Jan 232015
strong passwords are important for online security

“There is a big problem with trust today,” says cable operator Liberty Global’s Micheal T. Fries.

He was sitting on a fascinating panel at the World Economic Forum this week with Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee looks at the issue of trust in the tech world.

In a world where everyone wants access to our data, it’s a pertinent and timely discussion from people at the front line of where these issues of ethics and privacy are being dealt with.

Dec 162014

Earlier this year Decoding The New Economy interviewed SurveyMonkey’s  CEO Dave Goldberg on his vision for the business and how the company’s services are helping people understand the context of the data pouring into their organisations.

Yesterday SurveyMonkey announced it had raised 250 million dollars through an equity round that values the business at $1.3 billion, an amount only a little more than what the company has raised since being founded in 1999.

The additional funds are earmarked for privately held SurveyMonkey to acquire more companies and “provide meaningful liquidity to our employees and investors” with participants in the new funding round including CEO Goldberg and Google Ventures increasing their existing stakes.

In his interview with Decoding The New Economy last February, Goldberg described how he sees mobile technologies changing both SurveyMonkey and business in general along with the challenge for companies in understanding the data pouring into business.

It’s not hard to image many of the acquisitions SurveyMonkey makes with its latest fundraising will be in the mobile and analytics sectors.

Dec 092014

“Productivity is our life blood,” says John Case, Microsoft’s Corporate VP for the company’s Office product line. “It’s part of the company that we say is our mission.”

Case was speaking at a media briefing ahead of Microsoft’s launch of their Australian Cloud Solution Provider program for resellers with the company making the case for integrators and IT support businesses to sell the Microsoft Cloud Services.

For Microsoft this is part of the evolution from the 1990s “PC on every desk” strategy to a mobile and cloud first service.

This shift doesn’t come without pain for Microsoft and it’s resellers, the cloud is a fiendishly competitive space with Amazon regularly dropping prices and Google steadily eating into the productivity suite market.

Making matters worse for Microsoft are that Google are moving into their hosted server space with the announcement that Google’s Cloud Platform now supports Microsoft Server.

Case though is sanguine though about the threats from Google, particularly the increased commissions being paid to resellers which will only put more pressure on Microsoft as resellers consider the options.

Probably the toughest part of the shift for Microsoft are the reduced margins – although for resellers the change is far more wrenching as the profits from cloud services are far lower than installing servers.

For Microsoft the key to success in the cloud depends upon the confidence of customers; security and trust are going to make and break all cloud services, something that Case acknowledges.

Ultimately though Case sees Microsoft’s network of resellers and partners as being the company’s best defense against Google and the shift to the cloud. Whether that network is strong enough to overcome a structural shift in the market place remains to be seen.

Productivity may be the lifeblood of Microsoft’s business but as margins erode, it may be that that market is not longer lucrative enough to sustain a $400 billion dollar business. Microsoft’s fight for survival is on in the cloud.

Dec 082014

Earlier today I was at a media briefing with Microsoft describing their move to cloud services. Among the various case studies were two principals from IT support companies describing how the online products were good for their businesses.

The truth is there is little good news for the industry — the IT support industry in the US has shrunk 1.2% each year for the past half decade and the prognosis is things aren’t going to get any better.

It’s been two major factors that have hurt the sector; the first was the end of the PC upgrade cycle upon which many support businesses based their models while the shift to the cloud has reduced the need for inhouse servers.

While many companies, like the two profiled today, have switched to reselling cloud products they are finding the margins on both the products and the associated services are nothing like those of the old PC and server business.

Overall it’s a tough place to be and the companies that do survive will be nowhere near as profitable as their equivalents two decades ago. It’s one of those businesses that’s doomed to decline.

All of us need to think if our industry could be like the PC repair business. If margins are collapsing due to technological change, then you need to get out.

Nov 112014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

The decision of Microsoft to offer its Office tablet apps for free last week has had the desired effect with them rocketing to the top of the charts as people enthusiastically grab them.

Microsoft’s decision pretty well locks its resellers into the loss leading strategy the company flagged last week in China, with the tablet apps available for free its hard for retailers and integrators to be charging for the desktop version.

That loss leader strategy has been further laid out by CEO Satya Nadella at a function in London yesterday where he described their cloud and mobile first strategy, something he also discussed at a briefing to ‘a small gathering of journalists’ last week.

Nadella’s vision isn’t really anything new; it differs from Ballmer’s ‘devices and services’ strategy but the thrust of the business was always going to be on cloud services and the company’s Azure services regardless of any conceits around tablets or professional offerings.

Of the three key areas Nadella identifies — Windows, Office 365, and Azure — two of them are problematic; the Office 365 for reasons already mentioned and the Windows product line.

The ‘Windows everywhere’ strategy, which also happens one of Ballmer’s earlier initiatives, is doomed as the operating system is not suitable for smartphones or lightweight internet of things devices.

Even if Windows was successful on smartphones or could be successfully ported to low powered smart devices, the margins are tiny compared to the traditional desktop market that was so profitable for Microsoft in the past.

All of which brings Microsoft back to Azure; it’s clear the cloud service is the future of the company but the margins are dire except for some relatively niche areas like collaboration software.

Mantras about ‘productivity’ count for nothing as every software and cloud computing company cater for the B2B market is delivering a service that claims to improve customers’ productivity. That Office is declining as a profit centre only makes things harder for the company.

If anything, Nadella’s discussions illustrate the company is still casting around for the next big profit centre. As the Windows and Office franchises decline, time may start to run out for the current management just as it eventually did for Ballmer.

Giving away Office apps may lock some users into the 365 service and could prove moderately profitable, but last week’s moves indicates a much smaller future For Microsoft.

Nov 092014
Smart rubbish bins in Barcelona

Last year Alicia Asin of Spanish sensor vendor Libelium spoke to this site about her vision of the internet of things improving transparency in society and government.

A good example of this democratisation of data was at the New South Wales Pearcey Awards last week where the state’s winners of the Young ICT Explorers competition were profiled.

Coming in equal first were a group of students from Neutral Bay’s state primary school with their Bin I.T project that monitors garbage levels in rubbish bins.

The kids built their project on an Arduino microcontroller that connects to a Google spreadsheet which displays the status of the bin in the school’s classrooms. For $80 they’ve created a small version of what the City of Barcelona is spending millions of Euro on.

With the accessibility of cheap sensors and cloud computing its possible for students, community groups and activists to take the monitoring of their environment into their own hands; no longer do people have to rely on government agencies or private companies to release information when they can collect it themselves.

Probably the best example of activists taking action themselves is the Safecast project which was born out of community suspicion of official radiation data following the Fukushima.

We can expect to see more communities following the Safecast model as concerns about the effects of mining, industrial and fracking operations on neighbourhoods grow.

The Bin I.T project and the kids of Neutral Bay Public School could be showing us where communities will be taking data into their own hands in the near future.

Nov 072014

So it turns out Microsoft’s river of gold with productivity software was a transition effect with the company now offering the product essentially free on iOS and Android devices.

While the profits in that product line were nice while they lasted we may start seeing Microsoft’s revenues, which have stood up pretty well in a changing marketplace, start to decline rapidly.