Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is there such a thing as a good meeting?

You know how a good meeting feels. It's fast, it engages, it gets to the point. You have the right people there, they have answers and all of the actions are documented. You can see how such a gathering will remove roadblocks and get the job done.

Whereas a bad meeting drags on, has poorly engaged participants - and often the wrong ones - and gets nothing done. There are plenty of questions at such a meeting but few answers. No-one talks in turn and a few people wonder what they are there for. It all gets pushed back to the next meeting, and likely as not no-one took any minutes so you repeat the exercise next time.

Worst of all both meetings cost money as well as time. So how do you fix this? It seems easy enough that you:
  1. plan ahead, investigate the issues and lay them down in a clear way
  2. you appoint a chair (if it's not you)
  3. and make sure beforehand that you have invited the right people: people who know what the topics are and have a stake in the outcomes
  4. you set time limits and stick by them
  5. you also need to control the meeting fairly, make sure anyone with a contribution gets a go and that the group considers all sides
  6. you make sure someone takes minutes and that actions are clearly owned and tracked to completion.
And then it still doesn't work. How about you just decide what needs to be done and either do it yourself or ask the others to do it? Well that may work, or you will miss some insight or not gain the necessary "skin in the game" and fail to "get traction". It comes back to company culture and that willingness to get stuck in - or fiddle-faddle about with bureaucracy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Care to Google up a robotic car?

You may have noticed the recent DARPA-organised robotic car competition. If you didn't you can read about it here in a Forbes article. It's certainly impressive and looked like a lot of fun. Aside from enhancing research into practical robotics, competitions between robotic cars completing 'races' in urban environments is an interesting look into a Sci-fi future of immense wonder. There must be a business model here for someone.

Just imagine: robotic sports, anyone? Google-search your way to an urban pleasure robot for hire, perhaps? Replace human-driven taxis with robots and cut down on those inane cab-driver conversations? (Unless the robots get speech chips as well of course.) Or robotic buses that eliminate the end-of-shift grumpy-driver syndrome? Or more seriously, competent robotic day-surgery in remote locations without the need for expensive, highly-trained human surgeons "on-site". It's potentially a mix of good and bad, isn't it? More programmers and robotics experts, fewer jobs for real people.

Now I'm not a Luddite, but I do wonder about whether we think these things through. Like Einstein wondering whether his work opened to door to nuclear war.

And sure enough these harmless-looking robot games have a military goal as well, with lives saved if you can send more robots into battle instead of warm bodies. The downside to robotic wars, however, are grim. Without the appropriate programming robots will not show human mercy or simple judgment, and may indeed be programmed to be exactly that - inhumane killing machines. And war with 'thinking' machines instead of people at risk may lower the barriers to war itself. So we get more war with fewer consequences - well, if you are on the winning side, anyway.

Meanwhile Google's 'first privately-owned car on the moon' competition is a bit wacky - and certainly way-out - but hints at where we may be going next in our personal transport. Despite the fun of it all it's possible that our obsession with cars will end on Earth when we run out of accessible, cheap resources; equally it's hard to see how lunar exploration and exploitation will solve our immediate problems. But that's humanity - pressing on, pushing the boundaries and fixing up the broken stuff later.

Friday, November 02, 2007

OpenSocial opens can of worms? Naaaaah.

Google's strategy is clear enough, and it's a good one. They have fingers in all the pies, and a winner in Orkut. But they have a problem. Orkut is big in the wrong places, and not big enough in the markets that to Google (and its shareholders) really matter. It's "first-world-centric" and wrong, but money talks, yes?

So here we are, mired in a world of seemingly endless choice, with social networks all around us battling for the right market to share and the "un-social" networks desperately adding social-like features to boot. Given the popularity and the potential it's inevitable that an aggregator would come along to join the pieces and gang up on facebook. And who better than Google? After all, if you belong to 2 or 3 social networks already, as many of us do, we feel the pain of having to log into different, 'fenced-off' systems. Whilst OpenSocial has some big buddies on board already it still has to woo developers, as well as beat facebook and its locked-down, non-transportable markup. So it's not going to be a quick kill.

Indeed it will be an interesting tussle. But I'd bet on the most integrated approach winning.
And that's Google's plan, too.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Globalisation myth?

You can poke holes in anything if you pick the right stats. I guess that's the great thing about statistics, isn't it, that it can be used so elegantly and persuasively in support or attack of an idea. For example many believe that lowering trade barriers and increasing world connectivity (both of which are patently true - it really has happened, if not yet to the "nth" degree) has resulted in a more level playing field for both individuals (that's you and me) and businesses (big and small) to compete on a global scale. On the face of it that's surely true.

Indeed there are many, many examples of small "local" businesses operating on the web and staking a global market share which would otherwise take major investment in distribution effort. Think of the marketing, sales reps, call centres, support staff, wholesalers and distributors required for a small business to expand beyond its local area. Now think of all the small ebay businesses that have prospered globally, the small shops that garner 10, 20 or 30% of their trade now from a global reach, the companies that leverage Amazon's computer services and back end distribution services. It doesn't take much looking to see new forms of distribution and profit-taking that takes advantage both of lower trade barriers and the near-frictionlessness of global Internet commerce.

Well maybe that's all wrong, or out of proportion, anyway. Apparently Harvard Business School professor Pankaj Ghemawat calls that vision of the early 21st century “globaloney” and has written a book about it. Now you could say right up front that he is saying "it's not so" when he's (a) leveraging the Internet to promote and sell his book and (b) taking advantage of the breakdown of international book distribution cartels by promoting and selling his book globally. But I'm being glib, aren't I?

He has been quoted as saying that international trade today represents less than 10% of most economies. He's criticising a popular "25%" figure but here in Australia I have seen figures for exports alone ranging from 12% in the 1950s to 22% in 1996, and back to 18% of Australian GDP in 2006. Which would indeed support around 25%, if you add in imports, surely? Maybe he's working on some global average when he gets the 10% figure? Even so, surely trade varies by country and fluctuates with exchange rates and commodity prices, so a net exporter of commodities (things like oil, iron ore and coal, notoriously hard to shift over the Internet) will need to look very closely at the figures and do some breakdowns by type of transaction to really draw conclusions that stick. I'm not sure even the OECD has done the sort of work needed to truly even out the stats globally, but probably they have (I'll look it up when I get a chance).

In any case his stance is that most economic activity happens locally, and you can hardly argue with that. Most of us shop at local supermarkets, buy most of our day to day goods and services locally and if we buy a car or build a house - well, there's a global connection with the car but for most of us it involves local trade. Indeed the highest price is paid by the end user and the global component is diminished substantially by margins added along the way.

So I guess I agree with Pankaj Ghemawat, in that local still rules overall. But that doesn't mean that the world hasn't changed, only that some things are more resistant to change than others. It's still hard to beat shopping at a local store where you can examine and receive the goods (especially food and clothing) immediately. However as real-time Internet commerce improves on static images and provides a more immersive shopping experience I'm sure it will garner a bigger share of these 'resistant' products.

And trade barriers have lifted and I can buy imported cars far more easily and cheaply than ever before. I know that's true. Ghemawat also writes of immigration rates falling as some proof that we aren't globalising like we think we are, whereas I know that that my personal contact with the greater world community is at an all-time high. Email, online chat and Web 2.0 has brought us all closer, surely? As well, tourism is at an all-time high. People may not be moving to another country to live, but maybe moving to another country is not so necessary now? Perhaps the drivers of population movement are different in the 21st century? Which is also in agreement with Ghemawat's view, but what actually is he saying by this? That because (for example) Europe hasn't suffered another World War recently and has been at relative peace and prosperity for some time we aren't globalising like we think we are? Is Ghemawat comparing the immigration stats for one period of history with another and drawing weird conclusions? Maybe.

To my mind Pankaj Ghemawat is stating the obvious and making some rather unprofound motherhood statements. Yes, it's true, people are not driven to relocate from country to country like they were. However tourism is up. Yes, it's true, local transactions beat global ones by volume and value. But the types and numbers of transactions made globally have certainly changed and bear some examination. And trade barriers are down and the patterns of world trade have changed.

If that's not enough change to mean we've 'globalised' then that's fine. It just means that what we don't actually have is clear and agreed definition of 'globalisation'. The BNET story that sparked my rave is here by the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Virtualization and servers

Pretty dull, eh? Actually I like the bit where the narrator suggests that the servers need not be "aware" that they are virtualized... hmmm, awareness. SO far I haven't detected any awareness out of my PCs, but I'm sure the day will come. It's a good animation, anyway, and will get you up to speed on the basics of vitualized hardware. From InfoWorld.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Strategy... overused, misunderstood

It's defined pretty clearly as the overarching main play of your business, yet few managers can spell it out. In fact most CEOs get confused as well and just sprinkle the S-word as often as possible to sound important "going forward" (as if we can or want to "go backward"). It's strategy. And once it's out there, it gets overused. A tactic is a smaller play, one that (hopefully!) aligns with your overarching strategy, yet we see almost everything become a strategy and every division of our companies become strategic. Like strategic HR, strategic IT and strategic coffee-breaks.

I was prompted to write this because of this quote, from Harvard Business Press...In a nutshell, as illustrated below, mission is about what will be achieved; the value network is about with whom value will be created and captured; strategy is about how resources should be allocated to accomplish the mission in the context of the value network; and vision and incentives is about why people in the organization should feel motivated to perform at a high level. Together, the mission, network, strategy, and vision define the strategic direction for a business. They provide the what, who, how, and why necessary to powerfully align action in complex organizations.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Business Intelligence Demonstration

I was surprised at this one... SQL services explained in great detail and very, very well. Great case study of BI, OLAP and more. 26mins but worth it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Le Tour de France 2007 - Stage 8 - Oh the pain

A Danish 'chicken' takes the stage and the lead; Mick Rogers falls, dislocates shoulder and calls it quits.; Moreau attacks anything that moves. And, distressingly, O'Grady - out. McEwen - out. The GC is all over the place and it'll be on again after the rest day. Well it's exciting but it would be nice to see some racing rather than so much crashing. I'm a bit afraid to get on my bike now, watching all of this falling.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pretty cool network management tool

I stumbled over this one, Spiceworks and thought I'd share it with you. Basically it's a network-based device discovery and management tool. It may sound dull but it's (a) free and (b) works. If you have a small LAN and hanker after something that looks around and monitors your devices - workstations, routers, whatever - this is worth a look.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dave Ulrich on HR's arrival - or not

Dave Ulrich is famous enough in the HR game - at least amongst those who study HR, anyway - that he's always worth reading just in case. In this article in Workforce Week he stresses the need for HR to remember to explain the value it is adding to the business as well as trumpeting what it does. Selling HR, is how I'd put it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Business of Virtuality

The most obvious business connection is with Second Life - if only because it's had good media coverage and many corporates like IBM and Dell have built virtual spaces there already. IBM in particular (yes, yes, I work for IBM and these are my opinions, not necessarily the company's) has made a name for itself with virtual representations of open-level pro tennis matches that re-create reality ball by ball. But a metaverse of 3D worlds is being used by small and large compaines alike to promote products, hold special events, generate innovation and generally just "be there" in case it does take off. Consider these metaverse-related options...

Octaga... very business oriented, building visualisations in 3D of major projects like highways and corporate training simulations.

The Torque Game engine... very much a games engine but capable of relatively easy development and with low-latency Internetworkability - so bringing lots of people together in a virtual world - perhaps a business world - over 56kbit modems or better is a reality. C2C Simulation use TGE in their military and 'cultural' simulations.

An alternative games engine is Unreal... and it has an extensive portfolio of successful games to demonstrate its impact on the market.

Or consider the big player in MMOG, BigWorld... offering what appears to be a comprehensive suite of development and server-based operating environments that will robustly support massive multiplayer online gaming, or perhaps your corporate virtual needs.

Perhaps Open Source is your preference? Check out the Croquet Consortium... and Qwaq, a virtual corporate collaborative forum built on OpenCroquet.

Or, lastly, how about the big-iron MMOG BitVerse? Yes, I know, more IBM content but it is an interesting take on what can be done with Linux running on some big-iron servers. Taikodom from Brazil's Hoplon is the offshoot virtual social, or perhaps sci-fi, world.

Anyway, if none of that interests you I'll let you go and do some Google searches of your own... maybe start with Kaneva?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Did I mention Ford?

Ford continues to divest... after picking up all sorts of problem children that don't fit the Ford brand, and then finding that they don't actually, umm, fit, Ford has been dumping them whilst it can, and desperately using the cash released to bolster itself in a losing global play. Aston Martin is the latest to be sold. Did Ford really think Aston fitted under its wing?

I get annoyed at this rubbish

Ok, I just get annoyed, period. We all learnt about the greenhouse effect at school, right? It has never been a secret that burning coal and gas released greenhouse gases. We've known this for a few hundred years, and we've "buried" the problem until it got so bad we had to do something about it. No amount of hoping that the Earth is so big and we are so small we make it go away. We are small in comparison with the entire planet but are so numerous and voracious that inevitably we will - if we haven't already - reach the point where our consumption and pollution will impact the planet's thin but vital atmosphere. So here we are.

And yet car companies like GM still want us to believe there's a place for fat cars and big engines. Yeah, right. Like a museum.

Now GM wants us to believe that such big cars 'have a future' and indeed there is a market, so they will sell. But this is a shrinking market. GM says it has learnt from the 80s and 90s and is now aimed 'in the right direction', but how can we believe this when publicly they say the opposite? If GM wants to tie its future to the past, fine, I like tradition and history too; but it's a long way from being relevant to the marketplace. Either this GM rep (in the link above) is telling tales to bolster local (Aussie) off-shoot Holden (likely), or the company is so obsessed with itself that it can't figure out what the market wants. Let me tell you: high quality, refined, less thirsty and more efficient cars.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The mainframe goes green for IBM

One impact of global climate change will be the need to conserve resources - and one way to do that is by consolidation. In some ways this will seem like going 'back to the past'. For example more consolidated travel by public transport, less of the individual transport we have become accustomed to. The IT field is awash with individual manufactured items - from PCs to MP3 players - and unless the power needs of these devices can be met efficiently (perhaps more solar panels on MP3s and mobiles) then they too will need to be re-thought. Of course just making them is a resource hungry process, too.

The Australian Financial Review reports on IBM's mainframe resurgence. I work for IBM and own some shares, but this is not necessarily my opinion, or that of IBM itself. In any event, here's a bit of the article: Mainframes return to the main game, 30 April 2007, by Joshua Gliddon. "Some 130 kilometres east of Portland, Oregon, in a small US town called The Dalles, search engine company Google has built a giant data centre on the banks of the Columbia Rover. Its reasons for doing so have less to do with cheap labour and land than with access to cheap and relatively clean hydro-electric power.Google is not the only company building data centres where power is cheap. Both Yahoo! and Microsoft are in on the act. The latter has committed $US2 billion ($2.4 billion) to its data centre strategy. Many data centres are made up of thousands upon thousands of cheap, replaceable commodity computers. These computers can chew through huge amounts of power and generate extraordinary amounts of heat, The cooling towers in Google’s The Dalles facility are four storeys high."

Which highlights one problem - massive numbers of individual servers out there, all drawing power. And IBM's solution? IBM's Bill Zeitler said that, "instead of putting together lots of servers in a data centre, companies would move to high-end machines, or even mainframes that could “virtualise” or pretend they are lots of computers running on one box." And he went onto say, “Clients are telling us that they simply can’t get enough power into their data centres to deal with the increasing number of servers,” Mr Zeitler said. “If you can do 60 times the work using the same amount of power then there’s an incentive to move to the high-end UNIX or mainframe environment.”

Let's see what Google does to solve this problem. They are famous for re-using and chaining together massive numbers of 'el cheapo' servers in a fault-tolerant network, rather than designing or simply buying a high-end machine or 2 to do the job. It's a strategy that has paid dividends for Google. They may have more ideas up their sleeves... or they too will be looking at consolidation and vitualisation.

Monday, April 30, 2007

So how does Google actually stack up?

As a search engine, PC World reckon Google wins - just. They also suggest that their search-engine competitors are doing some innovative things that go beyond mere lists of results on a page. Check it out here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Clearing the desk

Some things that I have on my desk to share with you today...
  • Video site Metacafe looks cool... as does this Blinkx search for Alfa Romeo vids.
  • My tumblr site is aggregating feeds from twitter and my blogs. That's cool.
  • Jaiku does much the same but differently.
  • Wharton updates us all on Russia's growing wealth (via PetroDollars, of course). Watch out for the Russian bear, it may become an economic powerhouse afterall.
  • Network World reports on 'non-solicitation' clauses in IBM outsourcing contracts (doesn't mention it works both ways, by the way. OK, I work for IBM and these are my views only, not necessarily the company's, and I'm not a legal eagle either. Setting aside the thought that it should be upfront (and maybe it is?) if you are an outsourcer and have spent money and trained up staff to provide services to a client, how fair is it that the client, perhaps secretly intending to insource or just wanting to save on training and recruitment costs, offers that particular worker a job? On one hand sure, why not, it's a free country. On the other it's like free recruitment - you get to trial workers for free and virtually get a guaranteed star. At the very least should they reimburse for the training costs.? Maybe. Or impose some other restriction, which is just another way of adding "cost" to what would otherwise be a frictionless transfer of "star performers" from the outsourcer to the client. Hmmm.
  • More on IBM... InfoWorld reports on IBM's embrace of MySQL (a competitor of their own DB2).
  • And don't forget GeoMonkey for Google Maps with a difference.

Monday, April 02, 2007


An excellent resource - you could call it thought leadership for business (they do) - but it's just darn interesting! Book reviews. Articles. Insight. Manyworlds. Check it out!

Friday, February 09, 2007

MBA - yes or no?

Did I need to get the MBA? No, not really - I'd probably have the job I have now at the same rate of pay. What I didn't know about ROI, payback and IRR I may have had to find out by trial and error rather than by sitting in a lecture room. But to be frank my online MS Excel training courses (done mostly on the train to and from work) have proven to be more valuable to me.

The MBA has come in handy, though. It's like being given the key to some arcane lingo - the language of business. Now you can get this key from a mentor, or from a book or a website. Or you can get the MBA, the key and the piece of paper. The advantage is that you have that piece of paper, and that helps to "prove" that you have opened the door. You still have to demonstrate your competence on the job, though. If you already have a good job and simply want to progress then get a mentor instead and do some private study. However if you want "in" then some prospective employers will expect to see that piece of paper first.

So would I do it again? Yes, if only because I enjoyed it, got to network a bit, proved to myself I could still achieve educationally and - most importantly - got a stack of great text books to keep.