Tuesday, 18 October 2016

MISSING IN IT: Personality before skills

When one looks to advertisement of open positions or CVs of applicants in the IT-industry, what one usually finds is that they are heavily populated by list of programming languages and libraries to software products from databases to application servers. This doesn’t change much in job interviews, in worst case interviewers rely on short interview with formal test to find out applicants’ level of remember even smallest details of selected technologies while in best case they discuss on what is applicants opinion and specific experience of certain technology in question. Technical skills are important, no question about it, but there is something much more important than that, the question of how well does the job match the personality of the applicant.
Now what do I mean when I say personality of the applicant? Let me address this the other way, let me ask you, what kind of personality a person should have if his or her task would be to…
  1. Develop a new software system, or
  2. Maintain and redevelop a software system
Are there any personality straits that would be more suited for one task instead of another? In my opinion a person who develops a new system should be stronger atideation while person maintaining and redeveloping should be more analytical. Maybe also a person developing new software should also be more positive as developing something new always includes a lot of unknown questions and risks that the developer just has to trust that he or she can overcome them. Also maybe a person maintaining software should be more context aware as any change to the function of system can start multiple cause-effect cycles that need to be understood very well to prevent any unwanted side-effects appearing and possibly causing major harm.
Of course a skilled developer can both develop a new software system and maintain an old one, however when one’s personal straits match with demands of the task in hand, then we right person for the right job leading to higher work motivation, higher work moral and enhanced work satisfaction, this in return leads to better results. From my own personal experience both as developer and as team lead, I have noted the importance of matching work with personality. For example before I understood the importance of matching work with personal tasks, I thought that generally maintenance and bug hunting work is tedious and dull, and that only interesting and fun work involves new development. I was completely wrong about this! For me maintenance work was tedious, but some of my colleagues shined and enjoyed maintaining systems, vice versa I also noted that for some people innovating and generating new code was the most horrifying task that they could ever think of.
What we in the IT-industry should start to focus more is to ask what type of persons we are, what kind of personal straits we have, and what kind of work we are best suited for. If we keep just matching work and people based on solely on technical skills, then we will keep wondering why we sometimes people become dissatisfied and lose their work morale. The way for better future is with valuing personal straights and trying to understand what works suites best different persons.
P.S. I am not in business of advertising throe my writings, there are many ways to try and evaluate one’s personal straits and strengths. One of the best ways that I know is using self-evaluation test from Gallup called Strengths Finder 2.0. I and many of my friends and colleagues have used it successfully on finding the words describe who they are and by doing so have succeeded on better understanding to what they are suited and where their strengths lie. No matter how people evaluate what are their personal strengths, the most important idea to remember is to take count of personality and personal  strengths when matching people with work.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Hardware is cheap, people are not

Have you ever struggled with an IT-system that is operating at the limit of its capacity? I have. Have you ever noted that people instead of asking how to raise capacity, try to squeeze out everything they can from the current system? I have. I don't know exactly why we do so. Maybe people fear asking or making decision to invest into new equipment. Maybe people feel that enough is enough, that the system should work with the equipment it has. I don't know exactly what is the reason for us trying to save up, but what I know from my experience is that trying to squeeze up usually ends up costing more.
Let me give some examples. I was once working with an telecom system that was very database intensive. We tried to optimize the database, we fixed bugs that were causing reruns, we rewrote parts of the software, but at the end of the day after months of man power was used, the final fix was to replace systems hard drives with SSD drives, and like magic, our problems were over. Another time I was leading re-development of an retail system that was suffering of horrible slowness, while at the end of day the software had to be rewritten completely, we gave artificial breath to the system by just upgrading hardware, which made the system actually be usable again for users.
Of course not always problems can be solved by just investing into hardware. Many times especially with large scale systems it is very important to keep the code clean and optimized. However many enterprise systems that we rely our business are of limited use, in those cases people should not automatically go and try to save up, but they should approach the problem holistically and look on different ways to get to the point where they want to be.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Brexit is symptom of lack of vision and leadership since 1992

Last Friday morning Britain and Europe were shocked by the result of the British EU referendum. As the British vote to leave started to sink in, feeling of shock quickly changed to uncertainty about the future, about the British place in Europe and the world, about the structure and future of the European Union itself. As the day went on politicians, business leaders, media commentators, etc. all gave their responses and tried to assess the future. Few people regretted David Cameron’s election pledge on having a referendum on remaining in the EU. Some commentators blamed British media and politicians on their long history of Euroscepticism and outright lies. What people haven’t really asked is how things even got to this point. I believe that the referendum and its result were the only logical out turn of decade’s long lack of vision and leadership in Britain.

It all started in 1992 when members of the European Economic Community were negotiating new treaty to advance European co-operation into a new level. With Maastricht treaty EEC member states created an entity with its own internal market, with its own currency, with its own foreign- and security policy, with definition of its own citizenship, etc. were all about creating European federal state in all but in name. The writing was in the wall for everyone to see. The British leaders at the time clearly understood the situation and opted out from the last chain that would lead their country into a federation without no easy way out, they opted out from the single currency.

Since 1992 the British political establishment has been turning from side to side on what their relation to EU should be and are they on in its development or not. When in other countries such as Finland joining the EU and single currency was seen not only as economic question but a question of security and politics, British establishment continued to pretend that everything was just about economics and trade. When Euro as currency finally saw its daylight, Britain joining it or not was seen as only as economic question. Most famous example of this thinking are Gordon Browns, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, five economic tests that were designed to give any answer that Brown and then Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted them to give. This indecisiveness can be best underlined from Tony Blair’s interview in Newsnight in May 2002 where he said…

“Should we stand apart from the alliance right on our doorstep as a country? It would be crazy to do that.”
"It is an economic union. We shouldn't, for political reasons, stand aside. I don't believe that would be a fulfilment of our national interest. I believe it would be a betrayal of our national interest."

This is an excellent example of the British establishment’s double think on understanding fully well that EU isn’t just about trade and economics while pretending that is all about economics and trade. Politics of pretending reached their ultimate height in signing of the Lisbon Treaty that the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown signed hours after others alone in a back room.

The British EU referendum result is a wakeup call for the political establishment in the UK. They have to accept that EU is not anymore just a free trade area, but a de-facto federation that will keep advancing on future integration. They and especially British Eurosceptics also have to accept that EU is not going to collapse, they have been predicting imminent collapse of the Euro since 1999 and been wrong every time. The question that British need to ask is do they want to be part of possible European super state and if not then what will their relationship be with it. There was time and maybe there is still to negotiate for creating truly multispeed Europe with Britain being part of it, but the time will run out if British political establishment isn’t truthful to their people. What Britain needs is vision and leadership to implement it, be it vision of Britain in or out of the European Union.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Finnish smart watch makers at a crossroads

Ever since Apple introduced iWatch in 2014, market for smart watches has been under great amount of change and turmoil. Virtually all smart phone makers have pushed their own smart watches and smart bands to the market. Traditional watch manufacturers have also reacted, Tag Heuer publishing their Connected smart watch running Android wear. Companies from other industries have also shown interest on the nascent market, for example Nokia, manufacturer of mobile networks, acquired French connected health appliances maker as part of their Internet-Of-Things strategy. Fast change and evolution of the market with introduction of new competitors have put Finnish sport watch makers Suunto and Polar at crossroads.

Suunto and Polar both have shared history on being specialists on heart rate monitoring. Polar received its first patent on wireless heart rate monitoring in 1979 while Suunto expanded from being a compass maker to manufacturer of wrist computers with build-in navigation and instrumentation capabilities. They both have expanded and moved to become specialists of sports and health’s instruments with sport watches being at the core of their offering. While concentrating to serve a special niche market have allowed them to grow and show profit, it has also left them to be small companies. In 2015 Suunto reported total revenue of 63 million euro while Polar in 2014 reported revenue of around 203 million euro. Suunto is owned by Amer Sports, of sports equipment conglomerate, with yearly revenue over 2.5 billion euro and EBIT of 212 million euro. Polar on the other hand is family owned business.

The key problem that both of these companies share is that they are too small and have very limited resources compared to their competition. Big technology giants such as Apple, Samsung and Microsoft have more or less unlimited money to spend. Even smaller competitors such as Garmin has yearly revenue of over 2.8 billion USD with fitness products counting for 662 million USD. Both companies have responded to the changing market structure with different strategies. Polar has chosen to seek revenue growth by introducing multitude of different products such as activity and fitness trackers in lower price points. This strategy has enabled the company to keep up with the overall growth of the market. Suunto on the other hand has chosen to concentrate on higher end of the market with mix of design and usage of premium materials. This can be best seen in the new Spartan collection where the all titanium model retails at around 749 euro. This strategy of concentrating to a niche has caused company revenue growth to halt.

When looking at the future, what can be seen is that the sports and smart watch market is moving from being appliance centric to being application and service centric. When Apple first introduced iWatch, applications running in the watch were dependent of the phone. With Apple watchOS 2 and Android Wear 2, applications now run independently in the watch itself. What this means is that device functionality and offered value is not anymore tied to the manufacturer, but is largely created by independent third parties. While Suunto and Polar have resources to create few supporting services to their devices like polarpersonaltrainer.com, they don’t have enough resources to serve the whole wider market and even if they would, they would be playing catchup all the time. The question isn’t will there be a killer application for smart watcher or not, the question is when that application and service will come out.

What currently protects both companies is slow progress of battery technology and computing power requirements of both watchOS and Android Wear. While Suunto sport watches have battery life of weeks, smart watches running watchOS or Android Wear have in best day scenario battery life of 1-2 days. As technology develops this will change. The big question that both of these companies need to ask, how are they going to respond to technological change and how will that impact their overall strategy. There are three options for these companies to take: 1) develop offering based on Android Wear; 2) develop offering based on fork of Android or Linux; 3) continue using and developing in-house operating system.

In my honest opinion the most difficult option for these companies to take would be option number 2: to develop offering based on their own fork of Android or Linux. The reason is that keeping internal version of Android or Linux active and update needs lots of developer resources, not to forget the need to create their application stores and keep up connections to developer community. Clearly this option is too expensive and offers too little return of investment. Unfortunately other options are not much better. The biggest problem of using Android Wear is that Google doesn’t allow individual manufacturers to customize it and thus prevent creation of unique user experiences and offerings. With Android Wear manufacturers can only compete with hardware which essentially will lead into commoditization of the Android watch market where low cost and scale of economies only dictate winners. Finally the third option is to continue developing in-house operating systems which suffer from missing out the application market.

So what should Suunto and Polar do? Whatever the technical solution will be, as small companies they should target higher price segments and compete with specialization and quality. Suunto has already geared its strategy towards this and Polar should do the same. In case of technical solution, be it creating a new version of Android or Linux, or further developing their in-house operating systems, it is necessary to move away from developing closed source software and instead move on to develop open source platforms and components as group of companies with same interests. If Suunto or Polar would take the lead and create an open source project with a small dedicated team for creating either operating system or application runtime for future wearable devices, they could make big impact on how the market will develop.

Personally I see application runtime environment as the key ingredient that will make or break any future wearable project as there is no benefit with the project if it doesn’t achieve more applications to be available for the platform. Instead of inventing the wheel again, I would instead choose to copy an already popular platform like Google’s Java-language based runtime environment. The good thing about this is that there are already lots of available tools and companies specialized on enabling Java based programs to run both on embedded Linux and on real time OS’s. Whatever the specific solution will be, time is of the essence as it is easier to develop solutions for a market that is just about to bloom than to a market that has already formed. I believe Suunto and Polar can response to the challenge that Apple and Google have created, but they have to move very quickly.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Will Windows 8 enter the living room? - Part I

Lately one of the most talked new software projects in works has been the new Windows 8, and specifically its new Metro UI. Some people like it, some people hate it. However all the people I know think that it is mainly designed for tablets and other portable devices, aiming to compete with Apple of the hearts and minds of home users. This is certainly not a wrong view, but I myself think that Microsoft has even more ambitious goal: to take over the living room, to replace traditional television and peripheral devices connected to it with Windows. Even Steven Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, hinted about it in his CES 2012 keynote.

Before going further, let us remind our-self of the importance of the living room and the television. The television has been and is an inseparable part of the modern way of living, it is a centrepiece of home where individuals and families come to share time and experiences together. Such is an importance of the television and its place in our life that it annually generates nearly 50 billion dollars in advertising revenue alone in the US. That is the market where Microsoft is aiming at, and incidentally a market that Google is trying to erase.

Now many companies have tried to take over the living room from the television, however all of these attempts have more or less failed. The reason for their failure has been simple, offerings to replace or amend the television have been too complex, needing either set-up-boxes, peripherals or too complicated to use remotes. The only new technologies and services that have been successfully introduced and become ubiquitous have been those embedded into television itself like the EPG which came with the DVB standard. So how can Microsoft think that they can succeed where other have failed?!

The answer to why Microsoft can take the television is because they have the technology and vision to make using of Windows driven televisions as simple and easy and intuitive as using our current televisions. The two key things that Microsoft have are the Metro UI and Kinect motion capture technology. By combining these two and embedding them into an Internet enabled television, they can create a market proposition for consumers that offers more with simpler terms. What Windows driven television means is no more hassle with remotes, no more usage of  incoherent OEM UIs and added services, instead there will be one coherent and intuitive user experience that combines all services together.

However the television market is too big and established for Microsoft to take it alone, the change has to come and supported from industries tied to television, from device manufacturers to cable operators and from broadcaster to advertisers. Microsoft has to offer more than just renewed consumer proposition, they also have to create new value for all current stakeholders to succeed in their quest of conquering the living room. I will continue with this subject in my next blog post.

Monday, 2 January 2012

We are at the end of the road for home computer

During the last year, I have wanted to write about multitude of changes that are happening and are going to happen in the PC industry. Topics that I would have liked to discuss were the upcoming Windows 8, emergence of endless stream of Android tablets, wireless technologies, mobile optimized chips from Intel and AMD, etc.. However I had a writers block, I couldn't write about these topics because I had not made my mind on what the bigger picture was. Now I know. The bigger picture is that we are at the end of the road for home computer, and that is a major cause of change in the computer industry.

Why is it happening? There is basically two reasons for it, one being driven by technological development, and the second on being changing usage patterns of people. In the past home computers were used as productive tools, then as a way to access information and the Internet, and now they are used mainly for consuming media and engaging entertainment. Home computers, be it desktops or laptops, can fulfill these needs, but not optimally, and certainly not with ease of usage. Instead of a home computer, a better way to fulfill these needs is to use range of different devices like gaming consoles, Internet enabled TVs and tablets linked to each other and other peripherals via wireless connection.

One might ask why is the change coming now and not before, the reason is that technology is becoming ready, it is powerful enough and more importantly easy enough to use. For example you can stream music from your phone or tablet to your stereo system; you can print to wireless printer; etc... In short, your devices are talking to each other, thus you don't need one uber device to do everything.

When will it happen? This is a tricky question to answer, but essentially it is all about consumer perceptions on what is needed to fulfill their needs. The day when your average Joe says to himself that instead of getting a new computer to use Facebook and YouTube, he will instead buy a new tablet with a wireless keyboard and printer if needed. This change can happen very rapidly, maybe even a time frame of just few years. However to speak frankly, we are not there yet. The technology isn't powerful enough, when we have for example AMD Fusion or upcoming Intel Ivy Bridge processors with 4 gigabytes of memory packed inside a tablet or other media device, then the technology will be ready. This would more or less put the time frame from end of 2012 to 2014.

What does it mean? End of Windows monopoly in the home market if Microsoft doesn't successfully retake markets from Apple and Google Android with Windows 8. End of open access and free usability of various devices for the majority of users, in short everything will be locked, users download their software and content from their designated shops or use Internet delivered applications and services to fulfill their needs.

From a point of view of a professional working in the software industry, this upcoming change will create both opportunities to be taken and dangers that need to be counteracted. One pit fall that I see is that companies will be spending too much time and money on tailoring applications for different platforms, a dangerous trend that we are already seeing with smart phones. Instead companies should use this opportunity to get rid of all native applications and technologies, moving to pure web based technologies that can be offered to all platforms. It may not be optimal, but cost effective flexibility is something that will be needed in the coming years.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Creating business around of the next billion

One of the strategic goals of Nokia is to bring out mobile phones and devices to the next billion people in the developing world, namely in Africa, India and Asia Pacific. To this day reaching out this goal has only seemed to provide value and opportunities for phone vendors, network manufacturers and mobile operators. However this perception is going to change due to evolution of affordable mobile devices. Just few years ago an affordable handset in the developing world had only basic phone functions, now new devices like the Nokia Asha series handsets offer specifications that are enough to enable functioning of wide array of software applications and services in these phones. This creates an opportunity for third parties to reach out the next billion and create business around them.

Now many people are probably wondering what kind of business can be created. When answering this question it is important to remind us on how market in the developing world differs from the market in the developed world, and what consequences and opportunities it has...

Computers aren't ubiquitous, in fact they are very rare in the developing world. For example in the United States there were 762.152 computers per 1000 people in 2004, in India the figure was 15.531 per 1000, and in Niger the figure was as low as 0.716 per 1000. What this means is that people aren't using software and services that people in the developed world have accustomed to use with their computers, software like spreadsheet and word processing are virtually unknown for the most people in the developing world. This is a clear market opportunity to offer already invented and tested software products to new markets.

Information is expensive. In the developed world we have gotten used to buying books from the Internet or from our local bookshop without giving a notice on the price of the book. We also have gotten used to looking up information from the web or streaming it over the network. Things change much in the developing world: books are expensive even if you discount the cost of content, this is due to both people having much lower incomes, but also due to smaller scale of operations increasing costs such as logistics. The same is true with electronic distribution, electronic distribution that relies on data connectivity is out of question as the cost of connectivity if available is out of reach of regular consumers, and distribution based on tangible goods such as Compact Discs suffers from small scale of operations and everything that comes with it.

The opportunity here is in making the information and distribution of it inexpensive. This can actually be done by creating a peer-to-peer distribution framework where people can swap content between their phones with Bluetooth connectivity. With this method we can minimize costs by a large degree and as an added benefit marketing and advertising can take advantage from natural social networks of people. The challenge in this method is how to ensure digital rights management and compensating content authors. Other opportunity for content distribution is by binding affordable service offer like the Aircel Pocket Internet with a walled garden content delivery platform.

External entities can also be customers. In developing countries there are multitude of external entities ranging from non-governmental to governmental and intergovernmental organizations working in multitude of different projects. These organizations are potential customers with some having quite deep pockets, even better is that these organizations can be easily approached as their administrative functions are usually located in the developed world. Potential projects to offer can range from digitization of information into mobile form to different kind of educational applications that can either assist learning or help in some other way.

Overall I deeply believe that reaching the next billion can create business opportunities for a large number of parties. However to reach this goal, software companies need to be brave and open minded, things work differently in the developing world, but that doesn't mean that they work poorly, they work differently and one who masters taking advantage of this difference can create value if not in large scale then at least in adequate numbers.