Archive for Internet

Internet strategies for SME’s

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by newideasconsult

Very often, and especially on LinkedIn.com I read about people and companies wanting to start their own online business, and most often they ask for a recommended ‘shopping cart’ or ‘e-store’ software to build their venture on.  Most often too, when you respond to them and ask them for more information regarding what they wish to do, it becomes clear that they wanted to start the plan by securing a good platform, a e-commerce system on which to build their business.

That sounds perfectly logical and for many mom-and -pop type business ideas, the cookie-cutter approach works.  Much like SAP can sort out processes within a company that implements it because it enforces certain rules on them required for it to work correctly, these e-commerce systems will force people to think through what it is they need before being able to launch their business.  Without certain key features being addressed within such a system, the site won’t go into production or won’t work correctly when you try to take it into production.  So for the majority of small ideas for an e-store type business these products will work very well, and I often recommend my favorites to some of these questioning parties.

However, starting with selecting an e-commerce platform when you’ve got an Internet idea, is possibly the worst decision you can make.  We used to say that on the Internet everything and anything is possible, but we try and box them all in similar ‘open source’ or ‘commercial’ e-c0mmerce platforms these days.  Imagine if we accepted that art could only be done on a canvas – we would have some wonderful pieces of art to this day, but we would not have a ‘Sistine Chapel’ or Michelangelo’s ‘David’ or Villa of the Mysteries.

If as an SME you are planning to go on the Internet and launch your e-business there, try and think expansively and plan like the corporates and brands do.  Work out what it is you want to do, what you want to sell to your customers, and how you want them to experience this.  Put together a business plan and a strategy to achieve it online.  You cover the basics, for example, you would need to be ‘connected’ to the Internet to enable your business, you would need to have a payment system or bank connected to enable you to do paid for services or product sales, and you will need a fulfilment service and a customer service, and so on.  But the way you plan your online presence, its shape, its function, its look, and its exposure, all contribute to the customer experience of your idea, your plan, your business.

Once you have these all down on a document, no matter how rudementary, sit down with someone, friend or family or local consultant who are Internet savvy, to work through it with you to grow your idea into a mature model  before looking for an e-commerce system to enable your business.  Only after such an exercise would recommendations for e-commerce systems make any sense to you or have any value for your business.  Planning your e-commerce venture this way enables you to better choose an open source e-commerce platform, a commercial e-commerce platform or a design agency to provide the vehicle on which to launch it.  At the same time you are better equipped to answer the questions the bank or payment processor will ask of you before awarding you an account against which to accept card, e-wallet, and/or ACH payments.

There are more details to the above, but this post is about getting people to sit down and plan their idea out before jumping on the most popular e-commerce platform and trying to force your idea to work through it.

One business strategy, not two

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by newideasconsult

Over the years I have heard many companies speak of their e-commerce or ‘internet’ strategy as if it is some secret or hidden agenda that has covert operators hacking around in the dark trying to ‘hit’ on the magic SEO numbers that will realize the company huge numbers of online visitors with the accompanying bonus for the coverts of course. I am 100% behind a planned attack when approaching e-commerce or when considering launching an Internet presence as a business, don’t get me wrong.
What bothers me is that the starting point is often so wrong, with the board or management within a company spending their time considering ‘real world’ issues whilst the ‘other’ team focuses on developing some sort of e-commerce strategy often even as a secondary department or company to the main. It bothers me because so many companies in fact should start with one strategy for the whole, one plan to reach their market, grow it and retain its loyalty. We should be encouraging business to talk about their business strategy first and foremost (see my post for SME’s here on a similar topic).
My mantra since Netscape days has been to make company execs understand that there is only room in their budget and planning for one strategy, the core one, the reason why they do business, the core value their customers love, and so on and so on. One strategy as your starting point means everyone, from the tech savviest to the semi retired within such a company, will know exactly what needs to be achieved in terms of their business. One strategy determines how the Internet and mobile channels will be tackled, and what those two channels will be required to deliver to enhance the company’s bottom line and justify their existence.
Too often we react, doing what we think or know our competitors may be doing, and in so doing we dilute our value proposition to the customers and to our shareholders. We invest in serious technology because we are told to or because our IT team has recommended it, regardless the value to our core strategy as a business. As a consultant I try to help and inform my clients for example to consider the line ‘technology should be an enabler to THE goal’ when too often it becomes the goal. An exercise to me that seems to always work is for a management team to re-evaluate their strategies and decisions against the original core strategy that brought their company to where it is. Like Nokia and Berkshire Hathaway have proven, change is good too, if it is a total change.

However this post is not about core strategy re-evaluation, but rather about aligning our e-commerce or internet or mobile strategy to our core plan and to keep reminding ourselves to check how far they have drifted from the middle. Of course right there we have some excellent pointers to discuss in another post – the reasons for such a drift may not always be negative. However, most companies, I generalize here as it is the vast majority in my view that should consider this, should have a single strategy for their business, and they need to study carefully the benefits of implementing any x-commerce project against that strategy before making the call.

One strategy takes everyone within the company along for the x-commerce ride, if it fits, and one strategy creates a framework of achievements such an implementation must reach for to be deemed successful. One strategy also very quickly shows when any x-commerce implementation would not fit, and in doing so a decision can be made quicker and often at a much lesser opportunity cost than usual, as to whether such a venture should be created as a separate department or company apart from the main. When that is done, the creation of a new x-commerce unit will be based on solid business principles that can contribute worth to its parent instead of bleeding out the budget each year.

The difficulty of policing the Internet – Part 2 Security

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by newideasconsult

Knowing that ‘fighting terrorism’ has now become the politician’s main attacking tool and overhanging justification for everything these days, makes reading the proposed changes to Internet laws around the world so much more worrisome. Many contain very grey or nebulous statements that can be interpreted in so many different ways, it scares the heck out of me! Yet we soldier on since our taxpayers demand action (not sure who ever has) and our industry friends demand justice (too many to count by now).  Hence we forget about the technical hardships and impossibilities our new laws will place on content channels, service providers, retailers and the customer, knowing at least that it all ‘sounded good’ when originally written, everyone around the table nodded, and we have our next round of election funding nicely secured. This so angers me because there is no proper thought put into IMPLEMENTATION!!! Sorry, lost it there for a moment. By implementation I mean a law should be practical, its implementation such that policing it would be a simple and not a complex matter, its use exposing true criminals and not innocent bystanders.

Unfortunately we see the opposite happening. No one within the rooms of justice or those ‘elected’ to ‘represent’ us, the People, seem to have an inkling about the Internet and how most of it is managed, leading to individuals losing more freedoms by the day in return for a very limited success in nabbing the ‘bad guys’.  New Zealand has just followed the UK and Australia on my list of shame in this regard, with a stupidly open approach to policing all communications done by any individual in that country on the back of a very easily generated and issued ‘interception warrant’. Worse to me is the rumour that some pressure from the US caused this change to happen within the New Zealand communications infrastructure, which if true is a crime against the people of New Zealand in my opinion.  New Zealand is such a hotspot for terrorism that one may appreciate why millions of tax payer funds would be spent ‘protecting’ the nation against nefarious communications amongst the ‘large’ population of al-Qaeda operatives hiding amongst the sheep, one may appreciate that ISP’s had to be forced to implement the monitoring equipment as a matter of such haste because the threat level is so ‘high’!

Folks in the US are already living in a police state though many will try to deny that.  For the sake of ‘protection’ they have given up just about every right they had under the constitution, and have seen ‘we, the People’ become nothing more that a flock of sheep in the hands of unscrupulous political and commercial operators who had very little interest in ‘saving democracy’ and every interest in making money when writing and implementing the Patriot Act and the many laws that followed 9/11.  That event was pivotal in how we saw terrorism and the amazing goodwill it garnered from the whole world for the US and the hatred we shared towards those who perpetrating the evil act, but it’s memory and the price the victims paid, has been shamed by what the US government was allowed to do to its own people since.  The monitoring of private communications has become so easy to implement there that even corporates are trying their hand (remember the whole HP board fiasco?), and the government has so many layers of ‘protection’ agencies that no one can truly say what they are doing at any one time.

In Australia it seems to me the people have simply handed over governing their country to their politicians, who may have forgotten that they are meant to represent their constituents in governing the land.  Several may have had very good intentions when they started out, but mainly I think due to a lack of understanding, have capitulated to individuals with alternative motives and masters.  Writing the new Internet monitoring laws the way they did and then presenting the bill for ratification, can only be because they have little understanding of the technology and the impact the proposed changes are going to make DOWN THE LINE!  Terrorism will be a very small part of the reasons authorities may use in the future to monitor and censure, and protecting children even less of a reason.  I have a great disdain for pornography and what it does to people, but I am not so naive has to present an all-encompassing law that censures the Internet on the back of that disdain.  I know as a technologist that this is simply not the answer to the problem.

Security is not a difficult thing to define and manage when discussed around a boardroom table, but the resulting technical measures may have the very opposite effect on the people it set out to protect, and becomes very hard to police fairly.  Losing liberties for the sake of… should never be a question asked of a country’s people.  That’s like changing the soil after a good crop to prevent the few weeds amongst them from growing in the future. Invariably the crop is damaged and the weeds continue to prosper, albeit it across the field.  Right now to me it seems the US has successfully pursued countries around the world to implement similar controlling measures on their people as it has over its own, but so many of those countries do not have a constitution that the People can turn to when pressed, so they become little more than nanny states with populations living under carefully designed perceptions of freedom, liberty and justice when in fact they have very little of any left.

These are in both parts my own opinions of what I see happening around the world, and specifically the effects such laws and changes in law will have on my industry.  Sledgehammers do work from time to time, and in this lies our problem, as those who are skilled at hammering proudly point to these few successes and hold their instruments up as the tools of freedom for all such problems.  Trying to convince them that sledgehammers won’t work for everything is trying to tell Paris Hilton that there are alternatives to the word ‘like’…  The problem is that the majority of time hammering away on every occasion has the opposite effect, and more often than not the surrounding damage after they are applied may never be fixed.  Changes to laws and especially were they affect the Internet and its historic independence, need to be made with much greater circumspection than they are currently being done, with more direct involvement and interest from us, the People, and quickly so, or we will simply end up with no civil liberties or freedom at all.

The difficulty of policing the Internet – Part 1 Content

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by newideasconsult

We are fast approaching a massive change in how information on the Web may be published, distributed and downloaded. Mainly driven by the media giants who were mostly late to the Internet Party in the 1990’s, but thanks to deep pockets and political pressure can disown all who came before them to claim their ‘trademarks’, ‘copyrights’ and ‘brands’ for themselves again, not to mention their IP, the change will come and faster than you think.

Let me make something very clear from the start, I am all for protecting someone’s IPR. I think that this should be an inherent part of every country’s legal framework to regulate abuse of such rights by their citizens. Even as I say that my thoughts immediately go to the issue of who determined the IP in the first place. For digital media it seems an easier case to make, as the songwriter can show their authorship of a song, the composer the same for their melodies, and the artist similarly for their work, accompanied by a bevy of ‘recording industry’ lawyers to back up any such claims with all sorts of legal writs.

What I find really difficult to understand is how those designing and constructing these laws have focused very much on the tools of the Internet to copy data, regardless its nature, instead of on the individual who steals the content in the end. The Internet is pretty nebulous in terms of technology changes and where it will go from day-to-day. Trying to apply a law to what is legal and what is not where technology is concerned, for example peer-to-peer networks, makes for a very difficult policing job!  It comes down to trying to control what things are good to put over these networks and what things are not, also an expensive exercise.

But then the ‘law’ realizes for its next amendment that peer-to-peer networks are pretty much like mushrooms, and self policing simply does not work, so it goes after the ISP. It’s completely irrelevant that asking these ISP’s to police their customer’s data may completely erode the privacy of these citizens (thanks to terrorism politicians can sleep easy about this fact these days). Rather the deep pockets of industry simply glitters to greatly with promises of support the next time we’re up for election, so the law is changed, the amendment made, and the legal eagles of these industries are let loose to use the amendments to ‘take down’ more innocent bystanders in their eager attempt to stop the content thieves from stealing what may be their customer’s information or content.

ISP’s very quickly offset this to 3rd party vendors who ‘wholesale’ or ‘retail’ the data on their behalf, quite often non-tech savvy individuals sold some Wireless (WiFi) solution for their restaurant, pub or bar, or the parent at home, many of whom are absolutely not qualified to understand, let alone monitor their children’s online activities. These people are suddenly saddled with a huge burden of legal responsibility, the pub owner expected to watch their customers at all times and monitor what they are doing on their notebooks and mobile phones whilst sitting within the pub’s wireless network range; the parent expected to learn very quickly what the Internet is about, how to protect themselves in terms of illegal content and then start that process all over again with the mobile phone or the PSP because they are ALL Internet capable devices. Inevitably they fail and we see fine after fine being issued with jail time often thrown in too, as the content owners race to find anyone in the data stream to sue or bring criminal charges against.

I’m not against prosecuting people who steal, in fact I will encourage it, but I am opposed to the manner in which it is currently done, as the thinking behind the legal processes and definitions or lack of thinking, simply makes no sense at all. This is like trying to stop a hailstorm, a process that will simply go on and on and on. Somewhere amidst all this, sanity needs to set in and someone needs to redirect the thinking into a smarter direction. There needs to be a better understanding of how information flows, a ‘eureka’ moment in terms of how information technology works, and how it will continue to beat the system through innovation evolution because the demand for content will always outgrow legal supply as it is currently provided. There is very little benefit to the content owners if they continue on the current punitive path, and all they are doing quite successfully is losing Internet savvy generations one after the other.

Aggressive Sales Tactics on the Internet and Their Impact on American Consumers

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by newideasconsult

The Internet suffers from various issues since its inception, but none so frustrating as caused by one of its biggest attributes, cardholder-not-present transactions, namely virtual merchants and their sales tactics. I guess pixels make sales transparency a hard thing to substantiate when it allows virtual businesses to spring up overnight, representing any number of real individuals or corporations or products or services, quite often without any intention to satisfy their customers requirements or needs, and designed to extract the maximum fee for doing so. Pixels have made setting up business very easy, and even more so the setting up of commercial traps for the inexperienced consumer.

In the past various programs by honest merchants or by consumer bodies have attempted to control and expose such businesses and their nebulous promises of instant customer satisfaction.  Of these types of businesses hardest to control has been the online discount club or membership clubs that offer all kinds of rewards in exchange for monthly subscriptions.  Millions have been raked in from consumers seemingly in a hurry to join the fray and enjoy their benefits, except that the consumers mostly seemed to have been fooled or tricked into signing up, and now turn out to have been less than happy about their memberships.

Well done to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation who have today released the results of their investigation into these clubs and their tactics.  It is about time consumers have someone fighting on their side.  Having been in the payments industry for the past 9 years, I had first hand experience in dealing with business people who felt quite justified with such tactics and often very offended when we pointed out the problems we saw with their business model.  Rejecting them completely in terms of switching their transactions made sense to both my colleagues and I as the methods of their revenue generation off unsuspecting customers was very clear to us.  Too many such ‘clubs’ have stolen millions from consumers over the past 10 years and the US government’s attempts to block and finally stop such practices can only be highly commended.

Now if we can just convince Canada to do the same…

Microsoft and the EU agree on Internet Browser solution

Posted in Standards, technology with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by newideasconsult

In a surprise announcement on Friday, it seems there has finally been a resolution to the years long battle to get Internet Browser and Windows separate, and to offer Windows users a choice in the browser they wish to use.  I am not yet quite sure of the technicalities (a web page will offer you this choice?), but am confident that a reasonable option may finally be in the offing for users of Windows who prefer to use their own choice of browser brand in Europe.

In terms of users selecting this from a web page as is hinted to in the announcement, I am quite convinced that this will simply lead to a dual browser setup, i.o.w. you select your browser of choice for your personal use, whilst the operating system (Windows) will keep using Internet Explorer in the background for its use.  Not quite a win for the EU then, but I am not sure we can expect any better from Microsoft.

Why do I propogate a complete replacement as opposed to dual use?  Because it will prove once and for all that Microsoft has opened the Windows platform to all brands of browser.  If Microsoft can use your choice of browser, like Firefox or other, as THEIR way to maintain their OS and applications, then we will know for a fact that Microsoft is finally fully accessible to all.  I have a dream…

RIM design, eish, Blackberry Storm, EISH!

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2009 by newideasconsult

So here is my promised follow up on the Blackberry Storm I have been testing the last two weeks.

I have to wonder just what the RIM testers were thinking when they signed off the UAT’s on this device.  Trying to make conversations work on the phone (yeah, your basic telephone conversation, you know, using your phone ‘old school’!) without putting the other party on hold or muting your microphone is almost impossible!

O, let me say that there is a solution of course, in the Blackberry application store for the Storm… but it will cost you.  Unbelievable!  So we, the RIM consumers are asked to pay for what is a design fault in the Storm!  That is ridiculous any way you look at it!

A simple software fix to lock the phone touch function and transfer the MUTE and HOLD functions to the hardware buttons, would not be a complex process in my opinion, but we will have to wait and see just what RIM plan to do about this.

Another frustrating thing for me is the inability to tell when you are working on Blackberry services for browsing the Internet and when you are using the open Internet connectivity, except of course when you get hit by that lovely bill Vodacom love to send you every month!  Why cant they simply brand the processes clearly so that consumers can make proper decisions on what they want to use to access the Internet.  Simply calling a tool Browser, does not tell me whether I am using the low cost Blackberry service or the much higher cost Vodacom service.

UPDATE 1: So, Storm 2 coming soon, along with the much rumoured Oryx from RIM’s skunkworks 😉  So I may yet see Wifi on a Storm, and hopefully a better designed touch screen!  Not sure what the Oryx will look like at all!