A Sea of Change

January 31, 2008

One place where the changes will be particularly sweeping is the corporate IT department. As the capacity and capabilities of the computing grid expand, it will continue to displace private systems as the preferred platform for computing. Businesses will gain new flexibility in assembling computing services to perform customised information-processing jobs. They will no longer be constrained by the limits of their own data centres or the dictates of a few big IT vendors.

A digital Business piece by Nicholas Carr published by the Financial Times. It definitely will be a sea change for IT, but an opportunity for business of all sizes. Reducing CapEx costs of buying hardware. Licences, and expertise will become unnecessary. Your “footprint” on the web can be the same regardless of company size.

The Computing Cloud is coming, With Microsoft and consumers leading the charge. In an interview with Microsoft’s Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft’s Entertainment Division, Automotive News (subscription required) Mr. Bach is quoted as saying the automobile will be part of the network. The technology in Microsoft’s Sync platform (currently available on several Ford Motor vehicles) allows voice activated control of cellular phones, Apple Corp’s. iPod etc. Ultimately, GPS, Navigation, your phone, your music will all be voice activated and available through your in car system.

Once we get get comfy with that – what is to stop me demanding that my corporate voice mail or email be accessible from that same platform?

I get off the plane into my car (even a rental) and have the car start reading my messages for me, and initiating the call for those I have to get back to. With the car connected to network, as a movable room or office, you don’t care where that data is coming from, you access it from wherever, and whenever you are.

The technology bits and pieces are already pretty much there – if the demand comes, (and I am sure it will) the result will be interesting.

Give me 1 number to Call!

January 24, 2008

January 24 2008

As a Technology Manager in the SMB space – I have been welcoming the larger telecommunications providers, as well as various service providers and vendors for reaching out to the small / medium business space. It seems companies from Microsoft to IBM finally realize that there are some companies around that don’t fit the Global 2000 model.

In fact, a 2007 report states that 49 per cent of private sector employment in Canada as a whole was supplied by small business. Granted, it is more difficult and with more pressure on SG&A expenses to sign many small deals than one large one, but the market is here.

I use a larger Canadian services organization for a raft of products that include wireless services, voice services, data services, Wide Area Network (WAN) security and managed services, and even data center hosting services.

I still have one problem though, every one of those services is a different contract with a different division, with different contact number and email address. None of those services “knows” me as a customer of the other services.

There is a huge waste of my time for sure, but do you think I am wasting dollars of your time too? speaking with 5 different people in five different places?

I think so.

Learn to Dance

January 23, 2008

This is a reprise of a comment I wrote on a personal (now defunct) web site many years ago. I resurrected it because there was another article published in Baseline Magazine on a topic that just refuses to die. The Recording Industry Association of America finally won a lawsuit against an individual in 2007 for illegally downloading copyrighted music.

Plain and simple, the RIAA blew their digital music chance and are trying to close the gates after the horses have all left the barn. I am sure the RIAA will be the topic of business school courses for the next hundred years, but here is one more take on it.

Back when the digitization of audio (including music) became easy and simple there were interviews and articles with recording industry executives who said that the industry would be reviewing these technologies, and that when they found a way to get soup to nuts intellectual property security around the entire digitization process (read – how to keep the dollars in their own hands) they would determine how the business “model” would work. (to favour the RIAA of course)

At the time, I thought that it was not the brightest move to make. Sure enough fairly soon a kid named Shawn Fanning let the proverbial digital cat out of the copyright bag with Napster (now a trademark of Roxio). Napster allowed easy access to down loadable music – without much thought given to the copyright owner of that music.

Next, the Long Jump

Fast forward a few years and Apple Corporations iTunes is making buckets of money selling down loadable digital music for which the RIAA gets a small royalty payment.

The RIAA fell into what I call the Long Jump view of technological and business innovation; Namely, try to predict the future, then take a huge leap for that glimpse of future – hoping that you get every technological, legal, consumer, and other ducks all in the perfect row – then land on that perfect future track to a standing ovation and a new world record.

Sorry ladies and gentlemen – it doesn’t work that way any more. While you are in that long jump, the world turns beneath you and you miss every duck, and miss the track as well.

The result?

So, in this long jump for intellectual property perfection, what the RIAA actually got was alternative methods of free downloading, then paid methods of downloading owned by someone else! They may actually have become marginalized in their own industry. So much for the standing ovation and new world record.

Learn to dance

What the RIAA should have done was to learn how to dance. Rather than taking a huge leap with unknown (and unknowable) outcomes, take a small step, pause – review what has changed, the risks, and the next possible step, then step again.

There was no perfect technology for their problem (there may never be!) but other industries were already working their way through that. For example, there was already an existing digital play book available!  Companies like McAfee and Norton both made millions in that time frame allowing use of their commercial products through what was called “trial ware” (or more cynically “nag ware”). If you had a PC in the Mid to late ’90’s you probably had one of their Anti-Virus products on it. The premise was simple – let people download it, try it, the software would “nag” you regularly to pay for it, you pay for it and the nagging goes away.

These companies had already identified that the majority of consumers will pay for a product if there is a legal way to do so!

Apples iTunes of course has proven it again. Sure, a minority will continue to try and “hack” in and steal any product, but if legal alternatives exist, the majority of us will go the legal route.

So the RIAA dance could have looked like this;

The RIAA invents a music download tool – no Napster needed!. However when you download and play the song, the beginning, middle and end has cut outs that overlays the “Please Buy This Product” message. You pay for it, the nag goes away. You share it to someone else, and because they don’t have the license, the “nag” returns.

Then we pause and see the next steps, as the technology matures and evolves, maybe the next step is the RIAA A-Tunes rather than Apples iTunes, and Pause. And Step, maybe it is the RIAA’s streaming media subscription web site “personal radio station” that we are listening to, and Pause. And Step, how about the RIAA being the negotiator with Smart Phone manufacturers for those music clips being downloaded to every possible device.

None of which will happen now of course – that all happened without them as they were hurtling through their Long Jump.

Get a second Opinion

January 22, 2008

My family is going through a difficult time right now. My Mother – in – Law has been quite ill for a significant period of time. The family has been rattling trees and shaking bushes to find a physician to provide a second opinion.

In the SMB technology space – you are also probably relying on some organization that provides you technical services on their opinion. In some cases they seem to try and up sell, cross sell, or just generally try to separate you from more money every time you talk to them.

As with the physician, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion

January 21 2008

Why doesn’t Microsoft make software programs any more?

Purchasing larger enterprise class software tools for an organization is expensive. As a percent of revenues it always seems to be an insurmountable cost for smaller organizations. By “enterprise” software I mean software tools that go beyond basic productivity software like word processing and spreadsheets, these tools assist in enhancing collaboration, improving knowledge management, or streamlining processes.

Of course, you mention software, and Microsoft is automatically the 800 pound gorilla in the room, we all know that Microsoft Office is the de-facto office productivity software. But Microsoft also has an extensive suite of enterprise style tools, including Project Server, Sharepoint Portal Server, Visual Studio Team System and others.

While there are many alternative commercial products, or open source tools that can perform many of the same tasks, you sacrifice the tight integration and rich interaction that Microsoft provides in its software suites. Not to mention the training and management issues of that type of migration for smaller organizations.

And That is my problem, all of these tools are software “suites”, they are no longer software “programs” that you can install and use. Each of these suites has so many dependencies on other pieces of Microsoft Software that you cannot even install them without upgrading all of the pieces first.

Here is an example; To assist our software development team I was looking at a tool such as Visual Studio Team System, the server price and the client access license (CAL) price is at least reasonably priced. Then you look deeper – The software won’t work at all with my version of Windows Server, so we have to add in a Windows Server upgrade price and server CAL’s. Next – oh it won’t work with my version of MS SQL Server, Lets add in MS SQL Server upgrade price with CAL’s. So the “reasonable” price has now mushroomed into a price that I can no longer afford.

I wonder if I can find a hosted model of this yet? Let them worry about all the other infrastructure upgrades required to get it working.

The Network is the Computer

January 18, 2008

An eWeek article by Renee Boucher Ferguson here, led me to investigate Salesforce.com‘s new “platform as a service” offering. Salesforce.com is the business that proved to organizations of all sizes that the rented “software as a service” (Saas) concept was a valid option for software. No more buying expensive software licenses, maintaining application servers, database servers or operating systems, just pay a subscription and access the application “on demand” from anywhere.

SaaS vs. PaaS

This offering takes the next step, whereas the SaaS model has been a model of You renting Their software in Their environment, the platform as a service model is of You writing Your own software, all within their multi-tenant environment. The force.com environment extends the SaaS model to any application you wish to build – all on their infrastructure stack. No servers, databases or other infrastructure to maintain.

Using their API’s and Metadata API’s according to the company, when developers create Meta Data elements, their work is captured as a Meta Data “blueprint” which force.com automatically translates into the full applications.

Much has been written, on this site as well as the business and technology press regarding the future if IT both as an industry, and as a business. This cloud computing offering is an active demonstration of the changes that will take place in our organizations.

On the one hand, the ability to have a software application built and managed over the Internet affects business as the there is no infrastructure to maintain which can reduce costs – for people in the IT field that maintain these infrastructures, well, that means having to move up the food chain to higher level services.

On the other hand – this also becomes an opportunity, I want a software program to do a particular task, Can I pay you to build it for me?

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