Building Better Bridges

Opinion: Finding a niche connecting two large companies can be the path to success.

If you want to build a successful high-tech company, build a bridge between two giants.

In the past, you became a success by pledging allegiance to one company and then riding on that companys coattails. Maybe you bought into the Microsoft .Net programming language and became a Microsoft software developer. Or you liked the IBM middleware strategy and built your business as an IBM channel partner.

Those strategies worked well in the past, but I sense change is in the air.

This week, I had a chance to talk with Kraig Swensrud, the founder of Kieden. Never heard of Kieden? That is not surprising—it was just founded at the start of the year. What is surprising is that the company was acquired by within seven months of its founding. Kieden was subsequently brought under the umbrella and renamed for Google AdWords.

What Swensrud found in creating Kieden was a gap between Googles AdWords advertising program and CRM (customer relationship management) programs, including Salesforce.coms hosted service. Google is clearly the giant of selling keywords used in Internet search. If you sell red thingamabobs, then you easily build an advertising campaign to put your message near the search results of folks looking for those products.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Salesforce.coms partnership with Google AdWords.

However, final sales of most products take place offline, where CRM systems come into play and sales prospects are tracked from initial contact through final sale. What was missing was a bridge between Google AdWords marketing and CRM customer tracking. Swensrud and his team found the gap, built the bridge between the giants, and soon found themselves courted and bought by CEO Marc Benioff.

Heres another example. On one side of the equation, you have huge utility companies trying to figure out how much electricity to produce and how to avoid brownouts when electrical usage spikes as consumers crank up their air conditioners during heat waves. On the other side are telecommunications companies, data centers and ISPs whose businesses consume a lot of power and also depend on reliable power 24/7.

Into that gap enters a company named EnerNOC. Using a unique combination of secure broadband networks, EnerNOC is able to stand between those high-energy-consuming customers and the utility companies.

If the utility companies foresee a spike in energy usage as the temperature increases, EnerNOC is able to go into the customer sites and make relatively small adjustments to each customers electrical usage pattern. Maybe the server room temperature is raised 2 degrees to use less air conditioning or maybe some of the lights are dimmed.

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The secret of EnerNOC is that by rolling up all those small changes, the company can reduce electrical usage by the equivalent of a 500-megawatt power plant over a region the size of New England. A utility company doesnt have to build a new power plant, and the customers get a check for reducing demand as power needs spike.

EnerNOC calls its approach "negawatts," and its proving that the intelligent use of technology as an arbiter between demand and supply can equal at least one power stations worth of energy.

There are lots of other opportunities for companies to find success in building bridges between giants. What EnerNOC is doing for electric utilities also easily lends itself to natural gas and water utilities. As gasoline prices continue to rise, the opportunities in balancing usage are also evident. The same need for the type of bridge built by Kieden between Google AdWords and also exists between inventory systems, financial systems, human resources systems and the many other systems on which modern companies depend.

Rather than thinking about how you are going to affiliate with one company to crush the competition, maybe you should be thinking about how technology can bridge those divides.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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