Global technology company supporting the North East technology revolution

imageThis is a copy of a great article that one of my guys had published today.

Sage, the only FTSE 100 technology company is now 32 years old, and with over six million customers is the third largest business software company worldwide. In 1981 it was just another North East tech start-up with a feverish ambition to explore new ideas and innovate.

Whilst the company is now much bigger the ambition remains. “We’re always driving forwards,” says Graeme Fletcher, Head of Enterprise Technology & Development.  “Whilst we continue to develop the highly successful on premise products that our customers love, we’ve also embraced modern technology and moved into the world of cloud-computing.  For example, SageOne, our new proposition for start-up and small business, is delivered entirely online. Sage 200, our proven financial software for growing medium-size businesses, is now available in the cloud as well as being available as an ‘on premise’ version to give our customers more choice.”

Despite its huge success and global growth, the UK &Ireland, and Global headquarters remain in the North East.  The strikingly modern, glass-and-steel offices in Gosforth’s Great Park is home to over 1300 employees working in an atmosphere of relaxed but purposeful intent.

Apart from a pride in its roots, there are two main reasons why Sage continues to support the North East. The first is the quality of the workforce. “The capability is here, so why move?” shrugs Graeme. “Our people are highly skilled, and we can draw talent direct from the universities and the local rich talent pool”.

Sage has structured graduate and apprenticeship schemes and is eager to strengthen its links with the region’s universities and schools. For example, Sage mentors North East students for the annual international Microsoft Imagine Cup Challenge, which is open to students worldwide to create innovative and original software applications.  Mark Thompson, Development Team Leader, who mentored students for this year’s Challenge said: “It was fantastic to see the ideas the students came up with and their passion for software development.  The experience connected Sage to some of the brightest up and coming minds in the North East and offered some great examples of true innovation.”

Sage’s three-year apprenticeship scheme is possibly one of the most challenging, and exciting in the industry.  In the first year alone, apprentices are expected to make group presentations, participate in meetings, deliver work to deadlines, as well as get to grips with a wide range of technologies and methodologies, from testing applications to coding, from web development to data modelling.  “I gained an incredible amount of experience, skills and knowledge of the IT world during my first year,” says Ryan Burness, aged 19, of his first year as an apprentice.  “I worked with many teams within the development function which allowed me to gain so many new technical skills; an opportunity that not many people in the IT industry have the chance to experience.”

The second reason why Sage continues to support the North East is that the region is now a powerful and growing technology hub.  “It ranges from the large employers like us, to literally hundreds of small technology companies and start-ups,” says Graeme.  “and we are actively supporting the local technology industry”.

In the last few weeks, he points out, Sage has sponsored two local events: the fourth annual DIBI (Design It: Build It) conference at Gateshead’s BALTIC; and DDD North (Developer! Developer! Developer!North) at the University of Sunderland.  The latter attracted hundreds of technologists from around the UK and abroad to listen share and connect.  “It was a fantastic knowledge-sharing and networking forum with many different experts giving talks on varied topics, all voluntarily.” says Graeme “which we were very happy to support.”

But those North East roots are more than just skin – or soil – deep.  They permeate far into the region’s communities.  What many people may not realise is that every Sage member of staff is given two paid charity volunteering days a year, in addition to their holidays, and the activities undertaken vary widely.

Join Sage and, history shows, you may not want to leave.  “If you have the ability, you can go where you want,” promises Graeme.  “A lot of our senior leadership team have worked their way up through the organisation, where we support talent from within, and supplement with talent from outside.”

If I didn’t already work there I’d be sending in my application…

You need to hire for Innovation

Innovation is a topic very close to my heart and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an excellent workshop delivered by Dr Anne Stevens the VP of Design at Kone elevators.

The session was hugely insightful and very educational… and whilst I’m not going to share the details verbatim, I thought I would share some of the very thought provoking statements like:

“The same old thinking gets the same old results … you need new thinking to get new results”

“Creativity must be present at every level of every technical part of the organisation”

“Even a mature innovative team need a coach otherwise it’s easy to innovate badly”

“A common mistake is to just let people loose with innovation”

“No great website is conceived by more than three people”

“Passionate creatures do not follow scripts”

Towards the end of the session Anne went on to share what she looks for when recruiting innovative people for Kone and how these qualities differ from the traditional qualities that many businesses still seek today:

Traditional Qualities Innovative Qualities
Knowledgeable Imaginative
Pragmatic Enthusiastic
Risk adverse (No, can’t do that because) Let’s have a go
Process Champion Visionaries
Comfort Zone Trailblazer
Conformist Explorer
Specialists Creative Minds
Leadership Stereotype Passionate Creatives

This really was an excellent session that struck a chord with me, which qualities do you look for?

Petrolhead – Dream Heaven

Being a certified petrolhead one of my long time ambitions was to go behind the scenes of a Grand Prix and witness first-hand what goes on inside a F1 garage.

Most people normally associate F1 with the world of designer attire, fine wine, and of course a fair amount of corporate schmoozing. Whilst I don’t have problem with that and chance would be a fine thing, the part of F1 that I really wanted to experience is the one where the race engineers and mechanics hang out, the place where the cars are built .

Well, I was very fortunate earlier this year when my ambition turned into a reality. I was invited along to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for the practice day as a guest of the Marussia F1 Team.

Those of you who follow F1 will know the garage is situated adjacent to the finish line in an area of the track called the paddock. On arriving at the track, my first impression was how much effort goes into the security operation, i.e. four stops for routine checks in the car and one electronic gate later and I’m in.

My first impression of the paddock was the sheer size and opulence of the so called motor homes that sit behind the garages. These things are absolutely huge and to think they break them down, ferry them around Europe, and set them up again in time for the next race is amazing.

As I walk along the paddock I get an immediate sense of proximity to the teams, the drivers, and a fair amount of celebrities. In fact I don’t have to walk far to witness the stars of F1 appearing as frequently as the characters at Disneyland to give interviews and photo opportunities to the army of journalists and photographers. This is a serious business and the PR machine needs to be fuelled.

Everyone knows that F1 is a mega money sport and now I’m seeing why, not only does it take an army of people to make it happen, but there’s also a massive logistics operation in place behind the scenes. Lorry loads of high tech equipment, lorry loads of tyres, and a huge catering operation to feed the teams and their guests.

Up to this point my only experience of the garage, like most people, has been confined to the small opening at the front from which the cars emerge and the mechanics change tyres etc. However, there’s a huge operation going on that you can’t see.

I’m into the garage now and my first impression is how clean everything is, I mean clinically clean like some sort of laboratory. Did you know they repaint the inside of the garage before every F1 Race? Well you do now and I thought they only did this for the queen?

There were engineers working on carbon fibre body parts, tweaking aerodynamics and fine tuning the race setup.

There are engineers and mechanics, from Cosworth in the case of Marussia, working on spare engines (I counted three), pumping warm oil through them so they can be fitted to one of the cars and are ready to go immediately.

There were experts analysing fluids from the engine and transmission for evidence of microscopic wear and damage to mechanical parts.

There were engineers building bits of the car and testing if they work better, worse or the same as the one it replaced.

And there are the engineers manning the nerve centre of the whole operation, monitoring all of the telemetry from the cars and advising the drivers what changes they can make to get the absolute most out of the car.

Important note… this shot is taken at an angle whereby you can’t see any sensitive information, I believe this wasn’t the case for the McLaren shot that got Lewis Hamilton into hot water after he tweeted it to the world (all of the other teams).

Moving forward to the front of the garage and the two race cars are surrounded by an army of mechanics and an impressive array of technology. One thing that struck me is that despite the number of people nobody got in anyone else’s way. Everyone instinctively knew where everyone else was and the whole operation was working with military precision.

Next I’m out front the Marussia garage and had a walk along the pit lane and this was when I heard the deep throaty roar of a Mercedes 6.3L, yes it was the safety car and it was thundering past the finishing line like a bat out of hell. It was closely followed by the medical car which also sounded awesome. Something I didn’t know is that they have two safety cars both identical and these travel around the world with the F1 season.

I have to say the most relaxed team in the pit lane was the Red bull team with (music) blasting out as the mechanics put the finishing touches to their cars.

I’m back in the Marussia garage and it’s time for free practice, the cars are readied, the drivers are inside the cars and then with an ear splitting roar the engines burst into life, I can’t think of any words to describe what it feels like to stand five feet behind a F1 car when it starts up other than maybe spine chillingly amazing.

After a little while the cars are back and the mechanics swarm around them to make minor adjustments to the setup and in a flash they’re off again. This happens over and over again in the morning practice and again in the afternoon.

In between all of this I’m made to feel very welcome by the Marussia team and as the day comes to an end its time for me to set off on the long drive back to Newcastle. The drive home is another story altogether due to the fact that Silverstone had turned into a mud bath and nobody was going anywhere fast. However, none of that mattered as I’d just had a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Thank you Mike Scudamore of Marussia for helping me realise a long standing ambition

Have a look at this post to see some video’s taken in the garage .

Converting from a PC to a Mac, it’s dead easy and you’ll never want to go back!

A month or so ago I fuelled my apple addition further with the purchase of a iMac. I have to say I’ve been delighted with the iMac so far and thought I’d take a few minutes to share some of the things I’ve discovered.

As with all the other apple kit I’ve bought getting started with the iMac was a piece of cake, take it out the box, plug it in and you’re away. Well not quite but almost, you need to go through a set up routine but this really is very easy and straightforward.

Next comes the task of moving years of ‘stuff’ from my PC over to the iMac. This again was a very simple task. I had a Seagate external hard drive, which I could just copy files onto from the PC. It didn’t matter that this was formatted NTFS as the iMac could read the files and simply copy them over. This also gave me the opportunity I needed to clean my content up along the way.

After doing the easy stuff I turned my attention to iTunes, which had grown to a considerable size over the years and was literally scattered all over the PC. I remembered reading horror stories of how bad this was to do well and I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. That was until I googled for some help and found some excellent instructions on (click on the link to get the instructions)

What used to be a complex procedure is now relatively simple with iTunes 9. So make sure you’re running the latest version of iTunes on both systems, and then follow these easy steps.

There is an option in iTunes that consolidates all of your iTunes content into one directory structure and then you just need to copy it over just as you would do for ordinary files. What’s more I feel it’s made iTunes housekeeping much better for me as I add more content on the iMac.

I have over 100 movies converted to Mpeg format, which I use on my apple TV and on my iPad when travelling. On the advice of someone who has been a long time mac user I installed the conversion package called Handbrake. You wont find this on the app store, you’ll need to google for it. You’ll also need to install a new codec and I chose the one that comes as part of the VLC media player. I tried Handbrake once before on the PC but it didn’t work for me. However, on the iMac I’ve had a 100% success rate and I’ve already converted 20 or so movies.

Next was Office software. I chose Microsoft Office for Mac on the basis that I use this all the time at work and my iMac being in my homeworking office it makes it easier to share documents etc. Again this was very east to install and setup. I can’t remember it being as easy on the PC, but then again I haven’t done it for years. Now the 27″ screen on the iMac might be having an effect on me here but I feel the user experience of Office on the Mac is much better than it is on the PC.

Now I’m thinking I should have this thing backed up, so I check out Time Machine. It just gets better, this sounds good but I need a Time Capsule to get it going. Actually it would be nice, and I’ll probably buy one some day, but it’s not essential as Time Machine works with any hard drive. So I decide to reformat my Seagate external hard drive to Mac format, which only took a couple of minutes, and use this (it sits neatly under my iMac). Then it’s a simple job of turning on Time Machine, pointing it at the external drive and we’re up and running.

My Kodak ‘all in one’ wireless printer was just as easy to connect and I’m printing in minutes.

Along the way I also decide that I need a new wireless router and so after a bit of research I buy a dual band Cisco router. It’s great and instead of the 54Mbps I was used to on the PC, I instantly benefit from 300Mbps on the iMac.

And finally I go down to the local apple store and come back with a Magic Trackpad. Words can’t describe how good this thing is. Who would have thought the day would come when you don’t need a mouse? Well this thing has rendered the mouse obsolete, its fantastic.

So, If you’re thinking of switching to a Mac then my advice would be to go for it, its dead easy to convert and you’ll not be disappointed. Other than if you have to go back to using a PC for any reason.

What to do if your iPhone won’t sync after upgrading to iOS5

If you’re having this problem then you’re not alone. A quick look on the Apple forums will tell you that there is a problem with the sync getting stuck either on step4 or 4 if you’re trying to sync by wireless, or step 6 of 6 is you’re plugged in.

Read through the forum replies and you’ll see lots of advice on things to try. However, what worked for me is to simply restore the phone in iTunes. This reinstalls iOS5 onto your phone along with the up to date firmware. Then it rebuilds your applications and music etc from your last backup.

What’s interesting during the restore process is that it now appears to rebuild your content from a manifest (a list of what should be installed on your phone) as opposed to restoring from a backup.

I might be wrong but I think this is new, and the benefit of doing it like this is it clears your phone down completely and rebuilds it with the most up to date applications.

How to turn your iPad into a valuable boardroom tool

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to show a keynote presentation, or flash up a spread sheet on my iPad and I haven’t had my VGA adapter handy and have had to go through the well documented workaround of screen dumping each slide to a photo and then using Airplay to show my photos.

Well, sitting at home on Saturday afternoon and my Apple TV prompted me for a system update. I let the update do its thing and at the end it gave me a what’s new page and something caught my eye “iPad2 mirroring to HDMI output”

Could this be what I’ve always wanted and thought the iPad needed … wireless transmission from the iPad to a large screen for all apps, not just those that supported Airplay?

Indeed it is exactly that… one of the coolest features in iOS5 and one that hardly anyone knows about… and to turn it on couldn’t be simpler.

You won’t find the controls in the Settings app on your iPad. Instead, they are next to the iPod controls. Double-press the home button on your iPad to see the multitasking bar (the one that shows all your recent apps along the bottom). Swipe to the start of the list and next to the music controls you’ll see the AirPlay icon. Tap on that, select your Apple TV and toggle the mirror button to ‘on’

Voila, on your TV you’ll see your iPad desktop and it’s just like having a large monitor or projector connected… every app I’ve tried has worked just fine.

So, if you’re a business user nip out and spend a very modest £100 on an AppleTV box and stick it in your boardroom. Not only will you get even better use from your iPad you also get the wow factor with your visitors.

PS.. make sure you download the latest update for Apple TV once you’ve installed it.

Is Apple losing the plot??

If you read my blog you’ll know I’m a fan of all things Apple but of late I’ve been noticing a few things starting to go slightly wrong:

When I connected my iPad to my PC for an update last night the update was a whopping 500meg allegedly only to fix a small security vulnerability.

Speaking of security vulnerability the marketing would have you believe that apple devices are free from the things that are the menace of Windows devices.

Then during the update iTunes hung, not the first time it’s happened on a few occasions now, and then I couldn’t upload my IPad purchases to my PC.

This got me thinking back to last week when safari crashed several times on different sites on the iPad, and the reception on my iPhone is still inferior to non-apple devices.

So, is it me??? or could it be that Apple devices and software are becoming too complex or are they putting quality behind innovation, when in fact most of us just want things to do what they promise.

But then again we let them get away with it because we’re hooked and we love them….