Apr 012014

I’ve spent the last few days playing with Microsoft’s Office 365 and its iOS Apps for a review for tomorrow’s Business Spectator.

One thing that’s clear with comparing the various competitors in the online space is how all of them are trying to lock users into their own walled gardens.

This the various web empires are tying to lock us into their worlds isn’t surprising – it’s been going on for some time – however now we’re seeing it becoming harder to keep out of making a choice on whose empire you have to choose.

For the next generation of computers, this is going to be a challenge as the Internet of Things will be crippled should it turn out that one’s brand of smartcar won’t talk to your phone or intelligent garage door opener, let alone logistics chains breaking down due to an incompatibility somewhere in the process.

The cloud computing industry has entered an interesting period where the big players are hoping to carve up the market for themselves; what the market thinks about this remains to be seen.

Mar 282014

After several years of stalling, MS Office makes it onto the iPad with an announcement this morning by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella.

The idea of tying the product into the company’s Office 365 and Microsoft’s cloud services make sense although it might be a matter of too little, too late.

Perversely, if Office for the iPad is successful, it could remove one of the last barriers for business and power home users moving off PCs.

Microsoft’s move also shows cloud services are now the main focus of the company; Satya and his team have given up any attempt to shore up the traditional – and immensely profitable – box software business.

That is going to mean Microsoft’s financial statements are going to look very different in the near future.

Regardless of the success of Office for the iPad, what were Microsoft’s core businesses are deeply affected as the company evolves to the post-PC computer marketplace. The challenge is for Satya and his management team to manage that change.

Mar 232014

As the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 heads into its third week, a great deal of nonsense continues to be written about the flight and how its disappearance could have been prevented.

One good example of the tosh that’s being written is this piece in The Conversation where UK Open University lecturer Yijun Yu declares that cloud based technologies would have helped us solve the mystery.

While this may be true, Yijun’s article shows a deep trust in technology to solve all of our problems; in this case, insanely complex verification systems to ensure no-one is doing anything untoward.

Yijun is correct that better inflight technology could have told us much about MH370s location, however he also illustrates how we’ve become a society that doesn’t understand risk as we look to our gadgets to save us when a problem happens.

A cloud connected Boeing 777 probably wouldn’t have saved the souls on MH370 and ultimately it may prove that the technology wouldn’t have helped the searchers either.

We simply don’t know until the plane is found and, hopefully, the flight data information analyzed.

Despite the loss of MH370 air travel is safer than any other form of mass transportation and much of that is due to technology being cleverly applied.

There’s no doubt there’s much to be learned from the current search, we can expect rules on inflight communications to be tightened substantially as a consequence, but we’ll never eliminate risk.

In the meantime, we should join the families in praying for those lost aboard the aircraft and quit the silly theories.

Image of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 by Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia

Mar 122014

“Consulting companies are a blight on our industry” declares Adrian DiMarco, CEO of Technology One.

A quick way to rile DiMarco is by asking him about IT outsourcing as I learned during an interview at Technology One’s annual Evolve conference on the Gold Coast last month.

The 1600 enterprise clients attending this year’s Evolve conference illustrate Technology One’s growth since it was founded in 1987 out of DiMarco’s frustration with the multinational outsourcing companies.

“I used to work for multinational technology companies and as a young person I really used to want to work for them, I found it very attractive and I expected they’d be very attractive and cutting edge.”

The reality DiMarco found was very different; “I worked for them for years and found the opposite, just how bad and inefficient they were.”

“I really didn’t like what I was working with, the software we were using and stuff and I thought we can do it much better here in Australia. The idea was to build enterprise software.”

Moving to the cloud

Having built that enterprise software company DiMarco now sees his Technology One’s future lying in cloud services and empahises the importance of learning from the industry’s leaders.

“We looked at companies like Google, Salesforce, Facebook and Dropbox. These companies are the undisputed leaders in the cloud.

“One thing that we noticed was that you can’t get Google, Salesforce, Facebook from a hosted provider; you can’t get it from IBM or Accenture.

“The leaders in the cloud build it themselves so they are deeply committed to it, they run the software for their customers and they invest millions of dollars each year in making the experience better.”

“It is clearly what the cloud has always meant to be.”

DiMarco though sees problems ahead as vendors look to rebrand their products and warns businesses need to be careful about cloud services.

“It is the next big goldrush in the IT industry. IT companies, particularly service companies have over the last few years seen revenues decline so in order to find new sources of growth they are all targeting the cloud.”

Accountability and the cloud

The lesson DiMarco learned in the early days of cloud computing was that accountability is necessary when you’re trusting services to other providers.

“We had early customers that went to the cloud; we said ‘look, it’s a great idea and we think it’s the future’. They wanted to go with hosting providers and we thought it was a sensible decision and we saw a train smash, it was a train smash of epic proportions”

“They were running data centres overseas in Europe that had latency issues, performance issues and the customers were paying money after money after money.”

“The customer was getting a terrible performance and there was no accountability.”

“We couldn’t fix it because we had lost control over the customers.”

This lack of accountability is one of the reason why so many IT projects fail DiMarco believes, citing the notorious Queensland Health payroll project.

“Queensland Health again used this fragmented model; the party that built the software, which is SAP, used a third party which was IBM to implement it which meant no accountablity.

:That would never have happened If SAP had signed the contract, if SAP had implemented the software, which they won’t do, they would have known the risks that were being taken and they would have stopped that project and fixed it up.??“That’s the difference between our model and the competitors model.”

“They take no responsibility, they implement these systems, they charge a fee-for-service and they have open ended contracts – that’s how they get to be a billion dollars – and do you know who suffers? It’s the customers.”

Shifting away from consultants

DiMarco sees governments moving away from the consultant driven model that’s proved so disappointing for agencies like Queensland Health which creates opportunities for Technology One and other Australian companies.

“For the last fifteen years we’ve not been able to sell software to the state government. It’s just changing, we’re getting in there now, but it was a terrible problem for us.”

The shift from big consultants is a view endorsed by Sugar CRM co-founder Clint Oram who described how the software business is changing when he spoke to Decoding the New Economy last week.

Oram sees the software market challenging established giants like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft; “in the past it was ‘here’s my software, goodbye and good luck. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

“If you look at those names, the competitors we see on a day-to-day basis, several of them are very much challenged in making the shift from perpetual software licensing.” Oram says, “it’s been a challenge that I don’t think all of them will work their way through, their business models are too entrenched.”

“Software companies really have to stay focused on continuous innovation to their customers.”

DiMarco agrees with this view, citing the constant investment cloud computing companies make in their products as being one of the advantages in the business model.

Building the Australian software industry

For Australia to succeed in the software industry, DiMarco believes the nation has to encourage and celebrate the industry’s successes.

“It’s about getting people to believe in Australian software. I think the Aussie tech industry needs a lot more successes we can point to,” DiMarco observes. “I think that will create enthusiasm, excitement and a hub for the rest of the community to get around.”

“We gotta get some big scale companies with some high visibility and get them successful.”

For the future of Technology One, DiMarco sees international expansion as offering the best prospects with the company having recently announced a UK management team as part of its push into the British local government market.

Hopefully DiMarco’s UK management team won’t have to deal with the local management and IT consultants as they try to sell into British councils.

Feb 192014
Evolve 2014

“The cloud is not for the faint hearted,” warns Technology One CEO Adrian Di Marco in describing his company’s evolution into a software as service provider.

“We thought that this was five to ten years away, I’d like to say we got that wrong and this phenomena is happening now.” Di Marco said at the company’s 2014 Evolve conference on the Gold Coast today, “we’ve seen huge uptake in companies going to the cloud.”

A virtuous circle

Responding to that demand meant that Technology One had to redesign their software and update it to the meet the very different requirements of cloud services.

What Di Marco found in moving Technology One’s software onto the cloud was it became easier to identify problems and inefficiencies in his product, creating what he calls a “virtuous circle”.

It’s not just Di Marco’s customers who’ve been through that process, Technology One itself has gone all cloud internally with the company using services like Google Docs and Salesforce.

The aim of moving online is to make organisations more flexible with Di Marco citing the newly reformed Noosa Council in Queensland as being able to get up and running in four months by using cloud services.

Problems with the cloud

Despite being an enthusiast for cloud computing, Di Marco does sees some problems with the cloud, the first being that the term is overused and ill-defined which results in services being mis-sold.

A bigger problem in Di Marco’s view is a ‘gold rush’ has developed around the concept with revenue hungry vendors looking at making money

“IT companies, particularly consultancy firms, have over the last few years seen their revenues decline so to find new sources of growth they are all targeting the cloud.”

“Everybody wants to become a cloud provider, everyone wants to provide strategic services to do with the cloud.”

“There’s a lot of people offering very mediocre ideas, concepts and services.”

The key takeaway for businesses from Di Marco’s presentation was businesses need to be careful about their choices of cloud services providers.

Di Marco’s other point is that cloud services work best when there aren’t intermediaries such as resellers and integrators involved that reduce efficiencies and add costs.

“The cloud is a platform for the future of business,” sums up Di Marco. “Businesses that move to the cloud have an enormous strategic advantage, they can move at a pace that normal business can’t. They can move fast and innovate quickly.”

Feb 172014
HP Chromebook

Today I wrote a review for Business Spectator on the HP Chromebook 11, describing it as a nice computer that fits the market space left by the demise of the netbook.

For the HP Chromebook 11, its failing lies in the cloud services it relies upon; if you don’t have a reliable internet connection, or you’re on a flight, then you lose access to many of your files.

This isn’t a problem for office use, most workplaces have reliable internet connections and don’t have to worry about interruptions however when you head out on the road, things change.

A particular bugbear is using the device while on a plane, in my case I discovered the files were listed in the offline docs folder but were ‘unavailable’ on trying to open them.

This is irritating early in a three hour flight when you’re trying to get some work done.

At least with flights Google has done a deal with Gogo internet for inflight access which indicates the company has identified this as a problem, although the arrangement does nothing to help air travellers outside the US.

For the moment, cloud based services are great if you have reliable broadband internet access but for travellers things will continue to be problematic.

Feb 102014

Being able to make sense of data is one of the challenges of modern business.

In the case of data visualization service Encompass, the business was founded after its founders were caught out by not knowing all the information behind business deal.

The latest Decoding The New Economy video is an interview with Roger Carson and Wayne Johnson, the co-founders of Encompass, a cloud based data visualisation company.

Encompass takes corporate information such as credit information and business registration details and renders it into a form that’s easy to read for salespeople, bankers or anyone doing due diligence on an organisation or individual.

“A lot of it is about bringing the information together and making it usuable and simple to use,” says Wayne. “If you can’t get that information easily and it takes relationships with lawyers to put it all together or your own legal advisor takes a long time to get this together, it’s costly and you may miss things.

Wayne and Roger’s path to starting Encompass came from being caught out in a property deal where it turned out some of the business partners wouldn’t have passed close examination.

“The property venture we went into was not a success,” Roger explains. “If we had known about the people and the properties and the companies involved on the other side of that transaction we probably would not have got involved in it.

“The genesis of this product really came about because we were involved in a transaction where we didn’t have the full picture, we couldn’t get the full information quickly and we therefore realised there had to be a better way for people to look at commercial transactions and get the full picture.”

It’s often said that information is power, but the real power lies in being able to understand the data we’re being flooded with. Encompass are a good example of the new breed of business that’s helping others deal with the masses of information we’re all being inundated with.