Ten Predictions for Post Tiger Ireland

If David McWilliams can take credit for the phrase ‘Celtic Tiger’, can I be first to use the phrase ‘Post Tiger Ireland‘? Looking 5 years out, whether or not the Irish property market has a hard or soft landing, Ireland is going to be a very different place.

We were looking at buying a car in Smiths Ford Garage in Drogheda. The Sales guy (very personable but old school salesman) knew that we were coming in. The car we looked at had a flat tire. In Tiger Ireland , this wouldn’t have mattered – he could shift his quota of cars in the first week of the month. In Post Tiger Ireland (TM), cars are still going to sell , but the salesman is going to have to work for his money – doing the basics like fix the tires and clean the car properly.

So, anybody want to put money on the following not happening over the next 5 years?

  1. Not a national disater:
    We’ll have a hard / soft / gentle as a feather (delete as appropriate) landing in the housing market. This will be talked about as a ‘national disaster’. It won’t be – the non construction 73% of the economy will continue along, maybe a little bit more cautiously, but it will carry on.
  2. We’ll find a way to ‘blame the Brits’
    (and everybody else) but unlike the last 800 years, we messed this one upselves. Don’t expect this to stop an unwanted increase in nastiness towards anybody looking non-Irish. The majority of the bullies will be those who left education early to take advantage of the construction boom and are now left high and dry. Sales of Harp Lager to increase?
  3. There will be an increase in the politics of envy.
    Before we were living the Irish Dream – everybody could make it big. Now, expect punative (an ineffectual) tax proposals on property developers , complaints (but nothing done) about high public sector wages and pensions and demands from the ‘losers’ to be compensated (reform of stamp duty anyone?).
  4. Ireland will become (even) more like Britain
    A mature but growing , first world economy. Yes, they’re our closest neighbour (geographically and culturally) , we support their football clubs and spend money in their chain stores. Expect the politics to become more similar – the key debate will be around improving the quality of public services (Health, Roads, Schools, Policing).
  5. At least one major multinational will pull out with job losses in the thousands.
    There will be demands for government to ‘do something’ (the time for action will be 5 years too late). Away from the headlines, Irish Startups (in knowledge sectors such as IT , Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals) will create jobs, but in smaller companies.
  6. Ireland will grow older.
    The average age of the Irish population will grow older as the baby boom passes. It’s possible that we could have too many schools in 15 years time – at least until the current babies have kids of their own. Another Irish Property Bubble in 2027?
  7. The ‘New Irish’ will draw more talent into the Irish Economy.
    Many ‘New Irish’ (choose this weeks PC term) are here to stay for the same reason that many Irish people still live in England and the US. Would you take your 5 year old daughter back to school in Poland if she only spoke English? ; Migrants tend to follow where friends and family have gone before. This will give the Ireland a boost as we get the cream of overseas talent, even when other EU desinations become available. Expect more Paul McGraths on the Irish Football team.
  8. Suburbs are the new Ghettos.
    Carbon taxes and higher fuel costs are here to stay. Traffic jams in Dublin are going to get even worse (think pre-congestion charge London). Doing an expensive 2 hr commute will become less and less attractive, especially when house prices fall. Poorly built boomtime housing will decay quickly when not maintained leading to a vicious circle of decline when those that can afford to get out, will.
  9. IT will be the major growth factor in the Irish Economy.
    Despite all the buzz around Green, Space and Nano technologies, few of these are ready for widespread commercialisiation. Not only will IT be the direct engine of growth, but it will enable growth in other industries (e.g. Irish Business using Skype videoconferences to offer Financial Services to the City of London).
  10. Something will happen that we can’t predict.
    In the 60’s , few foresaw the viciousness of the troubles. In the early 90’s , few predicted the robustness of the Celtic Tiger. What does this decade hold? A 9-11 with Irish linked perpetrator’s? Large scale social unrest caused by the Euro-straightjacket? Miracle cures for obesity, cancer and smoking? I have no idea.

There are some of these predictions (especially number 2) that I don’t like. What do you think?`]

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Google Spreadsheets Mean the end of Java

Or to be more accurate ‘Google Spreadsheets mean the end of Java as we know it’.
Google Spreadsheets Logo
Think about this. Who pays your wages Mr Java-Developer-who-has-just-had-a-couple-of-years-at-the-top-of-the-pile? Clients, or if you’re in a larger organisation , the business folks (i.e.’internal’ clients). Do you think any of them care about Java? Do any of them know what Java is? All they want is to get things done, quickly , and with as few mistakes as possible.

These business people would be happy to run their organisations on Spreadsheets. Do you remember the cartoon where Dilbert convinced the pointy haired boss that he could fly the plane using Excel? There’s more than a element of truth to this. I know of at least one US Fortune 100 company that (until recently) conducted most of it’s operations on little more than Microsoft Office and duct-tape. It worked, not very well, but it worked.

Until now , the next line would be ‘Excel (or any other type of Spreadsheet) is not secure / scalable / sharable / not web friendly’. That was until Google launched their Docs and Speadsheets. It’s an online version of Office with some spreadsheet functionality. Play with it a bit and you’ll see that there’s plenty missing. But this being Google , I’m willing to put good money on

  • (a) new features rolled out (think steamroller) and
  • (b) These Spreadsheets being massivly scalable / secure / sharable.

This being Google, there is also an API (developer page here). It’s got massive holes in it (e.g. you can’t yet use it to create a new spreadsheet). But when Microsoft bring out their version of online spreadsheets (and they will) not only will they clone the Google API (to get market share), they’ll need to go one further and introduce new features / remove the usage restrictions in order to compete.

So, secure, scalable, sharble online spreadsheets are here to stay. So lets take a look at Mr. (or Ms.) Pointy haired boss thinking about their new project:

  1. Hmm, I think we need to be able to gather which health plans our employees are enrolled in.
  2. OK, I’ll throw together a spreadsheet to show people what I want
  3. Before I’ll give to our friendly Java developer and let him ‘do’ a website from it.
    Soon I’ll just share this on Google.
  4. Great , Loads of people are now using it, I’ll just the (Ruby / PHP / Insert other language here) guy to add one or two extra features.
  5. Most Excellent. Why don’t we spin this off as a Web 2 company and sell it to EBay??

There you have it, Massively scalable , Highly secure websites (see Google Authentication API), without needing to know anything about EJB, JMX , JBoss, JDBC or any of the hard won knowledge that us Enterprise Java Developers have built up over the last 7-8 years. I’m exaggerating, but not much.

What do you think? Is Enterprise Java dead, or is Web 2 just another boost and a slightly different way of doing things for us Java people?

Other Java Posts from Technology in Plain English

Some other notes:

This article was originally published on the O’Reilly books OnJava Website.

Architecture? One size fits all

No matter what your system does , be it insurance , banking , online travel booking or telecoms, the chances are it does the following things:

  • Gets information from users over the web
  • Does some business processing on that information
  • Saves the information in a database.

At a conservative estimate , about 99% of Enterprise systems would fall into this category.

If so, why do you need an architect , when you can use our ‘one size fits all’ architecture diagram (below)?! Most non-trivial systems, regardless of the language they are written in (be it Java, .Net , or your language of choice) follow the pattern seen in this diagram.

3 Tier Enterprise Diagram

There are 3 Pieces to the Solution:

  • Web Browser (for the user / client).
  • Web and Application Server – carry out business logic.
  • Database Back End – to store data and ensure data integrity.

Within the Application Server (the middle bit above, which as Java Architects is the bit we are interested in), there are a further 3 tiers

  • A Presentation tier (or layer), which is mainly about talking to the user (it gets and sends requests to the web browser).
  • A Service layer , which is mainly about talking to back end such as databases, legacy systems (such as mainframes) and XML-Web services that we may use.
  • A Business layer, the ‘meat’ of the sandwich, where the ‘Value add’ is in terms of business processing and validation.

For each of these layers , your priority in building them are slightly different.

  • The Presentation layer is the bit the user sees. You want it to be fast and give a good impression to the client. Underneath, use a standard framework (link: pick your framework here) and then customize the look and feel.
  • The Service layer you want to work fast and well (e.g. no data faults), but then then forget about. Unless things go wrong, no user is going to complement you on the quality of database persistence! Use standard libraries for the entire layer.
  • Unless your company is a clone or franchise, the business layer in the system is going to be completely different. Aside from the user-interface , concentrate most of your project effort here as this is the core of what system does. We’ve written quite a bit about how to increase the value-add of the business layer (link to O’Reilly Technical Articles)

By the way , we’re only half-joking about the ‘why do you need an architect’ bit. We can be contacted here.

How to avoid losing 150m Euro

It now seems obvious that the Healthcare Payroll system was destined to fail. If you were working on the project, I’m sure it felt very differently at the time. How can your projects avoid a similar fate? While IT may sometimes seem disconnected from reality, the following guidelines show that ‘Real World’ lessons still apply.

  1. Know what you want and stick to it. If you’re building a house and change the plans several times the builder is going to fleece you, no matter how low the initial quote was. The same goes for IT Projects – if you change your mind after the price is agreed, you’re going to pay more.
  2. If you don’t know what you’re doing , find a friend who does. I know very little about houses, so when I was buying my own I got a friendly surveyor to check it out. With IT projects, this ‘friend’ should be genuinely on your side, and have something to lose (e.g. financial or reputation) if things go wrong.
  3. Little and often is better. Like exercise, smaller projects that deliver results little but early are best. If the results are good, try a second (and third) round to add more functionality based on the feedback from users.
  4. It’s been all done before. Tailored suits cost a lot more than ready-made ones – and most people are happy with a ‘Good enough’ instead of ‘Perfect fit’. There are literally thousands of ‘off-the-peg’ computer systems out there ready for final alteration to what you need.
  5. If you don’t understand the answer, ask more questions. Thankfully the days we sat and nodded at the Doctor’s Latin words are long gone. IT Consultants may sometimes speak a different language, but if they can’t explain what they’re talking about in English that you understand, the chances are they’re trying to hide something.
  6. Don’t build on sand. Like houses , projects need good foundations. For IT Projects , the good foundations are sound knowledge of the Business Processes being coded into the system. Changing processes and changing IT systems at the same time is like building on sand.
  7. Sometimes the tortoise wins the race. Unless your entire business model is built around being the very first to market, then being a tortoise and letting others race ahead has very big advantages. Not only can you learn from other people’s mistakes, but the chances are you’ll get it at a much reduced cost – For example websites now cost a fraction of what they did during the dot.com boom.
  8. Use a safety net. When building houses, often the first thing to go up is scaffolding, for safety reasons. The equivalent safety net in IT is called ‘Unit Tests’. Not only do they help you get there faster, but they let you know if you’ve broken something you’ve already built.
  9. Be a good poker player. Good poker players never give away valuable cards. For IT projects, owning all cards mean just that – make sure that you have full rights to the solution so that you can still move tables and use a different supplier. Even if you never make the move, knowing that you can is an effective bargaining chip.

And finally …

When you are in a hole, stop digging. The decision to call a halt to the projects was no doubt a difficult one, and is to be applauded. Too often, the temptation is to keep on going and hope things will turn out right. Recognising problems at an early stage means there is more chance of being able to fix them.

Why pay 400 Euro for Microsoft Office?

Like 99% of PC users, you probably have Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint installed on your PC. To get a copy of Microsoft Office you either:

  • Paid about 400 Euro to get a legitimate copy.
  • Got a copy from a ‘friend of a friend’.

While I’m no advocate of Microsoft, I think the 2nd option is wrong. It’s illegal and it’s theft by another name – either you want Microsoft Office enough to pay the money, however outrageous,
or you don’t and you have free choice to walk away. It’s also stupid, as there are good, low cost (or free) alternatives out there.

Some alternatives to Microsoft Office are listed below (and this ZDNet article lists some more). Given that most users only scratch the surface of available features, each of these is a ‘good enough’ replacement for Word, Excel , Powerpoint and in some cases , Access.

  • StarOffice – from Sun Microsystems , available for about 50 Euro.
  • OpenOffice – an open version of StarOffice , slightly more ‘techie’ but available for free.
  • ThinkFree – an alternative to office that runs within your web browser (like Internet Explorer)

Thinkfree Star Office Box Open Office Logo

Why are these so much cheaper? It just shows how much profit Microsoft is making from it’s Office suite when products of a similar quality are available for a 10th of the price.

So should you switch? Realistically , you have 3 options:

  1. If budget is important and you as a decision maker can push through the implementation, then go for either Star Office or Open Office. While these have every feature users need, they look just slightly different. If you can encourage users to give them a try for the first few days, then they’ll never want to go back.

    An example (heard 3rd hand) was a well known hospital in Dublin that tried , and failed to switch. The problem was that senior officers did not want to make the effort to change.

  2. If budgets are not a problem or if you use the extremely advanced features like macros, then stick to Microsoft office. If you don’t know what a Macro is, then chances are that you are not using them.
  3. Keep on using your illegal copy. You might have got away with it until now, but expect Microsoft to come after you as their (previously spectacular) revenue growth comes under pressure.

Go for either Option 1 or 2. For Option 3, expect Microsoft to offer increased incentives for employees to let the cat out of the bag, as well as new technical initiatives (building on the ‘Genuine Windows’ program to sniff you out. You have been warned.

How supermarket store cards could save your life

The BBC are running an article on how Store cards (the sort that give you bonus points with your shopping) could save your life.

The basic idea is that information that the supermarkets are already gathering (to profile area’s so they know what products to put on shelves, and to profile you as a customer) can be used to predict health risks.

I used to do similar work (not for any of the Major Supermarkets) and it is amazing/slightly worrying how much information can be ‘bought’ off the shelf like this. It’s good to see the technology being put to a good use.