I’ve been pretty easy on my favorite former employer lately, even to the point of gushing over Nokia World 2011 and pouring out pure fanboy praise over a fantastic phone that will only see limited release. But I don’t think I’d be performing my duty as a recently-renewed Developer Champion if I didn’t provide some much-needed critical feedback. Lovingly, of course.
Nokia’s physical withdrawal from certain locales is not a new subject for me, but it’s reached a point where I’m more concerned than ever. Of course most of my focus is on the United States, and more specifically, my home near Dallas, Texas. In just a few years Nokia as a brand has become a complete non-factor here and just about the entire country. I’m keenly observant of devices used by others and, outside of a small circle of open source enthusiasts, I’m seeing everything but Nokia phones in the hands of the general public.
None of that is news to most people. And Nokia has made it very clear that it expects its fairly new Windows Phone strategy, coupled with impeccable and compelling industrial design, to get its high-end products back into regions (like the US) where product sales margins matter.
The continued problem as I see it, though, is that Nokia seems to expect that they can concentrate all efforts on a few key cities. Its shrinking supply chain system has led to greater consolidation of localization activities at sites far removed from the end customers. Now, for core needs this consolidation need not be an issue; a phone engine is a phone engine is a phone engine. But as many companies are becoming increasingly aware, last-mile localization is an absolute must for finished goods.
This translates to customer Care activities as well. Contract employees at remote call centers just cannot identify with many of the diverse clientele they are called upon to support. It’s not just language barriers; cultural differences can be a real hindrance (not to mention cybersecurity risks). But more than that, trade customers (i.e., AT&T, Telcel, Orange, et al) will not tolerate delays in problem resolution. They will require local presence in key markets.
For years now, Just-in-Time and Lean Sigma initiatives have been driving finished goods off of staging shelves and far up the supply stream. In general this is a good thing and should continue. But when trade customers are starved for product fulfillment (for whatever reason), they will quickly shift to whoever manages it best.
I saw this first-hand at an employer who went on a cut-at-all-costs binge that led to drastic factory consolidation. At the same time we were shutting down and merging facilities, a major trade customer was asking us to fill growing shelf space as they opened new retail stores. But we were too focused on reducing our manufacturing footprint, failed to ship enough of what they were literally begging for, and subsequently lost out to competitors.
I’ve been concerned for a while now that Nokia is doomed to following that example. It’s great that the company is finding new focus now, and figuring out the value of critical things like platforming and user-friendly touch interfaces. But if they continue on this course of hyper-consolidation, not just closing manufacturing plants but also cutting in areas like last-mile logistics, I’m worried that they may be undermining their own chances.
The Flip Side
Now, it could be that I’m ranting for nothing. Maybe Nokia has some secret plan to reclaim and terraform its scorched earth.
Part of being a Nokia Developer Champion, though, means avoiding certain areas of speculation. I would love to toss ideas around about what Nokia might be doing behind the scenes to recover lost mind share and to engage at local levels, but I’ll be good and leave that to others not so restricted.
Anyone can look at official Nokia information and realize that all may not be as it appears. For instance, recent job listings like:
Issue Analyst-CAR0000004EAs the Issue Analysis Specialist you will analyze and test verify Nokia Store and content issues reported from field or other teams. You will work closely with Issue Managers and Store R&D teams to make the issues understood and resolved in a quickly manner. When issues are resolved, you will verify the resolution. (Burnaby, British Columbia)
Nokia Store? That certainly sounds promising… especially given all the closed Experience Centers and Flagship Stores. But what does it actually mean?
There are other job listings lately that point to a renewed Nokia attack on neglected or failed markets. Most, however, seem centered on just a few cities like San Diego and Sunnyvale (California) as well as Beijing, China.
Nokia’s customer engagement can’t and definitely won’t be limited to retail stores. A vigorous developer-focused push is brewing too. I’m encouraged by some personnel placements at Nokia, such as Marc Kleinmaier, described on LinkedIn as Business Development & Evangelism – West Region at Nokia. That certainly has a somewhat local flavor to it, although that really depends on what “West” means. If it means western US, does that then mean that there are (or will be) representatives for other regions, like mine (typically considered South Central)? Will we see Nokia grow its number of developer-supporting foot soldiers, in the manner of Microsoft? Or does Microsoft even need Nokia for increasing its third party Windows Phone developer horde? What would Nokia do in that area that Microsoft isn’t already covering?
Note that I’m just asking rhetorically, not speculating. I have no knowledge on these questions whatsoever, either.
As I hear of more friends and former colleagues losing cherished positions at Nokia, I grow more and more concerned over the company’s moves. I know intimately that Nokia is letting go of very key people that have the knowledge, means and desire to get it back on track. Some of them are being let go in cities that surely Nokia intends to address with future outreach. So why cut them? Why not find new roles if that’s what it takes to keep them? And will they even be considered for rehire at all if/when Nokia restarts efforts there?
And isn’t killing and then restarting those efforts much more expensive than letting currently unused or underutilized assets simmer for a while?
Hey, I’m not an MBA. Maybe there’s big business stuff going on that’s beyond my comprehension. I’m just a customer, investor and community advocate who’s very mystified right now. I just hope the mystery is cleared up soon… and I’m keeping an eye on Nokia Irving…