Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Central Desktop: How to make a case for new technology to your CIO + IT team

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New Year(ish). New Article.

Gartner have made some bold predictions that state that by 2017, the CMO will be be spending more on technology than the CIO. Well, if that’s true, CMOs need to read this right now, because buying technology for the business – even in today’s SaaS environment, isn’t as easy as clicking your fingers. They need to know how to pull together a cast-iron business case.

Luckily, this article contains five tips to make the process a little easier.

There’s nothing more unsatisfying than introducing a new system into an organization and seeing it fail. It’s a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of opportunity – and yet it happens all the time. Usually, it has nothing to do with the technology; these failures are almost always about adoption. Whether a system is over-hyped, under-utilized or simply not fit-for-purpose, the result is the same.

Unfortunately, these precedents can make it more difficult to introduce systems in the future, as “system apathy” sets in and users become inured to promise and cynical about change. This apathy can also spread to those people who install the system: IT and the CIO. Instead of a new solution, they may see ill-conceived plans, a lack of ROI and negative impact on their credibility. The erosion of the business benefit of these systems can have a massive impact on the bottom line.

[...]

It’s great that CMOs are tech-savvy, but they need to show more than a recognition of technology benefits, and start to pick up on best practices from the IT world to really bring the CIO back into the fold.

Put simply: to get a CIO on your side, you have to think like a CIO. And that means going back to the business case.

Read the full article over at Central Desktop.


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Writing by James – The Top 5 Most Popular Posts of 2013

It’s the end of 2013, and that means it is time to look at my most popular posts of the year. Without further ado, the Top 5!

#1 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

The run away winner this year, and up from number 2 last year, this article still seems to be hitting the spot. I still get comments and emails around the subject, as it seems that nothing has changed – the number of people still searching for ‘Scribd Facebook’ on Google has not decreased.

#2 - RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

Last year, when this rolled in at number 1, I said:

“When I first wrote this post, it was only intended to vent my own frustrations with the first season of the Walking Dead, but it seems that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Luckily, my main issue with the series – not enough zombies! – has been answered.”

I’m extremely glad to say that Season 3, which finished a couple of months back on UK terrestrial, was the best yet. It had a strong story-line, plenty of zombies, and some very fine moments between the Governor and our band of survivors. How I’m managing to keep away from reading Robert Kirkman’s original comics, I have no idea…

#3 – Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation – an update

In this follow up article to the original, I looked at how the rest of Facebook’s launch partners for ‘Instant Personalisation’ had fared. The quick answer? Not very well.

#4 - The album that saved my (musical) life

I’m glad this is still in the top 5. Pixies are a group that I hold close, they’ve had a massive impact on my musical direction. Without Pixies, I can’t imagine that I would ever have ended up listening to my current favourites: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Tame Impala, and Radiohead. This look at how they were using old content in refreshing new ways across social channels to engage with the next generation of fans was a pleasure to write.

#5 – Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Rounding out the top 5 for 2013 is this product review of Testimonial Monkey. I don’t write a lot of reviews, but once in a while I get approached and asked to look at new products, services, or books. If you’ve got a product that you would like to put forward, please let me know using the contact form on the About Me page. Testimonial Monkey simplified the process of getting customer feedback and had some nice features, so it was a good review to write – it’s always more difficult if the product or book isn’t as good as you had hoped. Luckily, I haven’t had many of those.

Thank you!

Many thanks to all of you who have read my articles this year, whether you left comments or not; I hope they were useful and informative. I hope to see you all again in 2014.

Cheers, James.

How Iron Maiden turned piracy into paying customers

Iron Maiden Stage Show

I will freely admit, without embarrassment, that before I fell in love with Pixies, my favourite band was Iron Maiden. It was the perfect partner for my ‘angry-on-the-inside-blank-on-the-outside’ teenage years. Although the music might not be to everybody’s taste, they are an amazingly successful band, playing to over a million fans over the course of 2013.

So it was with interest that I read this article on Citeworld, about how Iron Maiden is using social media analytics to guide decision-making around its tours; the basic premise being that by looking at this large data set, they can capitalise on download activity by planning opportunities for fans to buy merchandise legitimately.

Like Pixies, it’s great to see a band embracing the changing landscape. It just goes to show that change is not just inevitable, but that it is also the source of opportunity.

*** UPDATE: Since the post was created, an update has been posted on the source article stating that Iron Maiden did not work with the analytics company mentioned. Although its disappointing that the article was not researched correctly, I believe it does show a valid use of data analytics and we will see more businesses using this kind of insight moving forward. I wasn’t the only one to follow up on this article; you can find out more over at Techcrunch.  ***

LeWeb Paris Audience


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3 important takeaways from LeWeb 2013

LeWeb is a fantastic conference.

All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)

Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.

In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.

Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years

Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.

Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.

Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking  itself when you arrived at your room.

The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.

Trend 2: You are your product

It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years

Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies

This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.

What next?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.

See you at LeWeb 2014!

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Central Desktop’s greatest blog hits of 2013

I’ve really enjoyed writing for Central Desktop this year; they always set interesting briefs and have an open attitude to different approaches. Last year I was lucky enough to have one of the top five most popular articles on the site, with Eight tips on successful adoption of collaboration solutions coming in at number 4.

Well, the 2013 results are now in and I’m very pleased to say that this year I’ve gone one better, with the third most popular post of the year. CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT was published back in February and was featured on the main page of the Central Desktop site for a few weeks, which definitely helped. The article looks at how the two roles are coming closer together, with technology playing a much bigger part in the marketing mix. Here’s an extract:

Just a few years ago, asking the question whether the CIO and CMO roles were merging would have been madness. They couldn’t have been further apart. The CMO was a key part of a company’s leadership team, driving performance and changing the course of the organization, while in most cases the CIO didn’t even have a seat at the table.

That’s no longer the case – or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. If you believe Gartner’s January 2012 report entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO” and IBM’s annual CIO surveys, it would seem these two roles are on a collision course. Is it true?

It’s great to be able to write an article that people value, so I was pleasantly surprised to also feature on the Lifetime Achievement list (for articles from previous years that have been read most times in 2013). Why you should keep IT off your cloud made the case for including IT in the decision making process for cloud systems, even though it might seem that they don’t need to be involved. It got a great reaction from commentators, in IT and beyond.

Cloud systems – the perfect opportunity to take control of your processes and practices. A system that can boost your productivity and that you can mold to your exact requirements, all without the interference of IT. No infrastructure requirements, no development, no overcomplicated business analysis and project management – just the appointment of a vendor who can take away the pain and make things happen.

Or is it?

If you just read the headlines and looked no further, you would think that IT was to blame for most of the more public IT failures. The term IT has become synonymous with the department that shares its name, and as a result it has a terrible reputation: one that is based in misconceptions and stereotypes. Here are four reasons why you should break out of this fallacy and involve IT when implementing cloud solutions.

I look forward to writing more next year, but in the meantime, if you want to see more of the top articles from 2013, you can see them at Central Desktop.

Still - The Money Trap


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Central Desktop: The Hidden Cost of Free

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Yes, it has been a more than brief hiatus from writing, on this site or elsewhere. I’ve finally broken my silence with a quick 1000 words over at Central Desktop, looking at the hidden costs that lurk under the friendly face of free software. Here’s the obligatory quote:

If you were reading this in 1985, “free” software wouldn’t even exist. At best, you would be able to find some shareware on the front of a computer magazine that might be useful if you could load it off the 3.5″ floppy disk. Everything was just a little more amateur back then, especially when things were free.

Today, we are faced with a massively different situation. Free no longer means poor, lacking, or amateur; instead, it has become the norm for many businesses around the world, delivering quality products that support hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of users. The freemium model, whereby software is available for free, but additional support and functionality is available for a fee, has become a de facto business model for start-ups around the world. But despite the more professional approach, the profusion of software comes with both benefits and risks.

You can read the full article over at Central Desktop.

Feature image by marsmet42 on Flickr


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Central Desktop: Software Subscription Models – Pros and Cons

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It’s been a few months since I last wrote at Central Desktop, so it’s nice to get something published there again. This time around we’re looking at the pros and cons of subscription software (or SaaS, if you prefer it).

Subscription software has been around a long time, much longer than the hoo-ha about Adobe Creative Cloud earlier this year. When Adobe changed their business model, it was treated like the death of a family pet in some quarters. However, the real question isn’t why Adobe changed, but why we were surprised.

The move to software subscription models is tied inextricably to the changing culture of business and the ever-moving world of technology that surrounds it. It is inevitable.

Shortly, we’ll look at the pros and cons of subscription software, but first a brief history lesson.

Read the full article for a history lessons and to find out what iTunes and Nike have to do with the rise of SaaS over at Central Desktop.


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Forbes EMCVoice: What Is The New Sharing Economy?

Forbes & EMC - Version 2Earlier this week my second guest post for Forbes EMCVoice was published. Stepping away from Big Data – the subject of my previous article – I instead took a look at the emerging business model that is the Sharing Economy. Rather than being a new hippy movement that wants to radicalise the economic norm, this is a social movement that disrupts current thinking and has led to a burst of activity in the start-up scene. So much so that it is now have a lasting effect on corporate America. In a time of economic stagnation, the sharing economy is finding value in the excess and the redundant. If you haven’t heard about it, read on. The question isn’t whether this is a fad, it’s not; it’s simply a question of how will it affect your business and what you will do about it.

Here’s a short excerpt:

The start of June saw the influential LeWeb conference make its way back to London. The subject this time around: the new sharing economy. Never shy of investigating emerging trends within the technology sector, the forum’s excursion into what seems to be a more philosophical realm could be viewed as a departure from the norm, but is it? The truth is that the ideas behind the sharing economy have their roots deeply entrenched in technological soil.

‘The Sharing Economy’ — you would be excused if you thought it sounded like the spiritual home of new age digital hippies, or maybe a step up from a barter system — might sound a million miles from traditional capitalist thinking. But in truth it’s a movement born and sustained by three things: the advance of technology, the ongoing economic pressures that face businesses, and the human imperative for simplicity.

Read the full article over at Forbes.


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Forbes EMCVoice: Who Should Be Driving Big Data?

Forbes & EMC - Version 2Tuesday saw my first article published on Forbes, covering the subject of Big Data for EMC. Big Data initiatives are often thought of as technology projects, but that misconception is one of the big reasons why these projects fail to deliver the big results that are expected. This article looks at how you can avoid falling into that trap.

Every day the number of ways in which we can collect data grows, from personal data collected by exercise gadgets such as Fitbit Flex and Nike FuelBand, to the social interactions that we engage in online through Facebook, Google and Twitter.This is on top of the transactional data that organizations have been collecting in back-end finance systems. It’s a mass of data that offers a mass of possibilities. These big data sets can give companies the ability to understand their customers, their environment and themselves in greater depth than ever before, and that understanding can generate real competitive advantage.

But before we all reach for this great panacea, a reality check. As Ben Elowitz pointed out in his AllThingsD article, “Big Data is Booming, but Big Results are lacking.” That’s not entirely true, but it’s a valid point, as getting the best out of Big Data requires an organization that has thought through the issues and put the right structure in place to execute.

Read the full article over at Forbes.


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Central Desktop: Cloud App Usage in the Workplace

Skynet - Central DesktopRogue cloud apps – it all sounds a little ominous, as if Skynet will be raising its ugly self-aware artificially-intelligent head sometime soon. Of course, it’s nothing of the sort; it’s just a bunch of employees trying to bring the some of the benefits of consumer life into the workplace, and why shouldn’t they?

In my latest article for Central Desktop, I look at how you can make cloud applications work for you, rather than giving you a headache, and make a plea for IT departments to drop the “command and control” attitude and start collaborating.

Here’s the obligatory extract:

Cloud busting. No, not the fabulous Kate Bush song, but rather what most IT departments would like to be doing. Personal clouds and cloud apps are subjects of growing concern to corporate business, something highlighted in Forbes columnist Joe McKendricks’ article “Corporate Crackdown on Rogue Clouds Has Begun, Survey Suggests” – based on the PMG “Cloud Sprawl 2013′” survey. The trouble is, as always, that numbers only tell one side of the story, and articles wrapped in jargon and littered with percentages aren’t always helpful.

The questions we should be asking ourselves are: what is this really telling us and what should we be doing about it?

Read the full article over at Central Desktop.