Tuesday, 23 December 2014

There's market potential in packaging the internet of things

News that Fujitsu is offering a cloud platform for customers to exploit the internet of things (IoT) highlights the fact that it’s still a mind boggling concept for a lot of companies – and that savvy suppliers are going to have to help their clients wrap their heads around what they can do.

A key element of this is Fujitsu’s statement that it’s building a “global ecosystem” with business partners. It’s not just the cloud platform, but tying it in with sensors, devices, networks, middleware and applications as part of the deal. It makes sense to offer customers a package that saves them a lot of agonising over whether all the parts will work effectively together.

Throw in an analytics service for those small to midsized firms that don’t know how to exploit all the IoT data and there’s a solid business proposition, especially if the economies of scale make it more competitive. This has promise as an approach for major suppliers to carve out their shares in the market, so far largely untapped, that brings together big data and the IoT.

The main hurdle is likely to be in whether customers have their own ideas about which sensors, devices and other parts of the package they prefer to use. If they have suppliers who are already proving their worth they are going to think twice about dumping them, and making a new investment, to buy right into the big players’ ecosystems.

This could be an interesting feature of the IT business over the next few years: whether customers turn away from cloud platforms because they are incompatible with their choice of hardware and networks, and whether the major firms with the capacity to create packages can make them sufficiently flexible. 

But the fact that the IoT is virgin territory to a lot of companies places big suppliers, especially those with a record in systems integration, in a position where they can lead the way by making it easier for customers. It’s one case where the demand is likely to respond to the supply.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See www.marksay.co.uk

Friday, 12 December 2014

It’s premature to talk about Windows 10 in the workplace

It needs everyone, not just the enthusiasts, to be comfortable with an OS

People in the PC business are getting excited about next year’s full release Windows 10 – even though Microsoft is not yet being precise about the date – with hopes that it’s going to win back the good will of users who have scorned Windows 8.

I don’t doubt Microsoft’s ability to learn from its past mistakes, but think it’s premature to talk about Windows 10 making a big impact on the workplace. Any sensible business is going to be careful about becoming an early adopter of the new operating system.

The enthusiasm has been fuelled by reports that hardware manufacturer and developers are happy with what they have seen, but that doesn’t mean that regular users will share their enthusiasm. Windows 8 received plenty of positive reviews on its release, but now it’s generally acknowledged to have been a bad move.

The reason for this is the difference in outlooks between professional techies and the everyday user. The former group, whether they are manufacturers, developers or reviewers, spend their working lives wrapped up in IT and could appreciate what Microsoft was trying to do with Windows 8. They were better equipped to make the mental leap in dealing with the new interface and using the system.

But most people are not so well equipped. They regard a computer as a tool, not a little wonderbox to be explored, and like any tool they want it to be easy to use. Microsoft made too many changes in the leap from Windows 7 to 8, not just in the interfaces and detail, but how it asked its users to think. Most people found it a little scary and backed away, leading IT managers to decide that it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Which is why I can’t see a rush to migrate to Windows 10, however good the early reviews may be. Even if it does the job and tablets, organisations want an OS that employees are comfortable in using, and they’re going to wait for months or years to assess the level of comfort. Most probably won’t make a switch until a lot of their employees are using the new OS on their own computers.

This won’t dampen the excitement when Microsoft shows off the system in January, but don’t expect that excitement to turn into widespread use in the workplace for some time.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See www.marksay.co.uk

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Swipe should lay the ground for digital wallets in UK

Increased spending through NFC can weaken the dependence on chip and PIN

Digital wallets have not yet taken off in the UK. They tick boxes for user benefits, notably in making it easier to pay and allowing people to see the balance of cash in the wallet, but the big players are not pushing the smartphones apps or dedicated devices here; and Google has kept quiet about any UK launch.

If there’s a big difference between here and the US, where they are becoming established, it’s that we’re firmly wedded to chip and PIN payments. We feel more secure punching those four numbers into a keypad, so the retailers prefer the technology and the banks remain committed. It would be a massive change for all three to switch to swipe and pay by smartphone.

But the first steps have been taken. Banks are issuing more cards with a near field communication facility for swipe payments, some retailers are taking them up for small transactions, and Transport for London has stopped taking cash in favour of swipe cards for bus fares. Between them they are beginning to build a momentum towards people paying by swipe every day.

It’s probably two, three, four years away, but it should take us to a point where chip and PIN is not as precious to the UK public and businesses, especially those in retail. That’s when they will be more open to using digital wallets, and the point at which Google and its competitors are ready for a push.

If the banks take a lead there would be a better chance of building momentum, as consumers would feel more comfortable with that direct link to their current account. That could provide some interesting competition between the financial institutions and tech companies.

It all comes down working with the consumer mindset, and that takes time to change. But swipe payments will take the UK a step towards digital wallets.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See www.marksay.co.uk

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Why you won’t get systems integrators out of government

Ambitious projects demand expertise that won’t always be found in-house

“SMEs good, systems integrators (SIs) bad” was one of the earliest messages to come from the Conservatives on UK government IT. Before they came to power their lead voice on the subject, the now government chief technology officer Liam Maxwell, attributed many of Whitehall’s IT woes to complex projects with big contracts that gave too much power and too much taxpayers’ money to SIs.

Since 2010 the coalition government has taken some big steps to break the pattern – the £100 million limit on IT contracts, a two year limit on hosting contracts, not allowing firms to run service provision and systems integration in the same area, development of the G Cloud procurement framework – and given SMEs a better chance to grab some of the market. But one message to emerge from Whitehall Media’s Public Sector ICT Conference was that the SIs are still big in the field and they’re not going away.

Several speakers raised the subject, and none claimed or forecast that the SIs’ presence is seriously diminished. There was talk of their role changing – to provide infrastructure for innovators and offer a wider range of distinct services for different projects – but there was an underlying assumption that they will continue to play a major role.

It all comes down to complexity and expertise. Government at all levels is trying to use IT to change the way it works, the Digital by Default strategy aims to make digital services the norm, and there are still major projects such as Universal Credit. These require a lot of expertise – in understanding the technology, programme engineering and risk management – that government often lacks in-house. And the SMEs may have the in-depth expertise for parts of a process, but they’re not well placed to bring together the myriad elements of a big programme. 

Government has long been trying to build these skills in-house, but it is difficult to keep up. The technology changes quickly and the private sector is always ready to lure the best and brightest towards higher pay cheques. There are always going to be gaps in government’s skills pool, and it has to buy in expertise to fill those gaps. The message from the conference speakers was that government shouldn’t try to deny this, but manage it to do the best for itself and the taxpayer.

The government’s rules are likely to help in limiting the long term commitments to SIs; sustained efforts to build in-house skills should ensure there are some experts committed to a role in public service; and government needs to retain the intellectual capital from large projects. Measures such as these can make a difference in changing the balance, making government a more powerful customer.

That’s a more realistic relationship to aim for than banishing SIs from government IT.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See www.marksay.co.uk