First Coffee for 9 February, 2006

David Sims : First Coffee
David Sims
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First Coffee for 9 February, 2006

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music, even though I downloaded another Robert Earl Keen album last night, Farm Fresh Onions, is the Best of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Never heard of ‘em? Mid-70s band, kind of Eagles Lite, or Flying Burrito Brothers, but with more of a sense of humor:

Business Objects, a business intelligence vendor, has announced a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Firstlogic, Inc., a vendor of enterprise data products.

Building on the company’s enterprise information management strategy, Business Objects officials say the acquisition is part of an effort to improve the company’s products, to help them do a better job providing a single, consistent view of customers’ business, improve the trust and confidence in the information needed to make better decisions, and accelerate compliance initiatives.

The acquisition will be an all-cash transaction of approximately $69 million, is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions, and is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2006.

Philip Russom, senior manager of research at The Data Warehousing Institute has said that data integration” inexorably reveals data quality issues, whether problems to be fixed or opportunities to be leveraged… tight interoperability between data integration and data quality (is essential).”

Firstlogic, which has been in business for over 20 years, is a privately held company with 2005 revenues in excess of $50 million.

Firstlogic and Business Objects have been technology partners since April 2004 and currently support joint customers including Harry & David Operations Corporation, National Offender Management Service (UK), and Omnium Worldwide.

If you don’t move with the VoIP times, you’re going to get left in the dust. That’s the take-home from market heavyweight Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., shares of which closed to its weakest level in 15 weeks yesterday, according to the Philippine publication Business World.

Amid reports that Morgan Stanley had downgraded the telecom giant to “equal-weight” PLDT lost 6.15 percent to P1,680, cornering 45.33 percent of market share.

So what’s the problem? We’re talking about one of the country’s bellwether stocks here. Fundamentally there’s nothing wrong, Business World says, fundamental isn’t good enough anymore. Morgan Stanley dissed the stock because there’s limited room for “positive surprises” now that the mobile phone market has matured and “risks that consumers may soon prefer voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) services rather than traditional telephony.

Communications technology firm Arras, which works in the development of cable telephony, has announced preliminary and unaudited financial results for the fourth quarter and full year 2005.

Revenues were $181.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2005, as compared to $129.5 million in the fourth quarter 2004 and to revenues of $201.0 million in the third quarter of 2005.

Full year 2005 revenues were $680.4 million, up $190.4 million or 39 percent over 2004 revenues of $490.0 million. Net income per diluted share for the fourth quarter 2005 was $0.20.

Revenues for the fourth quarter 2005 were $181.3 million with net income (loss) per diluted share of $0.20, inclusive of certain items described below. For the full year 2005, revenues were $680.4 million as compared to $490.0 million in 2004, up approximately 39%. On a U.S. GAAP basis, net income (loss) was $22.0 million or $0.20 per diluted share in the fourth quarter 2005.

And of course there’s the other side of the VoIP coin, the dirty little secret none of us like to dwell on – the low adoption among consumers. “Voice Over Internet Protocol has become a media and technology favorite, portrayed as the service that sends local and long distance carriers into extinction,” says Bill Hardekopf, the CEO of Hardekopf is also of the opinion that VoIP usage is lower than expected.

Consumer interest in VoIP, based on the simple yet profound concept of allowing a consumer to make telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular or analog phone, is growing significantly, nobody denies that.

But the traditional services are still alive and thriving, given that “almost half of the consumers having no interest in the new VoIP technology,” Hardekopf claims.

He’s got a point. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, only 13 percent of the online consumers surveyed were “interested” or “very interested” in VoIP. More than 60 of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their existing service and the existing service is reasonably priced.

And as much as we all love the techie-geeky aspect of making VoIP work, if existing service is perceive as “reasonably priced,” there ain’t no reason for normal people to switch, if they don’t consider mobility and the ability to combine a cell phone and wireless VoIP into one handset enough reason to go through the expense and hassle.

“VoIP is not catching on nearly as quickly as some industry experts projected,” says Hardekopf. “Now that broadband users almost double the number of dial-up consumers, people in the industry thought VoIP would really take off. That hasn’t happened.”

Again, Hardekopf blames inertia and the simple lack of a compelling reason to change. After all, it’s not exactly changing from black and white to color TV, or from 8-tracks to CDs (yes, it’s time to change.). It’s still the same service, if price is the only differential the difference needs to be worth switching.

“There are many households who will not switch from their current local and long distance service,” he says. “Traditional landline users are also reasonably satisfied because local and long distance rates are now so inexpensive. Consumers can easily find long distance rates under 3 cents per minute, some as low as 2.5 cents per minute.”

But all is not lost. Hardekopf does, in fact, see steady growth for VoIP usage in the coming years – among those households which identify distinct benefits from VoIP, instead of just industry pressure to adopt VoIP.

“There is no doubt that a growing segment of households are benefiting from the advanced features and savings from VoIP,” says Hardekopf. “We see a significant surge in usage coming as consumers become more aware and comfortable with VoIP technology.”

Which households benefit from VoIP instead of traditional long distance service? Start with the most salient factor, cost. Sure VoIP service costs only $20-$25 per month, but the broadband service you need runs $40-$45 per month.

Customers who already have broadband in their homes can probably save money with a switch to VoIP, and the latest Nielsen figures show nearly two-thirds of Internet users in the United States now have high speed service.

Hardekopf offers the rule of thumb for consumers that if the do not currently have broadband at home, they would only switch to VoIP if their current local and long distance bill exceeds $65 per month. And bear in mind that the average household spends $47 per month for local and long distance service.

And of course there are the E911 issues, the fact that if VoIP gets regulated and taxed like regular phone service there’ll be even less reason for John and Jane Doe to switch from their proven commodity. I’m not trying to be Cassandra here, folks, but as soon as the industry answers the hard questions honestly, looking at it from the customer’s point of view, they’ll see a surge in business.

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