Benchmarking: sources 17 Apr 2013Posted by Tony Law in Insight services, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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I’m facilitating tomorrow a Corporate IT Forum discussion on twenty-first century benchmarking. It’s a wide topic. This post is a set of links and some comments, based on the InformationSpan database of 700 research and analyst firms. But I’m always grateful for updates: please comment!
The Forum itself operates a benchmarking service for clients, so there’s a declaration of interest to make but I am not myself a member of it. Primarily this is crowd sourced: it invites members to contribute their own data, and to compare themselves against their peers.
• Computer Economics provides a range of benchmarking data, not all financial. I’d consider it a primary source and worth a subscription. It provides a wide range of data. Major studies include IT Spending and Staffing Benchmarks and Worldwide Technology Trends. Their Management Advisories look at ROI and TCO, Risk Management and other topics. Too many to list here. Take a look for yourself.
• InterUnity Group “provides leading companies with strategy, competitive intelligence, and benchmarking to improve business performance.” It’s not clear what areas of benchmarking are actually covered or whether the focus is primarily financial
• The component services of the Corporate Executive Board will be worth investigating. Using the Researched Sharing model for content, CEB services such as the CIO Executive Board link and correlate information and tools from clients.
• Ventana Research undertakes benchmark research as one of its primary activities, drawing information from its own community, social media and the company’s “media partners”.
• The Data Warehousing Institute undertakes benchmarking in its key area, primarily business intelligence. They publish an annual BI Benchmark Report.
This is a rapid post in advance of the event. Look for a wider-ranging Coverage Report from InformationSpan when I’ve time to develop the theme.
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I teach a couple of Open University courses. In one of them, I’ve just got to the point where we encourage the students to work through the industry skills frameworks. The aim is to benchmark their skills and to identify both longer term career direction and short term professional development targets.
A few years ago it was confusing, but manageable. My first contact with this area was quite some years ago when the British Computer Society began to develop from an academic interest group into the professional organisation it is today. It began to review applications for membership. To benchmark (that word again) applicants’ status and career progression, it needed a framework. Out of this grew the Industry Structure Model, which identified a number of career tracks. This developed into the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which is still a great set of definitions for ICT career people. More below, about SFIA.
When I first came back to this teaching, five years ago, the then government had created an enormous, wide-ranging family of National Occupational Standards (NOS). These were divided among a number of defined industry sectors and Sector Skills Councils. Some of the areas were fairly obvious, like Engineering. Others, perhaps less so, like Contact Centres. The general principle was a good one: that in the main, skills were only defined once. So, anyone whose role included management looked to the Management framework. It wasn’t re-defined in every profession. Anyone who used IT (and I mean, used as a user) could benchmark those skills against the IT User NOS standard. These “generic” skills were, as it were, imported into the professional portfolio which defined actual roles in real organisations.
Well, what have we now?
1. Originally, there was the overall IT Professional Competency model (e-skills Procom). This has been discontinued so far as I can tell. It now exists only in the National Archive – under the “NVQ” section although Procom is not an NVQ framework (!).
Procom provided a framework of seven disciplines:
- Sales and marketing
- Business change
- Programme and project management
- Solutions architecture
- Solution development and implementation
- Information management and security
- IT service management and delivery
2. Of these, disciplines 4, 5, 6, 7 are represented in the IT/Telecom Professional NOS of 2009. The SSC, e-skills UK, still exists and this framework is still current on the e-skills website. These are, though, hidden in a link right at the bottom of the page. Currently, look for “NOS” in the purple footer.
The IT/Telecom Professional framework categorises capabilities at five levels: Junior Technician; Associate Professional; Professional; Lead Professional; Senior Professional. It categorises its criteria according to Performance; Knowledge; and Understanding.
Alongside this, e-skills maintains the IT User NOS which is valuable for almost anyone, We all use IT user skills. This framework defines three levels: Foundation, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Advanced level overlaps into the IT Professional framework, covering user application development (Access, say, or Excel). This is also the framework where you’ll find user skills with software, be they office tools or specialised business applications.
3. The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) still exists and is now at version 5. It’s available as a spreadsheet download.
SFIA defines the following skill areas:
- Strategy and architecture
- Business Change
- Solution development and implementation
- Service Management
- Procurement & management support
- Client interface (i.e. sales & marketing)
It defines levels from 1 (junior) to 7 (which equates to senior management or CIO). Not all cells in the model have definitions at all levels: for example, within Strategy & Architecture the cell “Corporate governance of IT” begins at level 6. SFIA does have the advantage that it encompasses management to the most senior levels as well as technical capabilities.
4. Since late 2012 there is the IT Skills Academy. It is itself confusing.
First, it references a full set of role descriptions in its Standards section. The rubric says that “The IT Professional Standards have been organised and aligned to the relevant SFIA skills and levels.”. What this actually means is that the Standards are not aligned to SFIA, but there is a correlation table showing where matches have been identified.
They are not aligned to the NOS either. Again, some areas map across although the names are not quite the same. The disciplines here are:
- Architecture, Analysis & Design
- Business Change
- Information Management and Security
- IT Project Management
- IT Service Management and Delivery
- Sales & Marketing
- Solution Development & Implementation
- Transferable Competencies (three flavours: Personal, Business and Leadership).
The sub-categories of each discipline have definitions from Level 3 to level 6. The definitions are, like the NOS, divided as Performance; Knowledge; Understanding.
The Transferable section is well worth having. With the change to the NOS database overall, these general skills are now much harder to find elsewhere.
5. The Skills Academy website also offers the Professional Profile. This matches the categories and levels (3-6) of the Framework, but the descriptions are considerably simplified with a handful of “Do you do these things?” criteria.
6. Finally there is what you get to from the new NOS website. Searching this website is now far inferior to what used to be provided. The Search delivers only PDF documents for individual “cells” in the overall model, with titles such as “Software Development Level 5 Role”. Note the use of “Level 5″ which is not the categorisation used in the NOS. The content appears to be cloned from the NOS, but the sub-elements have been reorganised and you have to look at the content to infer that Level 5 equates to Professional.
There’s no link, as there used to be, back from these framework documents to the Sector Council or to the overall Suite, and there’s no search which will identify appropriate suites for a capability (as was the case on the old NOS website). Link to Search for indexes for both “Occupations” and “Suites”, but this assumes you already know what you’re looking for …
This is a horribly confused and confusing situation.
• IT Professional Competency model (e-skills Procom), in the National Archive
• e-skills NOS page: look for links to IT/Telecom Professional and IT User frameworks
• Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA)
• IT Skills Academy: IT Professional Standards, and the simplified My IT Professional Profile tool
• See: National Skills academy framework backed by UK employers, Computer Weekly, 4 Oct 2012
• The NOS website is now maintained by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). The former URL (ukstandards.org.uk) redirects here.
• The NOS Search page is indexes, not searches. It has tabs for Organisations, Occupations and Suites.
Some Open Source notes 9 Feb 2013Posted by Tony Law in Consumerization, IT marketplace, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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In my persona as an Associate Lecturer of the Open University, I promised some brief notes on Open Source software to help a colleague who’s leading a Staff Development workshop in a couple of weeks’ time.
Educational providers always need to find workable inexpensive software to provision their students. Around 1990 I taught the first Open University course which took ICT facilities to the students in their homes, rather than requiring them to book time on terminals hosted by friendly local institutions. The DT200 course existed in the days of DOS, but it used an early on-screen word processor (FirstWordPlus on the GEM GUI), a cut-down version of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and the CoSy conferencing system. The configuration was an Amstrad 640 with two 5.25 inch floppy drives and no hard disk. Oh, and the mouse port was on the left hand side which is why, more than 20 years later, I still use my mouse left handed.
I promised some notes, as I said. And I thought I’d share them more widely. I use Open Source software quite freely but nothing startling. I also use other freeware and a handful of niche purchased products, such as Graphic Converter for the relatively limited image manipulation I need to do.
My main OU course now is the ICT foundation course which introduces students to a range of practical ICT tools as well as the social and global context in which the technologies operate. It uses Audacity for audio recording, which I’d been using for some time already for creating podcasts for students on another course. It uses FreeMind for mind maps. Alongside this it uses tools like Picasa for image manipulation which is free (from Google) but of course isn’t Open Source.
I use a Mac but run it sometimes as a Windows machine using BootCamp. On Windows I don’t maintain a Microsoft Office licence so I use Open Office. While there are some compatibility issues with on-screen presentation I haven’t hit any significant problems. I know there are some, but they haven’t affected anything I’ve needed to do. I use the VLC media player on Mac for Windows Media Player formats, since Microsoft no longer make a player for Mac.
The Firefox browser and other elements of the Mozilla family are of course Open Sourced and Firefox is my browser of choice. I use the internal web server on my Mac which is a version of Apache.
For application development I use Cincom Smalltalk which is a full object-oriented environment and although it’s commercially owned it’s developed by its OS community. I learned Smalltalk, also 20 years ago, when working on a collaborative academic-industry research project and I still love it.
Working in industry, as I did until recently, I encountered a lot of suspicion about Open Source. More recently I think it’s abated somewhat but it’s still there.
The debate around OS in the commercial IT sector focusses on accountability – not knowing who is accountable for quality or who can be sued (to put it bluntly) for any real problems. It’s difficult for procurement-minded professionals to accept that a community of interest is likely to have higher quality standards and to identify and fix problems more quickly than a major for-profit software supplier.
This attitude has softened over the past several years, not least because some software (such as Apache and Linux) has become widely used in the enterprise. To my reading there are (at least) two reasons. Cost (obviously) but also licensing.
It’s a lot easier to promote a web service when you don’t have to license according to the number of users. Quality has become a given for the most widely used products. Security can be easier to assure and handle when there can be access to source code. And acquiring OS software through a distributor does offer some assurance of quality. There have been some high profile espousals of OS software, such as Linux or Open Office in government departments which are supremely cost-conscious, but these haven’t had an enormous impact in the wider commercial marketplace.
What is, I think, true is that as more specialised niche requirements have been accepted within the enterprise, there’s a recognition that either open source or niche (= small startup) providers may be the only route to a solution. Someone, somewhere, has created an open source community around your need.
There are various definitions of what constitutes Open Source. By one definition, a specification is “Open” if it is published, so that it can be used by other platforms – as other word processing software can create documents in Microsoft’s format. Conversely, the Open Document Format was defined through an open process: but isn’t yet accepted as the leading standard for interoperability. This is the open process I learned about through by participation in the Object Management Group’s work. Building consensus and reconciling different viewpoints, including those of commercial developers, takes time: but there is often a strong academic foundation, and academic rigour often sustains a longer-lasting and more effective standard. Or, again, there is development through an open community which brings many minds to bear on problems; which converges on useful solutions; but which can become self-perpetuating so that the vision does not always grow or, where necessary, change.
• Sourceforge: one of the strongest groups of Open source communities
• Sourceforge is host to Audacity and to FreeMind
• Linux (of course)
• Apache (the Apache Software Foundation) also hosts Open Office
• Mozilla for Firefox, Thunderbird and more
• Smalltalk (see this page for versions)
• VLC media player
• Graphic Converter from Lemkesoft
• Picasa from Google
• Gem Desktop
Anatomy of a crash (2) 4 Apr 2012Posted by Tony Law in ITasITis, Managing IT, Technorati.
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So … New iMac with OSX Lion, installed and working. I’m taking the time to reinstal stuff as needed, and keeping a system audit as I go.
In no particular order, here are a few significant issues.
Problem: new machine has Firewire 800 port not Firewire 400. Need to connect to backup disk to restore stuff. Old firewire cable incorrect; then discovered there’s more than one FW 800 connector and I bought wrong cable online. Go into Brighton Apple Store and get correct cable. Send old one back.
Problem: when opening a document with any software (Word, Excel, Preview, anything …) multiple “old” documents open with it. Problem: Lion has new “feature” which, when an application is opened, “restores” old windows. Aggravating. Cure: in system settings, turn the feature off.
Problem: Blackboard Collaborate (Elluminate), which is crucial for my Open University work, isn’t fully compatible with Lion. Application sharing causes Elluminate to crash, which my students didn’t appreciate. Temporary fix: present sessions from my laptop, which is still on Snow Leopard. Cure: wait for the vendor to fix this; it’s a known problem.
Problem (this one was anticipated): installing Windows under Boot Camp causes a licence problem. Through my old machine I have a licence for XP and it would be legitimate to transfer this to the new machine. However, Apple tell me XP won’t instal on Bootcamp under Lion so I bought a Windows 7 upgrade pack. As I expected, activation doesn’t recognise either the old XP code or the new Win7 code. This is despite Microsoft’s advice that upgrading from XP needs to be a clean instal. Asked Microsoft for help; so far, they’ve referred me to a US West Coast call centre though, to be fair, it does come on stream at 5a.m. their time (so 4pm here, as they haven’t gone to Summer Time yet). Ongoing.
Something I expected to experience as a problem that isn’t: I decided to bite the bullet, abandon the old Entourage Microsoft mail client and upgrade to the Office 2011 version now called Outlook. I’ve stayed on Entourage 2004, primarily because of a useful feature. If I drag a mailbox to the desktop, it saves an archive copy. When I’m going to an event, I use this to transfer the relevant email threads to my laptop in case of questions. Entourage 2008 didn’t have it. But hey presto, Outlook 2011 has brought it back. And I like the new client. Unexpected benefit.
I did look at Apple’s migration assistant. But it’s not sufficiently granular for the selective migration actions I want to take. So some things like Calendar and Address Book get manually migrated. Address Book is easy; just move the folder, and get used to the new Apple interface which actually, once adjusted, is ok. Calendars get migrated one calendar group at a time; this requires some careful adjustment of preferences (“Put imported events into …”) but I only have a handful of calendar groups so it’s not a big deal. Here, though, not so sure about the new interface. The list of calendar groups is a drop-down, not a permanent panel, and on the new panel I can’t pre-select a calendar group to create a new item. Not so friendly.
More to come, no doubt; but the main things are migrated now. Most software I’m looking for new versions as I go; things like Graphic Converter, Audacity, Audio Hijack, and so on. VisualWorks, my Smalltalk application development platform, will probably be a challenge if there’s a new version out. We’ll see.
Links? well you can probably work them out.
Anatomy of a crash and recovery 6 Mar 2012Posted by Tony Law in ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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So I’ve been struggling, the last several days, through the consequences of a hard disk crash on my trusty, but five-year-old, iMac. Application of the standard tools (Apple’s Disk Utility, and Disk Warrior) maintained access for a while but the machine now simply refuses to boot MacOS, and the tools won’t recover it. It just hangs. So I’m on Plan B, with a hairy workload making the timing as inopportune as it could be.
The tendency is to assume that if you have backups (and I have – Time Machine is fantastic!) then everything’s ok. Well, it is, but I thought it might be instructive to catalogue some of the issues and problems.
I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a new machine. I daresay that if I cleared the old one, reformatted the disk and re-installed everything it might be able to mark the bad blocks, or whatever’s the problem. But that’s not much different from re-installing to a new machine, and this one is indeed five years old and won’t be capable of running the latest OSX upgrades. So, a new iMac is on its way.
And that was the first frustration, I’m not far from an Apple Store, and hoped I’d just be able to hike over there and order what I needed. But they only stock the basic models, and won’t do in-store upgrades (memory etc) so it’s had to be online and wait ten days.
Hence, my mainstream work has to transfer to the laptop. The Bootcamp partition on the iMac is still fine, so I can boot the machine in Windows and I’m using it in that version right now to write this. Anything through a browser is fine, so my Open University email and online work just transfers over; and I can do bits in Open Office. But I don’t have most of my software on Windows.
I don’t, in any case, want to end up with work spread between two machines; and the Windows partition isn’t backed up as I haven’t, hitherto, used it for anything permanent. And I haven’t been able to get the wireless keyboard to work with it, ever (see later) so I’m on my old Apple wired keyboard with a coffee spill which has debilitated the left hand Shift and CTRL keys (which I use more than the right hand ones, wouldn’t you just know). So it’s the Macbook for most of the work.
Well, everything’s on the Time Machine backup. Simple, surely, to just haul files onto the Macbook (overnight, perhaps) and away we go.
Well, no. I haven’t figured out why, but a proportion of the files on the backup give trouble. Quite a lot transfer fine. But a high proportion flag up that I don’t have permission to write to a folder somewhere down the chain. So, initially, I’m going down the chains and copying collections of individual files, at which point I get a prompt for a password and it’s ok. I don’t figure this, as I’m an Administrator on the machine. According to the permissions I have full read/write access. And there doesn’t seem much difference between the files that transfer and the ones that won’t. But there we are.
Weird work-around coming up. I’ve got the backup disk connected to the Macbook: I can’t make the Windows iMac see it on Firewire, but I can see Windows on the network. So I use the Macbook to copy directly from the backup to the shared drive on Windows, and then copy back from Windows to the Macbook’s own hard drive. No permission problems or password prompts. Ho, hum! I now have an almost complete rebuild. I’ve had to do it in limited batches because the Windows partition is not all that big, but I can leave the copy jobs running and it works.
There’s some software I won’t reinstall until I have the new machine, and that’s going to be a pain because some of it’s licensed and I may need to get new licence keys (things like Classic Menu and Graphic Converter, not to mention Office and my Bootcamp Windows). And of course, there will be masses of updates to re-apply.
I have quite a lot of aliases, to provide alternative paths to some files and folders: while these appear in the right places on the rebuild, they don’t “work” until they’ve been re-assigned.
And there is, of course, a lot of information that’s in places other than my well-defined data area. Mail was ok; I moved the Office Identities folder across, and it worked. I use Apple’s Address Book and Calendar, not Microsoft’s, so I can replicate with the mobile phone using iSync. Find and copy the Address Book files across, and everything works. Calendar, not so good; I had to carefully re-import data into the Macbook calendar, one Calendar Group at a time, to maintain the structure. Websites, on the Web Server: find and copy; that’s fine. Microsoft Office templates: I know where those are so that’s ok. There’ll be more; but that’s where I am right now.
Remember the wireless keyboard? I’ve switched it to working with the Macbook. And of course I’ve now connected the Time Machine drive to the Macbook too so I’m still being backed up.
Shifting to the new machine, when it arrives, will no doubt throw up new issues. But for the moment, I’ve got work to do!
Links: none, this time
Alan Turing at the Turing: 100 years old 21 Feb 2012Posted by Tony Law in Impact of IT, ITasITis, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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It’s 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing, and I’m attending the eponymous annual lecture given in his honour under the joint auspices of the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET). The lecturer, Prof. Ray Dolan of UCL, intends to review cognitive neuroscience as “hidden legacy” of Turing’s definition, and investigation, of “computable numbers”.
As my wife is a Counsellor with an interest in the working of the brain, this may be of interest beyond the full-house IT constituency currently gathered.
Well, the lecture theatre was crowded so it would have been antisocial to blog as we went. Just a short retrospective, then, and I’ll link to the video replay when it’s available.
Judging from the comments prefacing audience questions after the lecture, I may be in a minority: but to me this was an opportunity missed. We certainly heard an erudite lecture on brain function. And at the start we had a short treatise on Bayesian logic. This deals with the unravelling of uncertain data.
If I understand it correctly, you start with observations which, with a degree of uncertainty, represent the state of what’s being investigated. In the case of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park, they had observations of intercepted coded messages, and were attempting to infer the settings on the coding machine that had created them. In neurobiology, they observe the areas of brain activity with the intention of figuring how the brain works.
This seems like a fruitful parallel, though one of the experiments which Prof Dolan described turned out to have a non-Bayesian interpretation. There’s certainly a computational problem here, described as “Start with a theory of how certain parameters give rise to the data you observe, and attempt to go from the data to the parameters”. I can identify with that: as a spectroscopist, I used least-squares analysis to infer the component absorptions in both Mossbauer and infrared spectra of minerals. But by this time the parallels with Turing had been lost, apart from occasional references back to the original scene setting.
Which was a pity, since I guess most of the people at the lecture were IT people, not neurobiologists. I’d have appreciated a lecture following both threads at once. I still wonder if it’s possible to pursue the parallel, so that Turing’s work and this undoubtedly fascinating field could be explored, as it were, in a “twisted pair” of threads.
But make your own mind up. Follow the link below to the IET’s page for the lecture, and click the link to “Play webcast”.
• From cryptanalysis to cognitive neuroscience – a hidden legacy of Alan Turing: the BCS/IET Turing Lecture, IET 20 Feb 2012
Insight coverage: Consumerisation 21 Feb 2012Posted by Tony Law in Consumerization, Insight services, ITasITis, Managing IT, Tech Watch, Technorati.
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Tomorrow I’m part of the team delivering the Corporate IT Forum’s Consumerisation Summit in London. That’s prompted me to create the latest InformationSpan insight services Coverage Report.
Coverage Reports identify the major, second tier and niche insight providers who can effectively support enterprise IT in their strategy, decision making and operational management. In the case of consumerisation, a review of our database of over 400 IT insight providers is revealing.
There’s a strong tendency for consumerisation (or, in North American coverage, “consumerization”) to be equated to the use of smart endpoint devices. Certainly the movement began with enabling cheaper, consumer-side PCs rather than corporately procured devices with a tailored enterprise desktop; and the use, now, of smartphones, tablets and other Bring Your Own devices is a key part of the topic. With, of course, its attendant concerns for appropriate use, security, information protection and so on.
But consumerisation, properly understood, must encompass the wide range of consumer-end online services and applications: freeware (such as the Open Smalltalk which I use for programming); consumer cloud services (where Google Apps started); replacements for conventional technologies (such as the fax-to-email service which provides my rarely-used fax reception capability); and much, much more. I surveyed these in a presentation a couple of years ago; see the link below.
So I define consumerisation as the use, in the enterprise, of technologies provisioned directly by users through the open consumer marketplace – or, at the least, technologies also commonly purchased and used directly by end consumers. I categorise these into: collaboration platforms; communications; research; contact management; and infrastructure.
This Coverage Report identifies who covers what, based on what I can see on their websites. While, as mentioned, a lot of coverage is confined to smart devices, there are providers who look well beyond this and take a more positive attitude (as opposed to lock-down-everything). Forrester Research, of the majors, has been looking for some years at the impact of Generation Y on the workforce and the end-user experience they bring, and this informs their coverage. Horizon Watching, as always, punches above its weight.
CSC’s Leading Edge Forum were probably the first to fully identify this trend, and have around ten years’ well developed coverage. The surprise in the survey is a second-tier provider called Info-Tech Research, who also have a range of strategy starters, tools and other resources.
For a bit more information about the report, visit InformationSpan, below. Other links to providers are in the report which costs £150 from informationspan.com.
• Coverage report: Consumerisation. InformationSpan, Feb 2012 (brochure)
• Can Web 2.0 run your Business? InformationSpan presentation, BCS Consultancy SIG, Jan 2010 (free download)
• Consumerisation Summit, Corporate IT Forum, 22 Feb 2012
UK honours Apple’s designer 31 Dec 2011Posted by Tony Law in Cloud, Impact of IT, ITasITis, Technorati.
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Don’t suppose it’ll make most of the headlines, but Jonathan Ive has been awarded a knighthood (KBE) in the UK’s New Year Honours list. Though my paper, the Guardian, in their online report, only refers to him as “designer of the iPhone, iPad and iPod”. Well, we know better!
For interest, the Guardian offers a fully accessible list of the honorands. I found a couple of CBEs for computer science professors (one at what’s now Queen Mary, University of London, where I started my IT career), and a couple of retired Civil Service IT directors, but otherwise remarkably little recognising the UK’s information science capability.
Interesting that, to publish this information, the Guardian has created a Google Docs spreadsheet. No point in inventing your own infrastructure when the cloud can do the job!
• New Year honours list reflects my aims for ‘big society’, says David Cameron, Guardian, 31 Dec 2011
• New Year’s Honours, 2012 …, Guardian datablog, 31 Dec 2011
• 2012 New Year Honours, Google Docs