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New blog location… March 15, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware, Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing, Software.
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Thank you for visiting the Thomas Eggar technology blog. We have moved the blog to our main website – please click here to be taken directly to the latest version of the blog!

Southamptons Itchen Bridge

 

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Tesco launches Clubcard TV – will you be watching? February 12, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services.
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News has emerged that Tesco is trialling their own TV service on employees, with a view to rolling out a national ‘Clubcard TV’ service later in 2013.

There is not much information yet on the service, but it is clear that they intend it to be a free on-demand TV and movie service limited to Clubcard holders – as a way of rewarding their loyalty to Tesco. With over 15 million Clubcards, Tesco has an enormous customer community so this is an interesting idea.

Of course any on-demand TV service will live or die on the content provided so Tesco is likely to be working hard at present to ensure there is going to be an interesting choice on the service, but it is unlikely that they can offer new shows or movies that are not already available elsewhere.

So what is the point of a service like this? It may just be a reward, a free service that is useful, but not essential, and limited to Clubcard holders. But it could be that Tesco and other big brands have identified a new area of the media where they can step in.

Think of how commercial TV and radio works at present. Shows interspersed by adverts that people no longer want to see or hear. With on-demand services the traditional broadcast model becomes irrelevant and it is increasingly difficult to interrupt content with adverts. However, if your brand is providing the vehicle that allows you to access the movies or shows in the first place then there are many opportunities to promote your brand without needing to place ads.

Media is changing fast – why shouldn’t a supermarket chain create a media empire? Stranger things have happened in business – Nokia used to make rubber boots before phones. Clubcard TV is certainly worth watching out for later this year.

Tesco Value

 

Photo by Chez Eskay licensed under Creative Commons

EU Cuts Affect Broadband in Europe February 11, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Internet.
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In recent news, politicians in Europe were seen hammering out a deal for the European Union budget. Though some in Europe were keen to see the budget increased, the leaders of countries including the UK and Germany placed enormous pressure on the decision-makers to cut back – reflecting the general health of the European economy.

And cuts were made. But one area that was hit particularly hard was the funding for rural broadband. The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) had a target of ensuring that half of Europe’s population could use Internet with a speed of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020, with the rest of the population on at least 30 Mbps.

With people fearing for their jobs and food banks on the rise, broadband access may seem like a first-world problem, but broadband is the basic infrastructure that underpins the entire digital economy and it is not good enough for it to only be available in major cities alone.

We are moving away from the traditional industrial model of the large cities with suburbs and armies of commuters travelling to the office at 9am each morning. Entire business models can be formulated and delivered online alone – and therefore based anywhere, even remote rural areas.

Considering the entire programme that is being cut was really only a few billion euros – contrasted with the banking system bailouts and quantitative easing that are costing hundreds of billions, it would seem to be a good investment in the future. Why cut back on infrastructure that can drive the future of the digital economy?

96 Maison de Fée

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Forrester outlines top tech trends – from now till 2018 February 7, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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As decision-makers get blindsided about how and when to use emerging technologies, Forrester analyst Bryan Hopkins recently provided some helpful insight into what’s next in his blog.

Grouped in four major blocks, he outlined the top 15 major trends in tech that will be shaking up business models over the next five years.

It is easy to fall into the crystal ball-gazing trap, especially when you are talking about what will happen in technology between now until 2018. But a clear thread can be identified across Hopkins’s predictions.

In the end user computing group, advanced collaboration and computing tools will continue to be of major importance to companies worldwide. This is crucial because of the increasingly dispersed nature of businesses and the war for skilled personnel – you need to get the right people to work effectively together and also retain as much as possible of their knowledge when they move on.

The sensors and remote computing technologies theme refers to the external, customer-facing side of technology. Here, the Promised Land is that of smart machines performing the collection and processing of data, then contextualising it to generate the nuggets of gold that can inform brands on what to offer to consumers, where and how.

But that information doesn’t just appear by magic. So tools that provide advanced analytics capability as outlined in the process data management topic outlined by Hopkins  – that is, digesting and making sense of structured and unstructured information quickly and cheaply – will be very useful to companies focusing on understanding their audience.

Finally, there needs to be a robust platform holding that glue of knowledge together. So, as described in the analyst’s infrastructure and application platforms topic, big data platforms to handle large volumes of data, elastic storage capability and everything-as-a-service will continue to be the talk of the town for the years to come. Are you ready?

Read Bryan Hopkins’s blog entry on emerging trends here.

Crystal Ball

 

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Is anybody out there? January 16, 2013

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services.
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It is no secret that social media has become an integral part of any marketing department worth their salt. These tools are no longer a mere reactive contact channel, but as a means to obtain knowledge and map the needs of the target audience.

Businesses that jump on the social media bandwagon without a clear strategy in mind will focus on numbers: how many followers they have on Twitter, how many entries are posted on Facebook daily. More often than not, it is one big monologue of information flowing one way.

In fact, 56 per cent of customer tweets to companies are being ignored. So, no matter how much or what customers are saying about the brands they do business with online – most of them are just not listening.

Sharing positive and negative interactions with relation to customer service on social media channels is on the rise. This is because people know they can be rewarded for their loyalty, or demonstrate their disappointment to a large audience if they are not.

While the corporate silence on social media has the massive potential to damage a brand – as we have seen on the now classic United Airlines example – positive cases where brands were really listening can earn real kudos from the public and spread like wildfire. Companies such as Walmart, XBox, and even steakhouses are showing us how it can be done well.

What about your company, are you listening to what your customers have to say?

Steak, Up close and personal [Explored]

 

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The British 4G auctions are underway December 13, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware.
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And so at last the 4G auctions have begun in the UK. There is some 4G available already via Everything Everywhere (EE), but none of the major operators are able to offer the service yet.

The applications will be considered before the end of this year with the winning bidder chosen by the end of Q1 2013. This means that 4G services should roll out to the public in general by May or June next year.

Many have asked about the importance of 4G and whether we need the service at all. After all 3G already allows most web browsing and email activities to function perfectly well.

I believe that the difference will be related to video and audio, specifically movies, TV shows, and streaming music. Services like Spotify are getting increasingly popular – you pay a fixed monthly subscription and can then play almost any music. However the big downside to Spotify is you need a computer and Internet connection for it to work. There is some offline functionality, but it’s all clunky and not easy to use.

Imagine if the Internet speed on your phone was so fast that you could stream any music anywhere? There would no longer be a market for iPods for a start.

The same applies for TV and movies. It’s possible to watch video on the move using 3G, but it’s usually a bit slow, the image can be buffered and delayed. The experience is not usually very good – if you want to watch a movie on a train journey it’s easier to download the video file first, not attempt to stream something big on 3G.

Putting data limits to one side, if there is no issue over speed then the phone will almost certainly become the most popular viewing platform for movies and TV shows.

I wonder if that will change how they are produced – filmed with the expectation that they will be viewed on an iPad Mini or iPhone rather than a cinema screen?

Rear of the Year

 

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The Pope delivers his first Tweet December 12, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Pope Benedict has sent his first tweet using the account @pontifex and he has continued to tweet throughout the day. But what use is Twitter to the head of a church?

The answer is really that it depends. I can imagine that the main reason for the Pope to be using a tool like Twitter is to engage with Catholics across the world, but the reality is that it would be very difficult for the Pope to actually engage with people.

Even on his first day of tweeting, the Pontiff already has over 700,000 followers. He can’t talk to them on a one-on-one basis or start picking out interesting comments to respond to – there are just too many.

So the Vatican’s use of Twitter would seem to be mainly just as a broadcast tool – to send out Holy messages to a flock prepared to listen in a new way.

It’s a shame to see that social media can be used essentially as nothing more than just a radio or TV broadcast via another medium, but in this case I can understand how difficult it would be for the Vatican to choose individuals to respond to online.

It does show that there is an interesting change in the concept of broadcasting itself. Lady Gaga has over 32m followers on Twitter. She doesn’t need a TV or radio station to get a message out to tens of millions of people – and if several of them share the news with their own followers it is reasonable to expect that she can reach hundreds of millions in a few seconds.

The concept of entertainment channels is being redefined. Fans of sports teams can just follow an online channel maintained by their team – there is no longer any need for a broadcaster. How will the growth of this online broadcasting change the broadcast world as we know it?

Pope Benedict XVI prays in front of the image of Our Lady of Fatima after arriving to catholic Fatima shrine in central Portugal, May 12, 2010

 

Photo by the Catholic Church of England and Wales licensed under Creative Commons

Poor design hampers gamification in the enterprise November 27, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Software.
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Gamification is a great way to use the principles for gaming within a different environment, to make a task or process fun. Think for a moment about the badges you are awarded for adding more reviews on Tripadvisor or the awards like ‘Mayor’ status awarded on Foursquare for users frequently checking into specific locations.

Many commentators have predicted that the enterprise workplace can be improved by ‘gamifying’ many of those dull corporate systems we are forced to use at work. Imagine a sales system for example where sales associates need to enter details of calls to prospects – usually that’s a fairly dull CRM system. Change it to start featuring league tables and awards and even the same information can now seem a lot more interesting.

But industry analyst Gartner has warned that most enterprise systems are too clunky to change easily.

Speaking to Computer Weekly Brian Burke, research vice-president at Gartner said:

“Organisations are simply counting points, slapping meaningless badges on activities and creating gamified applications that are simply not engaging for the target audience. Some organisations are already beginning to cast off poorly designed gamified applications.”

It’s clear that these systems need more than just pretty badges to work, a wake-up call that should have been obvious to the enterprise technology managers, but then a gamified system is really a complex motivational device – not just a piece of software with badges.

Managers of enterprise systems might want to ask why consumer systems are so easy to use. Think of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If internal communications and systems were as easy to use as the tools we all use at home then how much more productive could your team be?

Space Invader

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No chance of getting caught November 26, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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A computer hacking group caused losses totalling millions to financial service companies such as Mastercard and PayPal according to this news report of an ongoing case at Southwark Crown Court.

What is striking about the case is that the defendants believed in the concept of safety in numbers – if many people made an attack together then it would be far harder for the law enforcement authorities to prosecute individuals – and there was no gain to be made from the attacks. It was really just a protest.

This stemmed from actions such as making anti-piracy statements, or organisations that had failed to support Wikileaks and therefore became targets for the hackers.

Taken more broadly there is a very serious risk for any business here that the tabloid news coverage fails to mention.

If a company can so easily be prevented from trading by loosely affiliated hacking groups with a very low chance of them being caught and punished then there is a serious commercial risk. Any business stating a view on piracy or freedom of information that upsets someone can be targeted easily. Even crude methods such as flooding a website with hits or messages can take down and disrupt a business.

Information security has long been an integral part of the business strategy for companies such as retailers taking online orders, but it seems now that almost any firm engaging in any online transactions needs to take this seriously – or face a sudden loss of business if they attract the attention of hackers.

Hacking

 

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Hackers attack the Euromillions lottery October 29, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Hackers attacked the French site for the Euromillions lottery last weekend. Visitors to the site hoping for a flutter found messages in both French and Arabic warning them of the evils of gambling – with a hacking group called ‘Moroccanghosts’ claiming credit for the attack.

Clearly a group of hackers with an ideological objection to gambling thought that the most effective way to get their message across would be to destroy the Euromillions website. But is this just the start of a wider trend?

During the Occupy demonstrations various hacking groups took pleasure in flexing their muscles by vandalising the websites of companies they had an issue with – usually a particular complaint such as tax avoidance. If a company were perceived to be dodging tax by shunting profit and loss around the world so tax could be paid in the most favourable locations then it would be fair game for an attack.

It’s now a serious risk for any company, even those who pay their taxes and look after their employees, because it doesn’t need to be ideologically disgruntled hackers that destroy an online corporate footprint – it could be rival firms or governments who want to cause maximum damage to the reputation of an organisation.

This has all led to IT security becoming a considerably more complex area than just a few years back where the focus was on virus and worm control. Now, industrial espionage doesn’t need to be performed by spies wearing black jumpers and carrying tiny cameras – if a corporate system is not secure, hackers can just go straight in through the virtual front door.

And even now, the law offers scant protection in this area. Of course it remains illegal to mount a hack on a corporate website, but when the attack can be launched from anywhere, can be automated, can be masked through various anonymous hops around the world, it’s one area of business where hoping for the law to help is no real protection at all.

Fingers crossed

 

Photo by Jaina licensed under Creative Commons