Microsoft Googles Apple in 2011

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

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“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

Babe Ruth (1895 – 1948)

The quote above is apt when you are up against a person but what happens when you encounter organisations that are trying to outdo each other? 2010 was certainly interesting in that respect. Hunter Richard’s blog post on Microsoft (MS) is “All In” for the Cloud, but What About Dynamics? outlined Microsoft’s dilemma that is not limited to just MS Dynamics.

Microsoft is still trying its best to innovate as its key visionaries, such as Ray Ozzie (View Ray Ozzies’s – Dawn of a new day OR BBC’s summary) were falling by the wayside. At face value, it could be argued that MS is reinventing itself, as it has done so quite successfully in the past (WordPerfect vs. MS Word, Netscape vs. Explorer,……list continues),  but this time around, there is a caveat. Is MS actually listening to its own visionaries and customers?

MS knows that history is repeating itself once again as it has done so many times before and MS is trying its best to change and adapt, as it knows very well that if it doesn’t, it could wither away and die, just as it had slain Netscape and WordPerfect in the past. The secret to Apple’s and Google’s success is that they listen to us, the customer. They are finely attuned to what, we, the consumer want and need, just as my previous blog post Leveraging IT for competitive advantage, has alluded to. Secondly, this battle is not just about the hardware and software anymore, as all three companies go after our hard earned cash. Even Apple overtook MS, in terms of revenue this year.

Microsoft is a giant in the software world and one of the penalties it is paying for its enormous success is that:

1.        Its products are now so diverse that only IT experts can make any sense of them. Need convincing. Ask any non IT personnel to visit any Microsoft site and ask them to explain a particular Microsoft site’s products and what they can actually do for them.

2.        Sheer confusion. As a business owner, for my Microsoft IT system, where do I start? Microsoft Licensing and its payment model – Again, this is an open challenge to Microsoft. How many Microsoft employees can explain Microsoft licensing without referring to a price model manual? The correct answer should be at least half its workforce. Why? You cannot sell what you don’t understand (Microsoft have actually done remarkably well then!). Ah, would an employee be able to explain it all in a pub, though?

3. Microsoft’s entire business model is built on desktop/laptop client installation and as long as it has enough businesses that utilise that legacy because they have no other option, for the short term, it faces no financial problem. Office365 is a step in the right direction but unlike Google, MS products were never designed to ‘run in the cloud’ whereas as Rajen Sheth, Google’s senior product manager for Google Apps said, “It will be tough to build up the cloud expertise that’s been built into Google’s DNA since day one.”

So, where does that leave Google, Microsoft and Apple? They should all acknowledge their key strengths, concentrate and focus on those and licence each other’s products. That can be hard to acknowledge by ‘massive’ organisations such as these three but the reality is that sometimes other organisations just do it better than you can.

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. Novell was the King of network software, had the opportunity to licence its NDS to MS for its Active Directory, failed to strike an agreement and MS ended up killing its business because they could do it better. So, in hindsight, an effective licensing agreement by Novell would have been better. Then, we have Apple. MS Office is one of the best sold software for its desktop/laptop equivalent and Apple decided years ago that it would not concentrate its efforts on a ‘war’ to decide who could create a better office type software suite. Google became the king of search and MS decided to ‘take it on.’

I would argue that all of these companies need to innovate more. Apple and Google innovate, quite successfully. I would argue though that as innovation is stifled at MS, MS have not released a single innovative product in 201o. MS did finally catch up with Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) with a WM7 marketplace though! We even saw new releases of old software, such as Windows Mobile 7 and for those who want to argue and labour the point, did anyone release anything groundbreaking as Apple’s iPhone equivalent in 2007 or the iPad this year?

Oh and let’s not forget, Office365 still has no marketplace equivalent!

For more:

What is Cloud Computing? Its Pros/Cons and making it work

Microsoft announces Office 365 beta: test new cloud-based Office one year before its launch

Office 365 Beta: a first look

Steve Ballmer speech at UW: “We’re all in” for cloud computing

Microsoft Straightens Out Cloud Strategy — Finally

The 7 sins of Windows Phone 7

Apple iOS vs. Google Android

Top Tech Company of 2010: Apple

Will Google Apps survive Office 365?

The road to Office 365: The future

Office365 vs Google Apps

A guide to Office 365 versions and pricing

Windows Marketplace

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

Used iphone under a palm tree where I met android and formed a symbian relationship with a blackberry

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Choosing technology over customers

Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality.

Cloud based ERP. Fact or fiction?

Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour

Steve Job’s (CEO Apple) management style and CIOs

Back to basics Enterprise Resource Planning

Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality?

Microsoft and Apple Tablets, pens and swords

The wonderful world of FREE Windows 7 applications

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

The future is bright but is it mobile?

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Warren Buffet’s (World’s most successful investor) management style and CIOs

Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students...

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“You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right.”

Warren Buffet (1930 – ) World’s most successful investor

Today’s article is the third in a series of articles (First was written on Steve Job’s – Apple CIO followed by Michael Dell (CEO Dell) 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.

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

The Management Style

Warren Buffet is one of the world’s richest men and a very successful investor.  For today’s blog post I have selected a truly unique individual. He works from his office that lacks a computer and surprisingly his desk is bereft of research on stocks and shares.

Before we go any further, one particular event caught my attention that captures a facet of Warren Buffet’s management style. So, I have decided to share it with everyone. According to BusinessWeek, ‘We arrive late to Paris, touching down in a freakish, near-gale-force windstorm that both thrills and alarms our pilot. In four cars, we race as fast as rush-hour Paris traffic allows from Le Bourget to Dassault Aviation Group’s magnificent 19th century chateau–familiarly known as Le Rond Point–on the Champs Elysees. EJA is the largest commercial customer of Dassault Aviation, Europe’s leading manufacturer of business jets. Serge Dassault, the company’s chairman, is hosting tonight’s gala reception and dinner in Buffett’s honor. By the time we arrive, the reception is in full swing. But Buffett takes a few steps into the foyer and hustles up a flight of stairs. It will be a good 35 minutes until he descends and joins the party.

Downstairs, the guest of honor’s whereabouts is Topic A among Dassault’s distinguished guests. It might puzzle them to learn that Buffett is on a transatlantic call to one of his employees. The matter he is discussing with Ajit Jain this evening is not urgent. But it is Buffett’s custom to speak with Jain every evening. If that means keeping 200 of France’s richest people waiting, then c’est la vie.’

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

1. Business assessment: When looking to invest, Warren Buffet looks to satisfy ‘five’ essential criteria, equally CIOs can apply similar criteria when looking to invest their expertise towards business assessment. Buffet – ‘Never invest in a business you cannot understand.’

Warren Buffet investment criteria CIO ‘business’ assessment criteria
1 Is the company simple and understandable? Is the business model, simple and understandable?
2 Does it have a consistent operating history? Has IT consistently assisted the growth or well being of the company?
3 Does it have favourable, and predictable, long- term prospects? Is IT viewed favourably within the company and can IT predict how it can help the company’s long-term prospects?
4 Is the management competent and honest? Is the IT management team competent and aligned to the business vision?
5 Is the underlying business undervalued? Is IT undervalued? How can IT deliver ‘more’ value from existing resources?

2. Ownership: In the 2010 Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) annual report, Buffett wrote of his holding company: “We tend to let our many subsidiaries operate on their own, without our supervising and monitoring them to any degree. Most managers use the independence we grant them magnificently, by maintaining an owner-oriented attitude.” Buffett wants Berkshire Hathway’s managers to think like owners. Their rewards are tied exclusively to the achievements of their own businesses, not those of Berkshire Hathaway – a principle to which Buffett holds very strongly. “We delegate to the point of abdication,” Buffett says in Berkshire’s Owner’s Manual. CIOs need to instil their teams with similar beliefs. Every individual within the CIOs team needs to think as if they were the ‘owner’s’ of the business, especially the CIOs main management team.

3. Risk assessment and crisis management: Buffet – ‘If there is any significant bad news, let me know early’. The team need to have confidence in the CIO, in order that ‘bad news’ events/issues/problems can be resolved prior to them mothballing to the ‘point of no return.’ ‘An investor needs to do very few things right as long as he or she avoids big mistakes.’

4. Succession: Buffet – ‘send me a letter updating your recommendations as to who should take over tomorrow if you became incapacitated tonight. Anything you send me will be confidential’. CIOs need to have succession planning in order that the business has continuity in the unfortunate event of a CIO not being able to provide management.

5. Business reputation: Buffet – ‘Look at the business you run as if it were the only asset of your family, one that must be operated for the next 50 years and can never be sold’. He adds that ‘We can afford to lose money – even a lot of money. We cannot afford to lose reputation – even a shred of reputation.’ CIOs need to understand that IT systems can enhance and taint a company’s reputation. The recent BP oil spill crisis reflects that as it had a devastating effect on BP’s reputation, wiped millions off its share price, cost billions to settle claims and control the oil spill. Additionally, the irrecoverable loss of both human and marine life, coupled with the environmental damage leaves the oil giant in shambles.

6. Quality management: ”What I must understand is why someone will continue to get out of bed in the morning once they have all the money they could want,” Buffett says. ”Do they love the business, or do they love the money?” CIOs need to have a team that enjoys working within IT and associated line of business.

7. Competitive advantage: Warren Buffett was once asked what is the most important thing he looks for when evaluating a company to invest in. Without hesitation, he replied, “Sustainable competitive advantage.” CIOs need to ask themselves how they can help the business through leveraging IT to create competitive advantage? I covered this a few months ago, in my post, Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? Companies with a sustainable economic advantage need honest, capable and hardworking leaders to retain their lead. Berkshire-Hathaway’s managers have one instruction: Widen the moat. That keeps the castle valuable.

8. Use numbers to season the points you serve — they’re not the main dish: (Points 8,9,10,11 courtesy of the Harvard Business Review blog) Buffett doesn’t just report on the underwriting gains of their insurance businesses and let the numbers stand for themselves; he explains the terminology, what the numbers mean, and how he and Charlie Munger, his business partner, view them. Case in point: “Our $58.5 billion of insurance “float” — money that doesn’t belong to us but that we hold and invest for our own benefit — cost us less than zero. In fact, we were paid $2.8 billion to hold our float during 2008. Charlie and I find this enjoyable.”

9. Use analogies and metaphors. A great example is Buffett’s description of how many of us felt after the economic collapse in 2008: “By year end, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game.” And he goes on to describe the government’s response: “In poker terms, the Treasury and the Fed have gone ‘all in.’ Economic medicine that was previously meted out by the cupful has recently been dispensed by the barrel.” These metaphors do more to explain his points than paragraphs of technical jargon ever could.

10. Be honest and transparent. Buffett follows-up a recap of 2008 successes with the following revelation: “During 2008 I did some dumb things in investments. I made at least one major mistake of commission and several lesser ones that also hurt. I will tell you more about these later. Furthermore, I made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action.” Instead of deflating his credibility, this kind of refreshing candidness makes the audience more trusting of whatever else he might say: after all, he’s clearly not hiding anything. ‘It is more important to say “no” to an opportunity, than to say “yes”.’

11. Use facts to put things in realistic context. After explaining how bad the economic situation was in 2008, Buffett gave a fact-based context for how to view these realities. “Amid this bad news, however, never forget that our country has faced far worse travails in the past. In the 20th Century alone, we dealt with two great wars (one of which we initially appeared to be losing); a dozen or so panics and recessions; virulent inflation that led to a 21 1/2% prime rate in 1980; and the Great Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment ranged between 15% and 25% for many years. America has had no shortage of challenges. Without fail, however, we’ve overcome them. Compare the record of this period with the dozens of centuries during which humans secured only tiny gains, if any, in how they lived. Though the path has not been smooth, our economic system has worked extraordinarily well over time.”

12. Follow your instinct: Buffet – ‘Do not follow the crowd. Ignore the market, the crowd, and its fashions.’‘It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.’

13. Research: Buffet – ‘Do not rely on outside analysis. Do your own research – and do it thoroughly.’ Do not often act on a hunch. Always have sound, well-argued, well-researched reasons for your investments.’

14. Trustworthiness and integrity: Developing characteristics such as trustworthiness and integrity, Buffett believes, is a matter of forming the right habits. “The chains of habit are too light to be noticed until they are too heavy to be broken,” he says. People who stray from these values often show up on Wall Street; they may initially even shine; but eventually they self-destruct. “That is sad, because it does not need to happen,” says Buffett. “You need integrity, intelligence and energy to succeed. Integrity is totally a matter of choice — and it is habit-forming.”

15. Buy at the right price: Purchases must be made at the right price if they are to pay off.

No less an authority, John F. Welch, CEO of General Electric Co., considers Buffett a superb judge of managerial talent. Buffett and Welch have gotten to know each other over the years as golf partners and as rivals in auto insurance and other businesses. ”Take 20 people you know quite well but Warren has just met casually,” Welch says. ”If you ask Warren his opinion about them, he’ll have each one nailed. He’s a masterful evaluator of people, and that’s the biggest job there is in running a company.”

Asked why he has not retired despite his phenomenal wealth, Buffett said the reason is that he has more fun doing what he does than anything else. “The fundamental thing is that the process should be fun,” he said. “I had just as much fun when I had $10,000 to invest as I do now. It’s crazy to do things for your resume. It’s like saving up sex for your old age. You should do what you enjoy as you go along, and work with people you admire. I look forward every day to the next day. I’m wired for this game.”

For the long haul, Warren Buffett’s way must be best. As an associate says, ‘somehow Warren has been able to keep a diverse cast of characters working harder for him than they did for themselves. I see it every day – and I still don’t know how he does it’. Having read all the above, though, you will have a good idea of the maestro’s magic methods. Use them.

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

Global digital communications, VOIP and Unified Communications

Even a few years ago, connecting international offices was a nightmare in terms of complexity and associated cost. The attraction to connect many offices has many advantages. It helps cut the carbon footprint of employees through less travelling, enhances communications security, as files are not required to be kept on the laptop/removable media, it can save telephone costs by using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, allows collaboration of employees globally through Unified Communications (UC) technologies and creates an infrastructure that is scalable according to the requirements of the business.

The technology that is increasingly being utilised to setup this global infrastructure is Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). MPLS utilises both Class of Service (CoS) and Quality of Service (QoS). This means that data is prioritised according to let’s say, video/voice. For our example, if Video/Voice carries a CoS of 7 that would mean that it has a higher priority for transmission to let’s say data files and then the QoS could reflect that further by fine tuning other parameters such as latency etc.

When creating an international communications strategy, it is advisable to identify the requirements very carefully and to choose a global service provision partner that has experience of enabling international communications such as BT, Cable and Wireless and others.

The improvement that most businesses require immediately is to connect their employees remotely to their internal business network for reaching their business documents, presentations and business applications. The way this is achieved is through ensuring that the headquarter (HQ) or business data centre site has a larger capacity link compared to other sites, as this will be the link that will be the most used by all other sites and remote workers. A few years ago, many businesses used to host all their data and business applications at their headquarter sites. Now, increasingly, as businesses are growing and capacity (bandwidth) is becoming cheaper, they either have their own data centres or use Cloud Computing services.

Next, each remote site’s data requirements are mapped out and the required capacity agreed and enabled. In parallel, most remote workers are granted access to the business systems by using secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections and associated solutions such as iPass and RSA SecureID .

Once, the global infrastructure is setup, businesses can start to think about moving away from their Private branch exchange (PBX/PABX)’s telephone network and to start utilising VOIP for Internet Protocol Telephony (IPT). It is also worth noting that VOIP is not allowed in many countries as these countries would like their own country’s Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) carrier to carry the VOIP voice traffic and thus make money themselves. Many VOIP solutions, get around these by breaking out voice transmissions locally, in country, and if, for example, they have their own international VOIP system, to utilise their own network for the international traffic only.

An immediate transfer to a complete VOIP system is not required by most vendors and is facilitated by the introduction of VOIP gateways that link the legacy PBX to the new VOIP system. That ensures that investment in the current PBX is realised until a transition to the eventual VOIP benefits and system is completed. The largest disadvantage of VOIP systems is their inability to cope with electricity blackouts (Design consideration can overcome this) and tracing emergency VOIP calls (potential solutions currently being offered by vendors). Most VOIP vendors also sell UC solutions as well. This is where the power of the digital communications strategy starts to pay dividends. VOIP, for example, allows the user to have one extension globally. The power of unified communications is that it starts to utilise presence awareness (Where someone actually is/logged in to a computer/device) and starts to present that information to anyone who wants to connect or collaborate with that individual. This allows geographically diverse teams to connect anytime, anywhere globally. This could be via email, instant messaging, web conferencing, voice, SMS, Fax and even through collaborative technologies such as SharePoint. Now, follows an example:

Peter Smith was reluctant to go to the US but sales were down and a major potential client beckoned. Peter logged off his computer and phone system and made his way to Heathrow airport. Once checked in, he decided to make some calls to colleagues. A quick conference on the laptop ensued that meant he was discussing the project with a global team that he could view and discuss the final phases of a project with, across three offices globally. He was now walking to board the plane and quickly transferred his call to his mobile and continued walking. The call had ended and he had an urgent message to leave another colleague. He knew his colleague was in a meeting and would be checking his emails on his laptop frequently, so he left a voicemail (Voicemail would be emailed as text to his colleague). Once at the US office, he logged in to the system and had instant access to all his files and his personal phone extension.

I am intentionally not discussing VOIP or IP technologies in general as I feel that Unified Communications is where businesses should be making an investment. According to Gartner’s 2009 magic quadrant for Unified Communications, 2011 Microsoft’s UC solution is considered to be the leader, with Cisco, IBM and Siemen’s communications following closely. It was interesting to see that Avaya is only a strong contender and it is noteworthy to inform everyone that Avaya completed its acquisition of Nortel recently (the quadrant does not reflect the acquisition). There are quite a few VOIP/UC vendors currently and I would suggest that the one’s to watch are Microsoft, Cisco, Mitel and Avaya.

Business Continuity

If you enjoy my blog, please recommend my blog for the Computerweekly IT Blog Awards 2009 in the CIO/IT Director category at:

http://www.computerweekly.com/nominate

3. Business Continuity

As the name suggests itself, this is about planning to continue business functions when disaster strikes. As a minimum, a business continuity plan should contain details of:

1. Details of who can envoke the plan alongwith a complete list of who will be responsible for what.
2. Details of suppliers to be used including any offsite arrangements alonwith key contacts.
3. Areas of the business that should be envoked earliest and a list of follower areas.
4. Details of any DR plans.