Friday Nov 10, 2006

Geeks & Suits

I made a video last week with Dan Berg and Chris Gerhard, where I played a fiercely independent investigative journalist, seeking the truth out of a corporate suit. (Yeah Right!) Chris and I did however ask Dan some questions about the re-invigorated talent management programmes (sic) that he is responsible for. To show inclusiveness, Chris and I both wore our normal clothes to work, so I dressed in a business suit and Chris was in an opensolaris T-Shirt. Geek & Suit!

Interestingly, the following day Management Today, published the highlights of a poll on the state of Business/IT alignment jointly funded by the Chartered Institute of Management and the BCS. This also suggests a them and us attitude still exists. The author, Rhymer Rigby suggests that the epitome of the split can be found in Douglas Coupland's latest book jPod, set in a Games Company where the marketing manager is at war with the development staff over their next best thing! This opposite position is counterposed by Nicholas Carr, who has turned his Harvard Business Review Article into a book called "Does IT  matter?". He of course has the view that it doesn't, so the suits will always despise the techies because they cost too much and do stuff that doesn't matter. Having started with a stupid and false polarity, a more careful reading of the results suggests that things are a bit more evenly balanced and that due to the increasing maturity of the IT world and its penetration into the schools and consumer leisure markets, together with increasing access to business education, the stovepipes are not as rigid as our fictional & polemic authors would have us believe. (Although in the UK, knowing something, and certainly being qualified in or about business is not necessarily a requirement for a business career.)

I need to see if the results are available with industry breakdowns. It is my view that the sedimentation process impacts IT investment strategies as does the competitive dynamic of industry. Fifteen years ago, manufacturing companies were buying and building "Just in Time" ERP systems. Today, they are only available as packages. Just in Time is not commodity, but the competitive baseline to play the game; the software functionality of ERP is no longer competitive advantage. There remains many businesses where they do compete through the ownership or onward rental of software and or by their ability to innovate and adapt. (I'm not really talking about ASP's here, but content providers.

None of these are commodity and the geeks are required to invent and sustain the software. The world is our future!  

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Monday Oct 09, 2006

The Growth of Google

I'm still pretty jet lagged, and woke up at some terrible time this morning to discover that Google have bought You Tube. See Yahoo...

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Thursday Oct 05, 2006

The road to somewhere....

A swift drink before the flight home with Chris Gerhard, and I tested out Benkler's theory that much of the drive to cheap computing and the over supply is in the 'lumpy' nature of computers and the consumer sector. I thought that the OpenSolaris "Appliance" project might be able to leverage these factors. He thougt not and reminded me of the compelling argument, that as greater bandwidth to the home became available, people would move their IT to utility. They don't want the fans and power draw in the house, and they want reliable disks; managing backups will never be a consumer activity. We also discussed the essential necessity of caching within the network, something known for years by the video on demand people & also considered what it might take for games to be served over the network to thin client devices.

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Saturday Sep 30, 2006

Listening to customers, proving value

Marc Hamilton (blogs here...) currently runs the "Systems Practice" solutions teams, of which we have three and spoke to us on thursday, and not only as in introduction to his team, who lead the "Data Centre Optimisation, HPC and Web Tier Infrastructure teams. These are led by Raj Dosaj, Simon See, & Steve Staso, who spoke to us on Friday. Marc introduced us to the way he wanted the global headquarters teams to work with the field and demonstrated the change in communication and collaboration tools. His team (and mine) are moving from Vignette to Media Wiki - from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Some of my colleagues were interested in how to develop solutions capable of supporting COM & .net applications. Marc's reply repeated what John Fowler said earlier in the week, that deals based on Micorsoft's hegemony are not long term good business for Sun and should be pursued with only with channel partners. He talked about CDW, an american reseller, who use call centres to sell computers and drive the sales out of the strock control system. The sales staff are on daily targets/bonus and if they don't close, or can't ship, they don't get credited with the sale. This is what true volume sales is! Basically good business for Sun only occurs when customers need our unique technology or expertise. A fine example was provided by Dr Simon See, who spoke about the High Performance computing team and a pursuit that was in the last days and he had high hopes of success. (You'll have to subcribe to Sun NewsSun News and wait for the press release). Simon is another Principal Engineer and his undoubted expertise and enthusiasm makes him to my mind someone you'll hear more of. This is an area where Sun's experts and technology can help customers make a difference.

Jonathan blogged about Simon's deal today, 4 Oct 2006, and referenced this press release...

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Friday Sep 29, 2006

Residual Values

Phil Harman has just turned up and after we exchange traditional greetings of scorn, he shows off his Acer Ferrari Laptop. I'm not bitter that I won a Cobalt Qube last year, when several colleagues were bought these laptops, no no, I am not bitter - but when Phil told me that he sold his Qube on Ebay for 300 quid, which is more than I got for my Alfa 155, I was a bit taken aback.

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Corporate Consolidation in Hitech

Good Grief! CNET News reports that HP are to buy Voodoo PC. (See here...). When HP's wintel rival Dell bought Alienware earlier , I commented on my blog, that I thought or hoped that Alienware's system design expertise would be safe inside Dell's corporate mantle and even that I had found some value in Dell's self help resources. There is no doubt in my mind that like Sun these two companies design and build superior systems. This'll be interesting to see if Voodoo is valued for its design expertise or only its customer base - maybe its seen as an ink demand creation investment :), but it does mean that these games platforms will get into the shops.

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Sunday Sep 24, 2006

I.T. is business critical!

I finished off yesterday's Independent and noticed in the business pages that MFI has had to get out of its iconic flatpack furniture business due to significant losses arguably caused by a new IT systems implementation described by the Indy as, "so mismanaged that it couldn't deliver ...goods". I wonder whose fault that was!

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Thursday Aug 17, 2006

Holiday Reading

My family think I'm odd because of my reading choices.

I have started and finished Gary Younge's "Stranger in a Strange Land" (reviewed in the Guardian here...) and started Yochai Benkler's "The Wealth of Networks" (recommended to me by Simon Phipps) [ Book Site... ] [ Amazon... ].

I have not finished the latter yet and I'll need to re-read several parts of it, however it covers the economics of the internet and information and the social and process architecture of information production. Economics has obviously come on a lot since I studied it at University. I was reminded of this two years ago when I visited my alma-mater, the University of Exeter's library and looked up my finals papers. Some questions I can no longer understand (did I then? Silly) and some are now irrelevant.

The architecture of information production was something I found very confusing when I started to blog; as colleagues argued about the importance of the planet aggregator site run by Dave Edmonds, planetsun.org which seeks to aggregate all Sun staff authored blogs. I hope to review the book in some depth, but probably after I finish it. No Really!

Younge's book is pretty much like a blog, a diary of his time in the USA, through the eyes of a black briton, working as the Guardian's US correspondent. The book is structured through the categories of War, Race, Politics and Culture, and being written by a journalist, easy to read.

Another article backdated to a time nearer its occurrence.

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Tuesday Jun 27, 2006

Knowledge & Wealth

I picked up a free copy of the FT (Financial Times) yesterday. Its not normally a paper I read, but tucked in the middle was a book review of "Knowledge & the Wealth of Nations", by David Warsh, the editor of Economic Principals.

The book examines the development of economic theory in the light of the central contradiction in Adam Smith's insights, that specialisation creates increasing returns of scale, but the increasing returns mitigate against the required competitive processes. Without competition, the value of the economies of scale accrue to the monopolist not the consuming market. Warsh also reveiws more recent contributions to economic growth theory in the light of the role of knowledge and technology change to the economic innovation process. The reveiw talks about both IT and pharmaceuticals so it should be relevant to us. I think I need to read this.

The book's site has a review section (here...) where the FT's review is reproduced.

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Thursday Jun 15, 2006

Can we "commoditise" computing?

Again reflecting on some of the ideas generated from last week's Enron film; Enron's domination of the creation, distribution and exchange of gas and electricity created a vertically integrated monopoly. These require regulating or breaking up (or taking into public ownership). Also it seems to me that when trading becomes the 'raison d'etre' of a market, it offers very little value to the primary players. It made me wonder how the roles of primary provider, primary consumer, secondary traders and an exchange can be organised to enable a market, rather than distort it and if this can be applied to both bandwidth, which Enron experimented with, and CPU cycles. I've no real answer's today! More reading and listening....

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Derivative Trading or Gambling

I also discovered that Enron experimented with trading in weather and I'm not sure what they did, but its reminiscent of some ideas expressed in James Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds" where he explored the remarkable prescience of the University of Iowa's Electronic Markets for the prediction of political events, most obviously elections but also other political futures. (I read somewhere, during the last {UK} general election, that the most effective forecast for the result was the bookmaker's odds, this must be very disappointing to the polling organisations, but it seems a financial interest sharpens the mind.) Its also a fact that if you want to trade in weather, at least in the UK you have to go to Ladbrokes to bet on snow at Xmas.

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Devil take the Hindmost

I've been considering the film about Enron that I saw last week. They had this constant competitive improvement performance management scheme where an arbitrarily designated % of the work force are deemed to be underperforming and fired. (Not even offered an improvement opportunity there, so illegal in the UK). You can't always judge an ideas worth by its advocates............, but in this case, the idea is poor and the management that promolgated it was also poor.

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Wednesday May 31, 2006

Global Green Machine!

Global Green Macine Also in Green Futures was an article about One laptop per child project aimed at developing a $100 laptop to help break the digital divide. It is planned as low cost, low-energy and aimed to rollout across the global south.

I have linked to a picture in their project wiki and I suggest you check out either the magazine or the project web sites if you want to know more.

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Green Futures

I also looked through Green Futures, a magazine about sustainable development which I picked up at one of the Sun offices. It has attracted a number of corporate sponsors, including a number of energy companies and telcos (inc. BT) and surprisingly "First Choice" (one of the UKs biggest travel agents). One of the articles was about Holiday's in 2020 (see also this article..., I wonder if they're linked in anyway?).

The main feature was an article by Anthony Lovins, arguing that green energy is cheap energy and that nuclear is both poor environmentally, but also bad economics. (See http://www.rmi.org).

I may have to subscribe to this, and I don't see an RSS button. I was surprised when I first heard that Charles Andrews, had been talking to a UK Bank's board members about the brand value of a green data centre, but senior business executives are running with this stuff and I for one need to catch up.

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Enron: The smartest guys in the room

It's fairly recent since I last flew Virgin, but I had not seen this documentary about the fall of Enron. (I've not seen it reviewed in Empire either, but that's my fault; they gave it 5 stars here....)

Well made, very informative, mixing interview with recorded material from both Enron's corporate archives and the congressional investigating committees. The failings summed up by the ex-trader who states, the Enron tag line was "ask why?", I didn't!, although some people come out of it really well. I wonder if we'll be talking about Bethany McLean, a fortune journalist who wrote the first questioning article in the same breath as Woodward & Bernstein. Probably not, because despite the Bush family and the Republicans being obviously entwined with Enron, it won't bring down the President, although it did contribute to the recall of Schwarzenegger's predecessor in California. (I certainly wasn't aware of the impact of Enron and the politics of energy in that episode.)

I suspect its hard to explain "Mark to Market" accounting in a film, or anything short of a term long course in an accountancy or business school, but Bethany McLean followed the money and asked where the revenue was, a simple enough question. The answer was in the manipulated Californian energy market and a corruptly hidden debt mountain.

I had just finished reading a "Management Today" article on the private equity (PE) fund business in Europe, and they asked who pays for the PE companies super-profits and argue that its the banks (or their customers) and the same occurred here. Enron's profits (when not fraudulently enhanced) were at the expense of the banks and eventually the Enron staff. In the banks case, their actions in support of Enron were where not illegal, sometimes deeply questionable.

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