Thursday, January 29, 2009

Companies, Communities, and Twitter

Back in November of last year I wrote a blog post called: Communities, Stars and dealing with "hit by a bus" Scenarios. As I said back then:
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 Web 2.0 world is about communities at its heart. If you are a company looking to really embrace this new world then you will need to deal with these scenarios. Of course, the usual reaction by companies is to make communications anonymous, which defeats the whole point of these communities. The most effective communities are those where people are actually talking to other people and building relationships. This is in direct contrast to the usual press-release powered world of corporations.

Having embedded myself in the Twitter community over the past couple of months I'm observing a whole host of interesting interactions.

There are some really fabulous relationships being built where people really utilise the full power of the medium (i.e. interacting through posts/tweets, replies and direct messages etc). There are people representing companies on both ends of the spectrum - drivel to seriously interesting. There are the "power tweeters" who blast huge amounts of messages and generally just create noise - I wish it was of the background variety but unfortunately it ends up swamping everything else - the twitter equivalent to spam. Twitter is also a good trend / news spotter where the community effect around conversations can give you a nice insight (or periscope as JP Rangaswami has called it) into what's going on around the globe.

Where is this post going? Well, my conclusion really boils down to how companies should look at Twitter and consider how their staff officially and unofficially use the medium. Basically, some people will represent themselves and their employer extremely well. However, as usual, some people will behave in ways the corporation may not appreciate especially if they are seen to be associated with said company.

Either way, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Companies need to figure out how they are going to deal with this. I take a common sense approach. Firstly, huge numbers of companies don't even know what is being said about them on these forums. Your brand isn't determined by you, it is determined by how others perceive you. For example, you can tell everybody all day every day that you are all about safety, but if you sell products with a less than stellar safety record, your brand will reflect this.

Go do some Twitter searches for your company (and keep repeating them!). Internally, companies can use the HR police to clamp down if they choose (the nuclear option) or alternatively they can embrace, support and encourage those employees who have built up a following. The choice is yours, but keeping your head in the sand is not really an option.



State of the Union on Clouds

If you have a bit of time you should definitely read this comprehensive post (2000 words) from John Gerber which covers the Cloud Computing landscape. It's a kind of State of the Union on Clouds and a fantastic overview of the current environment.

John's summary:
In this post, I tried to address a few of the basic concepts behind cloud computing along with a few important issues and finish with some thoughts involving security. Cloud computing will bring with it advantages and disadvantages, especially in the world of security. This post has not even scratched the surface. In a two thousand word post, all I can do is to try and get you interested in the subject and then show you the way to a wealth of additional information. Like Dorthy and the yellow brick road, follow the links. They will take you to the experts that have been working with issues involving the cloud for quite awhile now.
For me, one of the most striking points in this was a quote from Anne Thomas Manes, a Research Director with the Burton Group:
“we should not be talking about an architectural concept that has no universally accepted definition and an indefensible value proposition. Instead we should be talking about concrete things (like services) and concrete architectural practices (like application portfolio management) that deliver real value to the business.”
I feel a lot of commentators on Cloud Computing are getting so caught up arguing over arcane technical points or what the difference is between SaaS and Clouds, that the overall power and point of Clouds gets lost. Manes is certainly moving along the right track.

There is a huge amount of content in Gerber's post but it is definitely worth spending the time to work through it.

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The importance of creativity

Very interesting talk by John Cleese on the Importance of Creativity at the Creativity World Forum.

See the YouTube video.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cloud Computing and SaaS trends

I don't know if you have noticed but there are more and more articles, press releases, white papers, and research notes floating around in relation to the Cloud Computing and SaaS marketplace.

Here's three which are worth a read:

  1. SaaS Success: Four recent deals show it's working (cio.com)
  2. Cloud Computing shapes up as big trend for 2009 (infoworld)
  3. SaaS needs a value add (CloudAve)
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Cloud Computing Definition

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

That's my definition.

InfoWorld have a nice explanation of the Cloud Computing market and what it all means.

In previous posts I linked to some other explanations of Cloud Computing and SaaS. You can read them
here:

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Who says large enterprises don't like SaaS?

Would you use a SaaS provider to manage $55 billion (yes, billion!) in spending with your suppliers? Lots of companies are saying SaaS is too early and they will wait until it matures before they start to adopt it. Well, GE is proving you wrong. Their CIO (Gary Reiner) has put in a SaaS solution to deal with their massive supply chain needs.

Just look at some of the numbers:

  • 500,000 suppliers
  • 100+ countries
  • 14 different languages
  • $55 billion in spending!
Check out the article on CIO.com for more details.

This could be one of those catalysts that starts the snowball really rolling for SaaS and Cloud Computing adoption.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Usability gone backwards

I have a simple belief about exploiting technology effectively - make it disappear! What do I mean by this? When you use technology to do something you couldn't previously do and don't actually think about the technology in question - well, that's when it's really effective. An example is when you make a mobile phone call. There are seriously complex technologies at work in the handset, the basestations, the network operations centers etc, but nobody is thinking about this when you make a call. All you're thinking about is calling your friend.

Earlier today I was parking my car and needed to feed the meter. Simple task, you would imagine. I also decided to use this opportunity to get rid of loads of change I had lying around. Anyway, the machine in question was an "upgraded" parking machine - the kind that gives you a ticket for a period of time that you display on your car.

Well, some "genius" obviously missed the memo about making technology simple. Here I am with a handful of small coins planning to throw them into the machine quickly one after another and then head off to my meeting. That's when I came across problem one. The machine required me to put each coin into a little slot and push up a lever to deposit the coin. Brilliant design. What was wrong with a coin slot? No, we now have to undergo two actions to put in each coin. Watch out for all the repetitive strain injuries!

That's when I hit problem two. If you recall, I was using this as a way to reduce my coin collection. After putting in what felt like a million coins to get a couple of hours parking, the machine helpfully announced that I had put in too many coins and dumped them all back out the returns slot! Grrrrr

I eventually managed to get my ticket but I couldn't get over how the designers of the machine had taken a huge step backwards in usability. My only conclusion is that the operators want to discourage the use of coins (saves having somebody going around collecting them) for the "easier" approach of paying with your mobile phone - another horrible multi-step process!

Product makers really need to focus more effort in usability as I've seen so many examples over the last while of terrible interfaces which just irritates end users.

Rant over...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Banks Must Take Web 2.0 Risks Seriously

Interesting article from Bank Systems & Technology around Web 2.0 risks. The central thesis of the article is that with rising compliance requirements the banks will have to consider the importance of monitoring and archiving tools for Web 2.0 environments including Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, MySpace and others.

From the article:

...Handling risk around Web 2.0 apps is nothing to be taken lightly. As banks begin to adopt technologies such as blogs, wikis and other social networking applications, they are also starting to understand that they have a duty to monitor these seemingly freewheeling applications...

..."If all these people are using Facebook, what are they saying on it [about the company]?"...

This is a relevant question for financial institutions, which have heavy compliance requirements around archiving the content their employees use. Some companies even prohibit certain business units from interacting with each other. However, many employees might not realize that blogging with people from these off-limits divisions of the company may constitute a violation of policy...
More and more financial services companies will need to consider the compliance and monitoring requirements around the use of these social networking tools .

If this wasn't so true it might be funny

A little story which sums up so many companies in the world today...

A Japanese company ( Toyota ) and an American company (Ford Motors) decided to have a canoe race on the Missouri River Both teams practiced long and hard to reach their peak performance before the race.

On the big day, the Japanese won by a mile.

The Americans, very discouraged and depressed, decided to investigate the reason for the crushing defeat. A management team made up of senior management was formed to investigate and recommend appropriate action.

Their conclusion was the Japanese had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, while the American team had 7 people steering and 2 people rowing.

Feeling a deeper study was in order; American management hired a consulting company and paid them a large amount of money for a second opinion.

They advised, of course, that too many people were steering the20boat, while not enough people were rowing.

Not sure of how to utilize that information, but wanting to prevent another loss to the Japanese, the rowing team's management structure was totally reorganized to 4 steering supervisors, 2 area steering superintendents and 1 assistant superintendent steering manager.

They also implemented a new performance system that would give the 2 people rowing the boat greater incentive to work harder. It was called the 'Rowing Team Quality First Program,' with meetings, dinners and free pens for the rowers. There was discussion of getting new paddles, canoes and other equipment, extra vacation days for practices and bonuses. The pension program was trimmed to 'equal the competition' and some of the resultant savings were channeled into morale boosting programs and teamwork posters. The next year the Japanese won by two miles.

Humiliated, the American management laid-off one rower, halted development of a new canoe, sold all the paddles, and canceled all capital investments for new equipment. The money saved was distributed to the Senior Executives as bonuses.

The next year, try as he might, the lone designated rower was unable to even finish the race (having no paddles,) so he was laid off for unacceptable performance, all canoe equipment was sold and the next year's racing team was out-sourced to India .

Sadly, the End.

Here's something else to think about: Ford has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the US, claiming they can't make money paying American wages.

TOYOTA has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the US . The last quarter's results:

TOYOTA makes 4 billion in profits while Ford racked up 9 billion in losses.

Ford folks are still scratching their heads, and collecting bonuses.

IF THIS WEREN'T SO TRUE IT MIGHT BE FUNNY

Monday, January 19, 2009

650 million years of Earth Geography in 1:20 mins

Not into reading History or Geography books? Well, if you want to see what 650 million years of Earth geography looks like then have a look at this 1:20 min Video.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Microsoft & Yahoo Merger may be back on...

The merger between Microsoft and Yahoo may be back on again.

NY Times article

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Twitter-Yahoo News Mashup - cool!

Twitter-Yahoo News Mashup. If you want the news even before the News editors prioritise it for publication then you have to check this out. I came across the link from @JesseNewhart.

Twitter-Yahoo News Mashup


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Lesson in presenting data

I came across these links through a tweet from @jobsworth earlier. Fascinating approach to presenting data.

Check out JP's post and The Feltron 2008 Annual Report.

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Opportunities for open source M&A in 2009

Report from the 451 group on M&A opportunities for open-source sector.

Why open-source could be an attractive target:

The 451 Group's assessment of overall M&A potential in 2009 noted that 'transformative deals' are the least-likely transactions to get inked this year and that there is expected to be an acceleration of 'bolt-on' acquisitions, which are typically low-risk deals that allow companies to sell technology developed by a startup into their existing customer base. Therefore, open source software vendors are likely to be attractive targets, especially if the prediction that current economic conditions will increase the adoption of open source proves to be correct.

The expectation is not that customers will divert funds previously allocated to proprietary projects toward open source software but that significant project spending will be delayed while open source becomes even more attractive for smaller, skunkworks-style projects.

FUD Rains on SaaS

Here's an interesting summary of the recent negative coverage and predictions for the future of SaaS and Cloud Computing. It was posted a couple of days ago by Michael Dunham.

In my opinion, when this type of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) starts to emerge there can be only one conclusion - those dealing in the FUD are running scared. They haven't figured out how to counteract this emerging world so they try to trash it instead.

The Black Hole

Something lighthearted for the weekend...

The Black Hole

Cloud Slam 2009

Conference on Cloud Computing being held in the Cloud. Pretty cool! Check out the details here.

From the organisers:
The Cloud Slam Conference is the world's premier cloud computing event, covering research, development, innovations and education in the world of cloud computing.
This certainly helps with all our carbon footprints!

Maybe Twitter is useful after all...

I was a skeptic about the usefulness of Twitter for a long time. I still think it creates a whole load of "noise" which isn't particularly useful and as for Twitter's business model, well, they don't have one.

Last night I was online with TweetDeck open and I started to get messages about the plane crash in NYC. The tweets came in fast and furious and included everything from pictures to live video feeds. 20 minutes later I got an e-mail alert from the New York Times. So, here's something useful about Twitter - it seriously beat what is probably the leading newspaper in the world to the news.

Ok, maybe I was wrong about it after all. Now, if only people would stop sending pointless tweets the noise volume could be reduced!

TED 2010 - What the World Needs Now...

If you never heard of TED.com or their TED Conference, you don't know what you are missing. I just got an interesting note from them about details of their 2010 conference! (Long Beach, CA Feb 9-13, 2010) - nothing like planning ahead! They are using the theme of "what the world needs now" for this conference.

Here's their thinking:

2010 will usher in a new decade at a time when the world is likely still to be facing tough economic challenges. Some are predicting the worst of times. But we think it's a time to regroup, re-evaluate and then to dream. Dream big. Because the world of ideas has never mattered more. Behind the headlines, innovation and invention are alive and flourishing. And it's here that the long-term future will be rebuilt. We think there's never been a more important time for the TED community to gather and learn from each other.

So each session of TED2010 will tackle one big attribute that the world really needs. Insight. Leadership. Courage. Imagination. Simplicity. Laughter. And so on. And it will do so based on TED's unique mult-disciplinary approach. You'll find more details of the program here.
Go check it out - ted.com

The Prescription for Self-Doubt: Watch This Video

This is a must watch video. It doesn't need any more words, just watch it...

Click here

Thursday, January 15, 2009

SaaS Marketplaces

If you are interested in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry or in particular in creating a "marketplace" you should check out www.workclouds.com (full disclosure: I'm doing some work for a sister company of SaaSPlex who created the workclouds site).

To quote from their press release:

SaaSPlex have launched WorkClouds, the world’s first true SaaS Marketplace. WorkClouds is designed to enable small and medium sized companies to create a ‘cloud’ of SaaS applications to run their business. WorkClouds are created through a simple Pick, Click, Run principle where you simply pick the applications you want to use, enter the number of users for each application, login to your dedicated web desktop and you are up and running.
As more and more companies adopt SaaS, these types of offerings will become more prevalent and not just from startups but from the traditional service providers like telecom, mobile, or cable firms. Google, Salesforce, Microsoft and several other large tech firms are well on the way to providing their own suites through the SaaS model.

In a previous post I posed the question, "why not use the Cloud?". The economics and flexibility are just too compelling not to and services like workclouds.com just makes the adoption easier.

The subtitle to this blog sums up what Cloud Computing is all about from my perspective.
The Cloud = lower costs + more flexibility + more automation + better service

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Indian outsourcing firms blacklisted by World Bank

It seems the gloss has come off some of the largest Indian outsourcing firms. Recently there was the whole Satyam scandal and now the World Bank has blacklisted a number of large outsourcing firms. I don't believe some of the hype stating that this is the end of outsourcing (particularly to India). This is a major issue but this industry is too important to India for the country not to sort it out.

I was talking to a colleague yesterday who is based down in India and he was very bullish about the whole Indian economy and was even talking about leveraging the strength of the Indian economy to pursue investment opportunities in Europe and the US.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More on security and browser passwords

Following up on my post yesterday on Browsers and Security I got this link from @cengal which is worth a read: password generator.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Still not convinced about Twitter

Since my last series of posts on the subject of Twitter I decided to immerse myself into this medium for a while to see if I'm missing anything fundamental. Anyway, so far my conclusion is that it's just adding to my daily levels of electronic noise without adding significant value. I'll keep you posted on my progress. Maybe I'll have a eureka moment and convert into a believer!

If you want to follow my Tweets I can be found @kevinmagee.

Security and Browser passwords

I was reading some stuff recently on the topic of securing Cloud Computing environments and came across this sobering article from CloudAve which should make you think.

From the article:

Unless you are paranoid in your computing world, like Dick Cheney wants you to be in the real world, you will save your passwords in your browser's password manager. In fact, many users don't even think about the impact of storing the passwords in the browser. If we are going to keep all our data in the clouds, including sensitive emails, banking information, etc., it is very important for us to rethink the way we store passwords.

As a cloud user, storing the passwords in the browser is akin to locking the door and keeping the key in the lock itself. If you think that is insane, it appears that the locks are not even locking the doors after you lock it with your keys. A recent study released by Chapin Information Services reports that all the browsers are doing a bad job in protecting the stored passwords. In particular, Google Chrome comes out to be the worst in the league.

I was, and I wasn't, surprised that Google were bottom of the pile. They are leading the charge for the world to move everything online so they should be concerned about passwords and security. Very surprising. Yet, I'm not surprised that Google Chrome is poor in this area since I haven't been very impressed with Chrome since it was released. I'm still using Firefox and haven't seen anything to make me want to change yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Free subscription - "New Rules for the New Economy"

Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired Magazine) is syndicating his book "New Rules for the New Economy" on RSS. Definitely worth subscribing to.

From the Amazon.com review:
There's hype and then there's the Internet. The widespread emergence of the World Wide Web and the idea of a network economy have set new records for excess in overheated marketing campaigns, breathless newspaper and magazine articles, and topsy-turvy financial markets. From his perch as founding editor of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly has long been one of the new economy's chief hypesters. In New Rules for the New Economy, Kelly tries to encapsulate the characteristics of this emerging economic order by laying out 10 rules for how the wired world operates. The result is a dizzying, sometimes confusing, but always thought-provoking look at the behavior of networks and their effect on our economic lives. At the root of this network revolution is communication. As Kelly writes:
Communication is the foundation of society, of our culture, of our humanity, of our own individual identity, and of all economic systems. This is why networks are such a big deal. Communication is so close to culture and society itself that the effects of technologizing it are beyond the scale of a mere industrial-sector cycle. Communication, and its ally computers, is a special case in economic history. Not because it happens to be the fashionable leading business sector of our day, but because its cultural, technological, and conceptual impacts reverberate at the root of our lives.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Banks in 2009: Virtualisation okay; Cloud Computing will have to wait

According to a new survey by Platform Computing, IT managers at financial institutions will look to virtualisation and high performance computing (HPC) to drive their business in 2009. 51% of respondents did not think that 2009 would be the year in which cloud computing took off in the financial industry. Quoting from the press release:

Over half (54%) of those quizzed felt that virtualisation will be the ‘watch-word’ for banks in 2009 as it is considered the infrastructure priority by the majority of banks. HPC was second on the list with (17%) followed closely by cloud computing (14%) and SOA (12%).
To read the full press release click here.

I have to say these results surprise me. For one, I consider virtualisation a key component of Cloud Computing. To me this brings home the point that there is still a lot of confusion as to what exactly Cloud Computing is. It also strikes me as interesting that not more respondents to the survey would consider Cloud Computing because of its potential cost saving benefits - whether leveraged in your own data centre or by utilising Cloud infrastructure managed by somebody else. Of course, a skeptic might not be surprised that HPC is #2 in the list considering the survey was done by a company selling HPC solutions!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009