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How to Succeed at Innovation and Differentiation

By November 4, 2009Article

Editor’s note: Founded in 1981, San Jose, Calif.-based Wyse Technology is a global leader in innovation. Fifteen years ago, Wyse shifted away from its legacy green-screen terminal business, and invented the concept of thin-client hardware. Then in 2009, it invented PocketCloud, the popular mobile app that now enables users to securely access their physical or virtual PCs remotely through the convenience of their iPhone, iPod, iPad, or Android smartphone or tablet.

Awarded as a top innovative product in cloud computing for 2011, the “computer in your palm” app has been ranked among the top 10 business applications since it was introduced at VMworld 2009.

CEO Tarkan Maner recalls that when he took the company out of its obscurity, their goal was to “invest heavily into virtualization software to create a cloud-based application where the user – rather than a device or a system – is in the center of everything.” What was the source of the vision that shaped that goal and changed the direction and focus of his company? Though innovation is an integral part of any software business, the effort can lead to business transformation and cause some kinks in the business. As Maner points out, “transforming a business is much more difficult than starting a new business and brand from scratch because there are so many different dynamics.” spoke with Maner about his company’s path to differentiation, how they eliminated constraints to innovation and what they found to be their keys to success. How did you determine that your company needed to switch its focus from hardware to software and determine your goal regarding the type of software in which you would invest? Were you monitoring specific trends?

Tarkan Maner: It was a twofold approach. First, we believe in the democratization of innovation. We open our innovation process to our customers and partners, similarly to the Lego company in Denmark that asked kids to design the toys they had in mind. For the past three or four years in our innovation sessions, we found out the three key areas of focus and concern:

  • Cloud
  • Social media and location-based services in the enterprise
  • New mobile platforms and the consumerization of IT

We listened to our customers and their requirements and built an application that exactly fit their needs.

Second, we didn’t want to do something new without connecting it to our core competence and experience. We wanted to ensure that innovation around what we do also has a base in our core business of the past 30 years. How did you manage to keep your core business focus—which was originally hardware—from becoming a hindrance to innovation in software?

Tarkan Maner: It is the job of the CEO and the executive team to ensure they look at the biggest trends and opportunities from the perspective of where a company’s core competence can become an asset, not a liability. In our case, our core competence was in virtual desktop-driven cloud solutions and the surrounding IT ecosystem.

To learn the biggest trends, we listened to users; the kids in schools and the young professionals just out of school who went to work in enterprises were part of the audience. They have different expectations around business processes, business models, and user experience; but our past experience in architecture was an asset in developing a solution to meet their needs.

In listening to the end users, we found two key areas where we needed to differentiate from our past:

  • The solution needed much more focus on user experience – I call this “customer intimacy.”
  • The solution needed to be much more IP-driven – to ensure our IP is uniquely differentiated and uniquely defined and ties to user experience.

We came up with a solution that ensures that these new types of users at work have the user experience they expect from the consumer world. It also differentiates from our past in aspects including the user interface and the way our PocketCloud app is sold, packaged, priced, and marketed. It’s sold through Apple, Google, so we made it much simpler to download and much simpler to support. What was the key focus in achieving your goal?

Tarkan Maner: Our goal was to do something to change the game in a way that makes a difference for the customer. The key point we kept in mind throughout that process was to make sure our past experience and the new innovation and new energy were fused well.

One should not overpower the other. And as we changed and improved the solution, we did not necessarily change our brand or change the promise of our brand of the past 30 years, as it is one of the biggest assets we have. Did you encounter any pitfalls? What do companies need to avoid in their journey to innovation and differentiation in the market?

Tarkan Maner: We recognized the need to emphasize operational excellence. Not doing that is a pitfall in the new consumer world because, if you make one little mistake, you can lose everything. So detail is extremely important, and we pay attention to it.

I used to work in the retail industry during my college years. My hard-working boss used to tell me “retail is detail” because retail is all about customer service. I believe IT is just now cracking that code and understanding that the details in customer needs are important. You can have a great piece of technology, but that’s not enough. It needs to be easy to download and set up the application, easy to price and, most importantly, easy to support. The importance of real-time service is hugely important.

Finally, the customer is always right; especially when they have the power of rating your product in real time online for millions of prospects to see, where you may not have even one second to react. I would like to take customer satisfaction one step further in this business to a new level – customer advocacy. What do you mean by customer advocacy?

Tarkan Maner: We don’t want customers to be only satisfied. We want them to be delighted so much that they pick up the phone and say, “You have to see this company’s solution.” They simply become an advocate for our product and become like a salesperson for our company.

I believe this is an extremely important piece in this new era. In the next few years, I believe the leaders in the software industry will be leaders because they understand the importance of customer advocacy beyond just pure customer satisfaction. That’s certainly a key to success. Do you have other advice on achieving success in innovation and developing market-differentiating products?

Tarkan Maner: The number-one issue is always people and their passion and talent level. Human capital is always the number-one asset or the number-one liability. We strongly believe that our people are our number-one asset, and that’s not a cliché. So as we defined this new era and new IP, our number-one challenge was to bring the right people in and fuse them well with the current staff.

Remember, this is a 30-year-old company. Some of our people have been here 20-25 years. My CTO and chief sales officer have been with the company almost 30 years.

Our team is very dedicated, loyal and innovative.

One of my favorite authors is Benjamin Franklin. He said something that is the motto of my lifestyle and our company. He said there are three kinds of human beings in the world: those who are immovable, those who are movable and, finally, those who just move — those people who move themselves and others; they are the ones who change things. Innovation and differentiation require being real movers and shakers— not just in words but in actions every day. So, let’s move!

Tarkan Maner is currently chairman and CEO of Nexenta. At the time this article was published, he was president and CEO of Wyse Technology, later acquired by Dell as Dell Wyse. He is a global executive operator, entrepreneur, investor and advisor in the high-tech world.

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of

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