Thursday, December 11, 2008

The world in your pocket?

The future looks mobile.
At TechRoadmaps this week, Stafford Masie of Google claimed that there are 3 billion mobile phones on the planet, while only 1 billion people are online. He says there are more mobile phones than TVs, PCs and cars put together. nFold's software research has shown that most local CIOs rate Mobility as one of the top 3 trends to act on in the next few years. And my own experience confirms the importance of this trend, as our office has become virtual and our workers increasingly mobile. There are few technology barriers left, only psychological ones. People resist change.

Communication is the killer application, so far.
Most people in SA seem to use their mobile phones for entertainment and communication, rather than for work processes or transactions - me included. Yet most software vendors whose roadmaps I have seen, have realised that their applications must work on any device - especially mobile phones. And the availability of GPS maps and directions, and niche industry applications by companies such as Adcheck Mobile, are changing the local landscape rapidly. The battle between Apple and Google for mobile application penetration is raging full steam ahead.

A day in the life of a mobile worker.
When I renewed my cell phone contract recently, I was amazed to discover that my bandwidth usage now exceeds my voice costs. I enabled email on my cell phone a few months ago and also use my phone as a modem to get my laptop onto the Internet when I'm on the road. Most of our office systems are web based or accessible over an Internet virtual private network - but not yet on my mobile phone. Mainly because my phone's screen is too small to be useful. Email communication and calendar synchronization to my cell phone have transformed my life, but not in the way I expected. Rather than chaining me to my desk, I seem to have more time and less stress now than before. And I have at last conquered the email beast.

The world in your pocket.
Apparently your typical iPod now has the capacity to store several years' worth of music or video content. And in future, one may literally be able to download the entire contents of the Internet onto a pocket device. Stafford Masie thinks this will change the world. He reckons there will be less need to be online. I'm not convinced. As storage capacity grows, so the content available to be stored seems to multiply. Humans have a fundamental need to be connected. The bigger the network grows, the bigger the need to be part of it. And the benefits of connecting, exponentially outweigh the cost. Mobility has made it cheaper and easier to stay hooked.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The money and the mouth

It's been a while since I had a minute - I'm sure you've had those months too. At last I found a good excuse to write, as we migrate to a new mailing list platform and need to test that it works. Please bear with us if we've made a mistake with your subscription. Yes, our new software is open source. And all I'm spending on it is time. So my priority is deploying my sparkling CRM system for as little money as possible. But what are your CIO's software priorities and where are they putting your money?

Product development wins the race for budget and importance
Hot off the press is our software research with Arthur Goldstuck's company World Wide Worx. Perhaps you saw our comments on the cover of iWeek last month. We asked your CIO the questions and the winner is....more money is being thrown at using software to create new products for your company than any other category of software. Product development also ranks as one of the most important categories, alongside a few others. For example, furniture companies are spending more money on software to design new furniture than elsewhere.

Does this really mean we're more innovative?
Arthur reckons it's an indicator that software is not merely a tool. Rather it's adding more value to businesses and is becoming a means to achieve competitive advantage. Yet infrastructure, finance/accounting and operations software together make up more than 40% of the software budget. This tells me that the basics are still chewing up most of the resources.

HR software is important but cheap yet you're planning to spend more on it
I'm always intrigued by contrasts. Only 5% of your software budget is consumed by HR software, yet it is one of the most important categories. Maybe your HR platforms are in place, or annual costs are low? Or maybe you've had the luxury of negotiating down the price because it's a competitive space? HR and knowledge management are the only categories you plan to spend more money on in future, so I guess the HR software vendors have cottoned onto the idea that they could be charging more....or you're putting your money where your mouth is.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Email is dead. Long live instant messages!

Social Networks Rule?
A new friend recently suggested that by 2010, email would no longer be in use for business communication. He suggested that social networking would replace it. We were discussing how the candidates for US president were using social networking to campaign for votes, and ways to use social networking for business. Perhaps I'm immune to the bug, or it hasn't caught me yet, because I seem to put off or ignore new social messages, from even my best friends.

To chat now or email later, that is the question.
Yet the idea stuck until I met a journalist who reckons that instant messages have already become more important than email. As a long-time user of AOL, Skype, MSN and Google chat software, I could immediately relate to the idea. And the more I think about it, the more I agree that this phenomenon still feels more important than social networking. Having just dealt with yet another 1,000 emails I'm reminded that "if everything is urgent, nothing is". To deal with the deluge, some people use different email addresses for different reasons: friends, work, family. That's never solved the problem for me.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
My poor friends and family have learnt over the years that I am a reluctant email correspondent; mainly because I suffer from email overload at work, so that it has become a chore rather than a pleasure to write an email. At least I prefer that excuse to sheer laziness. And yet, I am seldom too busy for a quick chat on Skype - even now that I increasingly use it for work. Somehow a quick chat is more personal and interactive than a quick email. But for some reason, I have still not activated Skype or MXit on my mobile phone, unlike millions of teenagers in South Africa who daily chat to their friends this way.

The pen is mightier than the sword
I'm amazed at how sms, instant messages and email have already changed our language. We use shorter words, emoticons and shortcuts to say more in less time. And yet we never seem to have any more of the time we're trying to save. I guess I'm about ready to ditch the world of technology for a good book over a very welcome long weekend.

The Future According to You

I'm planning to write a series of white papers about local software matters this year. First I was undecided on the first topic, now I'm not sure. It's a toss up between software innovation and software trends.

Of white papers and dithering
As the end of March deadline for our own Leapfrog Award draws nearer and I dust off my power suit to attend the TT100 awards, my thoughts are turning to innovation. But we're wrapping up interviews for our local software research, I can't wait to chair the IT confidence panel discussion again in March, and I have a press deadline on local software for Monday. So local trends are hovering in the ether too. For this article, local trends has won the flip of the coin.

The million dollar question
We asked CIO's a particularly spicy question in our software survey this time: "What do you think the 3 most important software trends will be in the next 5 years?" And we got some VERY interesting answers. Better yet, we got some great conversations started on the way the software word is heading and how this impacts local companies. Many of the responses confirmed our own predictions about local software trends (see

Top Trends
But there are some new trends emerging that we also think will be big. And our local CIOs seem to agree, with 100% of the responses agreeing mentioning one of our original trends or the following ones we think are emerging.

Convergence - by this we mean not only more functionality available in fewer software systems, but also fewer devices delivering more useful features. And communication is becoming unified too.

Integration - as technology to integrate becomes cheaper and interfaces between systems become more standard, the dream of keeping data where it belongs and delivering it to where it's needed becomes more achievable.

Configurability - software has become more modular and can now deliver off-the-shelf what used to require custom development. It has also become more aligned to business processes rather than forcing customers to adapt to its own features. The race for features is over.

Mobility - with widespread adoption of mobile phones that have become ever more like mini-computers, software features are now delivered to the palm more easily. Already calendaring, messaging and collaboration are at our fingertips. Other features are following fast.

Less popular, but equally interesting, were some more trends we think worth watching:

Voice over IP - it's hard to argue with free communication over existing data networks that are becoming cheaper to grow.

New Interfaces - will voice and touch replace the keyboard & mouse?

Social Networking - the way we communicate is evolving, and could transform the workplace.

Clean Green
Yet another email in my inbox, with the catchy title "shed your load...", is a call for papers from ITWeb for its GreenIT summit. This is a new one on me and was not mentioned by any of our CIOs in the survey so far. But I can see how online meeting software can cut down on the need to travel and burn up fossil fuels. And shifts in behaviour mean that people are more ready now than ever for the idea of a virtual office. Imagine how working from home could impact on your lifestyle and those traffic jams in Jozie! Telecommuting is the way to go.

nFold Goes Global

Our Marketing Manager has moved to Dubai. The rest of us are on the road or work from home so often that her move was the last straw to break the camel's back. With so many of us based offsite so much of the time, nFold has now become a virtual global company.
Doing things the virtual wayWe have our weekly meetings online using IP telephony and web meeting software. We support our customers remotely and meet them online. We even host virtual events with virtual people. And I am now able to share files in our local office network wherever I am, in whatever timezone - as long as I have an Internet connection. During my recent visit to the US, this meant I could keep in touch over the hotel's free wireless connection with anyone who happened to be awake at 4 in the morning when the jet-lag kicked in.

Free. Borrowed. Rented. Bought.
Nor has it cost us an arm and a leg. Sure it's doubled our IT costs, but then we doubled our customer base and our turnover last year, so it's time for our infrastructure to catch up with us. A wise friend taught me that as an entrepreneur, the order of priority is first to use what's free, then borrow, and only part with money as a last resort. Fortunately, there are loads of tools out there to help a young company like nFold keep up the pace.

Check it out!
Free voice conversations:
Free VPN software for creating a secure wide area network over the Internet:
Free CRM software for managing sales and marketing, email campaigns, contacts database and building relationships with customers: or
Free office software:
Free tracking of roving IP number of your ADSL connection:
Free email, web calendar sharing with meeting cancellations and reminders on sms or email:
Free offsite backups (for less than 5GB):
Rented MS Exchange for outlook calendar sharing and email/meeting delivery to mobile phone:
Rented web hosting and mailboxes:
Bought internet bandwidth: or or Bought 3G or HSDPA bandwidth: or
Bought web meeting and support software:

Keeping the home fires burning
It's another rainy day in Jozie. Telkom has no outages in store today, and the lights are on - for now. Meanwhile, in Dubai it's a warm winter day while Theresa is arranging our next guerilla marketing campaign. And I am enjoying some tea and deleting new emails at the local coffee shop between meetings. Eskom decides to do load shedding and our office lights go out. The UPS keeps our server, network and switchboard going until the generator is turned on. And peace reigns while the pitter-patter of raindrops continues without stopping, just like virtual life continues at nFold.