Sep 182015

“Why does Microsoft exist?” Asked the company’s founder Satya Nadella at the Dreamforce 2015 conference.

Nadella has asked this question before and his answer at the San Francisco event was that Microsoft exists to empower people through technology, something that Bill Gates and Paul Allen envisaged in the mid 1970s when they founded new startup.

To show how he sees Microsoft’s position in the modern workplace, Nadella gave a not completely flawless demonstration of Microsoft’s integration with Salesforce.

The products Nadella pushed were Windows Phone and Windows 10, which he claims to be part of a major change in businesses with data transforming the way we work.

Interestingly, he framed the Windows 10 IoT strategy around endpoint security. While there are millions of vulnerable devices, it’s not clear shipping them with Microsoft’s firmware will resolve the problem.

“What’s the big technology shift? It’s how we use the data.” Nadella proclaimed in laying out how he sees a data culture transforming the places we work.

A Grand Pivot

Microsoft itself is dealing with a cultural transformation with the company shifting across to cloud based subscription services. “The thing that it’s done for us is it’s not a one-for-one move. It’s not like we’re just moving Exchange on premise to Exchange as a Service, it changes the value proposition for the customers.”

Nadella sees those cloud services as an opportunity to sell more products – and add more value – to customers, particularly small businesses.

The CEO’s role

A business’ success relies upon its culture and Nadella sees the role of the CEO as being about curating that culture, “I always ask what it is that defines us.”

Part of that culture is about becoming customer focused which involves thinking outside of one company’s products or silos, “how is our industry going to succeed? It’s going to succeed if we can add value our customers. Our customers are going to make choices that aren’t homogenous.”

Those varied choices are what’s driving Microsoft’s current push into alliances.  “If we are going to realise the power of technology, then these partnerships will amplify that,” says Nadella.

While there were nuggets of truth in Nadella’s presentation, there was also a lot of truisms and somewhat meaningless slogans. While Microsoft’s push onto the cloud and into alliances that were once considered unholy might be genuine, it’s hard not to think there’s still a lot of marketing speak wrapped around it.

Jul 302015

Last night Microsoft formally launched Windows 10, the company’s latest desktop operating system.

A decade ago a new Microsoft operating system would have had people queuing at computer shops all night but today, in a world of cloud computing, what software runs on a computer has become less important to users.

To entice users onto the new operating system, Microsoft are making the upgrade to Windows 10 free for the next year to those using the earlier versions 8 and 7 and many will have noticed the messages appearing on their computers over the past few weeks.

Windows 10 is a good system, Microsoft has learned from the user unfriendly missteps of Windows 8 and added features that make the system smoother and takes advantage of the desktop computers’ power.

Microsoft have also continued with their philosophy of providing a system that works on all sizes of devices from smartphones to large monitor PCs and Windows 10 adapts to the needs and use patterns of the different screens.

That Windows 10 works on smartphones is less of a pressing matter given Microsoft’s attempts to crack the mobile market have been unsuccessfully and Windows phones languish with a tiny market share.

For business users, the question is whether to take advantage of the upgrade. The short answer is maybe if use cloud based services in your company and wait if you have desktop applications that rely on Windows.

Should you have applications that run on desktops and servers in your office then it’s essential to wait and see if your software runs properly on Windows 10. You’ll need to talk to the program’s supplier and your IT support person. Generally the advice is to wait a few months to iron out any bugs.

If you’re using cloud services then the operating system running on your computer is largely irrelevant as long as you have a modern web browser. Microsoft’s new Edge web browser that’s built into Windows 10 so far appears to be a fast and capable piece of software that’s an improvement on the much maligned Internet Explorer that still lurks on the system for backwards compatibly reasons.

Upgrading though isn’t without its risks, sometimes things go wrong and even the best planned transition doesn’t always work out and generally most cautious IT advisors will take the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

One other potential trap is in hardware. It may be that some printers, cameras and other hardware doesn’t have the right drivers for the new system so while the software upgrade is free, you may end up having to stump up a few hundred dollars for new peripherals.

For businesses users, if things ain’t broke and the existing computers are working well then the upgrade to Windows 10 is adding unnecessary complexity to the office and it’s probably best to hold off the transition until new computers are needed.

Jul 162015

Earlier today chip maker Intel beat analysts’ estimates with an earnings report showing  the company’s income hadn’t fallen as much as expected in the previous quarter.

As Business Insider explained before the earnings call, Intel’s numbers aren’t look good ahead of the rollout of Windows 10.

In the past, a new version of Windows has been the time many customers upgraded their PCs with Intel and other computer component makers being the beneficiaries.

With this version of Windows Microsoft are giving it away free to users of Windows 7 and 8 which means the rush of upgrading customers is going to be subdued compared to previous occasions.

For Intel, the Internet of Things should be the big opportunity in the post PC world but smart devices require low powered chips rather than the more power hungry chips the company excelled in supplying for desktop computers.

At the moment Intel seems to be focusing on the data centre market that may well be a suitable market for power hungry CPUs but is still very much leaving the company isolated from the bulk of the industry which will increasingly demand ultra low powered chips.

For Intel, like Microsoft, the struggle for now is to keep relevant in a dramatically shifted marketplace.

Jul 102015
the launch of the eeePC netbook computer

After good relatively results last quarter, the numbers have turned ugly again for the personal computer industry with both IDC and Gartner estimating the sector’s sales have collapsed by 11% and 9.5% respectively.

Of the PC manufacturers Taiwan’s Acer is the hardest hit with Gartner forecasting a 20% drop and IDC a whopping one-quarter compared to last year.

Apple were the only bright spot with Gartner expecting the company to sell 16% more PCs than the previous year.

Lenovo remain the biggest global supplier of personal computers but the company suffered a six percent drop.

While it appears the end of Windows XP support gave the sector a reprieve last year, the end of the PC era is well and truly here. The key aim now for vendors is to find a way to shore up their margins as the market shrinks – it’s a bad time to be commodity player.

Jul 072015

British public broadcaster the BBC has released the final details of its BBC Micro Bit project, a micro computer initiative intended to help British kids learn to code.

The device, a small computer similar to the Arduino or Raspberry Pi systems, is designed to help children understand programing and digital technologies.

Around the world the push to include technology topics such as computer coding into education curriculums is gathering pace and advocates for these subjects point out the underlying aim is to help children develop the logical thinking that will be required by many jobs of the future.

For the UK, the BBC Micro Bit may help their children compete. For all countries, figuring out the right skills to be taught in schools is going to be key for how nations fare in during the Twenty-First Century.

Jun 262015
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

“What would be lost if we disappeared?” is the question Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claims is driving the company’s direction in his latest memo to employees.

In the email obtained by website Geekwire, Nadella told his staff redefining the company’s culture is key to success, “we can do magical things when we come together with a shared mission, clear strategy, and a culture that brings out the best in us individually and collectively.”

That culture though is not static and Nadella is describes how the company needs to focus on helping its customers through its cloud and Windows based products.

For Microsoft this is not new, the change from a desktop and server based licensing business to one dependent upon cloud subscription services has been a huge change for the business since the iPhone was released nearly a decade ago.

The challenge for Nadella however is to keep revenues coming in as the river of gold that was Microsoft’s Windows licenses slowly dries up.

One of the biggest changes to Microsoft’s culture could be in coming to terms that it isn’t such a huge and powerful corporation any more.

Jun 102015
now hiring happy workers

Last week in Sydney recruitment company Indeed sponsored a Future of Work summit to tease out some ideas about the what jobs will look like in the future.

While I wasn’t able to attend, being in Melbourne to deliver the Managing the Data Age presentation, I did manage to attend a lunch where Paul D’Arcy, the head of Indeed’s Hiring Lab, spoke about some of the trends we’re seeing in the workplace.

“One of the things we see is the change in the role of work over time,” says D’Arcy. “There was a period before the industrial revolution where work was where natural resources were. With the industrial revolution there was a shift to where the companies were organised.”

The interesting thing with that view is that the companies of the early industrial revolution gathered where the natural resources were easily accessed and finish products could be shipped as we saw when visiting England’s Ironbridge, one of the birthplaces of modern industry.

D’Arcy sees technology changing the idea that work goes to the companies, “where people with highly in demand skills congregate then that’s where jobs are created.”

The employment centres of the future will be the cities that attract those highly skilled workers, D’Arcy believes.

Spreading the developer love

One of the changes Indeed has seen in the workplace is how coding has now become a widespread skill with three quarters of all software developers around the world being employed by software companies. In the US it’s only 7% of coders are working for pure tech organisations.

Marketing is one field that has seen a dramatic shift says D’Arcy, “marketing has seen an enormous shift from what was predominately a creative industry to one driven by data.”

One of the constant questions confounding those of us writing and speaking about the future of business is ‘what will be the jobs of the future?’ While D’Arcy didn’t really have that answer one of the points is clear that programming and coding will be among the skills in demand over the near future.

In the longer term it’s still not clear exactly what jobs will be in demand in twenty or thirty years time, then again twenty years ago who would have guessed many of the technology jobs in demand today would have even existed.

While we’re still struggling with what roles will define the workplace it’s clear the location of the workplace is changing as well. The worker of the future will be a much more mobile creature than today and that has ramifications for the future.