The “One for all and all for one” Cloud…

I was intrigued by this story from the BBC website last night on how 70 big name firms had formed an alliance to drive Cloud standards. The story begins :

Some of the world’s biggest companies are using their market clout to demand that computer equipment makers change the way they make their machines.

The 70 firms, which includes BMW, Shell and Marriott Hotels, said systems that do not work together are holding back the spread of Cloud computing.

The companies have formed the Open Data Alliance Centre to push for unified standards for technology.

Standardisation is something that has been talked about for some time in the industry, and whilst I fully support standardisation and applaud the concept, I have some concerns.

Why do I feel this way?

Well, in my recent post when the industry is crying out for standards, why reinvent the wheel, you can see just how difficult it is to get a simple xml schema adopted for sharing transactions across heterogeneous systems.

I am pro Cloud and pro standards, and I feel a “Cloud standard” would indeed be a fantastic thing as it would remove a number of barriers blocking Cloud adoption today:

  • It would remove the vendor lock in fear and put choice back into the hands of the customer by enabling the movement of customer applications and services between Cloud vendors, should the customer need to.
  • It would allow customers to run and have interoperability between different applications and services hosted on different Clouds, i.e. it is highly improbable for all aspects of a businesses need for systems to be available from a single Cloud provider.
  • It would also help bridge the gap between the Cloud and the millions (billions) of desktop software applications.
  • If we started with a security standard then that would allay the many fears that people have about Cloud Security, almost in the same way that certification works today.

So what would prevent this, well maybe we have to look no further than the Cloud vendors themselves? What would be their competitive advantage if all were equal? What would separate the big guys from the small guys? Would it stifle innovation? And how long would it be before there was a breakaway?

We have seen this many times before in the world of technology, you only have to think back to Java and how Microsoft broke the language when they launched their own flavour … J++ .

Will the Amazons, Azure and Other major players come to the table in the spirit of altruism? Or may they not need to should “Open Source Cloud” gather significant momentum, much in the same way that Linux has become the defacto supercomputer OS.

The seeds may have been planted already… In a very interesting move earlier this year, 25 Cloud vendors including the likes of Rackspace, Dell and Citrix teamed up with NASA on the OpenStack project. The press release started:

San Antonio, TX – July 19, 2010 – Rackspace® Hosting (NYSE:RAX) today announced the launch of OpenStack™, an open-source Cloud platform designed to foster the emergence of technology standards and Cloud interoperability. Rackspace, the leading specialist in the hosting and Cloud computing industry, is donating the code that powers its Cloud Files and Cloud Servers public-Cloud offerings to the OpenStack project.  The project will also incorporate technology that powers the NASA Nebula Cloud Platform.  Rackspace and NASA plan to actively collaborate on joint technology development and leverage the efforts of open-source software developers worldwide.

And goes on to tackle the standards question by saying:

“We are founding the OpenStack initiative to help drive industry standards, prevent vendor lock-in and generally increase the velocity of innovation in Cloud technologies,” said Lew Moorman, President, Cloud and CSO at Rackspace. “We are proud to have NASA’s support in this effort.  Its Nebula Cloud Platform is a tremendous boost to the OpenStack community. We expect ongoing collaboration with NASA and the rest of the community to drive more-rapid Cloud adoption and innovation, in the private and public spheres.”

This could be exactly what’s required to move the standards argument forward, and I for one will be following it with great interest.

Instant Blogging with WordPress

I’m still very much a novice when it comes to blogging… I started a blog last year using Blogger but I didn’t really get very far… amongst other things the tool itself wasn’t fantastic.

A few weeks back I switched to WordPress… and I have to say I’ve been very impressed, very easy to setup, easy to use, and a host of stats and plugins… and this piece I really like…

Right now I’m sitting on my iPad typing this post as an email, and all I have to do is send it to a secret WordPress email account and it’s posted voilà

I know I could log in through the browser, but another limitation of the iPad is that is doesn’t fully support scroll bars on web pages, so if your message is longer than four or five lines you can’t edit, whereas I can with email.

Haven’t quite worked out how to tag email posts, buy that’s probably because I haven’t looked yet…

Note to self.. Don’t use business email as it adds automatic email footer…

Softworld change or die… ??

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Softworld event at Excel in London. I say pleasure… when really I have to say it was probably the poorest I have attended to date. Manoj Ranaweera, whom I had the good fortune to meet, summarised the event in his own blog here he quotes:

Softworld is UK’s premier event for accounting software vendors. I was a regular attendee during the days of ebdex (my first tech startup), but have not attended the event during the last few years. Those days, the event was held in Birmingham and was seen as the annual showcase event for accountancy software. It was at least 3 times bigger than the event I attended yesterday, and was buzzing with people. In contrast, yesterday’s event was not just small but it seems that the organisers forgot to invite buyers.

So what has gone wrong… could it be the format hasn’t changed for years and is tired, was it the location.. it was very nice but a hike to get to, the exhibitor presentation rooms claustrophobic and uncomfortable, even though they were restricted to 18 people sitting and a few more standing at the back, or is it that buyers behaviours have changed?

I would say that it did appear to attract prospects from the higher end of the market. I for one didn’t see much in it for the small vendor, despite what some are claiming. I suppose if it’s your first one you have nothing to compare against and it’s down to what you consider to be good at the end of the day.

Someone said that Softworld was for the dinosaurs of the industry… I think they were nearly right in that Softworld itself may be the dinosaur, not the vendors.

The world is changing and the web is changing too!

In a recent article in Wired Magazine, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff made this quite remarkable claim…

Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services – think apps -are less about the searching and more about the getting.

Their rationale was based on this scenario…

You wake up and checkyour email on your bedside iPad – that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times – Three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app.  At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service. You’ve spent the day on the Internet – but not on the Web. 

Their argument is based around how internet traffic is being consumed. Their assertion is that the traditional way of accessing the internet via a web browser was being challenged by device native applications running on new types of ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ devices such as smart phones.

They go on to say:

This is not a trivial distinction. Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.

I agree that we are not at the end of the digital revolution, in fact we are only at the beginning. I don’t see the web dying at all and we don’t live in a one size fits all world and there is enough room for both to succeed. I’m sure that we will continue to see many more innovative web native applications for many years to come. However, what I do see is an emergence of the ‘any device’ solution, driven by consumer choice combined with a proliferation of affordable and effective smart devices.

We have finally seen the introduction of the long awaited tablet PC. Apple has changed the world with the iPhone and iPad. Google are following suit with Android and Research In Motion – Blackberry are hot on their heels in the business world.  I feel there are many scenarios for device native applications that fully optimise the experience, by fully integrating the application with the characteristics of the device, as opposed to living with the limitations of a web browser running on the device.

So the web is definitely changing, and the world is changing too…

Around the same time I was inspired by a blog post from Gary Turner titled “My beautiful polychronous workstyle”. In his post Gary compares working life today with a time not really that long ago… he writes:

We take our technology enabled working lives for granted these days but anyone over the age of thirty five will recognize that the typical working day has changed quite profoundly in the last twenty years.

Compared with what I remember being a typical working day in 1990; before the mobile phone, internet, email or social media, and when in order to do any work at all you needed to be physically located with your all your co-workers, at a desk and near a landline telephone – the comparison is pretty stark.

In 1990 you would submerge into the office at 9am, essentially isolated from your personal lives unless there was some family emergency, sit with your co-workers and focus 100% to compress everything you needed to do into generally unbroken blocks of time. You’d then come up for air at 1pm – at the same time as everyone else to regulate the downtime efficiently – which was your only chance to visit the bank to pay personal bills (no internet or telephone banking then) or run any errands.You’d finish up around 5pm and if you ever took work home with you then you were considered either a workaholic or sucking up big-time for a promotion.

In 2010 you’re only totally off the grid when you are asleep.

You’re handling email 30 seconds after you’re awake, handling personal bills or ordering flowers for your wife between calls, dropping out for three minutes to wish a friend ‘happy birthday’ on FaceBook, dealing with email while waiting to pick your kids up from school or pushing a shopping cart around on a Saturday afternoon.

But it’s probably fair to say that if productivity could be charted, it would be several magnitudes greater than in 1990.

Whilst I’m not sure if Gary supports the Chris Anderson post, I do feel there is synergy between the two. Gary brilliantly paints a picture that clearly articulates the pace of social change, and when you marry this up with the technology change highlighted by Chris Anderson, it’s a very powerful message indeed..

The problem is though, and only those old enough to have lived with technology through the 90’s will get this. The millennium generation don’t have a clue what things were like in the 90’s. They think everything has always been the way it is today….. 

If you try to tell them how it used to be 20 years ago they simply don’t believe you!

When the industry is crying out for standards – customer validation

This afternoon, I received a comment to my original blog about reinventing standards from Ronald Duncan of @UK PLC.

I feel that Ronald’s reply builds significantly onto the original blog and therefore deserves a special mention in this new blog as opposed to being hidden in a comment:


BASDA are current in the process of updating BASDA XML. I know it is nice and stable and we have not needed a release for 5 years, but in the same way we were one of the first XML schemas in existence back in 1999, and are still the most widely adopted globally. BASDA Green XML released into pilot this summer and currently in interoperability testing.

Is the first XML format to support Carbon footprints, embedded water, waste and all the other things that need to tracked in a modern world.

BASDA Green XML link

Regarding reinventing the wheel, there are lots of standards out there. My company @UK PLC is one of the largest interoperability hubs in the world with over 1 million users, and the flavours that we see are as follows:-

Mainly BASDA XML with a reasonable amount of cXML
xCBL some messages slowed down after commerce one went bust and stopped when BT turned off their old commerce one server
UBL despite a lot of hype 0 messages so far
GS1 XML less hype but also 0 messages so far

UK Tradacom
and some EDIFACT

Who uses BASDA XML, well basda members

Access Dimensions

I am not going to try and list every single vendor, but it is pretty well every single major finance system vendor.

I do know a couple of non-basda members that we have used basda xml with Forte by Cyberscience and Finest by Software AG.

The other group that have standardised on BASDA XML are the Hub Alliance.

The hub alliance is a global association of order and invoice hubs

The members all have high volumes of transactions and interoperate using BASDA XML.

Many thanks for your comments Ronald.

Maybe the so called dinosaurs (desktop vendors) of the industry aren’t so long in the tooth after all…

In a captivating evening at the UK Software satisfaction awards last night the story was dramatically different from that of 12 months earlier as the roll of honour swung heavily in favour of the on-premise software vendors.

There was a deluge of awards for the on-premise vendors where the Access Group scooped three awards, Relate Software scooped two awards, Version 1 won the Enterprise paperless office award, Dracir the SME paperless office award, Professional Personal Audit Systems won the Enterprise payroll award, Achora Software Products won the Tax award, PHOCAS won the Business Intelligence award, Oracle won the CRM award, iCIMS won the Enterprise HCM award, and Sage UK scooped the Small Business Payroll award.

In contrast the online vendors only managed to capture one award when Freeagent picked up the SME Accounts award.

The airwaves have been spookily quiet from the cloud fraternity this morning. Maybe their prediction last year that the desktop was dead and it was cloud or nothing was just a wee bit premature. It would appear that those who ultimately decide, consumers, are telling a different story.

Just to add some balance, I do actually believe the cloud will change our industry forever, but I’ve not yet met anyone who can predict what the pace of change will be. Of course, you’d expect on-line vendors to tell you this will be sooner rather than later as it helps drive their marketing and sales figures, whereas the on-premise vendors tend to be more pragmatic.

Finally, a big well done to all of the winners and the runners up, the support that these awards get can only be a good thing for our industry.

Note *** results based on garbled twitter feed… I will update where necessary when confirmed results are published.