Intellectual Property Challenges for SME’s, A Big Data Opportunity?


This is a copy of a Guest Blog recently posted to the ‘Ideas Maters’ Website’ – Intellectual Property Challenges for SME’s, A Big Data Opportunity?

IP is a challenge for many SME’s, regardless of the industry. Establishing patents for original works, such as logos or unique statements, is not particularly straight forward and has been further complicated by the fragmentation of data resources that enable comparisons against existing patents. This places a reliance on expensive patent lawyers and not always with any guarantees of success.

As the number of existing patents grows, there is a need for more transparency and resources to help businesses understand the patents that already exist and negotiate the best way forward for themselves. Consortiums such as Ideas Matter can help, but there needs to be much more available.

One possible solution is Big Data, particularly the new algorithms used for grammar checking and correction. Their development has heralded a new age of being able to see and understand relations in information/data that were previously beyond our grasp. Now, SME’s should have the ability to query disparate data resources via a common machine learning algorithm that can compare a prospective patent application against all those that currently exist within seconds AND provide conflict or matching accuracy as well as even the best patent lawyers.

The challenge now becomes working with incumbent IT and business; a familiar meeting of old and new technologies. Evidence shows that it can be done – one example is online learning in the United States. The capabilities developed there by ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCs), such as Udacity (https://www.udacity.com), have resulted in automated assessment systems that could with a small leap of the imagination fulfil a similar function to allow SME’s to query patent databases cheaply and in almost real-time.

Ultimately, this is where the whole patent system needs to move. With increased globalisation and the online nature of business, we are seeing a levelling of the playing field between large Enterprises and SME’s. SME’s enjoy the same toolsets, reach and market potential as their larger competitors but unfortunately not always have the same deep pockets to protect their innovation.

Cloud Success means ‘Hearts and Minds’ Microsoft


The success potential in the cloud for Microsoft was laid down many years ago, well before cloud was even on the horizon, a unique differentiator that no Amazon or Google can challenge …. Yet.

What I am talking about are customer ‘Relationships’ and the trust that those relationships has fostered, especially in the Corporate and Enterprise markets.

The reality being that Microsoft is the only provider who can deliver to both on premise and the Cloud which is for the foreseeable future Hybrid is the overriding model organisations are using. Whilst a feature shoot out would see Microsoft struggling in some discrete areas versus the likes of Amazon the reality is what Microsoft Cloud offers addresses the majority of organisations needs today without them having to stray into untrusted waters, and the offerings from Microsoft are just going to get better and narrow the gap in time to be sure.

As for the cost argument, that is a no brainer, Microsoft has made the commitment on price matching the competition. You can bank that one.

So back to the hearts and Minds. The Key to this is the Partner Ecosystem and how Microsoft engages this and brings its awesome capability to focus on the task in hand. The Partners represent the contact area through which the majority of Microsoft business is generated. Through its Partners Microsoft has the Corporate and Enterprise customer credibility that key competitors like Amazon and Google are struggling to gain. The competition are realising how slow trust and confidence gets built, Microsoft is decades ahead of them, but Cloud is threatening to be a bit of a leveller if they don’t watch out.

Success in the cloud is as Kevin Turner made very clear is non-negotiable for Microsoft. His famous slide of a tunnel with a bright light at the end sums this up. Whether we are in for a train wreck or a sunny day is still too early to judge, but one factor that will make this more certain is decisive action to reverse the disillusionment Partners are having with their Microsoft relationship as they adapt to new cloud business models and the Microsoft dimension that now exists in the service delivery. The relationship with the channel is an up front and central priority if the current wave of ambivalence is to be stemmed before it develops a momentum that will be hard to subside.

The elephant in the room is that Microsoft is perceived as moving into traditional Partner territory with its own services, and to be blunt, it is more than a perception it’s a reality. Let’s not argue that point. Another that always frustrates me and is more visible than ever with Cloud Computing rampaging across the marketplace, is the illusion of role security in IT (Information Technology). Be that a an IT Business offering or individual IT pro in a customer’s IT department the hard reality is that anyone in IT who thinks their current technology skill set will last him or her a career are delusional. That goes for Microsoft Partners with their service offerings and products AND Microsoft to boot with their attitude to how they define their Partner engagement.

In the medium to long term Cloud Computing will change the face of IT as a work and marketplace. People who don’t like change will be some of the laggards holding back their businesses from capitalising on this new computing paradigm, they should NOT be working in IT. They might as well stand on the beach and try and hold the tide back.

Just take a look at what is already happening and visible for those with their eyes open. Start-ups don’t build out Datacentre’s, they launch in the cloud. Why? They are not encumbered and can do the most cost effective and logical thing with the choices available.

Datacentre capacity and scale today is accessible to anyone and can be deployed and run by 2 men and a credit card in less than a week. OK the dogs still there just under the desk, after all the 2 men can do this now from home, they don’t need to build or maintain datacentres anymore, nor the infrastructure or maintenance for that matter ;-)

So why don’t established businesses!! Cloud is encumbered by the conditioning of entrenched IT and a lack of Trust. It is the Trust factor, which is where the relationships are critical and Microsoft has the key to the kingdom.

People buy from people = RELATIONSHIPS = people partnering with people.

Key to any sustained relationship is a positive experience, yup that can have some esoteric dimensions to it but we are talking IT here OK, so back on theme… The magic word in services EXPERIENCE, and specifically quality of experience. It’s not product feature sets, which is the hard cultural shift Microsoft is having to make, yes you have to have the goods but that is not the end game anymore.

Microsoft Partners deliver that personable face of the Microsoft ecosystem and the valued customer experience. The partnering structure Microsoft imposes on its partners though has plummeted in comparison, as I wrote in my last blog ‘Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) in a Modern World’ . The main point being a significantly revamped Partner Program is required to reflect the commercial prerogatives that drives the new Cloud world.

For Microsoft the Holy Grail is to re-engage its Partners in a new way. The symbiotic relationship has never be more important than it is with the shift to a Cloud world. Microsoft needs those relationships to be transitioned to the cloud, and they are not in a position to do that themselves.

In the old world Microsoft you were the factory that sat on your hill in the American North West, with a marketing engine that would fire off great salvoes of promotional air cover under which your partners would get up close and personal with the customers, refining the messaging for local consumption and ring the till. Packaged product would flow from the factory to the Partners and Partners would do and own the magic. The trust and relationships with customers being forged, fostered and cherished for mutual benefit by your Partners, Partners who rise and fall on the quality of the customer experience they offer and the profitability they can nurture from that engagement. The importance of the profitability message cannot be underestimated, it’s not that it never existed between Microsoft and its Partners, it is just that with Cloud Computing the model is changing, Microsoft is now directly impacting that in real time.

Microsoft is now in the field with Partners, expecting adoption as a direct extension of the Partners Service Delivery and by extension their IT teams, as Partners are now beholden on Microsoft as an extension of their support service chain. The established Partnership Trust Microsoft enjoys is getting them in the door and Partners are putting their goodwill and name on the line in blind trust. But Partners are starting to find their newly adopted IT extension(s) are not fully aligned to what impacts their business. Their new IT team dependency (Microsoft) is not delivering as expected or rather as Partners who expect form their own IT teams. Consequently Partners are feeling they are no longer 100% in charge of their own end to end solution delivery and there is the pinch, where control or coordination is missing costs can quickly spiral and profitability evaporate. Quick on the heels of which goes quality of service and customer experience, that hallowed trusted customer relationship, a veritable meltdown like a China Syndrome. In the wings awaits a Book seller and Search engine vendor hungry for custom.

When I am speaking to Partners I call this ‘A New Age of Trust in the Cloud’. For example ISV’s (Independent Software Vendors) experience this when their maintenance and support contracts don’t get renewed. Why? Because a born in the cloud start-up has just mined their customer base with a cloud offering that blows away the incumbent legacy ISV offering. By the time the ISV realises what is going on it will be too late. Service Partners see the same thing happening when the phone stops ringing from established customers with whom they have neglected to develop their Cloud credentials.

In Microsoft’s case its Partner Program MPN (Microsoft Partner Network) is hitting up against this like a ‘Trust Event Horizon’, testing that Partner faith just enough to be dangerous. A question mark over a relationship can be a gnawingly dangerous thing. Trust is a slow won but can also be frighteningly ephemeral.

Microsoft you have it in your power to rewrite the rulebook and engage Partners at new levels of marketing and operational intimacy and in so doing do credit to the trust and confidence of your Partners. Let’s see some of that Blue Ocean thinking, as Cloud is re-writing the IT rulebook it is time the masters of the Partner ecosystem did the same with Partner Channels.

Microsoft and Partners success will be found in the teamwork that is required to deliver end-to-end value + quality, experience rich scenario focused propositions into the market. That is not something Partners can do independently or in semi-detached way. Partners have the experience at the coal face and know how best to engage the customers and Microsoft controls the engines.

Some pointers as to where to start:

  • Service integration – Microsoft you are now an extension of your Partners IT department, they need that same visibility and accountability from you. Extend your service help desk to your Partners and allow your Partners to become an extension of your own support teams with access to escalate to product groups. This has to happen to deliver to the market expectation of a single point of support.
  • Sales integration – Just as with the services, there are now questions that only Microsoft can answer, so when we are in the field and preparing for a client engagement we need the connection and joined up account planning. Yes we like the name change PAM’s (Partner Account Managers) to PSE’s (Partner Sales Executives), now let’s see the action, sharing visibility of managed (and breadth) accounts and working with the internal account teams, akin to an extension of the Partners Sales team. The customer relationship management success will be maximised with a consistent single touch point, the Partner.

This is something Microsoft has been doing internally already, just look at how GFS (Global Foundation Services) integrates and works with the rest of Microsoft to deliver the great suite of Microsoft Online Services. My suggestion is to follow the same principles, an extension of this type of service engagement model, into the Partner base.

Sounds great doesn’t it Partners, but the give back is this will only work with the fully committed and engaged Partners, the ones Microsoft can trust to engage at a level of professionalism to operate within NDA (non-disclosure Agreement) to share this level of operational integration. It will be no good anymore just signing up as a Partner and expecting an open door, it will require a new level of proactive engagement with Microsoft.

Challenging when working on Internet Time which doesn’t wait for anyone.

Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) in a Modern World


If you are in the Microsoft Partner ecosystem you will be familiar with this time of year, it’s that mad scramble to tick the box’s to ensure your continued membership is renewed ad critically at your chosen level of Certification – Gold or Silver being the two classes of real value.

Some of you will probably have also received email notices of some Competencies having just expired. In our case it transpires that our Microsoft Certified Professionals for one of our Gold Competency no longer qualify with their certifications for that competency. No notice, no details not a partner friendly experience. Enforcing on us a time consuming detective process to find out why. One of many inconsistencies endemic in the system, why can we not have visibility of this as we do with Customer Reference expiry? Customer References are easy to spin up, we are all active in the market and have great customer relationships, but the Certification takes time, billable resources side-lined into training and exams.

This is not the first time someone has flipped a bit at the backend of the portal and rippled some premature or undesirable changes across a whole group of Partners if not the whole network.

It is time this stopped. Partner have better things to do, the world has moved on, the Microsoft Partner Program ‘Microsoft Partner Network’ (MPN) is proving to be ill suited to it. Yes it can muddle on, but it will lose traction and impact the effectiveness of the Partner ecosystem.

The current version of the Microsoft Partner Program ‘Microsoft Partner Network’ (MPN) was launched at the Microsoft Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington DC in 2010. So it is somewhat prophetic that I find myself sitting in ‘The Walter E. Washington Convention Center’ in that very same capital of US and global politics Washington DC. And for a short week in July this year it will once again be the epicentre of the Microsoft Partner world as Microsoft revisit this landmark venue for the 2014 Microsoft partner Conference (#WPC14).

Each year since the seminal 2010 MPN launch, MPN has gone through significant retrofitting and adaptation exercises, with at least one significant identity rebrand. This costs Partners and impacts profitability no matter what value Microsoft may attest to the program. At WPC 2014 in July we are being promised once again a rehash as MPN struggles to keep pace with a fast move IT world and reflect Cloud in the program. Change that will impose further cost and burden on those Partners fit and willing enough to jump through MPN’s hoops. For that is where it’s got to for many Partners, a necessary exercise that delivers questionable direct value, and impose onerous costs if you aspire to the highest Gold standard. The $5,280 (£3,900) membership fee pales into insignificance when the costs of the certification burden on companies is calculated. For the average Systems Integration Partner the cost for certification is over $100,000+, and for some of the other Partner types such as Dynamics, can be as much as twice this PER ANNUM.

The reality is that for all the investment in MPN Partners struggle to articulate value when questioned. Many customers do not look beyond the Partner status, and those that do they look for Gold and then rarely go any deeper into the actual competencies that Partners are Gold in. MPN is regarded more as an internal tool for Microsoft to manage its partner ecosystem prioritised as its own internal resources, to talk strategy with partners around its products and drive technical competency amongst others such as qualifying for incentives.

Yes there is a fist full of product licences that in commercial terms would come in at over £50k, but the reality is with the majority of Microsoft partners sitting in the 15-30 company size, the Internal Use Rights (IUR) are seldom fully tapped, and let’s face it there is a quid pro quo in Microsoft ensuring its Partners have every reason to use its product.

The point is MPN is not servicing its Partner audience and is proving to be ill fitted to the modern IT world that it is trying to support. I hear this across both the managed and unmanaged Partner categories, the Microsoft Partner relationship is drifting apart. There are so many other options out there in the market today, MPN is not delivering.

The effort to maintain Microsoft Partner competencies is disproportionate to the profitability contribution. MPN activities do not directly point to profitability for Partners. This needs to flip, each requirement on a Partner should be judged against how that requirement drives profitability.

I have great respect for the effort, diligence and time taken by the Microsoft MPN team in defining this program all those years ago. It was not rushed, it was deeply researched and widely consulted within the Partner ecosystem paying great respect to the impact that it would have and the need for it to work well into the future. The problem was the market outside was at an inflection point, infract x3:

  1. Cloud was bursting onto the scene, with all its service oriented operational demands and subscription based financials.
  2. Marketplaces were becoming the defacto focus for application retail, reviewing and marketing.
  3. Social the buzz word (excuse the pun) changing the whole cadence of how consumers and businesses alike evaluated purchases, develop new trust models, and start-up business started carving fat slices out of the traditional big vendors with high visibility and agility social media ‘community’ based marketing.

MPN for all its polish and nurturing into life sadly did not, out of the box, perform against any of these new classes that continue to define our industry. One it maybe could have adjusted to but all of them hitting together in Internet Time has proven in retrospect too much to absorb. The retrofitting has seen some degree of Cloud acknowledge through the program but that has not instilled much confidence, akin to slapping a GTI 16 Valve badge on the back of a 1.0 Litre and swapping out for some wider rubber, it does not really address the inadequacies under the bonnet.

I could go on but I would prefer to look forward at an opportunity this offers.

How then does MPN service the Partner ecosystem and Microsoft across these key criteria and the needs of a modern IT marketplace? My thesis is that the orientation has to be on Partner Profitability and customer/market experience. This focuses on building a marketplace as the hub of a program.

There is opportunity for a bold decision to be taken, a decision that would show some blue ocean thinking and send a clear message across the industry, an industry that is hard set in its ways of old style vendor certification and accreditation. Microsoft could once again put some day light between it and the competition who are coming at these self-same challenges from different directions.

A decision to set the pace and not follow the crowd, in the new real time Cloud, subscription based experience driven market place.

But first like any good strategist, as the old saying goes ‘Make sure you can feed the bear’. This would require a commitment and tenacity that cannot fall foul of cultural contamination, brow beating or budgetary cuts. Commit, execution, deliver and reap the rich harvest.

  1. Vet and acquire (or license) third party platforms:
    1. Marketplace.
    2. Payment systems. There are plenty of them out there servicing banks that are up to date, compliant and fit for banking so would service Microsoft Online Billing requirements in their sleep.
    3. IT Community platform. (ie:Spiceworks).
  2. Integrate the platforms which becomes the go to resource for partners, customers and Microsoft for anything Microsoft replacing MPN Portal, current fragmented marketplaces, PinPoint and the Microsoft Account platform.
  3. To be a Partner you would need to transact your Microsoft business through the Microsoft marketplace, yes ALL classes of partners.
  4. Partner accreditation is attached to real time transactional and end user experience review criteria. Partners would be ‘invited’ to join as Gold or Silver as their criteria met set thresholds. The marketplace categories define their competencies de facto the marketplace reviews and their service/product offerings.
  5. Marketplace will ID Partners in the most honest way, market forces. By all means grandfather over Partners for 6 month’s to keep the peace.

A high risk approach is for Microsoft to reinvent the wheel and write their own. If there is something you have that is off radar and is tried, tested and proven in anger as many of these third party solutions are then fine don’t ignore that. Otherwise this would be a challenge for Microsoft, too many egos and techies, but go for the path of least resistance, kick out blockers and promote the doers. You need this yesterday.

The exciting dimension to this formulae is the reality that I believe it could occur in a single fiscal cycle (if not faster). We have seen banks set-up in shorter periods of time so don’t tell me this could not happen for a Partner Channel system.

Amongst many other benefits it could deliver:

  • One Microsoft marketplace.
  • One Microsoft resource directory. (Pinpoint the current Partner Directory can be retired).
  • One Microsoft view on its Partner pipeline.
  • A modern agile approach to the market that is familiar and accepted by consumers and business, making reviews and customer satisfaction as simple as it is on eBay or any other ecommerce site.
  • Pain goes away for partners. For the majority of small partners it will also mature the final mile of their marketing, sales and billing management and for the bigger partners and API in good old Cloud fashion to interoperate with their ERP systems.

It needs something. The above may be a pipe dream, but something has to happen, the current MPN is struggling and as Einstein said, ‘keep doing the same thing and expect a different result = insanity’ or something to that effect….

I have a suspicion that if MPN was pulled tomorrow, 90% of the Partner activity would continue unaffected. That is the degree of detachment the program has from reality. Now put a marketplace in the mix and tools that help partners drive their profitability the that becomes core and influential.

For now Partners it’s just more of the same. See you at WPC 2014!

Microsoft OneDrive, What’s in a name?


‘Microsoft launches OneDrive globally, with some freebies’.

More on the freebie ‘Microsoft to give 100GB free OneDrive storage to early birds’.

So it’s out with a big fanfare and more obfuscation for the humble consumer and business user alike as they get their heads around a name change and a few new bells and whistles but still need to struggle on with some core issues.

As with all things tech today, by the time you read this things may well have moved on, but at the time of writing and probably a while thereafter this will still reflect the state of play.

The naming of OneDrive (Formerly SkyDrive) and OneDrive for Business (Formerly SkyDrive Pro) represents a continued naming convention aberration that Microsoft suffers from in a long history of such faux pas:

  • Explorer – Do you mean Internet Explorer or File Explorer?
  • Exchange Hosted Services or did you mean Hosted Services for Exchange?
  • IIS or IIS? – Was that ‘Internet Information Server’ or ‘Identity Integration Server’?

And don’t forget the mother of all confusions with Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT. As if they did not get enough from that then they go and do the Surface and Surface Pro thing!

The renaming to OneDrive, whether a quaint echoing of the home of Microsoft at ’1 Redmond Way’ or the more obvious ‘Only Drive you will need‘, was a missed opportunity to correct the confusion, but no in blinkered mode Microsoft crash on regardless.

Personally I think OneDrive would have worked nicely for the consumer application, but something more akin to the former ‘SharePoint Workspaces’ comes across as more meaningful for the business iteration. After all that’s exactly what it is, SharePoint Workspaces on your local PC.

If the problems were all in the name then that would be the end of the issue, but it’s not. The functionality of both iterations is well below standard for Microsoft. If you get the right people in a corner they will confirm that SkyDrive Pro (OneDrive for Business) is broken. Yes you read that right, and if our experience with clients and our own internal use has anything to go by we cannot agree more.

OneDrive for Business may be a fresh name but the authentication, sync and reliability issues all remain.

Remember ‘MESH’, it worked, it was rock solid, so what happens it gets dumped in favour of an inferior ‘Live Mesh’ soon to be ‘SkyDrive’ and now OneDrive. See my blog on that at the time for some history.

OneDrive still maintains a long list of poor end user experience and feedback characteristics including:

  • Online / Offline indicators could be clearly identified on file Glyphs, not hidden in a distant column only visible in detail view.
  • Users should have a choice on set-up about what is held offline or online so they start from a known baseline.
  • Toolbar indicator of activity on the desktop is coming back a last, why would such a fundamental visual queue have been removed??
  • The Windows 8 App is an exercise in screen inefficiency and lacks detailed view.
  • Sync’ing needs to be more network savvy. It still visible impacts network activity and cannot be easily managed form the desktop short of switching it off. Some form of ‘Pause’ feature with visible flag to ID outstanding sync items. It would also be useful to priorities uploads.
  • With privacy and security so important greater identification of file sharing, again with some form of Icon at folder level so inadvertent sharing does not happen.

OneDrive for Business is simply broken, for example:

  • Hours lost to corrupted files that seem to occur due to poor sync management.
  • Offline clash management seems to not work most of the time defaulting to a red cross and failed sync.
  • Login demands (made worse when you are running Single Sign On). One trick here is to flush your cached credentials in the ‘Windows Credential Manager’, but this should not be necessary.
  • Running multiple O365 Accounts there is no clarity as to which account it is asking you to login to! Take a look at the dialogue box below, guess what resource this is accessing? Easy if you only have one Office 365 resource you’re syncing, but if you have multiple, this user experience needs enhancing.

  • Sync Manager is like a developer’s prototype basic.
  • In Window RT it can only Sync with your default My Site, no SharePoint library connectivity and then only online! This gives little advantage over accessing the SharePoint site direct.
  • Why can I not Sync at a Folder level within a SharePoint Library? This renders the tool somewhat useless in many scenarios as the sync volume is so large to take a whole library offline when I just want a folder.

I can go on, but I think you get the point.

As for a call to Microsoft Support well that seems to end with the suggestion of removing a sync’d Library then re-connecting it. Not well received when you are working in the real world of mobile broadband, or even on a small business network, being asked to pull down gigabytes of data all over again does not win friends. It would be nice to be able to re-attach volumes to a new OneDrive for Business instance to save re-syncing everything again.

That I regret is not the end of the tale. The interaction with SyDrive in either of its iterations is having fall-out on the great MS Office applications boot up times, and sometimes failing to boot-up ‘full-stop’! We are still analyzing the Office impact where Office Pro has become so Sloooow to open anything in these drives even when offline, so the findings shared here are without a clear solution.

The responsiveness of MS Office 2013 is a real end user issue when using SkyDrive/OneDrive. Users are killing the apps thinking they have hung and then try to start them again causing a chain reaction of corruption when opening apps by clicking on a file in a sync’d folder. Our advice is to start the app first then open a document using the ‘Open’ menu option from within the app. Not ideal and hardly an optimized user experience but it resolves the issue of apps like Word and Excel etc hanging and getting corrupted. When using Office Pro with Office 365, the repeated opening and closing of an app can cause a corruption requiring the Office install to repair itself. Sometimes a quick repair does it but often a full repair is required which demands an Internet connection, OK on a fixed network connection but costly if not impossible on mobile or public WiFi link, and a complete nightmare when you’re on an 8 hour flight and Office refuses to do anything without an internet connection!

This goes back to the core issue of Microsoft as a service company. They are falling foul of their heritage as a product company in their attempt to be a Services entity, services are about end user experience, and OneDrive products come across as being developed as a collection of features first and functional experience second. The danger for Microsoft now where user’s ownership is no longer an issue or tie in, a poor experience will see users up and running with a competing solution in less than 15 minutes. Welcome to the world of services…

Any wonder DropBox and Box are so sticky in the enterprise. Thank your ‘Supreme Principle’ of choice Microsoft that Apple are so inept with their iCloud or there could be more heat from that goliath. As an aside the fact that Apple iCloud uses Windows Azure is an interesting bit of trivia that would probably have Microsoft seeing money in their back pocket if iCloud was more successful!

Telco plays fast and loose with Customer Login data


My desk had the mornings pile of junk mail on it, opened by my PA, which off the back of a late Burns night entertaining customers got short shrift as I cascaded them into the waste paper recycling bin by my desk. My mind still working at getting itself clear of the nights excesses, grateful I was sober enough at 02:30 to break out of the slipstream of my compadres who where hell bent on making a morning of what was already running out of a great night.

As I coaxed my mind out of its crawler gear to focus on the day’s priorities ahead something like a retinal echo bounced an image off some grey matter deep in my cranium that made me glance back into the bin by my desk now engorged with junkmail. No I did not have that much to drink last night, my stomach was rock soldi, and whilst tired I was by no means hung-over. What had caught my lagging eye was an unsolicited promotional mailing booklet from one of our suppliers with both my name and our company name clearly printed on the front. My intent to simply redirect the junk mail to the shredding bag, as we have a company policy that anything with company identifiable information on it gets shredded. Thus I found myself taking the short stroll to the printer rooms shredding bag winning a few more moments grace delaying the inevitable of anything more mentally taxing than shuffling paper around.

What happened on the way to the shredder bag was one of those things you wish you could bottle and sell, my fortune would have been made, and I would have stolen the hangover cure market overnight! Alas these things are elusive and whilst that wistful dream accelerated away down one thought process my complete and undivided attention was captured by the back page of the booklet form our telco call handling service provider Windsor Telecom. I was now fully focused and firing on all neurons.

Read that one again WINSOR TELECOM …. A bunch of Muppets, you may wish to avoid after reading this.

After the usual double and triple checks that all faculties were functioning and reporting correctly along their respective neural pathways, that feedback was within usual tolerances, and no extremities had suffered any unexpected impact or interference, apart from a growing heat under the collar, I returned to my desk with the aforementioned junk mail.

A reprieve I hear you say, some enlightening, must have, cannot resist, business differentiating, competitive edging, new service had caught my eye? Am I going to share with you the intimate detail of one of those elusive 1% pieces of junk mail that actually delivers?

Well let me start by outing it this way, it provided me with the material for this blog, far from a valuable piece of promotional mail, this was perhaps the most blatant and ignorant breach of even the most basic rules of privacy and data protection I have seen for a long time. In the backdrop of the last few months escalation of data breaches across retail and business it comes as all the more shocking that Windsor Telecom remained so unaware, after all they are meant to be an IT company albeit a Telco derivative.

What shocked me out of my stupor was sight of our service login details in large font printed on the back page of said booklet! Combined with the company details and principle contact clearly printed on the front page this represented perhaps the most blatant and ignorant breach of even the most basic rules of privacy and data protection. I don’t know how many customers had been targeted with this same mailshot but I doubt we were alone.

With these login details any individual would have full access to an organisations virtual telephone service. This would include control over the numbers, the routing and mapping of those numbers, and additional data service such as call recording and logging to name just two of the most obvious high risks exposures.

OK I hear you saying its hard copy not digital, unlikely to have a high risk of being compromised, a red herring. How do you think these details got onto the booklet? I doubt the cost of a secure printing facility was used, this is junk mail after all, more than likely the data was email or FTP’d (File Transfer Protocol) or even worse USB’d to the printing agency possibly via a third party marketing agency first. So what we have is 1,000′s of secure customer login details in some form of digital file circulating between 3 organisations, a digital file which I doubt was encrypted or subject to a secure chain of accountability. So they now quiet possibly reside on any number of machines across multiple organisations and individuals. This has worrying ramifications across other areas of security for a Telco service.

All of that is somewhat academic. The crux of the issue is that here is one of the new generation of Software as a Service telecoms providers lacking a complete grasp of their responsibilities in the high risk world of online services. Software as a service (SaaS) providers are an aggregation point for valuable data and a software target for hackers. This is not new and has been broadcasted in mainstream messaging for over 10 years, so there is no excuse for not being aware, see ‘Hidden risks of software-as-a-service’!

Read the UK Governments ’2013 Information Security Breaches Survey’ conducted by PWC. Some frightening highlights include:

  • 93% if Large organsiations had a security breach in 2013
  • 87% of Small Business had a security breach.
  • 113 is the median number of breaches suffered by each large organization (up from 71 in the previous period)
  • 17 is the median number of breaches suffered by each large organization (up from 11 in the previous period)
  • 57% of breaches suffered due to staff related security breaches (Up from 45%)

Read the executive summary of the report it is frightening. Despite the raised awareness of security the 2012 to 2013 shows increases in BREACHES, not just attacks, these are actual compromises. Increases in failures by organizational personnel as one of the largest risk areas.

We live in an age of Advanced Persistent Threats this is not going to go away and orgnsiations who aspire to provide our services and earn our trust must go further and invest more than ever before, there are no short cuts and only ignominy.

I have written this article because it is time users are made aware of the responsibilities they are placing on SaaS providers and ultimately for the providers to know that the honeymoon was over long ago, play fast and loose with customer data or the integrity of their trust in your services, then expect to be named and shamed.

Windsor Telecom regard yourself as having been put on notice, you have failed, you have breached a trust that will be hard to win back.

SharePoint 2013 Apps – Inspirational


SharePoint 2013 Apps, what’s new, we had them in SharePoint 2010 didn’t we? Yes, and a lot has changed, but then again for those with a significant investment in SharePoint 2010 nothing you should have to worry about. Let me explain…

  1. Your investment in SharePoint 2010’s full or partial trust sandbox app models will still work and are still supported. With the single caveat that you (or your developers/Partner) know how to code for SharePoint and are not doing anything that is knowingly coded outside the functional support envelop of SharePoint 2010.
  2. In SharePoint 2013 Microsoft has opened up just about every SharePoint operation from the Client-Side Object Model (CSOM). Yup you read that right, from your client (workstation or other unattached compute platform) you can leverage SharePoint operations without installing anything on the server.
  3. Following hot on the heals of the security concerns that will be spawning in your mind from the statement in Point 2 above, Microsoft has implemented a robust security layer around the new App model that effectively constrains access, it’s a very neat solution, perhaps a subject for a future blog.
  4. The new SharePoint App modelled solutions run with NO SharePoint server side code. Magic? No, a very modern approach to server architectural design that is much in the Cloud paradigm.

Let’s face it if this was not the case then Microsoft would be building a road to perdition for itself. Instead Microsoft has taken a very creative approach to supporting the past whilst fully embracing the future, and fully underwriting their Cloud credentials and intent.

The future is flexible, inclusive and interoperable. You no longer need to be a .NET programmer to write fully featured apps for SharePoint AND deploy them commercially. With core web development skills SharePoint 2013 is now a portal for all.

So the answer is YES you can continue developing in the old models, but the question to ask yourself is why would you ie: legacy investment maybe, but not beyond the next refresh of said legacy app I would postulate!

Pre SharePoint 2013 organizations struggled with opening up functionality to their business users and third party developers because of the impact on the SharePoint server itself will benefit hugely. Previously it was necessity to deploy code on the server, even with the sandbox options. This meant lengthy protracted development cycles and high friction IT involvement, multiple instances of Development and Staging environments, all of which = EXPENSIVE. No longer, well not true, you can do it the old way as I say but if you have a new app requirement or an old app past its sell by date then why would you invest in such pain!

The SharePoint 2013 App model changes all of this. Bringing great benefits  to many use groups:

  • ISV (Independent Software Vendors), as just one use group, should see as a gateway to accessing the Billion+ SharePoint / Office user audience, and start leveraging SharePoint and Office365/SharePoint online for that matter.
  • External software houses should see it as a new way of selling functionality into the biggest document management and collaboration ecosystem in the world.
  • End user organizations and internal Dev teams, the old world reasoning has been stripped away for new world time efficient, rapid delivery rich experience, a low or zero ownership cost future approach to commissioning and consuming business IT functionality.

For example:

  • Leverage existing web app backend assets and develop new or additional interfaces in standard Web technology. The CSOM functionality can be accessed using .NET / Silverlight for the power developers and or using the JavaScript API, and REST API’s for any competent web developer.
  • Self-Hosted SharePoint 2013 Apps are hosted on a separate server and therefore can run on ANY operating system, which means supporting the widest scope of application server choices known to developers. This empowers the solution with whatever server side functionality it wants to run on the self hosted platform.
  • Azure Provisioned. This is the real ‘secret sauce’ (which isn’t very secret actually as it is very well documented with plenty of sample code on TechNet) An application designed to be deployed in Windows Azure in its own discrete Azure instance. So when a user requests the app for their SharePoint instance the app informs the user that it needs to be deployed in Azure and that resource is then automatically billed to that user/organizations SharePoint online account. This can be used for on premise as well as SharePoint Online/Office 365.

The magic of the Azure Provisioned SharePoint 2013 application for any ISV is there is NO cost associated with hosting it themselves. This is pure Cloud economics and dynamics coming into its own. For organizations, individual business units purchasing through an EA similar economic benefits apply, not to mention the operational efficiency gains:

  • Instant access to functionality
  • No lengthy deployment process friction with IT departments
  • No procurement negotiation headaches with infrastructure (assuming the EA is in place the rates are fixed and discounts already won).
  • Built in upgrade process that saves IT department’s maintenance time.
  • SharePoint Organization App stores, that can control filtered access to the SharePoint Public Store to allow vetted apps or trusted vendor applications only to be accessible.
  • Leverage existing application investments, Data and Business logic layers can be leveraged requiring only a front end re-write to integrate with organizational SharePoint environments and authentication.

I repeat there is the old way or the future play……

For more information I would suggest a visit to the Microsoft Office blog site ‘Introducing apps for the new Office and SharePoint and the Office Store’   before heading into TechNet and MSDN.

When it comes to PC’s 2013 says it takes two to Tango.


2013 was a year that resounded with harbingers postulating the demise of tech (the PC being the whipping boy) and the rise of tech (fondle’slabs with Apple iPad leading the charge predictably) as never before in a totally compromised digital ecosystem, the latter point coming as no surprise to those in the security industry and the general consensus being it was about time the message went mainstream!

The venerable PC, that stalwart desk hogging passive piece of plastic and tin that the marketer’s would have us believe received a head shot from the Tablet brigade in 2014. Woe for Microsoft being the follow-up story on the theme and predictions of a Phablet’ous Fondle’slab future for all, led by none other than the Apple fanbois and the freebie brigade Google Spyware platform ‘Android’ community.

How refreshing the turn of a New Year can be, articles heralding a bright future for PC’s when reflecting on the real world insights from 2013. Why tablets aren’t replacing the PC anytime soon’ echo’s of what we have been seeing in the business space. PC’s have not disappeared, they have simply been overshadowed by the preferential spending of consumers on Tablets and Smartphones and their reverse entry by the back and side doors into Enterprise IT. As Enterprises have held onto budgets off the back of some hard economic times, the desktops have simply not enjoyed a customary refresh. OK partly stimulated by the market hype around tablets which may have had IT procurement sitting on the fence sweating PC asset waiting to see what Tablets actually meant for the enterprise.

The outcome I believe is, business as usual, albeit there is now a new kid on the block, the touch tablet class of computing interface that will remain largely an Information Consumption and email/text/Video Communication device with limited information creation value confined to the type historically familiar to Kiosk based terminals. Yes there will always be the minority who to prove a point (and obsession) will incur RSI (repetitive strain Injuries) in their lengths to prove Tablets can replace a PC.

CONSTRAINED TABLET PLATFORMS WILL NOT IRRADICATE THE MULTITASKING POWER REQUIRMENTS OF THE PC DESKTOP!

The PC will exist in a Tango with tablet devices (ranging from the iPad class through to the Slab Phones). Users have demonstrated this over and over during 2013. Tablets are purchased and complement the PC, they are not replacing it wholesale as some headlines would have us belive.

The Hybrid device is still to escape repeated birth pangs. Having myself test driven few, I find myself back to a PC/Notebook and Tablet/Smartphone. Hmm… yup that is x4 principle compute devices. The combination provides well for my principle work modes:

  • Road Warrior / Hot desk Office worker – Notebook & Smartphone.
  • Home Worker – Desktop PC & Tablet.
  • Day trip client site visits – Tablet & Smartphone.
  • Recreation – Games console.

OK the last one is not work, but it does reinforce a serious point across this whole debate, ‘horses for courses’. I have given up gaming on PC’s because of the fallout games have had on the PC performance/stability when I then need to rely on it for productivity work. Tablets being a closed system offer greater recreational stability and convenience but will remain platforms for utility games as they don’t get near the horse power for the class and quality of serious gaming experiences.

To summarise therefore I see the majority of business people still demanding a PC experience, and the Windows 8.1 starts to get close but its lack of a fully featured independent desktop configuration keeps it chained to the uncertain future of the Hybrid device. If I was to take a guess I would say the hybrid device will remain a niche prospect, so roll on Windows 8.2 with the prospect of a proper return to Desktop computing for Windows users.

On the device side, serious IT users will demand the power and dexterity of a PC desktop PLUS the kick back ease of information consumption and recreation of a Tablet class device.

Modern IT requires the two to tango and it will be that harmony of experience across them that I think Microsoft has the best chance of getting right. As for the rest, Google has a pumped up smartphone platform and Apple continuous with its proprietary control freakery that will continue to frustrate users who are becoming more IT savvy, demanding greater freedom with their system.

‘Data Weights’ threaten Net Neutrality


‘Is obesity contagious?‘ I will leave you to ponder that one.

My Segway being, whatever the reality in the human realm, clearly something has contaminated our attitude to keeping our data trim. Just as airlines are now catering and considering charging for ‘large seats’  so will the Internet’s aspirations of Net Neutrality’ (the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated the same) go the way of the dodo.

The race to put everything online, downloadable and updatable has apparently little regard for how bloated software has become and the ‘Data Waits’ (excuse the play on words) that ensue. Whilst the main high speed backbone and fibre arteries of the internet are currently sustaining this deluge the finer and more regional capillaries are showing signs of strain and in the extremities incapable of servicing such volumes. Just like humans who over indulge our domestic broadband arteries are furring up fast and if we are to avoid the equivalent of a digital aneurism we need to reflect on these indulgencies, and quickly because the ‘Internet of Things’ is going to be getting more demanding with alliance such as the Qualcomm, LG, the Linux Foundation.

I cannot dispute the value of the online delivery and update model for both vendor and end user, access anytime anywhere you can get an Internet feed and the ability to push updates is a highly viable model. Almost…..

Now look at a sample of what vendors are pushing down your internet connections:

  • Apple OS 6GB operating system + App store.
  • Microsoft with its Windows 8 update at a somewhat lightweight in comparison 1.5GB
  • Google YouTube
  • BT, Sky and Virgin demanding a minimum of 1mb of your bandwidth
  • Then the crowd of online gaming and virtual world companies vying for mindshare with games that range from the veritable lightweights at 500mb to the grotesque at 64GB!

The increase in download volumes are pushing the envelope on even the fastest of home broadband connections, as for the slower end of the market it is fostering veritable frustration and resentment as services take themselves out of reach. To use another analogy, you can only get so much water down a pipe of a certain diameter before things just back up and start failing. Or if you like the car analogy, the experience of sitting on the motorway in a 10 mile tailback having just passed the last service station or junction, burning fuel with the sands of time passing inextricably as you get overly familiar staring at the same view (the back of a vehicle not of your choosing) inhaling its waste as you burn your own ever more expensive fuel.

The Broadband divide that exists is extreme. You have your BT Infinity and cable users enjoying at the top end 40+MB of bandwidth whilst at the other end of the scale you have users that can get no more than 2MB on a good day. The commercial vendors are clearly working to the top end of this spectrum and neglecting the rest.

I live 5 miles from a City, in a wonderful part of the South West of the United Kingdom but the maximum bandwidth I can get is 3MB which rarely averages out at more than 2MB. As a result I have to install and pay for x2 broadband connections and use a Small Enterprise grade router to bond these into a single connection to try and make this bearable. It helps, a bit, but completely voids any support from my broadband vendor. They wash their hands of any problems immediately they learn that I am using my own router. A pity they do not recognise the increase need from even home users for more advanced functionality from routers and supply small enterprise options that they will support.

My broadband experience is not unique in the regions of the UK, a usable 3MB on a good day. The reality of which with a couple of PC’s connected makes any media console streaming/gaming/viewing a futile exercise that just compounds the problem. With the new generation of Operating Systems be it Apple Mac OS or Windows 8 their increased dependency on Internet ‘Cloud’ services means the burden on a domestic broadband is greater than ever. My connection quickly becomes saturated and useless for both PC’s and media consoles as they contend for the meagre bandwidth resources.

So the great fanfare and splurge of media around Microsoft new Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation are completely wasted as my current Xbox 360, has largely sat redundant since the increased move to streamed content, so the thought of investing in an even more gluttonous media device is absurd. Attempts to watch on demand films or catch-up TV have been a vain attempt to join the streaming masses, doing little more than spoiling evenings with delayed buffering and unwatchable quality. As for the spontaneity of gaming, this has become a strategically planned event due to the frequency and size of console and game updates dominate the system every time it is booted up or a game is spun up, spoiling any fun.

As Xbox One and Playstation are taking download sizes into a new realm with 60GB + game downloads, I can do little but laugh. OK they say that you only need to download 30% of this to get up and running, well that is still 20GB and on my home network that would take over a week to just get up and running on a game. Furthermore it appears that these consoles will also require a ‘day 1 Update’ before you can even use them. For the Xbox One that day 1 update is apparently around 750MB. Which means that it can never realistically be a Day 1 update but more like a day 2 or even 3 for many. Having enquired it appears these online games and their updates cannot apparently be supplied offline ie: via a USB stick. When challenging someone involved at Microsoft on this theme I was informed that games will be available on DVD so it is not all online, which is a small comfort when you later these games demand instant multi Gigabyte updates and much of the added value you pay for depend on online services, so a short term win for long term pain.

The blinkered approach of vendors is inadvertently engineering in obsolescence day one and alienating audiences as the burden of remediation falls on end users broadband. Yes I would like to have an Xbox One but see no value in such an investment where I cannot use it to its full or even 75% potential.

What is at risk here is the very essence of Net neutrality. Bans such as the The Federal Communications Commission Open Internet Order’ and similar regulations or agreements, banning service providers from preventing access to competitors or certain web sites or content across their networks are likely to be challenged.

With the continued eat all you can attitude of vendors with total disregard for the capital investments made by the telco’s and ISP’s in the network, commercial reality will see Net Neutrality disappearing and the equivalent of ‘Internet Tolls’ appearing as network owners strive to realise value from their investments or simply preserve some capacity for their own use over the freeloaders. The impact will be wide as many of the big names in Social Media and other online services currently freeloading start to get throttled.

There is no single answer, but a blend including but not limited to:

  • More efficient developer coding practices. For example how can Apples ’12 Days of Gifts’  (sadly renamed this year to remove the reference to Christmas!) Mobile app warrant a 65MB download when all it is doing is channelling a link to some freebie!
  • Better quality control and greater end user testing. The current attitude of vendors seems to be to subversively enrol the general public to do their final testing in the first few weeks of launch!
  • Provide end user replicable upgrade media. Either through central retail outlets where users can go with a USB or get the latest patches at the same time as buying the DVD.
  • ‘Data Weight’ bandwidth gluttons like YouTube and other freeloading video services need to start contributing towards the cost of the delivery network they use or get throttled during business hours.

Most importantly though this requires a change of attitude. Internet bandwidth has to be paid for by someone and vendors need to start respecting that or we will all end up losers. As for the long term I believe it is inevitable that data charges and or prioritisation will start being legitimately applied by network owners, if only to preserve the commercial interests made in Cloud/Utility computing that depends on the availability and reliability of bandwidth. Just like our physical highways and roads, as they evolved they reached the point where cost had to be recovered from users to maintain their usability and rules to prioritise certain grades of traffic are now not uncommon.

Tablet Tuesday, full of hot ‘Air’!


October 22nd will go down as Tablet Tuesday, as the big players in this space Microsoft, Apple, Nokia converged on this date to officially launched new product.

Instead of a big bang it was more of a one horse show with most attention captured by Apple, being the only one of the bunch to have maintain any secrecy about what they were launching. For Microsoft and Nokia it was little more than a formality as they released the details behind product that had already been widely seeded in the market already.

Microsoft

It was more of an interim device and software update, nothing seismic. Surface 2 Device reflecting more of what their original Surface device aspired to be and the Windows 8.1 point release more of a ‘patch’ update vainly attempting to address core issues with the new Operating System (OS). For more on Windows 8.1 see my earlier blog ‘Windows 8.1 – Loaded, aimed, fired …. miss!’ 

Then there was the demise of RT as a brand name at the device level. One assumes it will remain at the OS level or it is going to get very confusing. It is becoming a bit of a Microsoft trend, getting the naming conventions wrong only to have to enter a post release re-branding exercise. So at the Microsoft Device level we have:

  • Surface – That will run Windows RT.
  • Surface 2 – That will run full fat Windows OS.

There is a usability tweak that Microsoft has made to RT to try and put some additional clear air between it and Windows. They have removed the desktop Tile from the Start screen. A move towards the full relegation of the desktop at some point, something that I suspect will occur in tandem with the future release of a touch/tablet ready version of Microsoft Office. At which point any ambiguity between RT and Windows will be finally stripped away as RT loses any pretentions to a desktop.

Nokia

Or at least the Nokia mobile device division, it was a last hurrah before being consumed by Microsoft. It felt more of a flush out the cupboards than anything significant in product terms. That may be harsh but apart from the move to Quad Core CPU’s there was little genuine innovation. On this later Quad Core point a major U turn for Elop who had vociferously criticised the need for such horse power when challenged in the past.

As such I believe these products will do little more than put the Nokia Microsoft marriage into a holding pattern, I struggle to see them driving market share and in the absence of a booming and flourishing apps store to pull them along it will be little more than business as usual. Quiet possibly a write off at some point in the next fiscal to square the circle of the inevitable revenue underperformance. A loss that will get buried as an inevitable cost of the merger and messaged over with the future plans that Microsoft will have by then.

Elop’s legacy from Nokia is for me Mr.U’Turn. He seemed to spend all his time denying the inevitable, as with the Quad Core CPU he continued to deny Nokia’s sale to Microsoft even when it was so obvious to all in the industry. Not the stuff of CEO legends.

Apple

So to Apple, who in classic Apple style delivered a tempered performance, in the reserved way that we have become accustomed to. On the surface at least it was calm nonchalance as the presenters endeavoured to preserve a harmony with what was clearly a choreograph attempt to pump suspension in the audience. It has never really worked since Steve Jobs left this stage, and failed today. The wavering tones of the presenters exposing the nerves, and attempts at humour coming over stilted, and what about ‘Phil’? He came across to me like he was not that bothered if at all interested in the messages he was delivering! Some method acting required there to avoid the complete apathetic fallout I felt he delivered. I guess what I am saying is I found myself distracted from the messaging by the passé Apple performance.

Apples communication style aside the core messaging once you peel back the bravado was little more than a hardware release, a company launching some new tin. Don’t get me wrong it is superlative stuff, no other hardware manufacture can hold a light to Apple’s attention to detail and the aura they have achieved around their devices.

Throwing up the green build credentials was again a masterpiece of obfuscation. Apple product has become so limited in their expansion potential for end users that when there is a generational change of hardware it has to be swapped out in its entirety. If you don’t believe me just try and upgrade a Hard Drive or RAM in a new iMac or MacBook Pro. As such the reality is Apple is driving the disposable society faster than ever.

Then there were the software announcements. Or rather smokescreens. Giving away free what was largely of little cost to end users previously should be seen for what it is, a fig leaf in a battle they cannot win on the Desktop OS and Office Productivity suite. But of course it does not harm trying to stick it to the other guy. It was cringeworthy listening to their attempts to play up their software and collaboration offerings in the face of Microsoft mature market leading cutting edge software and service line-up. Speaking to a couple of the headline items Apple tried champion their products with:

  • Keynote – Referred to as the standard for presentations? Where have they been? PowerPoint IS presentation, its name synonymous. Sitting along side other great brands that have been adopted as adjective’s such as Hoover.
  • Numbers – Off the cringe scale ….. Does Apple live in an alternate reality? Just head over to Microsoft Power BI for Excel and Office 365 to see how to do proper data visualisation and collaboration. It makes Numbers look like a hand held calculator.
  • Pages – The big line here from Apple was its native support for all leading document formats and a show and tell of some cut and paste drag and drop? I was waiting for something new or original, but that was it!
  • Collaboration – iCloud, is all they have! Little more than an online data storage facility, OK it does sync desktop settings across devices. Don’t forget that once you have used your free 5GB data allowance you have to pay. Oh yes and iCoud runs on Microsoft Windows Azure :-o

Then there was Apple’s poke at Office365. BAD mistake, if anyone things this through it comes across as an own goal and self-defeating. If you look at what Apples is offering it is derisory and fragmented alongside Microsoft Office 365 which offers a integrated raft of rich business grade email and collaboration functionality not to forget Microsoft Office. So for the $99 jibe from Apple the reality is huge value for x5 user’s at that single price point for Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium AND it supports Mac OSX, and then there are the Microsoft Office 365 Business plans that scale from Small right up to Enterprise all in the same familiar genre.

I noted Apple do not highlight the ridiculous size of their pieces of software. I know Microsoft takes some flak for the size of Microsoft Office at @750mb but just look at the size of Apples individual pieces:

  • Keynote = 463MB
  • Numbers = 234MB
  • Pages = 266MB

and that is for the iPhone versions!!!  Apple is clearly NOT a bandwidth buddy.

In summary then, in trying to compare themselves with Office365 Apple have highlighted where they simply cannot compete and where Microsoft are delivery huge value an innovation across platforms.

As for giving their software away, Apple are frankly acknowledging it is the only way they will get it into wider circulation, not necessarily wider use, before Microsoft Office Touch generation hits the market. In the PC world we call such pre-pack free software ‘bloat-ware’. Software that is preloaded onto devices in a vain attempt to distract users from making a cognitive choice themselves.

In summary Apple have the upper hand in devices and the apps store, Microsoft have it in software and Cloud services. The worry I am sure Apple has is that now with the Nokia purchase Microsoft are going to be better equipped to take the device battle to Apple than Apple can ever do on the software field of play.

As for the Apps Store battle, I believe once Microsoft get their OS aligned and API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) integrated the current Windows ecosystem of software will ultimately steam roller the Apple apps store across all device classes.

Whatever happens it is going to drive some great innovation from these IT behemoths and I can see only one winner …. the consumer/business.

So bring it on guys :-)

A Microsoft Future?


Future … that is being a little futuristic, looking forward, a new set of ideals that will take the greatest software company into a completely new trajectory. Not just a mid-course correction in a safe pair of ‘familiar’ hands Who Will Be the Next Microsoft CEO? or to address a hit list of pundit desirables ‘Microsoft’s next CEO: Is an insider Redmond’s best bet?’

Having read the procrastinating on-line over the who should be the next CEO of Microsoft, and or what their shopping list of first acts should be, I feel a need, if only for my own therapeutic reasons, to get a response off my chest. OK I have just dammed myself to my own criticism, but read on before nodding your head any further.

The facts:

  • Microsoft represents one of the biggest global brands, trusted and relied on in both home and business the world over. More than a Pop Drink popularity in dependency. For better or worse whether you like it or not that is REALITY.
  • Microsoft has one of (if not) the broadest technology and associated service portfolios.
  • Microsoft has the largest COMMITED business and consumer audience. That commitment may be in the absence of much else and in some areas under challenge from Google (Android), Apple and Amazon, but in many cases still represents the mother-ship for even these pretenders to the crown.
  • Microsoft has THE largest Business Channel network in its Partner eco-system. The envy and aspiration of businesses the world over. (This I can talk to in more detail as a unique engine room for wealth generation, but beyond the scope of this missive)
  • Microsoft has struggled to define itself clearly across its product offerings, with internal culture silo’s competing, pushing and pulling itself into a complex mystic grade hydra of a management headache that any prospecting CEO will be challenged to do better with than Steve Ballmer.
  • The argument of product integration requiring everything under one roof or uber-suite install is going against the trend. Furthermore it has not worked that harmoniously, or with the best results, to date if you reflect honestly.

When a business gets to such a level of critical mass there is a need for something more than just a change of captain.

Microsoft is at this Event Horizon. The future is bright, but the choices for investors are being obfuscated by traditional models of business continuity that equate to looking into a distortion field created by the sheer uniqueness and size of the current Microsoft business. This is compounded by the speed of market evolution that those lines of business are material and subject to. The outcome is likely to be short term bravado followed by mediocrity and excuses.

By all means look inside the business for a CEO successor, but a CEO of what? Microsoft diversity in its current state will NOT be answered by any single man, albeit a Bill Gates may come close to that, but he has a more meaningful agenda now. But don’t get me wrong his experience on the board is invaluable and that legacy oversight critical, as will Mr. Ballmer’s for that matter whatever direction the business takes.

There are many approaches, but I believe one of those viable avenues is to look at playing to the very strengths that are currently Microsoft Achilles heel. The sheer diversity of silo’d businesses, recognised under one brand. A fresh approach that “Cuts through unnecessary complications with clear, direct and flexible thinking, looks beyond the obvious, moves freely from established ways of thinking, reappraising old assumptions, finding new answers.”

Redefine Microsoft as a BRAND group entity, which does not mean throwing out the ‘One Microsoft’ agenda, which is a work in progress, should still sit harmoniously in this paradigm as a logical harmonisation. The objectives of One Microsoft is a logical reaction to the market, BUT not driving the market.

Divest independence and spin off each of its core businesses so they can operate freely and with the agility that modern technology entities must do to innovate, evolve and thrive (read shareholder value!). I am not talking about a sell off or break up. Take a lesson from some of the other great brand entrepreneurs. Virgin for example. In the Microsoft case it would be a reverse play, Microsoft has the business diversity, Virgin created it, the end result the same, shareholder value, innovation, agility and a bright future.

What this requires is not a CEO to run a Technology Company, but an entrepreneurial character with the vision to hold a transitional vision together as it is communicated, executed and delivered upon. A requirement for understanding of the current nature of the business and its inherent strengths, a core technological grounding in the consumer and business landscape, and understanding of the unique Partner Ecosystem. Critical to which would be the persistence of experience on the supporting corporate board assuming the individual would be an outsider (as I do not recognise a suitable candidate internally).

In tandem to this unleashing of the true potential of what is contained within Microsoft is the launching on the industry of a core new initiative that will truly transform Microsoft from its technology roots. That of financial services.

Microsoft Partner Ecosystem + Consumer + Business relationships provide a platform to take a nascent concept mainstream, and in doing so take a Global lead and be a defining force in the future of global on-line commerce. Whether this is done through the adoption of an existing digital currency such as BitCoin, evolving it to address some key shortfalls such as its deflationary and commodity characteristics, or creation of a new, is open for debate. The point here is there is a pent up demand for digital currency to go mainstream.  Whilst no central bank appears to have the intellectual capacity or character to take on the challenge of establishing market credibility for any of the current crop of digital currencies, a technology entity with a sizeable on-line transactional customer base such as Microsoft across its XBox, Skype and other platforms, could. This would also offer Microsoft a unique offering to its developer application ecosystem and even customers to go some way to neutralising global exchange rates in licensing and remove licensing price boundaries, subject to regulation ;-)

For those of you thinking this is pie in the sky, just reflect on what Richard Branson has achieved with Virgin as a brand. NOT the record label it once was. But the finance business, airline, travel agency, Media Company and Telco it has become. Actually now that I think of it Microsoft ticks many of those box’s itself already, it’s just not structured right and lacks the right leader!! OK Virgin is now suffering from the symptoms of a strong leader in terms of its own business continuity, Microsoft has the opposite problem it needs this, but for now it appears they are not looking in the right place and with the wrong set of criteria.

It can be done, and if something significant does not happen then it will be more of the same, flat lined (dependable) share price for the foreseeable future till ground gets really lost to the faster more agile upstarts taking the headline and high ground across Microsoft core territories.

Whatever happens its going to be an interesting time.

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