Nov 252015

Are we seeing a new digital divide develop between big and small businesses, particularly in areas like retail and hospitality?

This thought occurred to me during a radio spot earlier today where we were talking about Apple Pay’s Australian launch. Many small businesses don’t have the capital or expertise to implement many of these new technologies.

A number of factors contribute to this including the legacy systems installed in small businesses, the proprietors having a poor understanding of technology and, most importantly, the lack of either capital for reinvestment or cashflow to fund the monthly charges that are standard for cloud computing services.

The expensive cloud

One unstated factor with cloud computing services is how the cost of services add up. For example a Premium 10 Xero customer with Receiptbank attached is looking at a $100 a month in charges. It’s not hard to see how adding cloud based Point of Sale, rostering and customer service software could see a small business incurring $400 a month in fees, throw in Salesforce and you could be looking at a very expensive exercise.

No doubt for those companies that can afford these services this is money well spent but for many margin or low turnover businesses, the charges could be a deal breaker.

Spaghetti Junction

Another aspect to the cloud services is the myriad of different platforms that need to be stitched together in most businesses, one cloud service founder calls it “digital spaghetti.”

Managing this bowl of complexity isn’t easy and raises a number of business risks as different services apply varying policies and practices to the data they collect and store. A breach or service failure at one could cause a ripple effect through all business operations.

For many small business owners, particularly older proprietors, managing this complexity is intimidating if not downright scary.

It may well be there’s a number of opportunities for a canny service provider to offer an out of the box small business solution, but for many older small operators with limited capital and restricted cashflow affording such a product might also be difficult.

The risk though for those businesses is they will find themselves falling further behind as markets, consumer demands and the workforce’s expectations evolve. A business digital divide could be fatal for those caught on the wrong side of it.

Oct 272015

Opening the first official day of Oracle Open World, CEO Mark Hurd spoke with James Fowler, the Chief Information Officer of General Electric about the company’s digital transformation.

Fowler described how the company intends to be driving $15 billion in revenues from its digital operation in the face of stagnant industrial spending.

Earlier in the presentation Hurd had described the problem of stagnant spending facing all major industrial companies, whether they are enterprise software providers like Oracle or engineering organisations like GE, where companies are ‘sweating the assets’ ruthlessly.

For GE, making a compelling argument for companies to reinvest in new capital equipment is essential while Oracle is facing an industry wide decline in revenues and a structural shift to cloud technologies which Hurd described in stark tones.

Last year, he claims, the major tech companies saw a gross decline of $16.4 billion in revenues while cloud services only picked up by billion meaning the market shrank by fifteen billion dollars.

That decline would deeply worry a salesperson like Hurd given the declining market means smaller commissions and fewer sales so it’s unsurprising the company is pivoting as hard as it can into the cloud.

GE on the other hand is making a huge bet on the future of its market by proactively shifting onto digital and cloud services.

The challenge though for all these companies is making money from these new business models those who figure it out will be the industrial giants of the next century. There’s no guarantee any of today’s will be among them.

Oct 262015
business confidence is essential to the cloud

“The cardinal sin of the computing industry is the creation of complexity,” is quote attributed to Oracle founder Larry Ellison and often repeated at the company’s Open World forum which I’m attending at the moment in San Francisco.

For the computer industry that complexity has been a very profitable profitable business with everything from the local computer shop through to the big technology vendors and integrators.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of that complexity were the salespeople, big complex enterprise deals meant big commissions.

With the shift to cloud services and apps, those fat margins and commissions have evaporated, leaving the lucrative old models of business stranded. IBM are probably the greatest victim of this while Microsoft are, once again, showing the company’s ability to evolve in the face of a fundamental market change.

For the salespeople the days of fat commissions are over, with thinner margins it’s not possible to pay big lump sums for winning contracts.

The simplification of the computer industry is changing the fortunes of many IT businesses, but that change isn’t limited to the tech sector or their salespeople as those fundamental changes are rippling into other sectors.

A constant claim by Internet of Things evangelists is that the IoT will squeeze inefficiencies out of businesses and this is exactly what we’re seeing with cloud and mobile based services like Uber and AirBnB.

If you’re in a business that profits from market inefficiencies then it might be time to figure out how to survive in a low margin environment. The challenge facing companies like Oracle is one whole industries are now having to face.

Oct 142015
servers running business cloud computer applications

Last week at the AWS:Reinvent conference in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to interview the company’s Global Head of Enterprise Strategy, Stephen Orban about where he and Amazon see the direction of the cloud computing market and how business practices are being reinvented.

Among the things we discussed was Orban’s seven best practices for a company’s journey to the cloud, gleaned from his own experiences in his AWS role of advising clients on adopting and his previous experiences as a technology officer at Dow Jones and Bloomberg.

Orban laid out what he thinks are the keys to success in a company heading to the cloud in his own blog post and during our conversation he expanded on his ideas which also very much reflect the changing role of the CIO or IT manager.

Supporting the C-suite

The first point is the IT department has to understand the business and align technology with the organisation’s objectives.

“Somebody who understands technology who can merge technology with the business needs” will be better able to win the confidence of management says Orban.

Doing that is the key to winning support from the executive suite Orban believes. Once CIOs have that trust from senior management it gives their teams the space to experiment with new ways of delivering value to their companies.


“The second thing is to provide training and education,” Orban says. “People tend to get a bit anxious of what they don’t know, particularly when it affects their jobs.”

In Orban’s experience, having informed staff makes them more open to change within the business, “with the transformation I went through at Dow Jones, most of what we accomplished was because of the people who’d been there a long term. They had the institutional memory but they were very open minded.”

Foster a Culture of Experimentation

One of the great benefits of cloud computing is how it lowers the costs of experimentation and development, “gone are the days when it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, to try something.” Orban says.

Learning what works and fails is essential, he believes. But as long as there is executive support then a tolerance towards unsuccessful experiments will develop in the organisation.

Working with partners

Outside parties are essential to most organisation’s IT systems and Orban believes partner ecosystems have changed with the advent of cloud computing. “There’s a whole new breed of partners that have been going through this,” he says in citing ‘born in the cloud’ software developers and systems integrators who are changing how projects are being delivered.

Build a Center of Excellence

“Creating a center of excellence is, I think, one of the key practices any organisation should invest in. You want a body of people who can institutionalise best practice within an organisation,” observes Orban.

As cloud services take away the complexity of computer systems it becomes an opportunity for organizations to rethink boundaries between the IT department and business operations.

Move to the cloud

Given Orban’s employer it’s not surprising he sees cloud computing as key to a company’s transformation however he admits that few organisations will make the jump straight into cloud services.

“Hybrid will be a part of every enterprise’s journey. Any company who’s been doing IT for any period of time will have existing investments,” he says. “Our view is that we will make it as easy as possible to create that bridge.”

“We do believe in the long run that enterprises will find they become so much more effective over here (in the cloud) they will move in that direction.

A Cloud-First Policy

Once an organisation has its cloud strategy and experimentation culture in place then having a ‘cloud first’ policy, “it reverses the burden of proof away from ‘why would you use the cloud?’ to ‘why wouldn’t you?'”

While Orban is emphasising the Amazon Web Services view of the world where ultimately all business computing will be done on the cloud – preferably their cloud – his views illustrates the change facing businesses as they implement online technologies.

For most, the availability of easily accessible cloud computing services is an opportunity to rethink their business processes and how organisations can deliver the best products quickly to their customers.

Oct 112015
Personal computer Dell manufacturer

Two struggling tech giants are reportedly set to merge with persistent rumours that Dell is about make an offer for storage provider EMC.

Both companies have been hit by shifts in the computing industry with cloud computing undermining both businesses, Dell was also hit by the collapse of the Windows upgrade cycle which changed the buying patterns of computer purchasers.

A combined company offers some theoretical advantages in bringing together one of world’s biggest server companies with a storage business, however it’s difficult to see how the two businesses combined would slow the decline of the segments both are strong in.

Mergers can slow the decline of companies like EMC and Dell, but without innovating and finding new opportunities to exploit it’s unlikely they can recover lost ground.



Oct 092015

Yesterday I had my first piece in Diginomica about the threat Amazon Web Service’s new business analytics service creates for ‘old school’ companies such as Oracle and IBM as well as the up and coming firms such as Qlik and Tableau.

Diginomica’s Dennis Howlett followed that piece with one of his own flagging consulting services and systems integrators are under threat from AWS’s new partnership with consulting firm Accenture which also further puts the screws on IBM.

Today, AWS’s announcements of new Internet of Things services threatens a range of businesses creating data connectors and management software for connected devices.

Historically Amazon has been a fierce and brutal competitor and there’s little indication things will be different with the new web services.

Things could be about to get tough for a lot of sectors in the computer industry as Amazon expands its services and territory.

Sep 232015

“We’re early in the marathon but making good progress”, opened Godfrey Sullivan, the CEO of Splunk, as he opened the company’s annual conference in Las Vegas today.

Helping businesses understand their data has proved lucrative for Splunk with the analytics company seeing a 46% increase in year on year revenue to $148 million for the last quarter with the organisation narrowing its losses over the same period.

As with all tech conferences, the focus in the opening keynote is on new product announcements. For Splunk, the main release is its latest enterprise version of Splunk Enterprise 6.3 billed as delivering faster results, better analytics and tying into the masses of machine data being collected from the Internet of Things.

Machine data as a cornerstone

That IoT data is a key part of Sullivan’s strategy of “making machine data more accessible usable and valuable to everyone.” The company also highlights their alliances with IoT data consolidator services such as Xively and Octoblu.

Security is another focus of Splunk with the launch of  Splunk User Behavior Analytics (UBA) that analyses usage patterns on networks to identify risky or suspicious activity and a version upgrade of their their Enterprise Security.

The original business of Splunk was to monitor server log files and that IT focus remains with their new IT Service Intelligence (ITSI), an improved IT monitoring and analytics service.

Sullivan’s key message was that IT departments can be offering ‘operational intelligence’ as they gather and analyse data from all aspects of a business. “IT departments have to earn a seat at the table”, as Splunk’s CTO Snehal Antani says and providing rich data analytics, in his view, enable this.

Surprising a bank

Antani cited one of his previous clients, a bank which would ordinarily would deal with ten million dollars of deposits a day so an alarm had been set for when less than half of that had been received by midday.

One day that alarm sounded, and the IT department assumed there was a problem with the bank’s systems. After checking, they found everything was running normally so flagged deposits were unusually low to senior management.

It turned out to be a competitor had launched a successful campaign to open new accounts which had caught the bank by surprise. “The CMO acted as if he’d been hacked,” Antani recalls.

Antani’s anecdote illustrates how business data is no longer just the concern of the IT department and a small group of geeky business analysts, with real time information every part of an organisation can improve its performance.

For Splunk, using data to improve all aspects of business its key message to the market and one it hopes to drive its business forward although it’s highly unlikely they’ll achieve Antani’s hopes of “making IT sexy again.” That would take much more than a marathon.

Paul travelled to the Splunk.conf in Las Vegas as a guest of Splunk