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The Big Society

27 Mar

A little departure from IPTV for the moment.

Having seen the demonstrations in London, having a family who is at the very centre of cuts and is feeling them daily, having my own business and trying to make a living as a small business, having all of this makes me think something is wrong, very wrong in our society today, morally bankrupt and possibly incapable of accepting this without a massive shift in thinking.

The big society is not such a bad idea, but the timing is pretty awful, so this now looks like a scheme to create public services on the cheap. The problem this government has is that we, the public, are distrustful and so we think the worst. In theory this sort of works but it has to be a BIG idea not just a few chosen words to the chosen few in the City of London.

I know people keep banging on about bonus culture, but that’s because they care. They care that people are struggling and the most well off continue on the tax payers gravy train. We keep going on about it, will someone finally realise that this won’t go away because you want it to, we keep going on about it because it drives a nail into the very heart the British sense of fair, this is not fair and cannot be justified. A minority of the country, in which we live, are still living in a post Thatcher era that welcomed greed and rewarded the ‘me’ culture,  everybody else has moved on, realised that our country was decimated by this, but still they continue with a ‘let them eat cake’ attitude. So why do marches and protest occur, go back and read the previous few lines.

So if we want a BIG society and if we REALLY want equality in opportunity then it has to be done in a manner that appeals to the unheard masses, to those who feel like they have no prospects, to the young adult who despite 100 letters still has no job, to the unemployed in the North East who feel all prospects are disappearing, to the likes of me who work really hard and receive little or no help. If you really want a big society then start doing and stop talking.

Lets start with dismantling big corporate outsourcing deals for local councils, schools, government etc. Lets make this much smaller units, answerable locally giving work to local business and people, who do actually care about the state of roads, schools and community. Do we really need a big multi-national repairing local roads, couldn’t local companies do this just as well, employing local people. Lets stop endorsing big companies who stifle innovation and remove any notion of competition, lets give local retailers incentives and big retailers diss-incentives for local stores, make buying retail property and land-banking it illegal, use it or lose it, a kind of Statutory of Road for retail. Re-invigorate our high streets with local shops selling local produce, not big faceless companies selling the same junk that no one knows what is in it. Lets reward those that do volunteer work with something that is not just a pat on the back.

All of this goes back to a book written in the seventies, whose time has come, Small is Beautiful, yes it is and it’s a way of mobilising people behind a renewed sense of worth, not just having a say or contributing but seeing the personal benefit for doing so, job creation, work satisfaction and long-term employment. All of this based around local, micro economics.

The City of London screwed up, should we forget, no absolutely not, not until they can finally wake up to what they have done to millions of families. Should labour be ashamed, yes they should, this was under your watch, you let greed take over and forgot your roots. We as a country should insist our government uses this to the advantage of the populus, ignore the premise that they will go if we keep chastising them, look at the mess they made! I say let them go! Use the profits of the big banks to fund your BIG society, lets see those ill-gotten gains used to improve the lives of the masses and used to improve the lives of our future children. Why shouldn’t the bank pay for updating the school I went to, that hasn’t changed for 30 years, this is our future, and our Government decides we can’t afford it, we simply can’t afford not to. Try this argument, don’t use massive multi-national contractors, the building trade is on its knees, use local companies, local brickies, plasterers, architects, scaffolders and decorators to do the work. Local companies with an interest in the job not just money.

There most certainly is another way but it will take politicians with foresight and the bollocks to challenge the status quo and MAKE it happen. There are few times when once in a generation opportunities arise, this is one of them, don’t squander it. If you do you will not just have marches and protests happening but an undercurrent of social dis-order for decades to come.


ipad, upad everybody pad

3 Mar

I wonder at times whether we in the technology industry create all the hooha around products and services and everyone else laughs at us, the death of one format the creation of another, predicting the downfall of certain technologies. it all seems just a little bit dramatic to me.

Lets just take print as an example, specifically newspapers. The iPad is now touted as the next big thing for newspapers and Apple are going to slice massive margin and the whole industry is in turmoil and the print page is dead and so on and so forth.

Now I’m not sure what the UK sales of iPad were but the global total is believed to be around 15m units, this is about the average daily sales of Newspapers in the UK, get that daily, just in the UK!! Now I’m no statistician but that doesn’t sound like an industry that is about to implode overnight, granted there is a clear threat but from those numbers I wouldn’t be expecting the press to go and tie up the noose just yet, surely. Is this just the Apple machine, once again, trying to make everyone nervous? The more you keep saying it then the more people believe and it then becomes an urban myth. I agree the web is eating some of the newspaper business, no doubt, and advertising is getting diverted but it still only 15m units globally which is a drop in the ocean. Are you seriously telling me that the 2m daily Sun readers are about to go and spend £500 on a gadget to read the paper, if anyone wants to take a bet then I’m willing to put my money up.

The iPad is another gadget. The only people I see with them are those that want to be seen with it, the ones that rest the gadget on the newspaper in the morning once they have read it! I think my children’s comments were interesting, when I tried to explain the ‘need’ for it, they just shrugged and said I’d rather have a book to read, it’s just a big iPod, small sample I know but it makes you think.

Now I’m the first in line for new gadgets if I were to be given the budget by my partner I’m sure we would have just about everything going but that’s all it is another gadget, that’s slim and looks good. The iPod I really got, great product, great idea, the Ipad….what for?

Are we in a danger here of living in our own little technology bubble and the outside world is looking in thinking what are they talking about. Why do intelligent people get hot under the collar about a computer, with no keyboard, it’s smacks of sheep being herded and grown ups should know better. And please , please don’t mention ‘game-changer’ this is not a game changer just as the e-reader wasn’t. Could this be a solution just looking for a problem?

Good luck to Apple, not that they need my appreciation, they clearly make great looking, desirable products, but don’t everyone rush to disassemble a whole industry because someone has brought out a shiny object.

Searching the myth

2 Mar

The technology industry is a wash with buzzwords and at the top of this bingo list is probably connected TV. There is a huge amount of smoke and mirrors out there, from UK companies claiming they have been involved in Kangaroo then you view when the business wasn’t even incorporated then, through to companies massively over-complicating searching for content on a TV.

The biggest thing for me at the moment is getting approached by a number of companies providing EPG information and ‘sophisticated search engines for TV’ you know who you are. They will make their money by selling ads and/or being paid by manufacturers to create a recommendation engine. The irony here is that the manufacturers haven’t quite yet realised it’s all smoke and mirrors, they need our content metadata to search, which we already provide to the TV, and they want it for free.

When will you realise this isn’t google! we are not talking about scraping hundreds of millions of web pages, organising this data, making it relevent and attaching this to ads with refined algorithms to make it an attractive proposition to joe public. We are talking about searching a few thousand, maybe a couple of tens of thousands of items, I would say currently a few thousand on all the platforms. This is really straight forwards, not complicated and not costly at all. Some of the 2011 connected TV ui’s put search at the heart of the service, but what for? there isn’t, and more importantly, never will be the volume of data that requires this. TV is lean-back show me what you’ve got, not lean forwards, providing the viewer with an intellectual exercise in searching for something.

So we are asked to give up our hard-earned data for free so someone else can place ads around it and make money, giving us nothing. Nice try guys but I think I may have seen through the plan. I just wish the manufacturers would as well.

Stop trying to create problems and business models where there aren’t any and start focusing on the viewer and their experience, if you don’t you will scare them off and you products will undoubtedly fail, get it right and you have a whole new world of revenue, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. .

The power of ‘OK’

7 Jan

The cost of set-top boxes and all consumer electronics is falling rapidly and these low-cost units have another life and purpose, not just the blind following of media to the living room but low-cost, reliable, efficient services to the living room, with the ‘OK’ button at its heart.

Social inclusion in the digital age and allowing all of those less fortunate than ourselves to be part of the post PC era, is of real importance for a number of reasons.

1. Cost to deliver services for local, regional and national government has to reduce

2. Inclusion and removal of isolation for a large proportion of those in lower socio-economic groups

3. Community creation both online and in the real world

4. Using the power of TV and electronics to make a real difference to people’s lives

5. Real business to case to cut the cost of delivery

I have thought for quite sometime that we need to consider the wider implications of connectivity to society at large being able to deliver NHS, Local Council or national government services using low-cost equipment must be the way forwards if we are going to address the cost reduction agenda as well as service improvement. In previous years this would have been impossible, doing more with less, but it’s a reality and the possibilities are enormous.

This is the turning point where technology, telecoms and IT can meet to make a difference. We should and must help government take advantage of this new era, removing the old ‘money pit’ of IT spend and deliver quality services, thinking a little bit beyond the old ways and embracing the emerging converged world to improve service delivery and the quality of living for so many in our society.

I was given an example in a meeting before christmas about the effort involved in checking people’s safety and health in the big snow falls, the effort of those volunteers was immense, but could have been made so much easier with connected council services using an all-powerful ‘OK’ button on the  remote control, a message to the TV, press ‘OK’ if you’re ok, really simple, really efficient and allows resources to be used to greater benefit.

There are a large number of teenage home carers in the UK, wouldn’t this technology make their lives just a little more bearable, creating inclusion communities, video calling peers for advice or just a chance to talk about problems, improving their lives, that of those who are being cared for and so reducing the state burden, everyone wins.

The business case is clear, reducing face to face, physical house calls, has got to reduce cost, and I’m not talking about those calls that are both necessary and critical but those that can be avoided. Nobody wants to only have someone on a video screen, and I’m not advocating that either, but just being able to cut out a couple of avoidable visits each month would be the business case in its own right. Again the ‘OK’ button proving it’s worth.   

All of this reduces the burden on government spend at all levels, improves service, improves people’s lives and get’s to the holy grail of more with less. Let’s hope those in higher places can take note and can be advised correctly so society at large can enjoy the benefits technology can bring, improving the lives of everyone but especially those in need.

Comments welcome


In a contracting world

25 Oct

Having left big company life about 10 years ago, you don’t realise at the time just how protected you are from the legal issues surrounding what you do.

The move to a small company has tought me a good few lessons, especially in this market which is still young and so tends to attract smaller companies who don’t always have the same motives as you. My advice is if a potential customer has a contract that looks pretty loose, they are doing it for a reason. I can almost guarantee that the reasons will be discussed about wanting to work flexibly and providing the best environment in which to support each other etc. The reality I have found is very different.

The reasons will become clear over time but the main point is you have something they want but can’t really afford, so the contract is loose and 6 months down the line when they hit you with a change of business plan, maybe from B2B to B2C, you are left feeling like you have been taken for a ride somewhat.

So make sure the contracts are tight. If there are customers you don’t want them to work with then make it explicit, if they described their business to you make it clear that this is in the contract, don’t get caught as we have by sneaky individuals who have an ulterior motive to doing business. The companies we have worked with in the past, and one current, need what we have but they don’t want to pay for it. The old saying goes if it’s too good to be true it probably is and woolly wording around usage, customers etc is a recipe for a broken customer relationship not too far down the road.

My advice, if the customer won’t define what they do contractually, in sufficient detail to make it obvious then don’t sign. it will turn out to be bad business. Avoid at all costs terms like ‘changes from time to time ‘ ‘reasonable endeavours’ ‘but not limited to’ all of these terms are intended to let one or other of the parties change their mind about what they do.

I’m in the middle of one of these at the moment. The customer has changed the way they work from B2B to B2C, is now in effect in competition with us, and is trying to force us to supply content to them to one of our existing manufacturer platforms. The contract clearly does not provide for this but because it’s woolly and because they need what we have they are trying it on with all the usual legal costs.

So be warned keep contracts tight and don’t be fooled by those who wish to deceive you 😉


Will cuts make Auntie bleed?

21 Oct

I suppose it was inevitable that the BBC took some of the hit in the spending cuts. I’m not sure any publicly funded organisation can justify the kind of spend and the salaries of top execs without coming under serious scrutiny. I personally struggle to reconcile the fact that someone has gone into what is public service and takes a commercially based salary, the two just don’t fit in my opinion.

So what does this mean for our Beeb. Well hopefully it will make them focus on what they should be doing and not what they would like to do, an effective 16% budget cut and a freeze on the main income stream would focus anyones mind. It may also stop the constant industry carping about local news delivery and maybe even YouView.  At least the Beeb can now respond to those criticisms from a much stronger position, they have taken the cuts and are focusing on what the need to do ( see still trying to keep positive about the industry)

This could certainly be a good indicator for those of us who are trying to make a living out of the fledgling IPTV industry, whether you are focused just on the UK or, like us, look further afield as well. If the BBC continues to fund those areas then there is clearly something in it, otherwise it would be pretty pointless and all of us can use the BBC as the main case.

The CSR for the BBC yesterday could have been a whole heap worse and whilst it’s not great for them at least they have taken their share of what is more than likely going to be a difficult time for everyone. Plus if it means our industry is given a little more space then we could see some major changes in how the industry moves forwards.

So trying to put a positive slant on this, if it means the BBC retreats a little without stopping completely then I think it’s a good thing. Maybe now they could tell us exactly what YouView is going to be and we can all sleep a little better!


Momentum is building

19 Oct

There was a group of us at CapGemini back in the late nineties early 00 who knew that the web had the power to transform not just business practice but the way we consume media and data, bringing technology to the masses. It’s a shame that group broke up. I still feel today that TCG (technology consulting Group) was the brightest group of people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, lot’s of egos but plenty of knowledge and in-depth understanding of the practical application of todays technology.

Having spent the best part of 8 years putting BiBC together and building it from scratch, It’s only in the past 18 months I can really feel the momentum building behind what we are doing. I always said back in the very early days that if the internet was going to survive it had to be more than just web pages, it needed interaction and the ability to deliver moving picture in a way that was friendly to the consumer. It may well be subconscious but finally the concept of the internet, or more importantly the IP connection that delivers the data, being used as just another method of delivery is taking shape. I can’t stress how important that shift has been. With that one realisation opens up an enormous wealth of possibilities, of which we are only scratching the surface.

When I think back to what we did nearly 5 years ago now with Philips and the very first live trial in Amsterdam of OTT services, it was really early days but we showed that media could be delivered over IP and consumed somewhere other than the home office. It was clear then as well that media extenders and the like had a very short life span, if any, as the set top box and  importantly the TV became the device at the end of the network, not the PC.

We were clearly too early all those years ago but what a treat to see some of our pioneering work taking shape in the living rooms of the general public. An even bigger treat to see the fruits of our labour being realised in living rooms across Europe.

I know there are battles forming with Canvas etc, sorry youview, in the UK and probably in other territories as well. But for now I’ll leave that to those companies who want to fight the battle. For now I’d rather look at where the industry is going, how technology is enabling that in many different forms and look forwards to all of this hard work becoming a reality