterns to give us the answers/results we will most likely appreciate.
My take: Personalization is a hot topic but personalized recommendation and search are even hotter. The space is crowding with gateway providers that are using their position in the network to give their operator customers insights into what people are doing on the network (on- and off-portal). The end-game is about helping operators make business decisions based on new subscriber behaviors and trends. Openwave is one of a number of companies in this space – but it has its eye on the prize: drilling down in the data to help operators manage bandwidth allocation, deliver targeted mobile advertising AND fine-tune recommendation and mobile search. What better way for operators to compete against Internet and search engine giants, and potentially win?
Next in the series: We discuss personalization with Novarra.