Ongoing challenges for traditional retail businesses

Today we read about appointment of Deloitte as administrator to HMV.  As I see my kids charging my credit card, again, last night for downloading songs to their ipods.

This is the reality.  My kids do not need to go to a HMV store to buy music.  In fact over Christmas we were in a HMV store looking for ipod covers and we could not find what we wanted.  Got online the same day and ordered them from Amazon.

And how many people received or gave Amazon (and the like) vouchers over Christmas?

Our own newspapers this weekend featured more articles about the challenges facing retailers in terms of upward only rental reviews in Ireland. There are lots of challenges – including the economy.

Notwithstanding this I think book shops can still  be attractive – with the risk that at all times the buyer is aware of the best on-line price.  Would not claim to be a retailing expert but not sure that the current HMV store in Grafton Street, Dublin,  presents a very attractive buying experience (it needs to be something different and more attractive than the online experience).

 

 

 

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2011 reflections on IT

Another year has whizzed bye.  Maybe it’s something to do with running your own consulting business, having a very active family and having a curious mind.

So what sticks in my mind in terms of technology – looking back on 2011?

What have I really liked?

I have been very happy with my Android phone – Samsung II.  Great phone, easy to use, great camera, easy integration with lots of social networks etc.  Would be lost without a smartphone.

Have found myself leaning much more towards Twitter than Facebook.  Have really found Twitter useful in terms of work related research, staying in contact with other professionals, developing my own profile.  Notwithstanding this Facebook is a daily platform for me – and has lured me into chess.com.  Typically have one or two chess games on the go (48 hours to move).

I have stuck with FourSquare.  Most of my acquaintances run a mile from FourSquare – why would you want to share your location?  I think this type of location based software has a long way to run.

Have enjoyed listening in to TWIT.TV (Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology).  I tend to download the podcast and listen to it on one of my walks.  He has had some great guests during the year and some great debates – even last week with regard to restrictions on software copying.

Leo Laporte has got me to sign up to tow of his sponsors: www.Audible.Co.UK and Carbonite.  Audible I sue to download books which I listen to when walking, taking public transport, even at home rather than reading the physical book (nice break for the eyes).  I am using Carbonite to back up my data.

I have implemented encryption using TrueCrypt – seems to work very well.  And seems to be gaining in popularity wherever I go.

And EverNote – what a great application.  Increasingly I find myself using Evernote to capture meeting notes.  And it’s available on my Android phone when I need to access a note.

Finally – Google+.  I definitely like it.  And it looks like it has traction.  But then Google has some influence!  And I should say I have had a great year with Google Apps – has not let me down.  The world needs Google and Microsoft competing – at least you can now shop and compare between the two cloud offerings.

What have been my other observations?

Lots of disillusioned IT teams in corporate world.  Lots of them working with reduced budgets, smaller teams but many of the same challenges.  Many of their users have lots more technology available to them at home or on their phones – real challenges in providing stimulating corporate IT environments to end users.

Understanding the economics of the cloud is challenging.  If I have 100 Offce/ Exchange users does it make sense to sign up to Office 365 (or Google Apps)? Do the price points make sense?  Green field site v. established business.  Many people unconvinced about the economics.  Many people committed to cloud approach.  Debate is vigorous.

Regardless, operating from Ireland, with its current economic challenges, web based technologies are being embraced and lots of entrepreneurs emerging with ideas which exploit these technologies.

 

 

 

 

‘When Irish Eyes are crying’ – Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis reports on the background to Ireland’s current economic mess.

Map of Ireland's population density (people pe...
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For those of us who are real stakeholders in Ireland this article is tough medicine.  This, or something like it, is what our kids are going to read about what we did to our country.  And it’s nothing to be proud of.  Think 20 years from now with many of our kids by then permanently living overseas, with no real expectation of returning home, bringing up their families overseas and coming home intermittently so that the grandparents can see the grandkids, etc.

I’ve read other similar pieces by Michael Lewis in the past  – they are written in a particular style.  The piece includes plenty of fact and sufficient colour to help you remember the juicy bits.

We are currently in the middle of an election – one in which many of the current government have declined to participate.  Having been in power for 13 years, led the country into this disastrous financial mess, many of them, including the Taoiseach, have decided to step out of public office.  Perhaps they are only avoiding a running certainty in the forthcoming election?

Lewis seems to be firmly of the opinion that the government should have limited its guarantees to deposit holders and let the bondholders sink.  This position has been consistently argued for by a a number of established economists and commentators; this position has also been consistently dismissed by the Minister for Finance (Brian Lenihan) and his Government.  And, for now, we would appear to be stuck with a level of debt which we will not be able to service.

This background to the election has the competing parties waffling to no end about what they may or may not do in terms of renegotiating the terms of ‘the bailout’ – or to use the vernacular, ‘de bailout’.  And the various powers in Europe remind us that a deal is a deal, while hinting that there may be some scope for change (perhaps in exchange for harmonisation of tax rules across the EU).

As a country I think the sooner we face up to balancing our books on an annual basis the sooner we can sit down and negotiate with those from whom we have borrowed.  Moving in that direction in the last 18 months has seen huge cuts and serious drop in net take home packages for workers.  There is an argument that we need to tackle unemployment levels of c. 450K rather than continue to cut.  Unfortunately it looks like the resolution of the unemployment issue will have more to do with mass emigration than anything else for the forseeable future.

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How we, the public, can help with linked open data

Promote, persuade, reward open data initiatives by government

Tom Steinberg
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Excellent piece by Tom Steinberg pointing out what we the potential consumers of data can do to encourage government to provide the data.  One of his key messages actually covers off the wikileaks type risks – that when we do see any government body about to release anything which may undermine privacy we should draw it to their attention.

Have some concerns that some of what I have seen in Ireland on this subject is effectively encouraging government departments to release data so that we can ‘bash’ them.  This is completely pointless.

I think the real point is that there are masses of potentially useful data – which cannot be exploited while buried in archives or in pdf files.  We have not even begun to imagine the value of some of this data – when cross linked, correlated with all sorts of other data.

Thanks for taking the time to put the piece together, Tom.

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Tapscott on future of newspapers

New models for newspaper business

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Been working my way through Tapscott and Williams’ excellent ‘Macrowikinomics‘.  Good Chapter (11) re ‘The Demise of the Newspaper’.  Favourite topic of mine – as an avid consumer of news (both on and off line).  And in may respects this chapter speaks to any business – you cannot stand still, you cannot just put up walls – you must change with the times, adapt, provide what the market wants (or thinks it wants).

Good, simple advice for news executives:

  1. Familiarise yourselves with the technology being used by young people
  2. Forget about making money from commodity news
  3. Develop unique value proposition e.g. The Economist
  4. Provide rich multimedia experiences
  5. Support/ enable/ lead collaborative innovation e.g. The Guardian

In the chapter he reviews a number of interesting developments including the success of the Huffington Post, the survival of investigative journalism e.g. Propublica, possible roles for journalists as curators.

I believe the game is only now really moving on for newspapers – as smart phones, tablets and internet TVtake a real grip.

And the current initiative out of Ireland, Storyful, is another excellent example for news media execs looking for innovative thinking and use of current and emerging technologies including cloud computing and semantic web.

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Paperless billing

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This seems to have become a hot topic in Ireland – prompted by the move to electronic billing by mobile phone companies.  We have a number of objectors: the regulator because people had a right to a paper bill, some consumers who want a paper bill and, it seems, An Post who stand to lose out on lots of revenue.  Finally there is the debate about the sharing of the benefits – will all the benefits be retained by the corporations or will they be shared (in part or in whole) with the customers?

Useful catch up on the subject in yesterday’s Irish Times.

Surely this is a ‘non-brainer’ at a basic level?  We must use technology to make things more efficient.  But as in all such projects we must manage the change.   There are benefits in this for the corporations (in terms of cost savings) and there are benefits for customers who are open to receiving electronic bills (or accessing their account information on a portal).  Without doubt there are a group of people who will struggle to deal with an electronic document e.g. those with no internet access or familiarity.  This is a group which is diminishing in relative size – but nonetheless must be accommodated – and it would seem to me should not be disadvantaged over their current position.  This should be the core focus of the change agenda.

Online travel booking seems to have gained widespread acceptance – and it has resulted in major changes for those who previously facilitated the booking process.  Mr O’Leary of Ryanair pushed through the agenda but the Aer Lingus experience is the same.  And we have seen losts of benefits in online travel e.g. the various sites offering best deals across a range of providers – be it flights, cars, hotels, insurance, etc.

Over the last number of months I have availed of the new service from Irish start-up  GetItKeepIt which enables me to receive and a range of electronic bills from various suppliers.  For me this application addresses the specific point made by CAI Chairman James Doorley ‘people were “more likely to check their bills if they get them in the post”’.  I am now more inclined to review bills when gathered in one portal.

Ultimately we will complete a period of transformation – and the electronic bill will be the only option.  And this will be the de facto situation across the board.  And this will be a good thing.  We do not want to continue to have people doing things which have no value add – cutting down trees to create unnecessary paper, printing bills and putting them in envelopes, criss-crossing the country to deliver paper bills which can be sent electronically (or, more correctly, accessed electronically).  As for the benefits – they will be absorbed into the operating budgets of the service providers.

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Where now for newspapers?

Challenges are just becoming more serious for the traditional newspaper industry

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Mr Murdoch has succeeded in getting me to buy his newspaper on a number of occasions since he made it unavailable online.  The downside is that this is really causing me to compare the quality and relevance of his Sunday newspaper with the vast amount of data available to me online.  And I do not enjoy having to deal with the piles of paper.

On the other hand the Irish Times provides an excellent online service – which inclines me to cross reference articles from the newspaper in my various blogging/ tweeting activities.

On Sundays I now find myself checking out the Independent online early in the day – potentially overlooking The Business Post and the Sunday Times.

One other key development – I am now an avid user of a smartphone – seems easier than ever to keep up to date e.g. using various news services which are constantly being updated.

Was interested in this piece by Ross Dawson.  I think he may be right -give or take a couple of years.  When you combine all of this with a youth growing up using social networks and smart phones – not looking great on the newspaper front.  And that’s not something that pleases me – as someone who has enjoyed reading newspapers for over 30 years.

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Do you want to share your current location?

Am currently experiencing real reluctance amongst the general population to disclose their physical location via social networks. This I think relates to the privacy issue.

I have tried Google Latitude and I am currently trying FourSquare.  and, doubtless, when the Facebook option is available in Ireland I will also try it.  But what are the practical applications for this technology, for me?

As with all of these technologies they depend on reaching a level of penetration in the general community (more specifically in your won community) to make them useful.

Seemed to me the following had potential: family at various events over the weekend – if we share our location can assist in tracking people down, organising lifts to/from matches, etc.  Indeed if used by all coaches of all teams within the various sports clubs then may help in terms of getting players and coaches to right venues.

This will not work for me at this stage.  My experience, to date, is that the large majority of my firends do nto want to share location information – down to basic privacy and personal preferences.  In fact, a significant minorityu do not want to have anything to so with social networks.

I think some form of integration between my diary and my location software would be useful – and may encourage greater use.

For now I will continue to test the various products.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing, perhaps it’s a cultural  thing, perhaps  it’s a question of adoption, perhaps it’s a question of privacy.

Today’s Irish Times has a good piece on this subject.

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Social networking in the corporation

Embrace social networking in the workplace

Great piece in today’s Irish Times – interview with Lucian Tarnowski.

I’ve been committed to the social networking paradigm for the last three years – because I do not believe I can stay in touch with the innovators and the new thinkers in any other effective way. Social networking is part of the way we work – in particular how generation Y works.

Tarnowski has demonstrated a clear understanding of the paradigm and has now developed a business around this. He’s one of many.

I would strongly recommend to corporates who are not embracing the technology to get on board – if you want to be relevant for new recruits. Why should people use products like facebook and twitter to organise their own lives and then come to work to be locked down in a traditional ERP solution? It’s not the fault of the ERP solutions or vendors – there are plenty of ways to integrate. But I would suggest that many of those in middle on senior management now need to get involved in a two way process – learning from the new joiners may be every bit as important as what they learn from the veterans. Challenging but the way forward.

Semantic web research in Ireland

Semantic web awards for DERI

Congratulations to the team at DERI (based in Galway, Ireland) on their collection of awards at the recent International Semantic Web Conference.

Important to recognise the role being played by Ireland in this emerging field.