Something has changed at Citrix over the past few years. They've gone from a company with a laser focus on the cutting edge of peoples' thinking to a huge company with a muddy message, a severe case of corporate schizophrenia, and a dash of paranoia. What does this mean for us? It means that while they still make some cool products, they don't have any passion and they don't know how to explain what they're doing and why it's important.
This is a company whose CEO took every single opportunity to mention that their goal was to become a $1B company. Well congratulations Citrix! You’re there.
Now what? $2B? (I'm kidding about this. Please please please don't spend the next five years making people think that growth is your primary reason for corporate existence.)
So how does this whole "thought leader" thing play into this? Accoring to Elise Bauer (via Wikipedia), a thought leader is "the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates."
In the 1990s, Citrix was a thought leader. In the early 90s, Ed Iacobucci (Citrix’s founder) laid out a vision for multiple user versions of OS/2 and Windows and how that could provide remote access. In the late 90s, customers were knocking down the door trying to get meetings with Citrix so that they could learn how to use their current building blocks to deploy complex apps to diverse user sets.
Then things changed. The company starting to diversify and they kicked out Ed Iacobucci. Today Citrix desperately wants to be recognized as a thought leader at the C-level within their customers. Certainly they have some big wins in this area. But in general, CXOs are not coming to Citrix for Access strategies. Last year The Inquirer wrote that Citrix is "certainly the most boring IT company in the universe."
Why is this?
Without a doubt, Citrix is trying to bite off a lot more these days than the simple times of the 90s. It's not just that IT is more complex today--it's that Citrix is trying to move "upstream" in corporations and get in at the strategic level and not the tactical level. The challenge to this is that (1) the "strategic" level is a lot more crowded, competition-wise, and (2) Citrix is trying to use the same techniques that worked at the tactical level that don't really work at the strategic level.
The whole "thought leadership" thing boils down to recognition from others; it's the ultimate peer-review. For the past several years, Citrix has been beating the access strategy drum. Unfortunately, true C-level customers are like, "Um, yeah, no shit! How can you (Citrix) help?"
What pains me is that we’re on the cusp of some really major changes in the IT industry with regards to how applications are delivered to users. Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI) are replacing user workstations with remote VM images. .NET applications are moving beyond the stovepipe models of Win32 apps. Softricity is changing the definition of what it means to install an application. Ardence is letting companies re-purpose entire servers in a matter of seconds. Microsoft is building virtualization into the core Windows platform. All of these things are directly within Citrix’s grasp, yet where is Citrix? Why isn’t Citrix out there every day telling us about all the cool things that could be possible, and how they’ll fit in?
Instead, Citrix has gone on the defensive. They’re trying to defend why Presentation Server will still have value in a Longhorn world. They’re trying to defend why Tarpon will still have value now that Microsoft bought Softricity. They’re trying to force Windows SEs to learn about HTTP-based networking gear. They're trying to cram the marketing message down the throats of SEs by adding marketing test requirements to their CCEA and CCIA certifications.
Citrix should be embarrassed! They should be embarrassed that they don’t have a decent VDI solution on the market. They should be embarrassed that they try to force the LiveEdit / Motivus technology onto people when the client security requirements are higher than the ICA Java client. They should be embarrassed that they invested in AppSwing but haven’t told people why. They should be embarrassed that they invested in BioPasswod but their website doesn’t say anything about this. They should be embarrassed that the PS4 certification tests are just coming out a full year after the product was released.
What can Citrix do about this?
I think that it’s not too late for Citrix to really become a thought leader again in this industry. After all, IBM has done this now after near death a decade ago. The Linux threat forced Microsoft to open up and share their ideas, and everyone agrees that the Microsoft of today is much different (and better) than the Microsoft of five years ago. If Citrix is to do this then they'll need a major corporate culture transplant. Citrix has to get past the whole inferiority complex that led them to close up tight.
So what can they do specifically?
- Start blogging
- Fix the messaging
- Something else?
Citrix is pretty much the only remaining software company that doesn’t let its employees blog. Setting up a blog would be fast and easy. Why would a blog help? It would let the actual employees who are having cool thoughts share them with the industry.
Take Microsoft for example. They have thousands and thousands of bloggers. As an example of what blogs can do, let's look at the blog of just one group: the Excel product group. This blog shows that Microsoft is a thought leader in the spreadsheet space. They’re talking about the future of spreadsheets, conversations about user experience, getting feedback, etc. If I want to find the “pulse” of the spreadsheet world or if I want to learn about how Microsoft is clued in to spreadsheets, I can do that.
With Citrix? No such luck.
What could Citrix possibly blog about? Here’s a quick list off the top of my head.
- Why did Citrix invest in AppSwing? What does that mean for Presentation Server? How technology like AppSwing’s evolve? Is there more to this than the short term play of getting Windows apps on a handheld?
- Why did Citrix invest in BioPassword? Could this technology ever become mainstream? Should customers look at this today? Where’s it useful? Where does it work? When does it not work?
- How are people using Windows XP for VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) solutions? Is there a fit with Presentation Server?
- What will Windows applications look like in five years? What will Citrix look like in five years?
- What happens if Symantec buys Juniper?
- Will we ever live in a world without Presentation Server software? Will it all be delivered on an appliance?
- Why is Microsoft using a super old VPN dialer instead of Citrix Access Gateways? What does Citrix being the “Global ISV of the Year” really mean?
- How is Citrix’s “top down” approach to application and network security different than Juniper or F5’s “bottom up” approach?
- How has Presentation Server’s EMF-based printing working in the world? Have the recent batch of hotfixes finally fixed the major issues, or are most people still using triCerat or ThinPrint?
If you read the Microsoft or Sun blogs, you’ll see that this is the kind of stuff that they talk about. If Citrix let their employees blog, then when someone hears about some technology or strategy, they could easily see what Citrix employees where thinking about instead of just wondering whether anyone within Citrix had ever heard of it or has any clue at all.
At the CTP meeting last week I was discussing the lack of blogs with some Citrix folks, and one of the responses was, "Well you know, it takes people to manage the blog. You have to make sure that what is written is okay."
I jumped on this saying, "No, no, no! You don't get it. Do not edit the blogs!"
The Citrix employee went on to say, "Well, you have to monitor them to make sure that there is no comment spam or profanity."
Ugh! Is this really the reason that Citrix is not blogging? Of course not. Everyone knows that there are technologies to combat both comment spam and profanity. The real reason that Citrix doesn't blog is because they're afraid of letting go, control-wise.
Of course my true fear here is that Citrix will start blogging soon, but that they’ll do a half-assed job and mess it up. Citrix is really good at announcing stuff to quiet the critics but then not really following through.
If Citrix lets their employees blog, they cannot censor or modify what they say. Sure it’s important to ensure that no private intellectual property gets out there, but that's something the company has to do anyway. I can foresee Citrix coming down on employees who don’t toe the party line, but I’m hoping that Citrix will instead provide raw access to the thinkers within the company.
Fix the Marketing
Access is so 2003. That whole “access” campaign was great for C-level people, but Citrix seriously needs to change the message they deliver to technical folks. You can’t run the same ad in BusinessWeek that you run in Windows & .NET Magazine.
Citrix is the only company I know whose strategy is one word. Here’s the way the conversation goes.
Customer: What’s your corporate strategy?
Customer: What does that mean?
Citrix: It’s all about access?
Customer: Sooo… what products do you sell?
Citrix: We sell access infrastructure
My point is this: Ever since Citrix started to diversify away from being a pure MetaFrame company, they’ve forgotten how to do technical marketing. The “Access” messaging makes for a good story for executives, but it’s not a strategy, and it certainly does not resonate with the geeks who actually install, manage, configure, and deploy the products.
What else does Citrix need to do to become a thought leader? Share your ideas in the comments section of this article.
Now is a critical time for Citrix. The world is changing. Citrix must show that they’re truly engaging with the community.
If they don't, the community will leave them. The community has already started cobbling together VDI solutions with Terminal Services and 2X. And with Longhorn Terminal Services, Virtualization, Softricity-based app installations, Network Access Protection and Anywhere Access portals all being released from Microsoft as “good enough” platforms, Citrix risks fading away into another “has been” of the industry.