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A New Technology Architecture

Explosion in the adoption of Social and Mobile applications and technology will present a major shift for businesses going forward as they adjust to the new channels of demand from both a customer and employee perspective.  Traditional ways of communicating and connecting within organisations are quickly being overtaken by a changing need and expectation of the users involved providing both challenges and opportunity ahead.  Companies with rigid and static business models will find it difficult to adjust, to this expectation, where others with lean and agile business models will be able to take advantage of the many opportunities ahead.

In the evolution of the digital age there have been four significant shifts in technology architecture, first there was the mainframe followed by the minicomputer then client/server and more recently the internet.  Each new advance provided around a decades worth of improvement to business productivity within the corporate environment.

Today, after a decade of wide internet adoption we are embarking on the 5th wave of technology architecture tumblr_m5zueh3p6v1qb4yizo1_500based around using social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing as the base technology engine.   Drivers for this adoption are the users themselves who are being driven by their everyday use of apps and mobile technology, demanding the same value from everyday business interaction.  Each of the four individual technologies taken as a standalone entity would provide limited value but put them together as a technology stack then they have a much greater effect in delivery of business impact.

There are many great examples of companies who have embraced this architecture and adapted their business model to fit but none more so than Netflix.  Founded in 1997 as a mail order dvd rental service where users would use the internet to select a list of films they wanted which were sent in turn and paid on a monthly subscription, Netflix were entering a crowded marketplace.   With the advent of Cloud Computing and increased adoption of broadband services Netflix created a streaming service which removed the need for mail order dvds and provided the user with much greater control on what they wanted and when.  Using Social to drive consumer marketing through ratings and recommendations along with suggestions,  using mobile to deliver the content through multiple channels so that users could watch anywhere and at anytime, using analytics to understand the trends and behaviours of user viewing patterns and using the pay as you go cloud infrastructure it enabled Netflix to achieve revenues of £3.2 billion in 2011.  A great achievement given one of it’s main competitors, Blockbuster, struggled and in 2010 filed for chapter 11 protection and since then have continued to limp forward while the business has been continually ‘streamlined’ by new owners.  Netflix is a great example of a company being flexible and adaptable enough to change quickly and take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself.

By understanding each of the constituents of this stack it is easier to see the combined value when put together.

Social provides the relationship mechanic and interaction layer at the top of the architecture ensuring that there is true value for the users, giving them reason to return.  This user centric approach ensures that the key stakeholders in any service are at the core of the offering.

Mobile provides the ease of access and the delivery channel for the stack, enabling the service to be distributed anywhere and anytime.  Companies need to understand how users want to use mobile to interact with any service and this is a key consideration for any service.  The variety of devices, which will only increase, provide different experiences and expectations.

Analytics provides the means in which to learn and understand the user, encouraging the user to generate more data and information is key to the success of any new business model.  Gauging what is important to them and how they interact is both critical to usability but also provides new business model opportunities.

Cloud Computing provides a reduced barrier to entry for any new business model.  No longer is there a large capital expenditure associated with the creation of any new business model but instead costs are rolled into operations which means any failing new model can be cut quickly reducing the risk.  There are many benefits to cloud deployments away from traditional IT which I’ll cover on another post soon.

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The intensity of demand can be seen above in the way we are sharing and interacting with new services and to get maximum value from any business it needs to adapt to a new way of implementation.  Each part of this new technology stack is powerful in it’s own right but put together as a technology architecture then they become the platform from which new business models can be created!

No longer are new techniques being glued into existing company models but they are instead defining entirely new models.  

Posted in Cloud Computing, New Technologies, Product Development, services, Startup

SMAC – Social Mobile Analytics and Cloud

Nowadays technology is everywhere and affects all aspects of our lives constantly changing and improving the way we live, go about our business and communicate.  Nothing has had a bigger impact on the human race than mobilethe invention of the mobile phone and in particular the ‘smartphone’.  Every new mobile device we buy is greatly more powerful than the previous and when we purchase a phone from the local shop it is now more powerful than the computer NASA used to send man to the moon in 1969.  This power has led to an increase in features and functionality which in turn led the consumer to quickly see the value in owning one.  At the end of 2012 there were more mobile devices than there were people in the world, that in itself now presents massive opportunity for both businesses and consumers alike.

Providing easy access through mobile technology has also provided the correct access channel for the phenomenon that is social networking.  Networks of people who are connected through relationships can now be accessed anywhere that a device can access mobile phone data.   These vast networks thrive on activity and easy accessibility and are built to encourage user data generation through posting, commenting, uploading, rating, liking, sharing, streaming, downloading, friending, grouping and following,

monetate-big-data-volumeIn generating vast amounts of data this allows the owners to see trends, analyse user behaviour and determine future needs and wants which is extremely valuable when monetising communities and understanding what the product roadmap needs to be.  Capturing the data is one thing being able to move the data around and see the trends is a completely different challenge in itself.  Marketers right now don’t know what they want to know in 5 years time so all networks now have policies of ‘keep everything’ which means traditional strategies of data management are completely thrown out the window. Systems now need to be scalable and redundant to cope with this demand and this had led to the creation of Cloud Computing.

On demand pay as you go systems and services that are built for scale are now readily available through Cloud Computing.  Pioneered by Amazon in the early days they created a market for a new way of selling infrastructure that enabled products and businesses to get off the ground with minimal capital costs. This has been one of the biggest influences in the explosion of digital services.

Each of the major influences in this computing cycle Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud cannot be treated as individual silos and must instead be treated as a combination in order to achieve the greatest value.  We are at the start of the next computing evolution and the unification of these areas will provide the platform for many new and innovative services.

Posted in Cloud Computing, New Technologies, Product Development, services, Startup

Culture Could Hinder Cloud Growth In Public Sector

In recognition of the impending explosion in cloud computing and cloud services there have been a number of initiatives by the EU (Unleashing the Potential of Cloud Computing in Europe) and the UK government (G-Cloud) to try and prepare for the next golden era of computing.  These initiatives have set out to provide guidance and pathways into how the various public organisations will exploit the opportunity ahead but fall short in being specific enough to add real value.

If we look closely at the main objectives for these initiatives we can see the following:

  • Achieve large, cross government economies of scale;
  • Deliver ICT systems that are flexible and responsive to demand in order to support government policies and strategies;
  • Take advantage of new technologies in order to deliver faster business benefits and reduce cost;
  • Meet environmental and sustainability targets;
  • Allow government to procure in a way that encourages a dynamic and responsive supplier marketplace and supports emerging suppliers.

While these provide a good initial set of high level objectives there are many things that have to align in order forpublic these to become a reality.  In most companies the change process is handled in a pragmatic and relatively immediate manner once a strategic vision has been set, by default the private sector is more likely to weigh up any risk with a clear commercial business case which in turn will provide easier adoption justification going forward.  In the private sector where corporate strategy is constantly scrutinised by company boards who drive the executive to look at ways of staying ahead of competition the objectives can be driven down quickly as the commercial implications are normally apparent to all.  The public sector on the other hand have no such commercial pressures and are actually more inclined to ensure that risk is avoided at all costs which means change is very much slower.

In order for new innovative initiatives to be adopted by the public sector there are two fundamental things that can be done to push them through.  The first is policy change, which would mean legislation to adopt cloud computing as the recommended way to build and deploy new systems. The second is a culture change which would see champions in the organisation pushing change from within and with it a culture change to be more dynamic and forward thinking.

As you can imagine both these are long processes to get right and in my opinion both are very much needed to pull this country forward and to get the public sector to take advantage of the opportunity for cloud systems.  Whatever objectives are set and whatever  noises are made there are many fundamental issues to solve first which are not technology related.  Until these are addressed I fear the progress of Public Sector cloud adoption will be painfully slow.

Posted in Cloud Computing

Positive Deconstruction

Quite a few years ago while watching some inane football analysis one of the commentators said something that really stuck with me and actually helped me understand some people I’ve met in my life.

It is really easy to be de-constructive and extremely difficult to be constructive.

 

They were of course referring to the style of play a football team at the time had taken and probably didn’t think of how that applies to our society in general.  Working in an industry which has come through the greatest change in the last 20 years from any other,  I’ve came across a mixture of so called negative and positive people.  Meeting others who you perceive to be putting barriers in your way can be very frustrating and damaging to both the project success and your own career path.  My view is that (most) people don’t set out to be negative they just find it much easier to do so.  Complaining because something isn’t quite right is a lot simpler that actually thinking of a solution to the problem and presenting that instead.

 

Making a decision and presenting the solution may of course lead to discussion, criticism and exposure that many people feel uncomfortable with.   What they don’t realise is that this is just part of working life and is a healthy ingredient to business.  Presenting a wrong solution is 10 times better than complaining and presenting none.

 

In my day to day work we try to encourage the team to tackle problems and look at ways round them regularly, it’s a core function of the company.  If a problem is encountered then think of the solution and present this rather than the issue itself.   Presenting solutions shows progress and thought into the problem itself, it also provides future opportunity!  Solving a problem leads to many more doors opening up and can inspire both individuals and decision making in the future.  Sitting on it and complaining can cause it’s death.

Posted in CPD, Startup, Team Building

Employee Ownership

When we created Planys Digital we wanted the company to be a very customer centric business and focused on aligning our vision and goals with our customers to ensure we had the best chance of success. To do this we knew we would have to create a culture and work ethic in the company that meant the customer always comes first. We needed people to care not only about our own business but that of our customers too and we felt the way to install responsibility and ownership was to give the employees part of the company too.

It’s well documented that employee ownership improves productivity and reduces staff turnover which in turn provides our customers with the knowledge that they will have a focussed and consistent employee working with them. Owning a bit of the company also gives the employees a foundation to have more of an influential voice in the decisions which are taken. To accommodate this we have also appointed a place on the board to represent the employees and is attended by different employees at each meeting, not only does this give them a voice but also gives them the opportunity to see how the company is run.

There have been a few challenges along the way in terms of education and providing information on what ownership actually means to the individual but it has had a very good effect in allowing those employees who want to accept responsibility to thrive.

Posted in Startup, Team Building

Applying Cloud Computing Models to Business

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the internet). – wikipedia

Since Amazon launched AWS in 2006 Cloud Computing has steadily grown in adoption and is now starting to gain traction in traditional SME markets. According to an american SMB IT survey the number of companies adopting cloud technology has risen from 28 percent to 48 percent in the last 12 months alone showing that adoption is well and truly under way.


Cloud Models

Clouds come in many different formats, shapes and sizes just like the real ones in the sky and the term ‘The cloud’ can be ambiguous and extremely generic in terms of implementation models. These could be IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, DRaaS and Xaas just for starters and then you have deployments strategies of private, public, hybrid, on-premise, off-premise, enterprise, commodity etc. Navigating cloud models and finding out which ones would be applicable to a specific business is extremely daunting never mind understanding the impact each has on existing infrastructure and skills within the organisation.

Examples Model Implementations 

Look at Netflix a company who need high level resilience and redundancy built into their service and therefore would be ready for a public off-premise IaaS cloud enabling them to achieve low-cost, on demand limitless elastic computing resource during peak loads and bursts. The truth is that this is an extreme example of what could be achieved but many companies needs will be much smaller than this.

Many smaller companies existing core business and applications have dependencies on legacy computing infrastructure models that currently provide high availability and security. Along with this many of the applications are integrated with other applications and databases on private internal networks that require direct communication to function properly. These types of companies would be better served with a private, on-premise, IaaS cloud model. This means that they might not achieve instant public cloud cost advantages but will be able to allocate and distribute resources more easily to suit variable loading within the organisation.

Set Expectations

The term ‘Cloud’ is not enough in itself for people to understand how it can be layered onto their organisation and while the examples above only briefly show the variances in models and how they can be implemented there is still much effort needed in explanation and understanding to ensure expectations are aligned with what can be done.

There is no question that evolving cloud technologies have the ability to provide all shapes and sizes of companies with scalable and flexible resources, the real challenge is determining which strategy to implement for each specific business.

Posted in Cloud Computing

Let’s Stick Together – Internet Safety

Fife Community Safety Partnership

Let’s Stick Together – “Collaborating for a Safer Fife”

Tuesday 30th October 2012

Rothes Hall Glenrothes

Internet Safety Workshop

Below are a list of resources to be used at the above event.  However they are relevant for anyone who has or works with children so please feel free to use them and share with colleagues.

                                                 

                                                       

Click here for an advice leaflet on Internet Safety with links to further resources created by PC Kevin McDade (E Crime Forensic Manager, Fife Constabulary)

Click here for presentations given by Olivia Wexelstein (Class Teacher at Wellwood Primary)

Posted in CPD, Education, New Technologies

RM Unify

This year at the Scottish Learning Festival I attended a presentation demonstrating RM unify which is the new launchpad for glow.  For those who were unable to attend or haven’t had a chance to access the information about the change which is available within glow, here is a brief outline of what it is going to provide:-

  • continue to use single sign on
  • quicker, more direct access to tools people want to use
  • wide range of tools from 3rd parties
  • support for mobile devices
  • an app library (this will future proof glow as apps can be added as they become available)
  • access to Microsoft Office 365 tools

The video below demonstrates the look of unify and some of it’s current content.

The next video demonstrates more content and how, when login on as an administrator, you can add or remove apps for your organisation.

Currently unify is being piloted in selected schools but should be available for users by the end of the year.

One of projects I am going to be involved in on my secondment at RM is looking at what apps users would like made available in the app library.  What apps would you like to see included?  Please use the comment box below to add any suggests.  All help will be greatly appreciated. Please note that there are no guarantees that these will be made available and will depend on decisions made at national level.

(Just to clarify by apps I mean websites or webtools you currently use)

This post can also be found at wexucate.com

Posted in CPD, Education, New Technologies

Product Lesson – Sky GO issue

Recently I came across a really good example of how not to develop a consumer experience when I was using Sky GO and I thought I would share it. For people who don’t know what it is then Sky GO is a service that allows you to watch the sky channels on up to 2 other devices in a calendar month. This means you can have 2 registered devices for the month and you can only change these devices once during the month. It’s a good service and one I use often to stream sky to my laptop of mobile devices.

So today, given it was my daughters birthday party, I wanted to watch the Everton v Liverpool game hidden away in my bedroom. When I logged onto the service I noticed that one of the devices was ‘default-PC’ so I wanted to change it to laptop so removed the device. When I then tried to add a new device it said I couldn’t add another device as I’d hit my limit for the month. Okay I thought … I’ll add the PC back in again since it was the default device for this month. It wouldn’t let me … so now we are left until 1st November with one device.

The solution for this would have been to pop up a warning saying something like ‘You have requested to remove a device from this account. Please be aware that you will not be able to add another device until 1st November’ This would have given me the option to exit the process before the removal of the device had happened. They should also allow customers to add the registered device back in once it’s been removed in the same month. Instead it allowed me to remove the device easily and with no warning so I’m now left with one device. This shows that as a multi billion pound corporation they still get basic product development wrong!

Posted in Product Development

Speed of change against the speed of learning

I watched this video from Eddie Obeng who gave a talk at the TED global 2012 on Smart Failure For A Fast Changing World and many things he says, in the talk, I have encountered working within both small and larger companies. I particularly like his example of ‘Turbulence’

He highlights that traditional business have an issue in changing rules quickly and it’s something that inherently comes from the leadership and management of the company as that ethos is pushed down. I wish I had a pound for the number of times I’ve heard of companies talk about being creative but then implementing a process which is the total opposite for the fear of doing something different and doing it wrong. Old school management techniques are becoming dated and being able to change quickly in today’s society and industry is an absolute must.

Posted in Education, New Technologies, services, Startup, Team Building