Non-techie musings

Getting ready for the 2014 conference season, it struck me that the technology revolution has moved from “E” to “D” – by that I mean Digital has replaced Electronic (as in E-Commerce) as the new “must have” conference title.

I remember back in the 1970’s when Digital was replacing Analogue – with the mass introduction of digital watches and calculators – so it amuses me to see it re-cycled. Obviously the generation adopting the word today don’t see the irony in it – nor do the companies inventing Digital divisions.

The serious point is that we’re struggling to articulate the impact of disruptive change on many axis simultaneously. Led by Cloud and Mobile and closely followed by Social Media, Big Data, the need for a secure on-line Identity and even ‘wearable’ technology (back to my old digital watch again) how do enterprises encapsulate the change ?

Cloud is probably the easiest to grasp as it is the most mature and is already releasing its technology potential, but now it needs to be recognised as commercial disruptor – it has already impacted traditional hosting vendors and subjugated “lock-in” contracts they felt were safe. Cloud provides not only a natural ‘leap frogging’ for new entrants into markets by reducing up front set up costs, but can also be a defensive strategy for those businesses trying to adapt to meet rapidly changing customer expectations and behaviours.

Mobile is a key driver changing behaviour – where the acceleration of mobile and tablet (e.g. non-PC) platform adoption is changing the location of the commercial interaction with customers. The mobility of smart phones and tablets has released the consumer from a seat at the desk (office or home PC) and consumers are “inviting” enterprises onto their commuter trains or into their sitting room as they ‘browse in the morning’ and ‘buy in the evening’.

Social Media has benefited from this informal interaction and given access to every review, post, tweet and blog – allowing research ahead of an eventual instore or online purchase – and making C2C communications the primary channel for feedback. Not only do we look up facts at the dinner table using our smart phones but we’re looking at everyone else’s opinion of that new camera, car or city-break as part of the selection process.

All that “opinion” needs a home and – adding it together with all the data produced from location tracking, monitoring and automated machine to machine communication – we have the exponential growth in the volume of data. Then you need tools and techniques to analyse that data (back to Cloud again).

Consumers are also demanding personal interaction which drives the need for Identity – allowing industries to start to drive up the quality and richness of exchanges to enhance customer experience.

So finally I come back to my original question – is my old Digital watch trendy again ?

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Photo 17-09-2013 20 18 15Great event this week – the AWS Enterprise Summit in London on Tuesday.

From the Blade Runner-esque three story neon tube in the main exhibition area, to the conviction of the customers speaking about their adoption of Cloud – it truly felt that Amazon Web Services was coming of age.

What really hit me at this event though, was the number and variety of Enterprise clients coming to me and ‘confessing’ that they had dabbled with AWS and now needed help.

I think that stems from the ‘just put your credit card in to get started’ message of early AWS marketing. It’s been easy to get started – but it’s the equivalent of buying a fast car and turning up at an F1 event thinking you are ready to race.

Yes you have some storage and yes you have compute provisioned but in the same way that you and Red Bull both have 4 wheels and an engine, the complexity and scale of the next steps are beyond what most people want to do on their own – without an expert on hand to help.

So back in my confessional – I blessed a few, cursed a few but more-over offered solace by confirming that they were “Not Alone”.

MB 1987 RiverIn the 1980’s, I was a typical PITA user, developing applications behind the backs of the IT department, even bringing my own PC and software into work. Eventually the IT department ‘took me under their wing’ and I was the one fighting off guerrilla developments from the user community, but by providing them with better, faster and more flexible technology, we won the day.

Now I find myself on the other side of the fence again.

I don’t develop anymore, but I’m watching the world of Cloud encourage self-service in the technical user community and leave IT departments behind. It’s a theme I have returned to before – the “democratisation of compute power” – served up brilliantly through the AWS IaaS model. We’ll see more examples of this at the AWS Enterprise Summit mid-September that Smart421 is sponsoring.  ( hashtag #AWSsummit )

However, it’s not just the Cloud that is challenging IT departments.

Mobile too seems to be spawning a new generation of Garagists*.  Either bright individuals buried in large companies or small one or two man bands creating mobile applications – building on core components (hosting/logon/mapping/location) provided by Apple, Google etc. by adding layers of creativity.

So what’s the problem – the real point here ?

The issue is security. When I was hacking out applications and getting sneaky access to CRM databases and pricing algorithms, everything was safe inside the corporate firewall. Nowadays it is mobile and cloud based.

Both of these technologies I wholeheartedly support, but like everything it has to be done in the right way. So if it was up to me again, I’d develop a Cloud strategy and Mobile architectural guidelines ASAP – before the Horse has bolted, the Cat is out of the bag and the Gorilla (sic) is in the mist.

* “The word Garagiste refers to the great Enzo Ferrari’s hatred of the multitude of talented, but small, Formula 1 teams that were emerging out of Britain in the late 50′s and early 60′s … were basically garage workers (grease monkeys in less formal parlance) compared to the engineering might of his Scuderia Ferrar. These teams didn’t produce their own engines or other ancillaries (aside from BRM), specialising mostly in light, nimble chassis”.

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News in the last couple of days of two massively significant developments in mobile just confirms yet again how important it is to businesses now.

First, the $130bn Vodafone US sale to Verizon dwarfs the ~18 billion pounds that Telefonica spent on O2 a few years ago whilst I was working there and that was considered a “Big Deal” at the time. The deal is the third largest in history and once again cements the profile of mobile and its profitability.

The other deal is, if anything, even more earth-shattering as Microsoft have bought out Nokia from the handset market – now this really does make me nostalgic for the days when Nokia ruled and made the best handsets in the world. A couple of us old techies talked about the excitement of that first Nokia 7110 and the MMS-enabled 7650 handsets at MobDevCon a few weeks ago. The $7.2bn takeover by Microsoft is seen as a sad day for the biggest company in Finland, being described as “peanuts” by Juha Varis, Danske Capital’s senior portfolio manager, whose fund owns Nokia shares but for Microsoft this is “a bold step into the future” to quote Steve Ballmer.

For quite a while now I have been saying “don’t write off Microsoft” when we have been talking about a Mobile Strategy for Enterprises who have rushed into the iOS space or stuck with BlackBerry. Windows-8 undoubtedly provides a much better eco-system for Apps than any previous MS offering and the will and backing is now there to push on and try to make inroads into Google Android and Apple market shares.

The Register view on the Microsoft move makes very interesting reading and echoes a point made elsewhere that Microsoft will own Nokia patents which will make the patent wars mentioned in a previous post even more fascinating. The other observation that has been made is that Stephen Elop could be the man in line to take over from Ballmer as Microsoft CEO. What is quite clear is that the SmartPhone market in emerging markets is going to be very competitive for a long time to come.


One of my team pointed me at a recent Forrester report on how businesses need to ensure that Gamifcation meets its objectives and it reminded me that Gamification has been around in many forms for many years.

Take the grading and reward structure in large companies; are you a grade 12, 13b or 13c; what car did you get – the GT or the GTi, or only the basic LX; and did you ever get that key to the executive toilet ?

Technology, firstly the PC, then console and now interconnectivity and truly mobile platforms have accelerated the social aspect of gaming in the last few years. Accepting or even desiring a level of ‘play’ will be a growing trend as the generation who are native gamers have grown into the ones we need to attract to buy from us, or work for us.

But in the same way there are 100’s of game apps available and only a few get played compulsively, there must be a hook in any corporate application making them fun, simple and able to reward players immediately, to lure them to the next attempt. There must be some element of enjoying the ‘game’ element, immediate feedback and not just the reward at the end. That’s where the steady corporate approach, the work ethic and the long term plan will fail you.

Smart421 has developed a few applications with Gamification at their heart and my #1 rule would be to give the specification and development of these to your youngest team, you know – the ones with no discipline, who come in late and who you can’t understand what they are saying. (!)

And don’t forget Gamers make better decision makers ( so you might want to encourage those guys to contribute to your business strategy too.

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Sean Duddle Brown with Andrew Haskell

Sean Duddle Brown, winner with Andrew Haskell

I enjoyed a great afternoon and evening in a room full of genuinely stimulating people at the Prince’s Trust ‘Celebrate Success Awards’ in Cambridge last month (Mon 05 Nov 2012).

It was especially satisfying because I had the privilege of presenting the award for ‘Educational Achiever of the Year’ sponsored by Smart421 and KCOM Group plc.

As a high-tech business we really understand the importance of education, training and development in order to stay ahead of the wave of new technology.

Darren Atkins

Andrew Haskell with Darren Atkins, runner-up


I think that it’s really inspiring to hear how some of the young people supported by the Prince’s Trust have overcome real adversity and stuck with education to achieve great results.

Well done to all who picked up awards Monday evening and to all of the nominees – you’re all winners in my eyes.

Office Printer

Office Printer
Photo: Frank Baron for The Guardian

I was reading some spam about how IT is really changing the business world today and it got me thinking. When I started work in 1981 everything was already run on a mainframe, so in my opinion the next 30 years of computing was not been about delivering change at all – it was just about moving things backwards and forwards.

In the first 15 years the only demonstrable changes for users was the location of their printer and their applications. Printing went from a computer centre, to a print room in their building and then on to their desk. Day to day applications moved from the computer centre to their desktop PC and then to a computer room in their building.

The following 15 years moved things about again. Moving the printer back to the end of the corridor and printing into colour; applications moved from the computer room back to a computer centre; printed documents moved from the filing cabinet to the recycling bin; the development team moved 5000 miles away; and finally our private experiences started to move from a close circle of friends to being publically available on the internet.

What next ? Every application is moving to a mobile device; data is moving to ‘somewhere in space’; and we’re even being encouraged to ‘bring our own device’ to work – moving the workstation to the home and back each day.

The future of work is rapidly changing and perhaps now, at last, we will have the next phase of true automation.

But I’m yet to be convinced.

Benjamin Mitchell

Benjamin Mitchell
Photo by James Neale

No doubt about it, Benjamin Mitchell’s (Twitter @benjaminm ) presentation at SyncNorwich last night certainly resonated with attendees.

Kanban: What is it good for? An introduction illustrated with war stories

Approaching a hundred people packed into The King’s Centre in Norwich for the monthly meetup of SyncNorwich, the geek-friendly interest group which was only launched 5th June this year and which has already proven to be a big hit with start-ups, developers and technologists from many tribes.

Mitchell, a Lean/Agile consultant and coach with experience in financial trading systems, delivered a proficient and well-grounded 45-minute keynote using nothing more than Post-It Notes and a powerpoint featuring index cards and even more Post-It Notes, clearly the stock-in-trade of a busy Agile Scrum master.

Networking at SyncNorwich

Networking at SyncNorwich
Photo by James Neale

Repeatedly extolling the virtues of keeping things simple and avoiding the pitfalls of planning systems like Jira, he impressed on the audience the art of the possible with a few ‘basic’ techniques from Kanban – the manufacturing process democratised by Toyota – which, when applied to the world of application development, promises to transform lurching or limping projects into lean projects with little (or less and less) wasted time.

“Monitors in daily stand ups suck the energy,” cautioned Mitchell. There spoke the voice of sometimes bitter experience, which came across loud and clear. I did notice several people in the audience stratching away on backs of envelopes, a ‘note to self’ for action next Monday perhaps. No shame in that. We were all here to learn something. My note to self: ‘buy more masking tape’

SyncNorwich 13 Sept 2012

Note to self
Photo by James Neale

His witty anecdotes and on-the-fly Questions and Answers engaged everyone and enlivened what could so easily have been a mundane or routine subject area for those without deep expertise. This meant that he connected with attendees at all levels, including those new to kanban with no prior knowledge of direct experience. Skillful stuff indeed.

Recounting tales of holding agile scrums in fire escapes (to avoid the attention of an enemy CTO) and Agile-sceptic managers who “won’t blame you – yet”, Mitchell performed like a one-man comedy store, blending hard facts and soft skills which, to me anyway, came across as persuasive and surprisingly compelling.

Mitchell recalled an Agile development project when he wore a t-shirt sporting the message “Our ambitions outstrip our capabilities” causing uproarious laughter amongst the developers and testers in the audience and a few wry smiles from secretly-embarrased managers. No names no packdrill here, mate, you’re safe.

In all, it was a well-tuned and cleverly-crafted slot. Mitchell’s delivery was as good as the content. It was hard to know how the organisers might top the Lightning Talks at the August meetup. We need not have worried.

As well as intros from Paul Grenyer, and cold beers, I think this is exacty the kind of quality that SyncNorwich will become known for.

Twitter:  @SyncNorwich
Read the feed:  #SyncNorwich

All photos by kind permission of James Neale Photography

Benjamin Mitchell’s blog
IT Kanban Podcast

Justin Smith

Louis Smith
Photo: courtesy of

When Team GB men’s gymnast Louis Smith said “Team Success beats Individual Win” he just about said if all. Now there’s a man who not only excels as an individual but also understands the power of team work, and demonstrated it yesterday.

Louis Smith showed in Men’s Team Final that individual contribution to team success is where it’s at and picked up an Olympic Bronze medal alongside Max Whitlock, Dan Purvis, Sam Oldham, and Kristian Thomas.

Of course, you don’t have to be an artistic gymnast or an Olympian (or both – eh Louis?)  to know the power of team work.

Most Smarties train hard, work hard and play hard but would never claim to be Olympian. However, people tell us that same sense of teamwork pervades everything we do, on every engagement for event client. Sentiement is nice but reality is better.

We’re loving seeing team work in action at London 2012.  If you’d like to keep track of the Team GB medal haul, check out our company homepage


Go Team GB#OurGreatestTeam – we can relate to that.

Never mind worries of the underground being squeezed and the overground delays because of momentary heatwave – the London 2012 Olympic  and Paralympic Games is upon us. It’s been a bit of a organisational marathon just getting here. And the official brand police is watching so a thousand apologies if this blog avoids brand names (apart from our own that is).

Like you, we’re finding the building enthusiasm quite contagious and, like the majority of the nation, very keen to see Team GB do well.  And because team work means so much to the kind of work we do everyday, we’re truly loving their Twitter @TeamGB #OurGreatestTeam  – all 541 of them  (convenient if it was 421 but- oh well) .

So we’re showing our support with new banners on our own homepage

Also from Monday (30 July) the Smart421 homepage will display Team GBs medal haul, and we’ll keep it updated everyday so you know where to come for the latest news on how many medals Team GB has achieved.

All the rumpus during the last 69 days with the Torch Relay teaches us some important lessons:  for example, if I stood on the Cornhill in Ipswich or the Broadgate centre in the City (or anywhere else for that matter) wearing a posh tracksuit and carrying a flame-on-a-stick, the chances are I might get some raised eyebrows, plenty of  “tut-tutting”, maybe get badmouthed on Twitter or certainly get moved on by the cops.

But – just imagine – add a fanfare, a police escort and cheering crowds – suddenly the flame-on-a-stick takes on an entirely different significance.

So right now, we’re off to get ready for the Opening Ceremony.

Enjoy the weekend watching the Games and see you Monday for an update on Team GB medal haul.

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