What if the box changes?

THE BOX

The conversation that sparked this was about Google Drive and how it syncs back to a desktop PC. I’ve always been impressed with Google’s sync tools, they have worked flawlessly for me for years, both with Outlook and Drive. What was new to me was that Google Drive, as with the Outlook sync tool for Google Mail uses tags, not folders. As a point of interest, I’ve long since stopped using Outlook, but the sync tool allowed me to make that transition naturally over a couple of months.

The problem that was the subject of the conversation was that a round trip of syncing a Google Drive folder from a PC to Drive and then downloading again to a freshly installed PC left some items not where the user expected them to be. The root cause appears to be the fact that although Drive presents files in folders, the folder names are in fact just tags, as you might expect from a company such as Google, the question is: why make the tags into pseudo folders? The answer to the question seems to be that folders are the box!

Let me just explain what I mean. We’re told to think outside the box, to be creative, to envisage things that aren’t normally done, or aren’t yet done. You would think that in the world of IT this would be the norm, not the exception. But, the IT business, just like every other business has vested interests in keeping you purchasing their products. The IBM PC was ground breaking, but would you have thought that nearly 37 years later we’d still be using the same file storage concept? The physical analogy of a file cabinet with folders is still at the heart of our PC file system. The PC has become so ubiquitous that it has actually begun to stifle innovation, it has become the box.

But what if the box changes? What if something else comes along to challenge that ubiquity? That happened with two things: the internet and the smartphone. The first made the stand alone PC a thing of the past and the second allowed new, innovative ways of working. Now we live in a world of tags or #hashtags. It seems absurd that we should only be able to classify a file as one thing rather than tagging it with all the relevant information.

As time has gone on I’ve learned with email to tag and search, not file. I’m beginning to do the same with files. The advent of internet storage and the myriad of devices that can connect to and work with those files means that the PC way of doing things is the anachronism, the constraint, the box.

As we consider our options for business IT we need not only to think outside the box, but we need to consider how the box is changing. IT doesn’t and shouldn’t stand still – it should grow and change, and as business users we should embrace this change – consumers certainly are! We need to be thinkers, watchers, embracers of change. One of the things that impresses me about Google as a company, and its products is that they will try new ideas, sometimes for a significant period of time, but, if it doesn’t work, or technology moves past it, they will drop the product and move on (anyone remember Google Reader?). This is how it should be.

As we move more and more to an online world, where our business and personal technology assets are separate from the tools used to access them we should embrace the changing box. Can you see a business user without a full Windows PC? Would you have thought that possible 10 years ago?

Getting back to the original conversation – it was the old fashioned file storage system on the PC that was the fly in the ointment. If all the files had been stored in the cloud and nowhere else the problem wouldn’t have arisen. If cloud tools had been used to access all the files, the problem wouldn’t have arisen. Often it’s the familiar that keeps us from moving to a better way of doing things. As business users it makes sense to ask ourselves if the box has changed from the one we are familiar with, and to ask how we will embrace the new.

 

If you’re interested to know more about Google for Work, take a look at my Google for Work page.

Google for Work – The Apps Show

Google for Work YouTube playlist

Whether you’re exploring the possibilities or have already started using Google for Work this playlist will help you to understand what Google for Work can do. One of the benefits of working in the cloud is the simple scalability, so it’s easy to get started with one or two users for a new business, while scaling effortlessly to the enterprise. Costs are low for the SME, and productivity is high, but a few lessons in what is possible always helps.

If you’re still not sure what Google for Work is, or how it might be a better solution for your business then take a look at some testimonials.

Ubiquity – and the battle for the desktop

UBIQUITY

The beginning of the PC era is shrouded in urban legend, but some bits of the story are clear. IBM were the company who had the vision to see the need for a personal computing device and who had the confidence to make the design open and expandable. Bill Gates was the opportunist who tied the sale of his operating system to the sale of each PC, thus ensuring not only ubiquity, but also monopoly. IBM offered expansion, Microsoft enforced restriction. That restriction ended up being a ‘good thing’ in that it allowed a common platform for the development of applications and ultimately a widespread graphical environment where coders could thrive in producing business solutions.

With the advent of the internet that monopoly has disappeared and with the advent of mobile computing devices the ubiquity of the monolithic desktop operating system as become eroded. Outside of the workspace how often do you turn to a PC with a separate screen and keyboard?

So, where will the desktop be in 10 years’ time? In terms of productivity there will always be a need for a good size screen, a decent keyboard, and enough processing power to drive it all. Where our applications and data reside is a different matter. Part of the internet and device revolution has been the gradual migration of our data to the cloud, and the separation of the application from the operating system. The applications we use on smaller devices are generally just a web based front end to something that is cloud based. The graphic at the top of this post was produced using Canva – an entirely web based graphics application. I edit documents, calculate with spreadsheets, view my images all online – the device is only a window to this cloud based world. It doesn’t really matter if that window is a Windows PC or something else.

The battle for ubiquity has shifted – it can no longer be about tying end users to a monolithic operating system – that horse has bolted. The battle now is for eco-systems – the whole package, and I believe that this time ‘open and expandable’ will win. In order to survive the next decade IT providers will have to be flexible, adaptable and willing to work on the platforms that end users choose, they can no longer impose. And this is making its presence felt in the workplace. Most companies already have some cloud related applications – this will only accelerate. Once the majority of line of business applications are in the cloud then the choice of device used to access that is open. Windows, OSX, Chrome, Linux all will do the job – or what about Android or iOS on a desktop size screen? Many end users are now more familiar with iOS and Android than they are with Windows. There are already stories of a desktop port of Android coming along.

IT strategy for the business user requires a continued long hard look into the future. What will be the best information appliance for your staff next year, in five years’ time, a decade from now? It will certainly be cheaper, more power efficient, and cloud connected, but I would be surprised if it ran Windows (for clarification, I am typing this on a full size keyboard on a Windows 10 PC). I, for now, am putting my eggs in the Google Apps for Work eco-system. It works brilliantly across platforms, scales well from startup to enterprise and has a surprising amount of control for the admin. It integrates flawlessly with Android and allows me to take my business on the road, wherever that may be.

If you’re interested to know more take a look at my Google for Work page.

Blockchain and Business – Time to start reading!

Blockch

Mention the term blockchain in IT circles and you may still come up with blank looks. Perhaps it’s the bitcoin background or the faint whiff of hacking that comes with non government sanctioned cryptography, but blockchain doesn’t seem to have hit the coal face of business computing in a meaningful way yet. But, think back a generation and the whole distributed network concept was out of reach of the average person, now we browse, communicate and transact over the ether from pocketable devices.

There are some aspects of IT that remain monolithic: banking and other sectors that hold personal, private, big data still remain as non distributed (in the internet sense) single repositories of information and trust. It is that trust aspect that enforces the monolithic nature of the data – you’ve got to place your data with someone or some organisation whom you trust completely.

But what if trust could be distributed? What if we could verify authenticity of data outside of those monolithic institutions? Wouldn’t that truly revolutionise our data storage and transactions? Blockchain is the technology that will allow this to happen. It already underpins bitcoin, allowing for a distributed trust mechanism for this digital currency.

The major banks and technology companies are already actively looking at what blockchain can do for them. For those of us involved in IT, particularly in consulting to business, now is the time to start reading up on this technology. The distribution of trust is coming our way, and understanding it now will help us advise our business clients on what it will mean for them.

A Strategist’s Guide to Blockchain

BBC – Blockchain Tech and Business

Wired – The Renaissance of Money

Recode – What is Blockchain and why should you care?

Welcome to 2016

2016
2016

Welcome to 2016, the year after the Back to the Future future. What’s in it for business IT? What are the trends and issues that we are facing, what are the benefits brought by the latest technology?

I’m still firmly convinced that the migration to the cloud will continue. For the startup it’s the quickest way to corporate quality tools for your business – only need a couple of email addresses, then why pay for a server that will handle hundreds? Use a cloud provider that scales all the way up but only charges for what you use. Online collaboration is becoming the norm, cloud computing allows this to come to the fore – use Google Hangouts or Skype to make that transatlantic call – or a local one.

Storage is still the weak point of cloud computing – it’s a matter of how fast you can get that information up there, or back down. One option is to use online tools to create those documents, then nothing needs to be downloaded. With larger files, such as images or video, then it may be that a local cached storage device will give you the best of both worlds. Remember that cloud providers have a much better chance of keeping your data safe than you do.

At the other end of the scale cloud computing can provide cost and management savings by doing away with the endless hardware upgrade cycle – management, backup, disaster recovery all becomes much more simple, and easy to budget for with monthly payments according to user count.

Whatever the size of your company, what do you think are the benefits of cloud computing?