Monday, December 29, 2008


I used to read a book while watching TV. I sometimes try to read a magazine while watching TV but I end up not being able to concentrate well on either. I thought this was just an age thing. Well, it seems it isn't. According to Barbara Shelly's recent post:

Multitaskers think they can focus on more than one thing at the same time. What's actually happening, researchers say, is that parts of the brain are switching from task to task, losing time and focus with each pivot.

With certain exceptions - practicing Buddhists come to mind - people have always valued the ability to do more than one thing at once. Knit and watch TV. Cook while listening to music. Drive and talk. But in the last two decades, devices that were supposed to make us more efficient and connected have actually made us more attention-deprived and anti-social.

I have to say I agree with this wholeheartedly. I hate it when somebody is texting while in a meeting, or checking their Blackberry. It's actually rude. Now, I have research to back up the fact that it is not efficient either!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Owning Clouds

The new tech war is on for the Cloud operating system. Current leaders are Amazon and Google. But Microsoft are getting serious. Will they be too late? Planned release for their Azure platform is end of 2009. They weren't first in most of the other areas they have come to dominate so this battle is going to get really interesting.

Who else will enter the war? IBM, Oracle, SAP, Cisco...

Is actually a contender for a leading platform or really just a good application solution?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Startups - some hope

Another follow up from my recent posts on startups here and here, I decided to open my Dec '08 issue of Wired magazine which had been lying around on my desk for a while. Saw an interesting article by Daniel Roth -- "Back to the Garage - when the economy is in turmoil, the time is ripe for ambitious innovation".

He certainly makes a compelling argument. Here's some food for thought. Some of the major tech companies and when they were founded. Not exactly in major boom times.

Google - 1998
Yahoo - 1994
Siebel Systems - 1993
Cisco - 1984
EMC - 1979
Oracle - 1977
Microsoft - 1975
SAP - 1972

Sequoia on startups and the economic downturn. Interesting view from the investor perspective.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Interesting approach to big bank bonus problem

Just saw over at an interesting post on how Credit Suisse is handling the problem of giving their senior executives bonuses or not. Give them bonuses in the form of the toxic mortgage-backed assets that lie at the heart of the credit crisis! I expect this approach to be cloned by other financial services institutions in the not so distant future...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hire the best

Following on from my recent post on whether now is a good time for startups or not, I was reading this blog from Seth Godin about hiring the best people.

He is so right. I've seen so many examples recently of companies going for ease of hiring in these tough economic times rather than looking for the best people. They post a job, wait for loads of CV's to show up, and then try to match a CV exactly to the job spec they posted rather than looking for that unique person who will take their organisation to new heights.

During my career I have always found the best hiring approach is not to hire somebody making a sideways move (i.e. doing the same job in a different company) but rather to hire somebody looking for a new challenge. These people will want to prove they can do the job, they will work harder, they will have more loyalty to you and your company, and will be better employees all around.

Don't hire for mediocrity or average, hire the best.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roofless data centers!

Check out Microsoft's new roofless data center designs or as Nick Carr says "trailer park computing".

This is certainly an interesting twist on the whole mega data center build-out currently going on - particularly by Microsoft itself and Google. It also turns the green IT challenges on its head by building it into the design.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Good time or bad time for startups?

I was reading some of Michael Arrington's posts from the Le Web conference and this post triggered a question in my mind - is now a good time or bad time for startups?

Arrington makes this statement:

But Europe’s persistent background pessimism was out in full force, even at an event full of entrepreneurs. Americans dominated the stage and spoke mostly about the tremendous opportunities that arise in down markets. Engineers are much easier to hire. The press have fewer startups and stories to divide their attention. The pond certainly gets smaller, but there are far fewer people fishing, too. For most startups, this is a time to blossom.
Hmmm, as a European (but one based in Dublin, Ireland which tends to mean I have a split US/Euro perspective on things) I can see where he is coming from but can also see some of the downside.

Yes, it is true that there are tremendous opportunities in a down market and engineers are easier to hire (but I'll come back to this point in a minute), and press coverage is probably easier to get. However, if you are well funded and can ride out this down market it's a great time. If you are in the position of raising new money either to get started or for follow-on funding then you won't have an easy time. Doom and gloom persists in the world of finance. Forget trying to get a loan.

On the question of Engineers. Any talented engineers already employed somewhere are unlikely to make a move to a startup unless it has serious funding behind it. Granted, there are many seriously talented engineers on the market because of this downturn so they should be easier to hire and probably for reasonable packages (but don't try to underpay because as soon as the market picks up they will jump ship).

So, the opportunities for startups in this market are most likely related to their funding situation. Well funded = good times; Poorly funded = bad times.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something to think about this Christmas

Something to think about this Christmas. Check out this YouTube video. It's also a fantastic example of how to give a great presentation.

Emerging Cloud utilities

One of the noticeable aspects of today's SaaS (Software as a Service) world is that most companies going this route are taking a solo approach i.e. hosting a version of their software on the web and selling direct to customers as an alternate channel.

This is a good starting place but it still creates problems for the customer, particularly if they utilise multiple SaaS solutions, around seamlessly integrating these services for use in their business. As many IT professionals already know, the integration challenge is already tough enough for applications hosted inside organisations. This new SaaS model just adds to the complexity. Granted, SaaS or Cloud solutions also create huge advantages but the industry needs to seriously consider this integration challenge.

Integration is not just about integrating web based applications using something like OpenID but also considering hybrid models where some solutions will be provided using SaaS and others will still be hosted internally.

If you agree with Nicholas Carr's viewpoint in his latest book "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google" that managing IT environments will migrate from being managed directly by companies themselves to a utility model similar to the electric grid, then these challenges around managing hybrid environments (SaaS and in-house) will only be temporary. I agree with Carr but I don't believe the switch will occur quickly. How long will it take? My guess is probably 10-20 years for a complete transformation across all industries to pick up all the laggards. Some companies will make the switch much earlier than that - in fact, there may be a competitive advantage for SME's during this period where they can gain efficiency over the big guys.

So, who will manage these new utilities? Will it be the current utilities (most likely the telecoms related ones) just expanding into this new area? Will it be the Amazon's / Google's / Microsoft's of the world? Or will new utilities emerge? The most likely scenario is probably all of the above - "horses for courses".

Thursday, December 4, 2008

All about Google

In case you missed it on TechCrunch.

Everything you always wanted to know about Google but were afraid to ask

Discusses some of Google's key success factors including Scalability, Network Effects, Data Mining, Openness, Cocreation, Business Model.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

ITIL v3 and the Cloud

First off, for those not familiar with it. What is ITIL? Here's the Wikipedia definition:

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of concepts and policies for managing information technology (IT) infrastructure, development and operations.

ITIL is published in a series of books, each of which covers an IT management topic. The names ITIL and IT Infrastructure Library are registered trademarks of the United Kingdom's Office of Government Commerce (OGC). ITIL gives a detailed description of a number of important IT practices with comprehensive checklists, tasks and procedures that can be tailored to any IT organization.

I didn't think much of the early versions of ITIL. I thought they were too techie focused. However, the latest version (v3) is a different ballgame. It starts to focus on the whole area of Service Management. This includes Service Strategy, Design, Transition, Operation, and Continuous Service Improvement. All critical components for running a SaaS or Cloud Computing environment.

If you're thinking of using services from the Cloud or building your own, or even for services running within an enterprise, you could do worse than reading the ITIL v3 books. From experience, I've seen how the methods, guidelines and processes can make a huge difference. I believe a sensible approach should be taken to its use rather than blindly following it word for word. One great thing about it is that it introduces a common vocabulary which is half the battle.

If you only get one thing from ITIL it should be the Utility and Warranty concepts.

  • Utility is perceived by the customer from the functionality (or attributes) of the service that has a positive effect on the performance of tasks associated with desired outcomes.
  • Warranty is derived from the service being available when needed, in sufficient capacity or magnitude, and dependably in terms of continuity and security.

In many environments, too much emphasis is put on the Utility side (i.e. the functionality) of a software service or application and not enough on the Warranty aspects. In the world of SaaS and Cloud computing, the warranty pieces are just as important, if not more important.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Some apps not suited to the Cloud

A lot of thinking is going into how all IT services are going to move into the cloud. I tend to agree that the economics of Cloud computing are too great for organisations to ignore. However, I'm starting to think some of the commentary and services being provided are similar to those we had around the .com boom. At that time, everything was being turned into a .com, even when it made absolutely no sense. I fear the same is happening with Cloud computing. Some services don't make sense in the Cloud, or at least the way they are currently being considered. For example, Office apps may not make sense out in the Cloud. Even Microsoft are jumping onto the bandwagon.

I think it makes total sense for documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc (i.e. the data) to be stored out in the Cloud securely. I'm not as convinced that running all the apps themselves in the Cloud is such a good idea. A hybrid model will be best in some cases - even though this will be a more complicated service to create.

At this stage I think we all have to face the fact that the MS Office suite is pretty much a de-facto standard - even with Microsoft messing with the user interface in Office 2007 to make the learning curve interesting again! I don't have the purest view that some others have around the Cloud where everything runs inside the browser and must be hosted remotely. I don't mind thick-client apps when it makes sense. In certain cases they make total sense i.e. photo, video, sound editing and I would argue Office-type apps (particularly for the power user types).

Where I think the Cloud could add a huge amount of value is helping make this type of a hybrid environment (Cloud and thick-client apps) better is around support services for upgrades, patches, helpdesk, training, pro-active maintenance (i.e. fix it before you knew it was broken) etc. I know some of these services already exist but they could be so much better, particularly if they were provided as an integrated service. Think of the potential around SME services and corporate services in this area. In fact, in some cases the software could even be given away and revenue driven from services.

Most organisations rely on IT support services companies of some sort to help them with their IT environment. All of these companies need to start thinking about moving away from "man in van" onsite support and start looking at providing real Cloud based managed services (including infrastructure and application support) - not the services they currently call managed services.

Monday, December 1, 2008

SaaS and the network risk

One of the more under talked about areas in the whole SaaS and Cloud Computing discussion is the transfer of risk to the network. The services provided from the Cloud are typically more robust and scalable than those hosted in-house. Medium to Large organisations will have their own LAN's and WAN's designed to allow all their employees access to corporate services. Essentially, the network is under their own control.

With SaaS and the Cloud, the networks are all publicly provided. This certainly simplifies the connectivity and management side of things. However, the risk to the provided SaaS service is now in the network. If connectivity to the network is lost (from any node), those at that node have no service. I know this is stating the obvious but the point here is the types of services being provided - they're starting to become more mission critical. This means the accessibility requirements go up. It's not good enough for an organisation to have a five 9's up time from the SaaS provider if they can't access it.

For critical services the configuration of the network at each node now needs to be considered. Backup links, automatic failover, connections from DR sites etc start to become critical. Organisations using SaaS and Cloud services now need to seriously look at their own networks and telco providers and in particular their connectivity to the Internet. This includes access for teleworkers and other remote workers.

I've seen some innovative offerings from mobile network providers recently for SME's (Small, Medium Enterprises) who are starting to offer broadband packages and routers with a backup 3G network connection. If the DSL line fails, the router automatically switches over to the 3G link. It might be a slower speed but at least you still have access. When WiMax starts to get more pervasive the service options will increase even further. These types of services could also be ideal for large corporates to give to remote / tele workers.

If you are seriously considering utilising Cloud (or SaaS) based services for critical corporate applications, you need to have a good long look at your current network and your Internet service providers. Do a risk analysis and consider all mitigation options. You may need to spend a bit more throughout your network but it should be thought of like insurance.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Power Laws

Ever wonder why some web sites or blogs or TV shows are more popular than others? Here's a good explanation on what is known as Power Laws: Clay Shirky on Power Laws

Hugh Macleod extrapolates these power laws to the world of the cloud and comes up with an interesting hypothesis. I don't agree with him. Of course I could be wrong but I can't believe one company could get to this position of ultimate power. Sounds a bit like a James Bond movie plot.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cloud and Small to Medium sized businesses

Following on from a previous post (Why not use the cloud?), I have been talking to a number of people and organisations recently about the potential uptake by SME's (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) of Cloud Computing services and products.

There seems to be general agreement that the more services and products a company utilises from the Cloud the lower the cost of IT. What seems to be a bit uncertain are the adoption timelines, concerns over loss of control, security concerns and many other issues often come up. In most cases these seem to be put up as reasons not to embrace the cloud. In many cases this probably boils down to a fear of change and lack of knowledge about this new approach to IT delivery. These are similar anxieties to when the world started to switch from mainframes / mini computers to PC's. Fear of the unknown. Inability to understand this new emerging world. But we do know the benefits the companies who embraced that emerging world achieved. This time will be no different, just like every other major era in the evolution of the information technology business. The change is going to happen (is happening) and the only question is what you are going to do about it...

When you think about it, you would never dream of building your own power station for your company, just plug into the wall and get power on demand. Back at the beginning of the industrial revolution companies DID have to build their own power plants but over time the economic incentive to shift to the power grid was just too compelling and allowed for the creation of so many other complimentary products nobody could have conceived before (e.g. kitchen appliances, ubiquitous lighting etc). Basically everything changed with the power grid. A similar change is happening in the world of delivering technology services.

SME's probably have an advantage over their larger competitors this time around. The larger organisations have probably invested millions (maybe billions) over the years in proprietary systems and infrastructures. Are they going to throw this away and move everything to the Cloud - no. They will probably make the switch over many years. SME's usually don't have such extensive IT infrastructures or proprietary applications. For the more progressive SME's they can get a strategic advantage right now by starting the process of switching to the Cloud for IT service delivery.

The Cloud = lower costs + more flexibility + more automation + better service

Will the switchover be instant and pain free? Eh, no. Some services will be easier than others to switch over but SME's need to get started. I would argue that right now 80% of an organisations IT services could be delivered via the Cloud. It may not be as seamless as everybody would like but there are many companies working extremely hard to make things work better. There are also many companies sprouting up who can help guide you through this transition (including my own - ZeroTouch IT).

As an example, compare the ease of use and flexibility of access between your typical office e-mail application and your personal e-mail (which for most people is delivered via the cloud by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft etc). No comparison. Plus, you don't have to wait until you switch everything over before the benefits start to kick in.

So why wait? The end results are too compelling for most organisations (particularly SME's) to ignore but you need to make some changes. No changes, no results.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Induhviduals are great (for a laugh)

I think the Dilbert comic strip is brilliant. I'm not sure what that says about me. But there are SO many times I feel Scott Adams has bugged my office because it is right on the mark. I have worked for the pointy haired boss - several times!

I got the Dilbert newsletter the other day and the True Tales of Induhviduals made me laugh. Extract here:

Here are some true tales of people who put the duh in induhvidual.

I'm in the U.S. Virgin Islands (where they drive on the left side of the road) traveling on a small, open bus. One of the people in front of me remarks that the word "POLICE" is spelled backwards on the hood of the police car. After a lengthy discussion, they conclude that it's because they drive on the left side of the road.


I was getting gas at the pump when an elderly lady and her grandson drove up next to me in her car. Her grandson hopped out to pump the gas for her, and noticed that the pump was on the left side of the car, but the gas door was on the right. When he told her, she started the car back up, made a U-turn, and drove to the OTHER side of the pump, leaving her in the same situation she started with. When her grandson told her this, she started yelling at him, saying, "You said it was on the wrong side LAST time! Make up your mind!"


A friend moved to Albuquerque and his wife kept complaining about finding her way around the town. He told her to spot the Sandia Mountains and she'd know that would be east. She said, "That's fine, but where are the other directions?"


So my wife is trying to fax something to the Virginia Dept of Employment regarding an unemployment claim by a previous employee. She tries the fax over and over again, day and night. No luck. She calls to check to see if the fax number is wrong. The woman at the Dept of Employment who answered the phone asks "Is there paper in your fax? Our fax will not answer unless there is paper in your fax?" My wife questions her on that, and the woman insists that their fax "knows" if there is paper in the other fax. Needless to say, that was not the problem.


While trying to buy two bottles of wine in a supermarket I was asked, "Are you 21?" Trying to be funny, I said, "No, but my daughter is 22."

The checkout clerk replied "I'm not interested in how old your daughter is. Are you over 21?"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Communities, Stars and dealing with "hit by a bus" scenarios

One of the more interesting concepts related to the Cluetrain inspired openness in community dialogue is that at their core they involve people talking to people. And, guess what? People move companies, they retire, they even get "hit by a bus" sometimes. A company embracing this level of openness needs to factor these changes into their community model.

The "hit by a bus" test really intrigues me in relation to these Cluetrain-type community engagements and I was reading a post by Rich Sands which got me thinking. I highly recommend reading Rich's full post and especially the comments. My comments are re-posted below.

One point Rich makes:
"...For those companies, having a community leader “hit by a bus” is no big deal - there are others ready and willing to take up the mantle of leadership. Those same stars, if given latitude while they’re with you, and treated with respect when they leave, may remain some of the most ardent advocates of your company and its products..."
I absolutely agree with the final point about the raving loony advocates. I've seen so many examples of this over the years.

I do feel that if the community leader gets "hit by a bus" that it won't be as simple as somebody else just easily slotting into their place. No matter what you do there will be a gap. We see it time and time again with sports teams where the star leaves and the replacement, although extremely talented and maybe even better than the original star, just doesn't make the immediate impact everybody would like. Things are different. It takes time for this new star to make an impact. It takes time for the team to adapt.

With community leaders who are the face of a company the same applies. There will be a loss. Things will be different. The organization can overcome it by not only having other "leaders ready to take up the mantle" but by having the progressive management relationships and support systems in place to adapt to this change. Remember: the only constant is change.

If you try to create a situation where these leaders can be seamlessly swapped in and out, it is no better than the bad old "command and control" world the Cluetrain railed against. Not only does the community interaction need to be an open and honest conversation, but so does the internal management approach.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama: Master of Relationships

Following on from my Business Relationships post on Monday I feel it is safe to say the world saw last night the culmination of 2 years of an amazing demonstration in building relationships. Obama and his team have shown supreme relationship building skills - they must have read the Cluetrain.

Let's hope he continues showing this level of leadership and relationship building for the next 4 years (at least).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Business Relationships

I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day who happens to work in the legal profession. I sparked an interesting discussion with him when I mentioned a piece I read by JP Rangaswami who made some really interesting points about reputations and relationships, including the difference between how they are perceived in the East and West. It triggered a great discussion.

As you may have gathered from my previous post on the Cluetrain, I am a big believer in fostering strong business relationships. This includes within a team and a company but especially with external suppliers and customers. I'm not talking about wishy washy relationships either or those biased in favor of one side but real ones where all parties can freely share information to enable positive results for all. True win-win. I'm not being all liberal and naive here either. I've seen this work with amazing results.

I was asking my friend about how often he saw really stupid legal trials where if only the protagonists really talked to each other it would get resolved a lot quicker and a lot more amicably. He said there were so many examples where cases ran on and on for no reason other than "ego" or misguided attempts at showing what they thought was strong leadership or trying to be "the alpha male" or just being nasty. In my own experience I've seen this so many times also with bosses, suppliers, colleagues, customers and many others. People adopt entrenched positions, they try to beat down suppliers rather than build strong relationships with them, managers "command and control" their teams rather than supporting them, colleagues "play politics" at others expense. The list goes on. I hate it.

JP's thoughts on reputations and relationships resonates with me because in my opinion it summarises very succinctly how business should be conducted.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Branson, Blue Oceans and Entrepreneurs

I'm reading two books at the moment - Blue Ocean Strategy from Kim and Mauborgne and Business Stripped Bare from Richard Branson. Both are fascinating. I love reading about new approaches to business - same reason I subscribe to Harvard Business Review. If you consider the current economic crisis, these books take on a whole new importance. In a previous post, Opportunities from a Banking Meltdown, I talk about the need to look at the positive rather than focusing on the doom and gloom going around at the moment. These books may help you to think differently about the world.

As an aside in relation to the financial crisis. A colleague in London said it wasn't at the point where he needed to invest in a hard hat to protect against fallers from the ledges above!

I haven't finished either book yet but from what I have extracted so far from Branson he talks about business in a really straightforward and refreshing way. I saw him on CNBC recently and he was saying Virgin are even considering going back into the mortgage lending market because opportunities are opening up! This is not quite a Blue Ocean strategy but it resonates with me because I believe (as does Branson apparently) that now is a great time for creating new market offerings. It could be a new service or a new product but if you have any entrepreneurial spirit inside, there are openings presenting themselves now which would never have been considered possible only a few weeks ago. All bets are off (well, maybe not all, but certainly many).

I know lots of people have been affected by recent events but it really annoys me that so much coverage in the media and general day to day conversations focus on the bad stuff. People say we can't talk ourselves into a recession. I disagree. I believe we have talked ourselves into one and the only way out will be to change our perceptions about the state of the world. That's why entrepreneurs are so important and why they should be supported and why the media should be talking about them at every opportunity - especially now.

If you have any spare time and want to read a couple of books that might help you think about business in a different way, I can highly recommend both of these.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Microsoft going to take over the Cloud?

I'm not so sure. However, I was reading Steve Ballmer's executive e-mail today about Microsoft's take on the emerging world of Cloud computing. I have to say I was really surprised. Over the last few years I had moved away from thinking about Microsoft and Cloud computing in the same breath. It struck me how much thought leadership and innovative development Google has actually brought out since it started. They really have quite a lead.

The only Microsoft products I use regularly these days are Office and Windows XP. I use Google for nearly everything else. I'm resisting the move to Vista and I don't feel the Open office environments are as good as the original Microsoft version. Plus, it's a whole lot easier to share docs if you're living in an e-mail world. I know, I know, there are loads of other ways of sharing and collaborating on documents more efficiently than e-mailing them around the place but it is still kind of a popular approach you have to agree. Maybe one day I'll move away from MS Office - the new Office 2007 document formats nearly did it for me. Anyway, I'm going off topic...

I was setting up a new domain the other day and after registering I couldn't think of anything better than to move to Google Apps for e-mail, cal etc. I didn't even consider Microsoft.

This latest mail from Steve B has left me intrigued and I'm going to start studying what the guys in Seattle have in the pipeline. Will they be able to turn the ship around like they did when they embraced the Internet all those years ago? Remember his memo, The Internet Tidal Wave [pdf]?

Check out their Software plus Services vision if you haven't already read about it.

I know they aren't the force on the web like they are on the desktop but I wouldn't count them out. They have one quality which Google and co will have to bear in mind. Relentlessness.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Cluetrain is back and more relevant than ever

About 10 years ago I read The Cluetrain Manifesto and was seriously intrigued with its message. Back then the tools to foster this open and honest communication were only emerging and only a few companies and individuals were really using this style. All that has changed now. Have a look at this post from Michael Specht which will bring you right up to date. It even includes a nice online slide deck of the Cluetrain thesis.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why not use the Cloud?

Have a look at this interesting survey from on cloud computing. CIO Cloud Computing Survey

It brings up some very interesting topics and some not so surprising results. I was also reading an interesting blog post from JP Rangaswami about complex adaptive systems and was thinking that the addition of cloud computing into the mix will create some interesting scenarios down the line. The environments in some companies will become even more complicated with the addition of Cloud or SaaS applications and environments. However, some companies will emerge with arguably simpler environments by embracing everything the Cloud stands for.

I know there are loads of different definitions of what is and isn't Cloud Computing. Here's a few discussions:

In my opinion it boils down to whether a company decides to run the service themselves or get somebody else to do it for them. The important point is not what it is called but how and who is running it. I've been in a few organisations over the years who were either building and running hosted / SaaS / ASP / bureau / Cloud environments or using them to run or support parts of a business. I am a strong advocate of moving as much as possible of traditional IT to external providers. Why try to do it all yourself? It doesn't make long term economic sense.

Typically, what happens with IT? It gets more and more expensive to maintain and run it as existing applications are extended / upgraded and new applications and environments are added. Never mind the addition of new staff and acquisitions and mergers etc. The IT bill mostly keeps getting bigger. This trend needs to be reversed so the costs can be contained or even reduced. Particularly with the current economic mess effecting most companies.

I'm not saying that IT is irrelevant. But I am saying that most companies spend most of their time, effort and budgets supporting basic IT environments. They are not spending half as much time as they should figuring out how to really support their businesses and how to really utilise technology to drive their business forward.

So where does Cloud Computing (and all it's derivatives) come in? Cloud computing principles can (over time) help companies change the cost / complexity curve. Move more and more applications, infrastructure, and even support external to your company and into the cloud. This can free up precious time, effort and budgets to concentrate on the real job of exploiting technology to improve the mission of the company.

It really comes down to figuring out what you are good at and focusing all your effort on that and letting others (who are better at it than you) focus on all the other peripheral stuff. Don't try to tell me that your environment is different and won't work in the Cloud. There are so many examples of things that people said were impossible which are now commonplace. Don't be left behind. There are some real business benefits to be gained using what is available today and will only get better as the technology and services improve over time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Should everybody telecommute fulltime?

I was reading the Oct 2008 edition of Wired magazine and Brendan Koerner wrote an intriguing article about telecommuting. One of the main ideas put forward in the article was that it could make serious economic sense for companies to forget offices and just have all their staff telecommute. Since I do some telecommuting myself I started to think about the pros and cons.

There is certainly a huge attraction to teleworking. The amount of commute time saved is incredible. It also allows a certain freedom with regards to work / life balance. The telecommute supporting technology is also readily available and fantastic to use. A lot of people use these tools as their primary communication mechanism even when they are in the office. Over the years I have had to remind colleagues to stop e-mailing each other (and cc'ing everybody else) when they could just stand up and talk to each other over the partition!

The concept of companies going completely virtual is an interesting one. For many companies it could be a real possibility and could achieve the financial savings mentioned in the Wired article. However, would it be practical?

Companies need customers. Most of these customers want to meet you from time to time and like to see an office with people in it. Is this the only reason for an office? No, but breaking this cultural norm will take a long long time.

I believe there are two other reasons why a fully virtual environment may not be fully achievable. Firstly, the social interaction. Humans like contact with each other in person. Phones, e-mail, online forums, video conferencing don't quite go far enough. We still need contact in person.

The second reason is a more practical one. Not every employee (and in fact, probably most) don't have the space at home to facilitate a good working environment. Many are not disciplined enough to work efficiently and equally, many managers are not equipped (with skills or tools) to manage in a virtual environment. Out of sight, out of mind. Can all of this be overcome? Absolutely. But it won't be tomorrow.

In my opinion the best approach is a hybrid one. Don't rule out telecommuting because there are huge benefits. But don't go all extreme and knock down your building either! Embrace the best of both environments. Invest in the technologies to make seamless working environments for employees no matter where they are. Embrace changes in business processes to allow for remote workers.

Finally, stop calling it telecommuting or teleworking. Change your thinking, your business processes, your technology to just talking about interacting with your people. It shouldn't matter where they are - in an office, at home, in a hotel, in a coffee shop, in another office in a different country, in your customers office. If you start thinking like this then you can really move that dial.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The great Twitter debate

Looks like Twitter is undergoing some changes itself. Twitter sidelines one founder and promotes another.

The comments on the above NY Times article are pretty divided between those who think it is the most valuable service on earth and those who think it is a waste of time and everybody in between.

My view is not changed from before. I can't see the value.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Opportunities from the banking meltdown

I just read a seriously interesting article from one of my favorite business authors, Seth Godin. His 16 boxes post from yesterday was brilliant. It puts so much in context around what's going on in the world today and what we can do about it.

I found it particularly interesting because I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about what opportunities are created as a result of the recent credit / mortgage / banking / recession / economic crisis. We can all go around in gloom-and-doom mode with one of those little cartoon clouds above our heads raining on us or we can think about capitalising on it or re-training or re-positioning ourselves. I'm planning on doing the latter.

There are so many opportunities being created as a result of this crisis and so many new ones coming down the tracks. If we look at just financial services and technology, which are two areas I'm quite familiar with, we can immediately see opportunities. The fact that lots more regulation is going to be a factor in financial services isn't a eureka moment but think about all the products and services which can be created to help companies deal with it. On the technology front, I don't believe there are going to be lots and lots of million dollar technology deals in the future of financial services. There will of course be some but many tech companies and service providers are going to be forced to radically rethink their offerings and price points and ultimately their entire company. This all equals opportunity.

Don't just sit there. Go for it...

Twitter economics and the .com era

Yesterday I brought up the question about Twitter and its value to the world in general. I've been trading e-mails with some people who don't necessarily agree with my point of view. You can catch one conversation snippet here with Stowe Boyd. You know, I'm just not convinced about all of this and the more I read the less convinced I get. Granted, I haven't ever used Twitter for anything so maybe I won't get it until I do. However, I can't find a good reason to actually start using it. Catch 22.

Today I see another series of conversations about how will Twitter make money. See here. I guess I'm just a skeptic about Twitter. Interestingly, I find this position really intriguing because I love to embrace technology but I find myself looking at some of the new trends and thinking "why on earth would anyone use that?". Mostly this happens when I come across services or products which look or sound a lot like some of the crazy .com trends of the past with their similarly crazy economic models. Seriously, did anyone really want to buy a couch online without actually testing it out? My gut told me then that some of these things were not sustainable ( I was right a lot) and I'm finding my gut telling me the same thing about some things today. Right now, this mostly centers around Twitter.

I used to be an investor and I like elevator pitches. So far, nobody has been able to give me an elevator pitch on Twitter which would make me want to use it. I'll keep looking for that pitch ...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What's the point of Twitter?

Okay, I really don't see the point of Twitter. Why would you want to spend time constantly telling the world "What are you doing?" - which is the core mantra of this "service". Even worse, why would you want to listen to what others are doing all the time?

It just seems to me a big waste of time. There is a huge amount of discussion in magazines and blogs about how innovative Twitter is and how it enhances the flow of information. For me it looks like just another way to generate useless background noise.

I'm going to do a bit more research into this but for now I'm putting it in the "just another fad" category. Maybe I'm coming at this with a European perspective and Twitter is just a US fad? Here in Europe we use SMS text messages quite a bit (understatement of the year), but we use them for a purpose to communicate specific things, rather than what I see as Twitter just sending out nonsense data and hoping somebody picks it up.

I'll post further thoughts on Twitter once I do a bit more research to see if I've missed something.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My blogging experiment

Since I've started this blog a couple of days ago I decided to test the effectiveness of subtle marketing. I'm not going to publicize the blog except by adding a reference to it on my e-mail signature. I'm also not going to add it to the sig in every e-mail just to keep things interesting! I'll post in a few weeks with the results of my little test. Hopefully I'll have got at least one reader by then :-)

Are magazines dead?


Maybe I'm a dinosaur but I love magazines. Right now I subscribe to Portfolio, Fortune, Harvard Business Review and Wired. As a member of IEEE I also get some magazines from them.

I also get a huge amount of my daily, weekly, monthly information from the web. But, you know what? I don't want to sit down in the evening on my couch with a laptop. I want a magazine. If I'm sitting out in the car waiting I don't want the hassle of having to bring a laptop. Give me a magazine any day.

You can fold it over. Mark pages with dog-ears. Write on pages. Tear out pages. The ads are even better!

Will electronic devices like the Kindle replace magazines or even books? My belief is no. A relatively small niche market will go electronic but most people will stay with paper. As much as I like technology, paper is just easier to use.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's cooking got to do with running a team?

A few years ago I was reading a technical book (can't remember title) and the author mentioned that if you really wanted to learn how to run a team you should study how professional kitchens are organised. He (or she) recommended a book by Anthony Bourdain called Kitchen Confidential. I bought it, read it and have been hooked ever since on studying the world of professional kitchens. Good professional kitchens don't have the luxury of muddling through teamwork - it would be a disaster. The author was right, the corporate world can learn a lot from good professional kitchens.

Granted, I can't cook myself. I'm lucky that my wife is a fantastic cook. I do all my study through books and mostly the sad practice of watching TV chef programmes! My favorites: Hells Kitchen, The Restaurant, Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and the most ironic of all since I can't cook myself - MasterChef. I can't help myself! I just think they are a brilliant study of the dynamics of human interaction and teamwork in a high pressured environment. Remove all the stuff designed to improve TV ratings and look at the core interactions. Surprisingly, I've learned some things which I try to incorporate into my own teams.

Think about this. Imagine your work team trying to do a full professional dinner service in a busy restaurant. Now think about what you could learn from the kitchen professionals by applying their practices to your own team.

What have I learned? Communicate, communicate, communicate. Leave ego's outside. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're wrong, say so. Learn from your mistakes. Give credit where credit is due. Support your team members (particularly if you are a manager). Everybody should be clear about their jobs. There should only be one boss.

Fairly obvious stuff, right? How often does the corporate world get it right?

What's an Inch Pebble?

My first post!

I came up with the corny concept of an Inch Pebble years ago when I was trying to describe a form of iterative development to someone. They were used to MileStones being major events in a project. I suggested Inch Pebbles as the mini targets between these major milestones.

Inch Pebbles. Mile Stones. Get it? I know it's corny. What can I say.

I suppose it is really about evolutionary progress towards a vision. Anybody who knows me will tell you that I'm not one to give up an opportunity to come up with a grand vision or two. There's a relatively famous Chinese proverb which states "you can't leap a cavern in two bounds". As much as I like this, I believe implementing these grand visions needs lots and lots of InchPebbles to be achieved along the way. Even if you've come up with the next iPod.

Why did I call my Blog InchPebbles? All the other cool names were taken!