Sunday, 26 July 2015

Scalability

You know that feeling. You've just spent a small fortune, upgrading your IT infrastructure. The office has been in chaos for two days while the new system was installed, tested and
finally working. Your staff have been trained and you’re looking forward to some productive output from them.

Then your IT manager comes and says, "We are at 90% capacity and by this time next month we’ll need to look at expanding it again."

It seems that every time you plan and implement an upgrade it goes out of date as soon as it’s commissioned.

This is a downside of having a rapidly growing business.

Could it get any worse?

It certainly could!

What if your business is contracting?

How would you feel if the IT manager came to you and said that all the new installations, which had cost you a small fortune, were no longer necessary, because the old system could cope with the reduced work load?

Money down the drain!

As a 14 year old, I grew 8 inches (22 cm) in one year. My shoe size went from size 5 to size 11 in that time. I needed new shoes every few weeks, because I grew out of them almost as fast as my parents could afford them.

IT infrastructure can be like this when a business is growing rapidly.

When you are 14 and growing so fast, you have a hard time just staying on your feet. You need time to adjust to your new size. This is not a serious problem, because, apart from a few scratches to your knees and bruises to your ego, you grow out of it unscathed.

A business can’t keep falling over. Usually the first fall is fatal.

Scalability

The problem with shoes is that they are not scalable. But it’s not too difficult to replace them.

If your IT infrastructure is not scalable, you have to replace it, just like shoes. Buying new shoes is no big deal. Replacing your IT system is more like having a heart transplant.

Managing rapid and unpredictable growth can be a nightmare for the IT department. Just like the 14-year-old's shoes, your system is too small almost as soon as you have upgraded it.

Contraction also presents problems. 14-year-olds don't normally get smaller, but businesses often do. Sometimes this is deliberate, like a former client, who reduced his work force from 10 workers, to just himself and his son as an apprentice. His smaller, leaner business was more profitable for him, but with a fraction of the former overheads and infrastructure.

Sometimes markets change and cause businesses to contract quickly. This can leave you with redundant capacity, which really means money tied up but idle. The dilemma is, do you get rid of it? Secondhand computer equipment is worthless, and what would happen if you sold it then started growing again?

If you own all the equipment and software there is no simple answer.

Planning

Some might argue that planning will solve these problems.

Planning is necessary, but some things are just not predictable. The best plans in the world don't make provision for unpredictable, sudden changes, like the live cattle export market, when Indonesia unexpectedly reduced the number of cattle it would buy from Australia.

If your business can be subject to unpredictable, sudden changes, you need the flexibility to change with the situation.

The Cloud

One of the main advantages of cloud solutions is their scalability. They can expand and contract with your business, almost at a moment's notice. You no longer need to be caught short of capacity nor commit to hanging on to excess.

Even businesses, with massive data needs, might find the Cloud offers better solutions than having their own supercomputers. In a sense, the Cloud is the biggest supercomputer of them all.

David Stepania examines this in his article, Supercomputing vs. Cloud Computing and concludes that in a number of cases the Cloud might be a more efficient solution. He says, “… the distributed computing of the cloud is … much more affordable… [and] It scales seamlessly: processing power grows as additional servers (with their processors) are added to the network.”

By contrast, adding processing power to a supercomputer can be a major project in itself.

The Cloud allows you to scale up and down as you need, and only ever pay for what you need, and only for as long as you need it.

Open source, bespoke software

Open source, bespoke software is easily scalable when your business is growing. You can add functionality and increase capacity at any time. Your software can grow with your business. Software packages are usually priced according to capacity. This can mean that if you plan to grow to 1,000 customers, you might have to pay for the capacity up front, before you generate the cash flow to pay for it. Open source, bespoke software can spread the costs over the growth period and spread your payments over the whole growth phase.

If your software is not scalable, you could be like the 14 year-old, with tight shoes, or a 12 year-old, who had to wear big brother’s or big sister’s hand-me-downs, which were two sizes too big.

nuBuilder

nuSoftware and nuBuilder software is open source and bespoke. It can grow and change, seamlessly, to match the fluctuations in your business needs.

If you have the skills, you can do it yourself.

Or you can call the team at nuSoftware and get their advice and let them manage it for you. They will help you choose the best options.

You can have scalable solutions at reasonable cost, with the support of the team who developed the software, and who have a vested interest in making sure it works for you.

Image Credits: Karl- Ludwig Poggermann, labyrinthine circuit board lines  
                      Pete, Project 365 #227: 150813 Feeling Wired

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Minimalism gives you more

Minimalism gives you more of what you need and less of what you don't. Less distraction, less wasted time and less clutter.
Single speed and fixed gear bicycles give you more:

They give you less weight, less breakdowns and less worries.
  • flexibility
  • reliability
  • control
They “… are stripped to the bare requirements of pedalling, steering and rolling.” (Big ShotCustom Single Speed Bikes)

Minimalism in business gives you more:
  • efficiency = profit
  • clarity
  • time
It gives you less stress, less distraction and less frustration.

Minimalism in IT gives you more speed, faster learning, less errors and more capacity for the things you really need. Which all adds up to more profit.

What is Minimalism?

 Before we look at what minimalism is, let's look at what it's not. It is not some cult like movement, where devotees live in bark huts, with no modern appliances and cook their organic oatmeal and stinging nettle soup on small fires made from fallen twigs.
Leo Babauta is considered a guru of minimalism. He says minimalism is, "… to only have what you need and not too much more, and to not focus so much on consumption but more on doing the things you love…"
 
He lives in a normal house with his wife and seven children, but focuses more on doing things than on having things.

It's really about separating what's essential from what is not and then getting rid of the non-essential stuff. Whether that’s paper on your desk or functionality on your computer.

Less is More

Minimalism is less of a … style and more of a principle that has endured for almost a century. ‘Less is more’ is the widely-adopted guiding principle of minimalism.” (Kevin Mark Rabida)

When we introduce a system with minimal functionality, we can be more productive more of the time. And it's easier to train people, because there is less to teach them. They reach peak efficiency faster. They are more confident from the start and therefore learn faster and make fewer mistakes.

The lack of redundant functionality forces us to focus on the essentials.

For example, why would you create a presentation slide? Obviously so people can read and understand it."

Have you ever seen a slide like this?


If you only had black and white available, your slide would have to be different, but more effective. 



Bloatware

Bloatware has long been the scourge of the IT world. It chews up computer resources and slows systems until you start to wonder whether it would be quicker with a pencil and paper. It locks systems up and even causes crashes.

Every update seems to add more bloatware to the system, until you reach the point, where you have to call in an expert to get rid of it.

Modern apps do try to overcome the problem and it’s easier now to find lean apps than it was, say, 10 years ago. But you still have to be on your guard against bloatware. If bloatware is a problem, you might need to replace some applications.

 

Junk

Accumulating junk on your computer is like bloatware.

Sometimes you need to install two apps with similar features, just to get the one feature from each, that the other doesn't have. A good example of this is a well-known suite which includes a desktop publisher and a presentation application. Most of their functionalities are similar, but if you do printed presentations and slide presentations, you need both, creating a lot of duplicated functionality.

This is not classed as traditional bloatware, but it has the same effect. It chews up resources, and more importantly often forces you to duplicate your efforts, instead of being able to configure one file for either purpose.

 

Doesn't SaaS in the Cloud solve this?

Cloud applications do solve the problem of excessive memory use, but just being in the cloud doesn't mean that they solve all the problems. They don't address the duplication issue, nor the distractions of having excess functionality.

Deflating bloatware and getting rid of junk require a minimalist approach, as well as a cloud solution.

 

Minimalism in the cloud

The cloud offers great opportunities to rid ourselves of clutter.

We can choose which applications, and even which functions we need and ignore the rest.

Even better, we can use open source, bespoke software to tailor an application to our exact needs.

When we adopt a minimalist approach, some things do have to change. But with open source, bespoke software the important necessities don't. We can eliminate duplication and inefficiencies, but keep our effective applications and practices that we have become used to.

Efficiency

Just Creative says that, in web design, minimalism, “… is mostly concerned with stripping away excess and strategically placing remaining elements.” This applies equally to applications because there is less opportunity to accidentally hit the wrong button and cause some kind of unpredictable chaos. And because the remaining buttons are where people expect them to be.

Minimalism, in apps, improves efficiency, which boosts the bottom line.

What is the minimum?

The minimum is what your organisation needs for peak efficiency. There is no arbitrary benchmark.

You can only answer this question after careful analysis of your aims and your current performance. Even then, you might need to test some alternatives before you know the final answer.

 

But we don’t have time for mucking around and testing

You think you’re too busy to step back and do analysis and testing. That's the very reason you should do it.

If you’re too busy to think about how to improve your business, you need to step back immediately and assess the situation, before you run your business, your workers and yourself into oblivion.

The louder the “too busy” protest, the more urgent it is to stop and assess.

What are Key Performance Indicators?

F John Reh says, “Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are ... measurements, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors of an organisation. They will differ depending on the organisation.”

He also says that they must:
  • reflect the organisational goals 
  • be quantifiable
A minimalist approach would strip goals and KPIs back to their bare essentials, so the organisation would focus only on what was necessary.

Bernard Marr identifies 75 KPIs Every Manager Needs to Know. He divides them into six groups.

You need to decide which ones are essential to your minimalist organisation and only adopt them.

 

A step by step solution

  1. Commit to a minimalist approach.
  2. Sell” the concept to your staff. You need the support of everyone. Create enthusiasm which will drag the sceptics along.
  3. Identify your goals and KPIs.
  4. Measure your performance against your KPIs.
  5. Develop a strategy to introduce the changes you need.
  6. Do it!

Are you ready to get rid of the clutter?

If you have already committed to a minimalist approach, use the comments section to share your experiences.

If not, the challenge is to take that first step and then proceed at a pace which suits your organisation. Too fast and people will resist. Too slow and nothing will change.

Consider nuBuilder and nuSoftware for your software applications. They are open source, bespoke software, which will allow you to keep only what you need. But if your needs change in future, you can change your software with minimal fuss.

Picture Credit:Pitor Mamnaimie, Rail Fence

Thursday, 28 May 2015

David VS Goliath 2.0 - Citizen Developers - Part 1



In the past, the Internet was the realm of IT specialists - web content could only be created and managed by web gurus who knew how to write HTML like it was a second language. Web pages were built from the code up and the consuming public was left to receive whatever the bearded and bespectacled web denizens delivered.

Then, a wonderful thing happened! Web 2.0. Now, literally anyone with a computer and Internet connection could create, share and manage online content.



In these heady Web 2.0 days, the phenomenon of the citizen developer emerged: private individuals who could not only create and manage web content, but deliver enterprise-level web framework from the comfort of their own web dens.

As is to be expected, there are numerous companies offering platforms to enable citizen developers, so we thought we would have another look at two competing companies and see how their solutions stacked up against each other.

nuSoftware



nuSoftware offer a citizen developer platform called nuBuilder.

Oracle


You can read the specifics of Oracle here, but some quick facts worth noting:

• US$38.3 billion total GAAP revenue in FY 2014
• 400,000 customers, including 100 of the Fortune 100
• 310,000 Oracle Database customers
• 120,000 Oracle Fusion Middleware customers
• 90,000 Oracle Applications customers
• 300,000 midsize customers
• 51,000 hardware customers
• 4,500 engineered systems customers
• More than 25,000 partners worldwide
• More than 120,000 employees, including » 36,000 developers and engineers » 18,000 support personnel » 17,000 consulting experts
• 2.2 million students supported annually

Oracle offer a citizen developer platform called Apex.


From the above it can be easy to see which one is David and which is Goliath.

I decided to test-run both nuBuilder and Apex and compare how easy it was to just get a free workspace. I won't cover how each one works, because this would be too in-depth.

This blog post will focus on the David of the equation, nuBuilder. In my next post I will focus on Apex, and give my rating on how they both stacked up.

nuBuilder


Upon clicking the link to open up your own nuBuilder database, you are greeted with the sign-in page:



Signing up with Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn is a button click away. I decided to sign up with my Facebook account:


A quick email address and password, and I'm choosing a name for my site:


Luckily for me, the site name I wanted was available:


And I was up and running, ready to go:


Clicking on the site link will take me to my personalised login screen:


And I'm ready to citizen-develop away!


This was a very simple, fuss-free process. In a total of seven steps I was ready to put nuBuilder through its paces. Social media application sign-in is just common sense in this day and age and it was good to see that nuSoftware made good use of this.

So let's pause for now, because (spoiler alert) the Oracle process took considerably longer and will take up a blog post all of its own.

To be continued...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Taking the Wank out of Workflow

Workflow is the latest buzzword.

So what is this new phenomenon that has people all excited? Perhaps the best way to answer is with some examples.

Printers have traditionally placed the customer's documents into a brown paper bag, with the job processing stages printed on the front. Each stage was signed off by the operator and the job passed to the next stage. They have been doing this almost since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1440.

Assembly lines organise the workflows in factories. They were doing this even before Henry Ford introduced his conveyor belt driven model in 1913.

My mechanic is a sole operator, who issues handwritten invoices, which list all the steps required to service the car. Mechanics started using this type of incoice soon after Ford built the first Model T.

These are all workflow management systems.

If you have ever worked in an office, you would be familiar with the Policies and Procedures Manual, even if you only ever used it as a doorstop. It is just another workflow management system.

What is Workflow?

It is, “The automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant [human being or machine] to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules. “(e-Workflow). In plain English, it is a set of standard procedures which ensure that all steps in a job are completed in the right order and moved on to the next stage.

This is exactly what’s been happening in factories, workshops and offices since the industrial revolution. But it hasn’t always had a trendy name. In many work places, it hasn’t even had a name. They just got on with the job and followed well established practices.

Any job, which has more than one step, must have some kind of workflow management system, even if the whole job is done by one person, who has the system in their head.
Even a subsistence farmer has a workflow system.

Why has workflow become a buzzword?

The "new" part, which causes the buzz, is the proliferation of software tools to manage workflow.

Businesses outside the IT industry have traditionally used manual methods to manage their workflows but modern technology makes it easier for more types of businesses to replace their manual systems with software.

Cloud technology has put workflow management (WFM) software within reach of even more, and smaller businesses. The Cloud has reduced costs, reduced the amount of equipment needed and increased security.

The buzz is caused by the new and potentially exciting possibilities which have developed in the last few years.

But there is a problem with buzz words.

People have become conditioned to look for a new, magic bullet solution whenever their business needs a boost. The shiny object syndrome takes hold and they often jump from one buzz to another, looking for easy answers.

Meanwhile, they fail to see old fashioned, but obvious, solutions. Or they just assume that ‘old school’ solutions don’t work any more, so they don’t even try them.

Start at the start

You shouldn’t start your conversation with a discussion about the Cloud and software. That is trying to cross the finish line before you start the race. You don’t jump out of an aeroplane before you strap on your parachute, and you don’t choose your WFM software before you do a lot of equally important preliminary steps.

The first of these is knowing what you want to achieve.

The second is knowing where everything is.

Like a lot of planning, workflow management requires you to start at the final result and work backwards. Once you have identified what you want to do, you can then work, step by step, back to the beginning.

You also need to know where all your resources are. If you use physical resources, like in manufacturing, you might even need to relocate some of them, to make your workflow more efficient.

These decisions need to be constantly monitored, regardless of whether you use manual or fully automated tools.

The job will be a lot easier if you commit this analysis to writing and unless you are a wiz with graphics software, you probably need paper or a whiteboard.

The next step is to work out costs. You need to know what you are spending now, and to identify savings you can make without reducing efficiency. See my article, WorkersWasting Time, for a discussion about improving efficiency.

Only after you have done all these preliminaries, can you make a meaningful decision about what type of workflow management system will best serve your organisation.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Pardon the cliche, but it is relevant.

If your monitoring shows that your current practices are the most efficient way of doing things, then why would you change, even if you are a printer and still using the brown paper bags?

A major problem with new technology is that people get caught up in hype surrounding it and think that they must adopt it to survive. This hype is often fuelled by vendors,whose only concern is to sell as many systems as they can.

You wouldn’t buy a high tech pencil sharpener, and then try to persuade all your workers to throw away their ballpoint pens in favour of pencils, just to fit the pencil sharpener.

WFM technology is the same. It doesn’t make sense to install new technology and then try to fit your business to it.

Each enterprise is unique and if new technology won't give you any advantage, then keep using your tried and true methods.

This doesn’t mean that it's OK to just sit on your hands and say, "We’re OK. This new technology is no good to us." You can only say this if you have strong, supporting evidence. And you only get the evidence by constant monitoring.

In the real world

In reality, most organisations could find some efficiencies by tweaking some of their workflow management.

It is easier than ever to find technology which fits your business, thanks to The Cloud, open source applications and bespoke software.

You have the flexibility to pick and choose the technology which will give you an advantage, regardless of whether it 
  • manages your entire operation 
  • or only manages selected parts.
Bespoke software enables you to develop applications which exactly fit the way you work. Open source gives you the security that you can update it whenever you need, because you own the code. You, not a software vendor, will always be in control. This combination makes it worthwhile for most businesses to at least consider a software workflow solution.

Cloud technology is generally more secure than local networks, often less expensive and gives greater capacity. This puts WFM software in reach of most businesses which need a formal system to manage their workflows.

Nubuilder is open source, bespoke software. You can develop your applications yourself, employ an IT specialist or engage the team at nuSoftware to do it for you.

If your workflow management is not working as well as you'd like, visit the nuBuilder and nuSoftware websites. You will most likely find the answers you are looking for. And there will be no wank about workflow, nor any other buzz word. Just a thorough analysis of your needs, and an open source, bespoke solution, which fits smoothly into your unique way of doing things.

Picture Credits: Jack Snell, 1914 Ford Model T Touring Car 2 
                         Rod Waddington, Single Tyne Plough, Arba Minch
                         George Armstrong, 31st January 2011
 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Workers wasting time

63% of workers waste 2- 10 hours per week.



We’ve all heard these sorts of claims before; mainly from employers who see their employees as enemies and hold them in low regard.

But this claim was not made by employers.

It was made by the workers themselves. Workers who want to be more productive.

Canon Australia commissioned a survey of corporate workers. 63%  said they waste 2- 10 hours per week on routine, administrative work. And 48% said that this burden was increasing.

This costs their employers between $3,283 and $16,415 per worker, per year, based on a 48 week working year.


No business can afford to throw away $3000 per year. What about if there were five or six workers tied up in routine administration?

What is the solution?


Technology


 “Increased regulation was named by 27% as the reason for the increased [administrative] burden, while 49% said it was simply because their jobs were manual and time-consuming.” ( Government Technology Review)

Technology has continually replaced routine human effort since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Employers have embraced new technology whenever they could see a clear improvement to their profitability. Some would argue it has been used as an excuse to sack employees.

But the workers, surveyed for Canon, aren’t concerned about this. They are frustrated by their inability to get on with their "real work". They want to be replaced and can see benefits for themselves and their employers.

Systems to automate administration are not new. I worked for one of the largest insurance companies in Australia, during the late 1990's and routine policy administration had been automated and co-ordinated, Australia wide, before I joined them.

Before the advent of The Cloud, each organisation needed its own server and appropriate software. Economies of scale meant that what was cost-effective for a large insurer, was out of reach for small businesses.

The insurer had its own dedicated software and a team of IT experts to support it. Small businesses would have had to use off-the-shelf software, and many would have found it lacking. Then there was the cost of installing and maintaining a dedicated server in each organisation.

A forklift is a great way to move pallets around a warehouse, but if you only receive one pallet per year, you can't justify the cost of a forklift. It's more economical to get the workers to unload the palate and put its contents into storeage by hand.

The cost of small-business networks has decreased since the 1990s, but monitoring, maintaining and backing them up are still significant expenses. The consequences of failing to do them properly can be catastrophic. So, although the technology has been available, it is clear that some organisations have found it better to continue to have humans do the routine administration.

Cloud applications and services have changed all that. They provide greater capacity at less cost and with greater security than local networks. They enable enterprise wide software, at reasonable cost, even for organisations which couldn’t justify a local network and server in the past. 

Bespoke software


A major problem with automated systems was that small organisations had to change the way they worked. Either the software couldn’t accommodate all of their practices or it did not integrate with other software they were using. Either way, some things still had to be done manually and some efforts had to be duplicated.

For many organisations, it was cheaper to stick with fully manual systems.

That has changed too. Bespoke software is now readily available for businesses of all sizes, at affordable rates. Most businesses can now afford to automate much of their administration and even sole proprietors can potentially save more than the cost of the applications. nuBuilder is open source, bespoke software, which offers all businesses the option of developing their own applications, or contracting developers to do it for them. This makes it viable for even very small businesses to automate their routine administration.

The potential cost savings should be enough to get the attention of most managers, but adopting a few high tech solutions is not a silver bullet. There is another problem.

Safety


Everybody in an organisation is answerable to someone else. Even sole operators are answerable to their clients.

The status quo is safe and there is little personal risk in following long-standing procedures. There is great risk in trying to introduce new procedures.

The risk of failure is obvious, whenever a leap is made into the unknown. In larger organisations, there is also the risk of embarrassment. It's much safer to keep one's head down and just do the work.

Even in small organisations, workers can find it difficult to justify taking risks if their colleagues don't fully understand the benefits. 

Some enterprises seem to function as a series of unrelated units, which don't always communicate effectively with each other and there is often a lot of duplicated effort in them.

These separate units can become "empires", in which people fiercely defend the status quo and resist any compromises with other departments. Simply upgrading the technology will not solve the problem. These organisations need a change of culture to overcome their inefficiencies.

Without education, and close consultation with employees, the Luddite mentality makes change difficult. People will strongly resist change while there is any threat, real or imagined, to their current status and security.

Canon seems to have taken the first step to overcome the cultural resistance, by commissioning this survey of workers. Other organisations would do well to copy Canon’s approach and ask workers to identify the time they could save and to propose ways to use this time more productively.

Conclusion


Cloud technology and bespoke software can automate administrative tasks and free workers to do productive work. Daniel Steeves says, "Cloud computing ... enables a fundamental re-think from “what can we do?” into “what do we want to do?”"

The applications can quickly pay for themselves. But technology is no longer the main issue.

Organisational culture creates barriers to change.

Developers of cloud and bespoke applications are responsible for knocking down these barriers. They must focus beyond IT and sales. They understand the benefits of changing, so must take responsibilty for educating their clients to see changes as benefits, not threats.

If workers are involved in finding the solutions then 2- 10 hours per week, currently spent on routine administration, can be used more economically and make savings which no business can afford to ignore.

Image Credits: Rebecca Partington, Our times and Jerry John, Network cables - mess:D

Monday, 13 April 2015

David VS Goliath in the digital age




We all love a good David VS Goliath story - the little guy rushes into battle against a large and well-prepared enemy and wins. Somehow.

Luckily for all the Davids out there, the digital age has somewhat levelled the playing field. Internet advertising, social media and online print means new businesses are not bound to the high cost of traditional print media and television advertising to get their message across to potential customers. And with the recent advances in cloud computing technology, doing business online has never been easier.

We could look at a case study in this, comparing two businesses in the same market and examining their differences against how they are staying in business.

Here's one for the music nerds out there: let's look at two guitar effects pedal manufacturers and see how they stack up against each other.


In the Goliath corner, weighing in at a net asset value of over AU$700million in the last quarter of the last financial year and 2700 employees is.....

1. The BOSS Corporation



Way back in 1974, a little effects pedal called B-100 The Boss came onto the market. It was essentially an acoustic guitar pre-amp pedal, and was quickly followed by a number of other Boss branded effects pedals. They quickly took on in the guitar playing community and were known for their compact size and user-friendly functionality.

Fast-forward to today, and the Boss name is something of a benchmark in the effects pedal universe. Look at the pedal board of any major artist and there is bound to be at least one Boss pedal in amongst the throng of stompboxes.

The Boss brand is actually part of the RolandDG corporation, a massive multi-national enterprise based in Japan. They make not only Boss pedals but electric pianos, synthesisers and amplifiers, not to mention their line of computer peripherals and colour printers. In the quarter ending June 30, 2014, they had netted over AU$235million in sales.

In short, they are freaking huge. They have the financial capital, the history and the reputation to keep them afloat for the foreseeable future, and an argument could be made for them having a significant corner on the guitar effects pedal market.


Meanwhile, in the David corner, weighing in at an unknown net worth (because the data is not available) and only 17 employees is.....

2. The Strymon Company


Strymon is a division of Damage Control Engineering. Damage Control started in 2004 (the same year Facebook emerged publicly) selling a single unit - a tube-driven preamp pedal. Since then they have expanded their range with their ethos of creating "boutique" effects pedals such as reverb, delay and chorus units using digital signal processing to emulate the tube tone.

Their financial data is not available because they are not publicly listed. As their website says, "We're a small company and we'd like to stay that way." They want the freedom to create what they want, experiment, have fun and produce great gear they believe in.

Had this company emerged in 1974 along with Boss, they would have been eaten alive. But they emerged in the digital age. This can be seen in their active social media presence, with a Facebook page, prolific Twitter presence and their own YouTube channel. The Roland corporation doesn't have this level of digital footprint.

The fact that a small boutique company can go head-to-head with a multi-million dollar global enterprise is testament to the power of doing business online. You don't have to eke out a living for years just to be able to afford that small back page ad in a glossy magazine. You don't have to roll the dice and hope that luck will see you through until you're at the scale you need to be to compete for market share.

You're not stuck with your five river rocks and slingshot anymore. If you have a product, a computer, an Internet connection and at least a basic level of net know-how, you can take on the big guns with the power of online marketing and cloud computing and stand a much better chance of seeing your entrepreneurial goals come to fruition.

So to all the Davids out there, go ahead and pick those Goliath-sized fights! Your chances of success are better now than ever.





Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Cloud-based OS – way of the future or flash in a pan?

The Cloud has been around for a little while now, and most people would be familiar with at least the basic concept of it. Anyone with an iPhone or iTunes account has in fact been using the Cloud for years now, probably without even realising it!

But how far can we go with the Cloud? Will we one day use the Cloud for all things computer-based and wave goodbye to that chunky old desktop machine forever?

One of the more recent developments in the world of Cloud has been the idea of a Cloud-Based Operating System. In short, a Cloud-based OS takes a number of elements normally associated with peripherals inside your desktop box (CPU, graphics processor, RAM, hard disk storage etc.) and places it within the Cloud. The processing power, graphics performance, and hard disk storage are handled by towers of servers sitting somewhere out there, so all you would really need is a monitor, keyboard, mouse and some sort of device to connect you with it all and you’re ready to go. (See this link for a more technical description).

Theoretically, you could have the fastest CPU possible, best graphics capabilities available, and near-infinite hard disk space, all accessed via the internet from the Cloud. No more saving up for months to build your dream machine! Your computer’s performance would then simply come down to how fast your internet connection is.

There are already several Cloud-based OS out there, a lot of which you can try for free, along with the obligatory Mac and Microsoft offerings. But is it really worth investing in a Cloud-based OS yet?


A few questions you need to ask yourself before taking the leap is:

  • 1.       What hardware will I need?

The current reality is that most existing Cloud-based OS run within a web browser. Which essentially means you will still need the good old chunky desktop machine with an out-of-the-box OS pre-installed along with a web browser just to access it. Kind of defeats the whole purpose, right? Until the suitable hardware exists to handle a Could-based OS at the front end, using a browser to access one may be redundant for most users.

  • 2.       What kind of performance can I expect?

This is a difficult one to answer. Each different offering comes with its own set of standard system specs, and of course you can always get better performance by paying just that little bit extra per month. How these specs are then realized in terms of your own user experience will be variable, depending on your internet connection speed and network reliability. Which leads us to the third question:

  • 3.       What is the cost benefit of switching to a Cloud-based OS?

In order to properly assess this, you will need to factor the cost of your current hardware and software, along with the cost of your current internet connection, against the monthly cost of the Cloud-based OS, any improvements in performance you will get, and whether or not your internet connection needs upgrading. For Australian consumers, our current internet speeds are not enough of a guarantee that a Cloud-based OS will be a significant improvement over your current box.


To sum up, my advice would be to hold off on Cloud-based OS that seem to promise the world at this stage. In my opinion, for a Cloud-based OS to be truly a game-changer, we will need to see dedicated hardware you can buy off the shelf that interfaces directly with the Cloud, and which is capable of reproducing an out-of-the-box OS experience with existing internet speeds.

However, if you have the technical know-how to build such an interface yourself, or you are just keen to experiment with what is undoubtedly the way of the future, there are a number of excellent free Cloud-based OS you can take for a test run. No harm in trying!