Jul 302014
soldier pawns on a chess board

This week I’m in New York to attend the BlackBerry Security Summit, more of which I’ll write about later although this story for Technology Spectator covers much of the news from the day.

BlackBerry is struggling to find relevance after losing its way when Apple and Android smashed their business model of providing secure, reliable and email friendly phones.

Now in post Snowden world, BlackBerry under new CEO John Chen is looking to rebuild the company’s fortunes on its strengths in security.

One of the aspects Chen’s team is emphasising is the simplicity of their software. Dan Dodge, who heads BlackBerry’s QNX embedded devices division says their operating system has a 100,000 lines of code as opposed to hundreds of millions in Windows and Android.

That weakness in the established software packages is something illustrated in today’s story about a verification problem in Android due to reuse of old code from another older product.

Simplicity is strength is Dodge’s message and that idea could probably be applied to more than software.

In the complex times we live in, simplicity could be the key to success.

Jul 152014

After last week’s long memo from CEO Satya Nadilla, it was inevitable Microsoft would have to restructure around the company’s new direction.

Bloomberg now reports Microsoft will be laying off thousands of employees – possibly more than the 5,800 laid off in the recessionary depths of 2009.

With 127, 000 employees Microsoft could almost certainly do with a cull, to make the company as nimble as it needs to be may take more than 5,000 jobs.

Mar 182014
radio programs for techonology, web, social media, cloud computing and computer advice

Paul Wallbank joins Tony Delroy on ABC Nightlife across Australia to discuss how technology affects your business and life.

For the March 2014 spot we’ll be looking at the end of Windows XP, Australia’s Privacy Act, the web turning 25 and the call for an Internet Magna Carta.

If you missed the show, you can listen online at the Tony Delroy’s Nightlife homepage.

One of the show’s listeners, Linda, called in about asking for Apple Mac security software; two free products for OsX users are Sophos Home Edition and Avira Free. While Macs are less prone to malware than Windows systems, it’s still a good idea to be protected.

Another listener, Grant, described a problem with his computer which sounds like it’s infected with something. We recommend the free Malwarebytes as the first step to fixing the problem.

The end of Windows XP

After 13 years, Microsoft is retiring Windows XP; what does this mean for those of us still using it, or for our banks who still use it in their ATMs? Some of the questions we’ll cover include;

  • why is Microsoft pulling the pin on Windows XP now?
  • what happens on April 8 when Microsoft stops support?
  • are Windows XP users still protected from viruses?
  • what’s this story about bank ATMs running Windows XP?
  • the web turned 25 last week. Didn’t it turn twenty a year or so back?
  • inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, called for an Internet Magna Carta last week; what does he mean?
  • could such an idea work in today’s globalised world?
  • on similar topic, the new Privacy Act came into effect last week; what does this mean for the average person?

We’d love to hear your views so join the conversation with your on-air questions, ideas or comments; phone in on the night on 1300 800 222 within Australia or +61 2 8333 1000 from outside Australia.

Tune in on your local ABC radio station from 10pm Eastern Summer time or listen online at www.abc.net.au/nightlife.

You can SMS Nightlife’s talkback on 19922702, or through twitter to @paulwallbank using the #abcnightlife hashtag or visit the Nightlife Facebook page.

Mar 072014

“Tell me something I didn’t know about my customer;” is what Clint Oram demands of his software.

“If you think about legacy of Customer Relationship Management tools it’s really been about entering something I already knew about by customer so my manager can keep track of me.”

Oram sees that changing with Sugar CRM, the open source Customer Relationship Management software company he co-founded in 2004 at a time when the software industry was coming out of the post dot com bust depression.

“There was a huge backlash by customers to the enterprise software market,” Oram remembers. “There were a lot of hopes and promises made of all this fantastic software that would change the world. The reality was a lot of it didn’t do anything.”

Foundations for the cloud

In Oram’s view, that disillusionment formed the basis of today’s cloud based software businesses with the market’s demand that software be delivered as a service, reducing up front commitments to any one product, commercial open source that gave customers a stake in development and annual subscription licensing.

That last factor – a radical change to the traditional software model that saw small businesses buy boxed programs and larger enterprises negotiate complex agreements with expensive implementation projects – is the biggest change to the modern software industry.

Oram sees that as challenging those established giants like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft; “in the past it was ‘here’s my software, goodbye and good luck. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

“If you look at those names, the competitors we see on a day-to-day basis, several of them are very much challenged in making the shift from perpetual software licensing. It’s been a challenge that I don’t think all of them will work their way through, their business models are too entrenched.”

“Software companies really have to stay focused on continuous innovation to their customers.”

Freemium challenges

From his ten years in business, Oram learned the freemium model is a difficult way to run a business, “we learned that the freemium model is challenging and you gotta really focus on differentiation across your software editions and deliver clear value to each customer segment.”

While the Freemium business model remains a challenge, Oram sees mobile and the cloud as driving the CRM industry with the sector focusing on delivering more customer insights as software increasingly goes mobile and gets better at predicting behaviour.

“We’re taking these cloud, mobile based platforms that can be delivered anywhere and anytime,” says Clint “and now work on collecting that data about your customers and telling you what you should do next.”

“How do you help your customer to get the fullest value out of working with you.”

Delivering value to customers is a challenge not just for the software industry; in an era where business is far more competitive, it’s a question facing all industries.

Feb 232014
ford interior with Microsoft embedded

As Microsoft prepare for a major launch at this week’s Mobile World Congress, the news isn’t good for the company’s flagship Windows operating system.

Two Bloomberg reports illustrate the problems; the major story is the company is planning to drop licensing fees for Windows 8.1 while the other, still serious, news is that Ford will be dropping Windows as its in-car operating systems.

Automotive systems are one of the key markets for Microsoft as the company tries to move into markets beyond the stagnating personal computer sector and should the reports be true that Ford is looking at moving to the rival Blackberry owned QNX system then Windows Embedded has taken an embarrassing blow in a key market.

More serious though is Bloomberg’s report that Microsoft plans to cut its licensing fees for Windows installed on cheaper devices.

While not unexpected, this will damage the company’s earnings given the Windows division made up 22% of Microsoft’s earnings last year.

It’s clear that the free Android system is beginning to hurt Microsoft both in the smartphone and personal computer markets.

For Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella, dealing with Windows’ place in the new Microsoft is going to be one of his most pressing challenges and will almost certainly define his first year in the role.

As the Internet of Things and Machine to Machine markets grow, Microsoft is going to have quickly decide if the company wants to compete in the market.

Feb 102014

Being able to make sense of data is one of the challenges of modern business.

In the case of data visualization service Encompass, the business was founded after its founders were caught out by not knowing all the information behind business deal.

The latest Decoding The New Economy video is an interview with Roger Carson and Wayne Johnson, the co-founders of Encompass, a cloud based data visualisation company.

Encompass takes corporate information such as credit information and business registration details and renders it into a form that’s easy to read for salespeople, bankers or anyone doing due diligence on an organisation or individual.

“A lot of it is about bringing the information together and making it usuable and simple to use,” says Wayne. “If you can’t get that information easily and it takes relationships with lawyers to put it all together or your own legal advisor takes a long time to get this together, it’s costly and you may miss things.

Wayne and Roger’s path to starting Encompass came from being caught out in a property deal where it turned out some of the business partners wouldn’t have passed close examination.

“The property venture we went into was not a success,” Roger explains. “If we had known about the people and the properties and the companies involved on the other side of that transaction we probably would not have got involved in it.

“The genesis of this product really came about because we were involved in a transaction where we didn’t have the full picture, we couldn’t get the full information quickly and we therefore realised there had to be a better way for people to look at commercial transactions and get the full picture.”

It’s often said that information is power, but the real power lies in being able to understand the data we’re being flooded with. Encompass are a good example of the new breed of business that’s helping others deal with the masses of information we’re all being inundated with.

Oct 262013
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

The big winners of the Personal Computer era were the software companies. During that time firms like Microsoft, Oracle and Adobe became some of the most profitable companies on the planet.

With the arrival of cloud computing those profits started to dry up and those software companies that did so well out of the PC era are now scrambling to develop new products to meet a very different market.

Accounting software provider MYOB is a good example of this changing industry – a business that dominated the Australian small business market and supported an army of certified consultants now finds cloud based competitors like Xero nibbling away at their industry position.

MYOB Chief Technology Officer Simon Raik-Allen describes his company’s journey to the cloud in the latest Decoding the New Economy video clip.

“The cloud has amazing benefits for small business,” says Simon. “For twenty-two years we’ve had desktop products and for the last three or four years we’ve had cloud based services.”

“It’s been a really interesting journey, we’ve been on it for three or four years now where we’re converting the company to a cloud company.”

“But it’s also a cultural journey,” Simon observes. “I love seeing how people start to think differently when stuff is in the cloud.”

“Having things in the cloud opens the opportunity for employees to start slicing and dicing data in different ways.”

“It opens up the innovation curve to what’s possible.”

Bringing partners on the journey

Like Microsoft, one of MYOB’s strengths is its partner community – in particularly the company’s twenty thousand strong Certified Consultant program.

Those consultants, like Microsoft’s partners, are seeing their traditional revenue streams challenged as their business models change, a topic discussed with Growthwise’s Steph Hinds in a previous video interview.

“Everybody takes the cloud journey at their own place,” says Simon. “For bookkeepers in particular this is an opportunity to change their business in a positive way.”

“Normally a bookkeeper would drive around and visit two, three or four customers a day and help then with their books. Now they can help twenty customers in a single day.”

Looking beyond the cloud

Simon sees more than cloud computing changing accounting software with connected devices like the Pebble Watch, voice and gesture recognition along with Near Field Communications technology all being built into MYOB and computers in the near future.

“NFC is a very powerful technology,” Simon states. “Imagine in the accounting world where you are doing your books by moving your phone.”

“In retail NFC is going to be big where you can walk up to a product, wave your phone in front of it and it will tell you about the product.”

“We are very much driven by what our clients want,” says Simon. “It comes down to the use case of will it add to our customers’ business.”

An enthusiastic advocate

One of the things that’s impressive about talking with Simon Raik-Allen is his enthusiasm for technology, whether it’s Pebble Watches, NFC enabled robots or gesture controlled accounting software.

MYOB needs that enthusiasm in its move away from the once immensely profitable box software business onto the cloud where margins are thinner, the advantages of incumbency aren’t great and the competition from well funded competitors like Xero is immense.

As with many other ventures, MYOB is dealing with a huge disruption to their core business and the challenges are immense.

Image courtesy of Morrhigan through sxc.hu