May 022015
 
computer_lathe

Yesterday we looked at the PwC report on the value of science and engineering education to the economy.

The survey wasn’t good news for the workforce with the survey predicting over two in five workers’ jobs were at risk as digital technologies changed industry.

Notable in the list were the industries PwC believed to be safe over the next twenty years; largely being the medical, health and ‘people’ businesses like public relations.

jobs-least-at-risk-from-tech-change

While the industries themselves might be safe, specific jobs in those sectors may not be so with roles ranging from hospital porters being replaced by robots to surgeons carrying out remote operations.

Looking at the list of relatively unaffected industries, it’s hard not to see how digital technologies aren’t going to disrupt those occupations.

Redefining public relations

PR for instance is undergoing a radical change as the media industry is being totally disrupted requiring today’s public relations professionals to have a very different set of skills to those of twenty years ago.

Those skills include a much more adept use of technology itself and having to deal with a faster, more fragmented industry.

Public relations professionals brought up in the days of boozy lunches and far off deadlines struggle in a time of bloggers, social media and data journalism.

Evolving medicine

Similarly medical practitioners, the top position on the list, have seen their jobs dramatically transformed over the past twenty years by computers and those changes are far from over as medical equipment gets smarter, personal fitness devices become pervasive and the amount of data being collected on patients grows.

Across the medical industry the roles of almost every occupation is being redefined as technology changes the tools they have, along with the nature of ailments their patients present with.

Big Data and analytics

Some professions will grow but automation in those fields will grow exponentially faster, a good example being the fifth role on the list – database administrators and ICT security professionals.

Ensuring the reliability and security of servers and networks is going to become even more essential as the economy increasingly depends upon these systems however security and IT professionals are going to rely on algorithms and Big Data to manage the massive task they have – these are the opportunities for companies like Splunk and Microsoft Dynamics.

In all of these comparatively safe industries the jobs of tomorrow are going to need different skill sets to what they require today.

For workers in these ‘safe industries’ this means further education, training and reskilling to stay employed. Just being employed in a sector that’s expected to stay static or grow isn’t enough to keep your job.

Employers in these ‘safe industries’ also face a challenge in making sure their staff have the right skill sets to use the new technologies.

The airline analogy

If you were running an airline in 1965 it would be cold comfort to look at the explosive growth ahead for the industry in the jet airline era when all your staff are trained to keep propellor aircraft in the air.

So when we talk about digital disruption, it’s not just about industries being shut down and jobs being lost but about radically changing occupations.

It would be a brave person to assume that just because their industry is safe, their own job or business is secure.

Apr 232015
 
Salesforce-no-software-cloud-services

In Technology Spectator today I have a piece on cloud services and how the promise of high reliability threatens the IT manager and Chief Information Officer.

This shift is the same change that’s affected the IT support industry, as technology becomes more standardised and a commodity the need for specialist support and management becomes unnecessary.

In many respects this is similar to a hundred years ago where most factories had their own power plants providing electricity, steam or bel power to drive the machinery.

As mains power became common and reliable, businesses no longer needed specialist staff to ensure the power flowed.

While much of today’s commentary focuses on the CIO role evolving, it may well be the position is redundant.

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 162015
 
not listening to your market or industry is a big management risk

Does being an ethical business pay off? Transparency International found in 2014 that New Zealand come in only second to Denmark in being the least perceived corrupt country in the world, while Australia comes in as tenth out of 174 countries.

Suzanne Snively, chair of the New Zealand branch of Transparency International, believes this is an opportunity for both countries and their businesses as emerging nations deal with reforming their institutions and management cultures as she told me today at the Open Source, Open Society conference in Wellington.

“Companies do better when they are not corrupt,” Snidely states. “Energy can be used in much more productive way when you don’t have the overhead of corruption.”

Having a relatively clean society and ethical business cultures should be a massive advantage. It’s best not to squander it.

 

Feb 272015
 
detail_355_FESWatch_SkinChange03-2

Exactly what benefits does the Internet of Things offer businesses? A survey of Australian businesses by Microsoft claims there are benefits but few companies have deployed the IoT in their operations as managers struggle to understand the technologies.

In the survey “Cut through: How the Internet of Things is sharpening Australia’s competitive edge” carried out by research company Telsyte, Microsoft found two thirds of businesses that  deployed IoT technologies have achieved an average cost saving of 28 percent while half the businesses have improved efficiencies of around the same amount.

A poor take up rate

The devil however is in the details and most notable only a quarter of the 306 companies surveyed admitting to using IoT applications.

While the sample size is small, and the Australian business community has been relatively slow in adopting the IoT, the survey indicates managers see the value but are struggling to see how they can adopt the technologies in their organisations.

Although fewer than one in 20 organisations said they could not foresee any business benefit from IoT, an alarmingly high 48 per cent still have no plans to implement the technology.

This reluctance comes largely from a lack of resources and expertise with the top five reasons for not adopting the IoT being technology challenges, affordability, security concerns, lack of skills and no management support.

Lack of management support

Management’s lack of understanding and support for IoT solutions presents a risk for businesses as the next generation of industrial machinery  – from cars to tractors – will have some connectivity built into it. A failure to understand the technologies built into equipment opens a range of operational and security risks for an organisation.

Another aspect about the implementation of the IoT that comes from this survey is exactly what are we talking about? Microsoft’s emphasis in this report was clearly on the Big Data analytics, something else that might confuse the discussion with management.

What’s clear from the Microsoft’s survey is companies do realise there are benefits from the IoT but managements are struggling to understand the technologies and how to implement them into their operations. This is an opportunity for the savvy integrator or reseller.

Feb 192015
 
the taxi industry is being disrupted by mobile apps

Taxis have gotten their ass kicked” says Hansu Kim, owner of San Francisco’s oldest taxi company.

Kim’s company, DeSoto, is changing the name it has held since the 1930s to Flywheel in an agreement with the taxi hailing app of the same name. The San Francisco Chronical describes how DeSoto and the city’s other taxi companies are finding times tough now Uber and other services have moved into what was a safe, regulated business.

DeSoto’s move is a sign of the times as older business models evolve; moving to an app based hailing service improves the experience for everybody in the cab industry and radically changes the economics of getting a ride across town.

The main reason for Uber’s success is being able to identify both drivers and passengers which improved confidence in the system. In turn, this changes riders expectations and taxi’s fare structures.

For companies competing with Flywheel the question will be do they participate in this service or do they create their own app. For the industry in general it makes sense to share the infrastructure but for uses it may well be in their interest to have competing apps with different levels of service.

As the levels of car ownership continue to fall, how taxi hailing and car hire apps evolve will drive the development of our cities through this century. DeSoto and Flywheel’s experiment is the start of many as older businesses adapt to a changing economy.

Feb 062015
 
bank_facade

The world’s trust in business, government and innovation is falling reports global PR giant Edelman in its 2015 Trust Barometer.

Surveying 27,000 participants around the world, Edelman follows up with questions to what they call ‘informed publics'; 6,000 college-educated followers of business and news media with a household income in their country’s and age group’s top 25%.

Across the board trust in institutions have fallen with nearly 60% of countries falling into the ‘distruster’ category and the news isn’t good for businesses and governments.

That decline in trust is a striking result given the ‘informed publics’ cohort are their country’s middle class and it shows the stresses being felt in affluent groups.

“There has been a startling decrease in trust across all institutions driven by the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014,” the company’s release quotes CEO Richard Edelman“The spread of Ebola in West Africa; the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, plus two subsequent air disasters; the arrests of top Chinese Government officials; the foreign exchange rate rigging by six global banks; and numerous data breaches, most recently at Sony Pictures by a sovereign nation, have shaken confidence.”

Whether the events of 2014 are responsible for the erosion in trust as Edelman claims is up for debate, the decline of trust in innovation indicates the general atmosphere of mistrust is a much bigger issue.

Trusting innovation

Particularly notable is the Australian result where over half the respondents believe innovation is happening too quickly and that it is being driven by greed. Only some, a piddling 14 percent, see innovation as making the world a better place.

Those results are a concern for a country looking at dealing with a high cost economy. At this stage of Australia’s development it’s necessary for industry and society to be implementing new ways of doing business, not looking back to the past.

One shift that marks a change in society is that online search engines are now more trusted than the media outlets that provide the news, that  the population trusts algorithms more than journalists is something that should concentrate the minds of newspaper and magazine proprietors.

Regaining trust

Towards the end of the survey Edelman suggests ways businesses and governments can regain the trust of their communities through ethical business behaviour, taking responsibility to address issues, along with having transparent and open business practices

Other opportunities for building trust include listening to customer needs and feedback, treating employees well, placing customers ahead of profit and communicating frequently on the state of the business.

Clearly building trust is the task of all staff but it starts with an organisation’s leaders to ensure ethics and openness are rewarded. In that light it’s not surprising that trust is declining given the way unethical financiers and opaque politicians have been the main beneficiaries of the post crisis economy.

While a time of declining trust means our institutions are under great stress, it also means there are great opportunities as well for smart businesses and leaders. The challenge is to show the ethics and openness that the public is calling for.