Still Unknown PC’s Future

Can the PC Business Survive?The business of selling Windows based laptops and desktops are at a critical point. The industry is still suffering from profit loss, notably with the most recently high profile exit of the PC business by Sony. Previously, many experts believed the PC business could have been saved by Windows 81. Unfortunately, the result was (and still is) much less than anticipated.

Is there still a future in the PC business? Most insiders will say they’re cautiously optimistic. After several years of lost revenues due to falling prices and lack of consumer demand, the industry is beginning to cut its losses. Several promised innovations, such as integrating the computer with TV, did not pan out. The PC itself sees no significant improvement in the technology, other than the usual CPU and OS upgrades. Laptops are starting to become more like a tablet, such as a “convertible tablet“, but the cost and usability are questionable when compared to the sleek and highly marketable Apple iPad.

A glimmer of hope is in the cloud services. With the rising demand of highly portable and cheaper devices, such as tablets and Chromebooks, the direction is to provide products on the lower end of the PC units.  But, there is a big dependency on the ubiquity of wireless infrastructure, such as Wi-Fi or 4G/LTE. Then there are the security concerns over possible data leaks and hijacking. The balancing act is still being performed.

The PC industry’s downward spiral may also be contributed to the dependance of corporate and government mass purchases. In the past, they were always reliable sources of revenue, much more than consumers. However, in this tough economy, with rising cost on both private and public sectors, those revenue streams have dried up. No one expects high volume sales to increase the bottom line, any more.

So where’s the industry going? Like any good business, it has to stay on course: Continue to innovate and cut cost.  It needs to weather storm. The free market will sort itself out and consumers will pick the best from the lot. Perhaps to be in the last few to remain standing will be the winner in this highly competitive business.

  1. Even the release of Windows 8.1 failed to change people’s perceptions []

BYOD: Why It Should Be The New Normal

Smartphone UseThere’s been a lot of talk lately about Bringing Your Own Device (BYOD) to work. It’s not a new concept. People love their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. They prefer using a particular brand for personal and work. They bring it to work because it’s convenient to carry just one device, and they can be productive with their own.

Traditionally, companies provide their own “certified” devices to retrieve secured Enterprise data. However, it’s difficult to stop employees from transmitting those data somewhere else, either via E-mail, USB drives, or Cloud Storage, potentially enabling others to see them. A strong privacy policy may be enough deterrent – at least in the beginning. As time goes by, employees will get complacent and too comfortable in taking their data everywhere, not realizing the confidential data may be leaked.

As an IT leader, one can imagine the complexity of supporting multiple devices and worries about zero control over securing protected data. Case in point, the biggest early adopter of BYOD was IBM. They learned valuable (and painful) lessons from it. Employees were not aware of insecure apps, not using secure channels to transmit data, and losing their unprotected/unencrypted devices. These security breaches could potentially cost them, or anyone else for that matter, millions of dollars to repair.

So, why is there growing trend to adopt BYOD? In this tough economic condition, company expenses have to be cut aggressively. The most obvious is to stop allocating budget for productivity machines. Having the cost shifted to the employees, it eliminates the need for company’s machines to be stocked, upgraded, and re-stocked.

Employees have also voiced their concern about the lack of productivity using company issued devices, such as a Blackberry, instead of their favorite iPhone or Android phones. It doesn’t make any sense to have a dedicated, company issued, device just to receive e-mails or phone calls for work, and another for personal use. It certainly becomes challenging to carry two devices, especially when an iPhone, for example, is more than enough to handle all of those tasks and be just as productive.

IT leaders are starting to embrace this BYOD trend because solutions are starting to appear, as the concept become widely accepted. Android and iPhone devices are now equipped with additional security to deter data theft or loss. Both Google and Apple are serious about Enterprise adoption and have updated their OS to be more secure. Now, it’s up to the IT leaders to trickle down the information to users on how to secure their devices, according to the companies’ need.  Instead of preventing employees to bring their own devices, educate them on how to secure the content of their own devices. As Ronald Reagan would say: “Trust, but verify.” There is a level of trust on both sides, but both must remain vigilant.

It is time to stop believing the myths of bringing-your-own-device to work. BYOD is happening, whether or not IT is ready. It is the “new normal”.

Quality Visual Presentation

Ever sat in a meeting with slides and slides of presentation that showed nothing but densely packed text and confusing charts?  Most people have. It’s no wonder many don’t look forward to going into meetings when their first expectation is a poor presentation.

However, there was one man who could present and held the audience captivated.  He was Steve Jobs. During his keynote speeches, he managed to get the audience hanging on to his every word and anticipating that “one more thing” that would leave everyone in awe.  It helped that he had great products to present, but in addition, he used visuals as one of the most important tool of his presentation.  He used minimal words (and numbers) written using a giant font. He used graphical icons to represent the current topic. He used animation for impact. Very concise and to the point.

So why doesn’t everyone follow Steve’s presentation methods?  Perhaps it’s because of the old thinking: “More is good”. The more stuff written down, the more credible and complete it gets. Unfortunately, these days, people are busy and have a short attention span. They don’t want to be held up in a long winded presentation.

The best ways to present effective visuals:

  • Be simple
  • Use graphics, icons, and symbols to reinforce or communicate a concept
  • Use key words, not full sentences
  • Contain only one concept per slide or page
  • Contain only three to six ideas on each flip chart sheet
  • Use color where possible, but not excessively

Steve Jobs was known to obsess over design.  He was also obsessed with simplicity.  It showed in his quality presentations. One can learn a great deal from his obsessions. It would make sitting in presentations a much more pleasant experience.

The Importance of Page Loading Time

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Customers are very fickle when checking out a company’s web site.  Unless they’re desperate, a person browsing a site tend to go quickly from one page to another.  Their attention span is short.  Their time is valuable.  They don’t want to spend too much time waiting for a web page to load.

Companies have spent a substantial amount of money to improve page loading times.  Improvements include upgrading internet connectivity, buying faster computers, reducing web applications RAM usage footprint, or investing on a content delivery network.

What other important reasons to improve web performance?

  • Increase in traffic due to natural business growth, or advertising campaigns.
  • Snappy response times are required when using the latest web browser tools, such as AJAX.
  • Google is planning to rank web pages by their load times.
  • Increase use of videos using embedded Flash, and future HTML5.

There is a cheaper way to improve web site performance: Optimize Content.  It means reducing the use of heavy graphics, Flash files, or client side Javascripts.  It also means reducing HTML and CSS file sizes.  It may seem contradictory, but ultimately, content dictates page loading times and can improve the web browsing experience.

Green IT

computer_green-s2There is a big push by every company to go “green”.  The initiative started with the rising energy prices.  Another reason for the effort is to reduce pollution and waste.  Nowadays, it looks like the overall purpose for this push is to improve public relation and corporate image.

IT is certainly the first (and best) place to start for going green.  The savings are easily measurable and the latest technology allows the reduction in expense.

Shared Services

This model works best when a company has divisions around the globe.  A centralized data center, with excellent resources, needs to be chosen to handle the IT needs of the regional offices.   The consolidation includes servers and experienced IT teams.  With one data center, IT will save money by cutting the expenses of maintaining multiple sites.

Professional Open Source

Much of the open source products out there are excellent.  The support of the community made them a valuable source of technology.  The cost of open source software is free to begin with, so comparatively, building a professional version of it will be much less than a proprietary one.  The value in professional open source is in the tech support, which is the main reason a company purchases an Enterprise product.

Virtualization

With increasing CPU power, and decreasing prices for memory and hard drives, building a powerful server is easy and affordable.  Hardware capabilities have now outpaced the software requirements.  Modern operating systems are now able to “virtualize“, or carve out sub-sections, within the same hardware, to multiple software applications.  In a data center environment, the reduction in server hardware will be apparent by cutting power, rack space, and licensing requirements.

SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) is valuable when IT resource is severely limited.  One example is outsourcing a company that does e-mail newsletters.  For a company to run an in-house mail server, it will require a lot of resources.  Running bulk mailing lists through it will burden the infrastructure even more, possibly running the risk of an outage.  Outsourcing the software will also off-load the hardware, as well as the man power to maintain it.

The real benefits are to cut costs, reduce duplications, and streamline processes.    These should be standard operating procedure for every company.  Whether or not these steps are considered “green” is a matter of opinion, but everyone needs a renewed purpose to refocus on saving money.  It’s especially relevant in this slumping economy.  Going green is a great idea – only if it’s implemented efficiently, without much bureaucracy, paperwork, and politics.

IT Outsourcing Is a Bad Move

The Long Road HomeThe whole idea of outsourcing is to cut cost while staying competitive.  This is especially true with offshore outsourcing, where labor is cheap.  I suppose there are a lot of reasons to blame the domestic American labor force, such as the worker’s union, high standard of living, or high medical and legal costs.  While this might be true for blue collar jobs,  outsourcing the ones that require more specialized skills (like Information Technology) doesn’t make sense.

American IT workers are specialized and skilled workers.  They’re smart and creative people.  They’re also hard working.  They are extremely loyal if the companies treat them right.

But is all that worth sacrificing for the sake of cutting expenses?

Let’s take an example an offshore IT worker being paid $20/hour.  He does a good job.  Problem is, he’s now a hot commodity, so he won’t work for less anymore.  He’ll move on to the highest bidder.

So, let’s hire another offshore IT worker being paid $20/hour.  Now, the company has to waste time while he’s learning the ropes (or “ramping up”).  It’ll cost additional money in delayed projects, missed deadlines, high stress, and low morale.  Does he even have the same quality as the first one?

If yes, then we’re back to the guy looking for greener pastures.

If no, then we’re in a sink hole.  A company then needs to hire another candidate (or two) to help complete  the project.

Offshore turnover rate for IT workers is bad.  It also applies to non-IT workers.

Some companies have thought about offshoring to other countries with “emerging” skilled workers, such as China and Vietnam.  But those places are not any better, since China and Vietnam lack in communication skills, mainly with English language.

They’re also not up-to-date with technology due to export controls and lack of relevant education.  They’re trying to catch up with educating recent graduates with emerging technologies.  But it might be too late.  The market is being flooded with new graduates in the same field.  Also, now the job market in a slump due to the worldwide recession.

So what’s the best move now?

Stay home. In-source.  On-shore.

Nowadays, a lot of people are out of work, and they include skilled IT workers.  This is a great time to hire them at a competitive rate — possibly even cut rate!  Local IT workers are willing to work, and ready for the long term commitment.   Companies just need to step up and keep America working again!

Photo Credit: Tobi 2008

Business Use for Twitter

I’ve been using Twitter for a while now, and I’ve used it mainly to connect with friends, bloggers, and geeks alike. Although it’s not ubiquitous, it is slowly becoming more and more popular among celebrities, scholars, politicians, and journalists. As more people are starting to spotlight Twitter, it’s inevitable the marketplace is also starting taking advantage of it. Businesses are starting to pay attention to it. There are successful companies on Twitter, such as Zappos, South West Airlines, and Comcast. However, since Twitter is such a new medium, most companies don’t know where or how to start.

I maintained marketing web sites for more than 11 years. I learned the process a company must do to succeed in marketing their product on the Internet. Twitter’s approach to product marketing is fundamentally similar to a web site promotion, with a few unique differences:

Preparation

  1. Have management, or executive level approval. It will serve as an insurance, or a due dilligence, if you will, in case something goes wrong and the finger-pointing starts.
  2. Form a social media committee. Choose the right people to handle Twitter updates. If possible, choose folks who understand Internet Social Media.
  3. Set an engagement policy. Everyone’s must be clear on what information (and when) to share with the public.
  4. Have direct lifeline to the support teams, both technical and business, to escalate difficult questions. These questions need not be handled on Twitter, but can be taken offline via phone, or e-mail.

Execution

  1. Create a professional looking Twitter profile. Update the Twitter profile’s background picture to include company logos, or brand images.
  2. Twitter updates (or tweets) must contain only useful information. Tweets must have value. A good example is OC Register’s @ocreggie. They hand picked the articles posted on Twitter. The human attention to detail is important.
  3. Start slow, and not rush into getting thousands of followers right away. Followers will come when they see the company’s updates are important to them.

The above are steps in the right direction for a business to adopt Twitter as its new communication and customer service tool. There are other suggestions on how companies can succeed with Twitter. There are also questions to ask if Twitter is right for corporations.  Either way, when business takes Twitter seriously, it will reap the benefits, and work out the disadvantages. As long as it focuses on providing creative and valuable information, using Twitter is going to feel natural and easy.