Posted by: drmiw | November 7, 2012

SICSA DEMOfest 2012

SICSA DEMOfest 2012

SICSA, The Scottish Informatics & Computer Science Alliance, held its annual DEMOfest yesterday, and I was an invited guest thanks to my company’s membership of ScotlandIS. There were 52 stands manned by academics from all over Scotland who talked confidently and enthusiastically about their researches. The large poster displays provided lengthy and detailed summaries but the information was, in the main, too densely packed and required several reads to grasp their meaning so it was a good job the researchers were there to take questions.

Not every idea presented was a winner, in my opinion, but that’s the nature of research and there were enough good ideas to keep me interested.

I had a long chat with Dr Jan Auernhammer who recently gained his doctorate from Edinburgh Napier University. His Freiraum model for encouraging creativity in large organisations was a familiar paradigm to me and reminded me of my corporate days at NG Bailey, as well as Google’s 80/20 innovation model, but he is convinced that his methodology is a novel approach and I was very impressed by his passion and enthusiasm. He will do well.

On the cloud computing front there were was Services2Cloud, a project based in St Andrews University that aims to help software providers find the right pricing model for selling their software as a service. And loosely related to ‘cloud’ was Raspberry Pi Cloud from Glasgow University which is effectively a supercomputer in miniature.

And finally, with my DPAG Scotland hat on, I was very impressed with dot.rural which is a UK-wide scheme involving ’79 researchers from 11 different disciplines working together to transform rural areas through the user-led application of digital technology’. Again the passion from the lady I spoke to was tangible. There’s some great stuff going on out there!

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On Monday I gave a presentation on Cloud Security at a one-day ICAEW conference: ‘Why Cloud? Why Now?’ that explored ‘the opportunities and the challenges of cloud computing’. Following the conference, I answered a few questions on ‘making the move to cloud computing’, which was the subject of a publication I wrote recently for the ICAEW’s IT Faculty members, and here is the interview on YouTube, warts and all:

And so it goes. Last month I lamented the long drawn out tale of Google seemingly dragging their heels, letting third parties release G Drives and offering up APIs while their customers awaited the real deal. Well last week, after rumours whizzed around cyberspace, they finally released their very own Google Drive! Its features, as in Google Docs, include version history and  document sharing.

But it isn’t everything you might want it to be. PC World have provided a handy summary of some of Google Drive’s ‘shortcomings‘ and here is an even more summarised version of that list:

  1. Less free storage (5GB) than SkyDrive (7GB or 25GB if you were an early adopter)
  2. No native apps for non-Android devices or even the browsers on older Android devices
  3. You can’t edit Microsoft docs online in Google Apps withoout converting them to Google Docs but you can’t edit those Google Docs offline unless you use Chrome browser extensions so you may find yourselves switching formats and losing formats, which is a pain
  4. No availability of permalinks for hosting files like PDFs and videos
  5. Files are not encrypted in Google’s cloud so it’s something you would have to do yourself before uploading, although this would prevent OCR and other features from working so there is some justification for this
  6. Finally, paranoia abounds about Google’s Terms of Service with some commentators (e.g. Dino Londis) asserting that this could allow Google to scan your data and use it to profile you for marketers, even if you are paying for Google Apps; but this is highly debatable – see the comment trail below

Are any of these points a deal killer for you, gentle reader?

Posted by: drmiw | March 5, 2012

Google Drive update

Just over two years ago I reported on the then new Memeo Connect ‘G drive’ for Google Docs, which some of my readers found a bit disappointing, but things have moved on since then.

Google Cloud Storage is now available to anyone – not just Google Apps developers – and Gladinet have released some step-by-step instructions on how to map a drive to Google Cloud Storage using free or paid versions of their software; but it’s a manual process to map the drive.

A much easier solution for those just looking for an alternative to Dropbox that automatically integrates a local folder with their Google Docs data is Insync but, unlike Dropbox, it’s a Beta product and it doesn’t yet work With Linux. On Windows it works great, though, and I found it very easy to install.

I think Google should have just bitten the bullet and released their own easy-to-use applications for synching Google Docs with desktop operating systems years ago, but they want us to work in the cloud all the time and, preferably, use Google Chrome as our OS of choice, so they left G Drive solutions to others.

Posted by: drmiw | February 24, 2012

Scotland Digital Participation Action Group

GovCamp Scotland Founding Digital Participation Charter Member
Yesterday (February 23, 2012) I attended the latest meeting of the Scotland Digital Participation Action Group (DPAG) in Microsoft’s Edinburgh office. I joined the DPAG, on behalf of Muon Consulting, in December 2011 and we were officially added to the list of founding signatories to the Digital Participation Charter which was launched at the GovCamp Scotland event in November 2011 (see my GovCamp event notes). At the meeting we welcomed Fujitsu and other new partners to the group, and we discussed the group’s first Work Streams which have the following working titles: ‘Research Exercise’; ‘Older People’; ‘Unemployment’; ‘Open Data’; and ‘Smart Working’.

Why I signed the Digital Participation Charter

As a Scottish citizen and father of two young children, and as a web technologist, accessibility advocate and cloud computing consultant (and writer) I want to show my commitment to the Charter and do my bit to help “increase the levels of digital participation amongst our citizens and to realise the economic, social and environmental benefits this can bring”. I want to help ensure that digital participation means more than just increasing broadband uptake, but delivers improved online services to a switched-on public, and improved access to information (and open data) in inclusive, accessible ways. I also want to see the dream of a Low Carbon Economy realised in Scotland as quickly as possible, and I think that intelligent use of cloud computing by all sectors, along with greener data centres using renewable energy from Scotland can help make this dream a reality and make Scotland an exemplar for other countries. I also think I have relevant skills and experience to go with my passion!

Commitments and policy areas

The Charter reflects a commitment to achieving shared outcomes in digital participation by identifying where the group can best target its resources and expertise to accelerate the development, investment and action required across the following areas:

  • Jobs and Skills
  • Education
  • Health
  • Low Carbon Economy
  • Public Service Delivery

The Charter signatories are committed to publishing a supplement to the Charter by April 2012 which includes:

  1. Details of a Digital Participation brokerage that will maximise the impact of collaboration and available resources from Government, public agencies, the private sector and third sector.
  2. An Action Plan detailing the key actions to be taken by the Digital Participation Action Group and relationship to the Digital Participation Programme Board to meet the stated purpose of the Charter.
  3. A baseline position of current Scottish digital participation commitments and funding streams across all sectors including UK government schemes and a high level assessment of the extent to which current activity will support the delivery of the stated purpose of the Charter.
  4. A plan to obtain and publish open data sets in order to encourage re-use of public sector information and to enable the development of new applications.
  5. A commitment to explore opportunities to use Community Benefit clauses to improve digital participation and to undertake collaboration where appropriate.

What I can do to help the DPAG

Regarding the production of a supplement to the Charter, I am sure every signatory will be involved in the Action Plan (commitment 2), but the Digital Participation ‘brokerage’ idea (commitment 1) sounds particularly intriguing to me so I could perhaps help detail that – keeping the three key ingredients of open data, knowledge transfer and open innovation in mind. Another thing I could get involved in, if there is room for another ‘expert’ voice, is the proposed GovCamp platform – its content, features, functionality and ease-of-use – whether it is hosted by Microsoft or another organisation.

Regarding the five policy areas, I would like to see a holistic approach taken so that ‘Jobs and Skills’ relate directly to ‘Low Carbon Economy’ as much as possible, for example, rather than considering these areas separately; and if we can use digital participation to cultivate cross-sector collaborations then we may help create something dynamic and sustainable. As for ‘Public Service Delivery’, as revealed in the Scotland’s Digital Future strategy document, too few citizens are currently using local government websites in Scotland, especially compared with the rest of the UK, and disabled citizens are much less likely to get online here, too, so, along with low carbon I would like accessibility to be at the forefront of anything we produce or recommend.

My contributions so far

Aside from going to the meetings I recently set up a private online collaboration portal for the group on the UK’s Local Government Knowledge Hub. I have uploaded our group’s documentation and meeting notes, set up forums and invited all DPAG members to join. I now intend to get involved in one or more of the work streams that the DPAG has identified. Hopefully I can make a difference.

Posted by: drmiw | December 7, 2011

Low Carbon Economy workshop at GovCamp Scotland

This is a report on the facilitated theme group session on the Low Carbon Economy, which I participated in at GovCamp Scotland in November 2011. Some good examples were presented by the panel, but not too many recommendations came out of this session. But it’s “only the beginning” as we were often reminded during the event, and the Scottish government has a Low Carbon Strategy we can build on.

Local energy management

Jan Webb, a researcher from Edinburgh University, talked about her Heat and the City (heatandthecity.org.uk) research and Glasgow’s plan to be one of Europe’s most sustainable cities within ten years (sustainableglasgow.org.uk). City-scale energy and carbon planning projects are the way forward it seems and a good example Professor Webb gave of how this can work in Scotland is the Aberdeen Heat and Power company (aberdeenheatandpower.co.uk). She said that we don’t have much in the way of energy management in the UK and we could learn a lot from countries like Denmark.

Obstacles and opportunities for Green IT and Cloud Computing

Andrew Unsworth, Head of e-Government for Edinburgh council, gave mybustracker.co.uk as an example of how open data has been used creatively in the city and he hopes to see more creative ideas across all sectors to encourage recycling and deal with problems like the landfill mountains. He also made a couple of observations that relate to cloud computing and greener IT. Firstly there is too much spare capacity in Scotland’s ICT infrastructure silos but councils are unwilling to give up their data centres and share someone else’s – as someone in the audience joked, it’s like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas, but councils should be forced to put the needs of the country first. Secondly with the rise of the information worker Edinburgh has less need for office space and that applies to the council, too, so they are planning to reduce their 400 sites by 50%. Like me he believes that the shape of cities will be very different in twenty years.

A low cost method for increasing digital participation and computer recycling

Norette Ferns from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations gave a good example how recycling can go hand in hand with an increase in digital participation. Her example was the ReBOOT project (reboot-forres.co.uk) in Moray where old computers are refurbished by local volunteers and resold at low prices; and she suggested that this project could potentially be rolled out nationwide.

Learning from other countries

Tony Gribben from Cisco, the fourth and final member of the panel, said that smart and connected communities like Amsterdam have massively reduced their carbon footprints. He also said that Cisco use 100% renewable energy in the UK, which was news to me.

Real world issues

As for the audience, there were concerns that the UK’s “green deal” is no use to citizens on low incomes who are suffering from fuel poverty; and it was pointed out that landlords are under no obligation to make their properties more energy efficient.

Some recommendations to feed back to GovCamp

  1. More intelligent use of existing open data
  2. More data on energy usage
  3. Research into the pros and cons of home working versus office working
  4. Find ways to encourage communities to get involved and take action – e.g. landlords insulating their properties
Posted by: drmiw | December 7, 2011

GovCamp Scotland event notes

I attended the inaugural GovCamp Scotland event on November 7th 2011 in Edinburgh University. GovCamp Scotland is “based on an established international model that applies a Government context to evolving Web 2.0 technologies and examines innovative ways to improve service delivery and engagement with citizens”. This concept is supported by three central pillars: Transparency, Collaboration and Participation.

The aim of the event was to bring private, public and third sectors together as a “first step in forging meaningful relationships across all areas of civil society with the common goal of promoting and enhancing Scotland’s digital credentials”. I attended as a Scottish citizen, web technologist and cloud computing consultant with a particular interest in how this all fits in with the Government’s plans for a low carbon economy.

Introduction and keynotes

Tim O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, gave the welcome address. He began with a computer science joke then quickly shifted mood by informing us that the founder of computation as a service, or ‘cloud computing’, John McCarthy had died a fortnight previous. He then went on to laud Scotland’s proud heritage and academic prominence in computer science. As for the future he said that that green computing is “vital” and that we have to jointly construct our digital future, listing the following three things in our country’s favour:

  1. The commitment of the Scottish Government
  2. World leading informatics
  3. A tradition of working together for the common good

Next we had a word from our sponsors – Microsoft. Vice President Robert McDowell gave a brief but inspiring presentation, which he began by reminding us that GovCamp is all about Academia, Business and Government coming together. He asserted that Scotland is a powerful brand in the world and although our country is small and remote its small size actually gives us an advantage because we can move quickly, whilst our remoteness is no limitation in a digital world. Now, I would argue that we are not absolute masters of our destiny because Scotland is part of the UK and our internet traffic is routed through England, which is a limiting factor; but we can still achieve great things with GovCamp. McDowell went on to complete his appointed task by introducing John Swinney who, he claimed, “gets it” and “knows how to get things done”.

Suitably humbled by his introduction, John Swinney, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, began his Keynote speech by saying that Scotland’s ‘problem’ is “too much humility”! Following on from Tim O’Shea’s three points, he said that we must use the ‘common good’ to our advantage and “seize the agenda” by becoming a “connected country”, that this is an opportunity which we can’t afford to pass up because other countries are getting their acts together, and that the Government wants to create the conditions to make things happen in Scotland. According to Swinney the Scottish Government offers three things: leadership,  resources and purchasing power. The plan, he said, is to differentiate Scotland by creating a common purpose with the private sector and pushing them to help deliver an improvement in digital participation in the country through increased internet access and youth education, as well as improved service delivery, while making use of resources in intelligent and innovative ways that fit with a low carbon economy. He cited Vertex Group who employ home workers in the Highlands to provide services to Westminster City Council as a prime exemplar of what can be done.

The second keynote was by Zachary Tumin and you can find his presentation, Collaborate or Perish! The New Collabonomics of the Networked World, on Slideshare. He gave a number of examples of how powerful digital collaboration can be, including the role social networking played in the Egyptian revolution. He said that we need to be humble enough to collaborate as early as possible, as we are doing with GovCamp, and be optimistic because collaborations get better results. So, going back to the previous keynote, we need to be humble as collaborators from different sectors but not humble as a country!

Panel discussions

I’m not going to reproduce a full transcript of who said what in the panel discussions but I will repeat some points that I recall being made by panel members and struck a chord with me.

Objectives: Baseline & Potential

During the first panel discussion a Dundee University representative in the audience asked the panel members how we will use our digital revolution to work with other countries to stop global warming, and there were three answers:

  1. Through leadership (John Swinney)
  2. Through international collaboration in academic research (Tim O’Shea)
  3. Scotland’s example, which will be visible through open data, will inspire other countries (David Alexander from Mydex)

There were some heart-felt sentiments expressed, too:

  • This is an opportunity for transformation – not just incremental improvement
  • We need to look past the benchmarks of other countries – excel rather than just survive

Objectives: Creating a shared vision & outcomes

The second panel discussed the need for a ‘Digital Charter’ and their own personal visions for the future of Scotland.

In a lengthy but passionate monologue, Craig Turpie from StormID began the session by proposing that we “put the citizen at the centre of public service design”, and asserted that this will lead to increased trust and better value. He said that Scotland can be like a “digital start-up” – agile and willing to take risk.

Louise Macdonald, YoungScot’s Chief Executive, called the public sector a “collective force for good”, and she would like to see Scotland become a leading nation with a citizen-centred vision. She also talked about the need to create a “middle ground between technical developers and creative people”.

Alison Mclaughlin from Sopra Group asserted that “technology is for everybody”, but unless people use the available technological systems there is no point having them, no matter how good they are.

Dr Colin Adams from the University of Edinburgh said that the issue is not about technology at all, it’s about people and ideas. In his opinion we need to do the following:

  • Figure out how to use the world-beating computer scientists we have in Scotland and get them communicating with ‘non-geeks’
  • Catch the imagination of kids and, perhaps, even give them all tablet computers
  • Make it easy to do things on government websites, including putting them on mobile devices
  • Make citizens digitally literate
  • Make money out of our open data.

From the audience David Alexander added his vision to the mix. He talked about “de-averaging” digital solutions for individuals, and making them relevant to all different communities. Another audience member got a laugh by asking how we can inject “fun and enthusiasm” into all this to drive collaboration. And on the collaboration front another question was raised: how can we get different IT suppliers to collaborate with each other on public projects so they don’t keep reinventing the wheel?

Themed groups

In the afternoon, after a hearty lunch, we were split into five pre-arranged and facilitated groups to discuss the following themes: Health; Education; Low Carbon Economy; Jobs and Skills; and Public Service Delivery. I had originally been assigned to Public Service Delivery, which was fine, but, given my interest in green cloud computing, the Low Carbon Economy seemed like the right subject for me so I was reassigned to that theme before the event. You can read my notes on the Low Economy workshop in a separate blog post.

Feedback from themed groups

All at GovCamp returned to the main theatre to hear feedback and suggested agenda points from the themed groups. The ideas that came out of the sessions will be discussed by an action group to be formed after this event and they will attempt to set out a more specific agenda and create a network of declared skills.

  • On Education – it shames me to admit I didn’t catch any of the points made!
  • On Health the following recommendations were presented:
    1. Encourage data sharing across government agencies
    2. Engage citizens using the full range of communications
    3. Empower citizens by giving them their own healthcare records to manage
  • On Public Service Delivery, which already has a ‘Commission on the Future..‘ in place (see also the Christie Report) there were high level ideas:
    1. Citizen-focussed collaboration
    2. Recognise the need for a multi-channel approach
    3. Create an empowered society that is more equal and fair
  • On Low Carbon Economy, for which the Government already has a strategy:
    1. More intelligent use of existing open data
    2. More data on energy usage
    3. Research into the pros and cons of home working versus office working
    4. Find ways to encourage communities to get involved and take action – e.g. landlords insulating their properties
  • On Jobs & Skills:
    1. Address the IT skills shortage and the lack of women in IT
    2. Shift the balance in IT away from technology and towards creativity
    3. Strengthen relations between academia and industry
    4. Digital inclusion and accessibility are major issues
    5. We need a more consistent and open policy on the Internet

Closing presentations

Rodrigo Becerra, who as Microsoft’s Managing Director for Worldwide government has been involved in a number of events like this, made the following points:

  • Today is only the beginning
  • The agenda should be local not global
  • There is a massive distrust and disillusionment in authority by the young
  • There is a need to balance transparency with privacy

And finally, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, reminded us that this is only the first step towards making a difference in Scotland. She then introduced the founding signatories of the new Scottish Digital Participation Charter to the stage to sign the document on behalf of their organisations, and said that others can sign the Charter themselves following the event. We then adjourned to the drinks reception after what proved to be quite an intense day.

Posted by: drmiw | February 10, 2011

Cloud computing: Questions and Answers

In support of an upcoming article in International Life magazine I was asked a series of questions about cloud computing and here they are below along with my answers. There followed a telephone interview which I haven’t transcribed but I think the key information is recorded here. The questions were posed by Peter Doherty, Director of Brand Communications, and are reproduced here with his permission.

Can you describe cloud computing as concisely and simply as possible in layman’s terms?

Cloud computing in its purest form is pay-as-you-go IT, online and on-demand. The IT capabilities provided as a service to businesses include single software applications or software suites; online software development platforms; and virtual computing infrastructure, ranging from data storage to computer grids.

What lead you to get so involved with this subject and to write this guide to Cloud Computing?

I managed one of the first UK cloud computing businesses, Extrasys (www.extrasys.com), for the NG Bailey Group before they sold the business, with my help, to Entrust IT in 2009. Extrasys hosted services enable business users to access virtual Microsoft Windows desktops and applications, along with their their business data, from anywhere at any time; and their employer pays per user per month for services subscribed to in that month so, for example, a temporary employee working from home can be given temporary remote access to a full Microsoft Office suite with Visio and Project, say, for as long as they need it, and then the account can be deactivated immediately when they leave so it is no longer chargeable. It was this flexible way of providing IT services that makes me such an advocate of cloud computing and this led me to blog on the subject, write a book and form a cloud consultancy practice, Muon Consulting.

What are the implications for big business?

Perhaps one of the biggest implications of cloud computing for big businesses is that small businesses now have affordable access to enterprise-grade IT so the playing field has been levelled. Big businesses have to decide where cloud computing fits into their business. Moreover, with the advent of Web2 and online social networking, internet presences overlap and business users are using multiple public clouds on a daily basis so corporate IT systems need to be able to accommodate this sea change.

When a corporate completely moves over to cloud would you say there’s really no turning back because of the sheer expense, skill sets and cultural change involved?

Corporates can take a ‘hybrid’ approach by which they can have a private cloud for some or their computing capabilities and a public cloud for the rest, so they can make a choice at some stage to go fully private cloud or public cloud if they wish, or perhaps switch to another provider for their public cloud. If, however, they completely move over to cloud computing then they should factor in an exit strategy so that they can retrieve their business data and business processes in a coherent form. And they can use multiple cloud providers as a failsafe, too.

But whenever a business moves into the cloud they need to take their people with them. Some employees may associate themselves with particular software applications rather than business functions, and some staff may find it hard to let go of systems they have used or managed, so there is some internal communication work to be done. The best thing to do is to get everyone involved in key decisions about cloud computing by asking them to try out particular services for themselves and to document what they do in their jobs day-to-day. In many cases it is the employees who discover the benefits of cloud computing first, though, and their familiarity with web-based applications means that they have many of the necessary skills in place already.

Which business systems are best suited to move to cloud computing and where can customers calculate their ROIs?

All office applications have their equivalent in the cloud, and most database-driven software, too. Many large businesses around the world have moved from Microsoft Office and Exchange Server to Google Apps, for example, because it has email, office applications and document sharing built in, and there are significant cost savings to be made in desktop support, hardware upgrades and software license renewals. Microsoft also offer cloud-based versions of their office and email applications.

Jim Graham of 3M is quoted on Microsoft’s home page as saying one of the benefits of Windows Azure, is it will ‘relieve our IT staff of the systems management and administration responsibilities of supporting a dynamic infrastructure’. Isn’t that a euphemism for job losses? Can you actually see Cloud Computing creating jobs and how?

Cloud computing allows talented technical staff to provide more value to the businesses they work for beyond just ‘keeping the lights on’. Less time is spent setting up and maintaining servers so more time can be devoted to developing or configuring business applications. As more business processes move into the cloud, IT staff gain new opportunities to have a bigger impact on their businesses than ever before.

Do you think cloud and non-cloud communities can enjoy a parallel existence? Won’t the future be driven by the market and how computer giants adapt to facilitate cloud? In other words won’t we all be dragged along by the decisions of the big guys if we like it or not?

Cloud computing adoption is driven more by the little guys than the big guys. As new entrants to the market gain a following amongst small businesses, large enterprises take notice and eventually follow suit. There will still be software running locally on computers or local networks, and, if anything, it will be the more risk-averse ‘big guys’ who will ensure that the non-cloud option still exists.

Cloud is being touted as the solution for just about any business. Does that include sole traders or small businesses that run on a shoestring to ensure they’re profitable?

Cloud computing is ideal for sole traders and small businesses. Unlike big businesses they do not have the capital to invest in their own IT infrastructure so they cannot save money over the long term by creating their own private clouds. Instead they benefit from a shared public cloud where they only pay for what they need when they need it.

At first I could see ‘open source’ friendly clouds where non-profit, education and freelance communities share and interact, but how are such (largely non-fee paying) communities going to exist with this pay for use model?

Some cloud computing services are provided free to education and non-profit organisations. For example The Open University now provides Google Apps accounts to all their students and they do not pay a penny for the privilege, and they could have done the same with Microsoft Live@Edu.

There are community clouds, such as those shared by government bodies and international academic collaborations, but there are shared costs involved. Nevertheless the metering technology is there now in open source cloud systems to ensure that the organisations within a community cloud pay in proportion to their usage so I can see this model becoming more popular in future.

Why do you see 2011 in particular as ‘the year of the cloud?

The past couple of years have also been touted as ‘the year of the cloud’, but 2011 is, perhaps, the year when cloud computing becomes the established norm for business IT.

How can one be sure that cloud-based applications can be customised to meet the exact needs of a particular business?

The great thing about cloud computing is that you can try a number of systems without paying a fortune on hardware or software. If you want to ensure that you can fully customise cloud-based applications then you can either use virtual servers so you have complete control of your applications or you can choose a cloud-based platform like Force.com upon which you can build your application in any way you like using useful component parts so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as it where.

There are concerns about security and ownership. What happens to data if a business discontinues their subscription to a cloud-based system?

It depends on what agreement you have with a cloud provider, but, generally, the data is yours and it is removed automatically from the system when you leave. Cloud providers are well aware that data security is the paramount concern amongst potential customers.

A lot of software is used without license. Surely this rental model is an ideal solution for Software developers to eradicate piracy? So won’t all software be rented in this way and no longer sold as it is presently?

Some software runs best on local hardware. For example using CAD software or image manipulation software is very painful over a network. However it is possible to download and rent software for a time so that it becomes inactive when a short-term license expires so I suspect that boxed software will become more of a rarity in future.

I remember with mobile phones it was business users only for a year then all of a sudden within a 12 month period everyone seemed to have a smaller version of that clunky mobile and the shift had happened. Many of us are using cloud now in some form or other but are not that aware of it. At what point do you see the big cultural shift to cloud when everyone will be aware of its advantages?

In the case of cloud, the rise of feature-rich websites made it all possible. Suddenly a web page could respond just like a desktop application with instant feedback rather than clunky click-and-wait. This, coupled with virtualisation technologies and faster internet connections, made it possible to build web-based software applications, development platforms and systems administration tools that were as good if not better than desktop-based alternatives. So in this case the technological revolutions that made cloud computing possible were driven by consumers’ use of the web. And it is our familiarity with web applications at home that is causing the cultural shift in the businesses we work for. IT has usually been managed internally by technical people, but now a marketing director can sign up his or her team as users of an online customer relationship management system and get working on a campaign without any involvement by the IT department. That is the power of cloud computing and that is why the big cultural shift is happening.

Posted by: drmiw | December 10, 2010

Cloud computing and online B2B marketing

My publisher relayed some questions to me today from B2B marketing online for a piece they’re doing on cloud computing, and I have included below my answers.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing comes in many different guises, and the range and choices can be bewildering, but in its purest form it simply makes available a full range of IT capabilities on a subscription or consumption basis to anyone anywhere, automatically and on-demand. That means a business can buy, develop and/or sell feature-rich, enterprise-class software applications within shared ‘public clouds’ using only a credit card and a web browser, and they pay for the user accounts, virtual servers, data storage and/or data transfers that they need for only as long as they need them. In short, it’s pay-as-you-go IT via the internet.

What benefits does it offer?

Cloud computing enables businesses to:

  • reduce the time, capital expenditure and management costs associated with buying, running, supporting, updating and backing up IT systems
  • scale IT systems up and down as business needs change
  • access IT systems from anywhere
  • collaborate better online

How does it relate to b2b marketing?

The cloud computing service models most relevant to B2B marketing are Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).

SaaS providers offer sophisticated, online marketing tools and integrated business software applications that can do much more than anything you could do with an off-the-shelf software package that you install on your own PC or IT infrastructure. Moreover, you can make the software available to all the people who need it in minutes, often on a free trial basis, without going through a long procurement process or developing software inhouse. And if you are running a major online marketing campaign then you can do so without worrying about whether your IT systems can handle increasing internet traffic if you use SaaS.

PaaS systems provide you with online software development tools to build your own business applications in public clouds without concerning yourself with the hardware and operating systems that underpin the platforms. If you need to do something a bit more bespoke then PaaS gives you that flexibility, and if you plan to sell what you develop as an online service then PaaS providers usually provide an online market place so that other businesses can buy and use what you have developed.

How important is it going to be?

The Cloud Dividend, a report written by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for EMC and released in December 2010, says that the five biggest economies in the European Union could jointly save £645 billion over the next five years by switching some of their services to the cloud. But there’s more to cloud computing than cost savings for big organisations; when it comes to online B2B marketing and IT in general, cloud computing helps small businesses to compete online with larger enterprises at the same level. And with the rise of social networking, businesses need cutting edge software and a pervasive internet presence that is kept continually up-to-date, and you need customer relationship tools that are out there ‘in the cloud’ with the social networks.

Any disadvantages?

There are risks involved in cloud computing. If you are considering putting any of your business-critical data or applications in a public cloud then you need to have confidence in the security and reliability of the systems provided because you, not your provider, will generally be liable for any data protection breaches, and your business will suffer if you cannot access your IT systems for a period of time. It is likely, however, that, unless you have a large IT department, your internal systems will be more of a risk to your business than a cloud-based service where security and reliability are of paramount concern to the provider.

But beware vendor lock-in: make sure that you can extract your most important and non-transient data in a usable form if you decide to switch to another public cloud or a ‘private cloud’.

Are there any notable marketing products/examples?

There is a wide range of marketing products available from cloud service providers. Two well-established SaaS CRM providers are NetSuite and Salesforce.com, and Microsoft has an online version of its Dynamics CRM, which is integrated into their Business Productivity Online Suite. And as for specialists in B2B marketing, a notable example is GXS with their Trading Grid product. For more examples of SaaS marketing products go to saas-showplace.com and cloudbook.net.

Posted by: drmiw | August 6, 2010

My Quick Start Guide to Cloud Computing book

A Quick Start Guide to Cloud Computing book coverMy Quick Start Guide to Cloud Computing book is now at the final proof reading stage, and it’s looking good. The publishers, Kogan Page, have done a great job and I can’t wait to get my hands on the finished product.

So, yes, this blog post is a blatant plug, and, yes, I do want you to go out and buy my book! But, quite honestly, and even though I do say so myself, if you’re a non-technical business executive then I do think that my cloud computing book is a useful tool which can help you decide on a cloud computing adoption strategy and implement it in your business. And, although it’s crammed full of essential tips and checklists, it’s pocket size and it’s cheap to boot, especially if you pre-order from Amazon!

Was that hint/suggestion too subtle, I wonder?

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