The UK Govt could be kick-starting a revolution. Its motives are sincere, but has it laid down clear enough ground rules?

I’m not sure why but the arrival of the Government’s Cloudstore, a new portal for public sector bodies to procure software, got me thinking about the “Comparethemeerkats” campaign. Bear with me…

Even if you are suffering ‘meerkat fatigue’ I don’t think many would argue this campaign has made a dull subject (price comparison websites) somewhat entertaining.

And without wishing to offend those who spend their lives processing public sector tenders I wonder whether there is something to be learnt from this approach. Many people would agree that the mere mention of ‘Government Procurement’ would be a powerful sedative. I’m not sure what the Cloudstore equivalent of meerkats would be, but surely greater emphasis should be placed on properly promoting the service so that both buyers and the SMEs who are meant to benefit from access to Government procurement maximise the opportunity?

While the tone is generally positive there are outstanding questions. Mark Say’s article in the Guardian worryingly saw an admission from Phil Pavitt, CIO at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC): “How big departments are going to use it (Cloudstore) has not been fully thought through…"

At the very least the Cloudstore signals an intention from Government to act upon long harboured aspirations to move away from expensive, long-term IT contracts and enable more UK small businesses to overcome the bureaucratic nightmare that is Government procurement.

As Stuart Lauchlan suggested this could be a quiet revolution. Yes many of the well-known vendors have made it onto the list, but the message is fairly clear. Be prepared to deliver short-term contracts and strip away the complex implementation costs or we have alternatives. It could be argued that the mere suggestion of alternative is enough to focus minds and deliver greater efficiencies for the public sector (and us taxpayers).

Perhaps when we look back on it we’ll see this decision as one of those moments when Government intervention sparked a truly revolutionary moment.

Question marks

However, the Government’s approach does leave a few questions unanswered. Stuart pointed to learnings from the US’ project on Cloud Computing, which shows there is a lot more to consider than simply listing an application  or service on a portal. Likewise Clive Longbottom welcomes Cloudstore, but recognises that the public sector has to embrace it if it is to be successful.

From my perspective the key questions are:

Buyer/end user education and empowerment:

Using a service from Cloudstore will never be quite as simple as Amazon or the Apple iStore, but it will be consigned to history as another Government-backed dodo without significant investment in buyer education. If we look at SaaS adoption it has often seen end users circumventing frustrating IT policies to use the software they want. While I’m sure central and local Government departments will have checks in place to prevent a ‘free-for-all’ Cloud Computing should empower users and buyers to make choices. But how do they choose between the solutions on offer? What considerations should affect their decision? 

Integration:

Of the 250 vendors already registered on the Cloudstore 50% are supposed to be small businesses often providing just a point solution or at best a suite of similar products. In the main they will be built on one platform, such as Solidsoft on the Microsoft Azure platform. They do not have the resources to integrate their offerings with those of all the major vendors. That is a problem, because central and local Government have invested heavily in IT and cannot afford to discard these legacy systems. So how does the Cloudstore administration ensure smaller vendors can integrate as effectively with existing solutions to ensure the playing field is truly level?

Marketing:

In any industry if a buyer has to choose between a known entity and an unknown one it is no surprise they usually go for the safe option. With Cloudstore there has already been some debate about how the vendors present their offerings, because it is clearly not uniform. That makes marketing these solutions hard and obviously it is going to be harder for the smaller vendors to compete against recognised brands. With culture of risk-aversion heightened by all the high profile IT failures how is Cloudstore going to help to promote the ‘Davids’ to ensure the Whitehall politicos don’t just pick the ‘Goliaths’ they know?

I do believe the Cloudstore can deliver significant value, but as Michael Krigsman has said many times successful IT implementations are a combination of the software working, the implementation sticking to a mutually agreed schedule using the right resources and the customer understanding exactly what goals they want to achieve through the adoption of IT. 

While the Cloudstore could be the start of something the spectre of the ‘IT Devil’s Triangle’ still looms large and these fundamental issues have to be addressed for it to a long-term success

@cairbreUK

Nokia has begun its campaign to re-imagine itself at Mobile World Congress and is looking to become the most operator-friendly smartphone vendor

The news of Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft seems to be sinking in at Mobile World Congress. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop continues to appear throughout the event to again tell people why this move makes sense. He’s confident in his messaging and delivering it clearly but his enthusiastic explanations don’t do the scope of the announcement justice.

Elop declared at Monday’s keynote presentation: "A battle of devices is shifting to a war of ecosystems.”

This signals a move in the market that has been coming into focus in 2010 with the emergence of Android as a true force in the smartphone market. Throughout Mobile World Congress, Elop has been banging the “three-horse race” messaging hard and Windows Phone 7 with Nokia’s reach will create a third combatant in the smartphone market. This will be a definite but distant third player and one that will have to make a pretty drastic statement when they finally bring a device to market.

Jo Harlow, senior vice president marketing at Nokia Mobile Phones, has hinted that this will be within 2011 but her statement was definitely not a guarantee.

Operator Friendly

What has been interesting since the initial announcement Friday night, where Elop said he’d been on the phone with European operators reassuring them, is the operator-friendly message that Elop has been emphasizing. Elop seems to be carving the smartphone market up and putting Nokia on the side of the operator and its business model.

Operators are in a unique position and need all of the help they can get to retain revenue and take some control back in the market they brought to life. If you are an operator you see Apple taking market share in areas you’d like to excel in while Google has seen Android explode in 2010 and at the same time a revenue hog on the web. In the smartphone market these two players are in a luxurious position as operators grasp at different ways to answer the “dumb pipe” question.

Nokia and Microsoft have the opportunity to be the shoulder to cry for operators that have seen opportunities squander elsewhere. iPhone is established and Android is a force in the market as we have seen throughout Mobile World Congress with this additional platform creating, what Nokia says, will be more competition and choice for operators.

Elop explicitly addressed the operator community during the Microsoft keynote on Monday and let them know that Nokia’s new partnership will create the most operator-friendly smartphone platform in the market. He added that Nokia and Microsoft would help operators to retain and drive revenue, which aren’t likely goals for Apple.

Elop said: “We understand what it means to be friendly to operators."

This kind of messaging plays into Nokia’s history of strong partnerships with its operator partners and broadly makes sense but looking at another aspectof Nokia’s business you wonder if Nokia needs to focus on the smartphone market. The company has shown its strength around the world with feature phones and is still a force in the market even though it may not appear to be an innovator any longer.

Peters Suh, CEO of Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) noted in an application-focused keynote panel that Nokia has between 30%-40% global market share in handsets, which he then followed up by saying, “but I’m not sure that the smartphone market is a global phenomenon”. This is a fair statement as emerging markets with limited mobile coverage may struggle to take advantage of advanced features.

Feature Phones Not Its Future?

Suh was highlighting that perhaps this doesn’t play to Nokia’s overall position or strengths in the mobile market. It may not want to play the role of emerging market or feature phone vendor but that may be what it is good at. Nokia has been looking for an identity for some time and this move has not brought anymore clarity into play.

What is clear is Elop may be playing to operators now but eventually Nokia will need to attract consumers and prove to them that its Windows Phone 7 devices are not just operator friendly but customer friendly as well.

Matthew_Whalley

Edel_Telecom

Seems like any company with a strong brand and customer base can be a hardware vendor. Hot on the heels of Amazon apparently launching its own tablet, clothing retailer Next is quietly offering a cut-price iPad wannabe.

Amazon has form with the brilliant Kindle eBook but Next has come a little out of left field. It’s all thanks to Android of course, the iPad-baiting open source OS that’s garnering millions of fans and users around the world.

Android’s modus operandi is the opposite to Apple. Android thrives on anyone and everyone playing with it whereas Apple thrives on being a closed shop,  locking users into its hardware, software, content and payment platforms.

Personally I think it’s a stroke of genius. The price point (£180) is massively undercutting the iPad as well as the sprinkling of Android tablets already announced by the bigger technology companies. Next customers get access to a global community of content as well as a (hopefully) decent device for enjoying media. Next gets the kudos of playing in the tablet market and, if it’s smart, a channel through which to pump content and hopefully generate sales. On this point, Next launched its own iPhone app back in February, and you can bet that feedback from that experience led to the development of its own tablet.

It makes you think who else could enter the tablet market. Banks, motoring organisations, football clubs, in fact any brand, company or organisation that has a decent brand, customer loyalty and a sales channel to get the product to market.

So, outside of the big tech hardware vendors, any guesses as to who will be next?

@paulwooding1973

It looks like the smartphone sector is going through a bumpy patch. Google has closed down its Nexus One on-line store, while there’s disquiet amongst developers over the application store model of distributing and monetising content.

Feels to me like growing pains for a sector of the mobile market that has witnessed massive growth in a relatively short space of time.

Google’s travails in flogging actual handsets simply proves that sometimes you can have a bad idea – namely believing consumers will ditch a rational desire to physically see and touch something before purchase.

The developers bellyaching is a sign of a maturing market in which manufacturers are starting to realise that the distribution models that allowed them to build a business in the first place are not as flexible nor favourable as they once appeared.

However, while we can put these spats down to the mobile phone market’s equivalent of puberty, everyone should guard against a turn back towards closed platforms. Virtually every major handset manufacturer has either developed – or bought – some form of mobile OS and while all the talk is of open standards and interoperability, the temptation to “do an Apple” and try and build a closed platform that locks customers in must be tempting.

That would be massively against the spirit of the age and potentially damaging to the industry.

Consumers are putting a premium on choice while developers thrive on the develop-once/publish-many model. In a market where software is becoming the main selling point, manufacturers and mobile operators are fighting to remain relevant and this makes for a delicate balancing act between, on the one side, innovating on design, functionality, tariffs and service while on the other, ensuring both developers and customers have access to a broad ecosystem of applications and content.

It’s a tough task and there are bound to be more bumps along the way. For the smartphone sector to continue to innovate and thrive however, everyone needs to be kept ‘appy.

@paulwooding1973

Technology story of the decade? Possibly. Apple software engineer Gray Powell has certainly booked himself a place in geek folklore as the person who got p**sed and left a prototype new iPhone on a bar stool in California.

Had he have done the same thing in say Dudley or Walsall, he’d probably have gotten an email by the time he was home offering him his phone back for £500. Alas and alack, losing it in a bar full of technologically-curious drinkers meant that it was soon in the hands of top technology news website Gizmodo, and low, the secrets of the next generation iPhone were out.

A bad day for Apple then? I’m not so sure. Apple‘s security is notoriously tighter than a chicken-wire tourniquet, so would it really let an albeit it heavily disguised new phone out on the town?  Yes, Powell could have gone off-piste and disregarded rules about how and where you road test new products, but there’s still a slight whiff of “fit up” about this.

For one, the new specifications seem a little too obvious; camera flash with front facing video camera, higher resolution screen, bigger battery. Do you need to road test these? Secondly, the design looks like it’s taken a step backwards. It’s gone bulkier and less rounded (though of course the case could just be work in progress).

I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t an intentional Apple curve ball, thrown to keep the IT pack off the scent of the new handset which, let’s face it, will be launching into a market that is a lot more hostile than the one the original phone made such an impact in.

Either way, Gray Powell has made himself a quiz question for Technology PR agencies the world over, while Apple has got everyone talking about the iPhone, at a time when everyone is still talking about the iPad. Clever boys.

And should all this turn out to be true, then Apple can take solace in the fact that no matter how much this leak will damage the legendary mystique that usually  accompanies an Apple launch, it’ll be nowhere near as bad as Coca-Cola’s launch of its bottled water Dasani. Apparently early adverts carried the slogan “bottled spunk” (until they did a UK slang check) and it was soon ‘outed’ as being treated tap water, from Sidcup apparently. Then it was linked to causing cancer – and not even by the Daily Mail which usually holds the copyright to such speculation. Apple has nothing to worry about.

@paulwooding1973

There’s a fascinating piece on TechCrunch, live notes from a Google event where CEO Eric Schmidt gave CIOs a look at some new cloud technologies and then took questions from the floor.   

For me, the Q&A threw up two areas of real interest. Number one is the open admission that Google is becoming a competitor to many of its partner companies. How do you manage that sort of relationship? Schmidt talks about the upcoming Chrome operating system and how it will realise the vision of cloud-based computing, removing the need for expensive hardware and bringing down the cost of device ownership. How do you square that vision with the device manufacturers that Google is working with? They’re locked in a constant battle of technical one-upmanship on specs yet Google is talking about a future where less is more. Surely there’s trouble ahead?

Secondly, this piece clearly shows that Google is on a collision course with Apple. We know the relationship has already soured with Schmidt quitting his place on the Apple board, but with him describing Google as an “information company” and talking upfront about the importance of applications, Google seems to have moved on from the world of search and is now on a mission to bring portable, connected, affordable and engaging computing to everyone and anyone that wants it – and that is surely where Apple wants to be as well. There’s a good piece on the ensuing ‘war’ between the two giants on Electricpig.

All told, I find it hard not to like Schmidt and the vision he paints for Google. There’s a simplicity about the company that stretches from the single search box at Google.com right the way through the products and services and into Schmidt’s vision for a more simplified way of connecting and communicating. The question is, do Google’s current crop of partners feel the same?

@paulwooding1973

"Steve Jobs has announced he is to pursue a career as an artist. His work will be exhibited by Green Park tube""

Did you hear?  It seems Apple is planning to launch a shiny new toy.  Perhaps an easier question is “have you not heard?” You’d have to have returned from a month-long trek through the hills of Kathmandu to not be aware of this revelation.  Every news site is hyping it so much you’d think Apple has conceived a new way of slicing bread.  But the thing is – we haven’t heard it from the horse’s mouth yet.

If you’ve been busy finding yourself in Kathmandu you might also have missed our own news – Edelman launched the 2010 Trust Barometer yesterday.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do.

As we trustworthy types do, we were chatting about the research yesterday and Steve Jobs cropped up in conversation.  As he does.  So to catch you all up – once again Technology is the most trusted industry according to our research.  Well done us.  And we’ve moved from a shareholder to a stakeholder world  where transparency has grown in importance.

The findings also show that it’s no longer all about the CEO.  Its lowly people like you and me that people want to hear from (you do, don’t you?).  The trust is no longer linked to the job description. (Though as an obsequious aside – it is still worth listening to the likes of Robert Phillips and Richard Edelman.  Not only are they interesting to listen to, they also help pay my bills).  But you get what I mean, companies have to look beyond the bucks and the board room when asking for a consumer’s trust.

So compare this to Apple.  Jobs is the messiah for many, a heroic entrepreneur for our time.  But his health issues last year further underlined the important of not putting the whole company’s eggs in a CEO’s basket.  Transparency is usually linked to openness in corporate dialogue.  Compare this to the Tablet, which is so shrouded in secrecy they’ve probably developed an invisibility cloak especially for it.  Following the fanfare of this evening’s press conference I’m sure the Apple spokespeople will return to their imagination lab in the bowels of a volcano somewhere to a chorus of “No Comment”.  So in a conventional sense there is very little transparency.   However – there will be an awful lot of #iSlate conversations.

So what does this all mean?  Well the Naked Pheasant himself put it nicely when he said that the “trust is with the art not the artist.” The product is the king, not the person.  That’s where the consumer trust lies.  Mr Pheasant continues “how many times have you seen a friend showing off an iPhone in the pub?”  The Boss Bird has a point and attached to the great product is some great conversational marketing – the iStore adverts are a good example.  It’s a great approach to promotion and one that is too often ignored: ensure the product is blisteringly brilliant – and the rest will follow.   If you build it they will come.

There is one flaw in this approach as far as I can see.  What if they mess it up?  How loyal is the consumer trust in Apple?  Maybe Jobs is just too achingly smart to let this happen and the iSlate/ Tablet/ eReader will meet all of its expectations.  Maybe it will revolutionise how consumers absorb content.  It might even revive the print industry, to boot.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if the once glorious conversations and exchanges in the pub turn into “jeez do you remember when Apple had it all then they fucked it up with that big iPhone that turned into a toaster?”

When the conversation is around the art and not the artist, you are only as good as your last painting.

@LukeMackay

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