Thinking about transitions

I was recently in a web conference that included a physical meeting room with some 5-6 people in it whilst others in the meeting were connected to WebEx.  Whilst no issues technically, the mix of physical and virtual, in my opinion just wasn’t effective.  Now, normally in a 100% WebEx meeting there  is an indication of identity and who is speaking.  It is a great attempt to visualise physical meetings.  Nothing new there, it has been around for ages and as a platform is brilliant.

However, when a meeting room dials in and is shared between multiple people in a room, the physical to virtual is completely lost.  Yes you can see the room speaking, but identities are not prevalent and this is a problem, especially if you are not familiar with the personnel at the other end.

This leads me to believe that we are in a transition.  I believe that transitions are short periods of time that help us evolve to better methods of achieving or goal.  They also have their ups and downs until we get through it.  Do you remember the compact disc?  That was a transition.  It was a transition to where we are now with streaming media.  It was supposed to be more durable than vinyl with crystal clear clarity in digital form.  It delivered that, but in a short period, it has been superceded by music downloads and of course the mp3 player that not only offer the supberb quality in sound and vision, but also the simplicity to obtaining content.

Obviously every transition will have a start and an end.  In this case the start is a physical meeting.  Traditional in every sense, but now as we embrace and extend globalisation and boundaryless enterprises our colleagues and more importantly the knowledge pools are being pull together from far-flung places across the globe.  Technology has allowed us to do this, but we don’t always get it right.  Admittedly the physical meeting is king, but productivity can still soar using multiparty voice and the combination of both.  I think we’ve proved that as we continue to increase the usage of online conferences.

The goal however, is to emulate the physical meeting as much as possible and that’s where video has to be the answer…for now.  Not just any video but high-definition real-time video.  It is here today, but the usage is minor compared to voice and I think that is just a matter of time before video overtakes voice on the network as it becomes more affordable and the quality increases.

So, I have to keep reminding myself, not to dismiss what we have today, embrace it and accept that the transition to video is almost here.

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The Androids are coming!

If you search for Android in Google there no surprise that the first hit will take you to Google’s Open Handset Alliance page with tons of information and help on Android, and in fact 90% of the first page results are all about Google’s Android. There is one hit that points to the wikipedia page describing a more familiar definition of an Android.

Now if you look at that page, the results from Google are predictive to say the least, but one surprising fact about the page is that there is no sponsored links! Well there is one, sometimes, but there is no one making money from that page.

Now if your business model is based on advertising revenue and you are the number one search engine in the world with millions of hits per second, there’s no wonder you are a leading success and a global brand. Your revenue is based on selling advertising space, your clients pay for the benefit of reaching your vast audience and rely on you placing there ads on the first page in the right place. Of course you have competition, but being number one and staying at number means that you are smart, competitive and understand what the consumers want better than your rivals.

Staying two steps (or more) ahead of the rest means that they are all competing with each other whilst you are defining the next steps and not just waiting for it to arrive.

So who or what will threaten Google? This recent article in Business Week raises an interesting point.

You see according to the article, over two thirds of Americans have experienced Mobile Internet Services and of course this figure is growing. In Europe and in Asia we’ve been doing it for years and faster, but with wireless cities appearing, WiMax on the way, China and India exploding onto the scene and more recently, Cuba, there will be a shift from the traditional PC to the Mobile device. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t likely to be an overnight shift nor will it be a migration from PC to Mobile. What is happening is that more and more of us are experiencing better quality browsers and applications on the mobile platforms and we are embracing it.

According to Gartner, in 2006 there were just under 1 billion mobile phone units shipped worldwide and in 2007 this was around 1.13 billion. With Apple and RIM entering the market the devices are more attractive and functionally stable compared to the browsing experience on early Nokia and Motorola devices. These new devices really are becoming usable and I can at last see the day where I carry a single device.

With the increase in mobility the target audience for the ad execs is now mouth wateringly vast, BUT, the traditional banner ad and sponsored search ad will not do. The billions of mobile and wireless consumers will not accept the same content squeezed into a mobile device display. So, what’s the plan?

Enter Android. Develop a new mobile operating system that will allow your winning business model to thrive. So far, the advertising on Android is anyone’s guess, but personalisation and profiling seems to be the way forward. The recent launch of Blyk from Orange is a good example of how Google’s business model will continue to thrive on the mobile platform and some are predicting a coverflow type of interface that will contain target advertising as well as the content you request.

Same old problems.

I remember back in the late 1990s I worked on a project for GE to deploy Microsoft Exchange. GE at the time made a corporate decision to deploy a single messaging platform throughout the globe to overcome what they saw as a business communication problem. They used the analogy of a representative from GE Plastics walking past the representative from GE Lighting in the corridors of General Motors or Chrysler not knowing that they were both working for the same company with the same client and not being able to share any information. They believed that working together Plastics and Lighting could benefit the customer as well as GE. The case was compelling and the sponsorship of a single messaging platform came from the top, it had Jack Welch’s buy-in!

Reading Andrew McAfee’s post today I was reminded of this age and it occurred to me that we are still trying to solve this problem but this time the technology is Enterprise 2.0 and the use of Wikis and Blogs in a bid to reduce the use of email.

His students responses, in my view, are right on the button and his dissection of the responses make perfect sense. They mention cases where Wikis and Blogs can improve the collaboration between diverse businesses and teams within many different organisations, they highlight how collaboration and knowledge sharing can improve business processes, but I still can’t help thinking that whilst technology is evolving and we have new problems to solve, we’ve not fixed the problems that existed all those years ago.

Looking at it from another point of view, maybe we are solving the problem, but in stages. Email was the first step, but we are far from finished.

Microsoft Zimbra?

I really like Zimbra’s collaboration suite.  I remember looking into Zimbra, amongst others,  a few years ago when I decided to investigate what alternatives corporate Microsoft Exchange users had if they chose not to follow the MS Exchange road map.

At the time many of the alternatives available on the market lacked mobility, archiving and Outlook integration.  These were some of the criteria at the time.

The lack of functionality is no longer the case.  Zimbra now supports true push to Blackberry devices and also incorporates archiving and discovery.  The reality of moving from a Microsoft server platform is becoming reality.

Having said all that, look a little harder at the corporate level and you’ll see that Zimbra is owned by Yahoo and there is a possibility that this could all fall under a Microsoft brand in the future.  So what will become of Zimbra or indeed Exchange (which incidental is in need of a serious overall from the ground up)?

I can’t wait, but I fear we will all have to.

Travel, Technology and Time Machines – My Foot!

I’ve always maintained that travelling is educational and recently my visit to Singapore for the first time taught me many new things. It also stimulated thoughts that would never have been exposed whilst in London.

You see, when at home in London, it is extremely easy to embrace routine and continue to base life around that routine. I personally dislike prolonged routines. It’s okay to maintain a routine, but that routine must also evolve with the times, I believe. Sometimes that is easier said than done. That’s why travelling expands the mind and provides the stimulation to change. It is education as I say.

As a technologist, I once tried to embrace video conferencing in a bid to lower travel costs and of course to be greener, but with that comes a hidden trade off. It is the ability to touch and feel other cultures. There really is no substitution for that face to face experience.

On my recent trip to Singapore I experienced what I can only describe as a Geo-Fusion. Many cities claim they are multicultural and cosmopolitan and most are, but Singapore has a visible harmony to their mix of cultures. The fusion provides a friendly carefree environment that I do believe is an example to the rest of the world.

During my MBA studies I exchanged many discussions with students across the globe based around a topic and I learnt a great deal. It was an excellent transfer of knowledge, but it wasn’t quite the same as experiencing the same topic through the eyes of the students around the world. I took this opportunity to do just that.

A stark difference I noticed was their attitude to technology. Whist Singapore is awash with technology, their consumer habits are not the same as say the US and the UK. E-Commerce is not there yet and yet still they are thriving without it. I say this with little research but simply on the face of my visit.

There is no comparable returns policy in the shops and very little evidence of online shopping and I believe there is a reason for that. There is a rich market environment in Chinatown, Little India and throughout the HBD (council estates) areas. Where the people spend the day socialising over a meal/snack or simply a cup of coffee (as we do in the our cities).

Walking through the HDB areas (which are not visibly segregated in any way they simply blend into the landscape), it was evident how trade continues to thrive with very little change. Singapore historically was a trading port and to this day that culture is stronger than ever. From the Samsui women making a living the only way they know how, to the affluent professionals also making a living the only way they know how, through trading they live side by side in what I can only describe as harmony.

If you ever wanted to experience time travel, Singapore provides the machine. I witnessed supplier, wholesale and retail in one glance at the side of the street as one man cycled up to a weighing station with his wares, exchange his goods for money and another exchanging money for goods to sell to the consumer through the wholesaler. It was simple, effective and fast; golden rules for anyone in business.

Another inspiring sight I witnessed was the business of reflexology. A very successful chain called My Foot provides employment for many local people with disabilities in particular visually impaired individuals that are skillfully trained. These talented therapists provide the most relaxing environment and effective reflexology in the country. My Foot provides an opportunity to an otherwise limited community to earn a good living by developing the skills that are in demand. Having experienced reflexology, it can be quite addictive, particularly if it has cured an otherwise tired pair of feet as it did in my case! I need to find an equivalent in London.


Search for search

Just over two years ago, I embarked on a project to deploy an Enterprise Search engine within the bank. I may have mentioned this before.

During the period of evaluations and proof of concepts, I attended a few seminars and a couple of meetings with Microsoft who were embarking on repackaging their legacy index server as a search engine delivered with Sharepoint.

I documented my findings from these meetings along with other comparisons and conclusions from the products we looked at, unfortunately they are located on the internal wiki and cannot be referenced here. In any case,my findings were in summary, that Microsoft were making a poor and reactive attempt to compete with Google in the Enterprise. Their only hope would be to either go back to the drawing board, in which case they would be late to the market if they were to bring anything innovative to market or acquire a established Enterprise product.

That was around early 2005 and low and behold, here we are in early 2008!

Personally,I think this is a good move. Not sure about the timing commercially, but financially, yes! Let see what Microsoft decide to do with it.

Welcome to Singapore

My first visit to Singapore was met with a welcome I did not expect. First of all a 12 hour 40 minute flight from Heathrow on the faultless (until they flew me) Singapore Airlines felt more like 7 or 8 hours. This was the longest flight I had taken but it certainly didn’t feel that way. The service, the food, the entertainment, the seats and the time I chose were perfect!

Singapore and therefore Singaporeans pride themselves in being somewhat faultless and set an example to the rest of the world from their pioneering ERP traffic system to their chewing gum law (some say crazy, but it works!), and clearly were ashamed when I landed and had to eventually report to the Lost and Found office to report my missing luggage…along with another 20 or so passengers. Mutterings could be heard from a few locals around the baggage claim that this must have been a fault at Heathrow, it could not be a fault of Singapore Airlines. However, no sooner had I arrived in the lost and found office about to fill out the form, when we were informed that our luggage had just arrived on the carousel! The extended wait was not impressive, and the fault was with the container lifts, it broke down just before unloading the last set of cases off… mine!

Of course if there’s is a remote chance that Singapore airline staff are reading this, “You bozos, this is the first time I’ve flow with you to your home country and THIS is the welcome I get? An extended chance to stare at your conveyor belt? Feel free to comment here to apologise and I will let you know my KrisFlyer number for you to apologise in miles.”;-)

Having left the Airport I headed to my sister’s pad just off Grange Road. An impressive tree lined street with modern high rises appearing through the tree tops. Looking out of her apartment there are certain angles that appear as if you are looking down on a mini rain forest. Very impressive.

A quick shower and change and it was off to the Funan DigitalLife Mall. Now, this is an interesting place. Immediately and obviously, it is 7 levels of technology, geek’s paradise filled with everything IT hardware/software and gadgets galore. If you know what you want then this is the place, there’s plenty of options and competitive pricing too. If you are browsing, then after two floors your vision becomes blurred and you will hallucinate and begin to simply see mice everywhere, of the computer kind of course!

A few gems came out of that visit:

Curry Puffs – A mouth watering smell that was torture for my nephew Sebastian.

Kaya Toast – Thanks to my nephew Julian for warning me that the filling is green.

– Fresh Sugar Cane Drink

Coffee-O or Kopi-O – It’s instant, but really delicious with a drop of condensed milk and certainly a caffine boost.

$10 – 10 minute haircut! Not something I’ve tried yet but intrigued nonetheless. Obviously a Japanese idea for the busy individual who needs coiffure housekeeping but with very little time. A quick tidy up followed by a vacuum (of your head) and your comb as a souvenir, I hear to ensure hygiene, is a must try. Can’t see that model working in the UK; 10 minutes for £10 is not much of bargain, let alone a haircut, and translated; 3 minutes for £3, I hate to think. I will try it out later in the week.

Yes, the things that I was impressed with were the sidelines in the technology mall.

To conclude, dinner at my sister’s place was better than any oriental restaurant I’ve ever visited and to top it off, as I write this, my taste buds are screaming for more, but I can’t remember seeing what happened to it. 😦 Arrgg! Begs the question, what is the standard of the restaurants? I’m sure I’ll find out, but credit to Elisa and Juve for cooking up such a taste sensation! Let me know where the left overs are next time :-P.

Anyway, I must try and get some sleep, I’ve got to be up in less than 4 hours to continue my cultural learnings.