Tag Archives: Romania

How industries are blurring together

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I’ve been doing lots of travelling recently – visiting our delivery centre in Romania four weeks ago with a potential client, then in New York for a keynote speech at Brand Innovators, then back to Romania last week with a new commercial partner.

During the first visit to Romania we showed the potential client some of the e-commerce work we are doing with multivariate testing using Sitecore. It’s really impressive stuff, and I was preaching A/B testing and multivariate testing a couple of years ago, saying it will be the next big thing. I was a year early, because now many of our clients are adopting it, testing colours, images, text and forms as easily as changing content.

We are also pushing multivariate testing on mobile devices. I don’t see why people treat mobile, web or even TV any differently as digital output devices, however many of our clients have mobile teams, so we need to still need to treat each output differently to match these customers’ organisations. Again, in my opinion multivariate testing, user testing, rendering speed, and so on, are just as important across devices.

New York was an interesting visit too. My main focus was a client workshop with a key topic around “With sites like Facebook, why do we still create .com websites? Discuss.” If you want to know the outcome, give me a call. Another key focus of the visit was giving the keynote speech at Brand Innovators Social Media, (disclaimer: Endava are sponsoring the next few Brand Innovator events).

I finally got to meet Mark Bonchek. Mark spoke at a previous Brand Innovators’ event where one of our key clients heard him, and I’ve read a number of his articles on the Harvard Business Review. It was a real pleasure to have dinner with Mark on the evening before the event. We have shared views around organisational structure (that organisational hierarchy doesn’t quite work the same as it did 150 years ago) and there were some lively debates around the table.

And then last week I was back to Romania again. The focus last week was more around the media clients, and we showed some of the new projects we’ve been working on in the sector. It’s very impressive stuff – especially around TV and mobile apps.

It brought home how complex the technology landscape has become. For a media company to create a digital proposition, there are so many output channels to consider. Ten years ago they would have had a linear transmission and maybe sell DVDs or video tapes. Now it’s the linear channel with iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, web, mobile web, digital TV applications, and the list keeps growing.

Spending long hours (aided by the odd beer or two) with various clients also showed how whole industries are becoming blurred – retailers want to become media broadcasters and media broadcasters want to become top e-commerce sites. Broadcasters are buying telcos. Telcos are buying TV broadcasters. Like so many industries, media is going through a fast, transformational change – and digital is both the enabler and delivery channel.

10 years since joining

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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.

Away on Thursday and Friday

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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.

 

Akamai’s State of the Internet

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A couple of weeks ago Akamai published a quarterly update to their ‘State of the Internet‘ report.

For those of you unfamiliar with Akamai, they have a network of servers that serve most of the content that you consume on the Internet – for instance the BBC doesn’t have thousands of servers providing the BBC website and iPlayer – they outsource the delivery of the web pages and video to Akamai. By ‘outsourcing’ the delivery, website speed increases significantly and the website can become less vulnerable to security attempts.

The report usually has an unhealthy technical bias towards the Internet. Yes, we may all need want to know how many more people came online in a quarter, but month after month it can become a little dull.

This quarter’s report has a number of gems tucked away beneath the surface:

  1. Akamai is now serving so many mobile phones, that from the next quarter they will start separating the mobile data reports from the fixed line data. This is a significant move in the industry – a real recognition that the mobile era has fully come of age.
  2. Global mobile network speeds range from 100Kbps to 3.2Mbps. 10 years ago geeks were at home unpacking our their 56k modems! Now, as a global range, the minimum speed of handsets browsing the web is twice that speed. There are homes in the UK that are unable to access more than 1Mb connections – with mobile networks delivering 3 times that speed.
  3. The countries with the highest number of IP addresses per capita (basically, everything connected to the Internet needs an IP address) are Norway, Finland and Sweden with 0.49, 0.44 and 0.43 respectively. All of the top 6 countries have a ratio of 0.4 or higher. That’s 4 IP addresses per every person in the country. The¬†Scandinavian¬†countries are higher undoubtedly through their mobile handsets – many of these countries have more than one mobile handset per person.¬†
  4. In terms of Global Connection Speeds, the highest European country is Romania (which comes fourth globally, behind South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan), with an average connection of 7.2Mbps. To put this into perspective, the US has an average connection speed of 3.8Mbps. (Shameless plug: this is ideal for our near shore development and managed services teams in Romania!).

If you have a spare 30 minutes on the tube over the next week, I’d recommend you download it here (you need to supply and then validate your email address first).

Email Away

I’ve just came back from a business trip to Cluj in Romania where our development and test teams are located. Whilst away, two very unrelated things struck me:

The first was the mild interest in how a city in Romania can become such a centre of excellence in the technology field, which in turn can build an airport and fill WizzAir flights to their brim every day of the week. The airport was busy even at some unearthly hour this morning with English, American and many European languages. The airport has expanded considerably in the last 12 months due to the amount of business going on in the city. Judging by the destinations of the flights from Luton airport each morning, this seems to be happening all over Europe.

The second point, and I did warn that this was unrelated, was how I mainly switched to using my phone for email – not exactly unusual you might think – isn’t this a common practice? Exactly, so why did none of the email newsletters that I subscribe to, render on my phone? All of the emails thought that my email client was capable of rendering an HTML version of the newsletter, so my Nokia was showing all kinds of markup, and the content was illegible. Maybe this was made worse because my phone will only collect the first few kb of each email. I don’t particularly care… it shouldn’t be something I need to think about.

It probably feels like a step backwards to produce text based emails, but considering the amount of people who use BlackBerrys (BlackBerries?) and similar phones  for both work and personal communication nowadays, isn’t it obvious?