Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Name-tagged photo galleries - what a nice tool for the (secret) police.

Google Picasa recently launched facial recognition for photos. The software works OK and with a decent effort you can "name-tag" all your photos. The name-tags give you nice organizing and sharing possibilities. So quite an ingenious option! The same kind of technology is available for Apple iPhoto and with add-ons also for Flickr. Probably this feature will soon become a must for all bigger photo galleries.

Now lets think about it a bit. A name-, geo- and date-tagged photo (or a movie) in a gallery is an enormous source of information: who knows who, who has been where and when did this happen. If one would gain access to the Google's, Apple's and Flickr databases and all the tagged galleries one could build up information banks that are unprecedented. And if you happen to be amongst the secret police then why stop there. Next connect the photo databases with information from social networks, public internet and the traditional police, bank, credit-card and other databases. So with a simple "select..." query you might get more information about a person than he himself knows. Like what are his 1970's classmates doing at present or what really happened at the party his teenage daughter attended last Friday.

Most surely the amount of geo- and name-tagged photos is growing exponentially with camera mobile phones becoming cheaper the gallery services becoming better. If you have small children and have visited their kindergarten parties you probably have noticed that practically every parent is taking (name-, geo- and date-tagged) photos and making (name-, geo- and date-tagged movies). The lives of our children will be really well documented.

Google's Privacy Policy sais: "We do not sell, rent or otherwise share your personal information with any third parties except in the limited circumstances described in the Google Privacy Policy, such as when we believe we are required to do so by law." Now surely the police and especially all the anti-terrorist units can require Google to do so by law.

A rather nasty side-effect is that besides "the good" also "the bad" will sooner or later gain access to the data. Through hacking or ... just making offers that one cannot refuse to the developers, testers, sysadmins, back-up administrators working for the web-galleries. The only serious obstacle at the moment protecting the data is the share amount of it.

So what are the conclusions and uses of this new development:
- Firstly, live decently. Be aware that everything you do is essentially public information.
- Secondly, this technology could be used more at spots of crisis. For example, why not build a free and easy to use mobile-gallery service for Pakistan and Afganistan. One might even share out GPS enabled mobile phones for free. It seems that the Taleban members like to take photos and show off their arms. Why not let these photos be automatically geo-, date- and name-tagged. :-)
- Thirdly, learn IT! Integration of IT systems and query building will become more and more important for the police and military each day. At least for the next ten years this will create many IT jobs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good people management and family life ...a collision?

How to motivate your team of specialists? This is a question frequently asked by modern managers. Everybody knows that a good salary is only a pre-requisite. In order to motivate your team and get the work done much more is needed. You have to make the work interesting, you have to give people freedom of choice and let them develop their own ideas. Modern management is a craft.

Almost all successful companies and amongst others the technology companies have discovered the importance of motivation years ago and have all started to systematically develop the work-place "atmosphere". This is really good as it has made working fun and people much more enthusiastic. If the people love their work and do it with a passion great things happen! Everybody wins - specialists love their work, the companies get good results, customers get nice products....but there is a serious downside to this.

Few companies and few specialists have realized that there is a zero-sum game going on. The object of the game is the employees (and why not also the employers and owners) time. The employers have become really good at this . The best workplaces have an atmosphere where:
- People love what they do.
- People feel that their work is important and they are important.
- Somebody always listens to you. Either your manager, your collegue or the personel manager. They care!
- Because it is fun and important you give 110%.

Now time is a finite resource - so if the workplace wins more of your time and attention then somebody must lose? Who? This is of course different for each one of us, but consider this:
- Does your partner and family have advisors and consultants on "people and relationship matters"?
- Have your relatives been trained on relationship management?
- Do your partner, friends and relatives get paid to have a good relationship with you ... or are they in turn seriously motivated by their employers to pay more attention to their important and fun job?
- Does your partner organize really fun events where you can really party and express yourself ... or are the events dominated by your children expressing themself and you trying to get them scream and dangerously run around less? :-)

So inevitably it is the family and friends who lose in this game. And I would say that this is the second most important reason why we have so many divorces nowadays.

My suggestions:
Firstly everybody can make the TV to be the ultimate loser. Don't watch it! Spend the time won with your family, friends, work and studies.

Secondly the employers should take a second step in the employee motivation plan - think about the families. If we have been successful in making work seem important and fun we most certainly can make family life important and fun.

Thirdly the employers should put some limit to the workhours. And I do not mean switching off the e-mail system at 17:00, but maybe sometimes ask your people to sleep and not to send e-mails, develop software or configure IT systems at 3 o'clock in the night.

* Thanks to Linnar Viik and his great innovation course where we discussed this issue.

** I think that the most important problem why people divorce is the possibility to buy ready made food from groceries and have machines do most of our housekeeping work. This eliminates the important physical reason - hunger and dirty clothes - to live together.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why you should not build an internet service and drop out of school

Recently there was an article on Arctic Startup encouraging everybody to start an Internet Service. Being old and a little realistic and a father I think I should cool some of the enthusiasm. :-)

Firstly, don't drop out of school. Never! The higher your education the happier your life - the smarter the people you socialise with and the better you understand about what is happening in around. Don't do it even when you make it as an enterpreneur. Nobody likes an un-educated and ill-literate boss. An internet service is no different from any other traditional business and education is one of the few values that a person has. Giving it up just to make a few bucks would be stupid. Besides if we leave out some exceptions (like Bill Gates) then there are not that many rich people who don't have higher education. At some point you just need the general intellectuality. I have worked as a manager of IT specialists and I claim that there is a clear and visible difference between those who have higher education and those who don't. Not having higher education tends to results in a "ceiling of career and salary".

The other problem with Internet Services is the ease of starting them and their globality. If it is easy for you to start one then it is easy for everybody else also. This results in really harsh competition. There are practically no entrance barriers. Neither know-how, capital, geographical nor IP or licensing. You have nothing protecting your revenue. Actually I don't know if there is any other industry where you get so fierce competition. Even the cab companies and restaurants have more entrance barriers (a car, a drivers licence, geography) than Internet Services. As a result that even the profit margins of the PC industry (that are probably less than 5%) look really tempting compared to Internet Services. If every schoolboy can make a service on weekends with zero investment then you end up running the service for free for the rest of its existence. If on the other hand you want to make usability, features, marketing or a large number of users your advantage then be ready to invest - 10-s of thousands of euros.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Estonian talent hunt (Ajujaht) winners!

Last Tuesday the final ceremony of the Estonian young enterpreneur competition Ajujaht (I would translate it as Talent hunt) took place. Usually such competitions have the image of being more of a school project rather than serious business competitions. I would say that previous years Ajujaht was on the level of school projects competition, but this year the level of the ideas and teams was amazingly high. Most of the ideas in the final 8 were already in production and half of them had already some revenue. The prize fund was also significant this year - 1 000 000 EEK (about 64 000 euros).
The competition will be held at least for the next 4 years and hopefully the ideas and teams get better year after year and the whole ecosystem around the competition gives a boost to enterpreneurship and new startups.

Here is the list and my comments of the finalists:

A team called Growfish was the winner (235 000 EEK). Their idea is to develop a fully automatic fish-breeding system. IT would consist of electronics and software. The system would optimize feeding, growing and water quality management etc. So less cost, better quality and less unfortunate accidents. The fish-breeding industry is growing 250% every year so such a system is needed.

One of my favourites - ReUse Republic - got the second place. Their idea is to re-design "previous season" clothes that have not been sold. They have already signed agreements with different brands and have already re-designed and sold hundreds of items. They are going to open a shop in Kristiine Keskus soon and are holding negotiations with Kamppi Keskus in Helsinki. So if they open, go and visit them!

The third place went to Optimistid, whose idea is to build design motor-boats. They have already contacts with US and Brazilian (if I am correct) potential investors/buyers and hope to get their first 160 km/h going boats on the water soon.

Another favourite of mine was the team Aega on (There is time). Their idea was to create a web portal where you can order an artistic picture, for example a Japanese animation style, and an artist would draw it specially for you. You would only have to pay if you like the picture.

Then there was a team who organizes fishing tourism to Estonia. It was quite a nice way of integrating their hobby and work. They had already brought numerous tourist groups and had many trips in plan.

The team Agression is developing a political-economic board-game. Amazingly the market of board-games is a growing market. How do people have time for board-games with all the internet, social-media, Facebooks, blogging and computer-games around?

Finally there was an idea to build a tracking system to cars that would enable insurance firms to charge by the distance driven not by month. I would personally be quite fond of such a service - as I try to keep my driving to minimum. I have read that in US such a service is in a pilot phase already. Does anyone know more about it?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Green energy in Estonia and IT

From the beginning of april it is possible to buy Green Energy in Estonia. I changed my previous "oil shale energy" contract against the new "green wind and hydro energy" contract. So now the electrons coming to my home come from Estonias wind and hydroplants. :-) Well, at least the contract with Eesti Energia states that the power consumed by green energy consumers is less than the power put into the electric grid by wind and hydro plants. I hope they keep their promise and if there will be more green energy consumers they speed up their new wind power development projects.

What do you think, are Estonian consumers and businesses environmental? And should MicroLink change our serverroom power contracts to green energy? The price difference is actually not that big, about 9% for the base contract. The servers hosted in our 4 serverrooms + UPS-s + cooling consume about 240kW of electricity, that is 2,1 GWh/year. Which is about half of what Virtsu wind plant's first 3 turbines produced in 2002.

It is only now that I realize what a clever and environmentally friendly electricity pricing system Estonia has. :-) In a nutshell the "oil shale energy" consumers do sponsor the "green energy" consumers. Which is of course right, as the consequences of limestone energetics are so horrible, that they are even visible on satellite images.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sales, Marketing and Developers

Probably the biggest reason why startup IT projects fail is that only the technical work is calculated into the project, but sales and marketing is forgotten. This is especially true when the founders are technical guys themself. For example programmers and server administrators. They usually think that an elegant technical solution and a clever service itself is thrive automatically people to using it. (To be honest I have also made that mistake in the past.)

Remember the view of Dilberts boss: "Everything that I don't understand can be done by one person in 10 minutes." This goes for techies planning sales and marketing.... and also vice versa.

But what should be the percentage of work spent on the technical solution compared to sales and marketing in a successful SaaS project? Should there be two, three or perhaps six sales and marketing persons per one programmer in a startup? Do you know if there are any statistics on this subject?

How about hosting and IT service providers? Should there be more sales and marketing people and customer service people than system administrators? In MicroLink's case the number of sysadms and IT-specialists is far greater than the number of sales, marketing and customer service people...which of course means that our customers get technologically great service that is not too expensive as we don't keep too many sales and marketing people on our payroll. :-)

If we look at statistics then the services industry calculates for 65% of western economies GDP. Can this be translated that for each techie there should be 2 sales and customer-service persons as an average?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Marketing in Management Books

Business bestsellers, like the ones from Constantinos C. Markides or Gary Hamel rely on examples. Examples of successful and un-successful business cases. The most typical examples seem to recur from book to book. For example the Xerox's failure to compete with Canon in small copier market is a theme that travels through many business textbooks.

After reading the same cases from different influential, smart, authoritarian gurus over and over again this does change your opinion about the companies and their products. :-) Even worse, if you yourself happen to write a case study about a success story. (like I am currently writing about Google) As a result you would:
- Buy Japanese (Honda or Toyota) cars, because their technology is superior.
- You would never buy a Detroit car.
- You love Google.
- Xerox - you would never consider buying.
- IBM ... well maybe you would buy something from them. Mostly because you feel sorry for them as they have lost so much to Microsoft, Intel and others and have such a huge dinosauric business model.

So try to make a successful business case and show it off to professors writing those bestseller business books. :-) You might get enormous marketing value. Imagine every "soon to be rich" MBA student in the Western Civilization reading about your success.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

IT products that are ... completed.

Recently I have been using OpenOffice and I quite like it. It seems to me that in some ways OpenOffice is even better than MS Office 2007. As you probably know OpenOffice is somewhat like MS Office 2003.

The scenario with MS Office 2007 vs OpenOffice is in some ways similar to the Windows XP vs Windows Vista scenario. Both Office 2003 and XP are products that actually meet all the needs of the customers. Besides some minor technical enhancements they don't need to be changed and developed. They are completed. This might be of course bad news for Microsoft, but on the other hand they can stop spending money on XP and Office development.

But MS products are not the only completed (IT) products:
We all hope that Google never changes its search engine web page.... and the manufacturers of microvawe ovens should have stopped a long ago - the oven does not need more than two knobs (to regulate time and power), nobody never uses the programming features.

So for every product it is quite important to notice the "no need to make a new version of it" moment and stop spending the efforts and money of development teams.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Startuping" in big companies

There is an interesting discussion on Arctic Startup and Jüri Kaljundi's blog about the importance of culture and how it affects the number of startup's being started in a country.

Most certainly culture affects the number of startups, but! Culture is something that changes. So the number of supportive measures by government and also media, universities, established companies and third sector help to change the culture. If the helping measures are implemented, enterpreneurship is made popular in the media then in a perspective of 3-5 year culture will change and the number of new startups starts to grow. We have seen similar changes in culture in Estonia. The rise of all kind of volunteer organizations, the green movement, movements promoting biking to work has been actually quite remarkable. If people are willing to take part in volunteer organizations then most certainly they are also willing to try their own businesses.

Another dimension of this discussion should be the "big" companies. As the culture of startups grows it also drives the big companies to innovation, product development and global markets. It comes through people, universities and media... through reading Arctic Startup for example. :-) As the big companies are not something isolated from the society and culture - they are affected.

Time and strategic management

Tonight we all lost one hour. Well nothing serious about that, we will get it back next autumn. :-)

I have been studying strategic management lately and well.... it all sounds quite simple and straightforward in the theory-books. In practice however, as every manager knows, the everyday problems and life are serious fighters against any strategic initiatives. And one of the most important issues is time or actually the lack of it. The managers just don't have time. Even when they start working in the evenings and weekends they still cannot get all the everyday issues resolved and never get to the strategic, but not so burning issues. So I thought of a metric that maybe is of some help.

Count how many meetings in your calendar are:
- initiated by you,
- initiated by you due to an "everyday problem"
- initiated by others.

This would be a relatively objective measure on who or what is running things. Is it you, is it the everyday problems, is it somebody else... or is it the everyday problems of somebody else. :-) You can of course modify the list. For example add sales and customer meetings in it and categorize them. Nevertheless you get an objective measure on who or what specifies the direction your team is moving towards.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

MicroLink Incubator now a member of Microsoft BizSpark!

I am proud to announce that MicroLink Incubator is now a Network Partner of Microsoft BizSpark program. The first partner from Estonia.
For our Incubator customers this is useful as we can support them with Microsoft's technology for free. Much of the programming for the incubator startups we do on MS .net so this is a benefit.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Self-service, crowd-sourcing what are the impacts?

We live in the era of self-service. It all began with supermarkets, but then followed the internet-banks, self-service gasoline stations and so on and so on. IKEA ... and all the other furniture shops! Can you even buy a piece of furniture nowadays without having to spend half a day gathering it?

So one of the main ways of reducing price is letting the customers self-serve.

Today's successful enterprises and business-models have gone much further and have given a big part of their product development, quality control, advertising and sales to their customers. Don't believe this? Well, have you ever been a beta tester... or used Google-s Beta products (like Gmail)? These are all good examples of letting the customers do the product testing and quality control for the company itself. If the product is good and cheap you probably suggest it to your friends and social network and therefore doing the advertising and sales for the service provider.

And we like it, because we get the products cheap and we get them fast.

But I see some possible problems with the whole model:
Firstly, buying and getting things and services and being a client gets to be a lot of work:
- You spend your time being a product developer - design an Adidas shoe for example.
- You spend your time being a beta tester and giving feedback.
- You spend your time writing to Wikipedia.
- You spend your time writing and promoting things you like on your blog, social-network, Twitter.... (Hmmm... what am I doing now?)
- You buy the stuff from a super-market with a self-service cash desk.
- Then you configure the SaaS service yourself.

Secondly the services, especially the IT services and electronics, might lose in quality. As quality control is given out to customers the products have to be constantly in Beta and they are never formally quality controlled. If a quality controlled version gets out then the next two versions (in Beta) are already being used and tested by the customers.

The takeaways:
- Be aware that your work is sometimes used in making some products cheaper.
- And vice versa - if you work in development and if possible use your customers in product development...so you don't develop useless products and have to spend less on the development - meaning cheaper products.
- Sometimes it is OK to pay for being served. :-)

And to take it to extreme. If a service-provider (Google or Skype for example) and its users voluntarily become a community - one giving its service away (almost) for free and the others doing product development, sales, and quality control (almost) for free.....then isn't this in a way a really positive kind of socialistic co-existance? How far can and will we go with such an economic model? :-) (As far as we can I hope!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jaan Männik - a bit wrong about innovation

Estonian Television did an interview with Jaan Männik, the Head of Council of the Bank of Estonia. Mr Männik stated that the only way out of the economic crisis is innovation. He was right. He also stated that innovation is something you cannot just start doing as it is more like a state of mind or something like writing a book or composing a song. I disagree with that.

Innovation, open-innovation and organizational dynamic capabilities are systematic procedures. There are numerous books and methodologies written on the subject. For example by David J. Teece or Henry Chesbrough. To start innovation a company has to learn these subjects, invest time and money into them and just start doing. It is the same thing as implementing ISO standards or ITIL IT management procedures. Like ISO and ITIL innovation takes time is difficult and expensive.... and perhaps boring :-). But still it is not art or something magical.

Nokia did not just happen in Finland it happened thanks to good Finnish education system.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My favourite SaaS solutions web.

I am a great fan of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions. I think they are the future of IT. In a few years tha amount of computing done on SaaS environments and cloud-computing will exceed the amount of computing done "on-premises".

I created a web page to list some of my favourite SaaS solutions and good examples on how they are used. I also want to promote SaaS solutions "Made in Estonia". :-)

If you know a good SaaS solution for internet forums can you comment on it? I looked for one some time ago, but unfortunately didn't find any good ones, but there must be for sure!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Anti-depress tool for managers

Working as a manager can be difficult and depressing sometimes. Why? Well mostly because a big part of a managers day is filled of dealing with problems. Sometimes a customer is not satisfied with your teams work, the technical systems fail, a member of your group forgets something and so on. We have all seen the phrase "I am not satisfied with this - I want to talk to your supervisor" on a movie. Then the poor supervisor, who knows nothing of the issue and has nothing to do with the problem has to deal with this nervous customer. Have you seen a movie where a satisfied customer wants to praise your work and talk to your supervisor.?

So if you, as a manager, deal with problematic customers, problematic services and incidents.... you actually start to see things in a wrong perspective. Actually, in a worst case you might even start to wonder why anybody even buys your services.... Due to the nature of manager's work this might even happen in a situation where 99% of your customers are really happy and 99% of the services are working great. You just don't know about it because you work with the 1% of problems.

Now, there is a great solution to solve this problem! We in MicroLink have been using it for almost a year now and are really happy with the results. Actually, the results of this methodology surprised us in a really positive way!
The solution is to ask "The ultimate question" from your customers. Ask them "How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?". I bet you will be surprised on how many of your customers answer "Yes" to that question. And even more you get loads of suggestions from your customers. So from the feedback you can make an action plan and make your team work better. You can change your work from constant "firefighting", "surprise problems" and "dealing with unhappy customers" to an objective plan and action. You also get an objective measurement on how happy your customers are and can share that with your managers, salespeople and your team. You get an objective, measured argument against the "there are always problems with your team" claim. :-)

Now, why am I writing this? Well, to help you solve the problem also! We are launching a really easy-to-use IT solution for implementing the methodology. If you want to use it (currently for free of charge) then e-mail me. The system works so:
- You have a sales case or a service call with your customer.
- After the case is closed you send your customer an e-mail, stating it was nice doing business with you. You also put the e-mail address of our service to the blind-copy field.
- Our system gets the e-mail. Checks if this customer has been surveyd recently. If not, then it sends the customer an e-mail with the 3 question survey. The questions are: On 0...10 scale do you recommend our company in the view of this case? On 0...10 scale do you recommend our company overall? Why?
- The customers answers the questions on a web-page.
- You get the feedback and graphics via a web-page.

The beauty of the solution is that your team members don't have to learn a new system and you don't have to integrate any IT systems. All they have to do is put the system's e-mail on the blind-copy field.

Feel free to contact me and give the system a go!

Monday, February 2, 2009

More SaaS in the future

Last week IDC published results of its recent survey stating that despite to economic slowdown (or maybe thanks to it) SaaS revenues are going to grow faster than they predicted previously. 40,5% instead of 36%.

The key driver for this is probably the will to save. Less earnings means that businesses are more flexible. So they are ready to fit their working procedures to the standard way of doing things if they can benefit from the "$1 per month per user" software pricing.

At the moment the only thing that sells is "saving money". High availability, pretty design, convinient, fast and powerful is out. Cheap is in.

But if we talk about the SaaS market then it is not going to fall after the economy has started to go up again. It is an irreversible change that is going to happen. In 10 years time developing your own CRM or sales software will sound as stupid as developing your own e-mail or office software sounds now. But this means a lot of integrating and customization.

...and most probably there will be a time when you will have to consider all the data anywhere to be public. :-)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Estonian ICT Demo Center opens tomorrow

Tomorrow is going to be the official opening of the Estonian ICT Demo Center. (Sorry about the mess-up of names. The official name is "Estonian ICT Demo Center". Here is the list of VIP-s coming to the opening. Really impressive! :-)

- Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia
- Valdo Kalm, CEO of Estonian Telecom
- Jan Muehlfeit, Microsoft, Head of European operations
- Christopher Des Forges, Sun Microsystems, Head of Nordic region
- Mika Sarhimaa, Manager of HP Finland and Baltics.

The speakers will be:
- Enn Saar, MicroLink's CEO
- Mika Sarhimaa
- Jan Muehlfeit
- Tiit Riisalo, Deputy comissioner of the Estonian presentation in EXPO 2010 Shanghai.

The demo center is organized by:
- MicroLink
- Elion
- Microsoft
- Santa Monica Networks
- Datel
- Ülemiste City.

If you are interested in visiting the demo center then let us know! :-) All the participants can bring visitors to the demo center and we are glad to be your hosts.

The project team has made a great job! :-) As most of the participants brought their demo equipment on the previous and last week ... you can imagine how hectic the project has been.

If everything goes fine we gonna have a guide from Holland working there in a few weeks. :-)

Today the Demo Center got a web page! Here it is: http://www.demoestonia.eu/

Monday, January 26, 2009

Estonian IT showroom

On Thursday, 29.01 the Estonian IT showroom will open. The showroom will be opened in MicroLink's office at Lõõtsa 8, Tallinn. There will be official press releases but here are some words from me about the project.

The goal of the showroom is to demonstrate IT solutions created in Estonia. For that many Estonian companies and state ministry's have co-operated and have installed some of the best and attractive solutions in the showroom. There are both hardware and software solutions on display. From cash-registers, home digital TV solutions, interactive blackboards to e-government IT systems.

The idea is that each participating company brings his own guests to the demoroom - shows them his products and also the other interesting solutions developed in Estonia. So we get a much more interesting display and much more guests.

The projects web page is at www.demokeskus.ee (at the moment quite empty and in Estonian but this will change in a few days.)

We hope to have The President of Estonia on the opening!

The whole project was started and developed largely thanks to Enn Saar (MicroLink's CEO). Well, I haven't seen anything like this before and it really is a fine example of co-operation, stamina, vision!

Come to visit us! :-)