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New domains for a new Internet June 14, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is the organisation that organises the Internet – assigning the domain names we all know, such as .com and .org.

They just announced plans to create many new domains and asked organisations to submit requests for new suggested domains. Big tech firms like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all asked for new domain names, but what is interesting to see is that even non-tech firms like Land Rover have made requests for domains such as .landrover.

There is a concern that this process has commercialised the control of the Internet itself. Of course, brands and big commercial companies like Amazon and Google dominate the Internet as we know it, but it is also a resource that can be freely used just for the exchange of information.

With brands spending over £100,000 just to apply for the right to create a new domain it means that only those with deep pockets can guide the direction of the Internet and is that really the way we should be taking it?

The US government still takes a keen interest in the overall governance of the Internet and all the key organisations like Icaan are still based in the US, but perhaps it is time for a supranational body to be created – so the future of the Internet is not just auctioned to the highest bidder.

Land Rover Badge
Photo by JW Sherman licensed under Creative Commons

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Changing face of retail January 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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Everyone knows the retail environment is changing. Those of us who can remember the heady days of the 1990s will recall that clicks were supposed to entirely replace bricks at one point – Amazon was predicted to spell the end of the traditional bookstore.

And though many retailers are struggling today, it has more to do with the economy in general than the Internet stealing their business forever. But the smartest retailers are finding ways to combine the best of the online experience with the service that can only be delivered on the high street.

Sometimes you want to see and touch a product before buying it. Perhaps it is a big investment, so you want to try it out first. This is why camera chains like Jessops have always prided themselves on having staff that know about the products they sell – you get a bit of free consulting every time you go into a branch to ask a few questions.

But these days many customers are coming in to look and feel a product before going away to think about the purchase, only to go online scouring the web using price comparison sites. High-priced items such as electronics can almost always be found cheaper from discount retailers.

Retailers like Argos and John Lewis are trying to combine the best of the web with a real in-store or added value experience that combines old-fashioned retail with the bulk discounts available from buying and distributing centrally.

I personally would be prepared to pay more for a product from John Lewis, knowing I have the backup of a reputable brand, and the ability to buy online, but be treated as a customer in-store too. The question is, how much more… the odd per cent here and there maybe, but what if the difference was 25 per cent?

That’s a tough decision, but I’m sure the major retailers are already thinking about this. They had better be.

貪吃danbo

Photo by Sindy licensed under Creative Commons

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?

Outsourcing without losing jobs March 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Outsourcing.
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I had the opportunity to spend some time recently with the Chief Executive of a county council. We were talking about the looming spending cuts and what he might be able to achieve through the rationalisation of infrastructure, such as contact centres.

He explained to me that he had eleven premises with call centres handling enquiries from the public. Eleven!

I asked him why he doesn’t just rationalise them all into a single customer service centre. It would mean less property to manage, and without all that real estate overhead he could reduce headcount too.

He explained to me that in his part of the UK, the public sector employs around half of all employed adults. He not only has a mandate to try keeping costs down, but as one of the biggest employers in the region, he has to think of the social consequences of suddenly automating processes and casting hundreds into unemployment.

This is a very peculiar problem that most business leaders fortunately don’t have to face, but even the council leader could be exploring his data centre requirements without an immense impact on jobs.

Every process and system used today requires storage. Those banks of servers used to be lined up in the basement of every office until it became more efficient to use communications lines to large data centres, where the servers could be maintained more efficiently.

Storage is a homogenous kind of product. Apart from differing security considerations, there is not much else that is required other than the ability to store data safely, and to have backup and business continuity plans in place, just in case things go wrong.

Ultimately storage will go to the cloud. The players offering us space to store our company data will be Amazon and Google, but in the meantime there are many organisations – such as the county council – where individual departments still manage their own servers and storage.

Ensuring the enterprise uses a shared storage strategy through a rationalised data centre is one step towards reducing cost and running a smoother operation, but it also gets people ready for the future, a future where storage is on tap.