Archive for June, 2009

Margin in Voice and data

I’ve been to a few exhibitions this year and although they have still been busy, they haven’t been as busy as their respective events last year. Events such as Internet World and the IPTV forum proved extremely popular last year, and in this economic climate, I guess it is only natural that there were cut backs in the number of attendees. From my perspective, it’s hard to justify spending a whole day out of the office traipsing from stand to stand to listen to numerous pitches about services that seem to do everything and nothing at the same time.

However, yesterday was different. I haven’t been to a ‘Margin in Voice and Data‘ expo before, but registered to attend a few months ago. However, shortly after registering, I received notice from them that due to economic pressures, they were changing the format of the expo to an invite only affair, and that I should wait patiently to receive my invite. Admittedly I thought this to be a clever ploy, and assumed that they would go ahead and invite everyone who showed an interest. And when I received my invite, I was less than shocked.

I traipsed to Twickenham yesterday morning, to see a lot fewer numbers than I expected, but right from the onset, everyone was very sociable and happy to talk about the challenges they were facing currently, and how they were pulling themselves out of it. The big boys from Opal to BT Wholesale were present. However, the real value to be had was in talking to smaller resellers who maybe didn’t trust those with big shiny stands who talked a lot, but hadn’t delivered for them in the past. This element has been missing from previous events I have been too. And it made it so much more worthwhile. I was put directly in front of prospective clients, and understanding their current issues. I suggest other event organisers take note as the intimate nature of this made this event so much more relevant, and resulted in both myself and my colleague getting extremely well qualified leads to work on.

The shift in working practices

This is a guest post by one of my colleagues Max Stoner.

The rigid 9-5 structure that underpins Britain’s working week is something we’ve probably all questioned from time to time. In truth for most of us this has manifested itself in more of a meek whine or lament than an outright challenge to it, but even  louder and more boisterous voices of  discontent have often been undermined by a lack of belief; not necessarily in their our own powers to change, but in the working week’s capacity for significant change.

Until now that is…As currently the very structure and philosophy of our working week is under greater threat than at any other point in recent times. And if for a second you’re thinking of some recalcitrant movement; all dreadlocks and rotests and other musty wafts of non –conformity, then think again..

Because the role of agent provocateur in this attack on the working week, is in fact fulfilled by government backed initiative WorkWise UK. The organisation comes armed with fairly aggressive rhetoric about “consigning the working week to a thing of the past” and bringing about “change similar to the industrial revolution”. This no doubt conveys a pretty radical impression; although one somewhat tempered by closer inspection of their aims and principles.

In brief their raison d’être Is simply “to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices”, which in actuality would equate to a shift towards more flexible working practices, such as an increase in remote working and greater flexibility over working hours. Their cumulative and ultimate goal; to “have 50% of the UK population working mainly in their own home, or in different places using home as a base within 5 years”

In many respects then their intention is not so much to dismantle the structures of our working week but rather to alleviate the undesirable rigidity that has plagued it for so long. Sort of like administering a very old, arthritic man with a super strength, and potentially destabilising shot of cod liver oil.

But why do we need change in the first place? Well to begin with let’s look at the way many of us begin our working day, with that poor excuse for travel we call the ‘commute’.

I accept that these vary in their nature, for many of us they take place in the squashed, cramped, antisocial and sweaty confines of our nation’s fine trains, tubes or buses. For others perhaps within the comfort of their own vehicle: albeit one stalled along a stretch of polluting, noisy and congested motorway that pulsates with palpable tension and collective raised blood pressure.

As well as being about as conducive to relaxation as holidaying in Baghdad, the commute also places stress on our roads and public transport infrastructure, and contributes significantly to environmental damage, because “a car travelling at crawling speed generates over 500g/km of carbon dioxide as opposed to 175g/km it would generate at 100 kph a hour”.

Furthermore recent sociological research seems to indicate that our work-life balance is out of kilter. The majority of people questioned in the 2008 Work and Family Life Report claimed “work dominated their lives, and family life suffered as a result”. The report also concluded that “working long hours led to increased levels of stress, resulting in irritability, exhaustion and depression”.

And if you’re not one for sentiment in respect to the social side effects of British working life, then take note that last year the CBI calculated over £5 billion was lost as a result of mental health and stress related illnesses. And the ramifications this has on our health and welfare sectors, one can only assume to be detrimental.

Workwise UK seeks to paint a picture of our traditional working week as archaic; a moribund relic, ill-suited to the demands of a complex and diverse 21c, wheezing and coughing it’s last polluting breaths of life towards it’s death bed.

Whether we agree with this diagnosis or not, clearly ways and means for us to function in a smarter more adaptable manner, and help reduce the ill effects of work on our nation’s society, health, economy and environment is not just desirable, but commonsensical.

Of course that’s not to say that a shift towards flexible working comes without it’s own caveats. Logistical and practical pitfalls are a plenty and in my own humble opinion success will rely on changing working culture and psychology as much as any legislative measures. But with government schemes like Work Wise, with the proliferation of flexible working over the last decade*, and with government legislation passed earlier this month; giving employees with children under the age of 16 legal  right to request flexible working; what we should expect is for flexible working to start to emerge as more of a concrete fixture across Britain’s working landscape.

While Workwise and other government initiatives are hoping to engineer this change, the principle catalyst in flexible working becoming viable, is technology, as Workwise chief exec Phil Flaxton acknowledges “technology is the enabler here”.

And if technology enables then technology companies are set to profit. The company I work for Fluidata; provides businesses with the internet, and opportunity in this sector is plentiful.

For any employee to work from home or ‘hotdesk’ a working internet connection is almost a prerequisite these days, and while in some cases existing home user connections can be harnessed for these purposes, the increase in demand of the connection will call for,  in others, something more reliable and business orientated. Remote workers also have a causative effect on the wider connectivity requirements of businesses. For example secure communication between sites will need to be achieved via some kind of wide area network, while head office sites will likely require more robust and reliable connections to cope with the influxes of incoming traffic.

Another potential benefactor of smarter working practices, and of a more general shift towards green friendly business practices, is video conference technology. With the ability to transmit real-time and life size video, this technology reduces work related travel, and as consequence saves on time, money and carbon emissions. Although this technology can be deployed over ISDN channels, in many cases the favoured method of deployment is over the internet. Once more, consideration of what kind of internet connection is required here, with low contented, symmetrical and reliable solutions most suited for the technologies usage requirements and mission critical nature.

With such developments likely to force buyers to pay greater diligence towards the finer points of contention, uptime guarantees and resilience, it’s probable that ISP’s who not only provide such solutions, but who also sell on delivery and reliability over headline speeds, will prove to be the more successful.

Flexible, innovative services, and crucially ones tailored towards flexible working should be particularly popular with disgruntled IT managers wanting to ease logistical headaches.

Discussing the contents of this article with my own boss (Fluidata MD, Piers Daniell) was rather illuminating. While not enamored by my cheeky suggestions of 3 pm Friday finishes, and appalled by office murmurings of ‘duvet days’ he clearly sees not only the business opportunities in such schemes but also the need for innovation and adaptation in our current working climate.

“There is no reason that the way we currently work is the right way, businesses can no longer assume that old fixed corporate practices and methods will be successful. Change and disruption can invoke fear, but in times that are fast looking unprecedented in an economic, political and social sense, more than ever companies need to not only ride with change, but to consciously provoke change and disruption through new technologies, practices and methods of working”

Have we seen the death of the ISP?

The good old days

The good old days

I must admit, the telecomms sector is a fascinating sector to be involved in. Always changing, always evolving, always innovating. The market is almost unrecognisable to 8 years ago, when BT ruled the roost, and we were all left to pick up their scraps. However, the rise of LLU networks has really provided end users with a plethora of choice in terms of obtaining a service that is more suited to their needs. Now one can choose from a range of acronym-ed services to help them support their business. And that is exactly what these services are doing. With the increased pace traditional businesses have moved to obtain a presence on the web, it has become more and more important for them to assess their WAN, starting at the provision of bandwidth. This means agreeing SLA’s with suppliers, obtaining redundant links and having dedicated support lines to access, as well as other key issues. And service providers have responded. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of traditional ISP’s not only providing connectivity, but also diversifying into providing value-add through applications such as AV software, bandwidth optimisation modules and relevant hardware. But even more importantly, we’ve seen a rise in smaller ISP’s taking multiple feeds from multiple networks to increase their offering to their client base and substantiate upon their skill set.

Within the SME market, this was always going to happen, as clients tend to be more loyal to suppliers and consultants who have intimate knowledge of their business practices. However, within the Mid Market and Enterprise sectors, there was still a lot of scepticism around ‘placing all your eggs in one basket’. This is starting to change. With the rise of converged communications, larger companies especially are realising that placing their business with one supplier has a number of benefits that may outweigh the negatives. These suppliers however do not just provide their own solutions. Through a range of partnerships and arrangements with companies who recently may have been deemed as competitors, they have been able to penetrate their market with a unified solution that has a lot more credence than any offering they may have had previously. Take our Advance solutions. One IP range. One router. Two underlying networks. Should one of the networks fail, then traffic is seamlessley routed via the redundant network. Great for business critical applications. Great for the end user.

The rise of the VNO; who has multiple feeds from multiple carriers, has a VOIP offering through an arrangement with a SIP provider, who can offer video conferencing through one it’s partners and privatise a network by offering CPE through a trusted vendor, is becoming a lot more attractive. The key to this is the consultation that happens prior to any agreement. And this is key. In a market where consultants have always had a negative reputation, it’s interesting to see the role they are playing in driving convergence. Because of their expanding product suites, consultants now have a wide range of themes to discuss with their prospects, and more importantly, a wider range of solutions to offer them.

We’ve come a long way since the start of the noughties. And with issues surrounding convergence and virtualisation still unresolved, have a long way to go. To throw my 2pence into the mix, I still think that there is a lot of mileage yet, as ISP’s start to turn into utilities companies through their offering’s and pricing structures. So much to look forward to!

Can we take lessons from the Apprentice?

I’ve missed a lot of this series of the Apprentice, however last night I finally sat down to watch what many deem to be the hardest task of each series – the interview. The militant nature of the interviews reminded me of some of the worse ones I’ve had to endure. Having an interviewer tell me that at the age of 25, I had achieved nothing with my life hurt. However, my dad alwyas used to say to me that a man is not defined by the setbacks he experiences, but how he deals with them.

The one quality that all the candidates seem to share is that they are all extremely self confident about their abilities. And this needs to be the case in any interview. If you are going to sell yourself to a potential employer you need to be completely confident in the skills that you can bring to the table. There is absolutely no point in being modest about yourself. No employer wants an average employee. However, in my experience, you should never gloss over your flaws. If someone is highlighting a mistake, admit it. Don’t try and blag. I remember when I was younger having an interview with an a company who sold double glazing. I was so desperate for the job that I told them I had sold windows previously. I got the job, but was very quickly found out and promptly humiliated. The same happened to Yasmina, who completely fell apart once her business acumen was exposed.  In my experience, a candidate or even just a human being, who is able to admit to their flaws, learn to overcome them and then rise above them, presents themselves as a stronger and more rounded individual than someone who seems to be the perfect candidate. This is because you know what to expect with the ‘warts and all’ character, whilst you are always waiting for the veil to slip with the perfect character.

It was also quite admirable how none of the candidates lost their bottle in any of the interviews. Although this was the final series and you’d expect candidates of this quality to give polished interviews, they were really tested. In that environment, it is hard not to take some of the critiscim personally. For me, that quality, combined with the propensity to learn from an experience can really shape a person.

Lastly, who do I think is going to win? It’s got to be Kate. Who did I hope to win? Debra. I think Sir Alan didn’t pick her purely because he realised he had met his match!


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