Not writing about Bill Gates retiring!

As an ex-pharma employee I tend nowadays to be more interested in his work extending the infrastructure for health delivery, and the reach of drugs which need expensive R&D to develop, into areas of the world that otherwise the commercial model couldn’t reach.

Anyway, this blog is written on a Mac …

Your handset: hardware, or service platform?

Symbian, the mobile phone OS, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary. Nokia, the major shareholder, is to buy out the other partners and this news is featured in the mainstream press, not just the specialists.

Symbian is used on over 200 models. But even Nokia uses it for only a proportion of its devices. Nokia will move it into an Open Source project, to which it will contribute the Symbian and S60 software. Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute technology from UIQ, and DOCOMO its MOAP(S) assets. The press release says that the Symbian Foundation “will provide a unified platform with [a] common UI framework. A full platform will be available for all Foundation members under a royalty-free license, from the Foundation’s first day of operations.”

There’s more information about the new Foundation and its governance from analyst CCS Insight, together with some thoughts for the future which I think boil down to: good move, should have been done long ago, might be too late, watch this space!

Symbian’s OS competition includes Linux (LiMo) and, of course, Windows Mobile. But The Guardian’s view is that this isn’t really about handset technology. It’s about the development of a service-based model for the mobile Internet, where Nokia’s competition includes Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft’s smartphone and, perhaps, Google’s attempt to change the commercial model with Android. ChannelWeb quotes Jack Gold who sees the Symbian foundation as an attempt to challenge Android. Other commentators look elsewhere for the significance.

Nokia’s own press release talks about “setting the future of mobile free”. Significantly, it also quotes Kris Rinne, SVP of Architecture and Planning at AT&T, to reinforce this message: “Mobile phones have turned into sophisticated multimedia computers and smart phones continue to grow in popularity. The Symbian Foundation will reduce fragmentation in the industry and holds the promise of incorporating leading technology and the most mature software into a unified platform for the entire industry. This will … support AT&T in offering its differentiated services to consumers.”

For the enterprise, and the user-in-the-street, that is probably the biggest take.


Nokia buys Symbian in web push The Guardian, 25 Jun 2008
Nokia Squares Up to Software Rivals by Buying Symbian and Moving to Open Source CCS Insight, 24 June 2008, and comment
Can Nokia’s Symbian Foundation Nuke Google Android, Others? ChannelWeb, 24 Jun 2008
Mobile leaders to unify the Symbian software platform and set the future of mobile free Nokia press release, 24 Jun 2008
LiMo Foundation (Linux Mobile)
Windows Mobile
Android – An Open Handset Alliance Project (Google)

An evening with Social Computing – and a stunning view!

Some 40 years ago the BT Tower (the Post Office Tower, as was then) was on the tourist circuit and I took in the revolving view from the observation platform. Then it was bombed, and was permanently closed to the public.

So last evening was the first time since then I’ve had chance to ascend the Tower. The occasion: a BCS Elite meeting, a fascinating and informative evening on Web 2.0. I’ve heard Euan Semple before (I invited him to give a seminar at GSK), so this was an update on his thinking but complemented by two other speakers: Ian Aitchison, Group Communications Officer for the Japanese shipping and logistics company NYK, and Richard Dennison, Intranet & Channel Strategy Manager for BT (who’d never been up the Tower despite working for the company).

Euan tells a compelling story about how he embedded social media into the BBC, which he left a couple of years ago. He used it to introduce the audience to the panoply of services, and to explore the issues which corporates face. Their people are already using the public platforms privately and for business, but the more far-sighted are adopting them to help people work better together – as internal look-alikes or, in some cases, directly on the external platforms.

Ian Aitchison and Richard Dennison both picked up these themes, in their very different enterprises: NYK a worldwide, very scattered, very physically centred organisation, looking to social media to help them realise their strategic vision; and BT, providing virtual products, UK-centric but increasingly global and also widely scattered.

As I wrote a little while ago: human beings are a gregarious species; we communicate. Almost any network technology goes person-to-person. Social computing, in this sense, represents the Internet coming of age as person-to-person services multiply and people explore the potential.

So, in business, senior managers use blogs, RSS or even Twitter to communicate with their teams. The best share openly in discussion: plenty of examples, from all three speakers, showing how risky this actually isn’t. No-one questions the manager’s right to make the decision, but it’s a lot more likely to be accepted and understood, even by dissenters, after this kind of sharing. The BBC’s policy on external blogging by employees was created in a wiki by those most directly concerned, before it was top-and-tailed by HR and Legal – most enterprises still do this the other way round, and require multiple meetings rather than being able to capitalise on ten minutes of someone’s time here, and five of someone else’s there, to evolve to a satisfactory conclusion. And have you seen the movie someone created of the creation of the Wikipedia entry on the London 7 July bombings? That’s a graphic demonstration of the power of the crowd both to create useful information and to rectify damage very quickly.

Euan’s material isn’t postable, though he’s bloggedf already; and I don’t have Ian Aitchison’s. But have a look at Richard Dennison’s blog for a very similar presentation. And, of course, we all then adjourned to the 34th floor for a buffet supper and to enjoy the unparalleled view over London as the sun went down and the city lit its lights.

My slides from International Employee Communications Summit Richard Dennison, blog, 10 Jun 2008
One identity, multiple networks ITasITis, 9 Apr 2008
A Humanizing Influence Euan Semple, The Obvious? (Euan’s blog), 17 Jun 2008, with reference to the event
New Horizon 2010 NYK strategy

Modernisation of IT: Gartner’s Voice

If you click on the Gartner website at the moment, you’ll see the centre panel higlights their report on “The Modernization of IT”. When you click, though, it’s a disappointment. To judge from the headline (I don’t have client access) it is just encouraging enterprise IT to set up a programme office to manage a transformation programme.

Elsewhere, though, there’s a different story. Gartner Voice is Gartner’s regular podcast series, and you can hear these without an account. OK, so it’s explicitly “not published Gartner research”, but it’s worth taking a feed from it all the same. And there’s a different take in there, which I just caught up with, in the shape of an interview with British academic Prof. Peter Keen. Keen is going to be the keynote speaker at Gartner’s upcoming infrastructure forum, and he gets it.

The interview rehearses some familiar stuff. There’s a lot of new technology out there. “IT is in danger of becoming the corporate laggard” because it’s got stuck in corporate technology. do we have an architecture for mobile, for example? “We cater pretty well for the customer of today – people like ourselves.” Our customers of tomorrow (that’s real customers, not enterprise IT’s internal pseudo-customers) are different; unlike us, they’re using this stuff. Our wouldn’t-we-like-them-to-be next generation employees are using it, and some of our existing employees are too. Let’s have corporate IT get real about this stuff and, in Bob Dylan’s words, “don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall”.

But Keen has gone further than many thinkers in showing how this really applies to enterprise IT. Yes, understand your business’s customers and how to interact with them. But ask him how to get the thinking shifted about this, in the boardroom, and he says two things. Stop the “business” thinking that somehow IT isn’t their responsibility. And: stop letting IT be talked about as a cost; the best thing to do with a cost is to cut it. Get the conversation switched to investment, to be creative with or customers. R&D made that switch a long time ago. Get IT onto the same page.

We’ve often said these things separately. Saying them together is newer than it ought to be!

Peter Keen
The Business Blueprint for the IT Platform Gartner Voice, 5 May 2008
Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Management Summit, 2008 (Orlando, 23-25 Jun)

Another significant analyst goes independent

I had a phone chat with Erica Driver yesterday about her new venture, ThinkBalm. Erica has been one of Forrester’s lead analysts for some time, becoming one of their most knowledgeable researchers in what she calls the Immersive Internet. That’s virtual worlds such as Second Life, serious games, virtual meetings and so on. Erica’s charted the possibilities of these technologies – as a participant, not just from the outside. She’s charted much of this through the Forrester Information and Knowledge Management blog, where her reports are still available and can be reached without a subscription (I believe …).

ThinkBalm, set up by Erica and her husband Sam, aims to help vendors and – if there’s a foothold – enterprises working in these areas. With the pressure on costs, the increasing quality of virtual interactions, and less willingness of employees to travel continually, the opportunities are enormous. At the simplest level: I spoke with Erica using Skype – a free call, and we could see each other. Again: the Open University course that I’m teaching has given me a group of students spread from the north of England to the far Mediterranean, and we rely entirely on online communication. With no real face to face time, we have chat rooms but not live video. Wouldn’t that be nice!

Erica is a recognised leader in knowledge and experience of these technologies. She reckons her first clients will be IT vendors. I would expect the more adventurous enterprises to be equally interested!

Tips From A Successful Virtual Conference Erica Driver, Forrester IKM Blog, 28 Apr 2008