Titans of Tomorrow: F5 Networks

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F5 nearly collapsed during the dot-com bust when the biggest customers for its software started going bankrupt, one after the other. The company reinvented itself and now has more than 3,000 employees and over $1 billion in sales. It builds software and hardware which, when placed in a client company’s computer network, helps  data to be processed more efficiently and applications to work more effectively. Customers such as Facebook use hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of F5 equipment. The company now has a 60 percent share of the application delivery controller market. Rival Cisco acknowledged F5’s dominance when it pulled out of the market last September. F5, as the market leader, should win over a big share of those Cisco customers as they turn to new suppliers, and F5 has bolstered its sales team to make sure that happens.
The company could benefit greatly from several technology trends. “We are in the sweet spot of lots of global developments in technology, from virtualization and cloud computing to mobile,” says John McAdam, CEO.

F5 expanded into the mobile space with the acquisition early last year of Israel-based Traffix Systems, a strong player in supplying technology that helps mobile systems communicate over fourth-generation mobile networks. Consequently, F5’s software now plays a key role in helping the world’s mobile service providers better handle the growing load of data traffic passing through their systems.

But those markets are only worth a few billion dollars. What makes F5’s future really promising is its move into the $15 billion market for providing network security.  Because of F5’s deep knowledge of how its customers’ networks operate, it can add security features more efficiently and without slowing down the transfer of data. At least one city police department uses F5 software to encrypt data traffic. And many enterprises want to offer employees and customers the opportunity to tap into their corporate computer systems without compromising security.

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.
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Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.