IT360: Web 2.0 – Now and its future for business

Mike Fox of Brightlights, a recruiter serving small and medium-sized software companies, is giving a talk on Web 2.0 and business; I started out unsure of why a recruiter is talking to us about Web 2.0, and ended up pretty much of the same mind.

He started with some very basic concepts, like the original Web 2.0 meme map and the themes it contains, and discussed some well-known (and well-worn) Web 2.0 case studies, such as Proctor&Gamble’s crowdsourcing of research, and Barack Obama’s online campaign presence. He asked questions like "has anyone heard of the $100 laptop?", "have you ever seen Slideshare?" and "has anyone heard of the ‘long tail’?", which I think you’d have to have been living under a rock not to know about, but maybe I’ve been drinking too much of the Koolaid.

He moved on to talk about Web 2.0 in the recruiting world, including the use of information aggregation tools such as ZoomInfo. He spent some time talking about using LinkedIn as both a recruiting tool and a job search tool, although I tend to think that this audience is probably pretty aware of what LinkedIn does. He mentioned some other recruitment-focused search sites like Jigsaw, and then stepped us through how to use Google Advanced Search for finding more information about companies and individuals — again, a bit basic, particularly (I think) for this audience.

He went through how to apply Web 2.0 thinking to business, based on the different goals and expectations for different generations of workers. He’s definitely been reading too much Tapscott. He did look at how to apply Web 2.0 to some fundamentals of adding value to a business, such as SaaS as both a cost reduction technique and a channel for offering products to customers.

He considers sending a monthly PDF newsletter by email and using Skype for long distance to be part of how he incorporates Web 2.0 into his business, which is a bit sad, although he does use a SaaS recruitment management system. There’s so much more that could be done with Web 2.0 in recruitment for a small recruiter like him: collaboration on resumes and job postings via Google Docs; blogging to show thought leadership in recruitment and engage the audience instead of a static monthly newsletter in PDF; publishing job postings listed on his site via RSS; hosting a discussion forum for job applicants.

That’s it for my coverage of IT360; I have to get back to some real work for the rest of the day. The Google talk was definitely the highlight for me, although I did really enjoy making the Director General of Industry Canada squirm yesterday, too.

IT360: Matthew Glotzbach, Google Enterprise

I’m at the IT360 for a couple of hours this morning, mostly to hear Matthew Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise. It’s a sad commentary on the culture of Canadian IT conferences shows that this session is entitled "Meet Matthew Glotzbach of Google" in the conference guide, as if he doesn’t need to actually talk about anything, just show up here in the frozen north — we need to work on that "we’re not worthy" attitude. 🙂

Google’s Enterprise division includes, as you might expect, search applications such as site search and dedicated search appliances, but also includes Google Apps which many of us now use for hosting email, calendaring and document collaboration functions.

Glotzbach’s actual presentation title is "Head in the Clouds", referring to cloud computing, or more properly in this context, software as a service. He made an analogy between SaaS applications and electricity, referencing Nicholas Carr’s book The Big Switch, talking about the shift from each factory generating its own power to the centralized generation of electricity that is now sold as a service on the power grid. Just as it took a cultural shift to move from each company having their own power generation facilities (and a VP of electricity who was intent on defending his turf), we’re now undergoing a cultural shift to move from each company managing all of their own IT services to using best-of-breed services at a much lower cost over the internet.

He discussed five things that cloud computing has given us:

  1. Democratization of information, giving anyone the chance to have their say in some way, from Wikipedia to Twitter to blogs. This is dependent upon and facilitated by standards, particularly simple, easy-to-use standards like RSS; in fact, all public APIs for Google Apps are RSS-based. What IT can learn from this is to keep things simple, something that enterprise IT is not really known for. Cloud computing also allows for a much freer exchange of information between people who don’t speak the same language, through real-time translation capabilities that aren’t feasible on a desktop platform: for example, add en2zh ([email protected]) to your Google group chat so that you can have a text chat with someone with one of you typing in English and the other in Mandarin Chinese.
  2. Economics of the new information supply chain. Cloud computing fundamentally changes the economics of enterprise IT: the massive scale of cloud-based storage (e.g., Google Apps, Amazon S3) and computing (e.g., Amazon EC2) drives down the cost so much that it’s almost ridiculous not to consider using some of that capacity for enterprise functionality. Of course, we’ve been seeing this manifested in consumer applications for a couple of years now, with practically unlimited storage offered in online email and photo storage applications, but more companies need to start making this part of their enterprise strategy to reduce costs on systems that are essential but not a competitive differentiator.
  3. Democratization of capabilities, allowing a developing nation to compete with a developed country, or a small business to compete with a major corporation, since they all have access to the same type of IT-related functionality through the cloud. In fact, those without legacy infrastructure are sometimes in a better position since they can start with a clean slate of new technology and become innovative collaborators. It’s also possible for any company, no matter how small, to get the necessary Googlejuice for a high ranking in search results if they have quality, targeted information on their site — as the cartoon says, on the internet no one knows you’re a dog.
  4. Consumer-driven innovation will set the pace, and will drive IT. The consumer market is much more Darwinian in nature: consumers have more choices, and are notoriously fast to switch to another vendor. Businesses tend not to do this because of the high costs involved in both the selection process and in switching between vendors; I’m not sure that Glotzbach is giving enough weight to the costs of switching corporate applications, since he seems to indicate that companies may adopt more of a consumer-like fickleness in their vendor relationships. As more companies adopted more cloud computing, that will likely change as it becomes easier to switch providers.
  5. Barriers to adoption of cloud computing are falling away. The main challenges have been connectivity, security, offline access, reliability and user experience; all of these have either been fully addressed or are in the process of being addressed. My biggest issue is still connectivity/offline access (which are really two sides of the same coin) such that I use a lot of desktop applications so that I can work on planes, in hotels with flaky access, or at the Toronto convention centre that I’m at today. He had some interesting stats on security: 60% of corporate data resides on desktop and laptop computers, and 1 in 10 laptops are stolen within 12 months of purchase — the FBI lost 160 laptops in the last 44 months — such that corporate security professionals consider laptops to be one of the biggest security risks. In other words, the data is probably safer in the cloud than it is on corporate laptops.

He finished up with a slide showing a list of well-known companies, all of which use Google Apps; alarmingly, I heard someone behind me say "just show me one Canadian company doing that". I’m not sure if that is an indication of the old-school nature of this conference’s attendees, or of Canadian IT businesspeople in general.

Glotzbach’s closing thoughts:

  • On-premise software is not going away
  • Most of the interesting innovation in software and technology over the next decade will be "in the cloud"
  • Market will have lots of competitors
  • Your new employees are the cloud generation, both welcoming and expecting that some big part of their social graph lives in the cloud
  • We (Google and other cloud providers) need to earn your trust.

Great presentation, and well worth braving the pouring rain to come out this morning.

IT360: Canada’s Networked Economy

Keith Parsonage, Director General of Industry Canada, gave a presentation this afternoon on the way ahead in Canada’s networked economy. A big part of this was stats and charts about mobile and internet usage, including the amazing figure that the world subscriber market for mobile phones is more than 3 billion people.

Canada has one of the highest rates of broadband penetration in the world, more than 70% even in rural areas, and over 90% in urban areas. We spend a lot of time online each month (especially in the winter), and Parsonage cracked a joke about that, wondering how much of that people are doing at work, seeming to ignore the fact that there are valid business reasons for using the internet at work. However, as he moves on, he talked about how ICT (information and communication technology) encourages our productivity, and we need to continue to invest in ICT in order to stay productive and competitive as a country.

Canada is home to world leaders in areas from communications (RIM) to computer animation (Alias, now part of Autodesk), but in spite of the growing demand for technically-trained people in the workforce, we’re seeing huge declines in undergraduate enrolment in IT-related degrees.

The Canadian government has had (and still has) a number of programs for promoting productivity and innovation in the ICT sector, and providing better access to information for more households and schools with 100% of our public schools and libraries connected to the internet.

Ultimately, this was a scripted, rehearsed speech that contained some interesting statistics about our ICT sector and Canadians’ use of technology, but came off feeling a bit like political propaganda. He also didn’t address two of the major impediments to innovation in our current networked economy: the excessively high price of wireless in Canada, where we pay more per GB (many times more) than just about any other country; and net neutrality, which is being threatened by the traffic throttling practices of Bell and Rogers, the duopoly that has their hands around the throats of the last mile of broadband as delivered to most Canadian homes and businesses. When I asked what Industry Canada is doing to address those particular issues, Parsonage gave (as expected) a bureaucratic response that didn’t answer the question in any way, in spite of his comment during his presentation that we need the ability to connect at broadband speeds in order to enhance competitiveness. Needless to say, the Q&A was cut off immediately after my question.

IT360: Social Networking for Business

I’m dropping in on a few sessions at the IT360 conference being held in Toronto this week — nice to be able to walk a conference for a change — and attended John Reid of CATA Alliance talking about the value of social networking for business. He’s a stand-in-the-audience sort of guy, and is standing about 4 feet from me, so I’m here for the duration. 🙂

He started with some pretty mainstream stats and information about social networks, such as a new blog being created every 2 seconds, then moved on to discuss the degree of risk that comes from publication and dissemination of information, starting with a bit of an obscure story about being threatened with a lawsuit for some information that he distributed in a spammy sort of fax operation several years ago up to how some companies are starting to ban Facebook access from inside the firewall.

He’s doing the presentation almost completely with audience participation; having first done an audience poll on whether we fell that social networks had high, medium or low value for business, he’s selecting people from each of the respondent categories to say why they feel the way that they do about social networking. We’re hearing about how social networks can be used to get closer to your customer, although this is dependent on the industry, the target audience and the company’s corporate culture. There’s a lot of old-school types in the audience, those who raised their hand for "low/no value"; more than one person said that they use no social networks at all, and these were people who appear to be considerably younger than me. One of them even referred to "this blogging thing" in a somewhat derisive tone. This is not, as Don Tapscott proposes, an issue of age; it’s an issue of culture and position. In fact, the most vocal supporter of social networking from the audience declared himself to be 59. There are a lot of self-declared skeptics in the audience who say that they’re going to wait and see what the value is; one person said that he could spend the 8-10 hours per week that he believes is necessary to maintain a Facebook presence; he has 70 contacts on LinkedIn but it’s never really come to anything; and he wonders what happens to all those blogs that have a lot of effort put into them but no one reads them. Get real: if you put effort into blogging about something that’s of interest to someone and put some effort into being a good citizen in the blogosphere, people will read it. This blog is proof.

The business owners who are speaking up really seem to be in command-and-control mode: one stated that they’re blocking Facebook because they’re concerned that employees will put confidential information on it; doesn’t he know that if he hires untrustworthy people, they’ll do that from their home computer, so that blocking Facebook at work doesn’t solve that problem? He also said that people will spend too much time on sites like this if they’re allowed to do so, but you have to consider that people do have to take breaks sometimes, and allowing them to read their personal email or check Facebook while they’re on a break is no different than allowing them to make a personal phone call on their break. If you have sufficient technology to block specific sites, then you likely have the ability to monitor the usage and raise flags if people appear to be abusing the privilege rather than just blocking things outright.

Keith Parsonage from Industry Canada (who is speaking later today) popped up and admitted that he can’t access Facebook or a personal email service like Gmail from his office, but that the federal government is on a campaign to hire young people. This is definitely going to come back and bite them, since people who expect to be able to access sites like Facebook and Gmail while on their break at work aren’t going to be happy in an old-school corporate environment where they’re treated like irresponsible and unprofessional children.

Reid is really trying to get to the key points of how to incorporate social networking into business in terms of outward-facing communications, such as blogs; it’s unfortunate that this turned into too much of a discussion of who does and doesn’t use Facebook, and whether they’re allowed to do so at work.

Unfortunately, there’s no free wifi at the convention centre; in fact, the only available wifi is that geared for exhibitors and priced at an extortionate $395 for access for a single computer. I grabbed a couple of 30-minutes online passes in the press room, but I’m tempted to boycott it just so that MTCC doesn’t get the conference organizer’s money for this.

MTCC wifi ripoff

Aside from the really poorly scaled logo graphic at the top that looks all squished, does anyone see anything wrong with this website that pops up when I try to access the wifi at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre?

That’s right, $395 for access for a single computer. No, there’s no missing period in that number, it’s three hundred and ninety-five dollars. I realize that this is targeted at exhibitors, but seriously, this is flat-out extortion.

Note to anyone attending or exhibiting at a conference at MTCC: you’re in range of Toronto Hydro’s One Zone wifi, which is $10/day.