Oct 292014
 
Microsoft_Office_2010_launch

One of the great market battles of the PC era was the fight between the ‘best of breed’ software designed to do specific jobs well — Lotus 123, WordPerfect, and Harvard Graphics — versus the bundled ‘suites’ led by Microsoft Office.

Bundled suites of programs offered a common platform and cheaper price over buying products individually.

In the case of Microsoft Office, it also helped that the software giant was aggressive in undercutting the market and leveraging the deals it had made with hardware vendors and system integrators.

The winner of that battle was Microsoft as it turned out customers preferred the cheaper price points of the bundled packages and the common software platform made it easier to share data across the applications.

In the cloud computing field that fight is happening again as Zach Nelson, CEO of Netsuite, describes; “I think the next battle is going to be the same battle that happened in the client-server world. Is it the best of breed cloud apps or is it the suite?”

Nelson believes the suite vision will win out, “the suite is going to win again for exactly the same reasons why the suite won in the client-server world — it’s very hard to synchronise data between applications.”

Given Netsuite’s business, as its name suggests, is in providing a suite of software it’s no surprising that Nelson believes their way of doing business will prevail. Those providing ‘best of breed’ stand alone cloud applications naturally disagree.

Chris Ridd, Australian General Manager of accounting service Xero, disagrees with Nelson’s view. “With cloud and open APIs you have the holy grail of interoperability,” Ridd says. “In the 1990s the open systems were too early and didn’t work as well as they do today.”

Ridd also points out that Xero has over 350 add on services, ” I don’t think any suite can deliver that” he says.

History is on Nelson’s side but it may be that in this case history doesn’t repeat as the technology has moved along and now stand alone apps are what the market wants.

Time will tell although its unlikely whichever prevails will have anything like the success and market domination of Microsoft Office during the PC era.

Oct 142014
 
Salesforce-no-software-cloud-services

Last week we looked at the way we organise information is changing in the face of exploding data volumes.

One of the consequences of the data explosion is that structured databases are beginning to struggle as information sources and business needs are becoming more diverse.

Yesterday, cloud Customer Relationship Management company Salesforce announced their Wave analytics product which the company says “with its schema-free architecture, data no longer has to be pre-sorted or organized in some narrowly defined manner before it can be analyzed.”

The end of the database era

Salesforce’s move is interesting for a company whose success has been based upon structured databases to run its CRM and other services.

What the company’s move could be interpreted that the age of the database is over; that organising data is a fool’s errand as it becomes harder to sort and categorise the information pouring into businesses.

This was the theme at the previous week’s Splunk conference in Las Vegas where the company’s CTO, Todd Papaioannou, told Decoding The New Economy how the world is moving away from structured databases.

“We’re going through a sea change in the analytics space,” Papaioannou said. “What characterised the last thirty years was what I call the ‘schema write’ era; big databases that have a schema where you have to load the data into that schema then transform before you can ask questions of it.”

Breaking the structure

The key with programs like Salesforce and other database driven products like SAP and Oracle is that both the data structures — the schema — and the questions are largely pre-configured. With the unstructured model it’s Google-like queries on the stored data that matters.

For companies like Salesforce this means a fundamental change to their underlying product and possibly their business models as well.

It may well be that Salesforce, a company that defined itself by the ‘No Software’ slogan is now being challenged by the No Database era.

Paul travelled to San Francisco and Las Vegas as a guest of Salesforce and Splunk respectively

Sep 152014
 
paypal-innovation-tour-046

The future of retail is being fought out on three fronts believes eBay’s Michael Camplin  — global, local, mobile and data.

At eBay’s Commerce Innovation Showcase at its San Jose head office Champlin shows visiting partners, media and government officials part of the payments giant’s vision for that future.

“It’s about connecting buyers and sellers across the globe,” says Champlin. “Local is important for us because even with the growth of the online ecommerce revolution that we’re in the middle of right now we still see 75% of commerce happens within fifty miles of the customer and 90% of that happens in bricks-and-mortar stores.”

“So to be able to connect buyers and sellers in those local stores is a major push we have at eBay.”

paypal-innovation-tour-003

The first presentation in the tour demonstrates a day in the life of an eBay customer from the bedroom of a fictional customer, Reese McLaren, a funky young guy shopping for new equipment ahead of a camping trip. Champlin illustrates how Reese can order, pay and collect through a store’s integrated online service from his home.

On the other side of the transactions, store employees use the PayPal apps like Red Lazer and Braintree to complete the order. A key part of that is using beacon technologies to log a customer into the store to alert staff that a customer has arrived to collect an order.

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At the next stage of the tour, we visit some demonstration stores; first we start with the Burger Bistro where eBay’s Eric Armstrong shows how restaurant’s point of sale system is integrated with PayPal services, showing waitstaff who is logged in through the company’s app.

Integrating PayPal’s services into the establishment’s point of sale system means customers can order through the PayPal Wallet service and waitstaff know if a customer has paid through the app.

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The app also speeds up settling customers’ bills as diners can pay the check through their phone and not bother with using cash or swiping credit cards.

One key point with PayPal Wallet is that users can enter any payment form that suits them and choose whichever option suits them at the time including direct bank transfers and credit cards.

paypal-innovation-tour-006

Another area that PayPal are pushing out are coupon offers. At present the company is subsidising them as they test how the services work. The objective is to offer a digital equivalent of everything people currently have in their wallets.

For staff, eBay are offering the ability to bring your own device for point of sale systems with cloud base apps turning staffs’ tablets and smartphones into POS terminals.

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Tying into the Point of Sale capability is the PayPal Now service that allows establishments to swipe credit cards directly into the app through a dongle that reads the chip or stripe. Despite the rise of online payment services, swiping credit cards is still the main way US customers pay their bills.

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Despite the continued popularity of credit cards, eBay are hoping to move customers over to the online services through ease of service; the one stop authentication service means customers are logged into the payment platform as soon as they check into a location.

One area PayPal sees great opportunity in stadiums and major events where attendees automatically check in and can then access food and souvenir stands without having to re-authenticate or authorise each purchase they make.

paypal-innovation-tour-039

A key part of eBay’s retail strategy is the use of beacons to monitor customers entering establishments. The one illustrated is the PayPal beacon that was a limited release earlier this year. The device doesn’t have its own battery, instead relying on a USB socket for power.

Two weeks after this tour Apple launched its Pay service with its range of integrated APIs to offer many of things shown in this showcase. eBay and its Braintree subsidiary was conspicuously missing from the listed partners.

For PayPal and eBay the field has suddenly become more competitive, this is a sector that is now at the forefront of the battle between today’s internet empires.

Sep 102014
 
apple-play

As expected, Apple announced their new range of iPhones and a smart watch today with many digital trees being felled as the tech media falls over to describe all the shiny features of the new devices.

Buried in Apple’s announcements though are the company’s real long game in payments and the Internet of Things.

For the IoT, the various ‘kits’ Apple have announced in the last year — HomeKit, HealthKit and now CloudKit — are the serious plays in this space as they bundle together programs, devices and data streams across health and smarthome applications.

CloudKit moves Apple onto another level as it makes it easier for developers to build back end applications that tie into smart devices; even if someone isn’t using Apple equipment they still may find themselves firmly in the walled garden of Cuptertino.

The long awaiting release of Apple Pay leverages iTunes’ strength as a payment platform, bundling a secure chip into the new iPhone adds to the company’s pitch of being a trusted partner to merchants and payments processors.

What today’s announcements of new hardware, software and APIs indicate is Apple’s shoring up the perimeters of its walled garden.

For it’s competitors, this raises the ante; Google Wallet has nothing like the market penetration or customer acceptance that iTunes has and earlier this week Amazon effectively admitted the Fire smartphone has been a failure by slashing prices. Facebook has made promising noises about payments but still remains locked in an advertising driven business model.

While there’s no doubt the new iPhone will be a success, although the jury is out on the smart watch, Apple’s real game is in controlling a large part of the payments industry and the internet of things. Today’s announcements are a key step in that strategy.

Sep 042014
 
walking the shop floor is important to business management

This post is third in a series of four sponsored stories brought to you by Nuffnang.

One of the challenges for a growing business is the cost of equipping new workers, cloud computing is making this easier and making companies more flexible.

Not so long ago, the cost of setting up a new staff member with a computer, software and all the other oncosts was prohibitive. In industries like architecture, design or Engineering it was quite possible to spend $30,000 on a fully equipped workstation.

For most businesses it was quite typical to send $3,000 on a PC fitted out with Microsoft Office, line of business software and associated IT setup costs.

Often the employee costs were even higher as they spent days sitting around waiting for the IT people to get around to setting up an account or a new license to arrive for the critical business software tools.

For businesses with varying workflows — particularly those in project based industries like designers and architects — these costs were a major hassle if you were only taking on a contractor or temporary worker for a few weeks. It either meant wasting capital on expensive equipment that was unused most of the time or paying outrageous rental fees.

With the arrival of cloud computing all of this changed and the relatively cheap cost of setting up new workers is now one of the reasons why it’s so easy to start a business.

Another benefit of cloud computing is it allows staff to work from home and on the road. Not so long ago, remote working was a complex and expensive thing to set up, now the cloud services don’t care where you’re connected.

The modern cloud computing model is coming up to being a decade old and smart businesses are using its benefits to their advantage, those who haven’t explored the benefits are being left behind.

Sep 022014
 
apple-ceo-tim-cook-celebrates-steve-jobs

This week’s news about celebrities’ personal photos being stolen from their iCloud accounts would be irritating Apple ahead of their September 9 media event.

Unfortunately for Apple they seemed to have walked into this by making things convenient for users rather than enforcing strong security measures.

As Arik Hesseldahl in Re/Code describes, this breach was probably due to Apple not encouraging two factor authentication and not limiting the number of password guesses.

The latter is particularly irritating as it shouldn’t be hard for a system to pick when a brute force attack — a computer guessing a password millions of times a second — is being staged against a user.

It’s also trivial to limit the number of guesses as most other services do.

For users, the best protection is to have complex passwords which reduces the effectiveness of brute force attacks. It’s also worthwhile being careful with your personal nudie photos.

The consequences of having your iCloud account compromised are more than just losing your embarrassing photos, Wired’s Mat Honan had his entire digital life hijacked through this method two years ago.

With Apple aspiring to control the smarthome and smartcar markets, the consequences of accounts being breached becomes exponentially greater. These are issues Apple and the rest of the internet of things industry need to take seriously.

Hopefully at Apple’s big media event next week, some brave journalist will stand out of the assembled masses of sycophant hacks and ask CEO Tim Cook some hard questions about security on the shiny new iDevices.

Aug 272014
 
data_centre_corridor

A decade ago VM Ware disrupted the corporate IT world with its virtualisation software that changed the way big organisations used their servers. Today the company is facing up to the challenge of dealing with its own business being disrupted.

In the late 1990s when a big business wanted a new server it had to get someone to physically install one, VM Ware’s founders came up with the idea of ‘virtualisation’ with their software creating a virtual server that looked to the network like it was a discrete, real computer.

Naturally this was quicker and cheaper than buying and setting up a whole new server and VM Ware was an immediate success that upended the ‘big iron’ end of the computer industry.

Today VM Ware is valued at $42 billion on the stock market and is one of the IT industry’s giants.

However the virtualisation market itself is being disrupted by cloud computing. For many businesses, it’s even cheaper to pay Amazon, Microsoft or another cloud service to provide the servers for you.

So VM Ware is reinventing itself with a range of services to meet the challenge from the cloud providers. One of it’s key strategies is to provide a ‘hybrid’ cloud where customers run some IT services on their own servers and others on the cloud, the idea is this offers the best of both worlds.

This is almost the same challenge that Microsoft faces as both companies see their core business models being threatened by internet based technologies, something that VM Ware CEO Pat Gelsinger concedes.

“We think of Microsoft having a strategy much like ours, given they have on premise and in the cloud,” says Gelsinger. “We sort of agree on the shape of the market. We would say that Amazon and Google see a different shape in the market.”

Amazon and Google’s view is a ‘pure cloud’ model where companies and consumers run all their IT on web based services. In that world, purists like Xero’s Rod Drury are openly disdainful of the hybrid model believing it to be cumbersome and adding complexity to a simple business solution.

For companies like VM Ware and Microsoft their future lies upon the hybrid model being adopted by business. This is a high stakes industry battle which will define the careers of many IT workers and the shape of the businesses they work for.

Paul travelled to the VM World conference in San Francisco as a guest of  VM Ware.