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Global Business

Information wants to be free.  Unless it doesn’t want to be.  Nowhere was this more clear than on a recent vacation to one of the western hemisphere’s last bastions of non-freedom, Cuba.

The Cubans we met were super-friendly, happy, and entrepreneurial.  The culture was replete with amazing music, history, architecture, and national pride.  And the beaches were amongst the best in the world. 

The country, however, is literally cut off from much of the western world, largely because of the remnants of the 1960s cold war, and the philosophical divide between the American and Cuban governments.  Cuba does trade with Russia, China, Venezuela, Eastern Europe, Canada, and a few others.  Perhaps because of the closed nature of the country, perhaps because of the American embargo, or perhaps because of geography, Cuba has become a society seemingly frozen in amber.

Randall Craig in Havana CubaCuba is one of the few places where there is no web access, and for citizens who happen to have a computer, email only.  On one hand, this virtual firewall is repressive; no news can find its way in, and no Cuban culture can find its way out.  On the other hand, you don’t see people attached to their mobile devices, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and all of the other solitary activities those in the west seem addicted to.  In the words of Modesto, a driver we hired for the day to see Cuba beyond our resort: “Why do I need computer[s]?  I have my job, my family, my friends.”  And indeed, he does have these.  But like a blind man trying to fathom the difference between two colors, is his comment borne of not knowing what he can’t know?  Or of a deeper wisdom that was stifled in the west, when the Social Media genie was let out of the bottle?

A lesson, perhaps, for those with the option to choose: Does every minute spent on Social Media strengthen our relationships with others, or distract us from being “in the moment” with those we care about most? 

Cuba actually does have internet access.  In the entire Varadero area, there are two locations where those with passports can purchase an access card for 30 minutes for the equivalent of $3.00.  While the connection speed is exceptionally slow, and likely monitored by the government, it is a way for a tourist to gain access to the outside world.  Or, in my case, check for critical emails from the office.

Unfortunately, I was not able to.

Our firm decided (wisely) to place all of our critical infrastructure (telephone, email, fileservers, etc) in the cloud.  This meant, for example, that we would rely on Google Apps to host and manage our corporate email.  We never guessed that access to it would be blocked when out of the United States or Canada.

Interestingly, it was neither the internet cafe nor the Cuban government that prevented access.  Instead, it was Google itself.  That’s right – Google!  Upon login, a “helpful” screen informed me that Google Apps for Work does not allow email logins from Cuba, and a handful of other countries. (The free gmail has no such restrictions though.)

Putting aside the gall of Google for preventing me from accessing my corporate email, for which they are paid a fee to provide, this is a tremendous argument for ensuring that corporate data, functionality, and access to it does not fall prey to another country’s extraterritorial laws.  I don’t recall agreeing to this restriction, although I expect that digging deeply into Google’s terms and conditions, I would find it.

The benefits of cloud-hosted data and functionality cannot be overstated.  Yet how often, when outsourced to a third party, are we fully aware of the constraints under which these third parties operate?  And particularly, whose laws?

While this question might seem more appropriate for Corporate IT managers, consider what this means for us as individuals: Don’t think you use the cloud?  Think again:

  • Dropbox filesharing
  • iCloud and iTunes
  • Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail
  • Hotmail, Office 360, and Microsoft OneDrive
  • Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and all other public Social Networks.

Whether they are free or paid is irrelevant: the question is whether you actually know where the data is stored?  Or what laws apply that may restrict your access to it?  Or for that matter, gives 3rd parties access to your data, sometimes without your knowledge, and sometimes without a court order?

Most sophisticated IT managers understand the due diligence that is required to address the issues of cloud risks, including data sovereignty and access.  But there are two gaps:  Social Media – often mission critical from a strategic marketing perspective – is noticeably absent from the cloud-risk checklist.  And as cloud functionality migrates to the individual level, most people don’t even know what questions to ask.  They rely on the cloud “magic” to just work, without a second thought about data sovereignty, access, or other risks.

While a vacation to Cuba is actually supposed to be a vacation from work, it is hard not to look around and beyond the beauty of the country, find a lesson or two… in the clouds.

This week’s action plan:  List all of the cloud-hosted systems that you use, both corporately and personally.  Then one-by-one, discover which have fine print that can limit your access, or give back-door access to others.

Action plan #2:  When you’re on vacation, it’s actually not a bad decision to… be on vacation. Do you really need that internet access…?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

 Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders



Black Friday

by Randall Craig on November 23, 2012

Filed in: Blog, Global Business, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Promotion, Strategy

Tagged as: ,

If you are an American, you know precisely all about Black Friday: it is when herds of people get up early, head to the stores, and shop.  It occurs the shopping day on the Friday following Thanksgiving.  If you live anywhere else, you probably have noticed an interesting and recent local phenomenon: Black Friday sales in your city as well.

Black Friday is a great example of the leakage of culture (and marketing)  moves from one jurisdiction to another.  It illustrates how an event, lubricated by social media discussions, advertising, and media has little respect for national borders.  Sometimes called globalization, this has had an interesting impact on much of the trading world:

  • The impossibility of fully containing a negative viral meme.  Brand damage in one market is now lethal in another.
  • The ability to develop a critical mass of customer-based product support, with contributors located around the world – including in markets that couldn’t afford a support infrastructure of their own.
  • The almost impossible challenge posed by gray marketers, who arbitrage pricing differences from one market or another.  The social web helps them spot both purchase opportunities and markets for sale.

The question for many businesses is whether it makes sense to “import” some of the innovations from other markets into the local one, as non-American retailers have begun to do with Black Friday.  Here are four criteria to consider:

1) Does importing the practice provide either a competitive strategic advantage, or at least a short-term leap ahead of the competition?

2) Is importing the practice important defensively?  Another key reason for Black Friday in Canada is to reduce the number of Canadians taking the day to shop in the United States.

3) Are the costs of implementing the practice in line with the expected return on investment?

4) Does importing the practice fundamentally change how the business operates?  (If it does change, is it for the better?)

This week’s action item:  Check out the competition in another country.  Are there any ideas – real or on Social Media – that meet these criteria?  If so, jump on them.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.


Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


Viewpoint: Social Censorship

by Randall Craig March 15, 2012

No CEO wants to be known as a hypocrite.  But unfortunately, many are precisely that – here’s why. There is an interesting conundrum that many companies face when expanding beyond their borders. A key reason for their success at home has been that they could take advantage of the homegrown business environment. They operated in […]

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Three lessons from the Facebook prospectus

by Randall Craig February 23, 2012

If you’re reading this, the chances that you are on Facebook are relatively high. And sadly, the chances that you personally will duplicate Mark Zuckerberg’s business success are relatively low. Very few of us will take our companies public, let along profit so handsomely during our careers. What we can do, however, is learn from […]

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Audience Assumptions

by Randall Craig January 24, 2012

My recent trip to India has once again sensitized me to an assumption that writers and speakers too often make:  that everyone understands what you mean to say. Test yourself – what do the following three words mean?  Flyover, Subway, and Removalist. If you are in India, a Flyover is a local bridge that “flies […]

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Access Assumptions

by Randall Craig January 17, 2012

One Billion.  You may think I’m referring to the number of Facebook and LinkedIn users, but I’m not.  I’m referring to the approximate population of India. While on a trip there, I decided to take pictures of local businesses, then compare the “real” with their Social Media presence.  Sadly, I was unable to find more […]

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Happy Birthday World Wide Web

by Randall Craig August 9, 2011

It’s not celebrated widely, but in August 2011 (August 6th actually) the world wide web turned twenty. From humble beginnings, this “child” has revolutionized the world in no less a transformational way than the industrial revolution a century earlier. Think about what didn’t exist in 1991: eCommerce, eBay, ezines, online newspapers, Wikipedia, iphones, ipads, itunes, […]

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Viewpoint: Will Facebook Take Over the World?

by Randall Craig March 17, 2011

You may not know it, but the game playing, ad-serving, stalker-friendly site called Facebook is poised to bust out of it’s walled garden and move into the “real world” in a very big way. And when it does, it will have profound implications for government, other businesses, and each of us as individuals. Unless you […]

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From Shanghai to Washington: the world is flat

by Randall Craig November 29, 2006

During the summer I spent an intensive 18 days in China. I was struck by so many things: the friendliness of the people I met, their incredible work ethic, and the vibrancy of the many Chinese cultures that I found. And as many other world travelers know, China is a wonderful place to buy just […]

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