Posts Tagged‘Business’

The Business Benefits of the National Broadband Network.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the National Broadband Network will be a major benefit to Australia, way past the investment we’re making in it. It’s one of those rare pieces of legislation that will almost certainly outlive the government that started it and the Labor government should be commended for that. Indeed something like the National Broadband Network is almost a necessity if Australia wants to keep pace with the rest of the world in a technological sense as otherwise we’d be stuck on aging copper infrastructure that really doesn’t have any legs left in it. Still whilst anyone in the IT or related sectors would agree that the NBN will be good for business it’s not entirely clear what those benefits will be.

News.com.au ran a story this morning that pointed to research showing only 30% of Australian businesses had a “medium to high” understanding of the benefits available to them through the NBN. Making a few assumptions here I’m guessing the survey didn’t ask actual questions to gauge their true understanding so it’s likely that that number is actually a lot lower than the survey lets on. I’ll admit that for a non-technical person, who was likely the one answering the survey, the benefits of ubiquitous high speed Internet for your business are not entirely clear especially when the Internet they have now is probably doing them well enough.

The businesses geared to make the most of the NBN are ones with multiple offices spread throughout Australia. Right now getting a good inter-office connection, whether a full WAN or just some trickery using VPN tunnels and a regular ADSL, is either an expensive or complicated affair. The NBN will provide high speed interconnects at prices that many businesses will be able to afford. This means you’ll be able to get almost 100MB connections between offices giving you LAN like speeds between disparate offices. It might not sound like much but even small government agencies currently struggle with this (I’ve worked for more than one) and the boost in productivity from better connections between regional offices is very noticeable. This would also extend to remote workers as well, since it’s highly likely that they’ll have NBN access as well.

Having a large connection also enables businesses to move services out of expensive hosted data centres and onto their own premises. Right now it’s nigh on impossible to host client facing services internally unless you want to shell out a lot of money for the business type Internet plans. The NBN will bring data centre level speeds to almost every home and place of business in Australia enabling current businesses the opportunity to migrate inwards, saving on rental and administration costs. Sure the facilities they have might not be as good as what they can get elsewhere but the cost savings of not using a co-located service (believe me, they’re not cheap) would be more than worth it.

There’s also a host of services that are currently infeasible to operate, due to their high bandwidth use, that would become feasible thanks to the NBN. Such services won’t be available immediately but as the NBN reaches a threshold of active users then we can expect either local innovators to create them or for current Internet giants to localize their services for Australia. Predominately I see this taking the form of cloud based services which are accessible from Australia but have yet to have local nodes due to the lack of supporting infrastructure. This would also help cloud providers crack into that ever elusive Australian government sector which has remained resistant due to the restrictions placed on where their data can be stored.

The NBN will also bring about many other ancillary benefits due to the higher speed and ubiquitous access that business will be able to take advantage of. Indeed the flow on effects of a fully fibre communications network will have benefits that will flow on for decades for both businesses and consumers alike. Realistically this list is just the tip of the iceberg as over time there will be numerous services that become available in order to take advantage of our new capabilities. I personally can’t wait to get onto it, enough so that moving to one of the fibre enabled locations is tempting, albeit not tempting enough to make me move to Tasmania.

Why you shouldn’t hire me.

In today’s rough and unforgiving economic climate many companies are seeking to reduce costs and improve their return on all previous investments that they’ve made. This, combined with several reports from market experts (Gershwin being a good example), has lead to an overall decrease in the amount of temporary workers hired and a push to bring a lot of talent in house. It would seem that the best option would be to secure employment now and skill up during these hard times and cash it all in when times come good again. You’d be crazy not to do it.

That is, unless you’re like me. I’m an IT contractor, and businesses will look at me first for the chop.

But what does trimming the contractors actually net for my employer? In my current position I’m doing what a contractor is supposed to be doing, filling a skill gap for either a temporary vacancy whilst they find a full time employee or bringing in additional skills required to implement various projects. Reducing your numbers of people like myself isn’t a bad thing, but it will reduce your capability to deliver on required projects. It would seem however that there are some places that are content to use contractors as full-time replacements. Using contractors in such a way is going to cost you much more than it would to properly fund the rightly skilled full time employee. However short term budgeting will show a cost saving with the contractor, since you’re not going to have to pay things like superannuation and insurance.

So what should employers be doing in order to whether these tough times? The answer isn’t what most employers want to hear, since they’ll be looking to reduce costs in the short term in the hopes that everything will come good. However, these are the factors that I have seen grab and retain exceptionally skilled people:

  • Attractive salary packages: The old saying “Pay peanuts, get monkeys” is appropriate here. Too many times I’ve seen employees with great skill and corporate knowledge walk out the door for something as small as $5,000 a year more at another company. On average it will cost your employer 1.5x your yearly salary to let you go. Grabbing someone early with a higher wage will keep them interested for longer, save any workplace issues.
  • Clear career paths: This was the reason I left most of my previous jobs. I always made it clear where I wanted to be heading with my superiors. However when it came time to make good on a described career path I always hit a dead end. It was at that point I would start looking for another job, since it was obvious that they made promises that they couldn’t keep.
  • Flexible working arrangements: Nothing says you trust your employees more than allowing them to work from home a day or two a week. We place an extremely large value on face-time with each other and that’s not a bad thing. However options such as working remotely can be a huge benefit to your employees, and will more then likely have them staying on for longer. As long as you establish clear deliverables for your employees does it really matter whether they complete them whilst at work or at home?

All these things will cost the employer something but in return they will get an employee who is loyal and willing to go that extra step for the company. I’ve seen many places with just one of the 3 above and they think that will keep their employees going. It will for a time but eventually they will start to desire more of these options, and if they’re determined they’ll find it.

I think this is why the Australian Public Service has a track record for keeping people for large periods of time. Whilst the salaries might not be the greatest (although they are pretty amazing for entry level workers) the flexible working arrangements and very clear career paths tend to keep people on for many years. I was a public servant for almost 3 years before I turned to private industry, and I couldn’t of done uni and full time work without the arrangements they had available.

After all this, if you still want to hire me remember this: I’m not a permanent replacement and I work for the highest bidder. It’s capitalism in its purest form, but I’ll be sure that you get your moneys worth.

I can’t guarntee that from all contractors though 🙂

Progressing Technology Through Cultural Icons.

Back in my teenage years I was a retail employee at an electronics chain called Dick Smith Electronics. It was a pretty good job for someone like me, since I had a keen interest in all things technical and the customers that frequented my store were known for their technical expertise. I put this down to the shop being right in the middle of industrial estate, since most of the customers would be other businesses. I worked there for a grand total of 6 years and I saw many technological trends come and go, but there’s one that really surprised me at the time and it still sticks with me to this day.

Most of the stuff I would sell was low end consumer goods and electronic components. Back in 2000 when flash memory was still expensive (and 512mb of ram was considered a decent gaming rig) MP3 players were few and far between. I remember on a trip to Japan in 2001 there were 512mb MP3 players for a tad less then AUD$700, and I couldn’t believe that we’d come that far technologically. It was probably around 2003 that I started to see the first of these devices start to trickle down into my retail chain, and some customers starting to look at them seriously.

Then enter the iPod. A classy little number that, whilst not the greatest spec wise (when compared to a Nomad), had a something that a lot of the other models I stocked lacked. Initially the take up was pretty minimal, since Apple had decided that everyone had to use a Firewire connection to transfer files to it. Although after a few generations they started to include USB 2.0, which was a good move but it would be naive to think that a mere connection change was responsible for the iPod’s success.

Apple did what they always do with their products, they marketed an image:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF9s3TpncAo

It is interesting to note the differences and similarities between this, the first ad for the iPod, and their current incarnations (which just happens to showcase my favourite band, Daft Punk):

The first thing to note is the strong focus both ads have on either the iPod itself or Apple’s technology. The first ad shows a regular person using a Macbook and an iPod and although it’s not shown all the time, you’re constantly aware that it’s there. The second generation of the iPod ads does this more blatantly, pretty much elminating everything except the iPod from your view. The second major element is the enjoyment of the use of the technology, which is what a lot of marketing campaigns for products like this build off of.

So, you may be wondering how something like the iPod has helped progress technology in any way. Well I can tell you from my experience in retail once the iPod hit critical mass, it wasn’t just the sale of iPods that increased. Most people would come in asking for an iPod but balk at the cost (the cheapest where circa $400, a bit much for a birthday present for your teenager) but we had several others which were kinder on the pocket. Apple noticed this fact and started churning out models like the Shuffle and Nano, which quickly took over this market segment. It was very much a build it and they will come scenario, since there was little demand for these devices beforehand and it is now a booming industry.

This has me experiencing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance, as I’m not the biggest Apple fan (although an iPod shuffle made its way into my life by way of a corporate gift) but I love the way they pushed and industry into the spolight. The first drove the hard drive manufacturer’s to make larger capacity small form factor drives so that their iPods could be smaller, lighter and better than their predecessors. More recently their demand for flash memory has driven the market to a point where solid state drives are now a consumer item. It truly is amazing what Apple has done for these markets.

This is the kind of trend that needs to be set by companies in order to further the progression of technology if they want to move faster than they ever have before. Whilst creating a cultural icon isn’t easy we know it can be done with careful marketing and nuturing of current installed base of consumers, and there are a few candidates, apart from Apple, who can do this (and already have):

  • Sony: I’m a confessed Sony fanboy as I’ve been at the front of the lines for the release of the last 2 Playstation consoles. The development of the Cell architecture showed a dedication to bringing new technological ideas forward and push them onto consumers. Whilst it floundered initially new gaming titles such as Resident Evil 5 really showcase what a powerhouse this really is.
  • Tivo: An interesting idea of taking the pain out of setting up a PVR. It has become so unbiqutos in the USA that even the Simpsons got one, which no doubt lead to a massive increase in sales. Whilst it hasn’t had a great take up in Australia just yet (probably due to our comparitively mediocre free to air TV) it has already achieved a worldwide foot hold, and is very much a loungeroom icon.
  • Google: A giant techonlogical innovator who has just recently stepped into the mobile world with their Android product. Their business model works great for technological innovation, make it available to the world for free as long as they don’t mind a couple ads. Their search engine is so mainstream that googling something has become a recognised verb, and many of their other products have become integrated into our everyday lives.

So in essence the secret to technological innovation is to build a dedicated consumer base and then start releasing new technological ideas to them. As you build momentum you’ll see that people start craving the latest from you no matter what it is. Whilst this can lead to technological stagnation it will still generate a large following, spurring on technological development.

I can only hope that Virgin Galactic’s foray into space becomes as popular as the iPod.

What makes a successful MMORPG?

I initially wrote this as a response to a forum post and after spending an hour on writing it up I thought I’d share it here.

So what does it take to make a successful MMORPG these days?

Taking a look at some of the biggest MMOs gives us an idea of what makes a MMO successful. Just because there’s not really a better figure than active accounts to judge this we’ll have a look at the biggest ones by this number:

RuneScape: 15 Million (free) accounts
Second Life: 11.7 Million (free, non trial) accounts
World of Warcraft: 11.5 Million (paid, active) accounts

Aggregated statistics from here and here.

So what does each of these games provide that attracts so many people to it? Well I’ve had experience with all of these so I’ll give you an overview of why they are so popular.

Runescape is free to play and only requires that you have a web browser to play it. When I used to work in childcare many of the kids there would play it, since they could all play with each other for nothing. The idea of being able to try something out for free with your mates without even having to install something is a powerful marketing tool, and it’s obviously working extremely well. It’s this extrodinary mix of portability, availability and socializing that has made RuneScape what it is.

Second Life provides a massive sandbox for you to share with many other people. It takes online chat that one step further, allowing people to alter their persona and appearance online and then communicate with others. Linden Labs has made headways in marketing the base client for free whilst giving people the oppotunity to buy land or items from each other for linden dollars which can be exchanged freely with real US cash. This idea has attracted several different niche players, some who wish to free themselves from the real world and those looking to turn a profit from virtual goods. Its this combination of sandboxing and real world value that brings people to Second Llife and keeps them there.

WoW has become the benchmark for all new MMOs due to its popularity and dedication in development from Blizzard. Starting out with the phenomenal IP that is the Warcraft universe Blizzard kept on its track record of releasing highly polished games with specifications so that nearly anyone could play it. After keep it in beta for well over a year the hype was definitely ramping up and the launched, whilst riddled with problems on high population servers, showed that Blizzard had the infrastructure ready to handle a massive playerbase and continued to improve their services over the coming years.

Initially WoW focused directly on the crowd that all MMOs traditionally marketed to; the hardcore MMO crowd that would play new content until it was beaten and then eagerly await the next big challenge. This was easily demonstrated by the first few big content patches that released big dungeons such as BWL, AQ and later Naxxramas. Whilst they tried to cater to the smaller groups with things like Zul’Gurrub there was a definite disparity between hardcore players and casuals, leaving many casuals behind in terms of both PVP and PVE content.

The BC set out to address these issues and made large headways in doing so. Blizzard gave up the idea of trying to make horde and alliance balanced, but different and gave Shamans and Pallies to their respective opposing sides. Whilst this initially met with friction it broke down many walls that kep Blizzard from improving gameplay in other ways. Additionally the introduction of Arenas, Dailies and two-tier dungeons (Normal/Heroic) allowed casual users to get a look in at the content whilst giving the hardcores something to shoot for.

Now we come to WotLK and the focus has shifted directly towards the casuals. Why did they do this? Well I can tell you it is the same reason that Nintendo designed the Wii, to convert non-gamers into players. WoW has consistently grown its userbase by targetting the largest untapped market of MMO players, the ones not playing it. With things like Recruit a friend its no wonder people are constantly drawn to this epic MMO.

In short, WoW is targeting non-gamers and as such has a larger target audience then the traditional MMOs. Should they continue down this path they will start to lose the super-hardcore players to other MMOs, but this does not bother them. Their bread and butter is the mum and dads with their 2 kids playing together whenever they have a spare couple hours. They are the ones who will spend $15 a month to play for only a fraction of the time of the hardcore people, thereby increasing their profit dramatically. This lets them develop more content driving up their interest even further.

Each of these popular online games provide a dramatically different experience and as such targets a different niche of the market. The trouble with many new MMOs is they try to replicate one or more parts of these already succesful business models and don’t try to bring something new to the table. Whilst many of them will succeed in obtaining a loyal userbase (which by all accounts is success) none of them will make it “big” until they bring in a paradigm shift as all of these MMOs did.