Thursday, 28 October 2010

Microsoft Office is up in the clouds

Microsoft has brought cloud computing into the office environment with the release of a cloud version of its popular Office suite. Also included in the Office suite will be its flagship collaboration tool SharePoint Online and email via Exchange Online.

Up until now most cloud applications have been based around Web 2.o applications such as social media applications, blogs, forums etc. With the launch of its Office 365 suite, Microsoft has brought cloud computing to the typical blue collar worker.

The release is currently named Office 365 (presumably as a reference to the fact that it is available 365 days of the year). It’s entirely possible though that the name will be changed to something else.

It’s aimed at small to medium enterprises (SMEs), with costs running between $6 and $27.50 per user per month. The specific cost will depend on the applications that are required, and the storage requirements.

With their office applications hosted via the Internet, users can therefore access their usual Office applications using any device that can access the Internet. This includes iPads, smartphones, as well as the usual PCs, netbooks and laptops. The devices need to support ActiveSync.

It is estimated that customers of Office 365 could save up to 10% over more traditional desktop versions of the applications. The Office 365 cloud computing solution is particularly suitable for companies with between 1 to 25 staff that are required to collaborate with external partners. This could include marketing initiatives, or product development.

For any SMEs wishing to look into reducing software costs, which typically runs at around 15% of total IT expenditure, it could be extremely beneficial to investigate the latest cloud computing offering from Microsoft.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Microsoft enters the Smartphone market

There was much speculation as to whether Microsoft would make the leap into the smartphone market. It’s a market already dominated by huge name brands such as Apple with its iPhone, and Google with Android. However, as of October 21 2010, Microsoft have entered the smartphone market with the release of the Windows Phone 7, which was launched in Europe and Australasia.

Coming so late to the market represents a great risk for Microsoft. With two huge brands in the guise of Apple and Google already firmly established, it’s not going to be easy to squeeze market share. Perhaps its saving grace is the fact that Microsoft is also a huge brand in its own right, just not in the smartphone market. However, entering the smartphone market also represents a great opportunity. Microsoft will have to work very hard if it wants to become the third major player. To do that it will have to leapfrog HP with its Palm Pre and Blackberry.

It’s also refreshing to note that Microsoft haven’t simply copied Apple and Google with its user-interface, but instead have developed something completely different.

As should be fairly obvious, to be successful in the smartphone market isn’t entirely about just the phones. To be successful you need to have lots of great, cool apps! You also need social media integration so users can keep up to date with their friends on Twitter, Facebook and so on. So the challenge for Microsoft is to have a simple user-interface so that users can navigate their way around their smartphone applications, and a feature rich / well documented API (Applications Programming Interface) to allow developers to write all their cool applications for it.

The Windows Phone 7 application development will be based on Silverlight, Xbox New Architecture (XNA) and the .NET Compact Framework 4.0. These are all technologies that will be familiar to a Microsoft based developer.

It will also use Microsoft technologies such as Bing for its web searching, and have gaming integration with Xbox.

It will be critical for the success of the Windows Phone 7 that it comes with a multitude of applications at launch, and with many more scheduled to come soon after. The quality of those applications needs to be fantastically high, given the massive head start of the competition. It has a lot of catching up to do if it seriously wants to challenge Apple and Google, or rather leapfrog HP and Blackberry. Those applications need to be cheap (preferably free), stable, simple to use and brought to the market as soon as possible (but without breaking the stability already mentioned).

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft fares in such a highly competitive and well dominated market. The coming months should reveal if the decision to move into such a market was the right one or not.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Crazy government spending

Prime Minister David Cameron has recently been very critical of the “crazy decisions” made by government IT procurement during the past decade. This criticism has come about after the report from Sir Philip Green highlighted the “shocking” inefficiency if IT purchasing.

IT purchasing was one of the main targets identified by Sir Philip Green for improvement. In his report he has called for changes to the “expensive IT services contracted for too long with no flexibility”. The main culprit identified by Sir Philip Green for causing such huge IT spending was the departmentally focused manner in which much of it is done. Instead of purchasing IT equipment centrally, and take advantage of the cost savings associated with such huge orders, it is purchased by individual departments where only small cost savings can be made. Sir Philip Green cited examples of both commodity IT buying and relationships with major IT suppliers as areas where there were opportunities for greater efficiencies to be made.

Sir Philip Green brought special attention to the telecoms costs, indicating that it would be necessary to put them under an “urgent review”. In his report he suggests that the current annual £2bn telecoms bill could be reduced by up to as much as 40% if purchased centrally rather than departmentally.

Also under fire was the £61m that is spent annually on desktop and laptop PCs. Prices vary between £353 to £2000 for such equipment. However, Sir Philip Green’s recommendation was that the government should buy all such equipment directly from a manufacturer, rather than through the 13 service providers that are currently in place.

The spending on mobile phones comes under criticism too. Of the £21m that is spent annually on such equipment, 98% of it goes to one un-named supplier. However, the 68 different contracts are negotiated separately by the various departments, rather than centrally where cost savings could be made.

The following is an example of the sort of spending that was found to be typical, and which highlighted the need for centralisation. The IT contract in question had 6 years still left to run and was costing £100m annually. However, some of the services being delivered under the contract were no longer required, but the terms of the contract did not allow for the fees to be reduced to reflect this. The contract also stipulated that rates of £1000 per day would apply for any work that the IT supplier provided, thus giving the supplier two profit margins.

The following conclusions by Sir Philip Green more than amply summarise the issue of government IT spending:

“There is a huge opportunity that has been clearly identified in central government and beyond, but without a clear mandate, energy, focus and commitment, this cannot be delivered. There is no reason why government should not be as efficient as any good business. Any large organisation would want to use its credit rating and scale to buy efficiently. The conclusion of this review is clear – credit rating and scale in virtually every department has not been used to make government spending efficient.”

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Importance of Making Mistakes

As human beings, we often feel mortified with ourselves when we make a mistake. When we get something wrong, when we forget to do something, when we let someone down. All these things are avoidable and make us feel bad about ourselves. They are all examples of mistakes that most of us will be familiar with.

What is important is not so much making mistakes, as everyone who has ever lived has done that, but what we learn from making a mistake. If we make a mistake, but then learn nothing from the experience, then that is a failure. If we make a mistake, but learn something from the experience, then that is a success.

No one is immune to making mistakes. We are all fallible and sometimes we get things wrong. That is human nature.

It is important to admit when you’ve made a mistake. Take control of the situation and take personal responsibility when you get something wrong. Why? Because it puts you in charge! If you constantly blame everyone else for your mistakes, then you can never rectify them, because in your own mind you didn’t make them. You can’t change anyone else but yourself. So by taking responsibility for your mistakes, you put yourself in charge, where you can take control and make things right.

Admitting to making a mistake is not always easy, and I’d be lying if I said it was. Some people are better at it than others. If you make the connection between taking responsibility for making a mistake, and seeing how that gives you control of the situation, then suddenly it becomes much easier.

Do not go beating yourself up for making a mistake. Self flagellation is pointless and painful. It doesn’t help you move forward, and it doesn’t remedy the situation. Apologise with total sincerity to those involved that you have made a mistake, learn from the experience, and move on. This changes the entire dynamic of the situation, from being a negative one, to a positive one!

Sometimes a mistake is not always black and white. It may be down to a difference of opinion or point of view. So what may appear to be a mistake to one person, may well be acceptable to someone else. Attitude and perspective are important components when judging a situation or outcome.

In life, sometimes the greatest successes are those that were achieved when mistakes were involved along the way. It is precisely because of these mistakes that we have a greater sense of satisfaction, because a greater degree of effort was required to overcome them and achieve the desired outcome. If we set out to do something, and nothing goes wrong, and we achieve our intended outcome, that is great. If we set out to do something, and we make mistakes along the way, and we still achieve our intended outcome, then that is greater still!

Mistakes are a fact of life and the way we are seen to learn from them, regain our composure and start anew is an important part of becoming a rounded, confident human being.