Thursday, December 13, 2012

Which iOS maps app?

Like pretty much everyone else I moaned and complained when iOS 6 removed the Google Maps I'd grown to rely on and produced a much inferior alternative.

Since then I've grown to appreciate the (normally accurate) turn by turn navigation, something Google hadn't offered. And I've begun to notice slight improvements in the mapping accuracy.

So far though I've found no use for the satellite flyover and near 3D view, apart from the initial flurry of interest.

Now there's a Google Maps app for iOS again and I installed it almost as soon as I could. They've introduced turn by turn navigation to match Apple. And it is so nice to have the public transport info back, along with traffic. But I can't find Street View.

And the Apple Map is obviously what I will get when I tap on an address in, say, a contact's record.

So it's swings and roundabouts still. Both will occupy a corner of my screen space and I will use whichever is best in the location I find myself in.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The problem with #LinkedIn endorsements

LinkedIn remains one of my favourite resources.  And I certainly understand the pressure on them to innovate new features and secure new business and revenue models.

But the latest 'endorsements' feature just isn't working for me. It's a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" ... Read on to discover the paradox.

It's too easy to succumb to the LinkedIn invitation to endorse people I'm connected with for skills that, honestly, I'm not certain I can vouch for. I just don't have the time to work through each of my contacts and give careful consideration to their claimed skill set; still less to volunteer skills that they may not have laid claim to. And, frankly, I really don't know many of them in enough detail to vouch for their claimed skill set - we may have worked together in a different context, so I've not seen some of those skills in action.

It's so much easier to click one button to endorse all the listed attributes.

Besides, the psychology at work here is something about "I'll endorse you, in the expectation that you'll endorse me back." It's like the pressure in Facebook and Twitter to accept a friend request, or to follow-back a follower.

So, sadly, what in theory is a great idea, giving an extra dimension and richness to professional public profiles, is being debased in practice to the point where, already, endorsements don't in practice carry much weight.

Except if you don't have any: and herein lies the paradox. The endorsements don't necessarily mean much; but not having any does! The absence of endorsements means that you've not been playing the current round of the social networking game, or just don't have enough engaged followers.

It's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario.
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Friday, December 7, 2012

Unforeseen consequences of re-purposed technology

When I first uploaded my photo to a web service like LinkedIn I never imagined that one day there would be facial recognition technology which means that anyone with access to my photo from a different context can pull up the information about me from LinkedIn.

And then link from there to other databases about me, once they have my name and other key information.

Now the UK Government is planning to join up records across a number of government-owned databases as an alternative to the scrapped Identity Card scheme. Links will be made between the Royal Mail, the Student Loans Company, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Education Department, the Welsh Government, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and more.

This will prove a super way of authenticating claims to individual voter registration, and is apparently cheaper than the scrapped Identity Card scheme. And for the stated purpose of voter registration it's probably not controversial in a country where it's obligatory for voters to register, even if they don't exercise their vote.

However, how will this technology be unexpectedly re-purposed in the future?
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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dealing with a media storm

Today's news included reports that Max Clifford, PR consultant and publicist to the powerful, has been questioned about alleged offences from the 1970s.

His solicitor quickly published a masterful example of how to deal with the publicity around issues:

Max Clifford is being interviewed by police.
Mr Clifford will assist the police as best he can with their inquiries.
When we are in a position to provide further information, we will.
Notice a number of key elements:

  • The statement is very, very brief. The more you say, the more options become available.
  • It acknowledges fact(s) that can be easily verified independently; so there's no point trying to hide them.
  • It asserts that Mr Clifford will do his duty and co-operate fully, positioning him as a good citizen.
  • The final sentence attempts to close down further debate at this point, but in a manner that appears open and helpful.

This is a good boilerplate example to keep hold of as a model to use when appropriate.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two years ahead of my time?! iPad replaces laptop

Online and mobile presentation company Brainshark, Inc released a survey in September saying that 92% of iPad users already find that it supplements their laptop; while 51% expect it to replace the laptop within two years.

I've (almost) done that already: last week I didn't switch on the Windows device once, though I did do quite a lot on a MacBook Air. However, I almost never travel with a laptop now: the iPad is smaller, lighter and faster to boot. And with Remote Desktop software I can even get at a virtual PC if I need to.

Other amazing stats from Brainshark:

  • When using their device for business, owners say they check work emails (82%), do Web research (72%), use business apps (46%), and view or deliver presentations (74%).

  • Users say the iPad has been a boon for work, making them: More productive – 64%; More successful at their jobs – 1 in 3 (32%); Able to close a deal – 1 in 5 (21%); Able to impress clients – 30%; More connected while traveling – 79%

  • When traveling for business, 89% of iPad owners report using their iPad. Currently, 60% of users say they bring their iPad and laptop with them; more than 1 in 3 (35%) bring just their iPad and leave the laptop at home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ethics drive social media, like it or not

Yesterday I was asked to begin to help a local church to develop its social media guidelines for members to follow. It'll be an interesting project.

My first thought is that it will prove a really clear indication of what the church members really believe. If I say it's wrong to drive above the speed limit, but often drive too fast, then what I really believe is shown by what I do, not by what I say.

Just in the same way, if we pay lip service to principles like "speaking the truth in love" but then use social media to spread gossip, or make accusations about others, then we are displaying a credibility gap; what's normally called a breakdown in integrity.

We have to look for principles to follow because the technology changes too often for rules to work for long.

Many schools, companies and other organisations have a social media policy in place, and have sanctions available to help to enforce them. But in a voluntary community such sanctions aren't appropriate, or available. What to do about what can only be social media guidelines?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Benefitting from a single focus

One reason why I won't be buying a Windows 8 tablet anytime soon is the home screen. Last week I was at the Microsoft campus in the UK and had my first opportunity to try one of the new devices for a few minutes. I found myself mesmerised by the constantly changing tiles on the home screen, always presenting me with new information.

And there lies the problem. It's way too distracting. I already have to fight to think through a situation for a few minutes without interruption. (One of the reasons why I enjoy going for a run: to clear my head for half an hour, keeping fit in the process, and thinking, with only the occasional incoming call to disturb me.)

My regular Windows desktop glories in its multi-tasking, alerting me to a contact signing in to Skype, yet another email arriving, even just that Norton is cleaning the disk or making a backup. Each alert catches my eye and takes a little bit of my concentration to decide if I need to take action.

Even my preferred MacBook Air has its temptations for distraction: I can get Skype and email alerts clamouring for my attention there, too.

Yes, I know I can turn most of these things off. That takes desire, motivation, skill and time; and regular maintenance. This time saving tech steals my time in keeping it working the way I want it to.

One of the many reasons I've fallen in love with my iPads and iPhone is that they hide their (crude by comparison) multi-tasking behind an all-screen focus on what I'm doing now. I get a subtle top-of-screen alert to incoming emails; but remain focused on this article from The Economist; or that presentation I'm preparing; or the web page or Twitter stream I'm reviewing; or that spreadsheet or PDF or document ...

I can switch between these things so quickly and easily. But by not seeing the proliferation of windows competing for my attention span I find I'm more productive and much less distracted. For me, the animated tiles of the new Windows versions seem a step backwards to a messy desk state. I have enough trouble concentrating to be productive without "upgrading" to something that'll make that harder!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Which house would you live in?

I re-discovered a wonderful analogy from The Economist's 'Babbage' column dating to 2011:

  1. Would you like to live in a gated community where you show your passport or driving licence to a security guard who then walks you to your home and lets you in through the front door?
  2. Or would you rather live in a gated community where you get to choose your own door lock and key; with the risk that you might lose your key and not be able to get in?
The first is like Dropbox, and pretty much every cloud-based data storage service from major players like Microsoft, Apple, Google and more. And it's like your Facebook account and, probably, your photo storage site. And so on.

Even before reading that last paragraph, most of us instinctively would choose the second option. But that's not what we do in practice! In reality, we know that there's normally a fall-back if we do in fact lose our key to the house: maybe we've left a window open, or the back door unlocked. If worst comes, we can always smash a door down or break the glass in a window to get back in before changing the locks and getting new keys cut...

In the computer world, we don't have that convenience. If we set our own keys to the computers we use and the data we store then we have a major difficulty if we forget what we chose and didn't risk the compromise to security by writing down a back-up copy somewhere. 

Last weekend I re-visited an old laptop that I'd not used for a year, intending to refurbish it for my daughter. It was only as I powered it on that I realised that I had no clue what password I'd used for it. Once so familiar because I was logging in to that machine most days, now the letters, numbers and symbols seemed to have evaporated from my brain. What might have been 'just' a catch-up on all the software updates since I last used the machine turned into a much bigger re-build job!

So, let's ask again, which community would you live in? In practice, judging by the user numbers, almost everyone chooses the first kind. We have a naive trust in the companies that supply our computing convenience; and we're not prepared to bear the cost of keeping our own keys safe.

How can we build a better solution? How can we combine the convenience of option 1 and the privacy of option 2?
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Private browsing vs iCloud Tabs convenience trade-off (iCloud Tabs)

"Private browsing" sounds like a good thing, right? You don't have to be surfing for bad stuff, just have a reasonable wish for less profiling of your interests with the associated targeted advertising.

In iOS 6 on iPhone and iPad you can enter the Settings area; find the Safari section; and turn Private Browsing to 'On.' In OS X Mountain Lion open Safari and select "Private Browsing..." from the Safari menu.

But wait, the Safari browser on iPad and in OS X Mountain Lion has a cute cloud button a little to the left of the browser's address bar. (Get to the the iCloud Tabs section on your iPhone from within the Bookmarks button at the bottom of the Safari browser.) This great feature will let you see the browser tabs open on your other devices.

Find a great article on the iPhone; and continue reading on the bigger screen of the iPad or Mac.

The trouble is, you can't have both Private Browsing and iCloud Tabs. It feels a little counter-intuitive as I'm often sitting with the iPhone and iPad or Mac within sight and reach of each other.  But for iCloud Tabs to work, every web page I open is sync'd via Apple's servers, not directly between my devices. So my browsing is no longer 'Private' because Apple's iCloud servers are storing my browsing patterns, at least for as long as the tabs are open, and for who knows how much longer after that?

If the UK Communications Data Bill comes into force then all of this, along with an awful lot more, will be stored by law and available easily to a very wide range of organisations. Hmmm
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SharePoint 2013 - Hunting for the business case

I had a good time yesterday at a briefing on SharePoint 2013 hosted at Microsoft' UK campus. The presentation concentrated on the following new features:
  • Social - (My site), including the giving of points to build "reputation" awarded for comments and contributions.
  • Search speed improvements - Continuous crawling
  • Document management - Drag and drop files from PC desktop into a library, across browsers (not just IE). And sync docs with SharePoint using cloud-based SkyDrive Pro.
  • Web content management - Design manager gives a branded veneer over SharePoint and there's Channel support for mobile and other devices (though it took the partner company presenting 6-8 weeks to implement for PC, phone, iPad, tablet!)
  • Apps - There's another Microsoft App Store, for plugins to SharePoint. This'll prove useful especially for larger organisations with in house development teams.
  • Shredded storage minimises disk demands
So those were the "major" new points I noted: nothing big regarding workflow, Lists, business intelligence reporting...

Given the half hour sales pitch from a company offering 2003/2007/2010 to 2013 migration services, I was left wondering where the business case for the upgrade lies? How do I sell the cost of doing this to a finance or senior business manager?

There's got to be something of more substance than merely declaring this to be the "latest and greatest" ad one of the PowerPoint slides did.

I'm going hunting for that business case...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy #Thanksgiving

Today is America's Thanksgiving Day holiday. Having lived there for a few years we grew to appreciate the helpful significance of this day along with our many American friends who consistently astonished us with their warm and open hospitality. Our very first Christmas saw friends spontaneously run round and jump with us into our hot tub on Christmas morning, knowing that we were missing family back home; others invited us to dinner in their home each Christmas or Thanksgiving and we were made truly welcome.

It was through these experiences that we learned some of the practical and helpful significance of pausing on the third Thursday in November and taking a day of Thanksgiving.

For many it's an excuse to eat too much; but in the midst of that it's good to focus on what we have rather than, as so often, on what we're lacking.

Today, I'm taking those practices into business as well as my personal life: focusing on what's good and not what I think I want.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

So when can I have that?!

We had fab feedback yesterday from a customer who is field-testing some of our new technology. She was able to replace paper and work effectively away from her office, sharing data with colleagues back at the base.

Two things encouraged me:

  1. She immediately wants to extend what we did; with more capabilities and in more areas of her business

  2. She says that a colleague who saw what she was doing immediately reacted with, "When can I get to do that?

These are encouraging signs that our development is on the right track and a spur to keep pushing through the technical barriers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Questions over cloud word processor privacy

I sometimes use Apple's Pages software which makes good use of their iCloud facility to sync documents between devices. And I understand the new Microsoft Word 2013 has a big emphasis on cloud storage too.

My question is around the privacy of my text:

  • I open a document in, say, Pages and edit away.

  • When I come to close Pages the software invites me to keep my document or to delete it from iCloud storage.

Does that mean my text has already left my computer and been sent to Apple iCloud? If so, how can I be certain that when I delete it that it's not just my access to it that gets deleted and that it's not still out there lurking on some disk space somewhere, out of my control?

To be clear, I'm not dealing with anything that sensitive; I'm just wondering how private my business planning documents can be if I use cloud-enabled applications on my own PC. Naturally, I have no expectation of privacy if I use something wholly cloud-based like Google Docs; but it seems that I might no longer have that expectation of privacy if I use something that runs on my own computer, but is cloud-enabled.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Automating across the supply chain

Well, this could be game-changing. A new (internal) release of our software overnight brings some new capabilities that have made me very productive today.

From the train while travelling I was able remotely to build the back-end database and workflow system that I need.

Then I was able to replicate part of a key business process for one customer and for their customer so that documents will flow between companies in an automated fashion, taking time, cost and errors out of the equation.

Astonishing what we can achieve so quickly and I can't wait to roll it out to the client so they start to get the benefits.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

iPad development anguish

One of the challenges with developing application software is deciding when we have done enough. The reality is that we've never really done all that we could do, and rarely have we achieved all that we want to do. The temptation is always to be doing a little bit more...

I often characterise this with the word "just:" either I, or a customer,will use words to the effect of, "This is great, but can we just also..." As my programmer colleagues know, "just" often involves quite a lot of additional time, effort and careful thought to make sure we have covered all the angles.

So right now we are coming close to one of these decision points. I very much want to get the next version of the software out and into customer hands. But it's so very tempting to "just" add in a couple more major features that will really add value and distinguish us from competitor products.

This week will bring the decision about what to do .

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Geo-patterning game, anyone? We've got our ducks in a row

Now all four of us have an iPhone we've begun to use the free 'Find my Friends' app.

  • It's really comforting to know our daughter's arrived home or at school.
  • It's really useful to arrange a pick-up when someone's coming home on public transport and needs collecting from a station.
  • It was great (if a little freaky) to get a call from my sister in New York as I walked in front of Buckingham Palace to tell me that my nieces were nearby and could we meet?!

However, we've discovered a new game: we're calling it geo-patterning. Here, for example, is a shot of all four of us yesterday. My wife called it "Ducks in a row."

What other patterns can we and our friends make across the UK landscape?!
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Going all in

It was just great to spend time with one of our clients yesterday. We made a few changes and trained them in our new technology.

Then, later in the day, I got a message: "Perfect - thanks for your time today. Is all looking really powerful which is great. And fine re: switching off [the previous solution], happy to go all in with Starfish at this point!"

And I spent this morning setting up a system for another new client who is excited to use our technology.

They'll get direct cost savings, significant improvements in speed and a drop in errors and lower costs of keying information together with a massive competitive edge. Who wouldn't want all that?!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - Rapid application development

This morning I found myself chatting with a customer. They were looking for a way to help their customer who has a problem with asset tracking: computers, printers and other equipment get installed on site then end users apparently pick them up and move them around to other offices, and even different locations. So far as the IT director is concerned it is tantamount to theft!

Within minutes, we'd begun brainstorming a way to capture and track information about these assets. A few minutes later we'd used our software to build a solution. Within an hour we'd got the whole thing working, from scanning a tracking number attached to a device with an iPad or similar; storing the GPS location along with date and other details; and submitting it all to a SharePoint List ... And it only took an hour because we also took the opportunity to teach a new colleague how to do all this.

So my customer colleague is taking this to their client tomorrow. Back in my office I was able to continue to make a couple of tweaks remotely and I know from personal experience we can even do this sort of thing while travelling on the train to London.

It's an astonishingly productive way of working; and I can't wait to produce the cost-benefit analysis!

Friday, November 2, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - Develop and deploy while travelling

Yesterday I had a really successful trip to London on UK public transport. Well, 'successful' apart from the reflection that it should be illegal to sell unlimited phone talk plans to people who get bored while travelling!

As we pulled out of town very early in the morning I plugged into onboard power and switched on my iPad, tethering it to the mobile data connection of the iPhone.

As we swept through the Cotswold countryside I was able to sign up for a Microsoft Office 365 trial account. This gives my customer a complete, hosted, back-end solution with many, many features; though all we're really interested in right now are the document storage and collaboration features of SharePoint.

Then, I fired up our app on the iPad to drag data fields on to the page and connect them to SharePoint.

Before we arrived in London I'd got a working solution and a happy customer. And not a line of code to write! :)
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - Downsides of the Cloud

So this week has already provided some important lessons.

On Monday I was with a new client, a major force in their industry with multi-million household name customers of their own representing some of the biggest household names in several sectors ... The IT manager was very clear that he is not comfortable using cloud-hosted services because his customers won't risk him putting their data into a cloud-baed service.

Then, yesterday, #Sandy. As a business we, like many others, use a variety of suppliers, some of whom have services, or provide services, from cloud-hosted centres. As the effects of the hurricane and super storm hit the NE of America one of our key internal systems, a hosted project management and file storage environment, was taken offline.

It turns out that their computers are located in a building somewhere in Manhattan. They were safe from the floods because they were on a high floor. But they weren't protected from the power outages: they just didn't have enough fuel to run power generators indefinitely (who could?!). And with all the transport disruption as a result of the storm, they couldn't get fuel on site quickly enough. They had to go off line and we were disrupted for several hours, along with all their other customers.

It was at this point that it became clear just how important it was for us not to have all our eggs in that one project management basket. Because I'd got separate notes of what we'd put in there, we were able to sustain development without disruption.

But, there are still plenty of lessons here and much for us to reflect on as I prepare for a meeting next week with Directors of another client business before our full-scale off-site test of their business disaster recovery systems, including re-location to an off-site empty office ready to take their relocated staff.

With some 20% of businesses facing a significant disruption if not full-blown disaster each year, this is a subject you shouldn't ignore!
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Monday, October 29, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - Ethics in action

I wasn't expecting to be writing this blog post today, from the train. But a conversation over lunch gave me an utterly different take on the #WorkAnywhere tag.

I've always thought of it as the inspiration to work any time, any place ... Free from geographic constraints, within limits.

But today I met a man who graduated in a particular branch of computing that meant he could work anywhere, for pretty much any employer with an interest in his field. And he was courted by some government and defence industry organisations.

However, this man has strong feelings about using technology for peace, climate change and similar issues. For him, the freedom to work anywhere is constrained by a higher commitment to ethical values.

It's admirable to find someone reflective enough to live by his principles. It's hardly unique, but sadly nor is it that common.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - application building on the fly

Doh! Computers are literal things: they can't know that when I typed the field name 'Setails' I had really meant to call it 'Details' !!

A single typo meant that our app couldn't match its fields on the form with columns on SharePoint, so it failed exactly as intended (with a nice error message) to protect the central repository of data ...

  • The really nice thing is that I had got everything laid out, 
  • with data filled in, 
  • when suddenly I noticed that I'd forgotten to put the Submit button on the form (doh, again!). 
  • I simply opened up our Toolbox, 
  • added a Submit button and re-published the form; 
  • then I tried the submit of my data again, 
  • discovered why it had failed and corrected the Details field name, 
  • re-published, and submitted data successfully
... ALL without losing the data I had already filled into the form! That's actually pretty amazingly friendly for an end user! And 'publishing' the form is as simple as closing the Toolbox down - there's no extra step for the user to take :)
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting ready to launch

Entrepreneurs are generally optimistic people. And many of us have demanding, high standards. It's so very tempting to keep working towards a vision of perfection, adding another feature, polishing the ones we have already built.

But it's important to "get out of the lab" and launch a product, even before its ready in all the perfection I'd like. That way, we get feedback from customers sooner; we establish which features are already the most important, which we need to add next; and we start to generate the revenue that will justify and sustain development.

So, stand by, we are getting very close to the next release ;)

#WorkAnywhere - How to protect privacy

It was fascinating to read a bit of a fellow passenger's report off their laptop screen in front of me on the train this morning. It was marked CONFIDENTIAL and, once I saw that, it took a real effort of will to tear my eyes away!

The technology frees us up to work pretty much anywhere, and we can get caught up into a multi-media engagement with work, or private, situations that are many miles way from our present location.

But as we concentrate on being an active participant in a conference call, and sometimes have to talk loudly to make a contribution over the background noise, it's vital to remember who else might be listening in.

Here are some of the principles I advise people to follow:

  • Be aware of who else can see your screen

  • Be conscious of who might be listening in

  • Be aware of your present surroundings, not just the remote situation you're trying to engage with

  • Be security conscious and keep valuable devices - and the data on them - physically secure, in your presence or locked down

  • Keep everything you can protected with passwords and remote-wipe capability

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to avoid dangers of the electronic echo chamber

It's bad enough when you write an email and get your "tone of voice" misunderstood at the other end ...

We've all had the experience of people leaping to the wrong conclusion as a result of something we have written that has been read differently from how we intended. That's why people started writing 'lol' and putting smiley faces and things in their emails and texts. It helps. A bit.

Now, though, the dangers of misunderstanding get multiplied by Facebook and Twitter. There are more people impacted by what you write; and many more lurking, just reading without commenting. So many more opportunities to get it wrong.

So what to do:

  • Write when you're calm. Never sound off in anger

  • Use neutral phrases and stick to facts, not feelings, where you can

  • Read it back "out loud" (in your head!)

  • Try to imagine how it could be read accidentally, or maliciously

  • Use the emoticons and 'lol' cues to signal your feelings and intentions

  • Sit on it - delay posting

  • If in doubt, don't post

  • Deal with difficult stuff face to face or over the phone in preference to a Facebook wall post or page rant

  • Be a peace-maker, not breaker

Friday, October 12, 2012

#iOS6 Limit Ad Tracking and profile building

The way in which Apple allows advertisers to track a user's browsing habits on an iDevice changed with iOS6. And yesterday I did a full restore of my iPhone and iPad from the iCloud backup to test and confirm that my backup processes are working. Guess what? My advertising privacy got re-set back to Apple's default 'on' state after the restore was completed.

Here's how to ensure your privacy:

  1. On iPad or iPhone with iOS 6 go to Settings
  2. Select the section called 'General'
  3. Then go to 'About'
  4. Scroll all the way down to the bottom until you can select 'Advertising'
  5. Turn the option for 'Limit Ad Tracking' to 'ON'
It's pretty well hidden, isn't it?! Of course, Ad Tracking is On by default; the chances of users finding this option to turn it off by accident are slim (you'd naturally look in the new Privacy option in Settings, but in vain). That, of course, is part of the plan to maximise options for advertisers.

Apple's Help states, "iOS 6 introduces the Advertising Identifier, a non-permanent, non-personal, device identifier, that apps will use to give you more control over advertisers' ability to use tracking methods. If you choose to limit ad tracking, apps are not permitted to use the Advertising Identifier to serve you targeted ads. In the future all apps will be required to use the Advertising Identifier. However, until then you may still receive targeted ads."

So, note that you'll still receive ads; just not targeted ads. And you might prefer to receive targeted ads that are supposed to be more relevant to your interests. However, by turning off the Advertising Identifier in this way advertisers won't be able to gather information about your browsing habits to build up a profile that they can then sell on to others or aggregate with other information. And, like me, you might value your privacy enough to give up the apparent relevance of targeted ads.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

#WorkAnywhere - What I did while travelling

First, let me stress: I am not driving! Instead, I am working while sitting on UK public transport to London.

  1. As we set out, I fired up the mobile WiFi thing and connected the MacBook Air to the Internet.

  2. I started with a Skype conversation from UK to a mobile phone of the chief software developer in the USA, getting a briefing on the latest software build.

  3. He sent the build over by email which I picked up on the MacBook; downloaded and installed over a sync cable to the iPad, all as we made our way through the early morning English Cotswold countryside.

  4. With the MacBook off and stowed, probably for the rest of the day, I played with new features of the iPad software; while keeping up an iMessage conversation and clearing a couple of customer emails.

  5. I used the new software release to build stuff for today's demo in London; and took a few screen shots to show off the latest to another customer, which I sent over straight away by email, before he'd got into his office for today.

  6. The software works and I was able to login to a customer SharePoint site remotely, while travelling, to confirm the data I'd just scanned and submitted had arrived. Success!

  7. Meanwhile, I got on with a few Tweets, emails, browsing (and, of course, writing this blog and scheduling to publish later)...

I've just glanced out of the window and realise we are making good progress. Maybe I've time to relax and listen to music or watch one of the movies that I've stored for moments like this when I've put in a good few hours of work, but its still early in the day and I'm making use of the otherwise dead travel time! Truly it feels like I can #WorkAnywhere

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

iOS Apps

I often get asked which apps I use on my iPad and iPhone. Here's the list:

  • Calendar
  • Clock
  • Met Office (UK weather)
  • Messages
  • BBC News
  • Bible (YouVersion)
  • Maps
  • Settings
  • Camera
  • FaceTime
  • Photos
  • YouTube
  • Notes
  • Twitter
  • Skype
  • Starfish CI (my company app in dev't)
  • Remote
  • Keynote Remote
  • AppStore
  • Find friends
  • Find iPhone 
  • NHS BMI Tracker
  • RunKeeper
  • TrueWeight
  • NHS Drinks Tracker
  • Pocket Money
  • Shazam
  • The Economist (news stand. Easier on iPad, but I used to read on iPhone. Good news for my optometrist)
  • Kindle
  • IBooks
  • Pages
  • Numbers
  • Keynote
  • Night Sky (awesome)
  • Wonders (on iPad. Awesome)
  • TubeMap
  • IHandyLevel
  • XE Currency
  • Convert Units
  • IMindMap
  • Jazz FM
  • MtgPlanner
  • Nightstand 
  • PayPal
  • Sudoku
  • SketchBookX (on iPad replace paper)
  • ITapRDP (on iPad remote desktop)
  • Oxford Today
  • Intelligent Life magazine 
  • iPhoto (on iPad)
  • Paper
  • Design Museum collection
  • Planetary

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Keeping mobile

As I wrote last week, I don't really need an office anymore. Here's a check list of what keeps me mobile:

iPhone, though I used to use a BlackBerry and have used an Android phone also. The important thing is to have constant access to email, voice and SMS or instant messaging regardless of geography. The iPhone scores over the BlackBerry by being great at web browsing and viewing of Excel sheets and PDF attachments. I can't travel without a charge, though, and top up the battery with power as often as I can throughout the day.

iPad which gets me through the day on a full charge, and is so very much more portable than a laptop. The WiFi-only version is fine because I use the "Personal Hotspot" feature of the iPhone to connect to the Internet while out and about. This works great apart from the iMessage facility that currently doesn't know to check for an Internet connection over Bluetooth so I have to stick to using iMessage on the phone when the iPad is not on WiFi.

Also in my bag are headphones; a charge / sync cable and a micro-USB charging cable for my Jawbone Bluetooth headset. Oh, and a pen. I almost never need that (Autosketch SketchBook Express gives me all the virtual paper I need).

The final thing in my bag is an iPad VGA adapter: along with SketchBook and a projector I then have a replacement for flip chart or whiteboard.

This lot fits easily with room to spare in my STM bag and means I can run for a train and spend a day working and travelling without breaking a sweat.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Justifying cost return on the project

Recently a customer told me how easy her project with us had been to justify.

They sell, install and maintain equipment in their customers across the South of England. Last year was a 'good' year, but they still failed to invoice GBP £10,000 simply because they lost or couldn't read the documentation that their engineers were supposed to complete.

By giving her a system that makes that documentation legible and unable to be lost that business is able to add £10k to the bottom line; an easy justification for a project that cost much less than that to implement!
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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Measuring information systems succeess

We've been approached by a university lecturer who wants to use what we're doing as the basis for a research dissertation project by a post-graduate MSc student! It'll be fun to engage with a more academic approach, but with both statistically quantifiable data and analysis gained from semi-structured interviews and surveys as part of the process.

So, I've been asked to put together a brief for potential MSc students to bid for their involvement in the project:

Our customers use iPad and Android phones and tablets for mobile data capture, business intelligence reporting and process improvements. They are looking to cut costs, increase revenue, strengthen relationships with customers and lock out competitors to gain strategic advantage ... 

In running this project you will demonstrate the effectiveness of this innovative approach to mobile information systems, displaying your valuable research, analysis and consulting skills.  You will establish the marketplace impact and the success of mobile information systems to improve overall system quality, information quality, use, user satisfaction and the impact on users and their organisations. To do this you will be confident in combining hard data-analysis skills with qualitative analysis derived for example from semi-structured interviews or surveys. Your output has the potential to be the first rigorous and independent assessment of the impact of tablet computer technology in the UK SME marketplace.

That's the first draft: let's see who we get wanting to run it!
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why the blog gap?

So I was asked why I'd been silent on the blogs and Tweet spaces for some months... Simple answer, it's actually a thought-through response to a particular client situation: rather than have to watch what I write to make sure that I didn't give any of their game away, it was easier just to impose some silence on myself.

The interesting thing has been to see that the blog readership has not dropped off a cliff in the months since the beginning of May! People are still finding this blog; and still reading some surprisingly old but still relevant posts. Very heart warming, thank you!

Now, though, it seems like a good time to banish the voluntary writer's block and gradually contribute some new material... The next month or so is going to see quite a lot of new activity in several of our product lines and across a couple of quite different industry sectors. And we've got some innovations that are going to be worth showcasing.

Meanwhile, the tech world around continues to move at a rapid pace and there continue to be important developments that are worth commenting on.

Thanks for reading: stick around and I'll be less cryptic about the new stuff as the weeks go by...
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Permission to be sick

I freely admit that what most women dismiss as a mere cold has me, as a man, wanting to call in the air ambulance.

This morning I had to send the same email three times because I made a silly mistake on the first two attempts and I'm left feeling that I really shouldn't be left in charge of a keyboard today, still less encouraged to talk on the phone.

The technology means that I can work wherever and whenever I have an Internet connection; but there are times like today when it's best just to hide behind voice mail and ignore the buzz of incoming communications ... I have a feeling that I'll get well again faster and have fewer apologies to make for mistakes made under the influence of Paracetomol.

It's hard to switch off, and that's today's learning point, but it's important to do so, to give myself permission to be sick and time to recover.
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Mobile workforce - use the office only for interaction

A chat today with the very talented Emily Davis convinced me that I really should start blogging again.

We were talking about how today's technology changes mean that nice office spaces are less and less critical to business success; and yet in other ways couldn't be more vital. Here's the paradox:

On the one hand, after a recent business trip to a client's UK office I was able to park up the car outside a local store to buy my lunch; then have a voice and video chat in the sunshine with colleagues in America to keep a project on track.

Similarly, last Friday I carried on an instant messaging conversation as I flitted between meetings in London and across underground public transport on the Tube where I had no Internet connection ... The result was that I had everything I wanted set up for me, confirmed by phone as I walked up to the office in Canary Wharf fifteen minutes before the meeting started.

And my day had started out with me receiving an overnight software build, installing and testing and setting up my demo on the train in to London.

One tool that helps us stay on track is FogBugz which lets us document issues and share resources across a team that doesn't have to be in the same place and, in our case, is dispersed across time zones... And a carefully thought through approach to secure storage means that we can operate from shared resources without needing access to a filing cabinet or server in the same physical space.

On the other hand, the nice office space lets us whiteboard and bounce ideas around, look folk in the eyes and pick up on the unspoken messages that only body language conveys. We can get stuff done without that facility, but it's harder.

So what I need in an office is more like a lounge in a coffee shop: somewhere bright and breezy that stimulates thought and interaction, but with space for quiet breakout sessions and small group meetings.

What I don't need, with appropriate use of today's technology, is a row of cubicles to which workers show up and attempt to appear productive just by being there. If my programmers are going to sit at a desk plugged into headphones and swapping messages with the next desk by IM and email then I can save a lot of money by letting them work somewhere else and renting a smaller space. The shared office only adds value, in this day and age, as a place to interact with folk.
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Name and shame?

Last week's post aboutBroken Promises prompted "j" to comment, suggesting that I "Name and Shame" the company that was holding us to ransom. Here's why I'm not going to do that, on this occasion:

  • The company holding us to ransom over the domain name transfer has now released it and the transfer is complete. We "only" lost a day.

  • It's not my place: the commercial arrangement was between that company and my company's client. Out client wouldn't want to be associated with the negative publicity at this time.

  • But, mostly, I'm only prepared to do the "Name and Shame" thing when all other avenues have failed; and when I am prepared to be named and associated with the action. It's too easy, otherwise, to throw stones from the relative anonymity of self-publishing ... And with no recourse or honest debate to ensure fair play.

So, my concern as always is to act with honesty and integrity and fairness. What I can say, though, is that the company we are moving to, Fasthosts, jumped to it with great speed, dedication and helpfulness. Which is reassuring now that the move has been made to, we hope, a better place.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Power of product placement

We've recently become hooked on TV's Homeland. One of the main characters supposedly grew up listening to Miles Davis, though I confess I'd never heard of him or his music before the TV show.

However, each episode has included a little snippet of his music. I'd not really noticed it before this week when he got a mention from one of the characters, and I used the Shazam app on my iPhone to listen and tell me which track was playing...

Next day I did a Google search and read some online reviews of the album. They were all glowing and, a few buttons later, the album was purchased, downloaded and playing on my iPhone.

In years past I'd never have been able to learn about his music so quickly and effortlessly, and I'd probably not have gone out to buy it specially. By making it so easy and "frictionless" to discover and buy the economy has grown as my bank account has shrunk!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Broken processes

Today one of our major clients woke up to no email service.

When planning a company merger our client had grabbed and registered a domain name with a hosting company. Some considerable time later we are helping them to rationalise and move to a smaller number of suppliers. Four previous domain name moves went without a hitch, but mostly because they were not being used and no one noticed that the supplier we are moving from has broken processes...

Simply, their internal process releases a domain name and deletes the record immediately. They should disconnect those two steps because their record delete should only take place after the new host has taken ownership. By doing the delete prematurely there is no lookup for the domain name on any of the Internet name servers and email, web, etc is not able to work.

The problem is that the host we are moving from is being unhelpful, whether out of malice or not. And there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to wait for the new record ownership to percolate through the Internet name servers.

Their customer service is not great; but at least we have the consolation of knowing that we were right to want to make the move!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Don't tell anyone, then"

Today I met with a potential client, a director of a private security company. He mentioned how he often tells people not to use computers, phones and the other paraphernalia of modern society if they have stuff they want to keep private. It's a lesson the "bad guys" seem to have learned as they abandon satellite phones that can be tracked and targeted in favour of word-of-mouth couriers and old-fashioned low tech.

Then, later, I was brought up short when I saw a post by Jodi Wilkinson about what sites see when you use your Facebook login...

  • Name

  • Hometown

  • Location

  • Email address

  • Gender

  • Work: employer name, location, position title, start date

  • Education: school, location, year, course specialisation

  • Timezone and more...

Jodi writes that this is the minimum information that Facebook provides; and most sites request more. She gives an example of how one request for her data released "2,054 lines of data containing gps coordinates of all my check-ins, photos I’ve been tagged in, and everything someone has said on my wall in the last 6 months as well as the full name and facebook ids of my friends who posted on my wall."

So, even if I never use my Facebook details to login on other sites, if I've posted on a friend's wall and they login with Facebook then some of my info will leak to those sites!

Of course, the security guy is right: if Jodi hadn't put that info in Facebook in the first place then it wouldn't be available to be released. But how many of us have been far-sighted enough to think that way?

There's a growing American outcry against the poorly-drafted CISPA legislation there; and stirrings in the UK against planned government moves to mandate more Internet monitoring. Seeing the range of information that just one site, Facebook, has on individuals makes me a bit queasy and to agree with Tim Berners-Lee, 'father' of the world wide web, that this sort of legislation turns its subjects into a nation of suspects with nowhere to keep their thoughts private once they enter the electronic realm.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Technology: spoilt for choice

Today the team has spent half a day carrying out some internal account planning to work out how best to support a major client, keeping our communications and collaboration tight to hold down costs and maximise our effectiveness. We began with brainstorming and rapidly came up with quite a list of all our business-as-usual, current and future planned activities that we need to coordinate. The problem then become one of how to stay on top of all this activity: OneNote, Excel, SharePoint, Project, or mind-mapping software or one of a host of other tools... Including paper.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a client and spent a hour trying to understand his business needs and then helping him to work out the best technology fit that will work for him.

Even as private individuals within the household we now have to work out whether to use Google Calendar, the Calendar app on our iPhones that syncs through Apple iCal or some other alternative.

Increasingly we all have to know enough about technology to make rational purchasing decisions and intelligent deployments. Normally each option comes with costs, benefits, and occasionally "gotchas" that mean you are painted in a corner you don't want to be in.

Yesterday I told my client he needs to know enough about technology to know he's getting value for money and the right solution ion for his needs. But he needs to trust our team to do the best for him with our specialist expertise.

And I'm reminded of a recent ironic tweet from someone who claims he daily gives thanks for IT complexity because it's kept him able to pay his mortgage for twenty years! Looks like at least that aspect of the future is secure, even with the proliferation of "easy to use" consumer devices!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: Keep moving

When people send me an email, especially if it has an attachment, they don't know if I've got it, or if I'm taking action on it, unless I tell them.

It's a basic professional courtesy to keep others informed; and you'll get into less trouble with frustrated colleagues if you set expectations about what you'll do, and when you'll do it. Then deliver on those expectations.

My rule of thumb is to keep the conversation moving at a reasonable pace. In principle I reply to everything I receive so that the ball is back in the other's court.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: making the right impression

Yesterday, Sunday, we got two enquiries on the company website; both from the same person. First time, he gave us his name and email address. Second time, a minute later, he gave us his phone number and the nature of his enquiry, too. Trouble is that his enquiry was simply, "any apprenticeships?" (sic - No capital letters.)

As my colleague said, "No there aren't, if that's the best you can do."

In our business we are looking for colleagues who'll make the right impression; who'll go the extra mile and be diligent, as well as be fun to work with. That's not an exhaustive list, but the truth is we aren't going to get to explore whether this guy fits the rest of the list because the first impression he made is just so poor.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: Reply All, embarrassing?

This week one of our business partners has repeatedly forwarded on the emails he's received from a third party: the other guy just doesn't "get" the 'Reply to All' function, it seems...

If Alice, Bob and Charlie are communicating by email then it's rude, naive and unprofessional of Bob just to hit 'Reply' and shut Charlie out of the loop; and it causes extra work for Alice to forward stuff on to Charlie to bring him back to speed. Bob simply learning to use 'Reply All' solves the problem.

Of course, 'Reply All' can be misused, and it often is. Some organizations are so political that people add others to the circulation list of emails 'just in case' and to protect their position. In this environment 'Reply All' becomes a serious pain and a drain on productivity.

To be an  effective professional in the online world, you have to think hard about these little details of presentation. I don't always get it right,
  • but I try to keep my "To" list for emails restricted to the (few) who need to take action; 
  • "Cc" is for those who absolutely have a need to know, but I'm not expecting them to do anything; 
  • "Bcc" is something I try not to use, much. A good example, I had to correct a situation by email: I wrote to 'Bob' - and only him, to spare his blushes - but put 'Charlie' in the Bcc list because he needed to be kept in the loop. I then explained to Charlie why I'd done what I did, to protect Bob from further embarrassment. It worked.
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Skype 'Click to Call' privacy

I need to do some research: with the recent upgrades to Skype I've been invited to install their 'Click to Call' function. It means the phone numbers on the websites I browse become active buttons - pressing them dials the number so I can place a voice call, using Skype.
  • It'd be convenient, if that's a function I intended to make a lot of use of. Mostly I prefer text (email, Twitter, IM, etc) to voice
  • It's a great way for Skype to increase revenue - I'd soon burn through the Skype Credit for making calls and either have to buy more, or get a subscription
But, I wonder, does this Skype 'toolbar' function have an in-built 'phone home' facility so that Skype (and Microsoft/Bing who owns it) have the means to monitor which websites I'm browsing, and for how long I linger on each page?
Until I'm reassured about this, I won't be installing the toolbar: there are already so many ways people I don't care about can monitor my web browsing, I don't want voluntarily to add more, even though I don't visit any sites I'd be embarrassed about.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Courtesy in the online world: punctuality

I had a meeting booked at 10am today, by phone and just with one other person. I was delighted when he called me right on time. I made an immediate judgement about him that set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

In the virtually-real world the traditional non-verbal clues are mostly missing: we can't make judgements based on buildings, furniture, clothes and other factors. Yet we still have to form relationships and work effectively together, even if we never meet in person.

One of the best ways to establish rapport is to be clear and professional in setting up a meeting: What date and time? What time zone are you operating in? Who is expected, who is optional? What phone number(s) or other technology (like screen-sharing) will be needed?

Then, when it comes time for the meeting, make sure you're on time, even if others are not. And don't be early, by much, either: if I expect you at 10am then a call at five minutes before might be just as inconvenient as if I'm left wondering whether I got the details right if you're five minutes late!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The power of the link

It seems to me that the driving force behind much of the current technology revolution is to be found in hyperlinks. One way of looking at Facebook and other modern web services is as a means of making it easy for people to make links between different bits of content.

Whether it is connecting to articles, PDFs, web pages, photographs, videos, email addresses, LinkedIn profiles or more ... New, powerful discoveries are made through a combination of search and the serendipity of clicking on the links that others have left behind.

This is a bottom-up (rather than top-down) democratically-inspired creation of content. It changes the balance of power from the centre to the edges; and we are witnessing, in some quarters, a battle to hold on to the power to create ideas.

But it's when organisations risk allowing others to mix, match and link to new content that creativity sparks best and fastest. Central approval just slows things down.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Got iPad: Who needs a laptop?

I was wrong, and I'm very happy to admit it. For eighteen months I scoffed at the iPad, so much bigger and with less function than my beloved iPhone that is with me 24-7. Why would I want something bigger that does less?

Reason Two: I've got long battery life.
Now I use the iPhone so much that I regularly have to charge it more than once during the day. I can't take a day's business trip without carrying the phone charger along, too. But at least it lasts longer than my PC laptop which barely lasts an hour of intensive work before needing to be plugged back into a socket somewhere.
The iPad (WiFi only, no 3G data on my version) happily runs all day on its overnight charge. Yesterday afternoon I started a long phone meeting, talking to one of my VOIP phone sessions on the iPad using a Bluetooth headset. It was 4pm and I still had 73% battery life, plenty of juice left for some evening games and catch-up TV viewing. 

Of course, some software just won't run on the iPad. I've solved that problem by using remote desktop software to access a virtual PC in the office. This way I can run all my Windows apps, almost as effectively as if I were sitting in front of a keyboard with a mouse.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Got iPad: Who needs paper?

I was wrong, and I'm very happy to admit it. For eighteen months I scoffed at the iPad, so much bigger and with less function than my beloved iPhone that is with me 24-7. Why would I want something bigger that does less?

Reason One: I don't need paper any more Yet again today I didn't bother taking a pad and paper along to a business meeting.

When I wanted to illustrate my point, I turned to Sketchbook Express which has a range of pens, colours, shapes, text and more...

I can use AirSketch or one of the whiteboard apps to project my drawings for others to see.

And I don't have to spend time hunting through, or lugging around, reams of paper. Everything I create remains on the iPad until I choose to delete it. And it is backed up without me having to make room to store a photocopy.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Just because you can, should you?

So I was surprised today to register a colleague's iPhone to use some web-based software. The company that provides the control panel we use lets me set register his name, username and password and a bunch of other things like address and phone number. All seems reasonable, at least it's normal.

But what pulled me up short was when I noticed the other details associated with the mobile device. This control panel makes a note of some things that seem slightly creepy:
  • Device type (iPad)
  • Carrier
  • Model (iPad2,2)
  • IMEI (the device's unique hardware address)
  • Location (the GPS co-ordinates where the user first registered the device)
I showed this to colleagues and pointed out that I now knew where one of them lived (he'd registered his device one evening instead of in the office, as had I; one of our clients had registered from his client's site, so I now know who that is).

We don't know how we feel about this - on the one hand, it seems that no harm is done and nothing is lost. But on the other hand, it feels a bit weird to see a photo of my house next to its GPS co-ordinates by clicking through this control panel that I've only used for business purposes. Especially when I was not made aware that this personal data was being harvested automatically.

It's left me thinking of the balance that we need to strike in pushing out new systems. Just because we can do something doesn't mean to say that we should - especially when there's no business benefit given to the user or the consumer of the service. In this case it just seems that the information is being gathered gratuitously.
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Why take time to plan?

Today I met with a senior director who has just been tasked with driving through his company's next major IT project. We spoke about how most of the gain will come about through the "soft skills" necessary to get his people to grasp the importance of the system, and how it can be used to make their life easier and simpler, as well as more cost-effective for the business. By comparison, the technical software and infrastructure elements are trivial and quick to get right.

When people are involved we can't ever guarantee success, but it will be important to get a core team together, from across the business, and to take time to plan. Why? Because a vision for change needs to be communicated from a leader, and bought into, and shaped, by those who will be affected and who can bring it into being. If we are all to work together towards a common goal, we first have to understand and agree what that goal is; otherwise we'll all aim at something slightly different, and friction will either pull us apart, or risk us getting nowhere.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Economist misses point on digital publishing

It came time today to renew my subscription to one of my favourite publications, The Economist. But I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I looked at the options. Economics is largely about making rational purchasing decisions and they've blown it with their digital pricing...

For most of last year I was reading each week's edition on my iPhone screen; then I fell in love with the digital version on the iPad and devoured it as soon as each new edition is pushed automatically to me each week. My paper copy rarely made it out of the packaging before it hit the recycle bin ... What a waste!

So, on renewal, I was all set to select the digital-only option and say goodbye to paper. But there is no price difference!

That's madness: there are no additional costs of reproduction and distribution once the first digital edition is prepared. The Economist carries lower costs and a higher margin on their digital-only products - those savings should be passed on to consumers in somewhat lower prices. I'm happy to pay for their high quality journalism, but not give them all the extra profit when I'm saving the costs of producing, packing and shipping the physical product ...

So I did the rational thing: I ordered the print + digital version, knowing that I probably will never use the physical copy myself. At best, I'll pass it on to a friend who can't pay / won't pay for his own copy. The Economist will probably be happy to have an additional (non-paying) reader; but in the process I'm not impressed at their mis-handling of the new media landscape.
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Monday, March 12, 2012

iMessage does work...

So Apple introduced the iMessage facility in iOS 5. I didn't get chance to play with it properly until I bought an iPad alongside my iPhone. Now I'm hooked.

  • On the iPhone, in Settings | Messages ensure that iMessage is 'On' and that you are able to Receive at your Apple ID email, as well as your phone number. Optionally turn on Send Read Receipts - it certainly enhances the experience to know that the other has read, or is typing...

  • On the iPad, in Settings | Messages do exactly the same, ensuring that you're receiving messages at your Apple ID

  • On each device, select Settings | General | Reset | Reset Network Settings.

For me, this combination meant that I can now type a message on either my iPhone, or iPad, and my message appears immediately on my other device. And the messages Re kept together in the same 'thread' of conversation with the recipient whereas previously I was seeing some messages associated with a phone number and others with an email address. Now the messages are unified.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Keeping data secure when travelling

There's a superb guide to the precautions we should take when travelling across borders with laptops, phones and other bits of modern technology. Although it's written from an American perspective, and the USA is probably most effective at inspecting selected technology crossings it's borders, the principles apply to anyone concerned with data privacy, especially when travelling.

Read the guide here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Joining up iPad, iPhone, Outlook and Dynamics CRM

The challenge: how to avoid data duplication and minimise the time required to keep all my contact information in sync across multiple, mobile devices.
  • My iPhone uses iCloud to sync Contacts wirelessly with the iPad and with Microsoft Outlook. A change in any one of those places is pretty much immediately reflected in each of the others.
  • I use DejaOffice from the AppStore as a portable CRM system on the iPad for one set of business contacts; and this solution gives me the option to synchronise contact records and other information with Highrise web-based CRM with colleagues.
  • However, I needed to find a way to track and co-ordinate records in Microsoft Dynamics CRM; but do it selectively - I don't need all the Dynamics CRM records on my personal devices - and I don't want all my private contacts going into Dynamics, either.
The answer to this last bit is found inside the Dynamics for Microsoft Outlook plugin. I'm not quite ready to publish blow-by-blow steps, because I want to do some more thorough testing to make sure I've got the configuration right. But I'll update this post when I've got some nice, easy instructions. Or you can just contact me for help directly - use the Comments facility here so others can benefit, or email me.
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Monday, March 5, 2012

Smart travel - packing suits and shirts

Like most travellers, I don't have the budget to just throw all my clothes in the direction of the hotel's dry-cleaning service when I arrive. This video is just too good to lose track of, so I'm blogging mostly so I can find it again for myself.

Each time I travel I take care to fold shirts and suits so they need the minimum work when I get to my destination. This video gives me a couple of extra tips that I'd not used before (I like the way he folds the shirt sleeves, for example.)

Any more tips? I've heard some people hang wrinkled shirts in the steam of the hotel bathroom for half an hour, but I'm not too keen on wasting all that hot water.
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Friday, March 2, 2012

"Greatness is a choice" #London2012

Inspired today by Olympian and 5000m world record holder David Moorcroft OBE who says, "Greatness isn't only a gift; sometimes it's a choice."

He talked of Kelly Holmes who went on from winning Olympic Bronze after long periods of injury to win an astonishing two Olympic Gold medals four years later, in her mid-thirties.

Her success was by a tiny fraction of a second, almost nothing, and the fruit of lots of small decisions and hard work by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who contributed to her success over the years. Success is also about interdependency.

And the para-Olympians are inspiring as those who choose to focus on their ability, not their disability.

Bring it on: let the games begin!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Google privacy changes - two steps you can take

OK, so it's a little ironic to use Google's Blogger service to post about how to recover a little privacy after Google's new Privacy Policy changes come into effect today...

For those who have missed it, Google will now actively share information it collects about you in, say, Gmail with its other services. So the ads you see when searching will be more targeted, as will those in YouTube etc.

Most people won't care, or will see that as a good thing. But the European Commission thinks the changes violate European privacy legislation. Google has made the changes anyway.

If you're concerned, what can you do? Here, from. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, are two simple steps to delete browsing history:

Here’s how to remove and disable your Google web history:
  1. Sign in to your Google account.
  2. Go here:
  3. Click the “Remove all Web History” button.
  4. Click “OK.”

Your Google web history will now be cleared and remain disabled until you decide to enable it again.

Here’s how to cover your YouTube search and viewing tracks:
  1. Sign in to your Google account.
  2. Go here:
  3. Click your profile icon.
  4. Go to the Video Manager section of your profile.
  5. Click “History.”
  6. Click the “Clear all viewing history” button.
  7. Click the “Pause viewing history” button.
  8. Go to the Search History section of your profile, located on the lefthand column.
  9. Click the “Clear all search history button.”
  10. Click the “Pause search history” button to prevent future searches from being recorded indefinitely.

Head over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation website for more extensive sets of instructions on how to remove your Google web and YouTube histories, replete with screenshots.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

iOS Contact Photos appearing by 'magic'

I was a little frustrated to find that I'd been entering contacts by default into a group "All on my iPhone" so they weren't sync'ing to my other address books. And with iOS 5.0.1 it's not possible to move contacts between fro u ps. But that's for another rant.

I've started the rather boring manual process of re-entering my contacts so they end up in the group(s) I want, and I'm tidying up information at the same time. To make life a little easier I'm keeping the iPhone Contacts open, and adding entries to Contacts on the iPad.

However, I'm surprised to discover that some, not all, of the contacts I enter suddenly appear with the person's photo, even though I've not added it. I can't work out where they're coming from and so far there's no pattern I can see: it's not like I've ever used the iPad to login to Facebook, and not all the records with a photo are for people with a Twitter account.

What's going on? How does the iPad Contacts app get these photos? Are they all for people who have an iPhone or iPad?

Update: it looks like this is a feature of the iOS 5 integration with Twitter. See Apple's feature announcement about Twitter at Contacts applies your friends’ Twitter usernames and profile pictures.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Computer security when travelling

Thanks to @schneierblog for quoting advice for the mobile traveller who 'leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings "loaner" devices, which he erases before he leaves [home] and wipes clean the minute he returns. In [country], he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, "[they] are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop."'

All well and good, but the comments point out that we need equal concern about security from corporate espionage at 'home' as well as 'abroad.' And that all we can do is limit risks, not eliminate them: there is always a chink of opportunity that can be exploited.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Business product or service

Assuming you've engaged your audience with the Executive Summary then readers will want to plunge straight into a description of your planned product or service offering(s).

This is the place to flesh out what you propose to do for customers and how you'll do it. Remember, it doesn't have to be a 'new wheel' - the people who brought McDonalds and Starbucks to new countries built on the shoulders of those who'd pioneered the models in America; they didn't have to invent the entire concept from scratch. But your product or service absolutely does have to meet a felt need in the market you're intending to address. You'll explore the size and nature of that market in a later section of the business Plan.

For now, describe enough of the product and service to identify what you're going to do and to give evidence that you know how you're going to do it: what you already can do, and how you're going to develop it as time goes by. This last point is very important because markets and technologies don't stand still. Something that might be right to sell now will need to develop and change as time goes by and it's important to show some initial appreciation of things you might want to do to develop your position.

Rest easy, though, that the Business Plan is meant to be a living document that changes over time and you will put flesh on those bones when the time is right. For now, readers of the plan will want to know your thoughts about how things might unfold.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Business plan: Executive summary

(Writing a Business Plan)
The Executive Summary is the single most important section of the Business Plan. For many readers it could be the only page of the document that they read and for this reason you should keep it down to a single page, with as much 'white space' and bullet points as is reasonable ... The point is to be as concise as you can while engaging interest and excitement to learn more.

Remember, the key question your readers will have in their mind is What's in it for me? Assuming that the majority of the readers of a Business Plan are investors, whether they're making a loan or buying shares, then you've really got to use this section of the plan to show them how this idea is going to make them more money than the alternatives open to them.

Because this section is the most critical to get right then it is wise to make it the very last thing that you write; although, of course, it's often a good idea to start drafting things much earlier as you go along and making tweaks and refinements as you get more detail.

It's not usual to be able to write even the simplest business plan in a day because to do it right there is a lot of work to do on each of the sections; and re-work, refinement and refining will serve you well at this stage. It's much easier to do it now than after investment resources have been committed and expensive changes have to be made.

A good exercise is to try to answer the following questions in a single paragraph:
  • Why what you propose is needed
  • What you will do
  • How you will do it
  • Who you will do it for
  • When you will do it
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to write a business plan

As I've got another one to write in the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd start a mini-series on How to write a business plan. Today's post is simply an overview of where we're headed, but tomorrow we'll look at Why have a business plan in the first place - despite conventional wisdom, they're not always necessary in the detail that's often talked about.

But, if you're going to put together a business plan, here are the major headings to cover:
  1. Executive Summary A concise summary of your Business Plan. No more than one page long, and normally it should be the last thing you write, after all the rest is pulled together
  2. Business products/service A concise description of your business and what it will do. This section should give overview information on each of the revenue streams you envisage, and over what time frame.
  3. Analysis of market opportunity This should be consistent with your financial plan and should justify the activity: just because it's built, they won't necessarily come! This section could include an assessment of the Business Landscape and your view of Market segmentation along with Competitor analysis (showing their strengths and weaknesses).
  4. Team skills, experience and resources Background information about the skills and experience you (and your team if appropriate) have that will help you realise your business plan 
  5. Sales and marketing Describe the market – end user, sector and segment descriptions. Identify customer priorities and needs. Outline a recommended approach to the market, including how you plan to position and brand your offering; and how you will reach the customers you are targeting 
  6. Financial Plan A basic financial plan needs to show :Forecast sales; Costs (fixed and variable); Cash flow analysis; Funding requirements and recommendations. 
  7. Strategic action plan List the actions required to realise the plan. 
It doesn't sound like much, but there's a lot of work to go into making this coherent and credible. And this outline will only serve the most generic of situations - chances are that your plan will need to delve into more detail in some areas than others, and add some sections of information. But keep the whole thing under twenty pages in length. And keep it updated - there's little point in writing a plan and filing it away. If it's to be useful, it should be usable and used!
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to make cost savings

I got asked for more detail after yesterday's post on using cost justifications to support a business project. In this hard-pressed and competitive economy it's important to seek a positive return in months. 
For example, replacing paper forms and processes with electronic ones on iPad, iPhone and Android phones and tablets can give some real, measurable benefits:
  • Great savings in time as paper forms don’t have to be transcribed; no delays in processing, no lost forms and no errors in transcribing or mis-keying 
  • Staff can be unchained from desks and workstations and data submitted at once, straight into existing line of business systems 
  • Increased accountability as time and location can be recorded automatically, photos attached to documents etc 
  • There are competitive advantages in being seen to work efficiently and effectively with attractive technology like the iPad (rather than paper)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cost justification is vital

You should almost never do a business project just because it feels like a good idea. The most successful projects come with a cost justification that's going to deliver benefits as near-certain as possible.

Colleagues have just taken a paper-based process and turned it into an electronic form, almost an 'app,' that runs on iPad, iPhone and Android phone and tablet computers ... It is estimated to save £20k

So, how do we calculate this?
  • Sixteen users are each saving about half an hour per week; that's one full eight hour day
  • Assuming that it costs about £50 per hour to employ someone (not just salary, but space and utilities and other support costs) ... That's about £400 per week
  • At fifty weeks in a year you've found a saving of around £20,000
This £20k saving is achieved with a software project that, in this case, was £5k. That number is going to change depending on the size and scope of the project, but here was to take a suite of paper processes. 
So, the client has got a really fast payback that justifies the project in a matter of months; and it only took a few weeks to implement. And it compares very well indeed to the cost of developing a custom application on a mobile device, such as Aviva's experience of spending £30k on an application to run on BlackBerry PlayBooks!
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