Intalio: The enterprise storm cloud company?

May 22nd, 2009 by Alex

Intalio claims to be a "cloud company"

Earlier this week, Intalio (formerly “the leader in open source BPMS” and formerly “”the open source business platform company”) announced that it has — once again — transformed itself. This time Intalio is now “the enterprise cloud company.”

As a marketer, I admire thought-leadership and the value of aligning your company to whatever is “hot” in the marketplace. Still, you have to wonder what it means when a company is continually “reinventing” itself. Is it real product and technology leadership? Or is wrapping your company in the hot terminology of the day a more cynical form of marketing — maybe even simple opportunism?

Clearly, I don’t know which is at work inside Intalio. But I’ve written a few press releases in my time and so I know a little about the “form” for press releases — and this one is a whopper. Reading Intalio’s “enterprise cloud computing” release gathered more than a few storm clouds for me.

I spend hours agonizing over every press release we issue: what are we saying when we use that word? Does this comma make a difference? What will the reader think of us when he or she reads that phrase? What are we projecting about Active Endpoints and ActiveVOS if we position ourselves in this way? It ain’t easy work, but we think it’s worth it because we want to “get it right” without going over the top — a common complaint about press releases in general.

I assume Intalio sweats the details, too. So, once you’ve made your news public, it’s reasonable to expect others to comment on it. After all, it’s a public document — meant to get attention.

So, I thought it might be interesting to respond — not necessarily about the product — but instead with my reaction about how Intalio’s cloud announcement “reads” to another marketer who writes press releases as part of his job. After all, how you write about a product is an important indication to customers of what it’d be like to do business with a company. Providers of luxury goods know this: BMW car brochures are printed on heavy paper — almost always in Germany and shipped to the US at great expense — and contain spectacular photography and no typos. Full of technical specifications and details, BMW spends a lot of money to communicate what driving the car might be like for you before you even set foot in one.

The first few paragraphs of Intalio’s release start off innocently enough. The company announces two acquisitions and a new product. Unlike a press release I might write, the new product takes a back seat to the acquisitions. It’s not until the second paragraph that we hear about what customers care about: new technology. This could be chalked up to style. But in my world, all marketing is about the product — what customers are presumably interested in — and company news is interesting, but secondary.

Then, suddenly, in the third paragraph, Intalio is “at feature parity” with salesforce.com and offers “a much better user interface” than Microsoft Dynamics CRM. OK. I get it, the company thinks its new product — whatever it is — is a natural to compete with Microsoft and salesforce.com. I say, “Good luck to you.” I am not one to shy away from competitive comparisons — in fact, just call us if you want to compare ActiveVOS BPMS to Intalio BPMS…uh…I mean “cloud.” But we learn nothing — not a single feature — of this new product other than it’s better than others. Innovative? Maybe. Bombast? For sure.

Then, the release just gets curiouser and curiouser. Consider this section:

“Intalio is integral to the operation of the Bank’s back office processes,” said a Vice President at one of the World’s largest banks.  ”…The introduction of Intalio’s Enterprise Cloud Platform provides us with the platform for the next stage in our evolution…”

Every marketer has struggled with this one. You have a new product — but nobody’s probably using it and you want a customer quote to say future customers are going to love using it. The problem is that many customers will not give you an attributed quote to say that — because they haven’t used it. Also, unless you ran a beta, you can’t find anyone to say nice things.

So, you can do what we would — and not quote an unnamed customer — or you can do what Intalio did and make the claim anonymously. When you do, you raise the question in the reader’s mind of exactly why you couldn’t get an attributed quote from a current customer. Did this customer get a demo? Did they actually see this new product? Or were they simply “briefed” (in other words, shown slideware)? We want to know what bank, exactly, is anticipating this new product and why, if they’re so eager for it, they won’t tell the world who they are? By whose definition is this unnamed bank “one of the world’s largest?” At the end of the day, when a technology company uses unnamed sources to praise a new product, it raises more questions than it answers.

Now, the release gets progressively more surreal. Intalio announces an appliance on HP blades. OK, no problem there. Gotta have something to run the software on. But then, abruptly, the press release starts promoting the value of HP blade systems:

“HP BladeSystems will also allow Intalio’s customers to dynamically gain efficiencies through their advanced power and cooling optimization techniques, while providing the very best hardware/software solution.”

This sounds like what you’d normally see in a partnership release between a hardware and software company. So, who from HP is quoted as praising their blades as part of Intalio’s platform? Uhh…that would be someone who used to work at HP.

Any marketer — indeed any customer reading the press release — will tell you what that means: Intalio probably couldn’t get a quote even from some middle-level marketing manager in the HP channel. Why, you ask, wouldn’t someone in HP give Intalio a hand in marketing HP’s products? Are they not an official HP partner? Why isn’t HP happy to have Intalio announcing their product more or less exclusively on HP machines?

On the other hand, I can’t imagine why Intalio is hawking HP blades for no apparent marketing benefit from HP — or why cooling optimization is important in a CRM/BPM/cloud/enterprise/my-UI-is-better-than-someone-else’s-UI product press release — but it has the effect of undermining the whole release. Rule one of product marketing is “don’t shine the light on something else unless you get something in return.” Getting a quote from HP for this should’ve been easy (though not fast). Is Intalio just throwing around brand names? How is this relevant to the rest of what they’re talking about?

Finally, the starkest omission of all: other than saying the products are available “today” at their website, there’s no pricing information, no upgrade information, no details, no features…no nothing. Most of all, there’s no mention of the previous incarnations of the company as an “open source leader” and how that affects customers of its new offerings.

Yes, I believe you can tell a lot about a company by how it communicates. We taken Intalio to task before for claiming “leadership” in open source. Do you also see the pattern in the cloud?

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