By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: What is your perspective on what Google is doing with Google Docs and Google Apps?
PW: Well, for a lot of these kinds of applications is the same thing with the similar applications for the iPad. Our problem, or I guess our challenge, is compatibility. It is compatibility with legacy-created documentation that is our biggest hurdle. For example, Keynote is very widely used for high-quality presentations for the sales force to schools districts and the like. Some of those things don’t really convert well back and forth. We also really haven’t had, as of yet, significant adoption of the Google operating system. Speaking of mobility, we are trending away from the BlackBerry which used to be our corporate standard. Now we are going more toward the Android operating system and the iPhone and iPad.
SM: What is driving that change?
PW: There are a couple of things. First is the proprietary nature of the RIM network. That really doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of options. Likewise, you brought up the number of applications and their portability; that is difficult with the BlackBerry. A lot of our products and solutions do lend themselves to the iPhone or Android, but you just can’t use them effectively on the BlackBerry. So, we will be going to schools showing them our apps or talking to them about our apps right on, say, the iPad or iPhone and let them see the app working on these devices.
I would love to do that, but at the moment we don’t use these products in our environment very much. We don’t use [many] mobile devices. A lot of it has to do with the fact that we have to move to what the students and teachers use as their device of choice. Another part of it is shaking the idea that Mifflin Harcourt is only a textbook publisher; we are an educational solution provider. A huge part of that is technology, it is not just books and a lot of it is resources that you would find in books that you can find in any other mobile medium. That is the way our students and teachers work, so we really need to live in that same world, and we really haven’t in the past.
SM: If I understood you correctly, let me synthesize what you said. You are trying to get your sales force equipped with more of the iPhone and iPad kind of devices so that they can quickly demo what educational apps they are selling to teachers, students, and administrators?
PW: Absolutely. We are also trying to make them more effective and efficient. Our salespeople, just like any other salespeople, spend a tremendous amount of time on the road and in the air, traveling. It is difficult for them if they need to do their work on a laptop or using a device attached to a fixed line. So, we are trying to give them all the mobility we can. Anything that runs a browser, they should be able to do the majority of their work from. When they go in to service a customer, a customer might want to know the status of their order, or they might want to order additional products. In that case, our sales representatives should be able to place that order right from their smartphones, without having to do a lot prep work such as booting up a laptop or finding a connection. It’s internal effectiveness as well as sales effectiveness and customer care.
SM: This discussion justified your move toward Apple. I don’t see how Google and Android plays into this.
PW: Well, the way I look at it, Apple is just one of the options for us.
SM: Apple has a huge footprint in your client base, right?
PW: Absolutely. But what we don’t want to do is limit ourselves solely to Apple. We would prefer a device-agnostic footprint. A lot of school districts are facing cash crunch. About 47 out of the 50 states are technically bankrupt [Editor’s note: U.S. law does not allow states to declare bankruptcy or seek protection in federal bankruptcy court. According to the New York Times, four states “say they can balance their budgets for the 2012 fiscal year without slashing spending or raising revenues.”] A lot of them are very price sensitive, and we find a lot of school districts looking toward netbooks and lower-cost tablets from OEM manufacturers. If they can get the same experience, they are just as happy to take a lower-cost alternative.