Archive | October 2012

it’s all over; again!

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, mainly as it’s been conference season which involves spending time away (usually in a foreign country), listening to vendor x, y, z, talk about their market perspective, and how their technology fits into the eco system of workplace technology (well, usually they talk about more than just workplace, but it’s what I pay most attention to 🙂 ).

Whilst it’s often perceived as a jolly, the days at such events are ordinarily long, mixed with a combination of vendor key messages, technology insights and details of technology improvements, and vendor meetings where we often talk about what we’ve done the past year with respect to them, and what we all think the opportunity is going to be for the following year.

For those of you internally, you’ll know that we’ve (CC) established ourselves as the leading service provider in the UK around Windows transformation, with our EMEA business equating to worldwide levels of prominence, numbers which frankly leave me very proud of what we’ve achieved over the last 15 years of improving and refining of our extensive service offerings to our customers.

It was actually this traction that lead to Citrix & Cisco asking us (well me) to present at the recent Citrix conference to extol the benefits of how we’ve deployed their integrated technology stacks to our customers, and how we’ve made such traction in a difficult market, (desktop virtualisation).  We’re being used as the poster boy (for want of a better description), on how it can be done, and how it’s possible to provide cutting edge desktop transformation services that provide innovate solutions to business problems.  Quite a vindication from these key vendors we felt, and why we agreed to do it.

This position in the market is allowing us to starting thinking about the future of workplace services, and for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working on and considering the next generation of services and technologies, and how they’re going to impact us, our service offerings, and most importantly our customers.

The key vendors in this area are all thinking big, and are thinking cloud enablement (private and public) and this tricky integration and how it can reduce costs and provide better services for modern working environments.

In the next 12-18 months, it will be possible to build a true Desktop as a Service (DaaS) model, that critically will be able to flexible both up and down, and scale appropriately with need, (which the IT industry really can’t do right now).  I fully anticipate however,  it will probably be another 2-3 years before it’ll really be a viable option for our customer to consider buying and is thus part of our next generation  of service development unlikely to gain any traction until after the Windows XP to 7 uplift.

I’m working with these vendors on helping them shape their products, to be more complete service offerings, (as the vendors are notorious on concentrating on technology features and functions over service integration considerations or really thinking about their customers business need and problems), and I’ll share more on these interesting developments in time when it becomes more appropriate to share this insight.

I’m off on Holiday from today for 2 weeks; recharge the batteries before the big push for the remainder of the year.  I’ll pick up the blog when I return, as whilst I like technology and my job, even I like to put it down sometimes. 🙂

What’s in a name?

Sometimes in the IT industry, we are prone to over complicate, confuse and bamboozle our customers.  The use of acronyms, abbreviations and silly confusing names are occupational hazards in corporate IT and it’s about to get a little additional help in the next 10 days as Microsoft release 3 versions of “Windows”, developed for 3 different technology markets/scenarios: –

  • Windows 8  (standard, Pro, enterprise)
  • Windows RT
  • Windows Phone 8

Windows 8 and RT are released for general availability on Friday October 26th, and Windows Phone 8 has an entirely different release all of its own on Monday 29th.  So, 3 products, what are they for, and what are the primary differences?

Windows 8 is what users would normally consider Windows, though as I briefly covered last week, it looks different and is developed to cover both touch, keyboard and mouse.  There are different versions depending on your specific need, but essentially, it’s your usual corporate windows, Active Directory integrated product, which runs typical X32 and X64 bit applications, and is entirely backward compatible with Windows 7.

Windows RT, (a name that has no meaning at all) is really geared as consumer market product.  It doesn’t run on Intel X32 or X64 technology, but runs on ARM technology usually found in smartphone handset technology.    It’s geared as an alternative to Android and Apples’ ubiquitous iPad tablets, and will spawn quite a lot of cheap slates no doubt.

Windows RT cannot be connected to an Active Directory, but will be shipped with Office 2013 (a version for RT), but, oddly, it’s a version which cannot be used to create corporate/commercial documents unless you have additional licence entitlement apparently.  (An interesting move, but one I can’t see people keeping too, or see how that’ll be very enforceable).   Most importantly, it cannot run traditional corporate 32bit or 64 bit applications, though you will be to use it with Citrix receiver if you have such technology available to you.

Applications for Windows RT will be downloaded from the app store, and as of writing this, there are around 6000 apps already available, (which isn’t bad considering it’s not released yet), and I hear Microsoft talking 100k apps by Xmas, which seems optimistic to me, but I guess we’ll see who’s the loser on that bet come Xmas. £10 that I’m a winner MS.

Windows Phone 8 will be a very interesting product, one which has been swathed in secrecy.  Microsoft are seemingly try to create some hype (ala Apple).  All of the features have not been released yet, and the development tools have only been released to the very top application developers to try and contain leaks of what’s in the product.

What I can tell you, is that it’s going to be a very well integrated corporate product, fixing all of its previous products shortfalls in the corporate security space.  Expect class leading mail/calendar (as has been in 7.5), with encryption and application security to surpass all.  We’ll cover more details when it’s released.  Expect some cutting edge industry leading handsets, (Nokia Lumia 920 anyone?) and it’s going to be a big push by Microsoft to attack corporate phone supply business for Microsoft houses.

What’s the most interesting thing about all these versions of Windows though is in one specific feature that’s not been widely articulated by Microsoft, and one I believe could well prove to be one of the primary drivers for (corporate) adoption.  When we consider most likely use cases for the new versions of Windows almost all are likely be used primarily on mobile devices.

The biggest challenge almost every corporate is having with mobility, (beyond the issue of wall to wall wireless internally), is getting access to corporate applications.  Sure email and calendaring is pretty easy, and most corporates have done tactical MDM implementations to help with the challenge of enabling BYO, and providing some corporate integration.  Applications access though, is not widely successful or even remotely easy to achieve right now.

Most corporate applications are X32 or X64, though of course, there are many applications that are widely used that are Web enabled.  Windows 8 and all its derivatives, all run the same common OS core code, (we call that a kernel), what this means, is that applications that are developed for your traditional desktop OS, can be quickly and easily ported down onto both RT and Windows phone 8.    What a vendor will have finally enabled, is a way of creating apps and making them easily movable across a broad spectrum of devices, a scenario that Apple hasn’t enabled or achieved across iOS and OSX and it’s entirely impossible on Android too.

Could this one specific feature be the killer feature that Microsoft needs to really provide customers with a more scalable and a better mobile integrated business?  I guess only time will tell, but it’s certainly got to be an interesting consideration for an organisation and its mobility strategy, if like most, you’ve not been developing your own iOS or Android Apps.  Will we finally move from tactical mobile solutions to a more strategic choice with a key vendor?  Microsoft is certainly hoping so.

I don’t bleed data – I am data

As a follow up to my recent blog “Cut me – I bleed data”, where I looked at the potential for DNA storage, I thought I would look at how the human body can create data, and how it can be used for our benefit. We are all used to the concept of pedometers; where a small device carried on the person counts the numbers of steps we take in a day. I’m fairly sure all the devices I’ve tried are faulty as it must be more than 300 steps from home to car to office to desk to coffee shop, right? Walking 10,000 steps per day is good for your health apparently, so I may be a little bit short of my daily target.

However a few things caught my eye recently; the first two are very similar – the “Fitbit” and Nike fuelband, both work in similar fashion and take the pedometer concept to the next level. These devices have the same basic aim; to encourage us to lead a healthy active lifestyle and to monitor our progress and feedback in a way that is of benefit to us. They can track our steps, distance travelled, calories consumed and can measure if we are climbing stairs. We can use the App provided on our smartphones, tablets or any other device to input the food we consume and track our goals graphically if we want.

Ever woke up tired in the morning, wanting just another 5 minutes? Well, the next interesting thing they can do is measure how we sleep and what our sleep patterns are; this can then be used to wake us gently in the correct sleep phase to ensure we are ready for the day. Without thinking about it you are slowly building a database about yourself, we create the data and use the instrument to record it, and you wondered where all the growth of data you keep hearing about is coming from? Some of it is your fault, I’m afraid.

That’s all data generation we can control, we choose to wear the device, download the data wirelessly, stand on the wireless scales and transfer information about ourselves, but what about things we would like to control but really not sure how to? What if we wanted to measure heart rate, brain activity, body temperature and hydration levels and rather than having our own database we wanted to share it with our doctor or consultant? We’re not too far away from reaching that stage.

An American based company has piloted the concept of stretchable electronics products that can be put on things like shirts and shoes, worn as temporary tattoos or installed in the body. These will be capable of measuring all the criteria above. Another company will begin a pilot program in Britain for a “Digital Health Feedback System” that combines both wearable technologies and microchips the size of a sand grain that can ride on a pill right through you. Powered by your stomach fluids, it emits a signal picked up by an external sensor, capturing vital data. Another firm is looking at micro needle sensors on skin patches as a way of deriving continuous information about the bloodstream.

The data generated by this technology could be used for Business Intelligence purposes in the healthcare markets, it could be shared between yourself and your doctor allowing proactive activity to occur to improve the care offered and improve efficiencies, and ultimately to reduce costs. No more waiting 7 days to see a doctor, your chosen device downloads data which can be shared with your practitioner, who in turn sends you an email recommending more exercise and more vegetables in your diet.

The ability to use anonymous data from a group of patients would allow health care providers to spot patterns over an entire population or specific geographies. For example, the need for continuous data on blood glucose levels, particularly Type I diabetes patients, has become critical in the treatment of the disease, providing impetus for monitoring devices.

If this kind of information exists for a lot of people, it is arguably folly to not look for larger trends and patterns. And not just in things like your blood count, because overlays of age, educational level, geography and other demographic factors could yield valuable insights. The essence of the Big Data age is the diversity of data sets combined in novel ways.

These technologies could be used to get people with difficult to pin down conditions like chronic fatigue to share information about themselves, this could include the biological data from devices, but also things like how well they slept, what they ate and when they got pain or were tired. Collectively, this could lead to evidence about how behaviour and biology conjure these states, and ultimately could lead to a solution to such problems.

So it’s not just businesses that can benefit from the analysis of data, individuals and the population at large are potential benefactors of the emerging ability of technology to provide analysis of seemingly random collections of data. As I hit the weekend I may not need a wearable electronic device to tell me my brain activity is slowing down or my hydration levels increase, but it won’t slow down the amount of data I’m able to generate on myself, and the contribution this data makes to my future health. Maybe I’ll be able to store my personal database on my own DNA, who knows?

Ready for the Windows 8 marketing machine?

In two weeks’ time, you’ll start to hear the marketing machine for Microsoft move into overdrive as they launch Windows 8 into general release.  Not only will you hear from them, but also from the hardware manufacturers who are primed and ready to simultaneously release a whole new slew of products that will support and embrace the new functionality of Microsoft’s new baby.  The question remains though, certainly for many corporates, what’s Windows 8 for?  Shall I stop my Windows 7 deployment, or should I not even start Windows 7 and deploy Windows 8 instead?

So let’s start by covering (very briefly), what’s the big differences between Windows 7, (released this time in 09) & the new upstart are.  Windows 7 & 8, are in many ways the same, though of course, Windows 8 has clearly evolved and the product has improved and been polished;  it’s more secure, performs better and many other details have been added and enhanced, but fundamentally under the skin, it works and runs the same.  So, whilst it looks different, (and it does, very different), it’s just as easy to integrate, manage, deploy and support as Windows 7 is right now.

Since Windows 7 was released, the world’s been taken by storm by a certain consumer product called the iPad, which started a whole new generation of tablet technology.  The uber cool gadget has sold by the bucket load, and really caught Microsoft a bit off guard, as there desktop/laptop product just couldn’t provide a slick “touch experience”, and the hardware that the OEMs touted as competitive alternatives, frankly were anything but.

So what’s Windows 8 bringing?  Microsoft have taken iPad, and it’s touch OS, and it’s integrated it’s strengths, added it to existing keyboard & mouse support than Windows did so well, and has also continued and developed digital stylus integration into the platform (hand writing to you and me).   Effectively, Windows now supports touch and non-touch optimised applications; as well as work as usual with your existing corporate applications (it’s Win 7 underneath remember).

To make this all the more interesting, The next version of Office, (expect this Feb 13), will also support these modes, so as an example you’ll be able to annotate notes into a working document, or handwrite notes in a meeting and so on, then go back to your desk and dock your device and start working with it as a fully functioning PC.  No more addendum devices required is the Microsoft vision, and probably one that works very well in reality.

This is where the OEM’s come in.  You’ll start to see a whole new slew of devices shipping, Slates, and Ultrabooks that incorporate all these new features.  They’ll be fully functional, fully powered devices, and with the design changes that have been developed, the improvements made in technology and manufacturing  will mean you’re about to see thin, light, cool looking Windows devices that can empower and embrace a whole new way of working.

So, where’s this leave a customer in their wider deployment decision?  Well, unless you’re planning on deploying touch screen enabled applications, (which clearly will come in time where appropriate) touch screens to support the new interface, there’s probably little immediate value in delaying and readying for Windows 8 and thus Windows 7’s still going to be your primary choice.  Secondly, the application compatibility is excellent between Win 7 & 8, and so any work an organisation is doing here is only going to benefit them for Windows 8 in the future anyway.

No, Windows 8 right now is going to be all about Slates, a new sub-genre of device (part tablet/laptop/ultrabook) that’s unquestionably going to make a lot of organisations  think about iPad, and whether it’s just going to be easier, simpler, and overall cheaper to just embrace and deploy a Windows 8 slate into their environment.   I’ll let you know how I feel about this further when I get mine in the next few weeks.  

The problem’s all about choice.

It’s a very busy time of year for those looking at technology direction and futures.  It’s European conference time, which generally means time taken out of the day job to go and spend time listening to this year’s uplift in technology from vendor X, Y and Z.   Added to that this year, we’ve got Microsoft’s (probably) largest ever uplift in technology stack, all due in the next few months.  They’ve already released Windows Server 2012, Windows 8 release’s the end of this month (as does the new phone platform), and then we’ve got new versions of Office, Exchange and SharePoint server all due around Feb 2013. It’s going to be a busy few months for sure,

What’s actually most interesting right now though is that for as long as I can remember, (and I’m old now), I can never remember a time when workplace related technology has been so in vogue and prominent.   Ten years back, the smartphone was a mere pipedream, the palm pilot and HP IPaq and other such technology existed, but you’d never consider it mainstream.  Certainly carrying one around wouldn’t been have deemed cool.  No, corporate IT was squarely about providing services to end user to do a job.  Options were pretty much limited to a desktop, or, if you were really quite important, you might get a laptop. A £2000 device at that!  A mobile phone had a mono screen, and basically you could text and do calls on it. (I think we’ve still got a few of those about still J )

Roll forwards to now, and how things have changed. Sure, the desktop and laptop exist, (though the price point has dropped considerably), we’ve added the word virtualisation into the mix (in many different forms; application, client and user to name just 3), Broadband speeds are now approaching 100Mb at home; the smartphone is everywhere, tablets too.  3G is here now, with 4G likely to be mainstream in most large cities by mid-2013, (that will provide near broadband speeds over cellular networks), and of course we’ve added the ability to provide services from outside the private network with this thing called “cloud”.    Certainly options aren’t the problem here are they? Or are they?

The problem for our customers is though is one of choice.  A bewildering array of choices presents itself to them on how they may deliver (and consume), their workplace related services, and of course, new versions of technology often stimulate questions of how and should I, (or should I even bother) uplift from our customers.  So often I go to see a customer, and their biggest challenge is trying to appreciate what this new technology means to them.   That’s where we come in; providing our customers with the pragmatic considered view.  We don’t make anything, and so our IPR and knowledge of what works best is why our customers chose to work with us. We shouldn’t be afraid of having that informed and considered view, it’s what our customers really want from us, and we’ll continue to keep doing, integrating this new tech into our proposition stack.

Look out for more news and thoughts on all these new developments over the coming months; it’s going to take some dissecting.