Did you notice how shops have changed ?

5 Years ago, you could walk into Waterstones in Dublin and see 8-10 filled with computer books. Walk in today and you would be lucky to see 1-2 sections, less than a quarter the number. The titles still being covered are the ‘mass market’ items – Word, Excel , Access, Microsoft Office. No longer can you find the items of specialist interest – JMX, Aspect Orientated Programming, Ajax and the like. Even slightly more mainstream books on Oracle and Enterprise Java are getting hard to find.

What is going on? Remember how the dot com boom promised to revolutionise retailing and that old fashioned retailers were doomed? It turns out that a both online and offline retailers are thriving. Specialist areas (the long tail – as explained in this post) are migrating online. Mass market hits (such as Sharon Osbourne’s and Will Young’s biographies) stay in the shop, where you’re more likely to buy them as a last minute present or impulse purchase.

From on online retailers point of view (e.g. Amazon), computer books are a perfect product. No ‘bricks and mortar’ book shop is going to be able to stock all the books I need, given that for a worldwide population of 6 Billion people, less than 20,000 copies will be sold of an book such as Java Messaging Service (JMS), even for a popular title from O’Reilly. This translates to about a quarter a copy a year for even an above average bookshop in Dublin , Belfast or Drogheda. Bundle them up into an online bookshop however, and 20,000 copies is a very nice market.

This process, far from being the death of traditional retailers is proving their renaissance. Companies like Tesco and Argos are mastering true Clicks and Mortar techniques. They can devote previous shelf space to high volume, high profit goods, while direct their ‘do you have this in pink in a size 20’ queries to their online store. Maybe not as convenient for techies in
search of the latest knowledge fix, but 3 days wait for a book is better than not being able to get that book at all.

New Year parties and the next big thing in technology

New Scientist are running an article in their end of year special about how Christmas and New Year parties have changed since the advent of mobile phones.

What happens is that the parties start out with pretty much a random number of people (depending on the number of friends that you have). That much we know from our student days. The difference now is that people then ring round with mobile phones to find out which party is best, leading them to flock to one that appears the most popular. One unfortunate party host is quoted as having his 2 bedroom apartment swamped by 120 people within 15 minutes. Great party, but his neighbours were not as happy.

So what has this got to do with your choice of technology, be it database, language, toolkit or operating system? Web 2.0 is the broad equivalent of the mobile phone – people to people conversations giving their opion on what is good and what is not. At parties, nobody wants to be the last one sitting in the room trying to think of something to say to the abandoned host. Likewise with technology – who wants to be the last one using a technology that is soon going to be abandonded? Web 2.0 speeds up this process of ‘flocking’ to the most popular choice.

Technical Knowledge Base – Just Launched

Our Technical Knowledge base has just been launched.

We found that over the last 5 years , 80% of the solutions we were building were the same. How many ways are there to take information from the web, apply some business rules or logic to it, and then save it into a database?

Currently the knowledge repository contains information on Enterprise Java , XML , Eclipse, Oracle, Architecture, Project Management as well as a lot of useful links for Dublin, Ireland and Technical specific areas.

The public area to the site can be found here. All information is generic, non-client specific, and can probably already be found on the web, although it is much easier to read it here!

links for 2005-12-24

How to Outsource – Why don't Elance do Plumbers?

Although not doing as spectacularly well as the construction industry, the IT jobs market in Dublin is ticking along very nicely. Not too nicely that we don’t have occasional thoughts about picking up a trade and going to work on a building site, but certainly a happy mid way point between the dot com boom and the dot com bust.

Even in this market, I hear prospective employers say ‘it’s very difficult to find good people’. We found that ourselves when were we building the Red Piranha framework. While they did well at the initial interview any people we looked at claiming to know Enterprise Java turned out to lack the experience, or were missing key areas (like xml, database access or even how to build the project).

Our solution was to outsource the IT project. While we designed and built key areas, some of the more mundane coding we outsourced overseas. Given that we’re not the largest of companies, how did we use this? We used a website called Rent a Coder , but there are alternatives like Elance , Guru and Get a Freelancer .

What all these sites give you is

  • A place to post IT Projects and work that you want done online.
  • A way for prospective suppliers to make bids on your project.
  • A way for you to rate suppliers by seeing their history, refereneces and work that they have done before.
  • A way for you to select a supplier and put payment in Escrow (a secure ‘bank account’ that doesn’t get released until you’re satisfied that the work is done, so that the supplier is confident of getting paid).
  • A way of resolving disputes.
  • A way of monitoring progress and communicating with the supplier. The communications are recorded to help resolve disputes should they arise.
  • A way of releasing payment to the supplier once the work is complete.

Haydn Shaughnessy writes in the Irish Times Business Section (Dec 15th 2005 ) about about the new possibilites.

All very well and good, but there are still risks , even for Small and Medium sized companies (SME’s) sending their project overseas. Most of these can be mitigated by good project management, but some ‘best practices’ to help manage your supplier include:

How to get it right

  • Keep the projects small to medium size – there are few big projects that cannot be broken down into smaller chunks.
  • Start with a ‘low business risk’ project. Not only will this help you learn how to outsource, but it can help you build up relationships with key suppliers that you can use again and again.
  • Go by reputation – other people will have dealt with these suppliers before.
  • You get what you pay for : some of the bids may be extremely cheap. Often these are legitimate companies looking to build a reputation. sometimes they may be just students looking for pocket money – fine if your business can take that risk.
  • Play the game. It’s not just the suppliers that gets rated. Remember that you have a rating as well that will affect people making bids on your projects in the future.

And remember …

  • Know what you want when you begin. Like any project, if you change your mind, it gives the people working for you an escape route to charge you more.
  • Write it down in as much detail as possible. Often, you forget just hom much you know about your business – new people coming in won’t know this.
  • You get what you can measure. Write what you want in a way that you can ask ‘was this feature delivered’ and get a yes/no answer.
  • Don’t overload the project. It might be tempting to load on a lot of ‘nice to have features’, but could they wait until phase 2?
  • Make yourself available to answer questions and quickly. Every specification will need some clarification, but it aslo  shows the supplier the importance that you attach to the project.

If you’re not sure what that means , give FirstPartners.net a call. We’re IT people, with a background in Supplier Management, Procurement and Purchasing. We’re available on +353 87 1224449, +44 2081 23 2081 , email PaulBrowne at Firstpartners.net.

Now if only Elance did plumbers …

Are you planning to outsource any or part of your next project?

Voice is the future of the internet (VOIP)

If somebody took away your web connection, you’d moan a bit, but you’d get on with your life. Lose your email connection, and those nice people in tech support better sort it out, and fast!

Voice over the internet (VOIP) is a similar ‘killer application’. You may have heard of it during the ‘EBay buys Skype for $2.6bn’ deal. One of the best introductory articles on the subject is on O’Reilly
(Slightly Technical).

Even if you don’t have access billons of Euro, here’s a list of things that it can do for your business:

  • Free calls between employees.
  • Reduced cost calls to ‘normal’ telephone numbers.
  • Give your UK and Irish Telephone numbers, diverted to your mobile , at minimum cost.
  • Low cost link in for teleworkers call centres , instead of being in the one building, can be distributed into employees homes.
  • Telephone and Video conferences at a fraction of the cost of specialised equipment.

Do you think Eircom can match 2c a minute calls, not just to Ireland, but most international destinations? Calls to mobiles are currently about 22c, but this is cheaper than many of mobile-to-mobile rates currently on offer. All this for one (very easy to use download) from Skype. There are other products, but this is the easiest to use.

On a more sophisticated level, products like Asterix give you a mini telephone exchange running on your PC. Normally you wouldn’t get too excited about this, but if your telephone system is just another web application, then you could customise it almost as easily as you do your web site. Some of the ideas that the being dreamt up are:

  • Combine it with Voice Recognition software (IBM has a good package) so that users could ‘talk’ to your website.
  • Interactive games, with users phoning in answers
  • Low cost Data Capture (e.g. Sales reps phone in orders direct to SAP, no need for expensive laptops)
  • Outbound calling with premium info – e.g. Horoscopes or Weather forecasts (be careful with this one, or your customers will not thank you for it)

How do you plan to use Voice over the internet?

Why IT Projects fail – mastering the monster

The UK based IT Architect site is running a series of articles on why IT Projects fail.

IT Architect Logo

(Part 1) suggests what is obvious (that there are different types of projects), but more usefully classifies them into two types. Type 1 are those that deliver concrete goods (like roads, bridges and office blocks). Type 2 are fuzzier projects aiming to change things, such as a process or organisational culture. It’s much harder to determine success in this second set, as they tend to deliver intangible results (i.e. you can’t drop them on your foot) . They also tend to suffer greater rates of failure. IT projects tend to be Type 2.

Some depressing statistics that if you’re lucky have only read about , or if you’re unlucky, know from personal experience. According to the Standish group, 31% of IT projects are cancelled outright, and over half have such serious performance issues that they were fortunate to escape the same fate. In contrast, a 3% overrun on a construction project is often the trigger for a public enquiry.

While there are many ‘excuses’ given for project failure, the author suggests that often the root cause is over-optimism and ‘biting off more than you can chew’. Symptoms of this over-optimism include projects started without any tolerances set, no change control and without proper reporting structures in place.

The 2nd Part of the article , is a bit more optimisitc, in that starts to tell you what you can do to improve the rates of project success. Broadly speaking , there are two areas suggested for this:

    • Make Type 2 (IT) Projects more like Type 1 (Construction) – remove the fuzziness of success , so that you see the outputs of your project. This often comes down to metrics on the basis of ‘you get what you measure).
      Understand the level of success that you are aiming for. This can range from a simple level 1 (did the project do what was asked of it) , to Level 4 ( did the project have a positive impact on our business strategy). In between are Level 2 (Was this project success a once-off, or do *all* our projects suceed) and Level 3 (our projects may be successful, but are we working on the right ones).
  • For more details , here are links to part 1 and part 2 of the article.

    Innovation Relay Center – Enterprise Ireland

    If you are working in IT , then you are probably part of the knowledge economy. It is probably work your while checking out the Innovation Relay Centre Website, supported by Enterprise Ireland.

    The centre acts as a clearing house, matching people how have patents and technology available for licence, and those that are looking to use it. As such is a good snapshot of the technologies that are up and coming in the medium term 12-36 months out).