April 2008 Archives

User generated content - an IT strategy

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...presented by Paxman

Mid-week funny: Paxman resists

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BT CRM vs Salesforce.com CRM

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The announcement that BT will make on demand CRM software available for SMEs clearly puts it at odds with much bigger competitors like Salesforce.com.

But the success of BT’s CRM software will face one major obstacle – UK SMEs.

It is slightly worrying that BT quotes research which says that only 43% of UK SMEs believe that client relationships is the most critical factor to their success.

Only 43%?

Without clients you don’t have a business!

While I hope the research is unrepresentative of the attitudes UK businesses have towards delivering first class customer service, I can’t help think there’s a bit of truth in it.

Unlike our friends across the Atlantic, I personally don’t think marketing and selling is as closely ingrained in UK culture, while for those in the US it’s practically a way of life.

Take a look at the following US site:

http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/home/home.jsp

It’s a very straightforward application that Starbucks uses to poll customers about what ideas they’d like to see in stores. The ideas that get the most votes from other customers get implemented and customers are encouraged to criticise other people’s ideas.

Now find me a UK company that’s done something that straightforward and which has delivered real results to the business.

Grand Theft Auto IV and computer games - what's the fuss?

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Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV went on sale today with an 18 rating and it is expected to make £200 million in its first week.

With big money and even bigger age ratings, computer games stopped being the preserve of teenage nerds since the 90s, when Sony released its Playstation and aggressively pursued adults with its advertising.

Nowadays, a Playstation sits inconspicuously next to a DVD player or stereo system. But there was a time – I certainly remember – when you had to ask your parent’s permission to plug your console into the back of the telly for a few hours of precious gameplay.

But make no mistake: video games, as a medium of entertainment, are now on equal footing with films. Mirroring that trend, so is the range and depth of content video games portray.

And yet, when a film is released with an 18 certificate, it doesn’t receive half the moral outrage a video game does with an equivalent rating.

Does the public perception of video games being just “juvenile entertainment” require a rethink?

Judging by the obvious angle of this BBC video report, which focuses exclusively on Grand Theft Auto’s rating controversy, it does.

The report barely touches on the fact that computer games are a billion dollar industry, where adults form a large section of customers.

It could have used the game’s release as an opportunity to explore whether public attitudes to video game violence are justified, given the age profile of people who now buy games.

It could have moved the debate forward, but didn’t.

IT skills worth learning – how do you decide?

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How do you decide what IT skills or programming languages are worth learning?

A cursory glance through the job sections today might not always be an indicator of what people will want tomorrow, and yet IT professionals have to make an upfront decision about what skills are worth their time (and money) learning today.

After a recent post about COBOL revealed that it could in fact be obsolete, I wanted to poll opinions about what skills people felt were just not worth learning anymore.

So share the knowledge; post a comment about the skill/skills you think are redundant in today’s market.

Microsoft Yahoo - deadline pases

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From AFP:

A Microsoft deadline for Internet service company Yahoo to accept its 44.6 billion-dollar (28.5 billion-euro) acquisition offer expired at midnight Saturday, setting the stage for a hostile takeover bid by the software giant.

The expiration of the Sunday 0700 GMT deadline -- without comment from either side -- was likely to pave the way for an ugly proxy battle -- a fight by Microsoft for a vote by Yahoo shareholders to place pro-Microsoft officials on its board of directors.

Microsoft/Yahoo – Your Comments

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Do you think Microsoft’s proposed buyout of Yahoo will give it the online clout it needs to compete with Google?

Or is it just a play to give it a presence in a market it has found tough to crack on its merit?

Share your thoughts.

Microsoft Yahoo AGM attack

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The Sunday Times reports that Microsoft will launch a hostile take over of Yahoo at its AGM on July 12, if the company does not accept its offer.

It’s strange that Microsoft has not commented on the fact that the deadline it gave Yahoo passed yesterday. Steve Ballmer said in a letter to Yahoo dated April 5th 2008:

“If we have not concluded an agreement within the next three weeks, we will be compelled to take our case directly to your shareholders.”

I rang Microsoft to check whether it had any update, but it was keeping quiet.

The Wall Street Journal said that analysts it spoke to were confident that the deal would eventually happen, but that Microsoft would have to raise its offer before Yahoo accepted.

Microsoft’s CFO, Chris Liddell, said its offer remains 'extremely generous,' and said Microsoft would 'reconsider its alternatives' if Yahoo fails to accept the offer this weekend.

EDS reports growth in first quarter

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The Texas-based outsourcer and services firm reported $5.37bn in revenue, a slight increase year-on-year.

Net revenue was $63m, down from $165m a year ago, but last year's figure included a $100m contract termination payment from Verizon.

With two $1bn deals recently under its belt, and given a sluggish global economy, EDS experienced a respectable first quarter, but needs to show growth in its applications business, given the strategic importance of this business to its future growth.

EDS is continuing to build its SAP practice, and has started to put additional investments into its Oracle capabilities, recently launching a government tax practice based on Oracle solutions.

Second Life: the business opportunity explained

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Following my BT/Unilever story about businesses exploring Second Life, and interview with Second Life creator Philip Rosedale, I have spoken to a Fortune 500 company who said that “event orientated” applications are more suited for business looking to exploit virtual world technology.

For example; the launching of a book, a music performance, or an “ongoing event” to drive customer feedback about the changes you’d like to see at your local Starbucks store would work best for business applications.

The challenge is understanding how the unique characteristics of Web3D map to your business. This is something that is a long way-off, as most companies haven’t even got Web 2.0 right as yet.

Even on the Web 1.0 front, there are some companies out there who still think that sticking a company brochure on a website constitutes “a strategy”.

The company I spoke to also said that the next wave of customers will have been brought up on video games, not traditional print media and not movies.

So learning how best to engage and collaborate with this group of customers through the mediums they are more apt to use – and learning the sensibilities of that medium - is the real challenge and opportunity for businesses.

Microsoft: Yahoo deadline expires

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Microsoft reported its fiscal 2008 third-quarter results after the close of the US financial markets on Thursday. Revenues totalled $14.45bn. The revenue figure was up slightly from the $14.40bn posted a year ago but the net income and earnings per share were down.

Of course, Microsoft is still hoping to bolster its Online Services Business via its still-pending offer to acquire Yahoo. CFO Liddell said Microsoft's offer remains 'extremely generous,' and said Microsoft would 'reconsider our alternatives' if Yahoo fails to accept the offer this weekend.

Video: Second Life CEO on stepping down

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Second Life CEO and Founder Philip Rosedale on stepping down


Second Life courtroom drama video

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Seriously funny.

Businesses build Second Life experience

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When IT projects begin and end with the words ‘Second’ and ‘Life’ the almost universal response from managers is “nice graphics, now talk ROI.”Needless to say, interest in developing technologies withers, as proving ROI is almost impossible to do honestly. What also withers is the possibility of any basic exploration or piloting of a virtual world project.

This is happening at a time when businesses are being told to look to IT as a source of innovation.

Having talked with businesses beginning to use virtual worlds, it is still very much a case of them finding out what technologies like Second Life offer their business.

The situation has many parallels with the first wave of business interest in web sites. Having a website in the 90s was seen as part of a fad, now it is a customer’s first port of call and a required part of any business plan.

The jury is out on if these virtual worlds actually offer (or will offer) the same kind of value to a business as a web site. There is no acknowledged best approach for building an enterprise virtual world application, but it hasn’t stopped businesses from exploring the technology.

It is having an open mind and willingness to devote resources to something that might never pay off immediately that could spring the biggest rewards.

Yahoo earnings surge 281.7% in latest results

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Microsoft may have to up its offer for Yahoo after the search giant posted strong revenues today.

“As outlined in our investor presentation, we believe we can significantly accelerate our revenue growth,
return to our historically high margins, and double our operating cash flow by 2010. This quarter’s solid
performance underscores the fact that we are executing on that plan. Yahoo! is beginning to realize the
benefits of the very substantial and deliberate long-term investments we’ve made to capitalize on
the opportunities ahead in display and to recapture momentum in search,” said Jerry Yang, co-founder and
chief executive officer, Yahoo!

The breakdown

Revenues were $1,818 million for the first quarter of 2008, a 9 percent increase compared to $1,672
million for the same period of 2007.

Operating income before depreciation, amortization, and stock-based compensation expense for
the first quarter of 2008 includes incremental costs of $14 million incurred for outside advisors
related to Microsoft’s unsolicited proposal, other strategic alternatives, and related litigation
defense costs.

The Commodore 64 is our life

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Just came across this great site - a veritable alcove of Nostalgia. Forget rebuilding the Colossus at Bletchley Park and get on with building the UK’s first C64 museum!

I had one of these beauties back in the 80s and although the graphics by today’s standards look like stickmen on acid, the playability was top notch.

The only drawback was waiting for the damn cassette tape to load, and then after five minutes, discovering that it had missed one “bleep” that required a complete re-load.

Check the videos for top games like International Soccer and Daley Thompson's Decathlon.

Cobol programmers back in demand

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Despite what pundits might have led us to believe over the past 20 years, the mainframe is not going to disappear any time soon. What is going to change, however, is the mainframe product environment. Organisations need to have plans in place for either migrating or maintaining their current set-ups in the changing environment.

"Although firms are vocal in their dissatisfaction of the costs of maintaining them, legacy mainframes continue to run core business functions for medium, large, and Global 2000 companies," said Phil Murphy, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

And yet the prevailing questions concerning moving from the mainframe remain about Cobol versus Java or Cisco versus IBM Websphere, rather than more fundamental issues.

"If a company decides to stick with its current system, then they have to make an investment in ensuring they will still have the required skill sets (eg Cobol) in place within the next 10 years," said Dale Vecchio, research vice-president at analyst firm Gartner.

BT Openreach and SLAs - not up to scratch?

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BT launches its first range of broadband ADSL2+ services on its 21CN next week, but some readers have written in complaining about SLA problems with its existing Openreach service.

If you have had a problem, send an email or post a comment.

How to prove ROI on Web 2.0 projects

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In 2007, a new wave of tech savvy employees brought Web 2.0 tools into the workplace.

They realised that tools such as real-time messaging, online social networking and virtual worlds could be used to simplify communication in the workplace.

CIOs started learning about how Web 2.0 tools can allow enterprises to more efficiently generate, self-publish, and find information, plus share expertise in a way that is much easier and cheaper than earlier knowledge management attempts.

Yet in 2008, many enterprises are still struggling to understand the business value of collaboration tools and how to prove its ROI.

I'll be talking with IBM about presenting a ROI case for Web 2.0 IT projects. If you have any questions you'd like answered, shoot me a comment.

Phorm - 4 key rules that ISPs must obey

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A manifesto for governing the use of Phorm from the web site badphorm – for when good ISPs go bad!

* The Phorm system must be fully opt-in. Opt-out systems are, in our opinion, not acceptable for such a potentially invasive piece of technology.

* Such opt-in must be explicit and voluntary (requiring specific user action) for all subscribers, not simply a change in the ISPs terms and conditions.

* The opt-in process must be managed at a network level, not reliant on cookies or any other type of client side mechanism.

* Where a user has chosen not to participate in the Phorm system, that user’s traffic must not be passed through or be accessible by any equipment owned, operated or supplied in whole or in part by Phorm (including software operating on ISP owned equipment).

IT workers could swing US elections

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Did you know that IT workers may help swing the upcoming '08 elections? 12 million strong, IT workers number more than miners, farmers and construction workers combined. For the upcoming elections, this mostly young, educated, upscale, independent and politically motivated group has a thing-or-two to say about the campaign for the Presidency.

Who do they prefer for President? Senators Barack Obama and/or John McCain.

What are their top concerns? The Economy. The War. Immigration.

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) recently surveyed 600 IT workers about their views of the '08 elections.

If the 2008 Presidential Election were held today who would get the vote:
McCain 29%
Obama 29%
Clinton 13%
Huckabee 11%
Paul 9%
Not sure 9%
Most important issue facing the next President:
Economy 39%
War in Iraq 18%
Immigration 15%
National security 14%
Govt. ethics/corruption 6%
Health care 4%
Other 2%
Not sure 2%
Social Security 1%

O2's mobile broadband service - what you should know...

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Last week O2 UK announced a mobile broadband (i.e. USB modem, or dongle) offering. Two packages are available to existing mobile or home broadband subscribers.

But how does it compare to the others already available?

Steven Hartley, senior analyst at Ovum comments:

“Firstly, O2 is relatively expensive, although the tariffs from both Vodafone and T-Mobile are currently on offer. For the equivalent length of contract and usage limits, O2's 18 month contract is £5 more than 3's, Vodafone's and T-Mobile's (which runs for 24 months). The one month contract is the same price as Vodafone, but the one-off USB modem fee is £20 more expensive.”

“Secondly, it is only available to existing customers, either mobile or home broadband. None of the other MNOs make this stipulation, although 3 is now offering a 50% discount to existing customers. A focus on existing customers emphasises a churn reduction strategy, which contradicts O2's SIM only customer acquisition drive. Growing mobile broadband uptake in the UK could be an excellent opportunity to attract new customers to data services.”

“A focus on fixed broadband customers is another signal of O2's intention to drive customer growth in this area; hence its core messaging around the service conveys mobile broadband as complementary to fixed, particularly with WiFi access included. Only T-Mobile also includes WiFi, and shows how mobile broadband offerings are converging with those from fixed ISPs.”

“However, O2's fixed broadband services are only available from unbundled exchanges and its customer numbers are small to date (currently around 100,000). Therefore, we do not expect large numbers of mobile broadband customers to come from this category.”

“An interesting aside to O2's announcement is Orange's position in the UK mobile broadband market. It is missing a major opportunity due to a strategic emphasis on fixed broadband, combined with almost no marketing and exorbitant pricing (£25 per month for business users and £29.99 for 'non-business customers') for its mobile broadband offering. O2's announcement at least shows Orange that fixed and mobile broadband can live side by side.”

“Therefore, O2's complementary mobile broadband offering is interesting from a market positioning perspective. But ultimately it is not competitive for consumers, even existing customers. Like O2's fixed offering it is unlikely to set the market alight. As a result, revised pricing looks more likely. As we mentioned in relation to 3 (see EuroView Daily, April 10), this suggests that the longer term outlook for mobile broadband is similar to that of fixed broadband - falling prices and a need to focus on value-added services, or survive as a bitpipe.”

Web 2.0 spending to increase - but who pays?

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A new Forrester report reckons that business spending on Web 2.0 software will rise to a value of $4.6 billion as the promise of what it can deliver increases.

The key drivers for Web 2.0 in business is that it will allow businesses to communicate with customers better and improve employee collaboration.

But the key question is who pays for Web 2.0 in the enterprise? Three challenges await: IT shops are wary of what they perceive as insecure, consumer-grade technology; ad-supported Web 2.0 tools on the consumer side have set “free” as a starting point; and Web 2.0 technologies enter a crowded space dominated by legacy software investments.

A final point is that improving communication requires a culture of working practices already geared towards collaboration and listening to the customer. Technology alone doesn’t enable this, but this is just the way Web 2.0 software could be sold to a business.

So before your manager decides to ‘get down with the kids’ with the latest Web 2.0 ware, ask him; are we geared as an organisation to deliver Web 2.0 in the first place?

Career management: How to get headhunted

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Following my interview with Microsoft COO Kevin Turner about how IT staff can reach the top and earn more, we've had a couple of e-mails on how to get headhunted.

If there is a single watchword for getting yourself headhunted, it's "visibility". All the headhunters agree - if they don't know who you are, they can't put you forward.

Consequently the first step is to make yourself known in the wider IT world, and to make sure others perceive you in the way you are aiming to project yourself. Recommended avenues for self-exposure are conferences, the press and the IT industry "cocktail circuit". Headhunters keep a watching brief on all such channels of exposure.

Conference call
Securing speaking engagements at conferences not only establishes you as an authoritative expert but it means that publicity material about you, including photographs and biographies, is sent out ahead of the event, points out Nick Marsh, director of European technology practice at resourcing services group Harvey Nash.


Therefore make sure you have a high-quality photo of yourself ready to use at short notice or you'll end up looking like the Neasden Axe Murderer in the conference brochure. Also make sure well ahead of time that the career details you supply are accurate.

Robina Chatham, independent consultant and visiting fellow at Cranfield School of Management, says be picky about which conferences you speak at - check out the calibre of other speakers and the expected audience.

Once you've secured your place on the platform, don't score an own goal by failing to prepare a truly memorable presentation. It's essential to put in the effort or you could end up doing more harm than good to your chances of advancement by appearing on the speakers' platform.

"Speak at practitioner conferences - but do it well!" Chatham sums up.

Read all about IT
Media exposure can work wonders too. "Get yourself quoted in the press, make a name as an industry source, especially in core articles," advises Marsh. "We track all that."

Informal networking is crucial in creating effective self-exposure and enhancing your reputation. The "cocktail circuit" can range from purely social invitations such as sports events - preferably the "right" kind of sports such as rugby, golf and Wimbledon tennis, advises Chatham - to IT directors' clubs.

What about deliberately drawing attention to yourself by contacting headhunters? You might have thought this was a total no-no, but in fact most headhunters are happy to be approached - as long as they're approached by someone they're likely to want.

Certainly it's something encouraged by Geoffrey Forester, chairman of technology practice at international executive search group Odgers, Ray and Berndtson. "Why not be proactive?" he says. "It's part of your creative personal marketing."

Brinley Platts, business development director at the IMPACT Programme, a leading network for CIOs, agrees. "You have to think of yourself as a product launching on the market, so do your market research and promote yourself," he says. "There's no room for embarrassment - if you're no good you won't get placed."

Platts says if you do approach headhunters, you must be prepared for them to use you as a source - to recommend other potential candidates for them. You should also be aware that if you get a call asking you to recommend someone for a post, it could be you the headhunter is sounding out. "You can be quite upfront about asking him or her," says Platts.

Plot your career course
He also considers it quite acceptable to alert headhunters to tell them "I'm likely to be on the market in l8 months, and here's what I can do".

That kind of forward planning should be part of your ongoing active career management. You should know what opportunities are likely to arise and then map these to where you want to be in six to 18 months time.

"Keep yourself constantly aware of what people are looking for and what chief executives are saying are the key skills. Keep checking the Sunday Times," advises David Taylor, president of IT directors group Certus.

You should also check out the headhunters as well. "The book Executive Grapevine lists all executive recruitment agencies in the UK," says Marsh. "There are no more than 20 big headhunters, so focus on them. Below are another 20 or so smaller second-tier mixed headhunters and executive search groups, which are fine for being headhunted the first time. Then there are 5,000 or more third-tier agencies."

He is blunt about what level to pitch at. Top-rank headhunters, he warns, "only deal with candidates on salaries of more than £60,000 a year". So if you're not there yet, stop sitting by the phone.

Bond.com domain name goes for $1 million

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The web address Bond.com has been put up for auction today, for a reserve price of $1million.

With the hype surrounding the latest Bond movie and yesterday’s opening of the Ian Fleming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, the web address is likely to be snapped up for a record price.

The auction, which is being run by domain name marketplace Sedo, kicks off today and wraps-up next Thursday.

Nora Nanayakkara, director of business development and sales at Sedo, commented:

“The UK housing market may be in crisis, but domain names are proving to be lucrative online real estate. In fact, buyers with little or no technical knowledge have already recognised the most in-demand web addresses – and are reaping serious profits.”

“Short, simple and flexible, Bond.com is a prime example of a domain name which is likely to exceed its six-figure reserve.”

The Apprentice UK

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I have the TV on in the background with the Apprentice on right now.

Both teams have been tasked with taking portrait photographs of customers at a shopping centre.

Sales have been strong for both teams but ironically both teams have been let down by a lack of technical skills in operating the laptop and printing equipment.

And because one team can’t use the hardware to print the pictures, they have had to shut up shop while they learn how to use the gear.

Just goes to show how valuable it is to have a strong IT team.

PS: Last minute update: Simon got fired! Why?


How to hack guide

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Cyber criminals are not after the notoriety anymore, they are business men or women just like in the “real” world and networking is helping them become stronger. The internet is increasingly becoming a lucrative platform for illegal business ventures. Raimund Genes, CTO of anti-malware at Trend Micro has an explanation of how these ventures could be set up.

The preparation

A successful business venture usually starts with finding malware that is difficult to detect. Rootkits would serve this purpose quite conveniently. They are programmes designed to take fundamental control over a computer – without the owner’s authorisation. The next step would be to identify the best transport mechanism for the malware to reach someone’s computer. A botnet, that sends spam before particular occasions to get higher traction (e.g. before Valentine’s Day or Easter) can serve as the source.

The collaboration

Following a classic case of partnership forming, cyber criminals then co-work with other groups of hackers to trade malicious code, deploy sweatshops where people crack captcha[1] codes or work with internet experts to find high profile pages into which to integrate malicious code.

The scenario could be to pay a hacker to target specific sites with a certain malware selected beforehand. Examples where this already happened is the attack on the Monster website and/or stolen TK Maxx data.

Show me the money

After the headstone is laid, the cyber criminal would then set up a command and control centre where phished credit card detail collection can take place. The last step is to find and select money mules that can take the money to other countries within the cyber-crime network. After the tracks of the cyber criminals and their money are covered, the only thing left is for the criminals to count the profits made.

“This is a completely standard cyber criminal commercial business”, says Raimund Genes, CTO at Trend Micro. “The spammers even have their own trade associations. Ready-made tools for creating phishing e-mails, such as fake requests for bank details, are fairly easy to buy on the underground market, with many independent vendors trading them.”

Downturns, language and how the internet will not ‘become obsolete’

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Deep breath. It’s a long rant, but a good one.

A downturn in IT spending has been predicted to hit the UK, but you would not know it from the amount of stories that have broken.