Jun 042015
 
http_website_links

Five years ago I did a presentation describing how a website was essential for every business’ online strategy.

The Business Cornerstone was delivered at the time where many advisers proclaiming Google Places and Facebook as adequate for building an internet presence.

Over time, the importance of having your own domain and website has been proved as different platforms have messed users around with changing terms, arbitrary rulings and often simply closing down services.

The importance of doing things your own way was underlined yesterday with the announcement by Medium, and Twitter, founder Ev Williams that the company is restructuring and shouldn’t be considered a publishing platform.

For those who’ve published pieces on Medium that the service is not a publishing platform would have come as a surprise given the company has spent the last 18 months encouraging people to contribute to their site.

That Medium is pivoting into something else – a Facebook, an Instagram or a Google Plus – shouldn’t be surprising but once again it illustrates the interests of this services are not necessarily the same as yours and when they conflict it’s your interests that will come off second best.

While platforms like Medium, Facebook and LinkedIn are useful for distributing your message, the best long term online presence you can have is your own website. It’s a lesson those who rely on free third party services keep having to learn.

May 162015
 
ge-jet-engine

One thing that’s becoming clear in researching and writing on the Internet of Things is how three distinct strands of the concept exist due to the different needs of industry and the marketplace.

This is articulated best by Bill Ruh, the Vice President of GEs Global Software Center, who in an interview this week – which I’ll post later – suggested the IoT is best divided into the industrial internet, the enterprise internet and the consumer internet.

At the base level the consumer internet includes the bulk of startups and the devices that get most of the publicity; the Apple Watches, Nest thermostats and smart door locks.

Largely operating on a ‘best effort’ basis, consumer IoT vendors don’t guarantee service and security is often an afterthought. This is going to present a few challenges for both consumers and retailers as the inevitable problems arise.

Catering for the enterprise

The IT industry vendors are at the next level, the Enterprise internet, where companies like Microsoft, Cisco and VMWear are adapting their businesses to the cloud and Internet of Things.

At this level, which Cisco calls the Internet of Everything, the security and reliability challenges are understood and the practices of the IT and communications industry lend themselves to the widespread transmission of data from smart devices.

Similarly most of the telcos with their machine to machine (M2M) technologies fall into the enterprise internet camp.

Driving the industrial internet

While the enterprise vendors are providing robust systems, the IT industry levels of service don’t quite meet the needs of mission – and often life – critical applications found in jet engines, precision manufacturing and most industrial processes.

Providing that level of security, precision, reliability and low latency is where the industrial internet is applied. This is where the companies such as GE and the other big engineering companies come in.

At the industrial internet level it’s far harder for startups to disrupt the existing players as it requires both specialist knowledge of their industry sectors and deep pockets to provide the necessary capital for product development.

However the existing industrial conglomerates don’t have all the skills in house and that’s an opportunity for smaller companies and startups to enter the industry.

The long product times are another aspect of the industrial internet, as Rue points out, GE are still supporting equipment that is over eighty years old. While that equipment will probably never be connected to the internet, the machines being designed today will be expected to have similar lifespans.

While the three different IoTs have their own characteristics, and in many instances overlap, all three are opportunities for savvy developers and entrepreneurs.

The difficulty some businesses, both as vendors and customers, will face with the IoT is applying the wrong technology set to their problems and industry.

Apr 252015
 
wellington-new-zealand-city-view

It bills itself as ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ however something is going on in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, as its technology sector takes off.

Last week I was in Wellington, partly to attend the Open Source, Open Society conference and also to have a look at how the city is doing so well as one of the leading startup cities.

While I’ll have a number of posts about the city, startup scene and conference over the next couple of weeks, it’s worthwhile noting some basic impressions that came from the visit.

The size of the city, Wellington is a small town with a population of 200,000, brings both advantages and negatives for the business and startup communities.

Small is sweet

One of the advantages of being so small is the business community is relatively accessible, a number of entrepreneurs told me how easy it is for them to find the specialists they need given there’s usually two degrees or less separation between everyone.

Normally having a small business community means it gets insular, particularly in a capital city where the business of government can create a bubble effect. What’s notable about Wellington is most of the businesses are looking outward towards the US, Australia and East Asia.

The city’s intimate business environment also improves trust within the community as one Aussie expat told me, “if you rip off anyone in this town pretty well everyone knows about it by the end of the weekend. It keeps everyone honest.”

Being small, the city makes it easy to walk around which compounds the business networking opportunities. A businesswoman, who is also a lifelong Wellingtonian, observed how she allows an extra 15 minutes to walk anywhere as she finds herself stopping for conversations.

Three dominant businesses

Having three successful businesses in the city – TradeMe, Xero and Weta – has both its upsides and disadvantages with the bigger players tending to dominate the employment market and funding opportunities.

Of the three businesses, TradeMe is the most domestically focused while Xero is growing in the tech sector and Weta is the most diverse with its range of special effects and movie production services.

With Weta, the business is exposed to the vagaries of the global film industry as Statistic New Zealand survey of movie production shows.

The film industry is one of Wellington’s important employers with the sector supporting around two thousand businesses in the city, although I didn’t get time to explore how much of an overlap there is between the tech and film industries.

TradeMe is largely a domestic focused business that provides a steady work and skills base for the local workforce. While it’s the least internationally exposed business of the three, it’s probably also the most consistent.

Xero, like Weta, is a globally expanding business and its success is attracting investors and expats from North America and Australia. While its the smallest of the three it’s probably the business that has done the most raise Wellington’s profile in the tech industry.

Community spaces

What’s particularly notable are the number of coworking spaces in Wellington ranging from the straightforward Bizdojo startup space and Creative HQ through to the quirky Enspiral coworking space.

The availability of shared spaces makes the city attractive to startups and adds to the vibrancy of the local tech community which links into hipster pursuits such as craft beer.

Communities like Enspiral also add another dimension to the local startup and creative industries environment by connecting entrepreneurs with their peers and service providers.

Partnerships with government

One aspect I didn’t get to explore while in Wellington was the relationship between the city’s business community and educational institutions, particularly Victoria University.

Similarly I didn’t get the opportunity to discover how much of a role local and national governments have had in the development of Wellington’s tech scene. It seems to be relatively hands off although some government agencies have supported Weta with co-investment funds.

What I did meet though were plenty of immigrants; from Croatia, Denmark, Holland, the US and, most of all, Australia.

Talking to some of the US and Australian expats it was clear that lifestyle combined with opportunity with lifestyle, as one Aussie emigre told me “I couldn’t get the water views, access to the city and be able to walk to work back home like I can here.”

While these are superficial thoughts that I’ll expand on over the next week as I decipher notes and listen to interviews, there’s no doubt that Wellington is carving a position as one of the global centres of the new economy. How big it becomes will depend on how many other businesses grow to the size of Xero or Weta.

Apr 222015
 
facebook-for-the-phone

Over the last few weeks much has been written about Google’s mobile search update that went live on Wednesday, some said it would be the death of small business on the internet while others claimed it would be the end of corporates online.

While all the focus has been on Google’s search changes Facebook quietly made a change that will probably be more vexing for many businesses.

Both Facebook and Google are struggling with making their services more useful for users, with the Google changes the intention is to make search on mobile devices more useful in giving preference to websites that work on smaller screens.

In a post on Google’s webmaster blog, Developer Programs Tech Lead Maile Ohye answered the basic questions about the search engine changes which dispelled much of the hysteria and myths about the update. The main point of Ohye’s post is that Google want to show users useful information.

Facebook have a similar problem, they have to balance the often competing interests of their users and advertisers with the main aim being keeping visitors on their site for as long as possible.

The objective of keeping users engaged is the reason for a series of tweaks Facebook announced this week that change the newsfeed visitors see.

The goal of News Feed is to show you the content that matters to you. This means we need to give you the right mix of updates from friends and public figures, publishers, businesses and community organizations you are connected to. This balance is different for everyone depending on what people are most interested in learning about every day. As more people and pages are sharing more content, we need to keep improving News Feed to get this balance right.

Facebook are putting their users priorities first in making sure the news feed is interesting and relevant, which the company believes will entice visitors to spend longer on the site and make advertising more attractive.

If it works then it’s a win for Facebook, their users and those who pay to advertise on the site. Again though, the losers are the companies and brands not advertising who thought they could get views by the quality of their content.

Unless the content is very good, those companies not paying Facebook are in for more disappointment as their reach collapses even further than its current pathetic rates.

Google’s change too is something that puts users first; rather than dumping mobile web surfers onto an unreadable page, they are making sure people get to sites that are useful.

In many ways Google is only encouraging what has been best practice for at least five years, that every site should work equally well on mobile devices as they do on desktop computers.

What Facebook and Google are showing us is the value of putting users’ needs first. If your guests are happy then your business model has a much better chance of succeeding, regardless of who the eventual customer is.

Making business more user friendly should be a priority for all companies in a competitive world.

Apr 212015
 
lenovo-tower-server-thinkserver-td350-front-1

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 202015
 
Local village

One of the tech buzzwords, or acronyms, a few years back was SoLoMo – Social Local Mobile. In reviewing the slides for the Future Proofing Your Business presentation next week, the term came up in one of the notes.

It’s interesting look at the fates of the three different concepts over the past few years; mobile has boomed and redefined computing and social has become big business with Facebook growing into a hundred billion dollar company.

Local though has struggled with Google, Facebook and a host of smaller and newer startups struggling while the Yellow Pages franchise dies. Despite the power of maps and geolocation, local just isn’t doing as well as the other two.

This could be down to the difficulty in harvesting the massive amounts of disparate data available to any service trying to draw an accurate picture of what’s in the neighbourhood.

Google Places tried to standardise that information for local businesses but the complexity of the service and its opaque, arbitrary rules meant adoption has been slow and merchants are reluctant to update details in case they fall foul of the rules.

Local services’ failure to take off has also had a consequence for the media as its in hyperlocal services that publishers have possibly their best opportunity to rebuild their fortunes.

That failure to properly harness mobile has also hurt merchants as many local operations are struggling to find useful places to advertise given Google Adwords and Facebook can be extremely expensive places to advertise.

So the mobile space is still ripe for a smart entrepreneur – a new Google or Facebook – to dominate.

Feb 152015
 
Networks and computers connecting to the web

Tech journalist Kara Swisher has a twenty-five minute interview with President Obama on his relationship with the technology industry and Silicon Valley, it’s an interesting snapshot on how the United States sees its role as custodian of the internet.

In talking about European agencies’ efforts to reign in the power of companies like Google the President is dismissive; “we have owned the Internet. Our companies have created it, expanded it, perfected it, in ways they can’t compete. And oftentimes what is portrayed as high-minded positions on issues sometimes is designed to carve out their commercial interests.”

Obama is absolutely correct to say the Internet currently belongs to the United States, it was the US that developed the technologies and built the initial infrastructure for the global network in a similar way it did for the GPS system.

The internet probably won’t remain the US’s sole domain as China, Indian, Russia and other powers find control of the global communication network resting with the US isn’t in their interests and develop work arounds or rival technologies.

Just as Spain and then the English once dominated the world’s shipping and communications, it may well be the US’s dominance of the Internet is not permanent.