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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

 

Photo by Steve licensed under Creative Commons

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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

Photo by Nebojsa Mladjenovic licensed under Creative Commons

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

 

Photo by Scott Wills licensed under Creative Commons

When is an outsourcing contract not a contract? July 23, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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The Olympic games is almost with us and as the sport has yet to being the media is trawling through every negative angle they can find. The latest is the failure of security firm G4S to supply enough guards on time – leading to the need for the games organising committee to use more police and army personnel than ever expected.

The Chief Executive of G4S has apologised profusely and admitted that the situation is a shambles – in his own words, but was his company really to blame?

When outsourcing goes wrong it is not always the supplier at fault. The London Organising Committee (LOCOG) for the games originally specified that 2,000 guards would be required. This is what G4S had always been planning for.

Only a couple of months ago this figure changed to around 10,000 guards – plus all the volunteers and other military personnel that were expected to also help. So the scope of the contract changed by at least 500% with a very short lead-time.

Nobody wants to explore this in too much detail right now – the games are upon us this week so the post-mortems will take place once it is all over, but it looks like a classic outsourcing dilemma. The client suddenly needs to ramp up and will offer an enormous bonus to the service provider, but if the provider felt any doubt about their ability to scale up so quickly then the honourable thing to do would have been to refuse the change in the scope of the contract.

All will be revealed once the games are over…

Wenlock

Phoot by Ken Jon Bro licensed under Creative Commons

 

Blurred Vision on YouTube July 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government.
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The Google-owned video site YouTube has just announced a new feature that allows users to upload their content with faces blurred. The feature allows those who require anonymity to upload videos, but can also be used by anyone – for example a parent might want to blur the face of his children on a video that might receive a lot of views by strangers.

The technology is automated, so the system can detect faces and blur them then the users can preview the video frame-by-frame before publishing it – with the certainty that every individual frame is blurred.

This is an interesting development in the light of recent political upheavals across the world. YouTube was credited as being a major force for change in events such as the Arab Spring and video from the ground uploaded by activists was essential in demonstrating to the world that official government statements were not always to be believed.

Because the original video must be uploaded and then processed it may be interesting to see if there is ever any legal challenge and request for the original video to be released – perhaps where the blurred face conceals a criminal. YouTube are facilitating anonymity, but will people trust that there really is no original copy of their movie online?

Face Shake

Photo by Kaptain Kobald licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

The future of the company is in a global market? February 7, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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When outsourcing, and particularly offshore outsourcing, became popular business strategies only a few academics stopped to ask how this might change the very nature of the company as we know it. Now online resource marketplaces are becoming common, things are going even further.

These marketplaces are very simple. If you need something done, you post the job online. Across the world, millions of individual contractors and small companies watch these job postings and bid for the work, creating a reverse auction, based on price and their track record of delivery.

Tools like oDesk.com, Elance, and guru.com are all offering this service – usually for about 10% of the contract value as an agency fee. I have heard more and more people recently in large established companies talking about getting some copywriting or marketing or blogging done by going to these marketplaces – it appears to be replacing the old concept of local freelancers.

Cost has always been the main driver for those seeking to outsource work across the globe, but the availability of talent and the ability to scale were never far behind. What has changed is that many more international locations now have the infrastructure, the people, and the stability of democratic governments. There are many places in the world where IT and IT-enabled services can be delivered and entire continents, such as Africa, are waking up to this fact.

And these markets are not only allowing access to the lowest possible cost, but they have also allowed contractors to earn far more than they could locally because they are pitching their prices higher than the local market. Think for a moment, if a company from New York needs a website prepared and a local firm will charge them $1000, but a developer in Bangladesh might expect $100 in his local market, the contractor in Bangladesh is likely to pitch $400 for the job.

Until recently, I heard this week from a contractor who writes blogs in Bangladesh. He was moaning that people from the Philippines – who can undercut everyone – are flooding the online marketplaces.

It seems price is still important, but more importantly, these networks look ready to stay and to become an integral part of the modern company – hiring and firing and creating virtual global teams at will.

oDesk t-shirts: all about the bling, G.
  Photo by Dave McClure licensed under Creative Commons

Shutting down Twitter August 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Internet.
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The recent civil unrest in several English cities that turned from a political protest into looting and criminality within a couple of days has led lawmakers to explore the social networks blamed for organising the wave of crime.

Though many commentators are pointing out that cars should not be banned because lawbreakers may have used a vehicle to get to the riots, some in government appear adamant that social networks need to be controlled during times of civil disobedience.

It sounds like a cross between the controlled Internet of China and the Egyptian government behaviour – faced with the Arab spring and a popular uprising, the government forced telephone operators to shut down their networks. For a couple of days there was no Internet in Egypt. Citizens resorted to dial-up connections via international phone calls to get any news out of the country.

Could this really happen in the UK?

Former BT Chief Scientist Peter Cochrane dismissed the idea as bluff, suggesting that the government doesn’t understand how the Internet works and that information would always flow, despite any attempt to block it. Others are not so sure.

The Prime Minister himself announced to MPs last week that he is working with the police and intelligence services with a view to exploring the consequences of limiting access to these websites and services if they are being used for criminal purposes. The government already has extensive online intelligence tools available, such as wire-tapping and the boffins inside GCHQ.

So if they started actively requesting offending social media accounts are shut down, would the social networks listen? They might, but then again, would any serious criminals be broadcasting their plans in public? In which case the government would need to directly ask phone networks to suspend their entire 3G services.

In any case, in stark contrast to Egypt, many of the UK networks would refuse on principle, and where would we be then? I don’t believe there is any law that gives the government a right to instruct a phone company to just shut down because of a threat.

[Note: these are the views of the author and not necessarily reflected by Thomas Eggar]

When is technology really yours? June 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Software.
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Can you remember the furore caused by Amazon two years ago when their system automatically deleted copies of books by George Orwell on remote Kindle devices? That’s right, books that were already bought and paid for and loaded onto a reading device were remotely deleted because of a rights issue with the publisher. How ironic to find Orwell’s 1984 subject to such a scandal.

Yet the news today that Apple has been developing technology to control when and where you can use the video function in an iPhone seems even more controlling.

The idea is that it is illegal to video most events such as live music concerts because of the potential copyright infringement. So Apple will offer artists and theatre owners the ability to send an infrared signal to all iPhones in the vicinity of the live show, switching off the video function.

Apple has stated that they have filed patents related to this technology and the idea is possible, but it may be many years before we see it as a commercial product.

So that’s all right then.

This raises many more questions than answers though. Many artists want their music to be recorded and shared online, even if their publishing or record company does not and the recording a live music experience does not automatically imply that it will be shared and broadcast.

But perhaps when we start getting to the point where theatres are going to start controlling how and when you can use the phone in your pocket, it’s time to start asking if the copyright laws creating the need for this corporate behaviour are in fact flawed and of another time?

Sharing services May 27, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I have recently commented in this blog on the opportunities for sharing services that overlap, particularly in the public sector. Most organisations have similar support functions that can be shared with others, providing the right procedures around data security and ease of use are addressed.

This has not been questioned in the private sector because it is essential for survival. The private sector has had a rough ride in most developed economies since the downturn in 2008, and the UK is no exception. It could be argued that with growth still within the margin for error, the UK has yet to really recover.

So nobody has to convince private sector companies of the benefits for sharing HR, or payroll, or finance and accounting services, either through outsourcing or by reducing a multiplication of effort by several divisions within the same organisation. It seems that many in the public sector still need convincing though.

A new report from the analyst firm Ovum suggests that half of all European public sector CIOs don’t think that the savings are worth the upheaval. Changing software, systems, retraining staff, migrating data – it’s a complex process to venture into a shared service arrangement with no guarantee of success. But as the story in Computer Weekly notes, the NHS is doing it, police services are doing it, councils are doing it.

Is it time for the bar to be lowered on how much needs to be saved to make sharing worthwhile?

The Government App Store April 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Outsourcing, Software.
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Detractors have argued that the concept of a government cloud (g-cloud) is so complex and fraught with privacy issues that it will never get off the ground, but supporters argue that in a time of austerity, reuse of software and systems is essential.

The general cloud concept has been outlined on this blog before. One of the great attractions for cloud-based applications is central management, eliminating the need to manage local versions, upgrades, and maintenance. Virtual infrastructure, such as data centres also work well within the cloud-based model, allowing several departments or organisations to share storage and computing power.

For all these reasons, the British government has been interested in two key concepts in recent years:

  • A cloud of government applications and tools that can be shared by many departments
  • A government app-store, allowing standard tools to be used anywhere within government.

These are common concept for consumers. The cloud itself is merely centrally managed software, such as Microsoft’s Gmail, and the app-store is what every Android or iPhone user is now used to – plug and play systems. It is not so long ago that your telephone could only do what it did when you bought it. It was not possible to upgrade or load new software, and when it was possible, it was with great difficulty. Now consumers are used to modifying, customising, and using their equipment in new ways.

The advantages for government are obvious. Think of how many software systems are used within the police, the NHS, the devolved local governments and councils… the list is mind-boggling and yet in all these places there will be a set of common tools that can theoretically be shared with other government organisations. The advantages of getting the G-cloud working are obvious. Will the detractors derail it as too ambitious?

As with most things in politics, only time will tell.