Tag Archives: future

Why do we need libraries in 2013?

The Study Space in full at the library
Do we still need libraries?

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a bit of a fan of the author Richard Watson. One of the topics Richard regularly writes about is public libraries and their role in 2013. I use my local council library sometimes when I work from home and just want to get out of the house for an hour or so, usually to concentrate on writing a document or presentation.

What it is about libraries that helps us concentrate? I think there’s a psychological element to it. I think we walk into a library, see the shelves full of books and our brain kicks into super-thinking-mode. Perhaps it sends us back to our childhood when we visited libraries and were told they were the source of learning and reference (i.e. before the Internet).

In 2012, due to the recession, 200 libraries closed in the UK. Is this a problem?

Today, I went to the local library to produce a document for work. I worked from home today and as usual I had a few conference calls, intermittently punctuated with a few disturbances on Skype and email, and I needed to focus. I sought the library as a refuge. However the study room was closed (as you can see from the sign above) which was on the front door of the library.

I checked the study room, and confirmed that it was full. It was mainly occupied by teenage students, probably preparing for their A levels (aged 18).

Here’s some research into the number of libraries by population of the UK compared to the US, China and India:

Country Libraries Population
Population per
US 121,169 315.651 2,605
UK 5,502 63.181 11,483
China 55,000 1,354 24,618
India 7,943 1,210 152,335

I wonder where these students would go if the library was closed. It seems very short-termist to reduce the learning capabilities of a country during a recession.

After the recession we’ll consider what we should have done differently to improve the education of the population to take maximise the market potential afterwards. It seems now would be a good time to open more libraries.

China in 2030 – two points of view

Xi Jinping – would people in the West recognise and be able to name him?
Xi Jinping – would people in the West recognise and be able to name him?

In what I presume was a coincidence on how the two articles were laid out in Tuesday’s Times newspaper (paper edition), there were two almost-conflicting articles on China’s formidable growth side by side.

The first article covered the ‘ghost town’ of Dandong New District. Dandong has 60 high rise apartment blocks, a shopping mall, and a basketball stadium. Home buyers can choose any apartment on any floor in any block. Because all of them are empty.

Economists are divided between Dandong being a demonstration of rapid and excess growth and good strategic planning. Interestingly, all economists agree that at some point the town will be full – it’s a question of whether the timing is necessary to have built the town (and other similar ones) so rapidly.

The second article, facing the first, showed a report from Global Marine Trends which predicts in the next 17 years, the World’s shipping fleet will need to more than double in size just to deliver natural resources to China. Conservative estimates are up from the current 9 billion to 19 billion.

Environmentalists can note that China currently has 900 offshore wind turbines, and estimate the need for 90,000 by 2030.

China doesn’t receive enough media attention in the West, perhaps because the Western countries (and we’re all at fault here) are in denial of its growth and strategy. I would challenge most people living in Western cities whether they recognise or can name the new Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Most people under 40 can only remember the World with a single super power. I have a feeling that in 45 years’ time, our children will also remember only one super power.

How to deal with Internet services that are closing down

Death of Internet servicesThere has been a lot of discussion on the web this week regarding three separate services: Google Reader, Evernote and Posterous. I have talked about how our Internet trust will be broken soon, and each of these three vendors have demonstrated this in their own ways.

Google have shut down their Reader service. It doesn’t bother me too much – the service was satisfactory, nothing more, and I prefer to read RSS feed in Outlook. Reader was a free service, and its users’ main complaint is how it knocked other services out of the market only to stop the product years later when everyone has gone bust.

Evernote announced that it’s service has been compromised, “…but don’t worry…” passwords haven’t been compromised. What its users don’t understand is that the content in the thousands/ millions of notes probably was compromised. So if you used an Evernote page for passwords or other confidential data, well, it’s probably not so confidential any longer.

And while Posterous announced a while ago that they would be shutting down, I’ve spent a few evenings this week moving this very blog from Posterous over to a new provider. I’ve actually bitten the bullet and moved the blog over to my own personal server. I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of moving it again.

Playing Devil’s advocate, the services above are free. You pay peanuts (or nothing), so you don’t get a chance to say “Hey, I was using that…”.

As a learned friend of mine once said, “Today’s gift is tomorrow’s expectation.”

So what’s the advice for the future?

Firstly, corporates take note. If you use these services, be prepared for here today, gone tomorrow. Use PaaS (Platform as a Service) vendors – Salesforce, Google Analytics, Endava (shameless plug), etc., but make sure your data is transferable, accessible and secure (not necessarily in that order).

Secondly, consumers need to be similarly aware. I have a simple approach – I assume all new startups can be gone in an instant, and are operated by a fourteen year old in their bedroom somewhere dodgy. Only once the trust builds up will I invest more time with content.

As I mentioned before, Google Reader doesn’t affect me. Posterous… well, whenever I’ve been to blogger meetings, everyone is talking about WordPress and I felt like I was on the wrong platform.

Evernote is the one that has annoyed me the most, because it’s (present tense) such a great product. But I can’t trust it. And my corporate security guys have said we can’t use it any longer (or any similar services).

So I’ve started using OneNote again. A few guys in the office use OneNote, and since I got the new convertible Ultrabook, OneNote makes sense. And then I discovered the OneNote iPhone app, which syncs with my laptop… and boom! I now have an enterprise version of Evernote.

Whilst writing this article I noticed that Menshn has shut down as well. Menshn was a great idea, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first users invited. I say it was a great idea, although I hadn’t logged on for a couple of months, so it hadn’t quite replaced my preferred social networks.

But the morale of this post is that if I had invested huge amounts of time and content, I’d be pretty miffed at the moment that it’s now all gone.

Google Glasses will destroy trust between people

I’ve heard so much buzz recently surrounding Google Glasses that you’d have thought they were being released tomorrow.

I think that Google Glasses will have a profound effect on society as we know it, which will make the smartphone pale in comparison.

If Google Glasses becomes widely used, and we use them to check email, maps and phone calls, we’ll rarely need to remove them from our heads.

The most profound effect will come from the forward facing camera.

Imagine you have a business meeting with a new person for the first time, and one or both of you are wearing Google Glasses. It will be the social equivalent of putting a voice recorder on the desk. If one or both of you are wearing Google Glasses, you’ll both be concerned that the other party is recording the meeting, so you’ll both be extra careful about what is said.

The defence of this is that you should always be careful of what is said, and that like so many recorded situations, if you’re not guilty of anything there’s nothing to be wary of… I don’t care how many video cameras there are in the High Street because I don’t have a criminal record, so I have nothing to fear.

However if you’re in a meeting with someone, whether it’s a colleague, client or supplier, and you know the person facing you might be recording the conversation through their glasses, I don’t think you’ll be able to strike the same emotional ‘trust’ as someone without the glasses.

Etiquette used to dictate that people didn’t use their phones at a dinner table. Now it’s common place – and not just with teenagers and children.

We may start seeing locations where the glasses are forbidden, which is strange to think about considering they haven’t been released yet.

Updating the voting system

via borisjohnsonftw.tumblr.com

The low voter turnout throughout the UK for the local elections last week is a sad statistic, especially when the news is also reporting Middle Eastern states where citizens are attempting to topple dictators and replace them with democratically elected leaders.

One of the main causes of low voting turnout is that people can’t be bothered to vote, and that the vote feels too far removed from their lives.

I think the whole voting system is woefully outdated. For the last couple of centuries it was perfectly fine, and probably very efficient, to ask citizens to go to a local meeting place and vote in a private booth. However it’s now one of the only things in modern life where we have to go to a specific place, at a specific time, to do something.

We should replace the now-inefficient voting process with an electronic system.

If it’s good enough for me to file a tax return (I’m letting myself calm down before writing a blog post on that topic after the ordeal I’ve recently been through!); fill in medical advice for my local doctor; and do all of my insurance, mortgage and banking online, why can’t I vote online?

For a while, security has been the main issue, however my bank feels the web is safe enough for me to lend me a mortgage, and I’ve even leased a car online from a company which I never met.

One of the dangers for politicians is that as soon as voting becomes electronic, it could become almost too quick and easy, and the public will then want to vote for smaller issues. For instance, imagine in say, 50 years’ time, there’s a debate in Parliament which then asks MPs to vote. The MP could then ask their constituents for their opinion using the public voting infrastructure on that debate.

Screens appearing literally everywhere

This video has been trending on YouTube recently – it’s five months old and has been watched over 14 million times. It’s a glass company which is theorising on the future of glass based appliances.

In so far as the video itself is concerned, it clearly cost a lot of money to shoot. Whether it was shown on television I’m not sure – putting it on YouTube and getting an audience of 14 million is worth a lot of media spend.

If the possibility of accepting meeting requests before you’ve washed your face in the morning is appealing, you’ll love this video:

Why the single mobile device isn’t possible

A true story (all the stories I tell on this blog are true – it’s just this makes the story more dramatic) – I was standing in the kitchen washing the dishes last night whilst watching the television.

I find this to be the second most therapeutic place in the World – the first is in the shower (for more information about why we seem to think clearer in certain positions but never at our place of work, read Future Minds.

Anyway, back to washing the dishes, and I saw the new Sony Xperia Play advert shown below.

This got me thinking the same thing as the R&D guys and girls in every handset company in the World – what is the perfect handset/ mobile/ slate device? By perfect, I mean “what device will take over from all the other devices we own?” I remember conversations in the late 1990s when I worked at the Finnish Telco Sonera (for accuracy, I worked at a subsidary called SmartTrust – now part of G&D, however these conversations took place with the parent company) where we discussed more than 100% penetration of handsets in the World (i.e. more active handsets than people).

Why would people want more than one handset? Because you’d have a super smart/ fashionable one in the evening, an email device with QWERTY keyboard during the day, a sporty/ waterproof one on weekends and so on.

I remember hearing that the market research teams at Nokia (despite the recent bad news I’d recommend anyone with any technology interest to visit their amazing corporate headquearters in Finland) kept hearing that their users wanted tiny phones and massive screens; they wanted as few keys as possible and full QWERTY layouts; they wanted the simple, original, ‘flat’ Nokia menu and a gazillion functions on the phone. The users wanted the impossible – mutually exclusive functions.

After I’d finished the washing up (we have a large family and had guests that evening – these things take a while), I sat down and caught up on some recorded TV – Secrets of the Superbrands: Fashion when the penny dropped.

We won’t be able to have a single device because of the following factors:

  1. Fashion – too many of us want the latest new shiny (or distressed as I learned on the Secrets programme) thing, for the sake of having the latest new thing.
  2. Best of breed. I use the toaster because it makes the least mess; I use the microwave because it makes hot chocolate quickly and without getting a saucepan dirty; I use the oven to roast chicken because I imagine it’s going to taste nicer than the small microwave/oven (and I’m worried all future hot chocolates will taste a little chicken-ey).
  3. We want change. I like love Dairy Milk. But every so often I’ll have a Flake, or a Twirl or a Wispa. Think of your favourite yet balanced meal – why don’t you have it every night?

And for these reasons I don’t think the single device to take over our wallet, mobile phone, laptop and paper pad is ever going to come along.

10 years since joining


This time ten years ago I joined IMG as the Development Manager to build a new Content Management System.

The digital division within IMG was about four years old at that point, and had bought the digital rights to a number of sports organisations with the hope that the advertising and sponsorship on those sites would cover the costs of writing huge cheques to the sports organisations. ‘Hope’ is a strong word, because at the time the Internet bubble was at it’s height, and we all thought we’d be billionaires by Christmas.

When I joined, IMG was pulling out of a number of these deals, and looking for efficiencies with the tiny development teams.

The Internet was so different back then. Products were very expensive. Vendors and ‘experts’ were all learning as they were going along – so when we got stuck, we were well and truly on our own. For instance we tried different CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) to handle the huge amount of traffic we were experiencing, and ended up creating our own using Cacheflow servers. Just looking up the link just now made me laugh – because these boxes used to be the size of a fridge, and now they’re the size of a PC. Once we’d got the Cacheflows stable, we simply migrated to Akamai.

I remember people, including the CTO, would sleep in the office when we expected incidents to happen. I remember arguments with database vendors about licensing – some wanted to charge for every visitor that accessed the website, because they saw that as a database user. I remember running analytics reports on websites that used to take several days to compile, and when we wanted to run the report again with a different metric, all the numbers in the report would change! That same report in SiteCatalyst now takes a second to run and end users run it themselves.

Most of the really difficult stuff back in 2001 is now a commodity. Half of those products now have a freeware solution.

In around 2005/6 I moved to the client side – project management and operations. The CMS was very stable, and it was time to look at a decent off-the-shelf solution because we were losing pitches because of our lack of multi-lingual support, versioning, WYSIWYG editing and advanced SEO support.

We chose Sitecore as the CMS platform, and for the first time we looked at offshoring to India to migrate our sites. Three months of total pain followed. For the first time since joining IMG, we missed deadlines (in sport, although it sounds obvious you can’t miss deadlines – most of the time you might as well not deliver anything than deliver a project late). We pulled the projects back to the UK and an army of contractors joined the development team. Some were good, some weren’t. We started to offshore to Eastern Europe instead. And it was a revelation:

  • Being able to fly there and back in a day (not recommended, although possible and sometime necessary);
  • The cultural similarities; 
  • The push-back nature from developers on some of the requirements.

Then in late 2008 we looked to outsource more work to Romania via Endava. What started off at a simple outsourcing deal changed at the last moment, and the staff TUPEd over to Endava in January 2009.

Since then we’ve worked on some new projects outside of sport, and the Web has become a stable, maturing, controllable entity. In 2001 we were looking only to stabilise our clients’ sites.

Our traffic (bandwidth, visitors and page impressions) have all increased exponentially in ten years, with some exponentially, several times. Social Networks have come and some of them have gone. Do they compete? No, they simply direct more and more traffic to our clients’ sites.

And now to the future. In 2011 we are looking at providing data insights, personalised experiences, full integration with back off systems, and providing a true ROI for our client’s digital properties.

The future of technology and payments according to Visa


Photo courtesy of Jack Snell on Flickr

Someone from Visa sent me a brand new whitepaper about Visa’s view of the future of technology and payments, the future being the next 3-5 years. The main purpose of the whitepaper is the first in a series of thought-provoking, thought-leadership pieces to discuss in the industry. How they plan to discuss it, is interesting in itself – I’ll deal with that at the end.

The whitepaper cleverly pulls together various emerging technologies into 7 key trends. The first 3 are technological and the last 4 are social.

Mobile and identity issues are raised as you’d expect. The future of payments is probably via a phone rather than a card. And pull mechanisms (also called invisible payments or background payments) such as regular top ups such as ‘Oyster cards‘ are going to be more common – including us wearing such devices.

Put it another way – if you travel on the underground, purchase items on Amazon, eBay and the Apple App store, you won’t need your card number at any point, because each sites remembers your card details. If I said ten years ago that you’ll pay for computer programs, books, music or even second items in the same way as you pay for your electricity — background payments without referring to your credit or debit card — anyone would have laughed.

Whilst the continuation of the transfer from cash to electronic is going to keep increasing, I still think there will be a requirement for cash. If you disagree, try and find a tradesman (plumber, builder, electrician, etc.) who deals exclusively in electronic payments and you’ll get my point.

At the other end of the spectrum, virtual currencies don’t get a mention. My view is that virtual currencies inside websites such as Facebook and especially online games will become huge. At the moment Visa Inc is dealing with these new payment companies by buying them outright.

I’m being negative, however the document does pull together huge topics such as social media, mobile, personal identities, Big Data, invisible payments and cash into a short, clear and concise conversation starter.

And this is where the document falls apart. Visa want to discuss the document by email. That’s 10 years ago, not 2011. In 2011 we expect at the very least a web forum to discuss the chapters in the document with industry peers. In 2001 a conversation was between 2-5 people. In 2011 a conversation is with hundreds or thousands. Emailing a mailbox called futurevision@visa.com doesn’t entice an open coversation. In 2011 we expect to discuss these matters with thinkers/ people with faces — not a faceless corporate mailbox.

Away on Thursday and Friday


This Thursday and Friday I’m in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, with all the Account Managers and sales people from Endava for a Customer Facing Unit conference. We’ll discuss the latest trends and industry observations, best practices (internally & externally), all with the aim of collaboration between clients, and how to help them in their businesses.

It’s interesting that these conferences are almost always held in Eastern Europe. There are several reasons why – the cost including flights is the same as using a London hotel; getting out of the office usually helps creative thinking; and connecting our global offices where we do most of our ‘delivery’ can only be a good thing.

The key points for this conference from my point of view are as follows:

  • The future of System Integrators (aka “IT services” in 21st century language) are to add value. The future is to provide domain expertise and help propel our clients forward. Not just answering our clients’ current needs but helping them with their future roadmap.
  • Our clients need to collaborate with one another. They have something in common – Endava, and most can work in conjunction with each other rather than compete. This might be working practices. It might be efficiencies learned through one client and able to be transferred to another.
  • Working with product vendors more, mainly because product vendors [unsuccessfully] try to fit their products into an organisation (and often through the wrong route) rather than understanding a client’s requirements and then seeing if their product will help.