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My Internet of Things

December 30, 2014 2 comments

The Internet of Things (IoT) is impersonal. My lamp, dishwasher, heater, sprinkler, etc. are all islands with a closer border policy than North Korea. Even the first generation of IoT devices is still autistic. Current devices only know how to talk to “their app” or “their cloud”. The solution is not to have open APIs or standards but to go a step further. We need IoT apps everywhere. When you buy a phone, it is the same phone as millions of others are having. However something magically happens when you connect it to its app store/marketplace. The phone goes from an iPhone/Android to a miPhone/mydroid. We need a dishwasher, vacuum cleaner and heater to be personal as well. The easiest way is to create a MyIoT experience with IoT apps everywhere.

Why would your vacuum cleaner need apps?
Your vacuum cleaner should be able to know your house the moment you unpack it because your alarm system and your heater should tell it how big your house is. Your Smarthub should guide your vacuum cleaner from day one. Your smart phone and Google calendar should tell it when you are away and when it is a good moment to clean. Your smart watch should tell it that when it jumped on while you where there that the spike in your heartbeat means that its sound is annoying and it should stop immediately. No single company will make solutions this complex. So what we need is the ability to add apps to every sort of thing. This way the Internet of Things becomes My Internet of Things.

Dumb and Dumber is better than the Next Big Thing

December 17, 2014 1 comment

The software world is a strange beast. It is the only industry that has one million solutions and no paying customer problems. The other industries are the other way around. There is a tendency to open source and commoditise more and more solutions. The reason is that companies always migrate upwards in the value chain, meaning that the hardware, the operating system, etc. are now commodity because the value is in the platform or the application. To get more customers to your platform, you need to make it as easy for them to get there. Open sourcing is a trialled and tested approach for this. It also means that every x years somebody will comoditise your current cashcow.

By far the strangest thing about the IT industry is its obsession with the Next Big Thing.  There is a very small number of companies that have mastered the art of Cloud, Big Data, Continuous Deployment, Docker, SDNs, etc. Yet whatever their problem is they are currently working on seems to be on the mind of everybody. The belief is that if you convince the Cool Company to embrace your product then everybody will embrace it over time.

I beg to differ. Being on the bleeding edge of technology means you have to open source everything and keep on outrunning everybody else. Lots of really smart people are playing the risk-it-all lottery in the hope their new invention will change billions of people’s habits. Most of the time the money made with those new solutions is trivial versus the old money and you need so much VC money that at the end the pay-out to the winners is not that big.

What if in 2015 instead on focusing on the next big thing, all the smart people in the IT industry would focus on the dumb solutions that are used in many other industries on a daily basis. Dumb and dumber really describes the IT architecture of many non-IT based industries. Helping them to accelerate via lean start-up methodology, minimum valuable product, disruptive solutions, etc. will more likely create a new list of billionaires then to try to impress Google with a better Kubernetes or Facebook with a better Wedge. Smart people should forget about the next big thing in IT and focus on the dumb and dumber solutions from other industries…

Snappy Ubuntu for Business People

December 9, 2014 1 comment

Canonical is the company behind Ubuntu. Ubuntu powers up to 70% of the public cloud and 64% of OpenStack private clouds run on top of Ubuntu. Today, Canonical launched Snappy Ubuntu Core! Snappy Ubuntu is a revolution in how software gets packaged, deployed, upgraded and rolled-back. So what is it and why should you and your business care?

What is Snappy Ubuntu?
Snappy is allowing developers to build Snappy Apps – called Snaps – like mobile apps and deploy them to the cloud, any X86 computer or a fast growing list of any form of IoT or ARM v7/8 based board. For more info on IoT see ubuntu.com/things In the past developers would make a software solution, afterwards a maintainer would take often weeks or months to create a packaged version. This would mean that fast moving projects like Docker would never be up to date inside any of the big Linux distributions. Snappy changes this by allowing the developer to package their solution on their own and publish it through the Snap Store to all users in minutes. Since all Snaps run in a secure and confined environment, they can not harm other Snaps or the operating system itself. Quality, speed and security can now all be combined.

Snappy upgrades are transactional. This means that you install a new version in one go but also easily roll back to the previous version if required. Snappy manages a super small version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu Core. This means you can run it very cost efficiently and fast everywhere. Since Ubuntu Core is a lightweight version of Ubuntu, teams don’t have to be trained when they want to go from the cloud to embedded, it all works the same.

Why is Snappy important for Businesses?

Snappy allows solutions to be packaged and published by the software vendors in minutes instead of months. Users can deploy and roll back very easily. Trying new innovations becomes cheap and fast.

Snaps can use any license. Snappy Ubuntu was born as a spin-off of the Ubuntu Phone operating system. Canonical is working on commercial Snap Stores with different groups like the ROS Robot Store, the Ninjasphere Store, etc. Unlike traditional mobile app stores, the Ubuntu Snap Stores are a lot more open. You can use the generic Ubuntu Snap Store but you are also able to get your own branded Snap Store and govern it. For large companies there will be even an OEM version that they can manage locally and host federated Snap Stores for their large customers. Be sure to reach out to Canonical if this is of interest to you.

With Snappy, the vendor packages the complete application, including its dependencies. Less moving parts mean less chances of something going wrong and cheaper to support customers. Updates are incremental so only what changes gets pushed, saving bandwidth costs and time. Urgent security patches can be easily distributed, with high confidence.

Existing Docker or other container apps can be Snappy deployed. Building your Docker containers or other commercial Snaps on top of Snappy Ubuntu makes good business sense. In the future you can get optional commercial support from a company that has been supporting Linux for 10 years and is trusted by Amazon AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure with the big majority of their Linux workloads.

Snappy Ubuntu is open source and has some great example Snaps, so make sure your teams don’t get “Snapsassinated” by a competitor…

Tax-avoiding Dotcoms playing Russian Roulette with their Stock Price

November 30, 2014 Leave a comment

I am watching “We’re not broke”, the documentary around US Unset and tax-avoidance by large corporations. Now the story behind all this is not new. Through history corporations have tried multiple times to put the chief financial officer in charge of generating better corporate results. A business executive would focus on understanding their customers better, giving them what they ask and selling them more. A technical executive on creating a blue ocean strategy through some technical innovation that puts the company in the centre of a new universe and makes competitors irrelevant. A financial executive however has only numbers to play with. Last time the CFOs cooked the books with aggressive revenue recognition. This time they are focusing on artificially lowering the tax bill via the creation of offshore shell companies that get all the profit even if they don’t have any employees.

A Russian Roulette Game with Stock Prices
A large corporation like GE or Bank of America is relatively safe from large groups of customers not being happy with the company’s corporate social irresponsibility [CSI]. What are people going to do? Change banks? Buy a fridge elsewhere? It is just not going to happen in big enough numbers to be of any impact on their profits.

Dotcoms however have a weakness that can put their stock price at risk if they want to be the king of CSI: people might actually do what they want them to do. Most of the big dotcoms get most money from advertisement. They put ads everywhere and teach people how to click them. Advertisers then pay per clicked ad lots of money to these dotcoms. However what if people in protest would massively start clicking advertisement banners but not buying the actual things behind them. The dotcoms would initially see their profits go through the roof but all its customers would see that they pay lots more money and get no value at all. Pretty soon stock prices would go in free fall. The irony would be that these protectors could use social networks and online videos to teach others how to join in the protest. So one advise to large dotcoms, please pay a responsible amount of taxes and focus your effort on out-innovating the rest of the industries and not on copying their bad habits…

Eliminating RFPs to make enterprise software sexy

November 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Today I had a meeting that could be the beginning of the end of RFPs to buy software. RFPs are the tool established buyers and vendors use to keep new entrants at bay. However I haven’t met anybody that says they love writing or responding to them. The effect of RFPs on software is perverse. The main problem is that you can’t ask if your software is beautiful, easy to use, fast to integrate, efficient, effective at solving a business problem, secure, etc. Instead you ask if you provide training, because you assume it is ugly and difficult. You ask if they offer consultancy services and an SDK or connector library because you assume it is difficult. You assume you need to customise it for months because it will not be effective out of the box. But most importantly since you will be stuck with the software for years, you ask if it supports any potential feature that perhaps in 5 years might be needed for 5 minutes. It is this last set of questions that kill any innovation and ease of use in business software. A product manager in the receiving end will get funding to add those absurd features when customers ask for them. A career limiting move would be to ask for budget to reduce useless features or tell that your product looks worse than Frankenstein.

So how can you make sure that software is beautiful, does what it supposed to efficiently and effectively, is fast, nimble, easy to use, secure, scalable, fast to integrate, is future proof, etc.? You do what you do when you buy a car, you go and ask the keys of different models and take them for a serious spin and put them to their limits.

So what you propose is a three months PoC for each potential solution?
No what I propose is being able to get your hands on all different alternative software solutions and deploying, integrating and scaling them in hours or even minutes and then release a bunch of automatic performance tests and rough end-users, even some ethical hackers or competitors.

If the software does what it says on the tin, is effective, efficient, beautiful, secure, fast, scalable, easy, etc. then you negotiate pricing or use it for a minimum valuable product.

It used to be impossible to do all of this in hours but with solutions to deploy quickly private clouds and cloud orchestration solutions like Juju, we are actually planning on trying this approach with a real customer and real suppliers. To be continued…

Several telecom operators to run into financial problems in the next three years…

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In 2017 several telecom operators will run into financial problems, with Vodafone being the most known, unless they start changing today. Why?

The telecom business is a very capital intensive business. Buying spectrum, rolling out the next-generation mobile networks and bringing fiber connections to each home and business is extremely capital intensive. Traditionally operators were the main users of their networks and got large margins on the services that ran on top of them. The truth today is that telecom operators have been completely sidetracked. They no longer have any control of the mobile devices that are used on their networks and neither the services. Data is growing exponentially and is already clogging their networks. A data tsunami is on the horizon. Operators see costs ballooning and ARPU shrinking. There is no way they can start asking substantially more for broadband access. Obama just killed any hope of adding a speed tax on the Internet. The EU wants to kill juicy roaming charges. However the future will be even worse.

New disruptive competitors have entered the market in recent years. Google Fiber is offering gigabit speeds both for uploading and downloading. Youtube and Netflix are generating the majority of Internet traffic in most countries.  Most streaming videos are broadcasted in SD quality. However Netflix is already broadcasting in 4K or ultra high-definition quality on Google Fiber. This means traffic volumes of between 7 to 19GB per hour depending on the codec that is used. Take into account that often different family members can be looking at two or more programmes at the same time. The end result is that today’s networks and spectrum are completely insufficient. Now add the nascent IoT revolution. Every machine on earth will get an IP address and be able to “share its feelings with the world”. Every vital sign of each person in the richer parts of the world will be collected by smart watches and tweeted about on social networks. 90% of the communication that is running inside Facebook’s data centre is machine to machine communication, not user-related communication. Facebook hasn’t even introduced IoT or wearables yet. You can easily imagine them helping even the biggest geek with suggestions on which girl to talk to and what to talk about via augmented reality goggles and with the help of smart watches. Yes it is a crazy example but which telecom marketing department would have given even $1 to Zuckerberg if he would have pitched Facebook to them when it was still known as TheFacebook. It is the perfect example of how “crazy entrepreneurs” make telecom executives look like dinosaurs.

This brings us to the internals on how telecom operators are ran. Marketing departments decide what customers MUST like. Often based on more than doubtful market studies and business plans. In contrast the mobile app stores of this world just let customers decide. Angry Bird might not be the most intelligent app but it sure is a money maker. Procurement departments decide which network and IT infrastructure is best for the company. Ask them what NFV or SDN means and the only thing they can sensibly response is an RFP identifier. Do you really think any procurement department can make a sensible decision on what network technology will be able to compete with Google? More importantly make sure these solutions are deployed at Google speed, integrated at Google speed and scale out at Google speed? If they pick a “Telecom-Grade Feature Monster” that takes years to integrate, then they have killed any chance of that operator being innovative. With all the telecom-grade solutions operators have, why is it that Google’s solutions are more responsive, offer better quality of service and are always available? Vittorio Colao, the Vodafone CEO, was quoted in a financial newspaper yesterday saying Vodafone is going to have to participate in the crazy price war around digital content because BT has moved into mobile. So one of the biggest telecom operators in the world has executive strategies like launching new tariff plans [think RED in 2013], pay crazy money to broadcast football matches, bundle mobile with fixed to be able to discount overall monthly tariffs and erode ARPU even more, etc. If you can get paid millions to just look at what competitors are doing and just badly copy them and dotcoms [the list is long: hosted email, portals, mobile portals, social networks, virtual desktops, IaaS, streaming video, etc.] then please allow me to put your long term viability into question.

So can it actually be done differently. YES, for sure. What if operators would enable customers to customise communication solutions towards their needs. Communication needs have not gone away, if any they augmented. Whatsapp, Google Hangout, etc. are clear examples of how SMS and phone calls can be improved. However they are just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible and what should be done. Network integrated apps via Telco App Stores would give innovators a chance to launch services that customers really like. Hands up who would pay to get rid of their current voicemail? Hands up who really loves their operator’s conference bridge and thinks it is state of the art? Hands up who is of the opinion a bakery is absolute not interested in knowing what its customers think about its products after they have left the shop?

Last week the TAD Summit in Turkey had a very special presentation from Truphone, one of the few disruptive mobile operators in the world. No wonder it won the best presentation award. Truphone, with the help of partners, deployed a telecom solution in minutes that included key components like IMS, SDP, HLR integration, one hundred numbers, dashboards, interactive voice responses, etc. Once deployed, the audience could immediately start calling and participate. All numbers of the people in the audience, their home operator, the operator that sold them their SIM initially, their age and responses to interactive questions were registered and results shown on a real-time dashboard. If the audience would have been in different locations, they could have been put on an interactive map as well. The whole solution took only a few weeks to build with a team of people that all had day jobs. The surprising thing is that it was all build with open source software. It is technically possible to innovate big time in telecom and bring to market new services daily. All at a fraction of today’s cost. The technology is no longer a limiting factor. Old-school thinking, bureaucracy and incompetence are the only things that hold back operators from changing their destiny. Whatever they do, they shouldn’t act like former-Nokia executives in some years and tell the world that Android and the iPhone took them by surprise. Dear mister operator, you have been warned. You have been giving good advise and examples of how to do it better. Now it is time to act upon them…

A Layman’s Guide to the Big Data Ecosystem

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Charles – Chuck – Butler, a colleague at Canonical, wrote a very nice blog post explaining the basics of Big Data. It does not only explain them but it also allows anybody to set up Big Data solutions in minutes via Juju. Really recommended reading:

http://blog.dasroot.net/a-laymans-guide-to-the-big-data-ecosystem/

This is a good example of the power of cloud orchestration. Some expert creates charms and bundles them with Juju and afterwards anybody can easily deploy, integrate and scale this Big Data solution in minutes.

Samuel Cozannet, another colleague, used some of these components to create an open source Tweet sentiment analysis solution that can be deployed in 14 minutes and includes autoscaling, a dashboard, Hadoop, Storm, Kafka, etc. He presented it on the OpenStack Developer Summit in Paris and will be providing instructions for everybody to set it up shortly.

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