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…

My beloved iPad will never replace my beloved Laptop

I’ve been an iPad user since they were released and I have to start by saying it’s a great device as well as being a cool gadget… However, it will never replace my laptop… Why?

Well let me start on a positive with what I like about it:

The boot up time is excellent, log on and bingo, PC manufacturers and Microsoft take heed!

The battery life is excellent, much better than my laptop.

Watching movies is good, although not fantastic quality when played on a TV or external device.

A good selection of apps available from the AppStore … not a huge selection as I’m not including iPhone apps which run on the iPad but don’t use the device properly.

So, what don’t I find as good?

The keyboard, whilst being very responsive isn’t a fantastic experience when trying to edit text, getting the cursor in the right place is a pain.

The lack of flash support is a massive drawback, 50% of the sites I try to visit use flash and I can’t use the iPad to get to them.

On some non flash sites I can get to, I have problems scrolling data entry screens, Eg blog sites like this when I try and add a comment I can’t scroll up or down if I’ve entered more than 4 lines… WordPress is a good example of this, very tricky to create a new blog post on the iPad.

The output to TV and projectors isn’t good quality, and I was miffed that my iPhone cable wasn’t supported on the iPad… Sales gimmick?

And finally I question the ergonomics of the iPad, for prolonged use it stresses the neck as you need to look down on it as opposed to forwards with a PC. I know this for definite as I’ve experienced these problems whilst using the iPad whilst travelling. I wonder how long it will be before someone sues Apple or their employer on the grounds of health and safety?

So I summary, whilst I cherish my iPad and can’t see myself giving it up soon… It will never replace my PC, which is the tool I will continue to use every day for business.

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!