Guide to Video Conferencing

Cisco Telepresence

Cisco Telepresence (Photo credit: Tom Raftery)

“Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American writer and activist

I recall many years ago how I used to setup video conferencing across ISDN lines and the fun of trying to make the video run smoothly. These days, video conferencing has become ubiquitous along with the availability of faster communication links, i.e. broadband etc.

With better connectivity, the downward spiral of costs associated with video conferencing (VC) and increased competition, even smaller businesses can afford much better VC systems. The cloud has assisted by many companies offering cloud based systems, including Telepresence that only a few years ago were available to large corporates only.

Here comes the technical bit (Skip this paragraph if not interested): H.323 & SIP seem to be battling it out on which will become the defacto standard/protocol for VC and I suspect that over time both will be absorbed by one another and eventually SIP may be the one that all VC systems use.

The next battle zone will be video on the move. i.e. across smart phones aka mobile phones. The technology is certainly there now and so is the connectivity. As data charges become cheaper, the need for multi national businesses and even families to view each other as they talk will drive the need for video calling on the move.

This is great for eco-friendly consumers, such as me and our planet as it will mean that people have to travel less to meet each other. Change established mindsets will however take time, as many people still think it pertinent to travel to meet!

I have done a series of articles on management styles of business leaders and would like one of my readers to recommend who I should select for the next article. So, without further ado, here is your chance to recommend your choice, just leave your recommendation as a comment to this article. Please send your recommendations by 30th April.

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Eric Schmidt (Ex CEO and current Chairman – Google) management style and CIO

Image representing Eric Schmidt as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

John Wooden (1910 – 2010) Hall of Fame basketball coach of UCLA

Eric Schmidt (1955 – ) Google CEO and Chairman from 4th April 2011 onwards

Today’s article is the sixth in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet, 4th Bill Gates, 5th Larry Ellison), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

This article also follows my previous articles on Google, Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011, Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality, Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour and Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Eric Schmidt arrived at Google to help Google’s inexperienced founders; Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He has led Google to become a globally recognised company with approx 24000 employees. Recently, he has stepped down to become the chairman and to pass the leadership to Larry Page (on 4th April 2011). Over the years, he has mentored the young founders and believes that the time is now right for them to take the helm. For his efforts, he leaves with a golden shake of $100 million in equity and shares worth 9.1% of Google stock.

“As a CEO, Schmidt is more inclined to provoke than proclaim. “Google is run by its culture and not by me”, said Schmidt in 2009. In Google, when a key executive decision is reached, all interested parties are invited to the decision making process and are encouraged to share their opinions. Schmidt’s job is to oversee the whole procedure and make timely decisions. This bottoms-up way of decision making usually leads to a better buy in and a better decision.  Google allows employees to spend 20% of time on self-directed projects. To closely connect to Google’s frontline innovators, each week Schmidt and his senior associates spend up to six hours in dialogue with team members from across Google, who believe their projects have great potential. This unique management style has hatched a series of great products like Gmail and Google News.” Courtesy Vivian’s Tech Blog

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Eric Schmidt’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. How do you run this company? – ES “It’s run in a strange way. We have a normal hierarchical structure. The company is organized ‘bottoms up’ from the standpoint of product creativity and ‘tops down’ from running the quarter and the financials and so forth. We encourage dissent, we encourage large group conversation, we encourage there to be somebody who’s opposed to the decision, and we work very, very hard to be not hierarchical in the way that decisions are made. Often if we can get a decision, we get the best decision if we have two decision makers, not once. We never make decisions in private; we always do them right in front of everybody.” Courtesy Marketplace

2. When the going gets tough, investment in people always pays: ES – “Getting the most out of knowledge workers will be the key to business success for the next quarter century. Here’s how we do it at Google.

At Google, we think business guru Peter Drucker well understood how to manage the new breed of “knowledge workers.” After all, Drucker invented the term in 1959. He says knowledge workers believe they are paid to be effective, not to work 9 to 5, and that smart businesses will “strip away everything that gets in their knowledge workers’ way.” Those that succeed will attract the best performers, securing “the single biggest factor for competitive advantage in the next 25 years.

At Google, we seek that advantage. The ongoing debate about whether big corporations are mismanaging knowledge workers is one we take very seriously, because those who don’t get it right will be gone. We’ve drawn on good ideas we’ve seen elsewhere and come up with a few of our own. What follows are ten key principles we use to make knowledge workers most effective. As in most technology companies, many of our employees are engineers, so we will focus on that particular group, but many of the policies apply to all sorts of knowledge workers.” – Courtesy 1000 Ventures

For more, read – Google’s ten golden rules for getting the most out of knowledge workers.

When Eric joined Novell, the company’s future was very much in doubt. He correctly recognized a culture of fear that pervaded the organization. Bright engineers with revolutionary ideas were reluctant to voice them for fear of being fired. The engineers however, complained vociferously amongst themselves leading to a culture of corporate cynicism. Recognizing this pervasive bellyaching, Eric asked two engineers he met on the company shuttle, to give him the names of the smartest
people they knew in the company. Eric met with each of them, and asked them in turn to identify the 10 smartest people they knew. In a few weeks, Eric had a list of 100 engineers he considered critical to Novell’s future. He met with each of them personally, encouraging them to take chances and follow their instincts. He removed the possibility of reprisals by their managers for voicing their opinions. This inspired the engineers and focused their efforts, resulting in innovative and improved products. These changes helped Novell transform itself from a loss of $78
million to a gain of $102 million”. – Courtesy Scribd.com

One person alone cannot handle everything. The secret is to surround yourself with employees that are smarter than yourself. These smart people will challenge organisations and force them to think differently. I covered this, under mobility of management when I covered; can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II. CIOs need to understand the importance of retaining and investing in people as one of the business’s most important assets is yet again confirmed by another business leader.

3. Business/IT Strategy: “At Google, Eric has stated the company’s goal as “…Organizing the world’s information making it universally accessible and useful”. An engineer working to index billions of web pages can easily identify with this laudable goal. As a practical matter the goal of making information universally accessible is a more
meaningful goal for the engineer, interested in making his mark on society, rather than a mundane goal of increasing Google’s revenues by $300 million dollars. Eric considers this transfer of ownership to be so important that while at Novell he created a quarterly in-house radio show modeled after NPR’s “Car Talk”. He even made tapes available for in-car listening.” – Courtesy Scribd.com

Sometimes it’s best to follow your instincts and to believe in yourself to do the right thing. Paralysis by analysis is often the cause that many organisations cannot do well. It’s as Nike says, Just do it!

4. Rating of employees’ performance: – In the past, I have reviewed many CEO’s management style but Eric Schmidt’s style is the closest fit to Deming’s ‘Annual rate of performance’ that I have yet come across.

“Eric management style is to let the team’s progress be reviewed by individuals the team respects. In most companies there exist a few individuals that are universally respected or at least more respected than everyone else.
These individuals have a way of articulating principles and have very good memories. Since they are considered impartial, teams are more open to receive feedback or decisions even if the decision goes against them. – Courtesy Scribd.com

5. Earn respect by ‘listening’: – ES “Listening to each other is core to our culture, and we don’t listen to each other just because we’re all so smart. We listen because everyone has good ideas, and because it’s a great way to show respect. And any company, at any point in its history, can start listening more.” Courtesy Andrew McAfee

6. Competitive advantage: This is an area of great interest, as currently, Google is the undisputed king of search but Microsoft’sa Bing is knocking on its doors. So, for the moment Google is able to keep its competitive advantage. The worry for Google has been the defection of key employees (who view Facebook as ‘cool and the place to be’) to companies such as Facebook. Social Media is an area where Google doesn’t really have a strong foothold and that is worrying for them while in the mobile arena, Android is not a huge money earner (albeit, earnings are approx $6 per user per year) when compared to Apple IOS. Google is in a battle with Apple, Microsoft and Facebook and it is ambiguous which markets Google ultimately wants to compete within.

CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage. I covered this in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

7. Talent acquisition – Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees: “I might have been mistaken, actually. Having your name and picture up on that big screen at End of Quarter may not be the biggest incentive. The thing that drives the right behavior at Google, more than anything else, more than all the other things combined, is gratitude. You can’t help but want to do your absolute best for Google; you feel like you owe it to them for taking such incredibly good care of you.” Source unknown, courtesy Oliver Thylmann

Google actively recruits recent Ph.D.’s and Ph.D. candidates. All 1,900 Google employees are researchers and developers in addition to their regular duties. Where other companies will keep their research departments and core businesses separate, Google places all their Ph.D.’s in the rank and file of the company. Workers at Google enjoy a company devoted to benefits (Stross, 2004). They also enjoy an informal company culture where employees have access to gyms, massages, pool and ping-pong tables, well stocked snack rooms and other recreational amenities (Google Culture, 2009). Courtesy Marty Andrade

A CIO needs to trust their gut instinct, as one can only learn a certain amount in an interview. I think, the strategic fit, is a very good measure. How will a new hire fit into the culture of the company? Will they enjoy it here? Have they worked in a similar culture before? The danger is that the culture could be so alien to the new hire, that they find it difficult to adjust.

Eric Schmidt has hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’ Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and as you know them personally, an informed decision can be made on whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

8. Spotting opportunities and innovation: LE –  “innovation is the key to Google’s success, everything Schmidt does revolves around creating more innovation. Without it, Schmidt believes there is nothing to prevent another company from overtaking Google as the king of digital information.  Innovation is systematically encouraged at Google at all levels throughout the organization, including management. At Google, management follows the “70/20/10″ rule where seventy percent of their time is spent on core business projects, twenty percent is spent on projects related to the core business and ten percent is spent on projects unrelated to the core business (Battelle, 2005). Schmidt, in order to remain true to the 70/20/10 rule, actually divides these projects into different rooms and tracks his time spent in each of the rooms.” Courtesy Marty Andrade

For More Info:

The Daily Telegraph’s articles on Eric Schmidt

Google’s greatest innovation may be its management practice

Android OS is profitable, might generate $10 billion per year

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt: “We don’t have a 5 year plan.”

The New York Times: Eric E Schmidt

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, will not talk about “Private conversations” with Apple about becoming CEO

Larry Ellison’s (CEO Oracle) management style and CIOs

Oracle logo at the Oracle headquarters.

Image via Wikipedia

Updated 12.12.11

“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.”

Jonathan Kozol (1936 – ) Writer, Educator and Activist

Larry Ellison (1944 – ) Oracle Corporation’s Founder and CEO

Today’s article is the fifth in a series of articles (1st Steve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, 3rd Warren Buffet and fourth was Bill Gates), analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

This article also follows my previous articles on ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – Past, Present, Future and successful implementation, Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?, Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning – Blog version and Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning – CIO.co.uk version.

Larry Ellison has led Oracle from start-up to ‘software giant’ with a style that many view as narcissist. “According to psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons, “What makes Ellison so successful, even though he’s a narcissist visionary and really not very good at working with people, is that he understands himself, and he understands who he needs to work with – Courtesy of Canadian Business.” Larry Ellison is both an innovator and visionary, I believe these traits will be his legacy, “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.” – Larry Ellison

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Larry Ellison’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Follow your instinct and develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It: – Courtesy of Canadian Business magazine (with a few changes), ‘While Larry Ellison was employed at Ampex, a firm that did contracts for the U.S. government (mid–1970s), he got his first taste of database software while working on a project for the CIA with the code name “Oracle.” Around the same time, he read a paper published by IBM, which outlined a way to make it easier to store and retrieve data — a prototype for the first relational database. “I saw the paper, and thought that, on the basis of this research, we could build a commercial system,” Ellison, who solicited the assistance of fellow programmers Bob Miner and Ed Oates, recalled in a 1995 interview. “If we were clever, we could take IBM’s research … and beat IBM to the marketplace with this technology. Because we thought we could move faster than they could.” He was right. By 1984, the company he founded with Miner and Oates, originally called Software Development Laboratories, was logging nearly $13 million in annual sales. (Miner died in 1994; Oates retired in 1996.)’

Right from the outset, he dreamed of developing Oracle into a viable successful business. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

2. ‘Image’ is everything. – According to People Soft Planet,Ellison has Oracle in his own image. Now in his late 50s, tall and trim, he has kept himself in excellent shape. His hair is still dark, running to reddish; he has brown eyes and a short beard that helps to camouflage his long jaw. Ellison radiates enthusiasm and charm. He’s animated and engaging on stage, at his best in informal Q&A sessions where he can rap with the crowd.”

According to Canadian Business, “A fan of, and expert on, Japanese culture, he sees himself as a samurai warrior. He also likes to quote a saying attributed to Genghis Khan: “It is not sufficient that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.” The incredible success that he has enjoyed is a marvel to anyone familiar with the accepted literature on what it takes to make a great leader, qualities like empathy, mediation skills and humility. By all accounts, he is a bad listener and a big talker, whose brash, take–no–prisoners approach tends to alienate employees and customers alike. Yet, in the past 35 years, the jet–flying, sailboat–racing renegade has built Oracle into one of the most important tech firms on the planet, with annual revenues of $27 billion — about a billion dollars shy of his personal fortune. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.) While many of his contemporaries have moved to arms–length positions or other projects, Ellison remains the driving force behind the computing juggernaut, continuing to fashion it according to his own design. After acquiring more than 65 tech firms in the past five years, the mercurial CEO announced in September that he would be “buying chip companies,” suggesting that Oracle is positioning itself for what Bill Tatham, head of Toronto–based enterprise software firm NexJ Systems, describes as “another level of world domination.”

But while it may be tempting to single out Ellison as the ruthless villain of high technology, “none of these guys are nice,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at Stanford University and author of Power: Why Some People Have It — And Others Don’t. Before his ousting from Apple, Steve Jobs is said to have become increasingly difficult to work with, refusing to acknowledge that sales were tumbling; since his return, he has often been criticized for his obsessive secrecy, and ruling the company with an iron fist. Meanwhile, it was Bill Gates’s attempt to snuff out the competition that led to antitrust allegations — and sent Ellison rooting through Microsoft’s trash. “It’s very unpopular to say in today’s world, where we have these Kumbaya theories of leadership,” says Pfeffer, “but it actually doesn’t work well.” If anything, Ellison is merely the poster boy for what it takes to thrive in an increasingly ruthless environment. His rare combination of hubris and self–awareness enables him to skid recklessly to the edge, stopping just short of the cliff. And his stunning trajectory offers a valuable lesson: in the cutthroat arena of big business, sometimes it pays to be a jerk.”

3. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – LE “Years ago, I gave a speech that earned me the eternal enmity of the Netscape board. I said that the biggest problem with Netscape was that Microsoft could copy what they had very quickly. It was a clever product, but there was no technical barrier to entry. It’s much harder to copy a database like Oracle. There are millions of lines of code. It’s an incredibly difficult program to duplicate.

But a browser is not a difficult program to duplicate and I said, at the time, that my cat could write the browser. The board members were very offended by all this, but in fact Microsoft later did do exactly what I had predicted.”

4. Succession: LE – Courtesy of CNET magazine (with a few changes)”If Larry was incapacitated, the cult would dissolve,” former executive Marc Benioff says. “It’s unclear if Oracle is a sustainable enterprise without Larry, because his personality is so firmly entrenched.”

This is an area of weakness for the Oracle leader, as he has not planned effectively for a successor. As Larry Ellison approaches retirement, we will all have to witness whether he appoints a successor or leaves succession to the almighty.

5. Competitive advantage: LE – Courtesy of PeopleSoft Planet (with a few changes)Just because you’re good at R&D doesn’t mean you’ve commercialized R&D. The tragedy of Xerox PARC was that they had brilliant R&D but terrible execution in terms of turning that R&D into really wonderful products. Contrast that to IBM. During its glory days, IBM was fabulous at translating their innovation into products, into market domination.”

CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage. I covered this in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

6. Follow your instinct: LE – Courtesy of People Soft Planet magazine “We are the leader in bio-informatics, and a lot of things there are exciting. Sure, Wi-Fi, even 3G, is fairly cool, albeit expensive. But the thing I’m most interested in is software as a service. That idea that every customer who wants to do accounting on computers, or every customer who wants to do inventory, or manufacturing, has to figure out what computer to buy, what operating system to buy, what Cisco router and switch to buy, what database to buy, is just nonsense.

Companies should be experts in their business, and computing should be available on the Net as a service. So more and more, our business is changing from selling our applications to our customers to: We buy the computers, we run the applications, and you use it. We’ll be the experts. And you just pay us a monthly fee. That really is utility computing.”

7. Talent acquisition – Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees: Courtesy of People Soft Planet magazine, “

Geoff Squire, who ran various divisions of Oracle’s world operations from 1984 to 1993, described the manner in which Ellison selected new programmers and salespeople as “clinical,” Squire attributes Oracle’s success largely to the premium he has always placed on choosing the right candidates. “He really did hire very, very good people,” says Squire. Though Squire acknowledges that Ellison could quickly turn on his charges — as he puts it, “He backs people until he doesn’t” — he sees Ellison’s willingness to constantly refresh the talent pool as a strength. “People who do a great job don’t just get to stick around in companies forever,” says Squire, who is currently the non–executive chairman of Kognito, a U.K.–based data management firm. Despite the fact that he was cut loose shortly before the last of his stock options would have vested, Squire harbours no ill will, insisting that the fortune and experience he amassed at Oracle “set me up for life.” Squire’s trajectory is not unique: Oracle is often credited with creating the most millionaires in Silicon Valley; many of those ousted by Ellison went on to head tech firms that competed in the same high–profile realm. (Incidentally, in the midst of the Hurd debacle, Lane was named non–executive chairman of HP.) ”

A CIO needs to trust their gut instinct, as one can only learn a certain amount in an interview. I think, the strategic fit, is a very good measure. How will a new hire fit into the culture of the company? Will they enjoy it here? Have they worked in a similar culture before? The danger is that the culture could be so alien to the new hire, that they find it difficult to adjust.

Larry Ellison has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’ Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and as you know them personally, an informed decision can be made on whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

8. Spotting opportunities and innovation: LE – Courtesy of PeopleSoft Planet (with a few changes)When you’re the first person whose beliefs are different from what everyone else believes, you’re basically saying, “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong.” That’s a very unpleasant position to be in. It’s at once exhilarating and at the same time an invitation to be attacked.

There are really four phases. In phase one, everyone tells you you’re crazy and it’s the stupidest thing they ever heard. In phase two, they say, “There is some merit to the argument. It’s still crazy, but there’s some merit to it.” Phase three is, “Well, we’ve done it better than they have.” And phase four is, “What are you talking about? It was our idea in the first place.”

It’s fascinating as we continue to innovate and lead the way in both the application space and the database space. In the very beginning, people said you couldn’t make relational databases fast enough to be commercially viable. I thought we could, and we were the first to do it. But we took tremendous abuse until IBM said, “Oh yeah, this stuff is good.”

We were the first company that said all the applications had to be on the internet and not client/server. Everyone said that was a bad idea. That was 1995. Now everyone has moved all their applications to the internet.

And now we’re saying you have to have a suite—that this best-of-breed approach is crazy. You can’t sell parts that were never designed to fit together. They’re still saying we’re crazy about that. But it’s interesting, SAP and PeopleSoft are now advertising they have suites. Everyone has started using the “suite” word.

And so the four phases repeat over and over again. As long as we continue to innovate, I don’t think that’s going to change. When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts.”

The lesson that can be learnt is that within IT we need to spot opportunities for improvement. It is not enough, however, just to spot them, the onus is to spot them and then to create an environment to leverage that opportunity and to make it happen.

For More Info:

Oracle – Larry Ellison Interviews by PeopleSoft Planet

Can Oracle survive Larry Ellison

Larry Ellison – The Source of Oracle’s Wisdom

Larry Ellison’s one man show

What Larry Ellison said about Cisco and Corporate Culture<

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Lawrence J. Ellison of Oracle Corp.

Top CEO: Larry Ellison / Convinced that the future in high tech depends on consolidation, Oracle’s founder refused to give up on a PeopleSoft takeover, no matter what the obstacles

About.com –Larry Ellison

Hackers take up Larry Ellison’s challenge

Larry Ellison Slams HP Board: “Worst Personnel Decision Since The Idiots On The Apple Board Fired Steve Jobs Many Years Ago”

Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

“Don’t do what you know. Do what you don’t know about what you know.”

Mile Davis (1926 -1991) American Trumpet Player, Bandleader and Composer

Following my post on 19th May, Cloud based ERP is fast establishing itself as an increasingly dominant force within the ERP arena. Ubiquitous Internet connectivity combined with access to more bandwidth at affordable prices, both by businesses and consumers have propelled cloud based solutions as being commercially viable. Cloud based ERP solutions are also challenging existing licensing models. The larger providers such as SAP and Oracle are struggling to compete with this new model and are looking at ways to combat this new threat to their established revenue stream. Newer established entrants within the mid tier market continue to embrace cloud computing and are increasingly vying for competitive advantage.

In my view, Google Apps will increasingly challenge established players providing enterprise systems, such as Microsoft. The likes of Google Apps will also challenge established ERP players as more offerings become available. For example, Netsuite will soon be available on Google Apps and My ERP seems like a credible solution for smaller businesses and is FREE for the first two users! One of my readers, Houston Neal, recently had a roundtable discussion on the state of the manufacturing ERP software industry, including solutions popular among small and medium enterprises that provides an interesting insight into many facets of ERP software.

Cloud based ERP providers available at the moment are: Acumatica, Agresso, CDC Software, Consona, Compiere, DataXstream and virtualised SAP, DSP managed services – advisors for Cloud based Oracle E -Business suiteDynacom, Epicor, Global Shop Solutions, IFS, Intaact, IQMS, Lawson, Microsoft, MyERP, Netsuite, Oracle Cloud Computing Centre, Openbravo, Plex systems, Sage, SAP Business by Design, Salesforce and Glovia Cloud Solution, Syspro

ComputerWeekly, recently ran an interesting and complete 4 part Buyer’s Guide to ERP software that discussed quite intensely both the traditional and new, cloud based ERP models. Following are excerpts that I have used from part 1, glued together to form the following and then I will list articles that provide further in depth analysis and reading, courtesy of ComputerWeekly and others:

In Part I, Cliff Saran wrote, ‘The idea behind enterprise resource planning (ERP) is to provide the business with a single product that provides software to support the main business functions in a company. The major products such as SAP and Oracle claim to encompass the best ways to run business processes. But since they cater for large complex businesses, such systems are often too sophisticated for smaller organisations that may not have the same requirements in terms of scale and complexity of business operations.

SAP and Oracle may be great for providing enterprises with industry-standard business processes, but standardisation erodes the unique selling point in smaller businesses. George Lawrie, principal analyst at Forrester Research says, “SMEs are worried by the high maintenance fees and complex implementations associated with major ERP software.”This is why a market has grown for ERP aimed at SMEs. “Mid-market ERP tends to offer vertical specialisation,” says Lawrie.

Suppliers such as Salesforce.com have made it possible to put customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the cloud, but core enterprise resource planning (ERP) has so far remained untouched. If IT departments can make considerable savings switching from in-house systems to cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS), why stop at CRM? Businesses should consider using the cloud for ERP.

Andrew Vize, who as propositions director runs Computacenter’s CIO panels, says, “The efficiency of services from Google and Amazon is superb. They offer the lowest power costs and are five to 10 times cheaper than traditional small datacentres.”

It makes sense for an IT director, but the major ERP suppliers have been reluctant to move to cloud computing. SAP has been touting its Business ByDesign SaaS suite for smaller companies.

Meanwhile, Oracle offers its middleware and database products on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), but does not recommend putting E-Business Suite ERP software in the cloud.

Oracle states in a blog post, “Since Amazon EC2 uses a virtualisation engine that is not supported by Oracle and has not been certified with E-Business Suite, this environment is not supported for production usage of E-Business Suite. Using Amazon EC2 for hosting E-Business Suite may be suitable for non-production instances, such as demonstrations, test environments and development environments.”

In fact, it is far from clear how the major ERP suppliers will charge for cloud-based ERP. The significant ongoing revenue they receive from annual software maintenance from on-premise applications makes it harder for established ERP companies to offer considerably cheaper software licensed on a monthly subscription basis.

However, smaller software companies are making cloud ERP float.

Cloud computing company NetSuite has unveiled workflow management software, SuiteFlow, which enables users of cloud computing business suites to automate and streamline complex business processes. NetSuite says SuiteFlow allows businesses to customise workflows to support the way they need to work.

Companies can use SuiteFlow to develop and deploy new business processes. NetSuite says it can be used to support processes such as contract renewal workflows with tasks, reminders and customer notifications, sales processes that include mandatory data entry, follow-up tasks and rep notifications, and customer support processes, including inactivity reminders, escalations and service level agreement (SLA) enforcement.

Lawson Software, which has mainly focused on traditional ERP, has moved into the cloud by offering its core Enterprise Management Systems and Talent Management suite on Amazon EC2 infrastructure. The products will be included in the Lawson External Cloud Services offering, which is part of the company’s Cloud Services portfolio.

Lawson’s cloud ERP service is targeted at mid-sized companies and organisations looking for a more affordable, flexible and agile deployment option for full-function enterprise software.

“We are making it easier for our customers to license, use, keep current and even pay for Lawson full-function enterprise software. This should be great news for CFOs and CIOs who worry about lengthy and complex on-premise installations, the cost and inefficiency of their datacentres, the best way to allocate IT staff, and the complexity and difficulty of maintaining software versions and upgrades,” says Jeff Comport, senior vice-president of product management at Lawson Software.

Similarly, open source ERP provider Compiere, which is used by companies such as Specsavers, has developed a version of its product that works on Amazon Web Services in the cloud.

Some experts believe it is unlikely ERP will move wholesale into the cloud. The major ERP systems tend to be architected as large homogenous IT systems, which may not be such a good fit for delivery via the internet cloud. Licensing major ERP systems to deploy via the cloud is still immature. Instead, niche software companies are likely to build cloud-based services that do many of the functions of ERP.

“We will have much more specialist systems that do a slice of ERP,” predicts David Bradshaw, IDC research manager for software and services in Europe.’

Cloud-based ERP could be the way forward for small- and mid-sized companies. Both Oracle and SAP offer products aimed at smaller businesses such as JD Edwards from Oracle and SAP Business ByDesign. These may have a better fit with certain organisations, But implementing on-premise traditional mid-market ERP systems will be the most likely approach businesses take until cloud computing has matured.

Gartner sees an increasing availability of software-as-a-service (SaaS) ERP systems, and, unlike in large enterprises, where SaaS ERP use is limited, SaaS ERP is playing an increasingly important role in both back- and front-office applications for mid-market companies. Cost reductions in implementation and operation are one of the important drivers for SaaS ERP, and SaaS offerings avoid the need for upfront capital expenditures because they can be funded as an operational expense. However, when analysing the total cost of ownership of SaaS ERP over five years, Gartner finds that SaaS is not necessarily less expensive than on-premises ERP.

NetSuite is the largest example for a SaaS-based ERP suite. It offers a broad range of application modules, including financials and accounting, purchasing, payroll, order management, inventory control, and employee management, as well as built-in integration with its CRM and e-commerce capabilities on the same platform. Gartner has spoken to customers that expressed a high level of satisfaction with NetSuite’s offerings.

Other notable SaaS ERP players are Plex Online (previously Plexus Online) and Glovia. SAP has also announced an on-demand ERP solution called SAP Business ByDesign.

Open source has been used extensively in infrastructure components, but it has a limited impact on ERP at this point. In the past two years, however, some new open-source software ERP suppliers have emerged with a focus on leveraging open source software to reduce the total cost of ownership of business applications, and to enable customisations that would be difficult to achieve without access to source code. Although we have doubts as to whether open source software business models actually confer these advantages on open source software ERP, these early stage offerings are nonetheless promising and should be evaluated. Examples for open source software ERP suites include Compiere and Openbravo.

Although increasing in importance, none of the SaaS or open source ERP solutions met the inclusion criteria for this Magic Quadrant, because of their number of sales or product focus. Gartner’s ERP Magic Quadrant, (2010 Quadrant) criteria do not explicitly exclude SaaS or open source packages. The analyst firm is actively tracking their progress and expects their inclusion in future versions of its Magic Quadrant.’

For more:

Detailed research lists from the largest USA ERP installations

Search Manufacturing ERP

Part I Buyers Guide to ERP: Alternatives to SAP and Oracle ERP suites

Part II – Buyers Guide to ERP: the mid-tier market

Part III – Buyers Guide to ERP: Agile ERP

Part IV – A guide to ERP for small and large businesses

Putting ERP in the Cloud

How to achieve ERP success: part 1 – the A-Team

How to achieve ERP success: part 2 – the software

ERP software suppliers – Essential guide

Buyers Guide to ERP: Midlands Co-op case study

Make your ERP rollout succeed

Lawson’s New Amazon Cloud-Based ERP Supports Customization

Epicor Takes the Wraps off Cloud-based ERP Solution

Amazon.com Offers Compiere Enterprise ERP via the Cloud

ERP and Cloud Computing trends

Lawson Software Introduced Cloud-Based Services

Benchmarking IT

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.’ Charles Darwin

Benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and/or best practices from other industries. Benchmarking involves management identifying the best firms in their industry, or any other industry where similar processes exist, and comparing the results and processes of those studied (the “targets”) to one’s own results and processes to learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, how they do it.

I have been reading, The Real business of IT – How CIOs create and communicate value and as I was reading chapter 3, Show value for money, I thought to myself that I had the title for my next post. The chapter discusses, well, value for money and the importance of benchmarks, especially for CIOs who have just joined or are thinking of joining/moving to pastures anew.

Benchmarking an organisation’s IT is important whether conducted internally or externally. As the cost is quite high for conducting benchmarking via the established players, such as Gartner, many smaller organisations may initially decide to do it internally. Benchmarking has evolved now to the extent that even universities have started to run benchmarking courses, such as Stanford university’s IT benchmarking certificate, aimed at, yep, CIOs!

As quoted by CIO.com; ‘in today’s business environment, says Bechtel CIO Geir Ramleth, IT needs to benchmark itself against a new set of peers: successful technology companies that built their IT systems in the Internet era. Doing so is a painful exercise for the ego. “Corporate IT is trying to break the sound barrier, and the Googles and Amazons are NOT supersonic. They’re hypersonic,” says Howard Rubin.’

My research has shown that Gartner has created a niche in IT benchmarking, as Gartner currently holds one of the largest global IT Trends and Benchmark Database. Dr Howard Rubin, created this global database and is a world authority on IT benchmarking and he offers the following thoughts and advice (Courtesy of Computer Aid Inc – CAI):

‘CAI: How do organizations interested in benchmarking best determine what they should be measuring and how they should be measuring?

Howard Rubin: I think the key thing for organizations is bi-directionality. That means your approach to benchmarking must come from both the top and from the bottom. From the top, you really have to understand your technology costs- the costs of your technology goods and services- almost as if you were a manufacturing company. You have to understand the cost structure of technology, what its impact is on your margin and what the impact of your technology investment is on growth, shrinkage and market share. And you have to integrate your understanding of the cost structure and performance structure of technology directly into the company’s financials.

You also have to figure out who you want to be looking at, in terms of comparisons. Is it direct peers or is it organizations that have a business performance structure that you aspire to meet? Another point I should make about the choice of measurements from the top is that there is this thing called the balance scorecard, in which people look at their finance measures, customer related measures, profit measures and organizational measures; but these are just static measures. That means that if a company’s strategic objective is to be the number one player within a given market, or to have the most comprehensive view of the customer, the balance scorecard isn’t going to cut it.

It is directional measures, as opposed to static measures, which will tell you where you are moving versus where you would like to be and what your corresponding rate of change is. And there are basically three kinds of directional measures: positional measures, directional measures, and velocity measures. In short, you need to be benchmarking where you are, where your targets are, how fast your organization is moving and how fast the world is changing. And all of this must be done within the context of strategy.

Approaching things from the bottom, you really have to understand a lot about technologies and about the technology organization itself. That means much more than just knowing how long it takes to develop an application, or the quality of your software, or the customer service component of your technology.

It means you need to look at technology as a commodity, at the unit costs. You need to be able to understand, almost like having a technology catalogue in front of you, what all of the technology components of your business consist of. What are your volumes? What are your unit costs? What are the costs to your competitors? What other alternatives are available out on the street in the open market?

And there are some other aspects, too. If you are a CFO, for instance, you really ought to understand where technology hits your P&L, where it impacts your salaries, your expense, and your depreciation. It is very important to understand how fixed or how variable your technology costs are.

Finally, there is a kind of ethereal dimension that sits on top of all of this, one which involves how well you are using technology to innovate and change your business, as compared to your competitors.

In the end, what companies really need is a full navigational system. Something that will give them the instrumentation to get them where they want to go, as well as the external calibration to see if someone is going to get there first, second, better, cheaper, or faster.

CAI: What are some of the major challenges that most organizations encounter when they first get started with measurements and benchmarking? What are some of the most common mistakes made? Do you have any caveats for organizations that are undertaking this for the first time?

Howard Rubin: When you first get started with benchmarking, and you haven’t done it before, you are basically going to be comparing data that you have internally with external data. Consequently, people will get their internal numbers and then they will get their external numbers and try to compare the two things right away. They will be looking for insights and conclusions and hypotheses. However, after the first round of benchmarking, you should really be making an effort not to look for insights and conclusions. You should be focused on rationalization. First time starters need to understand that rationalization is part of the benchmarking process. It is not a precursor to the process.

The other issue with first timers is the availability of data. It is very important to overcome the fact that you may not have a complete set of data available internally. This is always going to be an issue. Consequently, my recommendation is to look at your benchmark program as if it were a step function program: take a small core, build out, step up, sort of ratchet, take the key questions needed to answer the first, and have the benchmarking provider map your structure. You don’t need to do everything at once. You can build things up throughout the process.

A final caveat involves management by numbers. For example, you will find many large organizations that have gone through multiple mergers and that haven’t shed any of their redundant systems or redundant technologies. Certainly they can do better. But the path upwards is not going to be visible just by looking at the numbers. There may be a whole lot of other things that have to happen first. This is especially true if you are using benchmarking for internal target setting.

My brother is a really fine physician and he always advises his students not to look at the numbers but rather, to look at the patient. That’s an important caveat in benchmarking, too. The numbers will give you calibration. They will help you understand what side of the benchmark you may be on. But the goal is not to be better or worse than the benchmark. On either side of the benchmark, you can be learning how to improve your position.

CAI: You are known, among other things, for having collected and organized data into one of the world’s largest information technology databases. Could you give us more information about this repository? For example, what kinds of metrics get tracked? How broad is the technological and geographical representation?

Howard Rubin: The Worldwide IT Trend and Benchmark Database was really formalized in 1994. It was a project, as I mentioned before, which started out within the Canadian government. They were trying at the time to develop a global view of technology utilization in business.

In its current form, the Worldwide Benchmark Database maintains data on more than 10,000 large companies, each typically over 500 million dollars in revenue. It covers companies that are based across 100 countries, so it has a really massive geographic spread. There is also a large diversity of data, everything from basic business and IT spending data, to detailed data on technology platforms, programming languages, application development productivity, application quality, size and number of personnel, compensation, practices and processes, and process maturity. You will even find customer service related data.

The database is also updated continuously. We use internet based surveys for this as well as data collection mechanisms that originate from within our own consulting engagements. Consequently, we are able to keep the data fresh, on a daily basis, and we are able to update major trend levels on a quarterly basis. What that means is that if we see a major business or political change, we can sample thousands of companies within a 24 hour period to see if there is any movement. I don’t think anyone else in the world right now has the capability to determine, within 24 hours, the effect on business decision-making and technology that a world event may have.

You originally asked me about how benchmarking has changed over time. Traditionally, benchmarking has been used to compare current data to historical data. What we are seeing now with the worldwide benchmarking database, however, is the comparing of current data with current data. That’s an important development in my opinion because data is kind of like produce: it gets rotten after a very short period of time’.

An article in CIO.co.uk, said: ‘Two decades of research by Howard Rubin, president at Rubin Systems, reveals two key concepts that can enable CIOs to see whether their IT investments are really adding up. He found that measuring IT spend against two factors – operating expense and net revenue – is a more accurate gauge of IT effectiveness than the metric of measuring solely against net revenue.

In addition, Rubin discovered that enterprises spending slightly more than their peers tend to have better business results. But after a certain point, that extra spending does no good. Rubin calls the sweet spot of extra but not exorbitant spending “optimal IT intensity.” He calculates IT intensity by comparing the IT spend to both the operating expense and net revenue, and has developed IT intensity curves that help CIOs see if they are under-investing, investing an optimal amount or over-investing.’ Another good article, I recently read was Using Benchmarking Metrics to Uncover Best Practices and is worth reading if you want to embark on benchmarking your IT.

I would like to conclude with a quote from The Real business of IT – How CIOs create and communicate value – Randy Spratt, CIO, McKesson: ‘We opened up our finances and made them transparent. In mid 2006, we delivered a one line allocation to the business. Now we deliver a complete invoice. Between transparency, benchmarking, and competitive bid efforts, we have strengthened the view that our finances are under control, we’re driving to continual improvement on a per unit cost basis, and we hold ourselves accountable for delivering to service levels. “We don’t hear, ‘Why does IT cost so much?’ now. Do we still have expense level conversations? Yes, but they’re more about how we can jointly reduce costs.”

Further resources:

NCC IT Department Accreditation

NCC Benchmark Surveys

Benchmarking IT services

CIO Infrastructure Benchmark Assessment Tool

FREE IT Infrastructure Benchmark

Get a free instant benchmark of your SAP system

IT Benchmark Blog

Metricsboard.com Blog

Globalisation and management

Updated 9.12.12

Globalisation is an interesting word for me as being British, I spell it with an ‘S’ and Americans spell it with a ‘Z’. Proof that even languages, such as English (currently, the global language for business) have become affected by globalisation. I also find it fascinating that in the land of my fore fathers (historically known as the Indo/Pak sub continent –currently, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), the word, ‘anyway’ is always spoken as, ‘anyways’. These permutations of language also affect how we trade, live and interact as a global society.

Globalization or globalisation as we know it was termed, in 1983, by Theodore Levitt, a former Harvard Business Review editor who used the term for an article about the emergence of standardised, low- priced consumer products. Globalisation has been fuelled within the last 10-15 years by IT. That includes hardware (HW), software (SW), connectivity (falling costs of HW, SW, ever larger pipes globally and VOIP solutions), cheaper travelling costs and a truly global workforce. As a result, CEOs and boards have used successful globalisation case studies to convince their businesses that it would lead to profitability and competitive advantage. For example, a software problem submitted at close of play (COP) today could be solved by the time America wakes up the following day (arguably saving costs and solving problems while sleeping).

The decisions that need to be explored in great detail are the reasons for deciding to go beyond your own border with a view of going global. I would categorise the reasons as one of the following:

  1. International opportunity
  2. Saving costs
  3. Skills shortage
  4. Legislative requirements
  5. Social and Corporate responsibility (CSR)
  6. IT Challenges

1. International opportunity:

This decision is usually taken when management realise that there is a demand for their product in another part of the world or that a demand for their product can be created. There are many examples of this such as Coca Cola. Coke as it is also known as is a trendsetter as it firstly; created a demand for their product (Did our grandparents know they needed to drink Coke?). This was followed by then satisfying the international demand. Recent success stories are led by Apple and the iPhone.

2. Saving costs:

Arguably, many would argue that this is an opportunity. I will discuss this later but for now let’s take it as it is. I would term this as ‘cost savings’ that can be realised through leveraging access to cheaper materials, labour or anything else that costs less than the local equivalent within a business’s own borders. Again, there are many examples of this such as Nike and Primark who outsource manufacturing facilities to countries such as India, Pakistan and South Africa etc.

3. Skills shortage:

Many businesses need to take this step and it is particularly true for IT led businesses, such as, software. Sometimes due to, for example, a skills shortage  a business may be forced to go beyond its borders. In my Indian software example (Para 2 above), it is recognised that another reason/advantage to outsource was the time difference.

4. Legislative requirements:

Countries allow international trade but will, for example, place a restriction on the amount of a product that can be imported by legislating import tariffs etc. For example, Toyota got around that problem in the early eighties by opening manufacturing plants in the US.

A business that wants to take advantage of this global reach has to consider the social and corporate responsibilities of globalisation and the IT challenges.

5. Social and corporate responsibility:

Anita Roddick of the body shop set the standard for being one of the first to prove that ethical business could be done globally. She pioneered the ‘green movement’ as we know it today by including only natural ingredients in her products, sourced globally at fair trade prices while protecting the local workforce, both at Littlehampton where she was born and bred and internationally where her products were used, sourced and produced. Businesses also need to ensure that a balance is struck between moving jobs abroad just to save costs against investing in the local workforce. Arguably, all businesses need to save costs and the rule to apply in these situations is that if a business is commercially profitable (for example, in millions of dollars) is to appreciate the effect of moving jobs abroad (in many cases referred to as outsourcing) against training workforces locally and producing a skilled workforce for the future.

In the short term that may translate to fewer profits but in the long term the business will benefit from a truly dedicated workforce and an investment in people that transcends the short term skills shortage. Globalisation should not be at the expense of a lack of investment in local people and infrastructure. Short term competitive advantage ( in a situation where saving costs is the primary driver) is usually lost to the outsourced country in the long term.

6. IT Challenges:

Connectivity costs within IT are falling daily and newer areas of the globe are becoming easier to connect. IT challenges still remain and businesses need to involve Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in the decision making process when they start to think globally. The earlier the business involves the CIO, the quicker the eventual deployment of IT enabled business becomes. In an earlier post on competitive advantage, I have emphasised the importance of the direct connection between the CEO and the CIO and that has to continue when businesses have global aspirations.

Providing IT internationally always has challenges and I would suggest that for globalisation to be successful, the CIO needs to be a visionary, businessman and a leader. The CIO will have to deal with issues where the IT capability may have to be imported, sourced locally (as importing IT may be too costly), have to deal with poor infrastructure, connectivity (in many parts of Africa) and have to deal with local legislation. Successful global CIOs will be the ones that can provide ‘out of the box’ solutions, have created great teams locally and globally, stay connected with their global staff, understand the different cultural variations and their impact to the business and have a network of advisors within and outside the business. CIOs have a great overview of how IT works and how it can assist the business but CIOs will never know everything, so they need to have access to peers, other CIOs and a network they can turn to and learn from without reinventing the wheel. If a CIO doesn’t have global exposure prior to a business going global it can sometimes be an advantage as it’s a clean slate and the CIO can utilise their own experience gained in various other industries.

To conclude, as the Coke slogan says, “Think globally, act locally?” Do you agree?

Mobile Payments – Coming to a phone near you

At the end of August 2009, I wrote a post – The future is bright but is it mobile? In that post, I mentioned the fact that in the developing countries mobile phones were increasingly used for a wide variety of tasks, including banking. Meanwhile in the developed world affluent consumers were purchasing increasingly powerful mobile phones, including smarut phones and were looking for more ways in which to use them. Mobile commerce hadn’t taken off in the developed world due to the availability of other payment methods available to the relatively affluent customers such as credit cards and contactless cards. The move to using mobile phones for commerce is akin to where we find ourselves in terms of laptops morphing to smart phones, as this is where traditional wallets will be replaced with electronic digital wallets operated by mobile phones.

Let’s first take a look at the history behind the scenes to understand where we are today and the importance of the latest report released on 14/1/10 on this new technology, Near Field Communications (NFC). NFC happened as a result of the NFC Forum and its members, founded in 2004, recognising that evolution meant a new, short-range wireless connectivity technology had to be created. This article on the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation’s website (ITSO) provides a good introduction and will bring the reader to where we are currently and the new NFC adoption by the mobile industry for mobile payments in the future. In the UK, the movement towards contactless cards was initiated by ITSO in 1998, a non profit sharing organisation owned by its members. This led to the first contactless RFID Oyster cards being issued to the public in 2003 for the London Underground by TFL. As we moved closer to mobile phone NFC, other initiatives such as prepaid cards and prepaid contactless cards used by retailers such as Pret a Manger and coffee republic were developed.

Over the last few years, banks and payment vendors have tried different technologies with a varied success rate, including the latest contactless cards. The reason that mobile phones can be used with NFC now is because finally different standards have come together to support one another and make these payments secure. So, what we now see is that ITSO supports NFC as even the UK government is prepared to fund the switch to NFC compatible transport ticketing and the various card issuers have agreed the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Trials of NFC technology in London revealed that Londoners wanted to use their mobiles to travel and shop. Mobiles will start replacing cash as the technology is rolled out within the UK from 2011. “Decisions made in 2010 will be critical in determining which mobile network operators, which banks, which industry suppliers and which service providers become the leaders in the field,” says Sarah Clark. “Ultimately, only two or three companies in each country will succeed in building a major new business providing NFC services to businesses and consumers. The winners could be banks or mobile operators, or even a new entrant to the market.” As the technology becomes widely adopted, NFC based payments could reach $30 billion by 2012.

The following excerpt courtesy of Sourcewire. “NFC technology will be used to replace everything from credit cards and loyalty cards to bus and train tickets, library cards, door keys and even cash,” says Sarah Clark, author of ‘NFC: The Road to Commercial Deployment‘. “What hasn’t yet been decided, however, is who will win the battle to provide consumers with their new hi-tech mobile wallets.”

Consumers with NFC-enabled phones will be able to simply touch their phone to a ‘smart’ poster or product label containing a RFID chip to sign up for a loyalty programme, collect a money-off coupon, download a trailer for a new movie, access the latest travel information or go straight to a product’s website to read customer ratings and reviews and compare prices.

Social networks will also get a major boost as with a NFC phone, you can exchange details of someone befriended online by simply touching your phones together when you meet them in the real world. Or touch your phone to a smart poster as you go into a restaurant to automatically update your Facebook status and get an offer coupon from the venue as a thank you for telling your friends you’re there.

Commuters will be able to store their travel pass on their phone and mobile versions of airline boarding cards, hotel room keys and even passports will make it quicker and easier to get from place to place. Paying bills will become much simpler, too. Simply touch two NFC phones together to transfer money to a friend, buy a drink or pay for a service.

“No more rummaging around for the right change, card, keys or paperwork and no more texting your location to your friends — with NFC everything can be handled by your mobile device,” says Clark. “And, of course, NFC is a highly secure technology. Consumers will be able to instantly lock all the mobile wallet services on their phone if it is lost or stolen and then get them automatically transferred onto a new phone as soon as it arrives. They will also be able to use their phone to make payments even when the battery is flat.”

Houston, Windows is counting down 10,9,8,7…

I was sat quietly rocking away the other day and started to think whether it would be a good idea to do a review on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (As benefits to organisations cannot be realised without a Windows Server 2008 backend infrastructure). As is always the case, any version of Windows attracts pundit reviews galore, so I am doing a different kind of review. A review that touches on the key features of Windows 7 and provides some links to Server 2008, for in depth coverage. As ever, Microsoft has never been good at reviewing its own products, as is evident from their website, top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7! Windows 7 is also the first operating system to offer native support for Multi Touch .

Home Users:

First things first. Home users will be happy to learn that the Windows versions have been simplified.  There are three versions for home users, Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. For most home users, the premium version should suffice. For home users who need multiple installations, there will be a family pack that can be installed on upto three machines. To decide which version to go for, click here

Windows Vista came with quite a few applications; Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Mail, Windows Media Center, and Windows Movie Maker. Windows 7 has scrapped bundling Mail, Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker and moved them into an add-on pack called Windows Live Essentials . The two major applications that arrive with Windows 7 out of the box are Windows Media Player, now at version 12, and Windows Media Center. To download Windows Live Essentials, click here. Paint, WordPad and calculator have new versions in Windows 7 but nothing that I consider worth roaring about.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for home users (arguably for organisational users as well) are:

  1. Better wallpapers, better user access control (UAC) that avoid annoying pop ups,
  2. Libraries are a welcome addition and allow one library to show the contents of several folders. For example, store your music in the Public Music folder, and those tunes automatically appear in every user account’s Music library.
  3. Device stage is a concept whereby all connected devices, such as Bluetooth, USB etc all appear within the devices and printers control panel. This removes the confusion experienced by earlier version of Windows where different devices appeared in different places within the control panel.
  4. HomeGroup, enables easier networking within the home and automatically finds other PCs/laptops on the same network. It was much needed as users with little IT experience always found hard to network their home PC’s together and as a result couldn’t share files and printers etc.
  5. Shortcut keys in Windows 7 are quite creative and are a sign that the Windows 7 team had opportunity to look at the minor details as well as the major overhaul and is quite welcome and useful. For example, placing two windows side-by-side on a crowded desktop took a lot of mouse manoeuvring in Windows XP. In Windows 7, you click the first window, and press Win+Right arrow to scoot the window against the right edge. Follow up with a Win+Left arrow on the second window, and you’ve lined them up side-by-side, ready for quick information swapping.
  6. The new taskbar melds the old Quick Launch toolbar with the traditional taskbar, providing a single place to both launch applications and switch between them. Replacing the mix of small Quick Launch icons and large textual buttons, we have simply a row of large icons. Left clicking an icon either starts or switches to the app. If the application has a single window, clicking the icon switches directly; if it has multiple windows, clicking the icon presents a thumbnail view of each window, requiring a second click to switch to a specific window.
  7. Jump lists are special context menus shown on the taskbar and Start Menu icons that allow quick access to application-specific functionality.

Organisational Users (Mostly excerpted from Computing 21/10/09):

I have taken the following from Computing’s article as their version was quite succinct and easy to follow. For large organisations, Windows 7 Enterprise Edition adds several potentially significant new technologies, including AppLocker, DirectAccess, BranchCache, federated search and Bitlocker To Go. However, pretty much all of these features require a server infrastructure based on Windows Server 2008 R2 before they can be enabled. Windows Server 2008 also supports virtualisation.

The key improved features of Windows 7 for organisational users are:

  1. DirectAccess (One of my readers, Han Coumans, has explained DirectAccess very well – Click here) is a new way of accessing a corporate network, DirectAccess, avoids VPNs entirely DirectAccess uses globally routable IPv6 addresses and IPSec to provide direct, secure end-to-end connections between client and server. Unlike other VPNs, which require a kind of “dial-in”, DirectAccess connects automatically and transparently; in fact, even prior to logging in, DirectAccess authenticates the machine with the remote network, allowing system policies and software updates to be rolled out. It is disappointing though that Windows Mobiles cannot be controlled and continue to be managed by Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (MSCMDM 2008). Future DirectAccess technologies may incorporate MSCMDM as well. That would be welcomed by organisations as that would make a truly complete offering.
  2. AppLocker gives administrators the ability to apply a white list of applications that are allowed to run on client systems using Group Policy settings, while DirectAccess provides laptop users with the means to connect securely to the corporate network without needing a virtual private network, using an IPv6-over-IPsec encrypted connection.
  3. BranchCache is a new feature designed to offer better access to information for workers in a remote branch office. As the name suggests, it caches data transferred over the network, with cached data either held on a server or distributed among the client PCs at the site.
  4. Federated search (see sample screen above) extends the search capabilities seen in Vista to allow users to search not only their own computer, but to send out the search request to data repositories such as SharePoint and have the results merged with those from their own computer.
  5. Bitlocker To Go extends the Bitlocker encryption technology introduced in Windows Vista to support removable media such as USB Flash drives. Administrators can also set a policy that requires users to encrypt such media before they can be used.