Friday, 30 September 2011

Small Business Story on Cloud Transformation

My journey in the Cloud is complete. As of last weekend, I have transitioned all my business applications into the Cloud. In the process, I have moved from a PC world into an Apple Mac world. It is a journey from which I see no way back and I like it just that way.

So, first up, can a small business transform their entire business into the Cloud? In my case, the answer is yes. I am a small business whose world is effectively consulting with other companies. I have to be a part of those companies and so I need to have the tools and services which comply. I need to able to bill and collect cash effectively while being able to track expenditure. CRM is vital to me to manage and leverage my network. I need to promote myself, my knowledge and my services while I need to be able to accurately record and track the things I do with clients. 

I have found applications to do all of this in the Cloud.

Can a small business survive using only Cloud applications? Everyone I meet always says that the Cloud is not an all or nothing play. You have to keep some applications on a real computer, don't you? I mean, you need a USB port or to print or scan. How do you do all that in the Cloud?

The reality is much richer than people think. I now use a Macbook Pro laptop, an iPad2 and an iPhone, so I am Apple's dream. I have an Epson BX305FW all in one WiFi printer/scanner/copier. These are my hardware pieces.


Office Productivity
My work horse office productivity is Microsoft Office 365 with Office for Mac 2011 client. I was already in the Cloud since 2006 via hosted Exchange but I moved to 365 when I needed to upgrade. The cost is around £189 per annum. 

MS Office 365 is perhaps the most disappointing and annoying Cloud application.

Why? Because it is half and half and it misses the point in so many ways. You see it is still a resident PC or Mac application doing the real work - the only thing is you get a hosted Exchange again and the addition of two elements, both of which are relatively useless - SharePoint and Lync. The latter assumes you have loads of people in your company to collaborate with yet LiveMeeting is much simpler and easier to use.The fact is - it's the same thing.

SharePoint is the white elephant it has always been. Meant as a file repository it is really for complicated checking in and out of documents on projects. Fine if you are a large organisation, hopeless if you are a small business. Try simply sending a copy of a file by email as an attachment from SharePoint - a common thing if you want to leave clients information. You can't. Try sharing the file - the fun begins.

Forget it - don't go there. Use Dropbox. It's simpler, effective, available on all devices in the Cloud and it works far more flexibly. And you get 2Gb of online storage for nothing. I use it with clients all the time even though we have SharePoint servers coming out of our ears between us. This was just another product Microsoft could not sell to small businesses so they resorted to what all poor salespeople do - bundle it and 'give it away'. But for a company making the kinds of profits they do - you get nothing for free.

MS Office 365 keeps you in the Microsoft world. That's about as much good as can be said for it. Office for Mac is at least innovative, sassy and clever but it actually is not that compliant with PC Office. So if you are in the Apple world, Google is a very serious contender.

Dropbox I have mentioned - I did upgrade to 50Gb or similar for $99 a year and now I have all my working files in the Cloud so if I update any from any device, I have the most current in a single location. Backed up permanently. And I can share individual directories or files with anybody without compromising the version. And you can attach any to any email. No brainer for small businesses. works too much like SharePoint for my liking and you are limited by the numbers of files you can upload, download - whatever. Don't go there.

Evernote - my shining star. If you have ever used Microsoft OneNote you will have shared my experience of thinking 'Great' - dump a load of stuff into and never use it again. Evernote is the essential workbook to use to run projects and keep a real track of meetings, actions and be a repository for research and other things. It synchronises across all platforms immediately and can be shared by email, social media or as a blog page easily. There are a few bugs in it when working with email directories but by and large, I use it all the time and it's brilliant on the iPad. At £27 per year for the premium version it's ace. if not, it's free. In fact, I'm using it now.

There is only one animal worth considering - At £110 per annum for Group Edition, it integrates with Outlook on the PC and it has Apps on iPad and iPhone. It's simply superb and kills most other CRM packages.

Printing & Tools
Epson iPrint for iPad is the cat's whiskers. The little App allows the iPad to control your printer/scanner. Scans can be directly loaded into the Dropbox. It's free.

If you use mind mapping, think Mindnodes or iThoughts.

Enter my new hero and the last application to go Cloud. is a must for any small business at anything from £12 to £24 per month it is great software and everything is backed off to the Cloud. The move from Sage could not have been easier and it has actually made accounting fun. Did I say that? Shoot me.

Social Media
I use LinkedIn for business networking for the wider things. To be honest, it has lost its shine for me since the 'Answer Squatters' arrived and took over things while the recruiters bombard the searches. I still get good information from there and so it's more a repository for me if I need to find out about somebody. is great for small business networking where you need a 'support team' of like businesses and people willing to share ideas. It has a great blogging facility and it has a real family feel to things rather than the faceless stuff at LinkedIn and Facebook (which serves little use for me other than frivolous family and friends stuff).

Twitter is useful for promoting yourself as long as you use original thought and treat it with respect. It's public and don't forget it. Also, volume is no substitute for value while using it too much as with any social media can be seen as time wasting and questions what you do.

Other social media like Empire Avenue is fine if you want a bit of fun but is actually dangerous if you work for people. It serves little purpose beyond providing some feedback as to how active you are on the web - Klout and PeerIndex do much the same.

Wordpress and Blogger are the obvious but little Apps on the iPad allows you to knock up content on the fly and feed these blogs. I use BlogPress on the iPad2 and it's really good allowing you to feed multiple blogs from one console.

Naturally you have the capabilities of your machines but for me leisure is filled by iTunes and Kindle - available on Mac, iPad and iPhone.

Can you thrive as a small business in the Cloud? 

I think so. I have dramatically brought down costs of base applications - saving over £1,200 per annum on accounting alone, MS Office 365 presents no savings at all over a 3 year period and I really wonder where MS are going here, Evernote is great for £27 per annum, Dropbox is $99 per annum for a ton of disk space, Salesforce is the best CRM for £110 per annum.

I don't have to buy or manage any server, adding users on the MS 365 Exchange is easy, data is always backed up and available anywhere, everything can be accessed by any device (check out Xero's iPad and iPhone Apps - brilliant and free) and I can do internet banking from my iPhone and iPad2 as well in handy Apps.

Along with the communications hero, Skype, that allows me an inbound London number for business and routes it to me via the Cloud anywhere, I look like a big company when I am small.

My website is the last thing that needs overhauling as this maybe the only area where MS SharePoint can help. Dare I ask anyone as I have no clue where to start as everything is just so complicated an clunky with Microsoft - you need a reseller partner for all that and that costs, sadly. I use Core GB and they are great guys.

The Cloud has cut my costs, management time, accounting effort, and my applications down - I am more effective, mobile, flexible with everything safely backed up always. 

I am thriving, for sure. One thing - I chose MS Office 365 because I feared having any minor incompatibility with those I work for and network with. The alternative is Google Apps at $50 per user per year. We can debate whether Google has resellers or real salespeople but when it comes to Google Apps they are now a serious contender for small businesses, and they are the Cloud collaborator of choice to most Cloud applications.

Microsoft dismiss Google as an advertising company and mere noise. MS have a nasty habit of blaming poor products on daft users - the true sign of talentless salespeople, you might say, but believe me the insults wear in the end. In a year's time I will take a serious look at Google in terms of where it's at in capability, compatibility and cost.

You see, that's the best thing about the Cloud. You are not beholden to anyone. Your contracts are monthly or annual - you are the master of your destiny and choice is your friend. You have the ability to adapt and change all the time.

Welcome to the new world. It's putting the fun back into working.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Accounting in the Cloud

I cannot say that I have ever been enthusiastic about having to do my accounts. Like most sales animals we fear we what we don't know and we value the work that accountants do only when it goes in our favour. So the thought of having to do ones own accounts is not a natural one.

Some years ago, between contracts, I actually switched from Excel based accounting and bought a small package called TASBooks, which was subsequently bought by accounting big boys Sage. It took a while but over a few weeks I got to know the package by entering all my historic transactions and building up the history of my company. I was actually quite proud of the work and I have done all my accounts myself since. If truth be known, TASBooks is a nice package for small businesses. It's easy to use and it is quite flexible. The downsides are that if you want to produce some meaningful management accounts, it's a very manual process. And to be honest, that's the only thing I am really that interested in - the snapshot.

So with all my harping on about Cloud computing, I have been looking to put ALL my business grade software into the Cloud as a small business. I have signed up with Microsoft Office 365, I use Evernote, Dropbox,, Skype and now about 80% of my work I can do via my iPad. The last bastion of on premise, old style computing was Accounts. Could I find a solution to lure me fully into the Cloud?

Enter - a fully Cloud based accounting solution for small businesses. It's a New Zealand quoted company but let's not hold that against them at his time of Rugby World Cup. They have over 40,000 users worldwide and revenues of over $(NZ)15m this year with an office and sales/support team in the UK and tons of 'Advisers' who are accounting firms using the software who can offer a rounded service for a monthly fee.

I have trialled and bought the software in about 3 days of using it. Quite simply, as a small businessman and a non-accountant, it is exactly what I have been waiting for. It's easy to set up, easy to start and enter historical balances, it is bank account driven and it has complete sets of easy to see reporting that makes sense of accounts. Transactions are more logical to salespeople, payroll runs are no longer a mystical art that involves a 'journal', VAT is easy to see as a running total, back ups are automatic and on the web and the application runs the same on PC, Mac or iPad as it is truly Cloud based.

At anything from £12 to £24 per month depending on your business size and needs, it is reasonably priced too. TASBooks was cheap when I bought it but I upgraded to TASBooks 2 and then took annual support as you need it. That now costs £375 per year and is rising. I pay £1,600 for my annual accounts and £600 per year for a freelancer to calculate my payroll and VAT and electronically submit them to HMRC. That's a lot of money in fees. Now I can pay £120 per month for a fully inclusive service of software and accounting including payroll and VAT from one firm. That's a reduction from close on £2,600 per year to just £1,440.

But the the experience of doing the accounts is now so much better - it can even get automatic links to your bank accounts (HSBC) for a further £2.50 per month or you can import all statements yourself via .csv files. Xero then takes each input line and either asks you to allocate to the appropriate accounts code, or once you have done it once, it learns which payee is coded where and accounts for it and the VAT automatically.

This will cut down the time I consume on my accounts by more than a half. I can input expenses and attached scanned receipts directly into the software on the hoof - today I run separate spreadsheets for expenses. Management accounts are just a pull down menu item while the brilliant Executive Summary gives me a full business snapshot that would have taken me ages before. I can generate and email customised invoices directly from the software and allocating cash is just a dream as you go to the list of outstanding unpaid bills and pick off the one you want.

I don't get excited about accounting, but Xero has become one of my morning rituals along with Outlook and Salesforce. I actually look forward to seeing my accounts not thinking about it with begrudging dread.

Xero is a Cloud based application which is really perfect for small to medium sized businesses. I can't recommend it highly enough.

So, on my journey as a small business into the Cloud, I can now say that I do not have a business application that runs on or in anything other than the Cloud. Microsoft is the closest to it as you still need the client software even though you have Cloud based email and SharePoint servers and it is the most disappointing of the applications.

Here's the thing. Xero has links to Salesforce - I can't enable it yet but the two can be directly linked. Salesforce and Xero directly output into Google Apps as a total Cloud based solution. While Salesforce has Office or Outlook integration, it's clunky, unreliable and there's no solution for Office for Mac.

Microsoft rather disparagingly call Google 'noise' and an advertising company. I think they need some education. There is a thing out there called the Cloud and it is rather changing the game we are all playing when it comes to software and data. All the clever, brilliant applications are being driven by creative and innovative developers in the Cloud and all of them are linking to Google as their partner of choice.

If small businesses don't want the intense hassle of setting up Microsoft Cloud or their on premise applications, then the natural links are with their noisy little competitor, Google.

I have said it before and say it again. The world is changing and Microsoft are a significant distance off the pace. We all think they will survive because they are full of intelligent people who have delivered a lot to business users even if it has never been the most clever or best quality.

But users are changing. The revolution in computing and software means that we all want and have access to buying the next and best - and we love it. It's spilling into the world of business. I am not sticking with the status quo for fear of moving any longer. There is a lot better out there and it's so easy to get hold of.

Microsoft need a refresh of its sales engine at minimum as the message of arrogance no longer has to be listened to and the boring eulogy of how unskilled and unimportant companies like Google are is becoming both monotonous and quite insulting.

First rule of sales - never knock the competition. Change the mantra, Microsoft because you are calling your customers stupid. Most of us as small businesses don't like that. 

And we now have the ability to vote with our feet and wallets.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Cloud Accounting for SMB

As a true believer in Cloud Computing for small businesses, I have been progressively moving the applications I run my small business on away from on premise or on PC to applications to those that run in the Cloud.

I now use Evernote as by basic work horse note taking and project book software (at £27 per year), Microsoft Office 365 at £189 per year, Dropbox with extra storage at $99 per year, Skype for Business, for my CRM package at £120 per year and a few free applications on my iPad 2. From time to time I also use Google Apps and GoDocs.

By and large I can run all the above applications on my new Apple Macbook Pro, iPad 2 and iPhone 4, and I store all my data in the Cloud as a permanent back up. The last bastion of the on premise and on PC world was my accounts package called TASBooks 2 from Sage. I must admit, I have always found that losing control of my accounting was the last great fear factor for me, particularly as I am not an Accountant and have had learn the package by the seat of my pants.

Last week, after trying various online solutions like NetSuite and InniAccounts, I discovered Xero Accounts ( through a contact at the company I consult for. Xero is a New Zealand company with over 45,000 paying customers, is quoted on the New Zealand stock exchange and is available only in the UK outside the Antipodes. Their annual revenues were over $9m (NZ) last year to July and they are tracking at $15m for this year. They are strong in the UK and they have set up a subsidiary to tackle the US market.

What I like about them is that they offer a really simple to set up 30 day free trial and the process is easy. But more interestingly, it's an Accounts package that is driven by the bank accounts. If you're anything like me, I relate everything back to my actual cash book - the one run from my HSBC bank accounts. I run a master spreadsheet which records every single cash transaction on every account and I run it in tandem with my TASBooks. This means that if ever I lose track in the software or enter anything wrongly, I can always unravel what I have done by checking every cash transaction on the spreadsheet. Yes, I know that's really silly but it works for me.

Xero means I no longer have to do this. The software actually takes automatic feeds from my bank accounts and first time it allows you to check by hand and allocate each transaction against an expense code. In doing so, Xero records which supplier account is coded as what and remembers this for the future. So in subsequent downloads from the bank, it automatically allocates against codes for you. I like that.

The accounts codes are limited and that will help me as currently I have several accounts codes but when I do my monthly management accounts, I group them logically as travel, entertaining etc so I have just a few reporting lines I compare regularly.

For a small business like mine, this is a godsend. The software also produces automatic invoices and sends them as pdfs (TASBooks doesn't do this). Also, it does expense claims as you go - currently, I do a spreadsheet per month and then reconcile them and scan the receipts. Xero allows you to do expenses as you go and attach the recipes as pdf files which also good for personal accounting.

It has really easy reporting and this is automatic and up to the current month - in TASBooks, I have to run these by hand and then copy them into spreadsheets to do anything with them. It also does an Executive Summary Management Report with all the consolidations on one easy to read sheet. naturally, all data is automatically backed up onto the Cloud and can be accessed by internet device.

At the moment, I pay £375 per year for my TASBooks 2 support, £1,600 for my annual accounts and £600 per year for payroll, VAT and some ancillary bookkeeping as well as some accounts insurances. Xero actually costs from £12 per month but mine would cost £19 month or £24 per month if I want multi-currency. You can pay by credit carted monthly and you can cancel the contract any time.

For a single charge of £120 per month, I can get the software with unlimited support plus all my accounts, VAT and payroll done with personal tax return too. Xero has quite a list of geographically spread advisers who are accountants who use Xero. I have started to work with Duncan Strike at Brightstar Accounting and he has been really helpful in managing a smooth handover form my old accountants. The old company are good people and have been of great help but realistically for a small company, I was paying too much.

I will start with Xero as of 1 October. We will just go for starting with end of year positions and catching up with my two months worth of transactions. For a person not actually turned on by accounts, I am quite excited.

As a person very turned on by Cloud applications, I think this is an absolute killer application for small businesses. I will keep everyone updated as I go.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Making Money - Easy, Peasy

Who ruined my Pension Plan? I know I didn't. I have been religiously saving a ever increasing proportion of annual earnings into my plans since I started work and yet the damn things are nowhere near enough to provide anything more than a pittance in my old age. The very real prospect of having to work for the rest of my life is a demoralising reality.

I have worked in several jobs and so there is no such thing as a defined benefits or a final salary for me. I look at Public Servants and I cannot for the life me work out why on earth they have such fantastic pension plans for nothing when I have paid in so much and have so little to show for it.

Then you read articles like this one and you realise that people are just messing with my hard earned money. Playing computer games with thoughtless programs that don't a fig for who's money they blow or grow or if I have a future or not. It about sums where we are in the world when it comes to high finance.

The banking sector apparently constitutes just about 9% of our gross domestic product yet it has a profound effect on every part of our lives from the day we are born to the day we take our last breath. The argument goes that we should revere those that run the system and look after our money as they are the very cream of society and the world's intelligentia. We should be grateful for their contribution to society as it is 'God's work' that they do.

I don't think you have to be a socialist to realise we have allowed that system to take over our lives and run it. We have allowed a set of largely faceless individuals with no accountability to run our policy making the world over. They have hijacked our money, they tell us how much or little we can have, tell us that we have to invest any we earn with them, tell us whether we have any future or not and then they dictate policy to Governments with a combination of carrot and blackmail.

I am not sure how we break free of this stranglehold that banking and financial companies have over us but you get the feeling that the billions that can be made by very, very few people year on year will drive people nuts when they wake up and smell the coffee eventually.

Ultimately, if we, the citizen taxpayers and bank customers of the world, collectively use our intelligence we can outwit these people and stop them having it all ways. We want sensible investing of our money and we don't want to be held accountable for the mistakes of computer programs, the idiots who write them and the half-wits who pretend they understand them when they make their annual millions and billions.

Maybe I am a dreamer but why should someone earn lavish bonuses for watching a computer program do their jobs for them each day? It would be like me earning a salary for watching TV.

Would it not be a remarkable thing if every customer of every bank asked the question of its senior executive tomorrow morning who earns what money and why at the bank. The poor people who manage the daily customers work hardest, get the least and get fired if the elite blow the money, yet they are the very staff who are responsible for keeping the main supply of cash in the banks that keep them afloat. Over the decades it is the likes of you and I who have provided the underlying and sustaining profits to banks. We are the guarantee.

If we all voted tomorrow by closing every account, policy and plan and asking for the cash, en masse, we would break the system to pieces.

In reality, it is the customers who have the blackmail card on all banks. You and I should never forget that.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

More HP Sauce

Hot on the heels of my blog on HP's disastrous policy of uncontrolled briefings on their future by mid level staff, it appears their bizarre policy is paying off.

Overnight, there were unconfirmed reports that the CEO, Leo Apotheker, is to be given the boot. Such utterings without informing the Stock Exchange are becoming the norm. This one has slightly more credence than an employee's coffee machine snippet as it also mentions the name of the would-be replacement, Meg Whitman, ex CEO of eBay.

HP have achieved their aim, if they had one in any of this. Their share price leapt 11% on the back of the rumour. If this were Simon Cowell's X Factor, the audience has voted and it's time for Leo to be shuffle off.

Oh, someone had better let the Board and the shareholders know.

Why Do Rogues Trade?

As the sorry tale of Kweku Adoboli's rogue trading unravels it poses some fundamental questions which originally started for me when Nick Leeson broke Barings Bank all those years ago.

I suppose it's a bit like Ponzi Schemes - you will always get caught out in the end but while everyone remains oblivious you make seemingly huge profits which you spirit off somewhere. But in rogue trading it should be different. 

Adoboli was making trades betting on the future direction of stock indices - this is not essentially a crazy thing to do. After all, many pension schemes and funds do much similar things. However, under normal circumstances, if a trader was making excessive bets on such things, building up a precarious position, then surely he would be spotted.

Like Leeson in the old days, Adoboli hid his tracks by creating fictional trades offsetting his bets with what are known as Traded Exchange Funds. He kept doing this for a period of months. To UBS, it appeared that all bets were covered - allegedly.

All this makes you feel sorry for the bank, doesn't it? I mean it must be a wonderful world where you believe that all daft bets get coincidentally covered by good ones and vice versa but such is the nature of banking. It's a game and we just allow it to happen with astronomical amounts of money. Daily.

So back to our rogue trader. Had his bets come good then his winnings would have been offset by losses from his cover positions. So he would not have made a great deal in incremental bonus - would he? As it happened, his bets lost and they ended up not being covered by his cover bets as they were fictional.

OK, so how did Adoboli plan to make money if his winning bets would have been offset by corresponding losses?

To understand this, you need to understand bank reconciliations systems and bonus schemes. I don't know what these are but it is pretty clear that rogue trading would not occur if bank bonus schemes were not always linked to the reconciliation system - or at least the two may not be synchronised. I.e. there must be a gap between booked wins and actual losses.

In that gap, it is the only time where the rogue trader can book a win, get paid and scarper.

Once again, it brings into sharp focus the culture of laissez faire systems, lack of accountability and bonuses. In reality, the ten year period up to 2007 was just a gigantic bonanza of rogue trading as the products 'making money' were not actually doing so. When the whole thing went into meltdown, bonus pools of the proportions of sizeable country economies had been paid out to a small percentage of the world's population who then collectively waved two fingers at us, took our bail outs and started it all again with zero impunity. And the system hasn't changed - hardly enough to stop this money making culture which delivers long term threat.

I dare say that in the world of banking Adoboli is seen as the unlucky one whose little scheme didn't win. If bonuses are paid out in such ways then I dare that such rogue trading is probably far more rife than we would imagine. It's just that more people place winning bets than losing ones. 

If that's the case - boy are we all in for a fall some day.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

PR Disaster to Recurring Nightmare - The HP Story Continues

It is fair to say that the whole manner and content of HP's recent announcements to a) kill its tablet business and associated operating system and b) announce it was withdrawing from the PC business by putting its entire PSG business up for sale was an utter PR catastrophe, considering only shortly before HP had acquired Palm and told the world it was galvanising around the new Web OS operating system.

It has been since compounded by various executives, some senior and some not, apparently taking on the mantle of spokespeople and either briefing contradictory information or just showing that their management doesn't seem to know what it is doing.

Partners and customer alike have sat and watched in some dismay as the once highly professional giant built around the values of its deceased founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, seems to have degenerated into a rudderless ship manned by disaffected employees fearful for their future.

Then things took the most bizarre of turns yesterday. In a series of Tweets from one of HP's Gold Partners at an event headlined by HP local managers, the Partner's executive told a massed online audience that the HP PSG sale was off because the tax issues were too large. Further, the partner Tweeted merrily that matters would be cleared up at the next Board meeting.

This contradicted what HP's own PSG Sales Director had said just a week ago which again had been pre-announced to a Distribution Partner who had gone public to say that a spin off was the favoured option.

The full unravelling of this drama is available at CRN's UK website.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of all this is that there are various, probably unauthorised, tactical briefings going on of just certain partners which are being given under non-embargo conditions. The mass of partners who might need this information let alone the poor customers who get it all in the form of speculation, gossip and innuendo don't seem to get anything official. It's a PR disaster which is spilling over into being an unprofessional management fiasco.

There is also a good article available on the Bloomberg US site which is related only by coincidence to competitive information being publicly posted online. Highly paid investigation companies like Nardello and others now scour the mass of publicly available information on Linked In, Facebook, blogs, Twitter and others to find competitive information freely shared between networkers. And it's big business.

In one case cited, an executive put up on his Linked In profile that he was looking for a job because his firm was suffering financial difficulties. Within six months the firm had gone bankrupt, not helped by a concerted effort by competitors to bring the company in question to a bitter end once they knew.

By coincidence, HP had been mentioned in the article but the link is obvious. In the Tweets of yesterday, apparently sensitive information being discussed in future Board Meetings was either being pre-released or speculated on by effectively mid level managers with Gold Partner staff in a single country.

HP is suffering enough at its own hands at Board Level not have its levels below muddying the water too. But it's the customers who I feel sorry for. If you are a current HP user or considering being one, you must be in two minds about the future. 

To know that you will be the last to know about what that maybe is the ultimate disrespect.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Beware of Social Media Influence Scoring Gizmos

Hot on my blog last week about how using multiple retweets can dramatically increase your 'Influence' indices online, I have an update.

I stopped retweeting the day I blogged about this subject. Since then, my Ecademy score has dropped and I have dropped from 59 to 70 in the ranking. I have seen a 1.39 drop in my Empire Avenue share price and I haven't yet seen my updated Klout or Peer Index scores but I dare there will be a corresponding drop shortly.

In the meantime, I have written two blog articles that have been more widely read and commented on than any other I have written for over two years, and mentioned more times in one week on Twitter than in any previous week. I have not issued anything to Linked In or Facebook over the same period.

I think it proves a sad point. Online influence has not much to do with what you say but how much you say.

Such a system of scoring cannot possibly be taken seriously or even considered at all by any potential employer as it lacks any credibility. So a lot of current vogue theory needs to be revised on the matter, in my opinion. While these scores may be good if you are pursuing a career in online Social Media, they cannot be taken for anything more than 'noise value' for an employer.

In fact, as I blogged last week, it can be highly detrimental to a career. A high online 'Influence' score can be indicative of a worker who spends too much time online doing nothing productive for the company they are working for.

This whole area of fashionable fad needs to be revised before people start making the poor errors of judgement based on a suspect theory.

Another Day in Paradise

Revelations over the weekend that the losses incurred at UBS Bank were from a series of accumulated rogue trades spread over a number of months were pretty depressing.

The theory is that because the rogue trader, Kweku Adoboli, was very familiar with the firm's back office and so he was able to disguise his activities through expert knowledge which hindered the company's ability to see what was going on.

Right in front of their faces. Amidst all the checks and balances. Inside all those complex and clever systems. In front of all those expert eyes.

And in front of all those greedy managers.

Adoboli was part of some sort of 'Special Services' equivalent of crack traders who used complex tools to form investments that made super-money. He was paid a fat salary and mega-bonuses and left to do virtually what he damn well liked as it appeared that he was making mega-bucks. And that, in banking terms, is a good thing no matter how he was doing it.

And this is the point. The time for us all to blame the banks for the worst crash since The Depression is over, so the bankers say. Yet here they are at it again. Gambling with more money in 5 minutes than the rest of us will make in a lifetime. Kids like Adoboli are given carte blanche to do what they like and how they like. And so long as the numbers look good, who cares how he did it.

And then he went and spoiled the party. He committed the greatest crime of all in banking terms.

He went and got himself caught.

Once again the outcome is that the world will see the bad activities of one rogue trader. This neatly deflects our view from the systemic gambling that goes on in the name of banking. We have neither been hard enough or fierce enough in tracking down the culprits responsible for risking all of us.

And this whole affair proves that banking doesn't see itself as the problem. Adoboli is another lamb for the slaughter. The rest of them carry on as normal, risking our futures every single day in the pursuit of incredible bonuses.

We had a chance to fix it and we blew it as the bankers have us over a barrel. We want to keep our way of life? Then shut up and put up with the fact that a few clever guys will make more money than God every year so long as we foot the bill if they mess it up.

Hey ho. Another day in the real world.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dark Matter - Secrets Revealed

Is this kiss and tell stuff? Nope this is science corner on a Saturday morning. 

You know, scientists are clever people for sure. I mean, without them we wouldn't have such things as the swanking computer I am writing on or the Wi-Fi waves I send to the thing in the wall that sticks it into a wire that sends it to the the web thing that means you can read this. Even though I managed to get a degree in Physics and Chemistry, I wouldn't have a clue how that all works. But it does.

However, I have long had a problem with the stuff that Stephen Hawking and all those boffins go on about. Dark matter and Dark Energy. You don't see much of it in Star Trek and they went a long way into space in the Enterprise. If Scottie, Kirk and the crew never referred to it then it's a fair bet that this stuff doesn't exist, in my book.

Plasma cores, conduits and tractor beams maybe, but not Dark Matter. I mean, I can get my head around the idea that only 4% of the Universe is actually made up of matter. You don't have to be a genius to work that out as we can clearly see there isn't much matter between us and the Moon or the Sun (except a haze of space debris and human urine from the Space Station) and those are big distances without matter in them. The fact that the Universe is still expanding is a conundrum as the theory goes that by now, some 13 billions years after Big Bang, the rate of expansion should have been slowing down at least as the gravitational effect of even that 4% of matter should have started to attract things to one another.

The simple fact that cosmologists couldn't explain this oddity lead to the invention of Dark matter and Dark Energy - so much so that weedy mathematicians got involved and even calculated that, even though you cannot see it, Dark matter constitutes 21% of the Universe. Now, I'm telling you, at the speed the Enterprise was travelling they would have definitely have struck some of it even it they couldn't see it.

The trouble with scientists is that they always have an answer for everything. So when you use simple logic like that they then say, 'Ah, but Dark Matter and Normal Matter don't interact together in the same way as Normal Matter does with itself.'

That's the sort of logic that gives science a bad name. I mean, if Dark Matter and its equivalent in energy is swirling out there, then there is at least five times more of it between us and the Moon than there is normal matter. You would think some of it bumping into each other or forming Black Holes and such like in its equivalent world would have manifested itself in some way by now? Even if all it was only making things appear slightly darker than it is.

So imagine my surprise when scientists, in the face of my logical arguments and calling people like me stupid, have now started to revise their theories. Evidence now shows that Dwarf Galaxies would form far more densely than they do if Dark Matter existed. 

If only they had asked me, I could have told them exactly that. I could have even have pointed them to Captain Kirk's Log and they would have found no mention either. In the face of overwhelming evidence therefore, boffins had built that dirty great big underground thing in order to prove their point and now it won't ever do so.

We now know, thanks to the film Angels & Demons, that anti-matter can be held in the magnetic field generated by the energy of two AA batteries. It really is such a waste of time and money, if it is that easy and experiments can be conducted at normal speeds and temperatures in the Vatican City, to have built the Large Hadron Collider at all.

Some day, just once, a scientist will ask me for my opinion while I sip my pint. I could tell him a thing or two, I can tell you. 

Dark Matter, my arse.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

When Social Networking Goes Wrong

Things have been going very well on Empire Avenue. Having broken through the 30 Eave barrier, the share price of DUNNY has accelerated, as I predicted, through to 43.91 - which was a rise of over 5 Eaves yesterday alone.

I have blogged regularly and submitted around two original Tweets a day but followed some Social Networking advice and got retweetng at a great rate by using Flipboard for  iPad. This latter effect has been a crucial factor in the rise of the share.

As a consequence, my Ecademy score has risen sharply also and I have moved from 100 in their ranking to 59 in around a week with my score now at 38.26. On Klout my score is 39.95 and Peer Index has shot up to 47. My blog is far more widely read on Ecademy and my Calx Europe blog has had a very dramatic rise in readership.

On Linked In, my activity level has shot up as my Tweets appear for all my contacts to see while I now get around 3-4 enquiries for my services a week (including two offers for paid talks) - most of which are not applicable but this is a marked difference to Linked In's passive nature of the past.

So everything is on the up. This has to be good news. Or does it?

This week, the firm I have done a good deal of work for, considered me for a contract to do some specific work. It's fair to say that I am expensive to keep being engaged and so the HR Director 'benchmarked' my Linked In profile against other possible candidates. And the fun began.

I was pulled aside by a senior person in the company who gently warned me that my personal credibility in the organisation had nose dived. The HR Director had circulated observations that my activities on Linked In and blogging sites were indicative of me a) being desperate for work or to be recognised, b) too prodigious to believe I am giving the contracts I work on my full attention and c) the subject matter varied from expertise to the bizarre. The assessment was that I was probably not worth the money I was being paid and that the organisation would no longer be happy for me to be so active in Social Networking at minimum while under contract.

It is not the first time the organisation has had worries about levels and use of Social Networking. The feedback was given to me positively and with the caveat, 'If we hadn't known you personally and what you are capable of, we would have considered you a prat (or stronger) and never considered you for work here.'

The advice is not lost on me. On the one hand, my Social Capital and online standing has risen sharply - many people have 'invested' in me, read my blogs and Tweets and followed me. Inquiries for services have risen. But my actual credibility and suitability for work directly related to my expertise has dropped.

Not just dropped but threatened my livelihood.

The last few months have been part of an experiment in many ways. In my line of work, I get strong recommendations by word of mouth but until about two years ago, before the Q&A section on Linked In was hijacked by attention seekers who volume-answered questions with no-value inputs, 40% of the revenue I had made as a Company had come directly from Linked In. One of my clients today was originally attracted because of my apparent online knowledge.

I have deliberately upped my activity and profile. It's cheap marketing and I had believed the value of increased Social Networking Worth. But the feedback from my clients is actually more valuable. If I am being actively considered for my abilities, my online activities will hold me back, even potentially ruin the credibility I have with existing clients who know me.

This is a huge wake up call for me. Immediately I have stopped links on Tweets to Linked In and have stopped linking to Facebook - these are where the real problems lie as Facebook is considered non-value. I still have some issues on blogging and volume of these as I write blog articles around now, at 5.00am in the morning, before the working day has started or in breaks.

But it has certainly caused me to revise my thoughts on my attempt to increase my Social Networking Capital and my opinions on whether such indices actually hold any credence when people are trying to either get inbound business for their expertise or be compared to others for specific work or jobs.

My eave valuation is at a record high. But it has come at a heavy cost which nearly scuppered my real net value which is in my credibility with the clients I work with. That would have almost certainly negatively impacted the strongest real-life recommendations I have which come from word of mouth. That would have impacted my actual net worth very negatively.

It's something we should be very careful about. I have had a feeling about this for a while and much of what I have done lately is actually born out an experiment that I and a few online colleagues have talked about. To some extent, some of my initial views have been vindicated on Social Networking indices, although I had begun to believe in them because of the new interest and following I had created. It is clear that I was right in the first place and that following alone is false flattery.

My advice:

Nurture and protect the credibility you have in the companies you actually work in. It is word of mouth and strong personal references from people who matter that are more important than online followers or the number of contacts in your Linked In account. 

Blog carefully and within the confines of your expertise and balance volume with value. Tweet wisely and with original thought as the rest is not just worthless, it detracts from your credibility. Retweet carefully.

But above all, think of who you don't want to see what you write and then think again about sending out the information as the internet is a public world. Word does get back and there is such a thing as bad publicity in the online world.

Finally, my strongest advice, don't adopt a dual or multiple persona stance to try and separate business from personal networking. The nature of the internet inevitably links these persona and so never be a person that your business world does not want to see. This reflects real life far more than we would ever would like to think. But if you behave badly in your private time, it inevitably impacts your career and credibility at some time. It's just a fact.

If anyone has opinions on this, I would love to hear them and get a good debate going.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Rocky Road Ahead

I'm not talking about the end of the world but for us in the computer industry there are definite warning signs of rocky roads ahead.

I have talked at length about the dramatically changing client market with the growth in mobile devices in favour of traditional PCs. This has profound effects longer term on the traditional software market starting with the operating system upwards. There is going to be a rapid trend to the serving of applications and storing of data for every day applications over the Cloud, even if you are a Corporate user - that's the nature of mobile computing as we are seeing it develop.

This has a massive potential impact on both the revenues and margins that current volume software companies can make. The new devices have led the way in collapsing the cost of software and speeding up the way its delivered. There isn't any turning back even if many businesses set up their own 'Corporate App Stores'.

Now we see the rumbles in the infrastructure and server markets. The last Gartner quarterly figures showed servers slowing while overnight Cisco has again halved its growth expectations in the face of stiffer competition and a rapidly changing market.

'Plus ├ža change' some may say as the world of computing has definite waves of technology. But it is the pace of change which is catching out even the giants. In a few short months, HP issued a massive volte face having bought Palm and declared Web OS was their operating system du jour - they not only swiftly exited the tablet market in a frenzy of cash backs and give aways but they announced they were getting out of the PC business altogether.

Things haven't gone that well since for HP who perhaps should have hired Max Clifford to handle the PR debacle as shareholders have been very slow to give their backing to the proposed Holy Grail of acquiring Autonomy which is seen as putting their ship in order on the new course of software and services. The fact is they have just issued the death sentence to a cool $43bn of their revenue on which they still made some money - well until they refunded all that cash on failed tablets.

The next few months will be crucial. The tablet market is so dominated by Apple right now and they have swatted away one major player, you have to worry whether they have actually sewn up that area of the market. It would be shame if Apple were the only real player. Meanwhile, in the whole infrastructure and server market, the much hoped growth in Private and Hybrid Cloud solutions is seen as the ray of hope for the future.

Hold onto your seats, this may get to be a bumpy ride. Not for the faint hearted as even the big boys are mightily spooked about the future. And so they should be - it's arriving far faster than anyone thought.

Windows & Chips, please

So Google and Intel have teamed up

The mighty Intel has not faired well in the world of smartphone and tablets and as the PC market dwindles at a rate of knots that no one could have predicted, Intel risked losing its mighty market position.

So after its long, long history of working closely with Microsoft, it has walked across the street to the new boys, Google, and signed a deal to work more closely with their Android operating system.

I shan't wheel out the figures again, but by 2014 Android will have the largest share of smartphone and tablet operating systems in a client market that is already changing dramatically away from the old-style PCs. 

In the face of that, this is a very shrewd move indeed.

Meanwhile, in a land far, far away Microsoft showed off its new Windows 8 ( operating system patronisingly designed for both the PC and tablet world as we all must live in that twilight zone, mustn't we children?

Not only has the new 'metro' version interface been designed for smaller devices but Microsoft have come up with a novel idea to buy through an 'App Store'. And, as the ink dries on the deal between Google and Intel as highlighted above, Windows 8 will be optimised to use with the low powered ARM chips (Hoorah for the UK).

Gartner's figures have tablets being 70m by the end of this year and 300m by the end of 2015 so it is time Microsoft got its act together in a tablet market it is currently predicted to only have 13% of by 2014.

Is the bet with ARM right? Is this too little, too late by Microsoft? Having used both Apple and Android, the array of software already on their App Stores is dazzling. When a Microsoft executive demo'd a Windows based phone to me back in May his prize App was some kind of cooking recipe thing. I was embarrassed.

It's a big step forward by Microsoft, to be sure. But they are so far behind and in the wake of Google and Apple in this market with partners facing lawsuits, it is hard to see how they will catch up.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dancing with the devil

Eliza Manningham-Buller may be an apt sounding name as a former head of spies but she knows a thing or two about security and terrorism

She poses some interesting questions. I believe it is right to have careful and guarded dialogue with terrorist organisations as I am not convinced that spiralling violence and war with unseen enemies is a either a civilised or sensible way to solve our differences. She rightly cites Northern Ireland as a 'success' story in using this strategy. She also points to Nelson Mandela and the ANC who used violence to attack the oppressive Apartheid regime in South Africa - we regaled him as a hero afterwards. Rightly so.

But should we aid and abet Dictators just so that we keep them where we want? Especially if we know that they are evil and oppressive to ether own people? She refers to Gadaffi and says it was right to motivate him to disband his nuclear weapon program and that made us safer. But by supporting him the way we did we ensured he had at least another 8 years to oppress his people.

What sticks in the craw is not so much keeping people where we want them. It was the sycophantic way in which politicians like Blair, Brown and Straw sidled up to him and became his 'best mate' so that we could get a share of the action on oil. It appeared not be about the safety of the world but getting snouts in troughs. Which is much like the overthrow of Iraq - another dictatorship the West supported at times and then attacked, as we are doing to Gadaffi now.

The strategy is clearly one that works in many instances but, by God, does it really make me gag to see smiling faces shaking the hands of murderers as Blair did to Gadaffi, Rumsfeld did to Hussein and Thatcher did to Pinochet. They tell us they are people of conviction but I can't believe that. It takes a malleable mind to double deal with killers. 

I'm all for forgiving but you have to be convinced that people have really renounced their old ways. What Gadaffi proved to us all was that he had only one aim and that was to extend his stay in power and he would do anything to keep that. The only thing that had changed was that his ambitions to expand had abated. Dealing with the West suited him and he knew he could control us as he had assets we wanted.

People far more intelligent than me will, I dare say, argue that we need to dance with devil in order to defeat him but I have to say events of the past few months have left me in no doubts that politicians are not to be trusted.

So what's the answer? Was Brown and his chums right to deal with Gadaffi and send home his bomber for a victorious reception only to see the tide of fate go against their new buddy? Are we right to talk to the Taliban or Al Q'aeda?

I happen to think talking is right. But that doesn't mean to say you have to kiss their backside or love their kids. There is a limit.

I would be interested to know the opinions of others.

Will China Own us?

Italy have just opened talks with China on buying Government Bonds

Currently the largest holder of US bonds is China while China is actively buying European Government bonds.

It is a supreme irony that many believe the US and UK invaded Iraq as an attempt to control the availability of oil to China which is now the largest consumer. How apt that the US, after its latest budget to increase borrowing further, is getting in greater hock with the country it sought to exert control over.

If this whole scenario had been outlined as a potential reality just a few years ago, US and UK politicians would have told us we were mad. However, the reality is that few nations have the sustainable economy and cash to buy our bonds right now.

Being in large scale debt to the Chinese could produce some very interesting problems in the future, particularly if we don't get a grip on our finances and struggle to repay the debts. Imagine China telling us how we should be using our money.

The beauty for China is obvious. they lend us more money so that we can spend it on their goods and manufacturing in their country so that they make more money to lend to us.

It's a nasty spiral that may be very hard to pull out of. Who said that an ideology like Communism would never rule the world? Perhaps the way to do it all along was via trade rather than isolation - if that's right the Chinese have read this perfectly.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Microsoft's Single Point of Failure

I ran the UK and North European business for a Service Provider called Genesys Conferencing for around 3 years. I had, as MD, ultimate responsibility for the service hub which was co-hosted in the UK with our largest reselling partner, Cable & Wireless.

One Saturday afternoon, when our bridges were normally pretty under used, I got a very irate phone call from C&W. Their conference service was down. It was Saturday - so what? By coincidence, their own telecom network had suffered an outage and the best way of mobilising their action team to fix it was to use our audio conference service. By coincidence, our service was also down.

In the aftermath, we looked at how we set things up. The fault could be traced to a  single router that had got itself in a loop and had caused an entire conference bridge with 800 ports to go down. A single router had caused a total denial in service. But because it was a Saturday, only one customer had been affected.

But when we analysed the problem we found that of the 800 ports, most of the them had been assigned to our two largest UK users - a bank was the other customer. By doing so we had made that specific bridge our largest and most profitable service bridge. We had also made it our single point of largest potential failure.

We learnt a big lesson - efficiency and usage is highly profitable until things go wrong. We learned that we needed to spread our risk and scatter the two customers across a wider number of bridges. Then we built in redundancy in the routers and the bridges.

We experienced outages again after that but we never, ever disrupted more than a few users in each company ever again, so decreasing the 'hit' to any single company.

Fast track to Microsoft's outage on Office 365 this last week and you can see that Microsoft, in deciding to exclude its channel from service delivery, has exposed its entire customer base to a single method of service delivery. Microsoft, even though it has experience in serving hosted applications, is not a business grade service provider by trade - it is a software vendor. Hosting free services is too simple as no one really cares if Hotmail goes down as a) it's free, b) we usually have multiple free email services and c) we can probably communicate some other way like Facebook or Twitter.

It will be lesson hard learned in terms of embarrassment and cost for Microsoft. But will they really learn? They have set out their strategy, it has backfired, now will they change? I doubt it.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Shifting Sands in the PC World

In a matter of just a few months we have seen the IT 'Client' market change dramatically. The definition of this is what we use on the desktop to compute with - desktop, laptop, notebook and now tablet.

We all knew that tablets are trending - Apple will likely manufacture and sell 20 million iPads this quarter alone and by 2014 it is reckoned that of the total 1.3 billion PCs on earth, over a quarter will be tablets. To reflect this, Gartner Group issued some appalling figures on the PC market for last quarter - of notebooks alone, there was a 53% drop in sales and PCs fell by 21%.

It is very clear that despite industry pundits trying to dismiss the Apple iPad and other tablets as just fancy gadgets with no business worth, the tablets are very quickly becoming productivity and relaxation tools. Finally, the world of computing is truly reflecting what mobile workers does - we work and relax while we travel.

The Apps are getting better. While I type this I am also keeping an eye on the Ireland v USA RWC game in the ITV Player window. I use Evernote to capture my research and notes for all meetings and projects in handy notebooks that synchronise over all devices immediately over The Cloud - at just £27 per year for the Premium version, it is one of the best productivity tools on the market. I use Pages to generate lose documents and blog articles on my iPad and then upload them into my blog as it is easier and quicker using things like WordPress or Blogpress. I can open and review large PowerPoint presentations in my iBooks App as PDFs. Realistically the only two things I don't do well are spreadsheets and presentation building where the world is dominated by Microsoft Office although I like the functionality of both Numbers and Keynote.

It's the cost that gets me. I have yet to pay over a few quid for any App - even the iWorks suite cost less than £20 in total on the iPad. It's revolutionising the way we work and buy Apps because at no time has any corporate restriction or IT manager defined what App I use. I just buy them.

The outcome of this is that I have changed my workhorse laptop from Lenovo PC to Apple MacBook Pro. From here there is no turning back. I have the iWorks suite installed for £14 each but Office Mac Home & Business for around £180 is simply the best suite from Microsoft for years. Apple is steadily getting back on executive desks and Steve Jobs' incredible journey of rescue has got Apple back into mainstream computing by the back door.

No one could have predicted all this in just a short period. Edifices have crumbled and the once mighty HP has not only surrendered early in the tablet market, it has capitulated in the entire PC market - a $43bn business to the company - as the death knell of the PC market sounds.

Channel players will be sanguine. As long as everyone needs clients, there will always be need for resellers and distributors. Right?

It's rapidly becoming unclear how that looks in reality. If Apps and the Cloud will be the main 'shop' by which everyone buys product - perhaps bespoke App Stores for corporations - then where does the channel get the incremental sales from? The infrastructure will change dramatically and more of the delivery of products may well change too.

App vendors like Google will be salivating as they are reckoned to be the winners in the tablet operating system market with Apple as No 2, the obvious follow on thought will be that Google Apps will become more prevalent as a result. With Google Android getting a huge share of the Smartphone operating system, this seems to be logical. For Apple, iCloud will lead the way for serving their applications and business needs.

I haven't mentioned Microsoft in all this. They have proved with Office for Mac that they can innovate again but their future in the tablet market operating system market is put at just 13% and this may be less if they cling onto the hope that tablet users want full versions of operating system and applications - and for the usual big money. 

Google Apps at $50/user/month and iWorks at perpetual licence costs of less £20 have defined the future of software. 

It will be very hard to predict what happens from here. But the channel needs to start thinking. The issue is 'clouded' by Cloud generally as traditional vendors try to stake out their roles. But Cloud is a great deal more than this. It's about how products will get to users and what they will pay also. And as client technology changes so dramatically and quickly, the future is arriving faster than we would all like.

So much of what is written about the Cloud tries to translate what we do today to a world of tomorrow. Vendors talk of 'transformation' of worlds of software from on-premise to Cloud and how resellers must do this and that. 

The reality is rapidly evolving that the new world will have little to do with the old world. Transforming existing software into the Cloud may be one option but there will be many more. In the last year or so, thanks to the tablet's explosive start, thousands of innovators are starting up and charging little amounts for cool software.

There is a strong argument that says that the winners of the world of tomorrow will be new vendors who will throw off the need to adhere to legacy, solve the issues of integrating into corporate directory structures and explode lower cost, clever office software to be used on any device, anywhere.

There is also a strong argument that says the new channel of distribution of software generally has yet to emerge. 

Many of the channel players today are standing around waiting for some light to emerge which they can follow to lead them to what the future holds. Many look to their vendors for the answers but some of these vendors have ploughed their own furrow without channel following the likes of Google and ahead of them. 

It's a pretty confused state. Or is it?

At Google and Apple, life isn't very confused at all. This is client technology and these companies have worked out exactly how they will make and deliver their products to all the users. Out of the box, my Apple MacBook Pro worked with my Microsoft Office 365 and absorbed all the iCalendar and directory structures without a hitch. I cut the umbilical chord to the PC world but for one application - my Sage accounts. That will be solved soon as I trial NetSuite.

Apple will launch iCloud next year and this will likely revolutionise how I do all those things for the future.

So if Apple will have around 38% of the tablet market and Google 40% and their shares of smartphones will around the same - and the total number of these devices used by consumers and corporate clients will be around half the number of PCs in the world today, what is the future for the PC as we know it? And what is the future for the world that PCs live in technically?

This is the issue facing channel players today. Sticking with the strategy of staid software and hardware companies may not be the brightest of ideas. Some of these mega-companies don't really want channel players for the future so a question channel players should all ask themselves is, 'Why should I help you sustain the past if you don't want me for the future?'

It's as well that software vendors think about that particular question. 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Microsoft Outage - A Lesson in Humility

At approximately 8pm Pacific Daylight Time to 11.30pm the same day on 8 September, Microsoft Office 365 experienced a GLOBAL outage.

Luckily for us Brits that was in the middle of the night and realistically if you are going to have an outage, after business hours on the West Coast ain't bad. But this wasn't a local or regional outage - this was the big one. All users got nobbled.

In my Inbox I saw nothing suspicious or to tell me something had occurred although Microsoft acknowledge that some users are still experiencing problems.

Rather generously, Microsoft have refunded 25% of one month's fees to all users.

There is no doubt that this is a serious setback to Microsoft and it follows recent outages on their BPOS system - their reliability story which they tout so much is looking rather ropey. 

Microsoft chose a pathway which places them straight in the firing line with their customers. By not allowing the active syndication of their software by any other companies except some Telcos who have sold precious little, they have assumed responsibility not just for the manufacture but the delivery of the software.

Further, their strategy was so direct that they bypassed all channel members to have the contracts direct with customers. So there is no one to share the blame with, there are no resellers to take the initial blow by the customers, Microsoft are the one and only company to blame here.

But it wasn't for the want of trying. Big Distributors offered to share the pain by actively asking Microsoft to become syndicators to the thousands of resellers and millions of customers they service. In shallow hindsight, this would have spread the risk and reduced the chances of ALL customers receiving the same outage at the same time. It would also have put the responsibility of dealing with the end users several rungs in the supply chain ladder below them.

Finally, they could have deflected criticism that this is a software led issue, casting the shadow on Microsoft's capability to manufacture the product as well. By having the 'deliverers' assume the responsibility they could have blamed the delivery mechanism rather than the software.

Distributors have been struggling to find their place in the value chain in the world of Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft have been very blunt about what value Distributors and Resellers can add in the delivery of the product and service.

Well, Microsoft, here's your answer. This could have been limited to a regional or even localised outage of a single channel player. Instead, every single user of Microsoft Office 365 experienced the outage and every single one will get the refund.

By adopting Google's strategy of direct delivery, Microsoft exposed themselves to the main weakness in the newcomer's strategy. Doesn't look such a bright idea now, does it?

My strong advice to Microsoft? Don't have your staff be so damn rude to Distributors and Channel about their potential value in the new world of Cloud. Remember the old adage, 'In the journey to the top be very careful on whose face you tread on the ladder up as it will be the same faces you see on the way down.'

Saturday morning philosophy. You can't be it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

How Many Software Licences Do You Really Need?

Recently my wife received a call from some foreign chap who told her he was calling from Microsoft Support and that he had detected a problem with her PC. He could take control and then solve it, she just needed to click on some link. Rightly, she said her husband deals with things like that so call back - at which point the chap became abusive and then read out our address and told her 'he would be visiting her.'

It was a nightmare scenario that left her in tears and when I mentioned it to a senior Microsoft Manager he sympathised but wondered whether the chap had a legitimate licence to use Microsoft software - I was more concerned how he had got hold of our registration details. A bizarre answer but understandable, I suppose.

Software Asset Management (SAM) is a big business. More companies are auditing their licence base to understand if they are compliant for Governance purposes in the main but many are finding large savings in the process as they find they have way too many or can identify ways to save costs. Nice.

Meanwhile, vendors do 'true ups' every few years to make up the difference they haven't charged for in enterprises - it's a scenario that is thankfully solved if you move to The Cloud but that's another story.

But here's a thought. Over the years, I cannot tell you how many PCs I have bought and licences for MS operating systems and other software. Most of these get trashed and wasted when you upgrade your hardware - we waste licences to use software all the time and consumers actually are the hardest hit as corporates at least can negotiate.

The fact is that in the last 5 years I have bought at least 6 licences to run MS Windows operating systems but at any time in that period I have only ever used one at any time. Why is the licence itself not portable? Software is actually not that hard to replicate or costly to download. Why am I paying so much money all the time?

Think about that in your own context and you might even start to cotton on that piracy is in fact what software vendors do to good users. Every new PC we buy, we buy another software licence. Some of us can keep some of the applications to use again but if you buy MS Office 365 you get Office 2010 for a PC - what happens if you want to use an Apple Mac? You buy a new licence again.

So in my eyes, software vendors really are quite well off after all. If most households update their hardware say every 5 years then operating system licences are renewed which offsets the piracy elsewhere in the world. And let's be honest, Microsoft and others aren't exactly in need of profits, are they? Even the owner is trying to give all his away.

My point to large companies is go and audit your licence base - you will be surprised at what you might save then go to the Cloud and don't let it happen again. Then take a long hard look at all those PCs you destroy and ask the vendors if you can have some money back on unused licences - after all it says in their T's & C's these are 'Perpetual Licences'.

Food for thought, at least.

Microsoft Bites Back

No, Ty and others, don't switch off yet or send haranguing messages. Hear me out, I haven't gone mad yet. Well, at least, not completely.

I have moved from the Dark Side to the sunny world of Apple by buying a MacBook Pro 13" and it's the cat's whiskers and it looks good too. All that a laptop should be and more. OK, so forget the spiel on battery life as it is no better than my old Lenovo and it's heavier but what a brilliantly designed machine. It comes with ton of useful software, you can get complete iWorks suite for business for a little over £40 and it set up with my Microsoft Office 365 hosted server easily. I was up and running within minutes to enjoy the 'always on' world of Apple with its innovative way to see your desktop, find files, buy software - it's the future for sure.

And then there is Microsoft. I bought Office for Mac and it's simply superb. You can get all the iWorks equivalent for just £70 if you shop around - Excel, Word and PowerPoint. But it's not the tired old staid versions you find on the PC - this is Office for Mac 2011 and it is Microsoft back at its best. Innovating, clever, sassy and so good - these applications once again are great to use.

Having sat with the Apple email, address book and calendar for a while - all of which came with the machine and synchronised easily with my hosted Exchange, I tried the upgrade to Office for Mac Business which gives you Outlook. This was expensive at £125 and for any extra it gives you over the resident Apple programs it's not worth it. But if you are stuck in a rut with Microsoft and long for having the full Office suite, then bite the bullet and buy it. It's brilliant.

Remember I had upgraded to Office 2010 in my £189 per year MS Office 365 implementation - well Office for Mac 2011 is just a load better. It looks good, performs brilliantly and its full of Microsoft innovation and cleverness. Why can't we get things like this on PCs?

Everything was so simple to set up - all my contacts and calendar were immediately imported from MS Office 365 and then I got the benefits of the new look Office for Mac things. Go look at the templates for new documents, look at the contact cards, look at the ease with which you can organise your Outlook with simple tabs. It's just a league different to their old stuff.

The Down Side
Well I had to play to my new Apple friends in the audience. Why oh why was Office for Mac not offered as an alternative download for the Office client in MS Office 365? I have had to buy the whole thing again instead of porting my existing, expensive licence. That's just dumb and profiteering - the world is changing, wise up.

Then there is SharePoint. Microsoft - why did you lob this into Office 365? It is just so brainlessly useless for small businesses. On the Mac you are given MS Connections as part of Office for Mac and it links to a SkyDrive and SharePoint - well the latter doesn't  'see' my Office 365 SharePoint server. How stupid is that? 

But the no cost alternatives are SO MUCH better - Dropbox is just so great and is similar to SharePoint. For instance, I tried setting up my SharePoint Workspace so my accountant can see all my accounts spreadsheets for my quarterly VAT returns. But you can't easily mimic your file structure and you are limited to the number of files in the Workspace and that you can download at a time. So we use Dropbox instead - it took a minute to set up and we share a folder which syncs with my desktop. No cost.

And here's a daft point. Office for Mac 2011 can't interface with Exchange 2008 or below. Microsoft's legacy is going to pull it away from being able to migrate people successfully into the Cloud because of that haphazard and nightmarish upgrade path it used where it made backward compatibility not possible to try and force people to upgrade. Now its left with users all over the place and an inconsistent and nightmarish story for Cloud which its own salespeople are not capable of articulating.

Watch out for Google and Apple then because neither worry about such corporate atrocities. It is at the dilemma of upgrade that Microsoft remain horribly exposed. The cost of moving to Cloud then to Apple has been daftly prohibitive and maybe be a waste anyway. If iCloud delivers on half of what it promises, I cannot see myself staying with Microsoft at all.

The Good Side
If you are currently a hosted Exchange customer with Microsoft product then MS Office 365 is a good move forward. It makes sense for a small business. If you are a small business and you run your own Exchange server, consider hosted Exchange and Office 365 - it really takes all the IT nastiness away and the flexibility is great. The cost justification is there also but don't rely on Microsoft to articulate it because they don't seem to understand the fundamentals of real business so ask people like me what difference it makes over 3 years. I am a user and I have worked it out. Microsoft salespeople are lost in the morass of their own world and struggle with the actual concept of business - really it's not a good place to be in trying to sell Cloud.

MS Office 365 working with Apple for Mac is AWESOME. It's a tragedy that it isn't offered as a client alternative in MS Office 365 but hopefully blogs like this will make Apple think again.

Let's hope the next step is for Microsoft is to produce innovative new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint to compete with Apple's iWorks suite at the same price. There isn't that far to go and let's hope we see them on the Apple iPad too. If Microsoft could get there, then they are showing that they can once again be kings of the office. If they stick to their PC mantra, they risk being taken out.

It's crunch time and they need to think hard on their MS Office 365 strategy. Think the way you designed the Apple versions and use that as your starting point not the PC. It will make a huge difference.