Tuesday, March 15, 2011

iPad2 stock management - inefficient or "creating the desire"

Being in Silicon Valley, just a few miles from Apple's HQ, I thought I'd pop to the nearest Apple Store and see how sales of the iPad2 are going.

There's a lovely sign saying "we have sold out of today's allocation, come back tomorrow" and one of their staff says "we're opening an hour earlier, we've no idea what stock we will get until tomorrow and you can't reserve one.  Come along at 9:00am and its first-come, first-served".

Are Apple useless at stock inventory? No.  Are they making new ones each day? I doubt it.  Is this just to make the product even more desirable/unobtainable/create more demand/a further frission of excitement? Probably.

Of course, as I'm not a betting man it would be wrong of me to speculate the split of iPads delivered tomorrow, but perhaps a cynic would expect that the number of the smallest configs (16GB and wi-fi only) will be small allowing the successful customers to upgrade/pay more for a configuration that is more than they planned in the morning when they joined the line of hopefuls.

Apple - got to love 'em, a truly exceptional operation.  Let's hope that they don't introduce the Apple iPip shortly, a product so desireable that they check your youth and beauty before selling it to you.  Can you imagine a ring of doormen checking your "georgeousness-credentials" outside like enering a nightclub, "sorry, you are too old/ugly to buy one of our lovely products, come back tomorrow better dressed and try again"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Even "cloud" data has to be somewhere!

Sorry if this seems obvious, but I had a conversation with someone today who was saying how great "Cloud IT" is as "you get the same access worldwide - it no longer matters where users and data are".

He seemed a bit suprised when I said "not really, the data has to be somewhere and its a good idea to know where that is". Here are a few of my reasons:

1. Latency.  Where is the data and where are your users?  How far are they from the data, what distance, what's the latency, how many hops, how much do they travel and what's the performance like for them all?  - Perhaps you need some WAN Optimisation for your cloud applications.

2. Reliability of network connections and infrastructure.  As we've seen here in the first three months of 2011, countries can block or restrict Internet access, so just where will your data be housed by your cloud outsourcer?  Both the US and UK lawmakers have talked recently about laws to restrict the Internet, perhaps it will come to nothing, but do you have a guarantee from your cloud provider that they won't suddenly move the data somewhere else (perhaps cheaper) without letting you know?  Of course, countries with a small number of undersea links can also find that nature or ship anchors can cause outages and today's terrible earthquake in Japan reminds us of natural disasters that can also cause infrastructure problems.

3. Privacy and Data Leakage laws.  You as the customer are ultimately responsible for your data.  Does the outsourcer host the data in a country that has the appropriate regulations on data that you need?  If outside your normal country of operations, do you have the appropriate safe-harbor clauses about tranferring data overseas?  Again, can your outsourcer move your data without telling you?

4. Security.  There's been a lot of discussions around security issues related to cloud computing, so I probably don't need to rehash those here - Here's some optional reading on that point

Privacy is dead - let's move forward

Is what you’re typing on your computer today safe tomorrow? While you might think you are being careful with personal information, people you come into contact with may not be so cautious. By putting all the pieces together from social networking and elsewhere, the Internet may already reveal far more than you want. Thanks to powerful search engines and directories, personal information is increasingly easy to find.

We’re all helping to kill off privacy in a myriad of ways. For example, if you Twitter or use Foursquare to say that you’re on a family holiday in Spain, it’s not the same as sending postcards to friends. Telling the world might make you feel good but there’s a possible downside. Will a burglar who can find out where you live see an opportunity?

While such thoughts may owe something to paranoia, there are other possibilities. How many times have you sent a sensitive email and found a once-trusted recipient has forwarded it? Press send and control is taken out of your hands. And we all know people leaving jobs might take valuable company data with them.

By cross-referencing business-realted sites such as LinkedIn and Xing with public data and consumer-sites such as Facebook and then looking for relatives - it is relatively simple to find out a lot more information about many of us than we might think.  If you have children, your picture is probably on their Facebook account.  Did they put in their date of birth, part of the home address that now easily finds you?  Do some searching for yourself and see what you find.  (I found my full home addess and phone number from a list of charity trustees).

Information technology is now unravelling privacy for individuals and organisations alike. A memory stick is a handy size for pocketing the company’s customer database while archived emails may hold embarrassing secrets. The lost laptop or smartphone may spell disaster while putting personal data into the cloud has its risks.

Before the 18th century industrial revolution, small communities meant everyone knew everyone’s business. The growth of large cities then made it easy for individuals to hide their affairs from others. Now, the internet is turning the world into a global village. You only have to search for personal information on anyone to realise what’s happening.

Where privacy is concerned, the genie is out of the bottle. Should we try to put it back? Although social networking pressures make that difficult, in the corporate world measures such as role-based access offer some respite. It’s also possible, for example, to implement monitoring technology to check security problems such as unusual out-of-hours remote access.

If we do accept privacy is dead, then what can be done? While staying off the social networks is one solution, it doesn’t stop others writing about you. Assume everything that you write or text might be made public one day. The heady attraction of self-publishing also makes some people forget the risks to themselves and others.

Perhaps the best advice within the workplace is simply to work honestly and professionally. It means thinking twice before pressing send and always taking care what you write. Unlike confidential paper documents in securely-locked filing cabinets, electronic files may know no boundaries.

There’s two perhaps unexpected advantages to the growing lack of privacy. It may make some of us more secure by being less trusting of people who publish too much personal information. In addition, if someone contacts you - its easier than ever to check their credentials.

Taking care of the material that’s worth protecting is what really counts here. Although turning the tide on the loss of privacy now seems impossible, it’s certainly time to value what we have.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Google Translate changing people's names

Well, here's a funny thing.  I asked Google Translate to translate from German to English and it didn't just translate, but changed the name of one of my colleagues to someone who used to work for the company, but left around a year ago (and didn't have the same job title anyway).

Looks like Google is trying to be just a bit too clever, searching around articles and documents from the past and putting it into the present - something like both a translate and a historical Wayback machine all in one.  You might want to try this yourself - the German text is "sagt Dietmar Schnabel, Geschäftsführer" and Google replies to me with "said Bethany Mayer, Managing Director".

They do say that they look at web documents, but this is rather strange to me.

It makes me wonder whether as the web increases in content, anyone new getting a job will be "translated" back to the previous person who held that post, will the next US president get translated back to Barak Obama?

Apologies to Dietmar and Bethany, I hope neither of you mind being here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I've outsourced my brain to the cloud

Who needs a brain to remember things these days? Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to know as much as I did. I’m not sure when I last picked up a dictionary or encyclopedia. Yet I’m working more productively than ever before. In the always-on world, everything needed is constantly available.

It never used to be like this. Finding the right answers took too much time. Handling reference books, newspapers, magazines or maps was often a chore. Telephoning people and asking them to post information was even slower than it sounds. Now, that’s all changed thanks to online resources like Wikipedia.

From a business point of view, I’ve never felt more connected with customers, colleagues or suppliers. Thanks to salesforce.com, customer relationship management is firmly in the cloud. LinkedIn keeps me in touch with my peers and others. Twitter allows me to update the world on news and follow other people or news with ease. And keeping track of competitors is simple too!  I remember when I used to have to pretend to be a customer to call and ask for pricing, now it is all pretty-much transparent

The Internet also helps my personal life. From timetables and tickets to theatre and sporting events, it provides real choice. Who doesn’t prefer the convenience of Internet purchases over busy shopping centres, glossy brochures, call centres or music-on-hold?

Like millions of other people, I rely on the internet - the cloud - more than ever before. But the key to outsourcing my brain to the cloud is the sheer availability and performance of the Internet from smartphone to desktop. That means having optimum high-speed access to information without tripping over malicious websites. We expect fast results from our questions and high-performance downloads of ever-richer data (3D HDTV over the Internet anyone - it will come and we'll expect it too).

But getting the most out of this resource does require a reasonable idea of what you’re looking for. Even so, I find that when I’m online I don’t need to remember as much as before. Searching interactively is better than thumbing through paper indices or trying to remember where you saw a particular fact.

When the Internet is not there, we definitely feel its loss. I tried living without the web for a week last year for a series of articles in the Financial Times www.ft.com - an experiment I’m not keen to repeat. Not only can’t we communicate but the information we need is inaccessible too. For example, if you rely on your smartphone for driving routes then you may regret one day not keeping a road atlas in the car. Our reliance on technology can - just occasionally when it fails - be a bad thing.

Some believe that the Internet’s avalanche of information might actually be making us less intelligent. By being bombarded with facts are we losing our ability to concentrate and learn? The sheer availability of information can mean we hop from piece to piece and don't focus or concentrate when we should, but we can always turn off th web, email and phones - when we want to.  Of course, there are distractions which affect our productivity. That’s why companies ban some websites in the workplace.

I don’t agree that the Internet adversely affects my concentration. I see it as a business tool, a door-opener and a 21st century aide-mémoire. Used wisely, the Internet works with your mind and releases precious time to focus on your job. There’s no better 24x7 resource for finding out information quickly, wherever you might be. While the cloud doesn’t replace my thinking, it’s gone a very long way to helping it out. 

I've outsourced much of my brain to the cloud, have you?