Apr 232015

In Technology Spectator today I have a piece on cloud services and how the promise of high reliability threatens the IT manager and Chief Information Officer.

This shift is the same change that’s affected the IT support industry, as technology becomes more standardised and a commodity the need for specialist support and management becomes unnecessary.

In many respects this is similar to a hundred years ago where most factories had their own power plants providing electricity, steam or bel power to drive the machinery.

As mains power became common and reliable, businesses no longer needed specialist staff to ensure the power flowed.

While much of today’s commentary focuses on the CIO role evolving, it may well be the position is redundant.

Apr 212015

One of the key factors in bringing the Personal Computer era of business to a close was the end of the upgrade cycle where users tended to buy new systems every three to five years.

For companies like Dell, Acer, IBM and Microsoft this cycle was an important and reliable income stream.

In the early 2000s though it stopped as customers decided that with most new innovations coming onto their computers through web browsers they didn’t need to buy new systems.

For the PC industry, particularly Microsoft, this presented a huge threat to their business models and all of them have been trying to find ways to refocus their businesses.

The ModernBiz Technology Make-Over

Late last year I was asked by Microsoft Australia to participate in their ModernBiz Technology Make-Over where a small business running Windows XP and Server 2003 was given a free tech upgrade to the latest equipment.

This was interesting as it was an opportunity to see how Microsoft and the market are adapting to a very changed industry.

As well I still carry the many scars – most psychological but some physical – from my years of running PC Rescue where upgrading companies’ old technology was a core part of the business.

Doing a tough job

The fallacy many managers and inexperienced companies fall for is that migration customers from old equipment to new systems is a simple matter of copying a few files. It is never that simple.

Upgrading company computers a tough field as every business is unique and in workplace where the technology has been in use for over a decade the learning curve onto new software is insanely steep for staff and management alike.

So watching the process from a relatively safe distance where I wasn’t worrying about losing customers’ data or trying to complete a complex task within a short deadline was quite attractive. Basically I wanted to see the other guys sweat.

Another attraction in participating was to see how Microsoft are managing the transition from supplying business servers to provisioning cloud services and how customers are managing that change in product offerings.

Dealing with a shifting market

For both Microsoft and their customers the shift from one off hardware and license purchases to cloud based monthly subscriptions is a major change in mindset, so seeing how small business users adapt to online services will be interesting.

Overall the technology makeover promises to be an interesting exercise on how the small business computer industry is changing.

For his participation in the Modern Biz Technology Makeover program, Microsoft gave Paul a Lenovo laptop which he hasn’t yet used.

Apr 192015
Future proofing your business free webinar

On April 29 I’m helping Flying Solo with a webinar on how small and single operator businesses can future proof their businesses.

During the webinar we’ll be looking at how businesses can adapt and profit from a rapidly changing economy.

Some of the things we plan to discuss include the trends driving the changing marketplace, some of the tools businesses can be using to harness a rapidly evolving workforce and methods to attract mobile consumers.

We’ll also have a look at some of the ways canny business owners can use social media, cloud computing and other online services to make their businesses more profitable and flexible in a tougher business world.

The webinar itself is free and you can sign up at the Flying Solo website. Hope to see you there.

Apr 112015

One of the great strengths of the social and cloud business model was the idea of the open API, recent moves by Twitter and LinkedIn show that era might be coming to an end.

This week Nick Halstead, the founder and CEO of business intelligence service Datasift, bemoaned his company’s failure to negotiate an API access agreement with Twitter that restricts their ability to deliver insights to customers.

Earlier this year LinkedIn announced they would be restricting API access to all but “partnership integrations that we believe provide the most value to our members, developers and business.”

Monetizing APIs

Increasingly social media and web services companies are seeing access to APIs as being a revenue opportunity – something many of them are struggling to find – or as a way of building ‘strategic partnerships’ that will create their own walled gardens on the internet.

For developers this is irritating and for users it restricts the services and applications available but it may turn out to backfire on companies like LinkedIn and Twitter as closing down APIs opens opportunities for new platforms.

A few years ago industry pundits, like this blog, proclaimed open APIs will be a competitive advantage for online services. Now we’re about to find out how true that is.

One thing is for sure; many of the companies proclaiming their support for the ‘open internet’ are less free when it comes to allowing access to their own data.

Apr 102015

Today’s announcement that Dropbox and Microsoft have deepened their alliance throws a further challenge out to Google’s ambitions to take a slice of the office productivity market while further reducing profits for the once dominant software giant.

Dropbox’s new deal with Microsoft give of users the ability to edit Office documents natively in their browser. It’s an advanced version of the feature that Google have offered with their Docs service for some years.

A notable aspect of this deal is how Dropbox have been prepared to partner with Microsoft – a decade ago smaller and relatively new companies were suspicious of working with Microsoft given the giant’s well deserved reputation for ruthless behaviour.

Equally Microsoft teaming with more agile newcomers rather than trying to bully them out of business is a distinct change from the company’s peak days under Bill Gates.

The real target of the alliance though is Google and the Dropbox-Microsoft deal makes Office 365 a far more formidable offering as a cloud service.

For Google the deal means they have to add more features to their Docs service to counter a more competitive Microsoft offering. It also shows the marketplace is shifting as alliances of convenience are forming.

Apr 072015

One of the challenges facing Microsoft are the millions of users quite happily using the company’s older products.

While Windows XP is by far the biggest problem – only last year the number of systems running the fourteen year old operating system still outnumbered those running the latest version – Microsoft faces similar issues with its server 2003.

This week Microsoft warned support for Windows Server 2003 has entered its last one hundred days and urged customers to look at shifting onto new systems.

Interestingly most of the case studies they cite involve customers moving from on premise servers onto cloud services.

While that’s very good advice as most customers, particularly small businesses, don’t have the capabilities it shows how the industry has shifted in the last twelve years.

For most of those companies a decade ago cloud service, or Software as a Service (SaaS) as it was known then, weren’t available for most business functions. Today they are the norm and usually the best option for smaller operations.

That shift to the cloud has meant an entire industry now faces extinction as the army of suburban IT service companies that once maintained those servers are now largely redundant.

As the clock ticks down on Windows 2003 server so too does it for all the businesses that once depended upon the PC industry.

Apr 052015

One of the great business stories of today is how Microsoft is reinventing itself in the face of a totally changed industry. With the company turning 40, The Economist has a look at the business in its middle age.

The Economist concludes CEO Satya Nadella is making the important changes to the business that founder Bill Gates couldn’t make because he was too protective of the company’s core products and that Steve Ballmer, Nadella’s predecessor, wasn’t interested in making as he sweated the existing assets.

As this blog has pointed out before, The Economist notes the profit margins of the cloud and mobile services Nadella is focusing on are far slimmer than those Microsoft are used to from their server and desktop products.

Those fat profit margins were the reason why Nadella’s predecessors had little reason to refocus the company but towards the end of Ballmer’s leadership it was clear Microsoft couldn’t resist the shift for much longer.

Microsoft’s dilemma was clear to the stock market as well with The Economist having a chart showing the relative performance of IBM, Microsoft and Apple over the last 35 years.


When Microsoft peaked in the late 1990s, the company was worth over twenty percent of the total tech sector’s valuation – today Apple has stolen most of that value.

A particularly jarring from The Economist’s graph is just how much IBM dominated the tech sector a generation ago and its steep decline following the introduction of desktop computers.

IBM’s decline in its dotage is exactly the fate Nadella is trying to avoid for Microsoft, with companies like Google, Apple and Amazon as competitors he has a tough task ahead of him.