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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Is Net Neutrality really better?

The US Telecoms Regulator recently announced a Bill they are seeking to get passed by the Government to implement net neutrality by network providers for the end consumer - this is an increasingly common topic for Telecom Regulator's around the world. Everyone is patting themselves on the back believing they have done a wonderful thing in ensuring that all content reaches the end user and that everyone has the same internet experience. However what regulators are overlooking is that by making the internet service experience all equal, the costs to the average consumers will actually increase due to costs of providing all users the same experience and access to all content.
I know many of you are there thinking of course we should be given access to all Internet content in a high quality status at a low cost, the Operator just has to find out how to make it work. Now consider the same issue on highways and how governments are trying to address the challenge of too many cars on the road. In many countries we pay Toll’s, Road tax based on driving week days or weekends, or even in peak hours we pay premiums to use the express lanes on highways. But if were to implement the same policy of neutrality being demanded for Internet on our highways we would all be stuck and equally frustrated with a significant impact to our working and social lives. Of course we could all make the same argument that we should all get access to the same road experience and that it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that we all get the same experience with no Toll’s, express lanes with premium charges or even time of day charges. The answer from the government would undoubtedly be – it would cost too much money to provide everyone the same experience, so why would the government ask Operators and Service Providers to manage the same challenge?
On the other side we have the Internet based Services companies who want easier access to their content which in this case could be compared with a Shopping Mall, or Beach Theme Park – in both cases users pay for parking, and then end up paying premiums to have access to better services whilst at those destinations. Should parking then not be free? I mean after all we are buying their products right? And Consider Internet Services should be available anywhere in the world and not based on where you are connecting from? i.e. Singapore vs. UK why should some Internet Services only be available in UK and not in Singapore - consider BBC iPlayer. Net Neutrality means equality right? Or does it mean only as far as a Country’s borders? (Hmm let's keep that topic for another day!)
I appreciate these may seem like areas outside the scope of Net Neutrality but we need to step back and understand what is the real question not simply assume we have the answer. The Question MUST be how do we improve the user experience of Consumers to access a rapidly expanding scope of content available through the Internet. In order to improve the experience Government’s need to actually look at themselves rather than implement a one size fits all approach.
Regulator’s need to look at the Internet in the same way that Government’s manage highways, without some diversification of traffic types and usage everyone will end up paying more. If there is important content that Regulator’s/Government’s feel that a consumer should have access to then mandate that or subsidize it for consumers in a particular segment. At the other end of the spectrum we know that there are many internet users are willing to pay a premium for high end services such as Gaming, Video Content and business requirements, by allowing operators to differentiate services with subscriber groups (both fixed and mobile by the way!) then the basic internet services can be improved for all. Look at peak traffic tariffs for major highways, the revenue generated from these highways is not used to improve the service for those who pay the premium toll, but for all users of the road. The same can be achieved for Internet Services, Premium users are solely looking for an improved service, if that means they need to help subsidize part of the improvement for basic Internet Services then that will be accepted, they won’t like it but this is common for many aspects of our daily lives today.
If Regulator’s and Government’s are looking to improve Access to the Internet for Subscribers then here are some areas they should consider to drive the right behaviours of individuals, businesses and operators:
  1. Identify what is important for Consumers to be able to access equally – Government services, News, Basic Communication – email, SMS, Phone, IM - this should then become the "Baseline" of services to be provided. The Regulator then needs to ensure these services are accessible, but at the same time acknolwdge that consumers should be paying for Video communication, Internet Gaming or Internet TV - if the consumer wants a better experience - as these can disrupt the performance of baseline consumer services.
  2. Encourage Bandwidth demanding content to be paid for by consumers who wish to access it, this will drive Content providers who are charging for these services to either subsidize the use of their content OR work with Operators to agree revenue share when consumers use their content.
  3. Consider promoting time of day use – peak hours like access to highways are in high demand so why not pay for premium access – consider if you are going to the supermarket do you really need to travel in peak hour? Likewise for Internet connectivity, if you are watching the latest episode of Top Gear on your Laptop/Mobile/Tablet, do you really need to download this during peak Internet usage and if so are you willing to pay a premium to do so?
I am sure there are many other suggestions that people would have and the above are merely the tip of the iceberg, but the point remains, Net Neutrality is not really helping to answer the question, if anything it will seek to create greater issues with Internet connectivity and most likely increase the costs as Operators and Service providers seek to provide equal service to all users. I would suggest it is time to re-think the question and identify what we are really trying to achieve. Internet is becoming an increasingly dominant medium in how we access content, communicate with each other and store information. Therefore it is crucial we get it right and avoid one size fits all type of policies which will only send us backwards and not address the challenge of providing all consumers the opportunity to maximize the benefits the Internet can provide.

 

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Evolution of Innovation

I recently had the privilege of helping to organize a unique customer forum for a company where the theme was Innovate to accelerate – an exciting new stage in the positioning of the company, and it got me thinking as to what is happening to innovation today. Okay so you are reading this thinking what is he on about this time? How can there be an Evolution of Innovation, it has always existed! What I want to share with you though is the changing source of Innovation and more importantly the coming change.


We have always been amazed at those garage or workshop innovators who come up with an idea to solve a problem they have identified and in many cases are greatly appreciated by all, we admired these innovators leading the way driving their own ideas to reality and opening our minds to what is possible. In many cases we have seen innovation creating new concepts ad ideas being developed on by others as they seek to follow in the footsteps of those they looked up to in realizing new concepts and ideas.

We then entered a phase where Innovation was driven by large corporations, where the innovator from the Garage or workshop – or even increasingly behind the computer – was upstaged by the resources and clout available to large enterprises that were driving innovation programs, some to the point of dictating to us what we would use as technology moving forward. Think back to some of your frustrations in using what was regarded as cutting edge technology which didn’t work the way you wanted it to – I know I have!

However – the tables have turned yet again, the individual has once again obtained a voice in innovation. It started out quietly in companies seeking to gain insights and feedback on their own technology developments, yet the final decision was always theirs – I suppose in their view they knew better what we wanted than we did ourselves … at least they thought they did.

With the ongoing developments in communication and the Internet we are now empowered as a combined group of individuals to judge innovation from corporate researchers and stop them before they have gained momentum and likewise for the small upstart or single person concept we can provide them with the support to gain funding and ultimately the realization of their idea into a new service, tool or service model which has an immediate and relevant need to a specific group of individuals.

The time has come for the individual to use their voice and join with others in defining the direction of the coming innovations, why do you ask? Because the next series of technology developments are going to be very personal, driven by personalization requirements of all of us and each will be in some way unique. If we fail to leverage the power to direct these innovations then we will miss a unique opportunity in defining the way in which we as individuals interact with the world around us.

But what does this mean for businesses? It’s time to adapt, listen and engage. Recognize that your customer, analyst and even partner is no longer in your backyard but can be anywhere in the world. Businesses need to be considering who they are and what they are trying to provide to their customers. Once this is defined the organization can then assess how they should drive innovation, what part is their own Intellectual Property and where they can leverage innovation partners. Businesses should not look on partners as a failing of their own organization but rather an acceptance that the world has moved on and that they are adapting to it. We may find the need to adjust our business model or even accept that the go to market model could require a shift from direct to indirect or vice versa. The important aspect for businesses to understand is that the source of innovation is changing and the most important action that businesses should take is to ensure they continue to adapt with it. Businesses which continue to adapt will be the most likely to succeed in not only retaining & growing their customers, but also continuing to grow their business. The Evolution of Innovation – I am a believer!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Strategy ≠ Success

I would like to thank the person for inspiring this piece – from an initial meeting discussing the future of Business models. How many times have you sat and listened to someone outline a strategy where you thought for a moment, yes that’s it, this is clearly the future of our business, our country, our industry. A few months later though you hear a repeat of that strategy, and recall yes that was an excellent idea but where did it go? Finally we reach a phase where what was once described as thought leadership and an exciting way forward for the company is merely marketing (sorry to those marketers out there!), the business continues to operate as it did, everyone continues to work on what they were doing and management is left frustrated trying to understand what could possibly have gone wrong. Eventually the management team figures it out, something was wrong with the rest of the organization, clearly we need to start replacing people who do understand us. What actually happens is that businesses end up hiring more managers, more strategists, more thought leaders and continue to remain surprised that things start to go from bad to worse.


Strategic “planning and execution” is possibly one of the hardest tasks to successfully deliver on for any organization, the reason being is because the idea or concept that you may come up with that forms the basis of your strategy is merely the beginning. The largest effort is spent on trying to drive the Strategy into the organization you will need to execute it. When looking to execute Strategy there are three important areas I always look at – Translation, Plan and Execution, I will talk through the reasons why below.

Lost in Translation – if you have ever seen the United Nations at work (I appreciate that could be construed as a contradiction in terms there!) you will have noticed that when the head of the UN makes an important announcement to the country representatives in the room, they all have translators to translate the words of the UN Chief into their own language, this is important not only to the individual countries participating but also the UN Chief so as he can ensure that each member has understood the announcement or initiative he is highlighting. Strategy execution within an organization is no different. In the Management meeting or even the confines of your own office once you believe you have defined your strategy it can be your Hallelujah moment (yes and sometimes you may even here the music!), however there is always the risk that once you open that door to the rest of the business it merely becomes lost as another communication stored right next to that memo about the new coffee machine. When you are defining your strategy you need to consider what is this going to mean for EVERY person impacted in anyway within your business. If your strategy is to become the new leader in defining

The Five P’s – Preparation Prevents Pi.. Poor Performance – I am always amazed that upon making their big fanfare many management teams will sit back waiting for their phenomenal idea to be realized. The present the initiative and ask people to act on it, but have forgotten that with out a well prepared plan a Strategy is merely another idea. Businesses need to think through where that Strategy will bring them to as a organization. What is the outcome we are looking for? What are the key milestones in defining how we actually get there? How will we be honest to ourselves in defining the success or failure of that strategy and will we be prepared to alter that strategy should external influences (market conditions. Competitors, innovation) demand it?

Collaborate Don’t Dictate – In line with the previous point many people will be thinking we actually do set milestones, yet we continue to struggle. Managers are great at understand the broad brush strokes of a strategy but the only people that will understand its impact on the business will be the teams on the ground, the groups of people you will be asking to live and breathe this new strategy going forward. One important area to consider is engaging the impacted groups early, have them involved in considering the execution of the strategy in doing so you are demonstrating that it is no longer just your strategy but also that of the business at all levels and furthermore with the insights of the teams on the ground you can gain important feedback on how to potentially avoid problems with the strategy execution before you stumble upon them, derailing your strategy unnecessarily.

Strategies don’t exist on Highway’s they are built on Country Roads – We all like to think that the execution of our strategy is a four lane highway travelling at a million miles an hour - this is almost never the case. Imagine for a moment a Truck pulling three trailers with a speed of 200km/h; for some reason there is a curve in the highway up ahead … what do you think the chance is of that Truck making the turn with those trailers still attached? Unlikely right, this is similar as to how a strategy is being executed when we ignore changes in the business and the external influences. Therefore I always encourage people to consider the execution of a Strategy is like a Country road, sometimes you will get a breather where the path is straight, with no or minimal disruptions. However it is more likely that we will face numerous curves in the execution of our strategy, it is not our job to predict these but merely to manage them, back off the accelerator, consider what that curve looks like and what action do we need to take to make sure we can navigate it t ensure the business can continue upon the journey which is the execution of the defined strategy.

Am I simplifying this approach? Absolutely, then again this is supposed to be an article and not a novel. This is designed to get you thinking about how we are working within a strategy and to what outcome. We should always remember that a successful strategy is one which is executed upon, embraced by the employees within a business and most importantly one which becomes part of the businesses own being – that is to say a Strategy of any company needs to be buried right into the heart of a business to give it any chance of success.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Will Technology provide the Next Big Bang?

If you have been watching the development of many of the technology companies and think back to how they looked some 10-15 years ago, you will quickly realize they have stretched, deepened and risen above their traditional operating environment. For many years we have been able to clearly define what or who was a Hardware Vendor, a Software Provider, a Network Provider or even a Systems Integrator, but consider how we defined these previously and what they actually look like today.
We have hardware vendors becoming Software providers, we have Software providers developing their own Hardware, we have Network Providers becoming SI’s and SI’s trying to incorporate their own Hardware AND Software – basically everyone is increasingly competing with everyone else! We have always been able to clearly define the roles of each type of business in the communication and IT world, however boundaries are going from increasingly blurred to non-existent as each player feels increasingly confident that they not only have a right to offer a broader set of services but that they can be market leading for all of them. These traditional Boundaries are acting more as a funnel as vendors and providers are racing to be one of the newly defined solutions provider (End to end technology with end to end management), however there is always a problem when you have multiple objects accelerating toward each other, there WILL be a “Big Bang” in technology the likes of which we have not seen before.
I am aware that many people will claim that this is simply where the market is evolving to Hardware is becoming Software, Network Providers need to consult customers on how to integrate Hardware and software, and SI’s need to integrate multiple vendors and there need bridging technologies to ensure ownership for their customers. This is all true; although the faster these developments occur many businesses are at risk of either stretching beyond the business elasticity of their own organization or losing the identity of their organization altogether!
It is interesting to note that many businesses are confident that because they are recognized as a leader in their market that customers would buy a wider scope of services from them if they knew it was from their brand. In the beginning this will be the case – or to be precise is already visible, yet it is very difficult for a business to be able to replicate its know-how, thought leadership and processes into new areas which are fundamentally different from their own. Even today we see what I can only define as “Mega” Providers attempting to be a catch-all for customers who are struggling to see growth in all areas of their portfolio’s, they scratch their heads wondering what has gone wrong and who they should blame.
Yet think about conglomerates of the past where they acquired multiple organizations and did one of two things; kept the businesses to operate separately and only engage with each other in a similar way to supply chain management OR create a completely new way of working, processes and operating model which could be incorporated across all organizations. This seems to be the model which many businesses feel they can adopt and boldly go out of their way to demonstrate how they will evolve their organizations in the always reliable 12-18 month term. Both of the models used by traditional conglomerates require the strictest governance and can take years to establish and even longer to stabilize within the overall organization, for new technology businesses to believe this is simply replicable because they have hired one individual who worked in that environment is very short sighted.
I am curious as to how businesses seem to believe that just because they are great at delivering their core business products and services that they can expand their scope of services beyond the horizon. I remain eager to see technology businesses evolve in many ways but this should NEVER be to the detriment of their core business or even worse, forgetting what their core business actually was.
We are on the verge of an amazing collision of technology vendors, providers and integrators the outcome of which is as yet unknown but I assure you there will be few victors, many will realize the importance and sustainability of going to their core business and evolving that with the needs of the market, many others will become victims of acquisitions through reduced value through mismanagement or simply disappear as their cost model become unsustainable.
There is a positive note to all of this (finally I hear you say!), as to those who are familiar with the theory of the big bang there was new life, and likewise here I am sure we will see a whole set of new businesses emerge seeking to fill the gaps between the businesses that survive the aftermath of the Technology Big Bang. This will be a great opportunity for innovators who understand the growing need for interoperability, personalization and bridging technologies to provide ease of use to the customer.
Technology and the businesses associated with it have evolved and expanded so quickly that the upcoming Big bang will be a focus point for many an analyst and customer alike as we all seek to understand who are the likely winners and losers and who should we rely on to meet our technology needs in a sustainable way for the years to come. Technology Ecosystems may hold the key, looking for businesses that recognize their unique offering and identifying partners who can fulfill the necessary gaps and working together to provide customers with a common architecture, thus creating opportunities to cross sell and up sell their products and services.
The current direction of hardware and software vendors, network and service providers, integrators and consulting businesses WILL result in a head on collision from multiple angles the outcome of which remains exciting yet unknown. Therefore I say Bring on the Next Big bang and let’s see what the change will bring us!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Personalization & Standardization - a Contradiction

Enterprise and Consumer customers alike are increasingly looking for personalized products and services. The Businesses providing these services though are now looking at how they can standardize their offerings to address increasing costs and market expectations for greater profitability.

The on-going transition of products and services from Hardware to Software along with accelerated technology developments, have driven the demand for personalization of products and services phenomenally fast and in so doing created a whole new buzz on tailored solutions. The providers of these services are indeed finding more creative ways to provide greater flexibility. Additionally in a Glocal (Globally Local) Market as we find ourselves in today, businesses are sacrificing profit for market share and customer retention, knowing full well the extensive alternatives available to their customers from around the world today. These Providers however, are increasingly struggling with “tailored” products with the justification being a hope that other customers will be interested in a similar offering and provide an opportunity for reuse.

The market IS demanding ever greater personalization and businesses are under increasing pressure to respond whilst managing costs through a desperate need for standardization. These are contradicting requirements which would suggest they cannot exist in parallel – however I would suggest it’s time to go back to basics and look at products and services in a new way.

Consider Lego for a moment – different block sizes, shapes and colours, yet they all can be seamlessly integrated into any overall shape that I want. To that effect businesses should be looking at the future of their own products and services in a similar way.

I am sure some of you are looking at this thinking well “We” already do that with our service offerings and that may be true for offering a basic triple play offering – Phone, Internet and TV or even Network, Voice and Security. However I am sure if you consider the complexity behind the facade of the customer offering where everything rapidly becomes manual and bespoke you will realize we are only scratching the surface of what needs to be done.

It’s time to consider a system, one which underpins the platform of tools, systems and their associated products and services with a common architecture. With the majority of services increasingly being IP enabled this should be progressively more viable, consider for example how we can provide a person with various communication services remotely today. Imagine therefore for a moment, scripts that would automatically create a communication pack for a new employee or consumer based on all services being underpinned by a single foundation. If businesses don’t start to consider this change now either the cost of customization or the declining demand for their services will begin to undermine their own business plan.

Businesses need to look at establishing a single Architecture and identify how and which products and services should be migrated onto that platform. Next consider the personalization variables you need for your products and services, how can you encourage the take up of additional products and services through suggestions and feedback on what other users are ordering leveraging common profiles. Identify which services should be sunset based on a waning demand and your own life-cycle management. In many cases you may find changes will be required to your products to be able to execute a “Lego” or modular type model however once executed, the door is increasingly open for automation, improved visibility of customer behavior and evolving services based on customer trends.

This does not mean the death of customization, far from it, what it allows businesses to do is once again place a value on customization. When customers are educated on the options and integration choices available from a business’s products and services, and are still demanding further personalization they will quickly seek to adjust based on your existing services which will either come at a premium OR form the basis for the next evolution of your own portfolio.

The growing demand for Personalized solutions ARE going to place increasing pressure on businesses both those targeting B2B and likewise consumer markets. It is crucial that Businesses start planning a refresh of the architecture underpinning their products and services to ensure a robust Go To Market model which will be able to address the growing Personalization need from the market, yet also provide a cost effective deployment and service management model for the future.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Cloud Computing - Just an Illusion?

Cloud Computing, Cloud Services, and Cloud Technology - .Seems everyone is talking about the Cloud these days. Cloud Computing, Virtualization and On-Demand Services are increasingly common terms being used to describe the framework from which next generation services are being offered. Many organizations are claiming market leadership in these areas, yet the technology they represent has existed for some time so what is all of the fuss about?
To challenge the concept of “Cloud” we first need to establish what we define as Cloud Computing. Wikipedia refers to Cloud Computing as “Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand like electricity.” A Technology vendor highlights Cloud Computing as “ … the Internet and the use of Web browser-based or rich client applications. In these applications, the software comes from the Web Servers, and the data may be saved on the servers as well”. Now I can see you sitting there reading this thinking yes, that makes sense, my software and information is stored in the network of the Internet or at my work intranet ... right? Now think back to your first Hotmail/Yahoo account or the first time you posted information onto a newsfeed for others to “Share” weather that be images, data or sharing ideas, so what date are you at? 1995? 1993? Earlier … so does this mean we are talking about a “New” technology which has actually already existed in some form for close to 20 years?
I would challenge that Cloud Computing is actually a combination of a fabulous Marketing campaign for the industry to revive the hosting business - which had started to slow down - combined with the acceleration of the spectrum of services that can be hosted in a network, There is no arguing that the services available to us in the Internet and our corporate intranets are broader than anything we have ever seen, however this is merely an evolution of technology and our smart software. However we have had access to applications in the “Cloud” for a long time already.
OK, yes, I can hear those Cloud Computing evangelists shouting “What we have now is nothing like what was available before!” There is the argument of Virtualization, Applications on Demand, storage to shape with your needs of now and not just yesterday or tomorrow. However I would challenge what were we doing with those online email accounts, did you really know where yours was stored? Honestly? Virtualization is a great step forward and is providing businesses with significant benefits in looking at more scalable IT Models to support the needs of their business at any given point in time anywhere around the world. But do we really need to wrap it all up in Cloud Computing as if someone sitting in their Garage simply shouted “Eureka! I’ve done it … world meet Cloud Computing” If this was so amazingly unique how did more than 8 providers able to launch Cloud Computing Solutions in the space of a year?
What I am trying to get to is we need to acknowledge these developments, but ensure we keep our feet on the ground and realize they are just that, developments of technology which has evolved over many years. So let’s get back to basics, Businesses should consider how they can create agile working environments from the software communications, processes and database systems through to the rapid deployment of IT infrastructure in line with their business needs anywhere around the world. The Integration of Network, IT and Hosting Infrastructure through tools such as Virtualization, Agile working policies and processes hosted in the data centre can offer exciting opportunities for Businesses. However those opportunities can only be realized when we acknowledge the illusion of Cloud Computing being merely a marketing term and not a specific technology solution. Virtualization, Hosting and Business Outsourcing can be the foundation elements to the business integration moving forward, but must be treated with respect, we are past traditional outsourcing and businesses should not consider that a “Cloud” solution will be provided to them simply because they have over their network and IT responsibilities to a Systems Integrator or a Service Provider. To end let me send a message to all business out there … Wake Up! Make sure you know what you are getting behind the veil of cloud computing, how will it impact the way your employees work, the efficiency of your processes and finally and most importantly the success of your business?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Future of Convergence

Everyone talks about Convergence as if it has already happened, we have had a single device acting as the Mobile and Fixed phone, I have even seen Operators show the ability to integrate the billing of Fixed and Mobile phones as if they were just one device (Very cool by the way!). another great example is how we are now able to integrate Voice, Video and Data over networks seamlessly, something which up until less than ten years ago seemed both overly expensive and unlikely given the complexity. last but not least, having a deskphone in your laptop, for those of you who recall your first softphone how odd was it to see the same configuration you had on a physical Hardware device now floating on your desk top as Software . In my view this is merely the beginning of Convergence the foundation steps to "True" Convergence are now n place, we need to step back and think about the future of convergence, there are Technology Vendors, Operators, Service Providers, Systems Integrators all heading to the same central point in the belief that Fixed and Mobile, Hardware and software as well as Voice and Data are all on a rapidly approaching collision course of True convergence. What I am more interested in at the moment is what will result from this collision; some say that we will see a few “mega” providers with integration of SI, SP, and Technology to meet the complete needs of the end user. We have even seen some of this development, Hardware vendors like Cisco and HP moving into the software space, Software companies like SAP and Google moving into the Hardware and Communications space respectively, all trying to anticipate the next trend and what they should develop or acquire to stay one step ahead of the curve. However with everything that we communicate with, store and share increasingly being positioned in and around the cloud we call the Web, are we approaching a new phase of convergence that the market players will have to adapt to yet again?

Is the Cloud the Next Integrator?

Communications, Media and Data solutions are increasingly device agnostic, OEM independent and User Specific (Hope I didn't lose too many people there!), this situation represents a significant evolution from applications traditionally being forced to align to a particular operating system or device manufacturer. With increasing trends driving open source platforms or the more sizable operating systems sharing tool kits for application development; communication, media and data are all increasingly hosted, rather than stored on the device and in so doing is providing increased flexibility for users to access these platforms through any means they choose.

The Empowerment of the End user has happened. However, how long will this remain? When will we all get branded, categorized and driven to a specific “Super Provider” of our “Cloud” requirements? Vendors like Cisco, Huawei and HP are clearly aiming to be all things to all people, likewise Google, SAP and Microsoft are equally confident that their own development will meet the needs of the end user whoever he or she may be, for me the jury is out it is clear the key looking ahead will be partner Ecosystems, who can establish a strong enough framework that embraces standardization whilst at the same time provides sufficient options for businesses and the end user to shape their own requirements.

Speaking with a number of people there seems to be a developing view that we are about to see a rapid consolidation of providers of technology services into the market place, personally I believe we are on the verge of another boom, we have had the Internet Boom, the Content Boom and I now foresee the “Personalized Integration” Boom. This will be a new space where providers help to shape the tools we use, the date we store and the people we communicate with as best suits us as the individual.

For example if I prefer to use Google’s Gmail with Microsoft’s IM, Norton’s Security, Avaya’s Softphone, Motorola’s Mobile Phone and my local Hosting provider, then I will be able to do so without the need to manage the interaction between all of these elements manually.

Seems pretty far out there right? I can accept that, but if I look at the Integration options we have available to us today across Voice and Data, Hardware with Software, Fixed and Mobile it is surely only a matter of time that when we reach ubiquitous networking. We have reached the next junction of Convergence, it is time to assess and identify the opportunities this extended path to Convergence can offer SI, SP and technology vendors. As for the rest of us we are finally at a point to redefine the : How, Where, When and What Devices/Tools/Applications we will work with in our daily working and social lives ...  So get involved and keep challenging businesses for what you want!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Let's Just Stop Communicating and Start Talking!

Think about it – When was the last time you really talked to someone – no don’t worry this is not your next therapy session! But seriously, how often do you actually just pick up the phone or walk over to someone to ask them to help with the completion of a task or to provide you with a document or even dare I ask to catch up for a drink? Did you know that today you are 10 times more likely to send an email than actually pick up the phone? Or even more interesting, 20 times more likely to send an SMS or Instant message that talk on the phone or approach someone directly? I imagine many of you are reading this thinking … So what … it’s the tools we have to work with today – right? Well before I answer that question, let me as you another – how often have you been irritated with someone not replying to your message or for that matter being hounded by people demanding your response to that utmost critical question on a project status?


Now that I have you thinking about the multiple ways of “easy” communication we have along with the continued frustrations we all feel (well ok maybe you are one of the lucky ones!) in managing these multiple facets of communication that now exist in our lives, therefore have these communication tools really made it easier for you to communicate with others?

Communication tools although originally created to improve our interaction across the globe have unknowingly to many of us become the single frustration of our working lives. Consider for a moment the SMS – Short Message Service – the very title outlines what this is for, but I commonly know of people who can send a 1000 character message to a friend or colleague and be exasperated that the message didn’t arrive or was not ready from start to finish, People .., it’s an SMS not a ILMS - Infinitely Long Message Service! If you need more than 160 characters send an email, which brings us nicely to the most hidden process in an organization … Office Tai Chi. You may not know it but there is a hidden process in every organization that gives you the power to allocate or forward an action to anyone in your contact directory ideally leaving you completely protected from responsibility, no it’s not SAP, or Sales Force or even the infamous homemade process flow, it is in fact your very own email account!

We live under this wonderful illusion of belief that once we have sent someone an email it is no longer our responsibility – think about it, how often have you told someone “Oh yes I sent him/her an email, but they haven’t responded, clearly they are at fault, I will send another email to make sure they complete the task”. Perhaps even better someone is chasing you for emails that you have already forwarded onto someone else as you are not responsible yet they keep hassling you, ah right you forgot to copy the other person on the email, once you do resend the message to the intended recipient “copying” the original requester, you have finally achieved the highest level of Office Tai Chi, absolved yourself from all responsibility – even if the person you forwarded the message to is not even responsible! :)

It’s okay though we can fix things now with the help of a wonderful tool called Instant Messaging (IM), why do they call it instant because we can actually see when a person is online and demand that they respond to us immediately! Right? That’s how it works isn’t it? Red status means in a meeting but I would rather talk to you via IM, Amber means I am away from my desk but please send me a message so as I can get back to my desk and Green simply means I am urgently awaiting you to send me a message I can respond to? Absolutely … that’s why I usually have up to 8 IM sessions active so as I can realize my dream of being your next virtual help desk! Sound Familiar? Or my personal favourite, it isn’t enough for us to have a 1:1 chat let’s invite everyone else we know – I was stunned to see one colleague having a 12 person chat on IM! Everyone has an opinion but you have the last word and don’t worry we record all of our IM sessions now so we have proof you were there!

Ok, so I have hopefully opened your eyes to how we are (mis)using these wonderful communication tools that the market has provided us with to make our lives easier and the people around us more accessible, but have they? I would challenge that the Communications tools of today have become so warped from their original purpose they are actually distracting us from our daily lives rather than empowering us. But how did this happen and who is to blame? Well simply put all of us – yes I know you expected me to say that, what I mean though is us as individuals, managers, organizations and the technologists who introduce them in the first place.

The purpose of this article was to talk about regaining control of the communication tools around us, and to get you thinking about how you use communication tools moving forward. Many of us have been introduced to these Communication tools by the companies we work for, in doing so we were not made aware as to how these tools should be used, or not used as the case maybe. For example – Email should be used to send important files, share minutes of meetings, highlight project plans, receiving process notifications (real processes not emails!  ) or inform staff of important updates. Therefore email should not be about blanket emailing 30 people if they know where the stapler went to, or asking someone’s opinion of the latest basketball or as is my case asking what people thought of the latest F1 race – yes sorry! IM is a very powerful tool, how about using it to find people who can help you when they are available. IM can tell us if someone is available, or if they are not which of their colleagues who may have a similar skill could help us out, and when set up IM in the right way even enable us to click on their name and be told the best way to reach that person at any time of day be it Email, Mobile, IM or simply not reachable as on Holiday. Neat right?

So what can we do? Two things, first of all challenge your organization to drive a policy as how best communication tools can be leveraged to strengthen how we communicate not detract from it. Secondly think to yourself then next time you are sending an SMS, Email or IM is this really the best way to communicate, would I be better off getting out from behind my desk and asking the person directly, or if you can’t see them, Call them!

Therefore I leave with the question I started with … When was the last time YOU really talked to someone?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

It’s a Battlefield - Business vs. Technology

We are all familiar with the Bell curve of uptake of technology; we have the leaders, the majority and the laggard’s right? We have always assumed that the businesses that are adapting new technology were taking a managed risk to drive efficiency in their organizations and that by the time it reached the majority and even more so for the laggards that the bugs and integration issues of the technology into the businesses way of working would enable us to accelerate the implementation of a new technology into our own organization. This is probably one of the biggest Fallacy’s in the ICT space today.

I regularly hear from people how there company is about to embark on a transformation project which is going to save them millions, improve the way they work and in some case provide a new platform for growth, on the surface it sounds great and I always wish people every success in realizing the benefits that these projects COULD provide. HOWEVER, I very rarely see a project that meets its objectives, not from lack of ambition of the company or the individuals to want it to succeed, but due to unseen obstacles.

What many people don’t realize is that there are number of factors that MUST be addressed when implementing a project and likely more so for the Majority and laggard businesses seeking to adapt the latest technology. When introducing a new technology it is crucial that it is the business that is defining the requirements of the technology to be implemented and not the other way around. What? Well that’s straight forward right? Well perhaps but you would be amazed at how many organizations find themselves rewriting processes to adapt to the limitations of the technology they are deploying or the limitations of other technology previously deployed not being interoperable with the new technology. I have seen two extreme cases of how organizations have attempted to adapt to a technology, the first was the introduction of a manual process to connect between a CRM system and a BSS as the two were not interoperable, but standalone worked great! The second is a company who had adopted a brand new unified communication system that was to be integrated into their systems, processes and empower their organization, after paying Millions in Change Requests the organization eventually chose to simply re-write some of their process to work around the integration limits of the software. These two cases are not rare, I am sure if you were to ask yourself or your own colleagues about a recent project your company implemented and the changes that business had to undertake to adapt that technology to work within your organization – I am sure many of you will be surprised.

Another leading challenge that businesses struggle with when implementing technology is understanding the people aspect. The impact that technology will have on an organization will be determined by the weakest link or in this case least understanding user. To put it another way once a technology has been implemented, if people don’t understand how to use it they will create their own workarounds to achieve their own objectives/deliverables, immediately resulting in a cascade effect of the technology not realizing its full potential. I have seen a few unique cases one a while ago of a Team Assistant downloading a corporate email directory for more than 5,000 people every Monday as she did not understand how to access the information for her team in real time through the database. Her approach achieved her required outcome to provide her team with the latest email directory every week, shortly after some of her colleagues started updating in the same way following her path to solving their problem. All of this was due to staff not being trained on the technology from their perspective, that is to say how do they need to use the technology in their daily lives and what functionality can be leveraged from the software to meet their needs. Another great example was an organization that had developed short code dialing to drive calls on-net rather than use IDD calling rates, seems very straightforward, however the business leaders had felt that sending an email to all employees would suffice on how to use this great software development. Needless to say six months into this project it was terminated as they management were not seeing the savings they had expected, three months after the project closed employees were asking why the short codes were not working anymore. Despite the business not training staff on how to use the new solution, through a process of the more technically aware staff passing information across to those less so, more than 35% of the business started to use the new on-net voice system.

As organizations and as leaders in defining the implementation and use of technology there are a number of actions we can take that will seek to improve chance of a successful introduction of technology. Businesses need to define how technology will be integrated with the way their business works or how they want their business to work moving forward and not to fall prey to reshaping their working environment or even processes around the technology they are trying to introduce. Define the business need, deliverables, what the change should bring and only then engage the technology provider with those mandates in place, ensuring any deviation from that plan is reconsidered internally as a “business first”.

Alignment between the technology function (e.g. CTO or IT) and the business units who will be the recipients of the technology to be introduced are absolutely crucial. There is a common misunderstanding of CTO’s thinking they know how to run a business and likewise business units believing they understand how the technology they use works! A crucial stage in the introduction of technology is a joint team of Business unit stakeholders and technology owners to balance the needs of the business with ease of integration into the existing IT systems and tools. You will find it very rare that the objectives of both are ever perfectly met, HOWEVER a common understanding between both sides will ensure a greater chance of success and in so doing create an impetus to consider other technology changes in the future in a mutually beneficial and understanding work place.

One final key point for consideration remains the assimilation of technology by an organization. I can imagine right now you are thinking that “well surely having completed the first two points this should be achievable” … right? Unfortunately the first two points will only provide the framework for technology to be introduced, the key step in any technology introduction is ensuring it is embraced by the organization it is destined for. I am sure many of you have seen technology projects go awry due to the users not embracing the technology through either lack of understanding or preference for the old ways of working. One method to introduce new technology is to consider a phased approach, look to those who embrace new technology and/or are technically savvy enough to be able to explain how it works and the benefits it provides to others. You will quickly see that as there are an increasing number of users embracing the use of the newly introduced technology it will be much easier to convert the technology laggards in your business through the implementation of policy updates on ways of working. Policies on using new technologies can be very useful for driving the remaining staff to the new way of working, as well as ensuring new staff are quickly up to speed on how to leverage the new technology introduced by your business. I can hear some of you thinking, “Hang on – your contradicting yourself! Now you are telling us to adapt to the technology!”, but that is not the case, what I am saying is it is important that once the new technology is introduced, whether it is communications tools, IT or new processes we always need to ensure we are clear in our own communication of how the new technology will be integrated with our current or new ways of working (???)

The challenges faced in introducing new technology into an organization remains complex and I hope to open your eyes to look at the relationships between technology and the way in which we use it in our organizations today. Technology IS an enabler to us in how we work as individuals and to the organizations we work with, it is absolutely critical that we continue to challenge the benefits that a technology will have “supposedly” have on our way of working BEFORE the project starts. There is a battle raging, but it is one we can win, as long as we take control of the goals of our business and limit technology to playing a role in the success of our business not the restriction of it.

Monday, 6 September 2010

How Secure is Our Information in a Ubiquitous Communication World?

Security has traditionally been a fixed Network discussion due to the historical limitations of what Mobile networks were able to do and more importantly what Mobile devices could actually understand.

Over the past 5 years all of this has changed with a number of key developments:

o The evolution of the Handset into a Smartphone – in some aspects doing more than what a Desktop can do today!
o The rapid technology development in Mobile, starting with the introduction of 3G, Mobile Broadband and now WIMAX and LTE
o The increasingly blurring of the boundaries between Fixed and mobile networks as perceived by the end user.

Security has become a Holistic communications concern; various forms of communication which were previously only possibly behind a desktop are now possible on almost any device than can connect into the meshed communications environment today. Whether for Fixed or Mobile Networks, Subscribers and Network Operator Security all share a growing unease as to how Secure our information/content is in this new world.

The implications that traffic of any kind can now be seamlessly routed between Fixed and Mobile Networks raises the concern on how do we manage this increased complexity? Historically a firewall or spam filter on your desktop would have solved most of your security fears, of course this was before our Mobile Phones became a critical aspect of our working and social lives with all of the tools and communication mechanisms to go with it. – Think about it how much of your email do you now send via a mobile device compared to 5 years ago? Did you ever think you would be updating your friends on forums through your mobile device or even using your mobile as a mechanism for paying bills, buying movie tickets or even network gaming! We used to think that our Mobile device was anonymous and only when we made mobile calls would anyone see our caller id, however the applications we are now accessing or the services we are now subscribing to online are doing so under the same principles as your home PC, that is connecting through the internet. Once we connect to the internet we are establishing an electronic identity that can be tracked to us as a user whether fixed or mobile, in doing so our existence in the use of these applications, services or even social network forums is not as anonymous as we might like to believe.

Mobile Networks add challenges as unlike fixed networks they are – as the name suggests – “mobile”, how do you protect your network and equally important your subscribers from all of the threats that have now evolved from the fixed network into the mobile space

o SPAM

o Fraud

o Remote Accessing Mobile Devices

o Content Filtering

o Terrorism

o National Security

o Adultery

The growing demands of Personalization by end users have increased the complexity in service management as well as the enormous diversity of content they areaccessing through their mobile device. The Openness to which ends users are willing to share their personal information – in many cases unknowingly is only adding to the growing concern that many advisers in the Security field have been raising with Network Providers and Operators around the world.

Governments, Regulators, Operators and Vendors all need to take collective responsibility for improving security requirements / solutions that will capture all aspects of communication and their associated platforms. It is no longer sufficient to consider that a Firewall, or a Filter on SMS will suffice to address the various security concerns mentioned earlier. The Industry MUST look at security wholisitically, how do we provide Security from the network to the content being accessed or downloaded to the protection of the end user – particularly the younger generation (Mobile Phones are increasingly common place in the hands of 8-10 year olds!) who are not likely to be aware of the risks that may confront them through their use of the mobile phone.

This not meant to be a doom and gloom message though, there is good news in a lot of these developments. The fact that networks are becoming increasingly blurred, the fact that applications and services that end users are accesing from both fixed and mobile networks are increasingly the same and finally the trend of all communications to an IP base provide a common framework from which to work from. The Industry needs to look at how we can address these common elements. Therefore knowing that the convergence of platforms, content and device capability we need to ask the question of How?

o How do we protect the end user with personal security irrelevant of the device they use to share, download or communicate information?

o How do we ensure Networks are secure from attack through flooding, remote control, and fraud?

o How do we ensure National security both in terms of terrorism and protecting national interests? (this could in fact be considered equally important for Corporations concerned with corporate espionage!)

I can imagine you are expecting to find the answer at the end of this article, there is no one answer to addressing security, as every requirement is unique, however this article does seek to provide you with a series of suggested guidelines that should be considered in establishing a security framework that addresses the above.

1.) Awareness – this is the most important aspect of any Security Strategy, by improving awareness of employees within an operator as to the critical role the network has in protecting its subscribers and also itself is a great start to driving improvements in all functions from Procurement, to Product Mgt through to Customer Service & Support. Improving awareness of end users with regards to actions they can take in ensuring greater self security and what they should do should they identify a security concern.

2.) Policy Management – It is important to capture the security requirements across all communication platforms to drive a set of standards making it easier to manage and providing assurances to subscribers that they can continue to realize the benefits that personalization brings without worrying which communication tools is more secure than another. Mobile Operators today will find this an even greater challenge given the multiple platforms they are now looking at managing – SMSC, MMSC, Mobile Broadband (on 3G, Wimax and soon LTE)and Wi-Fi, although the access mechanism is different the communication tools and content that is being shared is increasingly similar.

3.) Supply Chain – Ensure that All vendors Partners and even subscribers not only understand the policies being enforced to ensure Secure platforms and Services but also the expectations on those vendors, partners and subscribers on the expectations you have on them in maintaining that Security framework.

4.) Managing Change – Security needs to be a Dynamic element within any Operator (fixed or Mobile), it is not sufficient to simply run a program within a business and maintain, security threats, user behaviours, technology ALL continue to evolve and increase in complexity, it is therefore crucial to continue to look forward.

5.) Sharing Best Practices – Too many Operators feel it is critical not share the security concerns with other operators, this can actually create greater risks if they are not aware of Security threats that have been addressed by some operators but are not yet on the radar of others.

This article is not meant to dissuade operators and subscribers from continuing to maximize the benefits that these development s in the mobile communication space are providing, but more importantly to provide insight as to how we can continue to evolve our communication and content sharing tools and platforms but with an increased degree of awareness and security that Ubiquitous Communications demands.