Monthly Archives: September 2011

Technology

Useful Links: September 2011

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

Technology

The future of mobile telecommunications (@jonin60seconds at #digitalsurrey)

I’ve written before about Digital Surrey but I don’t think I’ve ever said what it is so, as Abigail Harrison (@abigailh) explained in her introduction to tonight’s event, Digital Surrey is a free community; a network to meet up, learn, share and to generate opportunities, whether that’s from the information found, someone you met, or something else.

What never ceases to amaze me is how the Digital Surrey organisers come up with a constant stream of great speakers and tonight was no exception, with PayPal UK’s Jon Bishop (@jonin60seconds) entertaining us all as he talked about the future (in fact, the now) of mobile communications – generating plenty of discussion in the process.

I’ve tried to capture the key points from Jon’s talk in this post, together with a few comments of my own in [ ]. Once the video/slides are available, I’ll come back and add some links to them too:

  • If you want to visit the future of mobile today, go to Africa:
    • South Africa has 6m Internet users, but only 750,000 are on fixed-line connections and 57% never use the “desktop” Internet.
    • Africa also has the most engaged social network in the world: MXit was launched in 2003 and has 22bn messages sent each month (compared with 8bn on Twitter), with 45 hours of average monthly usage (compared with 15 on Facebook).
    • Imagine paying for concert tickets, food, or a taxi in the UK using SMS – no chance! But it’s happening in Kenya using a system called M-Pesa (Swahili for mobile money) and, Vodafone subsidiary, Safaricom is now the biggest bank in east Africa. Half of the population uses it with no need for a bank accounts (only 20% of people have a bank account, whereas 60% have access to a mobile phone).
    • This sort of activity is a necessity in Africa because of underinvested wired networks, expensive broadband, a rural population, large informal sector (traders, etc.), low bank account penetration and high mobile penetration. On top of this, using a mobile is safer than carrying cash around!
    • Not only is Africa transforming mobile communications, but mobile is transforming Africa. According to Nokia, each 10% increase in mobile penetration corresponds to a 0.8% increase in GDP.
  • Attempting to push aside some misconceptions about mobile, Jon highlighted that:
    • Blackberry has younger users than the Apple iPhone (which is too expensive and doesn’t have Blackberry Messenger functionality).
    • Google Android beats iOS as the top selling mobile platform worldwide, although the Apple iPad is currently unrivaled in the tablet marketplace. Whilst [Apple] iOS and [Google] Android are the major players today, keep an eye on Amazon, Samsung, HTC, and [Microsoft/Nokia] Windows Phone.
    • Are mobile carriers profit generating machines? Apparently not on current models: the time will come when profitability will dissipate as the cost per GB transferred is going down but the volumes of data use are increasing. As those lines converge, mobile operators have a problem.
    • Is it true that mobile ads don’t work? Actually they do! They account for $3.3bn in advertising spend, with $1bn going to Google; 56% of executives click on mobile ads and they can deliver better value than web ads.
  • Using the example of his friend “Shane” (a 15 year-old), Jon highlighted that none of Shane’s friends have iPhones – almost all use Blackberrys. Some have Android as a second phone (for games like Farmville) but, without BBM (Blackberry Messenger), today’s teenagers are out of the loop. They don’t talk any more: the only person who calls Shane is his mum; and he only makes a call “ when I’m in shit mate, innit” (i.e. in trouble). This prompts some questions as to what happens when young people enter the business world – if they talk in front of their friends but not their teachers – what about their colleagues? Teenagers wake up with a phone in their hand [so does this 39- year-old]; they use them to organise everything (via BBM [, Facebook, etc.]). And they like phones with buttons (to type quickly).
  • Jon moved on to look at how online and mobile communications have changed communities:
    • We still have geographic communities but people come together to share a common interest, whether that’s the Ford RS Owners Club, Knitting, or whatever [Digital people in Surrey?]. The speed and level of interaction is fuelled by mobile, on the go, access although, of course, this depends on the capability of the platform and access to wireless communications.
    • Jon suggested that last month’s riots in London and elsewhere were interest based, not geographic as, in a few hours they jumped north to south London before spreading more widely across the city. Perhaps the common interest was that they don’t like the Police, or perhaps it was just that they wanted free stuff from JD Sports! After the first few hours media coverage fuelled the interest, so it’s difficult to say whether the mobile networks had any influence.
    • We’ve had social networks for years but now they are mobile. What does this mean for policing? Well, one senior Police Officer in the audience suggested that it means they need to be quicker!
  • Another area changed by mobile is photography. The social web has made the picture the beginning of the journey, not the end.
    • We used to take a roll of film, develop it, and put the pictures in an album, or a shoe box.
    • With digital we took the pictures, used the memory card to get them onto a computer and then share them/interact with them.
    • Mobile means we can skip the computer and gain instant gratification.
    • 150m images were shared on Instagram in a year [it may make bad pictures look deliberate, butAndy Piper commented it's the 5th most valuable startup on the planet right now - and it's not even on Android yet] and the Hudson River plane crash is often cited as an example of where news broke first on social networks.
    • Now we also know who took the picture, where it was taken (GPS), using what camera and what settings (EXIF), who’s in it (tagging), as well as the time and date.
  • Mobiles have also changed how we interact with the world, using a multitude of data points:
    • Compare jogging in the 80s with jogging in 2011. Whereas once we may have had a Sony Walkman and a Casio watch with an illuminated screen to track time, today we can track our steps, average speed, route, effort (calories burned), top speed, distance and time. We have become mobile data points. Phones can track sleep patterns too [and Runkeeper has established a health graph of interconnected services].
  • Mobile is not the future, it is now. Not quite as now as in Africa but it is mainstream:
    • According to Morgan Stanley, Last year there were 670m 3G subscriptions (up 37% year on year).
    • More mobile devices are connected to Wi-Fi than PCs.
    • Smartphones will outsell PCs in 2012 – we are approaching an inflection point.
    • There will be more mobile Internet than wired by 2015.
    • And if you want a signal as to the way in which things are heading, the world’s biggest PC maker may stop selling PCs.
    • When we look at mobile payments PayPal is processing $10m in transactions each day, with $3bn from mobile this year (globally) – and they expect that to double next year. Customers spent $1bn at Amazon using their mobiles in the past year (and that’s pre-Kindle Fire).
  • The question of “what is mobile?” generated some discussion. Jon suggested it’s phones and tablets; not laptops; and that the operating system is a good indicator. Other suggestions were that it should be anything with a SIM; to do with where you use it, not what it is; of that it’s about whether the device fits in a pocket.
  • Moving on to QR codes, Jon highlighted shopping in the Korean subway and interaction with posters [I saw an example where rail passengers could scan for the appropriate timetable for their route]. Whilst it’s true that the application is a barrier to entry,14m Americans scanned a barcode in July 2011.
  • Mobile is changing B2C marketing with multi-tasking users using a smartphone whilst they are doing something else (72%) including listing to music (44%), watching TV (33%), using the Internet (29%) or playing games (27%). After searching for a business on the phone, 77% call or visit and 44% purchase in store or online. So what does this mean?
    • We are always on, always accessible.
    • We multi-task – so include a mobile call to action in advertisements.
    • We’re in a hurry – so sort out the mobile flow (ensure websites are optimised for mobile devices – 76% are not)!
    • We are ready to take action – so make it easy for us to do so!
    • Think about entry (search results, barcode, email banner link); landing (results, mobile pages and search ads) and call to action (call, click, download, access map or directions).
  • On the B2B front, executives use up to 4 devices (laptop, company Blackberry, iPad, personal smartphone):
    • 55% use their mobile as a primary device with 80% preferring to access work email on the go.
    • We are ready to take action, to download and run B2B apps, click mobile ads, and to make purchases.
    • 200m people watch mobile videos on YouTube each day and 75% of executives watch work related videos and share.
  • So, how is the world of mobile changing? Whilst we can’t predict 10 years ahead, Jon highlighted some technologies that are already here but not mainstream:
    • Near Field Communications (NFC): for data sharing, payments, device pairing, advertising. Providing a communications platform with a simple tap, NFC is not as clumsy as a QR code and the chips are cheap so we’re Likely to see NFC widely adopted. Paypal have a video demonstrating the use of NFC for sending money.
    • HTML 5 arguably makes the web what it should be:
      • Application quality improves in a browser.
      • No more plugins (Flash, Silverlight, etc.).
      • More freedom and independence for publishers/developers.
      • 30% faster than Flash.
      • Improved profitability for publishers.
      • Easier compatibility, so quicker releases.
    • The cloud [which shouldn't be marketed to consumers - it's a B2B concept!] is changing our views on ownership of media [e.g. Spotify]. Storage is less important, connectivity more. Ordinary items can connect using the same technology.
    • Whilst it’s a bit early to be making predictions about its success, or otherwise, the arrival of the Amazon Kindle Fire looks like it will bring the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad ecosystem and Apple, Amazon and Google all have investments made (with more to make, potentially) in their content networks.

As ever, thanks to all at Digital Surrey for allowing me to attend – it always seems cheeky for a guy from the Buckinghamshire/Northamptonshire borders to visit a networking group for business people in Surrey but you make me so welcome! Thanks also to Jon, for letting me blog about his presentation contents. The next couple of events sound great too – watch the Digital Surrey website for details.

[Updated 3 October 2011:  to include Jon's slides and link to his post]
[Updated 5 December 2011: to include the video of Jon's talk]

Technology

The future Internet and the Intelligent Society

Last week, I spent an evening with the British Computer Society’s Internet Specialist Group, where I’d been asked to present on where I see the Internet developing in future – an always-on, connected vision of joined-up services to deliver greater benefit across society.

I started out with a brief retrospective of the last 42 years of Internet development and at look at the way we use the Internet today, before I introduced the concept of human-centric computing and, in particular, citizen-centric computing as featured in Rebecca MacKinnon’s TED talk about the need to take back the Internet. This shows how we need any future Internet to evolve in a citizen-centric manner, building a world where government and technology serve people and leads nicely into some of the concepts introduced in the Technology Strategy Board‘s Future Internet Report.

After highlighting out the explosion in the volumes of data and the number of connected devices, I outlined the major enabling components for the future Internet – far more than “bigger pipes” – although we do need a capable access mechanism, infrastructure for the personalisation of cloud services and for machine to machine (M2M) transactions; and finally, for convergence that delivers a transformational change in both public and private service delivery.

Our vision is The Intelligent Society; bringing physical and virtual worlds into harmony to deliver greater benefit across society. As consumerisation takes hold, technology is becoming more accessible, even commoditised in places, for on delivery of on-demand, stateless services. Right now we have a “perfect storm” where a number of technologies are maturing and falling into alignment to deliver our vision.

These technologies break down into: the devices (typically mobile) and sensors (for M2M communications); the networks that join devices to services; and the digital utilities that provide on demand computing and software resources for next-generation digital services. And digital utilities are more than just “more cloud” too – we need to consider interconnectivity between clouds, security provision and the compute power required to process big data to provide analytics and smart responses.

There’s more detail in the speaker notes on the deck (and I should probably write some more blog posts on the subject) but I finished up with a look at Technology Perspectives – a resource we’ve created to give a background context for strategic planning.

As we develop “the Internet of the future” we have an opportunity to deliver benefit, not just in terms of specific business problems, but on a wide scale that benefits entire populations. Furthermore, we’ve seen that changing principles and mindsets are creating the right conditions for these solutions to be incubated and developed alongside maturing technologies that enabling this vision and making it a reality.

This isn’t sci-fi, this is within our reach. And it’s very exciting.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Technology

Unable to send mail in Outlook Web App using Google Chrome

For the last few days, I’ve been getting frustrated with my Office 365 Outlook Web App in Google Chrome. Microsoft has worked to ensure that the latest web apps work well in other popular  browsers but each time I replied to an email, the message would not send. The URL was displayed in the bottom of the window (as though a call to the server was being made) but then nothing – no saving to my Drafts folder either, just the ability to close the window and lose the work.

I googled the problem and found a thread that gave me the answer:  it seems there is a conflict with the Click to call with Skype extension (I was using v5.6.0.8153 in Chrome v13.0.782.22). As soon as I disabled the extension (no need to uninstall), I was able to send mail from the Outlook Web App again.

Technology

Post PC does not mean “no PC”

There are a lot of people in Anaheim this week getting excited about what post-PC means and about Steve Ballmer’s proclaimation that nothing else on the planet will ship 350 million units this year. Even Aidan Finn – who is a very smart guy – has got his head in a spin about it:

Post-PC era my fat ass! 350+ million Windows PCs to be sold this year. How does that compare to Apple? #bldwin
@joe_elway
Aidan Finn

Heck, Zack Whittaker and Jason Perlow are taking part in a “great debate” on ZDNet to discuss post-PC (a cynical ploy to generate page views, some might say).

But Post-PC doesn’t mean “no PC”; and Apple/Steve Jobs didn’t coin the phrase – Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems used it back in 2004, I believe - and he is reported as saying we’d been in it since 2000. The post-PC world is dominated by smartphones and other mobile devices. Device technology is moving out of the enterprise desktop/laptop and towards the mobile consumer. This is even more real in the developing world, which is missing a generation of networking and computing technologies.

The PC, as invented by IBM and popularised by Microsoft, Compaq and others is not dead. But we are entering a post-PC era, regardless of what Microsoft would have us believe. Commoditisation has taken a hold and both IBM and HP (the modern-day Compaq) have headed for the exit. PCs are not going away any time soon but they are becoming just one part of the overall device mix and, with a bit of luck (and a lot of marketing), Windows 8 and Windows Phone might just secure Microsoft’s place in the post-PC world…

Technology

Microsoft reimagines Windows while others search for business value

Whilst there are many conferences and many keynotes to keep an eye on, I watched last night’s keynote from Microsoft’s Build conference with great interest. The geek inside me was interested in the technology but there was another side too – I wanted to see how Microsoft, for many years so dominant, is responding to today’s pressures of IT consumerisation.

It seems that I’m having an increasing number of conversations about “bring your own” (BYO) device schemes – indeed I hope to be able to publish a white paper on this soon – but the reaction seems to be either:

  1. No, it’ll never happen here or in any large company because <insert security, manageability, etc. concerns>; or
  2. We think BYO sounds promising but need to understand more about how to make it a reality.

That’s why I was so pleased to see a major airline announcing its BYO programme (for up to 35,000 seats) this week.

So what are the devices that our enterprise IT consumers will bring to work? Well, an increasing percentage are Apple MacBooks and iPads, Android tablets, etc. and these threaten Microsoft’s hegemony in the world of enterprise IT (not to mention the fact that Fujitsu also designs and manufactures PCs, many of which run Windows, unlike the devices I mentioned a moment ago…) .

Microsoft promised that, at Build, they would present “Windows reimagined”. I was sceptical at first but, I truly believe that they have struck a remarkable balance between maintaining compatibility with existing Windows applications and creating a platform that allows for convergence across device types (PC, phone, web) and architectures (x86, ARM). Crucially, they also got a big chunk of the Windows development community on side with a free tablet device from Samsung and/or access to a preview copy of the code.

What does this mean for the enterprise though? It seems to me that the most important question is not about technology, but what’s the business case for a Windows upgrade; why would a CIO invest in Windows 8? Or, as Glen Koskela, CTO for Fujitsu’s Nordic region, put it:

“Windows 8 @ BUILD Windows. Platform changes, major UX overhaul etc. But: tell me the relevance of the business problems Win8 solves.”

[@gkoskela, on Twitter]

Glen’s comment sounds harsh – at least in 140 characters it does – but he is right on the mark. A new version of Windows is, in itself, not something of value – we need to find a reason to adopt it – something that either has an impact on the bottom line or addresses other business requirements (such as security, legal or regulatory concerns).

Build is a developer conference and yesterday’s keynote reflects that. As we learn more about the technologies that Microsoft produces, we’ll be able to see where these features and the associated advantages can translate into tangible, business benefits.

Meanwhile, what we have been shown might just make those Windows devices more attractive to consumers – the group of people that will buy the devices that access the content we provide to business end users, in this brave new world of cloud-enabled enterprise IT.

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog.]

Technology

Has Microsoft found its mojo?

I got home very late from work last night as I watched the keynote from Microsoft’s Build conference before leaving the office. Tonight, I guess I’ll be doing the same, for day 2.

At the start, I was mildly interested, Microsoft has been uninspiring for a while now – failing to gain traction with a mobile operating system, with Windows selling well despite an uncertain future, and competitors apparently cleaning up in the tablet market. Microsoft’s stock price has been pretty-much static and many (myself included) have questioned the company’s leadership, especially as it lost a succession of high-profile executives.

"Windows reimagined" - and it needs to be. Expectations are high, Microsoft #bldwin
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

There was a time when I was a great Microsoft advocate, but the keynotes have always been a little dull – what we’ve seen with Windows 8 so far is inspirational though. By midway through the first keynote I was tweeting:

I said that expectations for re-imagining Windows were high, but I have to say the Windows 8 UX looks amazing #bldwin
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I love my Apple devices, but Windows 8 makes OS X look like it's ancient... in the same way that Windows Phone does for iOS #bldwin
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I’ve long since argued that Microsoft should bring its phone OS to PCs – dump the legacy, and make a bold move towards lightweight, single-purpose apps. After all, as Brett King put it:

@ Yep - looks like we're moving away from screens to chunks of content and functionality
@brettking
Brett King

Content is the future and operating systems, devices, all of that infrastructure is just a means to an end – it’s how we get to the data.  Even so, I’d like to think I’m a pragmatist – and some of my colleagues are still ranting about the introduction of the ribbon interface in Office (almost half a decade ago) – so how will people respond to the removal of chunks of Windows NT legacy and a totally new user experience as part of the “metrofication” of Windows?

I can see a bunch of people who are fighting 2007 UI changes flipping out when they see Windows 8...
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

That’s why I think Microsoft has been extremely smart. Some are questioning the existence of two user interfaces on one operating system but why not? I can swap out window managers on Linux, we have seen “classic modes” of previous Windows versions and, yes, I’m sure a traditional Windows 32 app will look ugly on a Windows 8 system but that’s the price of supporting legacy – like Classic applications on OS X (now, thankfully, confined to the past).

Windows 8 Platform and Tools

Microsoft is supporting “traditional” applications, alongside a move towards HTML5 and XAML and – this is the smart part – running apps on multiple architectures (x86 or ARM) without recompilation. In one huge leap they have taken Windows forward and there seems to be a convergence between PC, phone and web. One Windows to rule them all. Sure, that’s what Microsoft has been telling us for ages but many of us doubted the company’s ability to pull this off.

There are some great new features in Windows 8 and whilst I’m tempted to provide a run-down, others have done a much better job – I’ll concentrate on the analysis…

For consumers, Windows 8 looks fantastic, supports some great new hardware, and could even win back some mindshare from Apple [steady on Mark...]

For the enterprise, there is only one question that matters: what’s the business case for a Windows upgrade – why would a CIO invest in Windows 8? Don’t give me  features and advantages, but real business benefits (Microsoft has never been good at this, and would probably argue this is where partners add value).

  • To start with, I’m impressed that Windows will boot so quickly and consume fewer resources on the same hardware – perhaps the decline in PC sales is less to do with Apple’s tremendous efforts with the iPad and more to do with longer replacement cycles.  I do find myself asking whether maybe Microsoft could take a step further though, to strip out even more legacy support (maybe in Windows 9?).
  • Support for consumerisation via an application store is also a positive step (I called for this last year, and certain ‘softies told me it was a daft idea…) but we also need the ability to create enterprise application stores – where I can make both Microsoft and non-Microsoft apps available within an organisation. After all, BYO is not for everyone – and there will still be organisations rolling out Windows internally, with their own set of approved applications (although hopefully with a much greater emphasis on delivering content via a browser).
  • I can see the ability to baseline a system and restore to a known state resulting in major cost savings; however it’s tempting to just wipe and reload, instead of performing any form of root cause analysis – we’re unlikely to find out where problem applications are and fix them if all we do is reload the system. Let’s not forget too that a reload still leads to lost productivity for end users – albeit a significant improvement on the status quo.
  • In-kernel anti-malware protection could potentially make a huge difference to security; but the issue of patching is still there (as it is in competing operating systems) – it’s all very well making the notification more subtle but the fact Windows contains so much legacy, is so big and needs so many updates is still a concern.
  • And what about integrating with the cloud – not with Windows Live – but with a private cloud, or with another set of cloud services? Yes, the future (the present, even) is cloudy but maybe I don’t want internal documents being shared on SkyDrive? And, heaven forbid, perhaps the answer isn’t SharePoint either (SharePoint seems to be Microsoft’s answer for rolling out enterprise equivalents to its public cloud services internally).

I imagine some of my questions will be answered as more and more details of Windows 8, Office 15 and new generations of cloud services are revealed but, based on what I heard yesterday, Microsoft has indeed, re-imagined Windows… I haven’t been this impressed with a Microsoft keynote for a long time (maybe ever?) butJon Honeyball (himself, an extensive Apple user) beautifully summed the situation up in just a few words:

RT @: Microsoft gets its mojo back #bldwin ^MW And so good to see it happen - for a while there (last 2 years), I was worried
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Just in the nick of time…

[Updated 14 September 2011: provide additional links/graphics and improve grammar]

Exercise

Global Corporate Challenge 2011 (#2011gcc) – now complete!

Global Corporate ChallengeA few months ago, I wrote a post about my participation in one of the Fujitsu teams taking part in the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC).

My team came fourth (out of 15) in the UK and Ireland, which is not bad at all, although I suspect I was the weakest link in the team.  Even so, I was glad to post a new personal best on the penultimate day of the challenge and we almost made it around the world (virtually) reaching location 126/132.

For me, the GCC was supporting my bigger challenge to be Fit at 40 and I’m pleased to say that I’m still making good progress, adding swimming, cycling and spinning activities to the running.  Over the period of the GCC a clocked up an average of 10,715 steps (1,189,435 in total) with an average daily distance of 6.86km (761.24km in total), burning 47,958 calories in the process.

The good news is that I didn’t really change my behaviour for the GCC – I had already made the lifestyle changes and the GCC re-afirmed my choices. Whilst the muscle gain is making it harder to lose weight it shows just how fat I was and I’m now making good progress towards shedding that second stone – soon I’ll be dropping below the 100kg in weight for the first time in many years…

And I’ve now got so used to wearing my GCC pedometer, it feels strange not to have it there any more!

Technology Waffle and randomness

Confessions of a business traveller…

There was a time when travel was an everyday part of my life. Maybe not the international variety, although I’ve done my fair share of that, particularly when I was working for Polo Ralph Lauren, but I used to spend my weeks hammering up and down the motorways of England, Wales and, less commonly, Scotland and Ireland too…

These days a typical week is split between my home office (commute time, 5 seconds from my bedroom) and London (commute time, 4 hours). This week was different though – as I write this I’m travelling by Eurostar, speeding through France at 300kph, on my way home from Paris.

Holiday Inn Paris Bastille, next to a sex shop...“Lucky so-and-so”, some of you might think but, even though long-distance train travel is vastly preferable to flying, we’re not talking luxury here: I have a standard class seat and my hotel last night was a perfectly comfortable, but not over the top, Holiday Inn (next to a sex shop, as it happens… make what you will of that!)

Even those of us travelling “on expenses” need to be mindful of costs, especially in the current economic climate, so I have a few tips to share with anyone making a similar journey…

St Pancras International (2)First up, is the domestic train travel before the Eurostar terminal atLondon St Pancras (in my opinion, a wonderful place to travel to/from). I bought a normal, off peak ticket into London and an advance ticket home again (two singles) but it turns out there is another, less well advertised, option: cheaper fares are available to connect with London International (CIV) services.

Next comes  the Eurostar boarding pass: if you have a supported smartphone, don’t bother printing a paper copy – Eurostar have a mobile app (for iPhone and Android) that allows you to download your boarding pass and simply show the QR code on your screen to the reader on the gates.

My next tip relates to the journey itself. After travelling on modern trains in the UK, it’s easy to forget that the Eurostar fleet is now starting to show its age and lacks features such as in-seat power sockets and Wi-Fi. Thankfully, Eurostar are embarking on a refurbishment of their fleet next year (together with the addition of some new trains) – and Wi-Fi is certainly part of the plan, although I’m not sure about power sockets for laptops, etc. On that basis, it might be worth making sure that your devices are well-charged before setting out on the journey.

@ Hi Mark, we have power points in coach 5 and 14. Wifi will be coming soon in our refurbished trains next year.
@Eurostar
Eurostar

Mobile communications are another issue and, even though European mobile carriers are being forced to reduce their pricing for voice communications, data roaming charges are best described as excessive. O2 kindly sent me a text to tell me that calls would cost £0.36 a minute outbound and £0.11 a minute inbound. Meanwhile SMS messages would be £0.11 to send and free to receive, but data was – are you sitting down? – £3.06 per Megabyte. And that was in France; it gets steeper in other parts of the world. For that reason, I didn’t use push email, Twitter, or much else whilst I was travelling. I recommend turning off Data Roaming on your smartphone/tablet, resetting the statistics, and then turning it on only when required, taking care to watch what’s being used (just 5 Foursquare check-ins racked up 1.6MB of data, bringing a whole new meaning to questioning the cost of social networking…). Aside from the fact that I’m a social media junkie, it’s amazing how reliant I have become on Google Maps – and I got lost at least twice, including on the way to from the Metro to our offices.

On that note, as I write this post, my train is just about to leave the Channel Tunnel and I’ll be glad to be back in the land of 3G communications again!

Finally, if, like me, your destination is Paris and you feel like using some apps, I have a couple of recommendations:

  • I already mentioned Eurostar but the other is from the Paris transit authority, RATP (for iPhone and iPad). These apps needs connectivity, but tap your start and end stations on the map, then it will work out the quickest journey by a variety of transport modes. Transport for London could learn a lot from this…
  • I was less enamoured with the Lonely Planet Paris Travel Guide (for iPhone). Maybe if I was on a leisure trip it might have been more useful but the £3.99 cost was not worth it for me – the user experience is poor (very un-iOS) and the best thing I can say about it is that is has an offline map of Paris, although it only covers the city centre and I tended to use the paper copy that the hotel gave me…

Oh yes, and one more thing: make sure you have some offline media to entertain you on the journey – I’ve watched quite a few TED talks on this trip and am currently listening to my Spotify playlists in offline mode

So that’s about it. This leg of my journey is drawing to a close, I’m now speeding through Kent and Twitter is calling. Hopefully these tips will be useful to someone else making a similar journey soon.

Technology

Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Much has been made of the slow death of email and the rise of enterprise social software so I was interested to read a recent paper in which Benno Zollner, Fujitsu’s global CIO, commented on the need to balance email usage with other communications mechanisms.

In the paper, Benno posits a view that we’re entering not just a post-PC era but a post-email era where we use a plethora of devices and protocols. This is driven by a convergence of voice and data (not just on smartphones, but on the “desktop” too – Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype shows how seriously they are taking this) but also the enterprise social software that’s extending our traditional collaboration platforms to offer what was once referred to as a “web 2.0″ experience, only inside the corporate network.  Actually, I’m slightly uncomfortable with that last sentence – not just because as I find the terms “web 2.0″ and “enterprise 2.0″ to be cringe-worthy but, also, the concept of the corporate network is becoming less and less relevant as we transact more and more business in the cloud, using the mobile Internet, Wi-Fi hotspots and home broadband. Even so, it illustrates my point, that social networking is very much a part of the modern business environment, alongside traditional communications mechanisms including the telephone and email.

A few months ago, I wrote about the need to prioritise communications but I can see us taking a step further in the not-too-distant future.  Why do I need an email client (Microsoft Outlook), multiple instant messaging/presence/voice over IP (VoIP) clients (Microsoft Office Communicator/Lync/Skype) a Twitter client (TweetDeck), Enterprise social software (Microsoft SharePoint/Newsgator Social Sites/Salesforce Chatter) and a combination of mobile and desk-based phones (don’t forget SMS on that mobile too!)? Plenty has been made of the ability to use VoIP to ring several phones simultaneously, to call the phone that best matches my presence or to divert the call to a unified messaging inbox but why limit this to telephony?

I can envisage a time when we each have a consolidated communications client – one that recognises who we’re trying to communicate with and picks the appropriate channel to contact them.  If I’m sending a message to my wife and she’s at her desk, then email is fine but if I can tell she’s on the school run then why not route it to her mobile phone by SMS?  Similarly, advanced presence information can be used to route communications over a variety of channels to favour that which each of my contacts tends to use in a given scenario.  Perhaps the software knows that a contact is not available via instant messaging but is signed in to Twitter and can be contacted with a direct message.  Maybe I can receive a précis of an urgent report on my smartphone but the full version is available at my desk. The possibilities are vast but the main point is that the sender shouldn’t need to pick and choose the medium; instead, software can take into account the preferences of the recipient and route the communication accordingly (taking into account that some transport mechanisms may not guarantee delivery). Could this be the ultimate unified messaging client?

Email isn’t dead – but soon we won’t care whether our messages are sent via SMTP, SIP, SMS or semaphore – just as long as they arrive in a manner that ensures an efficient communication process and lets us focus on the task at hand, rather than spending the day working our way through our inboxes.

This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and is based on a concept proposed by Ian Mitchell.

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