Category Archives: General

Seeing the Wood and the Trees

Seeing the Wood and the Trees

The IT business is one that very often concentrates on details and specialities. You look for an expert with 10 years of experience using Windows 8! You want to find a specialist in Bespoke Application version 11b because that’s exactly what you use. You are looking for that person who can jump in to your business environment and hit the ground running. Whilst looking for experts that have used the same systems as you already have is an admirable starting point it doesn’t really provide the best long term solution for your business. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Hiring a specialist to jump straight in will inevitably result in looking at the trees and not the wood. Focussing on the details of application specificity and detailed knowledge may well keep you doing what you are doing in the short term, but it won’t help you to move on or consider other options. The temptation will be to always work  within the existing environment because that is what your specialist has experience of. The ability to innovate will be constrained by the vision of the specialist.
  2. Hiring a specialist may well not provide you with the best expert in the application you are using. Very often product specialists learn the product and not the environment. As such they often do not possess an understanding of IT in general or of the underlying hardware, software, logic that goes into the computing environment.
  3. It is more important to hire someone who has a good grasp of IT, and the ability to learn. Do you really expect to be using exactly the same suite of products in 5 years’ time? Software and hardware and the entire IT ecosystem are still changing so rapidly that whatever product specialities your staff or consultants have now, they will most likely be redundant in a matter of years, even if the product is still on the market it will have changed markedly from what it is now.

Find someone who can see the wood and the trees

Whatever your IT requirements, or your plans, or even your ‘right now’ need for an expert. Don’t forget that the trees make up the wood and that before diving into the detail you need to know the size, scope, nature of the wood. You need to understand how it will grow, and how that will affect your business. If that is something that you as a business owner can’t do for yourself, look for an IT partner that can see the big picture as well as handling the details. It’s much easier for an IT ‘natural’ to pick up the specifics of your bespoke app than it is for a specialist to break out of his vertical perspective to see the entire wood.

Consistency in Business Web Design and Function

homogeneity

Where do you start with a large web design project?

It’s a difficult question, but one that becomes more vital the larger and more complex the web site project is. The web design community seems to be split fairly evenly between the designers – quite often graphic design led, and the coders – those who have come from an IT specific background, such as programming. The reality is that both design and function are important, and more than that, the homogeneity of the site as a whole must be considered as vital.

Think of some of the big web sites that you visit regularly, either social networking or news related or perhaps an industry specific site. The site itself becomes immersive: it is an environment all to itself, one in which the end user immerses himself to the extent that the framework on which it is built fades into the background. The question then is: if it fades into the background why is it so important? And the answer is simply this: if the interface, the elements, the functionality, the design is not 100% harmonious between the various pages or areas of the web site then the ability of the end user to become immersed is broken. The interface interferes with the user experience.

Extending the Design Brief

So, what do we do to mitigate this potential problem? It must be considered as a fundamental part of the overall design brief. We have accepted for years that a consistent corporate brand is vital, that paperwork, products, display furniture must all seamlessly integrate. In a sense it doesn’t matter how ‘pretty’ or otherwise the design is, the key is consistency. The consumer then sees a single brand.

For web design we must extend the design brief to include not just brand elements, but other visuals, such as the page layouts, the page elements (buttons, input boxes, graphic hints, columns and boxes). We also must consider functional consistency as part of the same design brief. All user interactions must be consistent across pages and elements, and if possible across devices. All navigation must be consistent and logical. The end user must be able to become immersed in the site so that they can navigate and interact without ‘seeing’ the surrounding interface. The ‘brand’ becomes so much larger than just the company logo and colour, but the end result is so much better for the user, and therefore for the business.

Back to the start

If we go back to the start, and think about where we begin with designing a complex interactive web site, we need to plan our site layout – page structure and flow, functional flow, termination points all with the understanding that these must be a unit: many parts, one entity.

All too often we begin web design and application projects with a specific function in mind, and quickly become bogged down in functionality when the ability to access that functionality is equally vital. Sit down and consider your business web site as a whole and think how it can be a homogeneous site: consistent in form and function from the big picture of the entire page right down to the individual elements that the user interacts with. Then you will be able to build function on top of this homogeneity knowing that the end result will be immersive and accessible for the end users. This can only lead to a more satisfying user experience and more interaction with the web site itself.

What About Windows 10?

w10

Well, Microsoft have finally made their announcement: the new version of Windows is on its way! What does it mean to business users?

What’s in the Name?

It’s happened many times before: a company has used a version number that’s not strictly sequential. Usually there’s a good reason, even if that reason is commercial rather than technical. Famously the database program dBase was initially released as dBase II because nobody liked to buy version one software.

What’s behind Microsoft’s move to 10? I think there are two things behind it.

  1. There are significant moves under the bonnet to consolidate platforms, to unify the Windows experience across devices. This is to be expected in the current technology climate. If Microsoft produce a product that lives up to this promise then I think they will be justified in giving it a number 10 as it will be a significant technological change.
  2. We’ve been used to single digit versions of software for years – these things evolve slowly. But more recently some major players have been upping the ante. OS X, anyone? Firefox and Chrome are both well into double digits. There is definitely a sense of maturity that comes from a double digit version number, something that implies stability and maturity. I suspect that Microsoft had this at least in their minds as they considered the version number, and I’m sure that they believe that it is a mature product –  the justification will only come with the shipped product.

The Ecosystem

These days it’s not just about the operating system, it’s about the ecosystem: phone, tablet, web, PC – all have to work together. Apple have seen an increase in consumer purchases of Mac products because of iPhone users. Chromebooks are now becoming mainstream due to the ubiquity of Android and the Chrome browser. Microsoft are travelling in the other direction, but they have to provide an equal value proposition in terms of the entire ecosystem.

The promise of a single unified interface and architecture is a big one, but one that Microsoft may just be able to pull off. They have been providing the main building blocks of virtually every SME’s IT systems for too many years to think about, they have a wealth of experience and understanding. That understanding is changing however. Google have shown that a new kid on the block can change how people work. Google Apps for Work is doing this in some style.

The weight of existing users is still with Microsoft, and if you use any of their business server products then this will still be the most natural way to go. The Windows 10 front end will fit more naturally.

The Startup

Where Microsoft may not fare so well is with the new business startup. For these businesses the infrastructure requirements of becoming a ‘Microsoft shop’ may be too much. The barriers to entry to the ecosystem may be too high. If Microsoft can push their Outlook.com email platform across platforms and perhaps provide cloud applications for the middleware that most SMEs inevitably have then they may well be onto a winner.

Alternative Options

As has already been pointed out, there are viable and usable alternatives already out there. Both Apple and Google have broken into the operating system market in significant enough terms to deny Microsoft’s place as the only choice. However, for many small businesses it is probably still the default choice.

In my opinion and experience the Apple ecosystem isn’t comprehensive enough or cost effective enough to be an attractive option for the SME – always allowing for the fact taht there are certain industry sectors that will always prefer the Apple route. The Google offering is certainly more attractive as a low cost, hugely scalable collaboration ecosystem. As such it will work well for many businesses that haven’t yet made a decision.

Winners and Losers

In the operating system stakes there may not be any obvious winners or losers any more. The diversification of platform makes it harder to see success as well as harder to choose which way to go. The heavily cloud based offering of Google is certainly very attractive to the small business, and many larger businesses are finding it more than adequate for their needs.

I suspect that it will be the medium sized businesses that will stay with Microsoft. I think that the reason for this comes down to middleware – the bespoke applications, often developed in house, often starting with a spreadsheet, but usually moving up through Access or similar as the business grows. At present Microsoft provide more accessible tools for this sort of middleware, and a more straightforward path to building your own business data tools. If Microsoft can continue to provide this path, along with a comprehensive ecosystem to rival the rivals then I’m sure that Microsoft will continue to dominate at least the corporate desktop for a few years to come.

Update

Now that I’ve installed the new OS on a test system I thought I’d share my experience. I chose a Windows 7 system that does service as our home spare machine. It doesn’t see a lot of use, and it’s not a particularly powerful machine.

The first interesting experience was that the Windows 10 Technical Preview installs via Windows Update! This means not only that it’s an in place upgrade, keeping your existing accounts, applications and data, but that you don’t have the hassle of downloading ISOs and burning disks. The Windows Update download was around 2.6Gb, so be prepared for some time to download.

The second ‘interesting’ experience was the slightly surreal progress messages for the update. Windows 10 apparently likes to ‘take care of things’ and do ‘some more’ things. I did find these messages to be a bit too ‘user friendly’ to the extent that all they were saying about the process was: we’re doing some stuff…

Having said that, the fact that this was the only negative observation to make is very encouraging. The entire process, while time consuming as expected was flawless.

I’ve not spent much time on the newly installed OS, but at first try it certainly seems to have ticked most of the boxes that the end user wants. It’s got a recognisable start menu (albeit with live tiles tagged on the side) and it boots to the normal desktop on a non touch machine. Once I’ve had more time to explore the interface I’ll post again with some concrete user experiences!

How Important is your Google Plus Page?

Default Google Plus Page

 

How often do you click on a link to a person or business in a Google search, or see the ‘related’ link in Gmail and come across something like this?

More importantly, what does this say about you, or your business?

What this tells your potential customers is that you don’t care. I know that not everyone uses Google Plus as a social network. I know that many potential clients or customers won’t have a their Plus account set up, but it’s expected of businesses, and if you are expecting people to do business with you then this is a really quick fix.

It’s as easy to start as putting up a proper photograph, or logo if it’s a business, and a background image that your customers/clients will relate to. Then it’s simple enough to link it to the existing material on your web site.

Make a point of browsing G+ for anyone connected with your business and follow them. This is the beginning of building your G+ presence. It certainly won’t cause an overnight sensation or drive a spike in traffic to your web site, but it will give potential clients/customers more confidence in you and your business. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

peterhollowayplus