Sunday 30 December 2007

Here’s to a more balanced 2008

While everyone seems to be busy making predictions about hot technologies, revolutionary industry developments, and various tipping points being reached in 2008, I can’t help hoping that we see a bit more balance emerging in views and opinions over the coming 12 months. It’s probably wishful thinking given that more extreme and/or disruptive ideas are used as a lever for selling everything from hardware and software to management consulting and analyst research, but it would be nice to see us getting away from bandwagons, magic bullets and the simplistic 'single track' thinking that often accompanies them.

Of course that’s not to say that interesting things aren’t happening, and we can look forward some important trends and developments continuing to unfold in the coming year, such as the ongoing move towards more virtualised, dynamic and service oriented infrastructures, the gradual evolution of sourcing and outsourcing options, the awakening of more enterprises to the potential of social computing, etc. The only real seismic shifts we are likely to see, however, are in marketing collateral, analyst reports and the media.

So, while many around us are ‘bigging up’ SaaS, cloud computing, open source software, Web 2.0, and so on, we will continue to do what Freeform Dynamics has always done - examine all of the ideas and propositions in a practical, down-to-earth and objective manner, and provide insights and advice for those working in the real and complex world of ‘brown field’ IT and business.

And with this focus, the ‘how?’ is just as important as the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’, so our emphasis on community research, tapping into the experience of practitioners as well as strategists, will remain a big part of what we do going forward. During 2007, we gathered over 45,000 responses from IT and business professionals in our research studies. Our analysts therefore really do have a good in-depth understanding of what’s going on out there, and it is a position we fully intend to maintain.

Let me finish by saying a big thank you to everyone that has supported Freeform Dynamics since it was founded two years ago, and wish all of our subscribers, readers, clients, partners, friends and anyone else who knows us a happy, harmonious and ‘balanced’ 2008.

Saturday 8 December 2007

Managing signal to noise

A couple of months ago, I decided to get stuck in a bit more to the whole social media thing, as a few conversations with other’s that were much more active than me had planted the seed in my mind that I might be missing out on something. Those who know me will realise that this wasn’t so much me getting involved in social media for the first time, as I have been a producer and consumer of blogs for a couple of years now. It was more a case of stepping up a level.

Anyway, I made a real effort to go through the blog rolls of the 20 or so blogs to which I was already subscribed, took recommendations on interesting wikis, and signed up for a bunch more feeds. I also decided to explore the extreme real-time end of social media, and signed up to Twitter.

Fast forwarding to this weekend, I have just deleted my Twitter account and got rid of most of the RSS feeds I had added as part of the exercise.


Well two reasons. Firstly, I just couldn’t keep up with everything. I struggle to stay on top of my incoming email already, so having too many other streams to monitor and sort through just means more time away from the family and ‘real life’ and/or more chance of missing something important. This last point leads me on to the second reason paring things back again – the signal to noise ratio got considerably worse as I expanded my subscriptions beyond the hand-picked sources I had already been using.

One of the particular challenges I encountered was that so many bloggers and Twitterers out there are clearly on a mission or pushing a specific agenda. Nothing wrong with that in principle provided you take what you read with a pinch of salt, and I personally find it interesting and useful to understand the range of views that exists. Unless you are on the same mission, though, such sources quickly become very boring. There are only so many ways of making the case for ODF, for example, and a daily stream of evangelism thereafter is really just noise to most people.

However, with the exception of Twitter, which I struggled to see the point of, I did actually get some benefit from exploring things a bit more widely. I now have a list of blogs and wikis that might not have a high enough level of genuinely new insights to subscribe to on an ongoing basis, but do represent sources to browse from time to time to keep up to speed in certain areas or provide input for research. The difference is that it will be me going to them rather than them coming to me from this point onwards – which is pretty much the way I have been using the Web for the last decade.

So, while I remain a big fan and active user of social media, I have discovered that to me it is the content being exchanged that matters more than the act of communicating itself. Perhaps that makes me relatively ‘unsociable’ in the online sense, but when it’s the socialising that takes precedent, it is only natural that the signal to noise ratio deteriorates.

Again, nothing inherently wrong with this, but just like I all those ‘put the world to rights’ conversations in pubs, small talk and one-upmanship competitions at parties, etc, activities that are primarily about social interaction should not be confused with the production or exchange of useful information. Somewhere in between lies the ‘conversation around the water cooler’ that forms an important part keeping people informed and tuned in, and there are blogs out there that encapsulate this spirit and are therefore very worthwhile subscribing to (e.g. monkchips). Most of the other feeds I am left with are concerned with blogs and wikis that explore issues and debates in an objective, informed and thought provoking manner, with high level of original content - but these are harder to find than I think many social media advocates like to admit.

At the end of the day, it’s all about how you spend your time, so the trick is to find the optimum balance between continuous incoming streams and keeping tabs on the sources of information that are useful to access but on more of an ‘on demand’ basis. The next stop for me on my social media adventure is therefore tagging and bookmarking.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Avaya crosses the line

This is not going to be an in-depth post. I just wanted to put on record that I was very impressed with a lot of what I heard during the Avaya industry analyst conference a couple of weeks ago.

It was a pretty big gathering, with analysts from across the world rubbing shoulders with each other. I love events like this, as while we here at Freeform are continuously researching the European and North American markets, it is great to talk with people who have in-depth knowledge of thrusting economies like India and China.

With so many analysts on one place, it also reinforced the myriad of different styles, approaches and areas of coverage that exist within the research community. I guess it will be no surprise that with Avaya’s heritage, the majority of the delegates were specialists in the communications industry, and I lost count of the number of conversations I had on the nitty gritty of the telephony market that left me way behind.

So why was I impressed?

Well, I am a bit of a hybrid when it comes to coverage in that I think of myself as a business and IT analyst primarily, but with a reasonable working knowledge of how the communications part of the equation touches this world. This is very relevant to the Avaya discussion as one of the big topics of the conference was Unified Communications (UC). I don’t want to dwell on this specifically as Robin Bloor, who was also at the event, has already written a pretty good treatment of the topic, but the main point is that UC represents the clearest business and application level cross-over between the traditional IT and telephony spaces outside of the call centre environment that we have seen to date, and Avaya seems to ‘get’ what’s important to be successful once you cross over the old dividing line. The understanding is multi-dimensional too, i.e. Avaya is thinking as much about partnerships, IT related architectures and standards, and business process enhancement in the broader application sense, as well as simply neat functionality.

If you are an Avaya customer, I would encourage you to catch up with the firm’s latest developments in unified comms and 'Communications Enabled Business Processes' (CEBP), as ways of bridging the gap between domains that are still considered separate by many.

I am going to resist saying much more at this stage as Jon Collins and I will be spending some time in a week or so with the most visible player in the unified comms space, Cisco, and one of the objectives we have is to bring ourselves completely up to date with its ideas and developments with regard to IT/comms convergence. I’ll also have to track down the guys at my old firm Nortel, as there have been some interesting developments coming out of that camp in recent times too, and it is a while since I have caught up with them properly.

Looking at the bigger picture, the coming together of communications and IT at the application and process as well as the network level is a significant development which represents opportunities for both suppliers and customers. But it is obviously not just the traditional comms players that are moving into this area – IT incumbents such as Microsoft and IBM are also very active (see here and here) – they are just coming at it from a different direction. You’ll therefore be seeing us spending a lot of time on this topic in 2008.

Meanwhile, it is nice to see Avaya, backed by its new found private equity arrangement, starting to cross the line into the world of IT so convincingly.