In the “Thought Leadership” editorial I wrote last week, I raised some concerns that I had with Citrix. I wrote that I wanted them to be more open and that I wanted them to evolve away from their “Access” marketing message.
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On the topic of openness, I wrote about several things that they could do to improve (in my opinion, at least). However, I didn’t write about what I hoped to see from a marketing standpoint. Basically that meant that I complained about it without offering any suggestions.
Therefore I’d like to use this editorial to outline the specific reasons of why I think it’s important that Citrix evolves their marketing message, and how I think that evolution can take place.
Background: The road leading up to “Access”
Allow me to provide some background information for context. (If you’re familiar with Citrix’s actions over the past ten years, feel free to skip to the next section.)
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Citrix was a one-product company focused on the server-based computing space. MetaFrame was awesome, but Citrix had to mitigate several risks associated with being a one-product company (market saturation, all eggs in one basket, low barrier of entry for competitors, buggy whip syndrome, etc.)
In 2001, Citrix bought a web portal company called Sequoia. Sequoia made fine products as far as web portals go, but it really wasn’t relevant to the server-based computing and MetaFrame spaces where Citrix was at that time. For the most part, people ignored the products that Citrix got from Sequoia, and Citrix continued to be a one-product company.
In 2003, Citrix launched their “Access” marketing campaign. “It’s all about Access… We are the company to provide ‘Access.’ … Access to applications, data, etc.”
At about the same time, Citrix announced the “Citrix Access Suite.” This suite was a “suite” in name only. It was actually four separate more-or-less and unrelated products: MetaFrame Presentation Server, a web portal based on the Sequoia platform, a conferencing package, and a password management application.
From the beginning I really liked the “Access” message. It made sense to me.
The suite, on the other hand, was not something that I liked. I mean what did a password management application have to do with MetaFrame, and why were they in the same suite? “You can’t ‘access’ your applications if you don’t know your password” was the typical Citrix response. Well duh! But to me, that was like saying “you can’t access your applications if you don’t have electricity, so we’re going to provide that too!”
There was another problem with the “Access” message. By saying that they were going to be the one vendor to provide ‘access’ to applications, Citrix was suddenly encroaching on the territory of a lot of other software and hardware companies. LANs, WANs, security applications, networking hardware, directories, user management solutions--these are all used for 'access.' In fact, the only reason that IT exists is to provide access to applications. Did this mean that Citrix was now competing with every single vendor in the IT space? How would customers feel about that?
In some ways it didn’t matter. People were like, “whatever dude!” and continued use MetaFrame and ignore the other products in the Access Suite. Those “other” suite products just didn’t matter.
In late 2004, Citrix bought Net6, a small SSL-VPN appliance maker. This was the first acquisition that Citrix made that really started to change the game for them and started to show people where they were going strategically. After about a year of integration, Citrix released “Advanced Access Control” (AAC), a software component that integrated MetaFrame Presentation Server and the Citrix Access Gateway (the renamed Net6 SSL-VPN) in a very cool and unique way. The AAC software was what led me to have my epiphany about Citrix and the whole ‘Access’ message. For the first time I saw true value in the “suite” in the way that Presentation Server, the Citrix Access Gateway SSL-VPN appliance, and the AAC software all tied together. Citrix was moving in the right direction!
Then in May 2005 Citrix bought NetScaler, an HTTP optimization appliance vendor. Again we wondered and speculated about how Citrix would integrate NetScaler into their product portfolio. After all, none of Citrix’s products had anything to do with HTTP application delivery. NetScaler’s customers were companies like Yahoo!, Google, MSN, and ESPN—a major difference from Citrix’s existing customers who used Presentation Server to push fat Windows apps over thin pipes.
Mark Templeton ended all the speculation by detailing Citrix's new messaging at iForum that October (five months after the NetScaler acquisition). “We want to be the single company to provide access to all applications, regardless of what type they are.” For Windows client/server applications, you can use Citrix Presentation Server. For web applications, you can optimize them with NetScaler appliances. For full client or offline applications, you can use desktop streaming. (This was referring to technologies that are part of Citrix’s Project Tarpon, a Softricity-like streaming project currently in beta.)
I had a huge smile on my face when I heard this messaging. I tapped my colleague sitting next to me on the leg about fifty times saying, “Brilliant! This is great stuff!” I really liked this messaging.
The "Access" Message
So what’s the problem? The problem is that even though they announced some new positioning, everything was still hidden behind the single marketing word called “Access.” As I wrote last week, I don't think that the "Access" message is the best way to sell Citrix. I mean what is "Access" anyway? Access to what? And how many CIOs have a budget for "access?"
If you walk into the office of almost any CIO, you'll see on the board a list of top priorities. I have never seen a CIO that's looking for an "access strategy" as a top priority. (And I'm sorry to say this, but Citrix will never be able to train little silver partners to be able to convince big CIOs that they need an access strategy.)
Instead, most CIOs have real problems to solve which tend to be application-focused. They need to implement and deploy new applications, an area in which Citrix excels, but unfortunately people don't realize this since Citrix is pushing "Access," whatever that means.
The "Access" marketing message is also vague in Citrix's print advertisements. I came across two “gems” in BusinessWeek over the past month. (Actually these ads are currently running on Citrix.com’s homepage.) One says “Betfair saw the future of betting. Citrix provided Access.” The other says that “Florida Guardian ad Litem saw the future of child advocacy. Citrix Provided Access.”
What in the world does that mean? Do you think any CIO is actually reading these ads and saying, “Yes! I want access! Let me call Citrix!” Of course not. The CIO is left wondering whether Citrix makes software or is a financial underwriter.
Think about this. Try to give a 30-second elevator pitch about “Access.”
Citrix enables businesses to exploit the promise of new technologies by providing access solutions.
What does that mean? The poor sap on the receiving end of the "access" pitch will know less about Citrix after the 30 seconds than he did going in.
“Access” makes a nice bold red sticker on a taxicab ad. It does not make for good corporate messaging.
How can Citrix evolve from the Access marketing message?
To get to the real meat of this editorial, let's look at what Citrix can do to refine their marketing message. Personally I like the term “application delivery.” That’s more concrete and more specific while still giving Citrix wiggle room to cover server-based computing, HTTP optimization, streaming, VDI, or whatever other technologies they buy.
Imagine the elevator pitch about "application delivery."
“Citrix makes products that allow IT departments to deliver applications to end users--securely, cheaply, quickly, and over any connection from any device.”
To me, that is something more tangible that I think a lot of people can understand.
I think this also helps Citrix evolve away from pure server-based computing and into all of these other areas. As I’ve said many times before, I started out my career by focusing on Microsoft SMS. When people ask how I made the jump from SMS to Citrix, I tell them that while these two technologies are very different, they both solve the same business need—delivering applications to users. Presentation Server, NetScaler, Tarpon—all of these products are about delivering applications to users in a secure and cost effective way. Same goes for Appswing and virtual desktop infrastructures and some of the other "evolving" areas that Citrix is investing in.
If you think about it, Citrix has always been about application delivery. Bringing "application delivery" into the prime marketing spotlight will allow Citrix to be true to their roots while letting their products evolve as the definition of an "application" evolves. The term "application delivery" is future-proof, because even twenty years from now people will still be using applications, and IT will still be responsible for delivering them quickly, securely, and to and from anywhere. This means that Citrix can be well positioned to talk about how new types of applications will be delivered when they become real (.NET, Web 2.0, voice, video, P2P, etc.)
Citrix is perfectly positioned to absolutely dominate the application delivery space. No other company is focused purely on delivering applications, and Citrix needs to make sure that the market knows this. How great would it be if Citrix became THE company that can deliver any type of application to any user, anywhere, in a secure and well-performing way? This would mean that Citrix could do the stuff that matters most to CIOs, and that’s really valuable.
If you look at Citrix's “Access Platform” diagram, you see “application delivery” is one little piece of it. But what’s all this other stuff? What is “access security & control” and “operations system support?” How about just calling these “application security” and “application visibility.”
The bottom line is that Citrix should tweak the "Access" message so that it's more relevant to customers. Since CIOs and IT departments focus on applications, why shouldn't Citrix? I'm not even saying that I think the whole "Access" message should go away. I just think it should be minimzed while something more tangible like "application delivery" is brought into focus.