Your shout! On small businesses using open source

In response to the debate on the advantages of Linux and Microsoft Windows (Computer Weekly, 7 September)


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On small businesses using open source

In response to the debate on the advantages of Linux and Microsoft Windows (Computer Weekly, 7 September)

Open source could be a more viable option for small businesses if more contacts were made to the open source community.

Software released under the General Public Licence is free. Meanwhile, commercial software is being crammed with features that are of little use to the small business.

The problem that small businesses face is support for open source software. But the open source community is usually on hand to answer questions and help via forums.

Linux user groups are a good way for small businesses to get involved with open source. At your local group you can investigate open source through their discussions and presentations and also get help from the people who live and breath Linux.

Another issue for small businesses is training. There are numerous providers offering training for the Microsoft platform, but open source is not so well covered. If small businesses could access training at reasonable prices, open source would be a viable option in an office which uses standard software packages.

Matthew Saunders, Systems and infrastructure technical support, Writtle College, Chelmsford

On smoothing the way for outsourcing

In response to news that IT staff are striking over a proposed outsourcing project at Swansea Council

The Swansea Council strike exemplifies one area where organisations are currently failing in their outsourcing projects: the post-contract disconnect.

In my experience, organisations have successfully nailed the contract process to achieve significant financial and resource benefits. However, this almost blinkered focus on initial contract procurement is detrimental for longer-term business benefits that include the general satisfaction levels of the service users and managing their expectations.

To tackle these people issues and manage the post-contract disconnect, an experienced and independent third party should be available to keep the contract on course. As the customer's requirements change throughout the outsourcing process, someone with a track record in mediation should be on hand to follow things through with the supplier. Performance and satisfaction can thereby be monitored and corrective steps taken before things go awry.

The numerous pitfalls involved in outsourcing deals require specialist advice and guidance. Then organisations will be able to better understand the risk, create relevant service definitions and negotiate a contract that delivers across all the key areas: price performance, satisfaction and relationship management.

Alex Blues, director, Orbys Consulting

On the benefits of offshore outsourcing

In response to Nick Huber's article on offshoring (Computer Weekly, 7 September)

Offshore outsourcing is actually enabling IT suppliers to deliver projects on time and on budget, many for the first time. Consistency in this area will improve the reputation of our industry at board-level and will encourage spending and profitable business, for our customers and for us.

The key to success will be to establish clear working processes and to ensure the local teams and the offshore teams are truly integrated. Successful companies will invest in creating mixed teams around the point the work is taken offshore. This means building community first by bringing members of the offshore team or supplier to the UK, and then in turn sending UK representatives offshore when the work is transitioned.

Tim Smith, managing director, Sapient

Sense of purpose keeps staff on side

Lindsay Nicolle is right to assert that staff retention is a massive issue in this competitive marketplace (Computer Weekly, 7 September).

However, managers should not always look at staff turnover as an entirely bad thing. Some staff loss is inevitable and, occasionally, desirable. New faces can inject fresh impetus into an organisation, bringing new ideas and knowledge.

And while it is true to say that pay rates should be competitive, it is generally accepted that money is not the only motivator any more. Research recently carried out by the Chartered Management Institute suggests that people appear happy to work long and hard if they are given a sense of achievement in their work. Fifty-four per cent of those in IT classed sense of purpose as their biggest motivating factor. Only 31% look at pay.

The findings also revealed that less than half of IT managers feel their leaders are communicating clearly with employees.

The message is clear. If you don't want your staff disappear, talk to them. Tell them how the organisation is doing and talk about your plans for its future. Make sure you do it in plenty of time, because if you leave it too long you may be addressing an empty room.

Christine Hayhurst, Chartered Management Institute

No magnetic force with staff bonding sessions

Lindsay Nicolle cites "social and professional team-building events to promote staff bonding" (Computer Weekly, 7 September) as a practical way to attract and retain staff.

In my experience such enforced socialising is despised by the majority of workers. Unfortunately many managers don't realise this; or perhaps they do, but think it is good for their staff anyway.

Chris Allonby, SAP specialist

Relieve stress with a door that is really open

In response to your article "Work stress at record high" (Computer Weekly, 7 September), I suggest that the pressure is due to unrealistic expectations of high level management who fail to understand what IT can deliver, and can't understand the needs of the people who work for them.

To combat this kind of stress we need managers with a genuine open-door policy. We need to manage the risk, not by disciplining staff when things go wrong, but by assuming that we don't know it all, and having contingency plans in place for when it all goes wrong.

Sometimes things do go pear-shaped and IT managers must absolutely understand this, otherwise they will fail to deliver on their projects. Project goals must be more important than project deadlines.

Kirsty Trigg, software developer, FileVision UK

Profit motive deters private sector cover-ups

A crucial point missed by Andrew Ducker in the debate about public and private IT project failures (Computer Weekly, 7 September) is the question of who is being harmed by the cover-up.

Issues that are covered up in either type of organisation are typically those that reduce efficiency.

With companies this translates to a loss of competitiveness by increasing prices or reducing quality. Because of this its office-holders, staff and shareholders will eventually suffer to some extent. Since long-term harm can only be avoided if such issues are exposed rather than covered up, there is an inbuilt incentive in companies to avoid cover-ups.

But in state organisations there is no such safety mechanism for the public. Since they are coercively funded at the expense of the taxpayer, and never have to worry about competing or having to satisfy customers to make a living, state organisations need never worry about efficiency or competitiveness.

If inefficiencies are covered up, all that happens in the end is that service levels drop and the taxpayer is further mugged. No one in state organisations suffers because of inefficiencies and cover-ups, and hence there is no incentive to correct such problems.

The fundamental difference then is that while the voluntary market mechanism operates to seek out and eliminate cover-ups, the political coercive mechanism simply could not give a damn.

Rene Cheront, London

Windows XP tool is still only in the pipeline

In his article on Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Computer Weekly, 7 September) Jack Schofield mentions Windows Application Compatibility Toolkit 4.0 as a means to assisting with the deployment of Windows XP SP2.

What he fails to mention is that version 4.0 is not actually available yet, and the beta version is yet to be released.

Michelle Cook, IT support, Lumley

BPM tools can put businesses in the lead

Business process management tools do increase process efficiencies and promote costs savings as your article "A model of efficiency" (Computer Weekly, 31 August) shows. However, the article misses some important benefits that BPM can provide.

Survival of the fittest and corporate risk are two major factors that will ensure businesses will be future players. Harnessing the unique business processes that differentiate a company from its competitors and integrating them into every part of a business' systems and applications will allow firms to move with the market and lead it. BPM can also minimise catastrophic risk exposure through presenting senior management with a more visible and controllable business model.

There is no doubt that with BPM acting like a sergeant major within an IT infrastructure considerable benefits can be achieved in terms of money and efficiency, but it is also important to recognise its value in terms of a business' trading future.

Management teams need to understand what the needs are for today and tomorrow and use mapping, modelling and simulation to ensure that these requirements are met.

Kim Lewin, senior vice-president, EMEA, CommerceQuest

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