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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

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

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]

 

Photo by Allan 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

Photo by Fabian Ortiz 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

 

Iceland goes Open Source March 21, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, IT Services, Software.
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The Open Source software movement has always suffered an image problem because people brought up to respect copyright and trademarks struggle to understand the concept of how intellectual property can be free.

Advocates of Open Source argue that free generally means freedom rather than free of cost – the software itself may be free, but users will always need to pay for installation, maintenance, upgrades and customisations. It is never entirely free.

Open source has long been in the mainstream for those who specify and design technology systems. WordPress is a free content management system – often used for blogs – and yet brands like CNN, Reuters, Sony, VW, and UPS use it as the basic framework for their websites.

But there are also Open Source operating systems and office tools – replacing the need for licensed products such as Microsoft Windows and Office… Excel and Word for example. These have not really taken off in the enterprise because everyone works using those formats – you want to use Word and be able to send a document to anyone else.

But if the Open Source tools can recognise those file formats and work in just the same way then perhaps the end is in sight for expensive licenses in the enterprise? The government of Iceland certainly thinks so. As a cost-cutting move they have just ordered all public bodies to ditch licensed products from companies like Microsoft and Oracle and to migrate to free solutions instead.

Iceland needs to save cash, but if an entire government can plan for a migration across all departments with just a one-year time frame for migration then just imagine what most companies could achieve too…

dancing  Auroras
  Photo by Álfheiður Magnúsdóttir licensed under Creative Commons

Does multi-channel retail really deliver the goods? March 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services.
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Call Centre Focus magazine recently published a survey of senior executives involved in retail with some interesting findings for those interested in how the multi-channel concept is changing retail.

A full 65 per cent of retailers believe their in-store experience defines their brand and over 50 per cent say it is the most profitable channel. Interestingly 70 per cent believe it delivers the highest level of customer service.

This shows some bias in favour of the high street store – better profits and better service, but the survey also showed that 98 per cent of retailers recognise that a broader multi-channel strategy is vital to remain competitive in the current market and 77 per cent of respondents stated their reason for pursuing a multi-channel strategy is to drive an increase in sales.

These are quite interesting statistics because they show an overwhelming support for the multi-channel concept as something that has to be done even though most of these executives see most of their branding, customer support, and profits coming from the traditional channels.

Over two-thirds of the survey respondents admit that their service levels are not consistent across all channels – so the experience with the brand will be very different depending on how the shopper engages.

Thomas Eggar is currently working on our own research in this area and we will be publishing our results soon, but based on the results of this other survey it would seem that retail executives are steering through uncharted waters.

supermarket-drinks4

Photo by Graham Holliday 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

Is outsourcing coming of age? December 19, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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As we head into 2012, it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how much the entire outsourcing market has changed. This is the year that the cloud really shifted from being an entirely separate concept to being intrinsically linked to the process of outsourcing.

A senior manager who made budget decisions always led the traditional market in services. It might be the CIO or the business line head – like the HR head for example – but it would always be a senior figure with a well-planned objective for the future state of the company.

This led to the traditional outsource, where an entire business process would be analysed, passed to the third party, and delivered by a service company – whether on site or remotely.

But ever since the growth of tools such as salesforce.com the model has been changing. Salesforce turned everything around by being a system that could be used over the web, with no need for any additional software, and paid for by user by the month… simple, clear, and without the need for big plans, vendor comparisons, or training programmes.

Salesforce is used by sales teams who buy it themselves on their own budget. They don’t ask a CIO to buy the system and then have maintenance teams install it.

So are cloud products like this really outsourcing? I believe so. If sales teams are trusting a third party with their information and using those tools as a part of what they do then it is just the same as if the CIO had outsourced CRM to a partner.

But it is a much more disparate world in which individual business line staff are making decisions about the tools they use to get the job done, making the job of those trying to control all of this much harder than before.

Outsourcing is not dead, it has just embraced the cloud and it now changing into something new.

wanted