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Acronyms are words formed from a series of initial letters or parts of other words: Such as:

IBM, BBC, Unesco, WHO, Anzac, laser, radar

Acronyms can make text simpler, easier to read and understand – life would be harder if you had to write light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation every time you  refer to a laser.

Spell an acronym out in full the first time you use it unless you are writing for a specialist audience and the term is instantly familiar. I prefer to write the full term, followed by the acronym thus:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Others like to write the acronym, followed by its full title in brackets. Both are equally correct, it is  a matter of editorial style.

If an acronym is confusing, don’t use it.

Some style guides allow acronyms written with full stops (or periods) between each letter or segment. I disagree.

Likewise, there are those who think acronyms should always be written in capital letters. Again I disagree. In both cases the result is both inelegant and distracting.

You’ll notice in the examples above, I’ve written some acronyms in capitals, some with an initial capital and some in lower case. Here’s why:

  • When you pronounce the acronym as a string of letters, ie eye, bee, emm for IBM the computer company, write the word in capitals. Some people call this type of acronym initialism.
  • If the acronym is a word and spoken as a word, then treat it as a normal word with an initial capital if it is a proper noun. Otherwise with a lower case initial letter.
  • Some American newspapers automatically use an initial capital followed by lower case if the acronym had more than six letters.

One difficulty is deciding whether to use a or an before an acronym. The important thing is how it sounds when spoken.

Certain acronyms were deliberately designed from the outset as pronounceable words. For example, Action on Smoking and Health (Ash).

The Economist Style Guide offers good advice:

…try not to repeat the abbreviation too often; so write the agency and not the IAEA, the Union and not the EU, to avoid splattering the page with capital letters. There is no need to give the initials of an organisation if it is not referred to again.

From the Australian Financial Review 11 April 2001
From the Australian Financial Review 11 April 2001

Web hosting operations in Australia and other western countries face a nasty double whammy in coming months. Not only are the various Internet markets in these countries heading towards saturation, but at the same time, many of the national economies are facing a slowdown. Asia on the other hand is, in Internet terms, so massively underdeveloped that any economic hiccups are unlikely to hinder regional web hosting growth prospects.

According to Forrester Research, by 2004 some 99.7% of US small businesses and 83% of America’s medium-sized companies will have some kind of web presence. Australia lags behind the US – but not by much. Although there’s still a long way to go before the saturation point is reached, web hosting operations can see an end to the rapid growth in customers and sites that has characterised their industry until now.

As far as Australian hosts are concerned, there are three likely drivers for further growth. First, there’s the option to sell a broader range of products and services to existing customers. Although there is plenty of scope for offering value-added services, this strategy largely depends on the still unproven ASP business model.

A second option is to expand by acquisition. In global terms the web hosting market could certainly do with a round of industry consolidation. There are currently more than 1000 hosting operations selling to international markets and while the intense competition has delivered low prices and spurred innovation there’s doubt about the long-term viability of many players.

The third option is to expand existing hosting operations into new geographic markets. Given that Europe and North America already have mature web hosting operations, for most Australian companies this means looking north to the Asian market.

Leading the charge is WebCentral. The company is Australia’s leading hosting business with 700 servers and around 40% of the local hosting market.

There’s certainly a strong business case for selling to Asia. According to a report by eMarketer and Dataquest, the Asian Internet market is still in its rapid growth phase. In 2000 there were some 49 million users in the region, by 2004 this will swell to 174 million users – that’s a compound annual growth rate of 38%. During the same period, Asian users will go from being 21% of the global online community to around 27%. More importantly e-commerce revenues are forecast to climb from US$39.4 billion to more than US$338 billion.

This is all very promising, but behind these numbers are even more compelling statistics for would-be Asian hosting operations. By world standards Asia has very low levels of business-to-consumer eCommerce – an area of great interest to web hosting companies. During the four years to 2004 this is set to rise twelve-fold. And according to Ovuum, a European-based research company, only 7% of Asian companies use web-hosting services compared with 37% of European companies.

Australian hosting companies will find the Asian Internet landscape is vastly different from the local scene. For example, compared with Australia, most of Asia has considerably less access to fixed line telephone systems. This means that for many consumers their only practical route to the web is through the wireless telephone networks. And the online experience for wireless users is considerably different to that for users with personal computers, modems and fixed telephone lines.

Another problem for local web hosting companies planning to expand into the region is that, while there is not a strong indigenous hosting industry throughout the region there are pockets of strength. For example, India already has a well-developed hosting market.

What’s more, many of the world’s largest telecommunications and Internet players already have their eyes on the yet to blossom Asian market. For example, last year Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone announced its intention to dominate the Asian hosting market when it acquired the US-based Verio hosting operation.

In December, France Telecom subsidiary Global One opened a major regional hosting operation in Singapore. This January saw Exodus Communications buy the GlobalCenter web hosting subsidiary from Global Crossing. The two companies formed a joint venture to supply web hosting services to Asia – a business which is expected to generate some US$4 to 5 billion in revenues over the next ten years.

From the Australian Financial Review 11 April 2001

A press release from Nielsen (not online at the time of writing) says Mozilla Firefox is winning New Zealand users from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

It is, but Microsoft’s browser still accounts for a 60 percent market share. According to Nielsen, Internet Explorer dropped from 72 percent to 60 percent between July 2006 and July 2009. Over the same period Firefox climbed from 11 percent to 20 percent. The remaining market share goes to rats and mice – with Google’s Chrome picking up just 3.2 percent of the market.

At the current rate, it’ll be at least two more years before Microsoft’s market share drops below 50 percent – and longer again before Firefox goes past Internet Explorer.

Nielsen’s press release doesn’t explain what it means by market share. The company manages a net measuring business where it tracks traffic to a number of commercial websites. The traffic information includes browser data, so we can assume Nielsen  adds up each browser’s share of the total traffic to these sites. Because Nielsen’s clients are among New Zealand’s busiest sites, it is a reasonable measure of total share.

What Nielsen doesn’t measure is the way many users, myself included, switch between browsers for different jobs. I’d also like to see data on which versions of the various browsers are used.

There’s also no mention of mobile browsers – which may still be a freak show – but are likely to grab market share quickly now New Zealand has two reasonable mobile data networks.

If you listen to some of the companies selling customer relationship management (CRM) software applications, you could get the impression it is an all-or-nothing proposition needing to be implemented big-bang fashion.

The problem with this approach is that the era of disruptive, large-scale information technology projects with headline-grabbing budgets is very much in the past.

These days, if firms are spending anything on IT development, they choose smaller projects. Typically, these will take three to six months and deliver modest, but real, benefits from day one. New projects are usually fully integrated with existing systems.

Larger technology programmes are not unknown, but nowadays they are generally implemented piecemeal in small bite-sized chunks. Each incremental step has to deliver usable functionality and often needs to be justified in terms of a quick and demonstrable return-on-investment before further stages are implemented.

This contrasts with some of the noise coming from CRM vendors. They often ask prospective customers to rebuild their entire IT infrastructure in order to accommodate the software packages that allow firms to forge closer customer ties. At the same time vendors may argue that a CRM software implementation also requires sweeping business process changes across an entire enterprise.

It’s ironic that there should be such an apparent contradiction between the way companies selling CRM applications approach the market and the way real world firms actually roll out new technologies. After all, CRM is supposed to be all about getting closer to customers, understanding customer needs and delivering beyond their expectations.

In practice there’s less of a contradiction than it may seem. Rod Bryan, PwC Consulting’s Asia Pacific leader for CRM Solutions says that while CRM is definitely an all-or-nothing proposition, that doesn’t make it an all-or-nothing technology proposition. The all-or-nothing part is about committing to a way of doing business, not to a set of tools. The key to success lies in the strategy, not in the software.

He says, “It’s absolutely not about technology. Technology just happens to be a valuable piece of the equation. You just need it to realise the strategy.”

Bryan emphasises just how wide the gulf is between CRM technology and strategy. For example, he says, “You can have two competing organisations, let’s say they are banks, they might be exactly the same size and have more or less the same product set and customer base. The two banks might both go and install exactly the same CRM technology, but if they are using different CRM strategies they will get very different results. Buying CRM systems does not take away the responsibility for setting that strategy.”

This view jars with the way CRM technology vendors peddle their wares (see other story). Their marketing often confuses the strategic aspects of CRM with the delivery mechanisms. Not surprisingly brochures, advertisements and PowerPoint presentations show software enabled workers delivering great customer relations.

Bryan says the vision is good, but something often gets lost along the way; the idea that firms need to make the technologies work for them rather than the other way around.

Gartner research director, business applications Kristian Steenstrup says in reality there’s less dissonance than you might expect between the vendor approach to CRM and the pigeon step development now favoured by most firms.

He says, “You need to have a vision of how you view the market and how you would like to be seen by the market. Then once you have this in place, you can start implementing the various reorganisation and training programmes along with the technology projects that help work towards that vision.”

Steenstrup says there’s no technical problem adopting the piecemeal approach; companies can simply undertake their smaller projects within the framework of a bigger plan. He says that it is possible to roll-out a series of smaller three to six month projects that each deliver various CRM functions and reach various return-on-investment milestones.

The only real difficulty with this approach lies in the way individual projects are justified. He says, “It was always easier to do this with ERP (enterprise resource planning) projects because 90 percent of them delivered measurable efficiency gains. There still are efficiency gains with CRM, but 80 percent of the gains lie in effectiveness – for example you might want to get a better yield from your customer base.”

Another trap in the short-term gain approach to rolling out CRM is that successful implementation often requires an in-depth planning process that might stretch beyond the attention span of senior managers expecting three-monthly progress reports. Rick Clark, director of strategic consulting for MSI Business Solutions, Australia’s largest home-grown CRM player, says, “You should never be in too much of a hurry to implement CRM”.

Clark thinks the piecemeal development approach makes a lot of sense, but he warns that there needs to be a lot of spade work done before any projects are started. “It’s vital to get the information architecture correct from the beginning. A number of CRM programmes have failed because the firms got halfway through developing their systems only to find that the data isn’t structured correctly.”

In his view the danger is that a company shoot a few short-term small-project goals, only to find further progress is impossible.

He says organisations often fail to spend enough time defining the business problems before starting, he says the pressures to show quick returns means they can end up implementing systems rather than solving problems.

For example, they might start out worrying about getting a single customer view or building applications that help provide opportunities to up-sell to individual customers. “In fact they should start by asking themselves what kind of relationship we have with customers and what kind of relationship do we need, how can we increase the value of each customer.”

The danger here is that by looking for a quick return-on-investment a company might interpret the idea of increasing customer value as ‘let’s sell them another product’. Clark says it can work, but in some cases a ham-fisted attempt to sell an existing customer an extra product might draw the wrong kind of attention to the firm and cause them to put their business elsewhere.

This is what Clark calls ‘a moment of truth’. He says, “Most valuable customers can be lost for ever in a single moment of truth. For example, you might be happy to continue doing business with a bank that treats you badly for year after year. They might make a lot of money from you. But the moment they bounce a cheque or hit you with an unexplained charge, you’ll move your account.”

He says it’s not uncommon for companies to rush into a CRM programme and quickly build a system that gives a single view of the customer. This might provide information about which products each customer has purchased. The list is then handed over to a telesales department who are asked to fill in the blanks, up-sell or cross-sell more products to people. When this doesn’t work the company concludes that CRM doesn’t work, but the truth is such as system is simply managing customers and that’s not the same as managing relationships with customers.

This brings us back to the mismatch between the way CRM vendors approach the market and the way companies actually implement and use the tools. The all-or-nothing and big-bang aspects are real enough, but they apply to CRM in its broader sense, not the technology. There’s no inherent problem with a piecemeal approach to developing technology and rolling out systems, but it’s important not to be in a hurry and neglect the initial planning stages.

This story was published in the Australian Financial Review in July 2002.

You aren’t likely to get headhunted unless you are already near the top of the career tree. In Australia, real head-hunters don’t tend to look for people to fill positions paying much less than $150k because there’s scant reward for the effort involved.Some earn a commission, taking a percentage of the first year’s salary. Others take a fixed fee.

Either way head-hunters are expensive and can only be justified for senior appointments. Of course, the salary threshold will differ in other countries.

There are exceptions to the salary rule. Employers occasionally ask head-hunters to deal with hard to-fill-vacancies in specialised niches. Occasionally an organisation hires a professional head-hunter to woo a specific person – possibly from a rival.

How head-hunters work

A head-hunter’s operating style makes a huge difference to the way you should deal with them. Fixed fee head-hunters receive a payment whether employers hire the candidates they find or not. Typically these head-hunters are only interested in recruiting for the top jobs.

Once they have a curriculum vitae they are unlikely to punt it around the industry if they fail to fill the original vacancy. While they may keep it on file and use it later if a similar position comes up later, they probably won’t do this without first getting permission.

It isn’t always true, but the head-hunters operating on a commission basis tend to work for a number of clients at the same time. Typically they’ll operate at a slightly lower level. They build databases of potential candidates: be warned once you are ‘in play’ they might hound you until they find you a new job.

Don’t assume that because head-hunters earn commission they have an interest in negotiating a high salary. In practice they can maximise their income by turning over more business than by squeezing an employer for a few thousand dollars here or there.

So, while they are happy to see you get more dollars, don’t push your luck in negotiations. If anything they are keener to close the deal than win more money.

Interview coaching

Some commission head-hunters will coach you before an interview. They’ll do whatever they can to help you secure the job. At times you may feel they are pushing you– that’s because they are pushing you.

It isn’t unusual for rival commission head-hunters – even from within the same recruitment organisation – to have candidates in line for a single job. While you’ll get a lot of push, you probably won’t get much of attention, that’s because they have so many irons in the fire.

Although it might look like you have a job in the bag, you might be only one of many candidates.

Fixed fee head-hunters will spend a lot of time with you. They probably won’t coach you, but they will help with negotiations and finding information.

You can expect to get lots of feedback about how the process is progressing. By the time you are in front of a company, you’ll be one of only two or three short-listed candidates. The job isn’t yours yet. But you will almost certainly be what the company is looking for. Most of the remaining work is determining if you are the best fit for that employer.

Negotiating when head-hunted

Another dangerous assumption is that a call from a head-hunter puts you in a strong negotiating position. After all, extracting better salary, terms and conditions is easier when someone else is doing the asking.

To some extent this is true, but don’t get carried away. Head hunters spend their working lives recruiting people. You only change jobs once in a blue moon. You have negotiating leverage, but remember you’re up against professionals. They will have seen all this before. What’s more, their clients are the employers, not the candidates.

If they have done their homework properly the prospective employer will already have a definite idea of your worth to their business. They are prepared to negotiate and may even go past their expected limits. You should remind yourself that they probably have other candidates in the pipeline too.

Despite this, a call from a head-hunter is an excellent way to boost your salary or job. After all, if they want to tempt you away from your current position, they are going to need to offer something attractive.