Your shout: It's people that count, outsourcing problems and a B&Q clarification

Readers' views on the week's news


People are the missing link in continuity plans

With reference to the article "SMEs are urged to set up continuity plans" (Computer Weekly, 23 August), I agree that small and medium-sized enterprises need to ensure they are prepared for emergencies.

The article points out that it is lack of time and money that is an issue. Here I disagree: it is a misunderstanding of what is actually required that is preventing SMEs from setting up business continuity plans.

It does not take a lot of money to embark on a business continuity plan. It will take time, but companies need to realise that without spending the time they are risking the business.

However, it is not just SMEs, but all organisations that need a wake-up call to the reality of threats to the business. Research from the Management Consultants Association and Symantec points to that fact that across the board, UK organisations are failing to protect key assets and the ability to function in the face of major disruptions. Of the companies questioned, only 51% had a business continuity plan in place.

Systems, information, people, equipment and facilities are the five mission-critical factors a company must take into account when building a business continuity plan.

A quick review of the applications that are critical to run the business on day one, and those (such as HR) that are not, can focus the mind on what is needed. Once that has been done, figuring out how to get the data to the application in a timely manner is the next step.

The key component missing from most business continuity plans is people. The research reported that companies identified loss of skills (56%) and loss of people (55%) as two of the major threats to their business. However, for some organisations these are not just threats, but a reality: 41% and 28% respectively said they had been hit by these dangers in the last 12 months.

Companies need to ask themselves some basic questions when it comes to including staff in their business continuity plans. Who are the key individuals? How will they get to other locations if a disaster occurs? What will happen to the business if one of the key individuals is affected?

This very important aspect of business is being overlooked, and at present only a handful of continuity plans cover it.

Guy Bunker
Chief scientist, Symantec Corporation

Short-sighted SLAs lead to outsourcing problems

There is an increasing trend, both in the public and private sectors, to take outsourcing contracts back in-house in an attempt to consolidate what are seen to be failing projects (Computer Weekly, 23 August).

In some cases this is the best course of action, but often it is the result of an unacceptable deterioration of an organisation's relationship with its outsourced provider.

After the initial flurry of post-contract excitement, there is a danger that business process outsourcing (BPO) arrangements slide into maintenance mode. And, although most companies would argue vehemently that they are constantly pushing suppliers, it is becoming clear that few are doing this effectively.

This is undoubtedly due to the highly operational rather than business focus of typical SLAs; 99% uptime, for example, does not guarantee business happiness. Furthermore, by concentrating only on performance against the SLA, a company leaves the supplier to efficiently and effectively turn the BPO handle; the relationship is solid but there is no drive or opportunity for continuing development or improvement.

If organisations are to maximise their relationships with BPO service providers and achieve long-term strategic benefits, or even just make sure they stay on track, other key factors need to be identified, monitored and actively managed against. These include price performance against market rates, customer satisfaction, levels of innovation and continuous improvement, risk management and end-user satisfaction.

Simon Lindley
Principal consultant, Orbys Consulting

B&Q's stock control system: a clarification

The article "IT system failures at B&Q hit stock control" (Computer Weekly, 23 August) is incorrect and displays a misunderstanding of how DemandTec's price optimisation software, used by B&Q,, functions.

DemandTec's price optimisation software enables retail and CPG organisations to understand consumer demand and which items are the most price-sensitive to consumers. It then recommends a balance of prices that lowers the everyday price on items that matter most to consumers. B&Q is not using any of DemandTec's promotional planning capabilities.

The DemandTec software that B&Q is using is a strategic decision tool which does not "check stock levels" as stated in the article. DemandTec's software analyses historical data, and examines price elasticity and consumer sensitivity to pricing to then create its recommendations.

DemandTec does have a markdown capability that would help a retailer understand the demand a 75% off markdown would generate, but B&Q is not using any of DemandTec's markdown capabilities. The DemandTec software that B&Q is using does not "talk" to the B&Q stock checking systems - they are entirely separate systems. This is an important distinction if your readers are to gain an understanding, both of our product and price optimisation software in general.

Iain Gray
Sales director, DemandTec

Digitised family records a boon if set up correctly

Charles Smith asks why digitise birth, marriage and death records (Letters, 23 August). For the family historian it will be of great research value. For the Office for National Statistics it should become a cash cow.

I share Smith's concerns about data errors. Ideally images of the original records will accompany the converted records so the transcribed data can be verified. That is if the correct person can be found in the first place and their name has been entered correctly.

Brian Hudson

On the virtual folders in Windows Vista

In response to the article "Check out the changes in Windows Vista" (Computer Weekly, 23 August)

I understand Jack Schofield's article on Windows Vista was an opinion piece and not aimed at programmers, but he states, "The biggest challenge in Vista may be the introduction of virtual folders," which is not strictly true.

Virtual folders have been around for ages: My Computer, Recycle Bin, and recently the .net runtime cache, %WINDIR%\assembly, are just a few examples.

Indeed, all the folders in Explorer are virtual, but at present most of them are plain file directory views of the underlying file system.

The fact is that not many programmers have found the need or desire to exploit this technology. This may change in Vista, where it is likely to be much easier to build models using the .net runtime, which will become an integral part of Vista's application programming interface.

Robert Johnson

On specifications for RFID equipment

In response to the article "More radio spectrum for RFID devices" (Computer Weekly, 23 August)

Cliff Saran mistakenly states that the increased amount of radio spectrum made available by Ofcom for use by RFID equipment is not compatible with the proposed RFID specifications from standards body EPCglobal.

In fact, EPCglobal, part of supply chain standards body GS1, recommended that the UHF spectrum be between 860MHz and 960MHz for use with EPCglobal standards, not a range exclusively above 900MHz as the article claims.

Ofcom's approved frequency of 865-868MHz in the UK therefore falls within our recommended frequency range, as does the same range which has been approved by The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for use in Europe.

In reality there is little deviation in quality of read rates across the spectrum of 860-960MHz and the agreed frequency will ensure that UK tagged goods are internationally compatible.

In support of the globalisation of trade, it is EPCglobal's mission to ensure that one tag can be read anywhere in the world, avoiding the frustrating and costly requirement for multiple tagging of cases and pallets to meet differing geographical and customer requirements. It still remains that "one size fits all".

We are delighted with Ofcom's announcement and see it as a positive step forward for the adoption of RFID. As the bandwidth is going to be both licence and cost-exempt, life has just become easier and cheaper for companies seeking to use RFID in their supply chains.

David Lyon
EPCglobal business manager, GS1 UK

On the need for IT bosses to have business skills

In response to the article "Can traditional technology leaders make the transition to become hybrid managers?" (Computer Weekly, 23 August)

I was interested to read Edward Turch's article. He lamented IT professionals' struggle to display effective communication skills and advocated the need for a better understanding of technology at board level.

Turch's arguments ring true in numerous companies, and as IT recruiters we have certainly noticed this dilemma emerging over the past few years. Previously, communication skills used to be an advantage in IT job specs. Nowadays, they are an imperative.

Employers are also urgently seeking other management skills such as business acumen and leadership qualities. IT professionals must develop these if they are to meet the needs of UK plc over the next few years. 

One thing is certain: a balance needs to be met between IT expertise and the way in which it is communicated to others. Only then will technology leaders be able to show IT's strategic role in shaping the future of organisations.

The industry needs to think about ways of tackling this balance, whether through tailored training or even covering such business skills on IT university courses.

Finally, employers must not be blinded by technological wizardry when recruiting IT managers, and as a result, overlook the advantages which come with possessing effective communication skills.

Dawn Marriott
Managing director, Capita IT Resourcing

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