What will be the real impact of the meltdown in Europe?

by Frank 8. December 2011 13:43

Banner headline today from Australian Financial Publications, “Spanish and Italian bond yields rose overnight after it was revealed that Italian banks had to borrow €153bn in emergency liquidity from the ECB in November, representing a 38 per cent rise on October and a near-quadrupling of requirements since June”.

“ECB may dig deeper into toolbox as leaders seek fiscal union” says new headline from Bloomberg.

“S&P warns about lowering credit rating amid Euro Zone Crisis” reports the French Tribune.

Listening to a variety of financial news channels and reading financial newsletters and publications only serves to depress us about the future of the Euro zone and Europe in general.

No one really expects Europe to avoid a major recession and no one really expects Greece or Ireland or Portugal or Spain to ever be able to pay back all the money they owe.

The more pessimistic of the experts warn of five to ten years of recession or deflation/stagnation and long term unemployment rates exceeding twenty-percent. The European welfare state is in its death throes but no one really wants to fess up how bad it really is. Germany is mad that those lazy southern Europeans are messing with its prosperity and France is mad because those same southern Europeans are screwing around with the new French empire; France being, as everyone knows, the heart and soul of Europe.

As Europe is the world’s biggest economy, bigger even than the USA, what does the current situation and even grimmer forecast mean for the rest of us who do not live in Europe? Will we still be able to buy a BMW, French wine and a Spanish sausage? Will they cost more or less? Will the boatloads of Asian refugees coming to Australia be replaced by fishing boats full of Spaniards, Portuguese and Greeks?

I have already heard from my friends, relatives and business associates who have visited Europe recently that it has become outrageously expensive and more than one of them referred to places like Greece and Ireland as “rip-offs”. I recently read that 14,000 fewer young Australians were able to enjoy a working holiday in the UK (long an Australian tradition for adventurous young Australians) because there simply isn’t any work, even for eager, hard-working Aussie backpackers. So where do these 14,000 young people now go? Do they come back to Australia and exacerbate our unemployment problem? Do they go the places like Bali and get arrested for smoking funny cigarettes?

Do tourists stop going to Europe because all the new and higher taxes and ‘opportunistic’ additional charges have made it just too unpleasant? If so, what happens to all the businesses in Europe that depend on tourism? Does it mean yet more European boat people for Australia? Will they all be happy to move to the far northern deserts of Western Australia eating dust and digging up iron ore for export to China? But, what if the pundits are right and China’s economy is slowing down and it stops buying shiploads of iron ore every day? Then where do our new immigrants go and where do they find work?

It is all a conundrum and its makes my head ache. It would help a lot if the leaders in Europe would actually start trusting each other and telling the truth but you know what they say about politicians and lying, “You can always tell when a politician is lying because his/her lips are moving.” All we know is that it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

So we lucky Australians (and maybe a few lucky New Zealanders) need to start thinking ahead about how all of this will impact on our cosy lifestyles. We know we have the world’s greatest treasurer (he told us so) but he is a politician and I have already covered the trustworthiness of politicians in the previous paragraph.

It is not like we have somewhere better to go to. Right now Australia is the healthiest place to live by a proverbial mile but that also means there is no alternative, no escape hatch if the economy here starts to deteriorate. Greeks from Melbourne (once the world’s second biggest Greek city) certainly won’t be heading back to Greece any time soon and POME migrants like me (English to the uninitiated) sure as hell won’t be heading back to old Blighty.

With the exception of mining, agriculture and farming most Australian businesses like mine rely on the Australian economy. I own a software company and whereas we do sell in the UK, the USA and Canada most of our business is here in Australia. In the past when the Australian economy slowed down we could target overseas markets but that really isn’t an option now with most of the rest of the world in financial meltdown and the real costs of exporting higher than ever.

The bottom line is that those awful Europeans are going to continue to actually do nothing to solve the debt problems of European nations and their leaders will continue to obfuscate and pontificate until the house falls down. Unfortunately, our house is linked to their house so when Europe falls our economy will also be hard hit as the inevitable fall off in demand for Chines products from the world’s largest economy exacerbates the Chines slowdown and blows a hole in our mining boom. There go those billions of dollars the government is relying on from the new super profits mining tax.

Of course I could be wrong and I bet most of you hope that I am. I could have seriously misjudged the European leaders and a European boom could be just around the corner along with a surge in Chinese and Indian demand for our mining and agricultural products. There is also a chance I could wake up tomorrow younger, taller, better looking and smarter but to my mind both are pretty unlikely scenarios.

As we already live in the best country in the world, there isn’t a lot we can do other than work harder, work smarter, support Australian business (please, please stop outsourcing our jobs) and look after our family and friends. It is going to be a long hard haul but I believe in Australia and Australians so I am confident we will come out the other side a stronger and better country. In a funny way, this is our chance to grow in stature and become a much more important and powerful country. Let’s hope our leaders are up to the task.

What happens when all application work moves to mobile?

by Frank 7. December 2011 13:01

What needs to happen?

Just as dissatisfied end users drove the PC and networking revolution in the early 1980s (away from mainframe backlogs); end users are now driving the mobile revolution.

End users are telling IT departments what technology they want to work with and most IT departments have come to the conclusion that they have little choice in the matter other than to decide the security regime and hardware and software tools necessary to support the nominated mobile devices securely.

Software companies all over the world just like us are either shifting allegiances or covering their bets by investing in new genre mobile applications. In addition, a whole new software development sub-industry has sprung up that concentrates on new types of applications not previously seen on the traditional PC and notebook; it is a huge growth industry.

Traditional business application software developers are rapidly coming to terms with the new design paradigm for mobile apps, designed and architected to suit the capabilities of the Smartphone and tablet and slick enough and cool enough and easy-to-use enough to suit the demands of the mobile user. The message comes through loud and clear, make it too hard to use with too many options and too many steps and they won’t use it.

The mobile device has unique user interface requirements not just because of the characteristics of the device (e.g., the small form factor of a Smartphone) but the eminently reasonable and sensible demands of the experienced mobile user who wants something as slick and cool and intuitive as his/her other mobile apps. The app must also work seamlessly with the accepted and ‘standard’ way each type of mobile devices operates. If it runs on an iPad then it must look, feel and work just like every other iOS app; it cannot change the way a user works with his/her mobile device; it must employ a totally standard and familiar user interface.

The huge advantage of mobile apps is that no end user training is required. In fact, if an end user can’t figure it out immediately, the app will fail (back to the drawing board). I am not sure if industry has worked this out yet. That is, design the app properly and appropriately and no end user training will be involved. How many billions of dollars are we talking about in cost savings?

However, there is a caveat, and that is that when I talk about mobile apps I am talking about ‘native’ mobile apps; those that run under the mobile device’s operating system, e.g., iOS or Android.  I am not talking about what we call web apps or apps that run within the browser. Most web apps don’t look anything like the native apps and do not employ the same ‘native’ user interface. They look the same (or similar) under Safari on the iPad as they do running under IE9 on a Windows 7 PC. A lot do have special ‘cut-down’ versions to suit the much smaller form factor of a Smartphone but very few actually look like and work like true native mobile apps (e.g., something written in Xcode for iOS).

Web apps usually have significantly more functionality that native apps and they do require end user training, usually a lot of training.

Software developers will   eventually move away from now old-fashioned Windows application development (i.e., what we used to call ‘fat’ clients) but they cannot afford to move away from web application development because for a lot of applications, especially the larger and more complex applications like for example SAP, it is currently just not possible or practicable to convert all of the fat client functionality to native mobile apps; we just are not there yet.

Traditional fat client business apps are large, complex and have multiple screens, multiple menus, hundreds of features and thousands of options. This kind of application does not convert well to a native mobile app. For anyone who has ever worked with SAP, try to imagine re-implementing SAP functionality on a native mobile app and making it so easy to use it doesn’t require end user training. This could be what we euphemistically call a challenge.

In phase one of our mobile app revolution I believe we will see a hybrid model where big corporations and government roll out a combination of both native and web mobile apps. As the technology and tools improve we will see more and more appropriate functionality being implemented as native apps but not being removed from the web apps, at least not for a few years yet. This evolving paradigm needs developers and users to work together to discover what works best on mobile apps in native mode. We need to test and experiment but at least there will be little lost time waiting to see if end users accept our new ideas. The modern mobile user is adept at evaluating and deciding on an app within a few minutes and the weight of end user reviews will kill a bad native app faster than a live degausser resting on your hard drive.

The move to mobile apps also requires some significant improvements in communications. We are not going to be running our business over 3G; we must have at least 4G and/or high speed broadband and we must have the services universally available.

We also probably need the next one or two generations of mobile devices to be faster and smarter and to offer more variety and choice in form factor (i.e., screen size). The iPad screen may be fine for most things but its limited size makes it unsuitable for applications that require a lot of screen real estate.  Yes, you could always redesign the busy screen into several screens but that won’t suit the user who needs to see everything at once and there are lots of applications that need a lot of screen real estate to meet the particular needs of the end user; think stock markets analysis and financial trading and control monitoring applications (e.g., for a Power Station) that need single-view and very detailed dashboards.

There is also the unassailable fact that more and more of us are getting older and that presbyopia generally sets in at around forty five years of age. For the uninitiated, the first onset of presbyopia is usually when you discover that your arms are no longer long enough to read the morning paper. It is also when you start having trouble reading small print on any medium. The older you get the further out you focal distance moves until such time that you can no longer read fine print without the aid of eyeglasses. A little later, even the eyeglasses don’t help much and you really need bigger fonts and a larger form factor.

That is, just in case the makers of Smartphones and tablets are not listening, we older working folk would really like you to think about us when you are designing the screens and buttons of your next generation of mobile devices; thank you, your cooperation would be most appreciated. Thanks to the GFC a lot more of us older folk are going to be in the labour market for a lot longer.

The real impact of mobilization – how will it affect the way we work?

by Frank 2. December 2011 13:00

I spoke about the move to mobilization in a previous Blog but didn’t reflect on the impact to our working and personal lives. I have since been contemplating this topic and am starting to believe that the changes brought about by mobilization will be significant; perhaps even more significant that the changes brought about by the advent of the PC in the early 1980’s.

I also believe that a key factor will be the type of work we do. In essence, do you work with physical or electronic assets?

People who work with physical assets like records managers, nurses and storemen and dock workers will find mobile devices making their job easier but they will still need to be onsite at the workplace. People working with electronic assets (let’s call them knowledge workers) like stock brokers, electronic document managers, investment analysts and insurance brokers will also find mobile devices making their job easier but they will no longer be tied to the workplace.

Another major change will be work hours. Once again, professionals like nurses will need to work regular shifts because patients require 24 hour attention. Similarly dock workers need to be at the dock when a ship is loading or unloading. Knowledge workers however will not have fixed working hours though most will still have to be ‘available’ (electronically that is) during core times like the stock market opening times. The real issue with electronic workers will be extended working hours because they will always be ‘online’. This will be particularly true in international businesses like banking and finance because the world is open 24 hours a day.

Many sales people for example already work extended hours because of their mobile devices and either the need or desire to be always available to their customers and prospective customers. I guess we have all seen a friend or colleague leave a restaurant to find a quiet corner for an important business call long after the formal working day is over.

Sales people I know call this the good and bad news. The good news is that their customers can now contact them anytime and the bad news is that their customers often do contact them at any time of the day or night. Is this really the life we all want; is this the future we want?

Some people are addicted to mobile devices, you just have to watch the scramble to turn phones on once a plane has landed or wonder at the manners of people who conduct loud conversations on their phones in elevators and public transport. But what happens when the novelty wears off and it becomes a requirement, a mandate and not a choice? Will the future knowledge worker be happy to be on-call 24 hours a day with no protected private time? How will an employer compensate a worker for ‘booking’ his private time? Will we need a new type of employment contract and new employment laws to protect knowledge workers?

What about offices? If more and more of the workforce mobilizes will we need much less formal office space? Why do you have to come to an old-fashioned office if you are already online and working and servicing your customers? Why do you have to be at the office between 9 and 5 if you are literally on-call 24 hours a day? Will we end up with cities full of empty office buildings?

More importantly, how do you reserve and protect your quiet, off-line time? Do we need new software that captures and queues calls and communications during specified quiet time hours like sleeping or a birthday party for the kids? It seems to me that just setting an ‘Out of office’ notice is not really enough or appropriate; we need something more dynamic and more appropriate to this new working paradigm, something that manages all of our mobile devices and tools, not just our emails.

We can already guess the tools we will be using; Smartphones and tablets would be my best guess. Hopefully, in the not too distant future we will have a single device to replace the two or three we now all carry (e.g., phone, tablet and notebook). But, what about the ability to communicate effectively and with enough bandwidth? There are only so many seats in a Starbucks and there is only so much coffee you can drink in a day. 3G isn’t fast enough, 4G is still rolling out and mobile broadband cards are still a bit clunky, non-integrated and expensive.

Personally I believe the way forward is Wi-Fi, not cabled networks (copper and fibre) but worry that governments will both complicate and add cost to the process because of the need to control and charge for spectrum. We need the politicians to ignore the vested interest lobbyists and literally get out of the way of progress. I have experience of 4G in the US and its works really well, up to ten times faster than 3G and I also believe much faster speeds are possible and probable in the near future (5G in 3 to 5 years?).

However, back to you and your near-future working paradigm. Will you negotiate a new contract with your employer to adequately address your extended availability? Note that I didn’t say extended working hours because extended availability doesn’t necessarily mean that you work more hours per day. In fact, you could well end up working less hours a day if the work allocation is better planned and managed by workflow.

By this I mean that your boss has to plan and manage your workday much better than he/she does now. Your ‘tasks’ should be planned at least a week ahead and you notified by workflow. When you complete your daily tasks your workday is over. It will be your choice as to whether you will work like hell and complete all your tasks in the shortest possible time (thus producing more ‘free’ time) or take a much more relaxed approach and ‘embed’ your work tasks into your life so completion takes place over the full day, intertwined with your personal life. The boss just wants to know that the work gets done, presumably by midnight each day unless some tasks are time critical but in that case you would be aware of it because of the workflow details.

My conclusion is that we can’t move on to the new mobile working paradigm without much more extensive use of workflow to allocate and manage our days’ workload. Workflow software and new generation mobile devices and high speed Wi-Fi will be the enabling tools. The social impact and the new working paradigm, the relationship between you and your employer, are yet to be finalized. I really do believe that the next few years will see a quantum change in the way we are employed and paid and the way we combine work and personal life. Goodbye nine to five and hello to “I’m available.”


The Internet is broken and there is no solution – Chapter 2

by Frank 30. November 2011 13:36

In the last Blog on this topic I finished by saying that in the next Blog on this topic I will talk about what I think the replacements (plural) should be for the current Internet.

Let’s start by calling the Internet replacement IR01 (Internet replacement version 01) so we don’t confuse it with Web 2.0, Web 3.0, etc.

The first point is we definitely need both a public and a private IRV01, so let’s call them IR01PUB and IR01PRIV just for the purpose of this article. I am sure someone else will come up with much better names for the real things if and when they eventuate.

Whether or not we end up using TCP/IP and IPv6 as the protocol is a moot point. I would like something better but I suspect the cost to convert from TCP/IP would be prohibitive. However, I would like something newer, better and smarter so if anyone can propose a new protocol (e.g., Open Systems Interconnect – OSI) that could be utilized and implemented cost effectively and transitioned to smoothly then I would probably vote for it.

For the record, we have converted from older protocols previously (e.g., X.25 to TCP/IP) and generally used gateways to do this. I assume that if we did have a better protocol than TCP/IP we would also build gateways to convert from TCP/IP to the new protocol.

To summarize, I would prefer a more modern protocol with greater functionality and flexibility (i.e., more layers) but do not see it happening in the next few years because of the potentially massive cost. I therefore believe that we are ‘stuck’ with TCP/IP and IPv6 for the foreseeable future.

Let’s deal with IR01PUB first and my first change would be to push a lot of responsibilities away from the end users and back to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs). If you want to run a business based on IR01PUB then you have to accept responsibility for legality, quality and authenticity. The ISP will be responsible for blocking Spam, denial of service attacks, phishing, etc. There will be a new standard for Internet transaction verification that any ISP will have to meet. This standard will also include mandatory reporting of all attempted infractions of the code to a new world regulatory authority that will have the power, resources and funds to isolate, fine and punish those guilty parties.

There will also be new common standards for browsers that all vendors will have to meet; no ‘local’ variations permitted (there goes the marketing department). You either stick 100% to the standard or your browser isn’t supported and will not work. All traffic will be encrypted; there won’t be a choice not to encrypt traffic. A reasonable time period and say 2 releases will give vendors time to implement the latest standard. An independent testing authority under the new world regulatory authority will certify all new releases of browsers before they are released to business and the general public.

So, are you Internet traditionalist already depressed with the amount of regulation and control I have proposed? Bad luck because a laissez faire system cannot produce the security of use we all require and demand. We have tried for 20 years to address the symptoms and have spent billions of dollars on anti-virus software and firewalls and the like to no avail. Someone famous once said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing exactly the same thing but to expect the results to change; it won’t, the Internet is broken.

We need a new international governing body with muscle and resources, we need stricter standards and we need the power and the means to enforce our new standards. The long suffering end user has paid and paid and paid and suffered and suffered and suffered and enough is enough. It is time for change and significant change at that.

Oh you say, who will pay for this new regulatory system? The simple answer is that users will pay a small monthly fee for the right to use IR01PUB. That fee will be a small fraction of the cost to business and personal users of the broken system we now all suffer under. The fee will be collected by ISPs and forwarded to the new governing body.

For our IR01PRIV version I propose a much stricter set of standards and a closed system similar to what we had with mainframe networks when I was a boy (well young man actually working on IBM, CDC, GE, Sperry Univac and Burroughs mainframes as a programmer and project manager).

Government agencies and private corporations like utility companies will be licensed as IR01PRIV ISPs. There will be a scaled system such that different levels of certification are required depending upon whether you are hosting a closed system just for your organization or for a group of related organizations, e.g., related government departments in a ‘shared services’ arrangement or a group of say electricity providers. There will be no connection allowed between IR01PUB and IR01PRIV networks, the IR01PRIV system needs to be a closed loop, sand-boxed to an extreme level. There may be connections between IR01PRIV networks but only via approved and heavily regulated IR01PRIV gateways also run only by certified providers

Central governments will be required to sign a new treat with our central governing body agreeing to abide by the new standards and regulations before anyone in that country can participate in the new regime. Government representatives will not sit on the new governing body because if they did politics and lobbying and bureaucracy and bribery and attempts at censorship would ensure that the new system would also end up as unmanageable Swiss cheese, something akin to the United Nations.

The above is just a very brief and broad overview of what I believe is required. There are at least a thousand issues I haven’t covered and thousands of your questions I haven’t answered like how would I handle Wi-Fi devices, USB devices, Bluetooth, national emergencies, etc.  Given the time, the money and the right team I am sure I could answer all of your questions but it isn’t possible within the boundaries of this Blog.

However, obviously in my new system employees will not be sending and receiving personal emails and nor will they be checking on their social network sites or doing their banking during working hours. This fundamental change alone should see either a massive increase in productivity around the world or a lot more people sleeping at work.

We do need radical change and we need it urgently before there is a massive outage with consequences equal to or worse than the 2008 GFC.



Google greed is killing the golden goose

by Frank 26. November 2011 13:31

Every year our website is improved and has more relevant content but every year, since Google has been in power, the number of inquiries we receive via our website falls.

I am fond of saying that Google has kidnapped the Internet.  It used to be a public resource but now it is a Google resource, it has been ‘monetised’ by Google and Google continually refines its model to produce more money from the Internet. The net effect of every ‘improved Google algorithm’ is that you have to spend more time and money to be ‘found’.

I contend that a Google search now no longer gives you what you are looking for, it gives you what Google thinks you should have. For example, who asked Google to ‘localise’ searches? I certainly didn’t because I run an international business with my website as our portal to the world.

The Google reign has also spawned a plethora of blood-sucking SEO (Search Engine Optimization) companies that promise the world, guarantee nothing and deliver very little for your money. The fact that normal companies can no longer work out how to be found without help has been a boom to the SEO charlatans. The fact that Google continually plays with its stupid academic algorithm ensures that no strategy works for very long so you are forced to hire an SEO company on an ongoing, never-ending basis just to keep you head above water. Bad luck to those companies that can’t afford to hire an SEO company; even worse luck to those that do spend scarce dollars on SEO for negligible results.

What we need is for Google and Bing and the others to go back to a simple algorithm based on relevant content but that is not going to happen because that would be contrary to the money making algorithms they all employ and the avaricious demands of the stock market.

Who is going to design and develop a brilliant new search engine that works purely on relevant content and gives you exactly what you ask for if it isn’t based on adwords and advertising revenue? It is a bit like asking who will spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a cancer cure that will be given away free? It simply is not going to happen.

It is my prediction that Google’s insatiable quest for revenue growth will see more and more companies simply drop out of the game because it is too hard to understand and too expensive. They will have to find new ways, and reuse old ways, to reach their customers and prospective customers.

Adding to the difficulty is idiotic and poorly thought out anti-spam legislation passed all over the world (though Europe seems to be ahead with the most brain dead laws) that has done nothing to stop spammers but had severely penalised legitimate businesses making it almost impossible to market by email (for legitimate companies anyway). It has of course also created a whole new industry of blood-sucking ‘double opt-In’ email list spruikers more than happy to take advantage of stupid government legislation and rip-off gullible businesses.

The Wall Street analysts will continue to demand better revenue and income numbers from Google each quarter and Google will respond. Your business will be the loser because the pressures of the financial system will ensure that you have to pay more and more money every year to be found.

We will soon see a rich and poor tier system in place. A small number of very large and rich companies using Google to market on the Internet and a much larger number of smaller and less rich companies dropping out of the game they can’t afford to play in. Lots of small and micro businesses, especially home-based businesses, will fail in the process and many already have.

We saw the same thing happen a lot of years ago with advertising in traditional media. It soon got to the stage where it was a waste of money trying to do corporate advertising if your budget couldn’t stretch to tens of millions of dollars so the little guys simply dropped out of the game. The big media corporations killed the golden goose because of greed and eventually, it changed the whole face of traditional advertising and a great many of those greedy providers are no more.

In my opinion Google is now repeating the same formula with the Internet.  Because of that we are now experimenting with new and old ways to promote our business and reach our customers and prospective customers. I can’t speak for the rest of the world but I get the feeling that a great many smaller companies are moving in the same direction we are. Only time will tell if I am right.

The Internet is broken and there is no solution

by Frank 23. November 2011 13:17

We all know that the current Internet is an ‘open’ system and that it is plagued with spam, phishing attacks, denial of service attacks and major security issues allowing for example, foreign government sponsored attacks of our defense sites and infrastructure sites.

We (private individuals, local government, state government, federal government, defense, small, medium and large business, etc., etc.) spend billions of dollars every year trying to protect ourselves and it doesn’t work because the bad guys are just as creative as the good guys and sometimes I suspect they are even on the same revenue-generating team.

However, the real problem is that we are all spending billions of dollars trying to ‘fix’ the symptoms, not the core problem. Fixing the symptoms has never worked, doesn’t work and will never work for the aforementioned reasons, namely that the bad guys are as creative (if not more creative) than the good guys and the basic system is Swiss cheese.

So, do we continue standing over the toilet tearing up hundred dollars bills or do we acknowledge that the current Internet is broken and can’t be fixed and look for a new way to communicate, run our businesses and promote our businesses?

The Internet is old and it is based on very old technology, a bit like the late space shuttle that was finally killed off about twenty years after its real use by date but not without wasting hundreds of billions of dollars recycling and refreshing and patching up old technology. “Mutton dressed up as lamb” as my dear departed mother used to say (often when referring to aging film actresses, she was a little before the Internet and space shuttles).

Our governments have no choice, especially in the face of co-ordinated attacks on vital infrastructure by ‘unfriendly’ governments, but to move sensitive sites off the Internet and on to private networks. Plans for this are already in place in various major countries around the world and are most certainly in formation in the USA. Our governments are well aware that the next major conflict (I hesitate to call it a world war) will be over before it begins unless key government and infrastructure sites are one-hundred percent protected and they cannot be one-hundred percent protected with open connections to the current Internet.

How do you fight a war without water and electricity? How do you transport troops and vital supplies if all airports and roads are shut down? How do you care for your citizens if all hospitals are shut down? How do you feed everyone if there is no transport of food or refrigeration capabilities? How do you work farms with no electricity or fuel? How long do you think a country could survive under these conditions? The aggressor wouldn’t even have to launch a single missile, all ‘weapons’ will already have been delivered by the Internet.

As private individuals we have seen enough of identity theft to be at least aware of the dangers of the Internet as a means of commerce. Is there a month that goes by without yet another leak about stolen credit card data from banks and affiliates and stolen personal information from social networking sites or yet another Nigerian scam? It is not a case of will you be a victim, but when?

My contention is that the current Internet, because of its technology, architecture and politics, cannot be fixed. Just like the space shuttle, it is already way past its real use by date. But, because companies all over the world have invested so much in the Internet they are reluctant to deliver the last rites. It is vested interests, certainly not concern for your security, which is keeping the current Internet alive and not well.

The Internet needs to be replaced with something better, not continually patched up and played with. However, just like those ugly big banks, those in power think it is “too big to fail” and they are wrong, just as they were wrong about those big banks that have now consumed hundreds of billions more of your hard-earned tax dollars.

Saying it is too important or too big to be allowed to fail (as the EU is doing with the PIG countries) is no more than a way of avoiding a real and lasting solution; it is a delay, a stall or “kicking the can down the road” and hoping something will happen in the future to magically solve the problem.

In the next Blog on this topic I will talk about what I think the replacements (plural) should be.

Mobile and Web – The Future of Applications?

by Frank 20. November 2011 07:33

Coincident with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) beginning in 2008 we have seen the beginning of a seismic shift in the way organizations regard ‘official’ application platforms. Maybe it has a lot to do with cost cutting and the drive to increase productivity; doing more with less. It could also have been driven by the volcanic eruption in social networking that drove the demand for Internet time on both conventional devices like PCs and notebooks but also on mobile devices, especially Smartphones.

Whatever the reason, organizations of all sizes now accept mobile devices into their corporate networks and allow for them in their security systems and application requirements. Before 2008 the BlackBerry was king but just for emails and appointments. It had strong security and integrated well with Exchange. Other phones and mobile devices were seen as just phones or as gadgets or toys.

The Apple iPhone was the beginning of the change and the iPad a veritable tsunami of change. Soon other vendors rushed into the market with new products, many not well thought out, and spent billions of dollars trying to compete with the iPhone and iPad. At the same time the mobile application development industry mushroomed into a major force as software companies of all sizes hurriedly updated their skills to take advantage of the demand for mobile applications.

New operating systems like iOS (Apple) and Android stole the limelight from old timers like Windows and Linux despite having a significant short fall in features and capabilities. Apple led the way with a cool and simple user interface that became the envy of all others. Anyone could use an iPhone or iPad after a few minutes familiarization whereas long term Windows users were still struggling to untangle Windows and work out how to do what should have been simple, intuitive tasks.

The new consumers liked what they saw and bought what they saw in the tens of millions. We are now well into the first really mobile generation. Most people expect to be able to do everything they need to do on a mobile device, even their corporate work. They also expect any application to be instantly and intuitively usable. Their patience for complexity and obtuseness has gone. Microsoft can’t sell them its ‘old way’ anymore because they have seen the future and they prefer it. The future is simple, intuitive, really easy to use and cool; all the things Windows and Linux are not. The Geeks can have the complexity of conventional operating systems; end users prefer the new paradigm as exemplified by the iPad.

Developers like us all over the world have shifted their focus from Windows application development to web (i.e., it runs in a browser on any device) and native mobile application development for devices like the iPhone, iPad and Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets running Android. We have invested in new people and have learnt new languages and new techniques appropriate to this new mobile world. Long live Xcode, farewell  .NET and Silverlight.

I can confirm that our development plans for the future are based on designing and developing mobile and web applications to at first complement our existing Windows .NET apps and then to eventually replace them. We see the future as one where all of our applications are being run either as operating system independent web applications (in browsers like IE, Safari, FireFox and Chrome) or as discrete modules running as native mobile apps on Smartphones and tablets.

Dell and Lenovo and HP probably know much better than me but if I was  in their space I wouldn’t be planning on selling too many PCs and notebooks in the future.

The need to manage emails differently to paper

by Frank 16. November 2011 13:16

The ISO standard 15489, see the following link, clearly and succinctly defines records as evidence of a business transaction and also clearly says that a record is a record regardless of media. This means that the business of records management means the management of all types of records including paper, electronic documents, images and emails.


For too long records managers have avoided managing emails on the basis that it is too difficult. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don’t manage emails because they can’t avoid accidentally capturing ‘personal’ emails. This is of course nonsense as all it takes is a corporate email policy clearly defining the ownership of all corporate emails and advising staff what to do to ‘protect’ personal emails (e.g., put “Personal” in the subject line).

Of course why people are using the corporate email server to send and receive sensitive personal emails is beyond me. If it is personal and sensitive then do not use the corporate email server, use Gmail or Twitter or send an SMS. This should also be spelled out clearly in the company email policy; Caveat Emptor, “Let the user (buyer) beware.” That is, if you are silly enough to use the corporate email server for sensitive personal emails then be prepared to be embarrassed when other people read them.

However, let’s assume we have decided to manage emails in the most effective manner possible, and that certainly doesn’t mean printing them out and filing them as paper records, how should we best capture, classify, store, index and retrieve them?

Should we do it the exact same way we have traditionally managed paper records with file numbers, titles and a classification built from a hierarchical taxonomy? Or, should we do it in a way that makes it as easy and as fast as possible to capture and search for and view them? That is, shouldn’t we handle emails in a way most appropriate to their form, structure and content?

Emails don’t start out as paper so why convert them to paper?

Emails don’t start out with file numbers and titles so why assign them?

End users naturally search for emails by sender, recipient, subject, date sent, date received, etc., so why force them to search for emails by file number, title and or classification? Why make it as hard as possible for the end user to find an email when it is just as easy (even easier in fact) to make it as easy as possible for an end user to find an email by its natural and well-known attributes?

An email is not the same as a paper document or an electronic document or an image. An email has structure and content that everyone in the world is aware of and everyone in the world prefers to search for an email using that well known structure and content.

I course am talking about the common fields or elements of an email being sender, recipient, CC, BCC (usually not available), subject, body text and attachments. All we really need is three types of common searches; full text, Metadata and BOOLEAN (combining values of the elements of the Metadata in an AND, BUT OR NOT relationship) searching on these common fields and anyone can find any email in seconds.

By all means link an email to its parent folder (but it is not necessary) but please don’t force the long suffering end user to search for the emails the same way we have searched for paper over the centuries.

Allow the end user to search by date, sender, recipient, CC and subject plus the full text of the body of the email, plus any attachments. Give them a natural search that everyone understands and that no one needs to be trained on.

If you want to be as efficient as possible then don’t try to capture emails at the desktop, capture them at the server. Capture them before someone has the opportunity to delete them or simply forgets to capture them.

Capture them efficiently and totally consistently with an automatic rules-driven process that consistently and reliably (not forgetting or deleting anything) applies your corporate email policy day in and day out come hail or shine with no time off for  maternity leave, paternity leave, compassionate leave, public holidays, illness or vacations. You can do this because emails are different to paper, they can be easily captured, stored and indexed automatically; paper can’t be.

That is, use the computer to automate the capture of emails in a way that you cannot do to automate the capture of paper. Use the structure and content of emails and the power of the computer to your advantage.

Contrary to popular opinion, emails are actually much easier to capture and index than paper records but only if you use the computer to take advantage of the email’s natural structure and content. However, if you choose to manage emails the same way you manage paper then emails will indeed be difficult and time-consuming to manage.

But for heaven’s sake please don’t bog down the whole process in an overly complex, inexplicably intricate and incomprehensible Taxonomy. Please keep it simple or you will end up with hundreds or thousands of unmanageable rules to maintain. I have written about this previously in a paper entitled “Do you really need a Taxonomy?” and I recommend that anyone contemplating managing emails first reads this paper.

The message is as simple as simple can be; keep it simple or it won’t work!

Form Factor – The real problem with mobile devices doing ‘real work’

by Frank 13. November 2011 13:02

The golden grail for any manufacture wanting to dominate the mobile device business market would be the ‘perfect’ form factor. A key second requirement would be the ability to hold all your working files and run all your work applications.

By ‘form factor’ I mean both the size of the device and the size of the screen and keyboard.

We business users (I have a BlackBerry, iPad2 and a Dell notebook) are tired of having to carry multiple devices with us on business trips. Look at the chaos in any US airline check in line and see the frustration and exasperation generated by having to unpack and then retrieve multiple devices.

I would like to carry just one device and I want it to be really easy to use and power up and to have a really long battery life. Unpacking and powering up a notebook and then starting a browser and then running the Windows Outlook web client is a huge pain in an airport when all you want to do is quickly check your emails.  The notebook is also lucky to last two hours without a recharge.

So, when I need to quickly check my emails I use my BlackBerry. But, when I want to read and study a large document or spreadsheet or create a new document the BlackBerry is hopeless (the screen and keyboard are too small) so then I have to use either my notebook or my iPad 2.

I could probably use just my iPad 2 but it doesn’t fit into my pocket and neither does it run my normal office applications like Word and it doesn’t have a file system where I can maintain copies  of all the files I will need on my trip so it is a pain. It almost does the job but I still need the notebook for serious stuff.

I love the iPad 2 but it isn’t there yet as the true alternative to the notebook. I am hoping that Apple is listening to its customers and that it will address the dumb limitations of the iPad (like no file system or separate USB port) in the iPad 3 next year.

In the meantime, I almost get by by using a clever little iPad app called Wyse PocketCloud. This is the equivalent of Microsoft’s remote desktop and it enables me to see my desktop PC at work and all my folders and files when I am travelling. It also allows me to run any of the applications on my desktop and even allows me to demonstrate our Windows products like RecFind 6. It is easy to set up and in my experience works really well and is amazingly fast.  However, you obviously need a Wi-Fi connection to get full benefit but I am hopeful that when the iPad supports 4G we will be able to operate successfully without Wi-Fi.

And of course the iPad 2 isn’t a phone and neither is the notebook (yes, I know I could use Skype but I hate it) so I still need the BlackBerry.

Now back to form factor and we still don’t have a solution that will enable us to carry just a single device because everything we have is either too big or too small. Too big to fit in my pocket and too small to view and create serious business documents.

I have seen experimental devices that have folding screens and also ones that project the screen onto any handy wall but so far these are just gimmicks. No vendor has come up with a solution to the classical dilemma – that is, give me something that is small enough to fit into my pocket but which can become big enough (keyboard and screen) to do serious work.

So RIM, HP, Lenovo, Dell, Apple and Samsung how about it? When are you going to invent something for the business traveller that replaces all three of my travelling devices and provides the perfect compromise between small size and usability? If you do, you will certainly get my business.

For the future I am going to try and travel with just my BlackBerry and iPad 2 using Wyse PocketCloud. I also use Pages, Numbers and Keynote on the iPad 2 as my serious business apps. I am going to see if I can live without the notebook which is the heaviest, most inconvenient and most difficult and slowest to get up and running with the shortest battery life. I will let you know how I fare in a future Blog.

Self-registering, self-managing records, a reality or just a pipe-dream? Chapter 5

by Frank 9. November 2011 07:34

In this chapter we talk about how we can use standard tools to automate the capture and processing of all electronic documents and emails – the biggest challenge for any organization struggling with compliance and trying to manage its vast store of information.

I said in an earlier chapter that all of the tools we need are available and proven, such as RFID tags for paper documents. This is also true for all forms of electronic documents.

We at Knowledgeone Corporation have developed our own tools to enable full automation just as I am sure our competitors have developed similar tools (and if not, why not?).

However, first I need to explain the difference between structured and unstructured information and how important it is to add structure (content) to any electronic document if we are to achieve our aim of self managing records.

As a general example of structured versus unstructured an email has structure and a Word document does not. It is true they both have natural attributes (properties) that we can automatically capture like original filename and author but we need more.

An email has structured content in the form of:

  • Sender
  • Recipient
  • CC
  • BCC
  • Subject (text)
  • Body of email (text)
  • Attachment (text)

A Word document doesn’t have a ‘standard’ internal structure and we can’t easily extract contextual information out of it as we can with an email. We therefore describe an email as ‘structured’ and a Word document as ‘unstructured’.

This means that automatically processing emails is relatively simple but that Word documents present a challenge because of a lack of a standard structure that we can interrogate.

It is true we can write clever algorithms to extract the text from Word documents (and we have) and then analyze it against our business rules but it isn’t easy and it is not one hundred-percent reliable.

If you want to make you job infinitely easier and the results much more reliable you need to add content. We do this via a proven technique called ‘tags’. We have the ability to process tags in our standard products and you can easily add tags to electronic documents. In fact anyone can add meaningful tags (e.g., File Number or Contract Number) by using standard templates for all key electronic documents. The only effort is in setting up the templates, after that it is a virtually automatic process.

Conversely, it is actually much harder to add tags to emails because most of the emails we process come from outside our organization whereas most of the electronic documents we process are created within our organization.

So, for our fully automatic model let’s assume we are automatically adding tags to all the important electronic documents we create using templates. These tags contain all the information we need to be able to correctly capture, classify and manage (including workflow) the documents in our records management system.

We also assume that we are able to process all incoming and outgoing emails at the email server and correctly select and classify emails based on their structured content, i.e., the values in the any and all of the components of an email, e.g., the domain name of the sender, the recipient, the subject line and keywords in the text of the body of the email or the attachment.

Now all we need are the tools to do this. In the Knowledgeone Corporation RecFind 6 product suite we utilize RecFind 6, RecCapture and GEM. These three products contain all the functionality we require to fully automate the capture, classification and management of electronic documents and emails.

RecCapture (for electronic documents) and GEM (for emails) both include the functionality that allows you to add your business rules. They are therefore called ‘rules-driven’ automatic processes. The rules interrogate the natural properties of the document plus any structured information (including embedded tags) as well as the full text of any component (e.g., an attachment). You can add as few or as many rules as you need to correctly identify, capture and classify any electronic document or email.

We have used both RecCapture and GEM internally at K1Corp for many years in this manner to fully automate our electronic documents and emails. No one at K1Corp has to manually capture anything. I guess that makes us unusual in this business, a software company that actually uses its own products.

The final message is that a fully automatic records management system isn’t just a possibility, it is a reality. All it takes is the will and effort; all the required tools are available and proven.

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