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Archive for the ‘business’ Category

A Week of Conference

ed milibandAs the FSB’s conference week draws to a close it is worth noting the hard work that went into what for most is a 3 day affair – the Annual Conference and AGM. I went over there on Tuesday afternoon to take pictures of Manchester – sadly it rained solidly which limited that aspect but at least that night my guys Nigel and David and I went off into town for a somewhat expensive Italian at a haunt apparently beloved of footballers – which was nice – those of you who follow my antics on Facebook may have noticed lots of Manchester pics already. On Wednesday we started the ball rolling – most of the guys were in conference-related meetings while I just made a fleeting visit to said meeting as I had my own IT meeting and discussion as to how we would do our bit for the event.

The conference was a big affair in Manchester Central Conference Centre and some of us stayed at the rather nice Midland Hotel opposite the venue which is smack in the middle of Manchester itself.

The exhibition opened on Thursday and that evening we held our AGM with no big surprises and the conference got off to a proper start on Friday with Ed Miliband and George Osborne but to name a few of the personalities.

tmp78B7At one point I caught Ed as he was passing the IT room where my guys were beavering away and asked him if he’d mind coming to say hello. Despite a tight schedule, he not only came with me to the room but went around and shook everyone’s hand much to the delight of the guys who spend most of their time seeing these personalities only via a screen.

Friday night was a 70’s disco, not something I normally like but I have to say it was once of the best I’ve been to with half decent food, no shortage of drink and absolutely excellent period music. It helped that I managed to get a hug and photo with Naga Munchetty – which was nice. As you can see by the photo of Maureen and I on the left, we dressed accordingly. Some were WAY more ambitious.

Saturday during the day was much like the day before, we spent our time editing video, processing pictures and generally ensuring the IT worked ok – I spent some of my time answering questions at the Twitter bar and talking with FSB colleagues and people I’ve come to know from ESBA – the European Small Business Alliance some of whom I keep in touch with via Facebook – it’s interesting to see how many of our older generation are now starting to ask serious questions about social media, but it’s also disturbing how many still come up with a smile and take delight in telling you they don’t “do” social media.

Their loss I guess. I distinctly remember thinking the same about a guy at driving re-habilitation which I’ve now done twice for the serious crime of doing 2mph over the limit and I recall him saying “I don’t know what they think they can teach people our age”!! There is ALWAYS something new you can learn.

Maureen and PeterAnd so onto Saturday night dinner -  a black tie event – I had no special expectations and indeed the food and singer were a little average – but I was delighted to meet up with and get the chance to introduce Gemma Vasquez (who is the chair of Gibraltar FSB) to Maureen – as well as chatting to Patrick Gibbels and David Caro from ESBA (the latter gave me a nice supply of chocs for the IT guys upstairs – though sadly not all of them made it up the stairs) – we ended up having a nightcap with friends in the hotel – what a great way to end a great day.

Tomorrow Maureen and I went off to pick up her new Chinese smartphone in time for her trip to the states next week. Despite initially showing mainly Chinese, after a little hacking and upgrading it’s now running a recent Android system and looks for all the world like the latest Samsung Galaxy phone but with TWO SIM sockets! How’s that for sub-£100

Conference information including pics, videos and reporting at http://www.fsb.org.uk/conference2014 and for those who prefer to pick things up from Twitter, the hashtag #fsbconf just about has it all.

Dying to get back to work on my thermostat for a day to sort out whatever’s making it crash so I can fit it up in the cottage in Bellingham and start getting control of the heating, before starting yet another round of FSB and ESCO meetings.

Dell Technology Camp – the Think Tank

Yesterday, I set off first thing in the morning to Newcastle Airport on my way to becoming (representing the Federation of Small Businesses) one of a small team of people from various parts of Europe, discussing small business IT issues in the Dell “Think Tank”, held this morning at the Westergasfabriek in Polonceaukade in Amsterdam.

Newcastle AirportI was up in the early hours to get to the airport only to find that the plane was slightly delayed but I have to say, KLM are a pretty good bunch and the crew were a very happy bunch.

By 11.30 Amsterdam time my driver was there waiting to take me to the hotel. As we were starting first thing today, they’d put me on a plane the day before and I’m guessing it was just sheer luck that I managed to get half a day out of the deal as many of the guys did not turn up till late last night. A shame, as it turns out most of them seemed a great bunch and I had so little time to get to know everyone.

Renaissance Hotel in AmsterdamThe hotel was the Renaissance which is only a 10 minute walk from the central rail station and is quite nice apart from their WIFI which at 6 Euros an hour is just simply being greedy. Fortunately as Dell had dragged me over there, they paid for the WIFI. A nice hotel in a convenient spot–and from a previous visit to Amsterdam I had a vague idea of how to find my way around – so once I’d dumped the bags, I was off, armed with camera for a lightning one-man tour of the area. I could not tell you how far I walked but by the time I was done my feet were utterly shot. Sadly there is a LOT of construction going on near the station which is no so good for photography. Thankfully mid-afternoon the weather picked up and so went further afield and I had myself a great time in search of pictures. You can find the full photo album in my Google+ album here.

I didn’t deliberately enter the red light area, it’s just behind the hotel and pretty hard to miss and so on the way to taking the usual cathedral and related pics I took more than my fair share of shop front photos which you’ll see in the album above. They really do like their marijuana.

I had lunch at a local cafe – slice of pizza and a coffee (very pleasant) and then I was off in search of Kodak moments – sadly by tea-time it was getting a tad chilly so I came back to the hotel, had an early dinner and cleared off to bed.

Pizza CafeFirst thing this morning a bunch of us met up in the hotel foyer – and Ben Chai of Lanix introduced himself – he had an advantage over me in that he’s read my blogs – we had a great chat until  Amanda Metti of Axicom arrived to take us to our venue – she did a cracking job of looking after everyone, making sure we knew where to be and when etc. so at 8:30am this morning we all headed off with her to the Westergasfabriek for our “Think Tank” discussion which was really very productive and not at all what I was expecting (from the questions I was expecting the event to be simple a commercial wheeze).

Think Tank ParticipantsAfter formal introductions we had a couple of hours talk, filmed, streamed live onto the web and with input from Twitter and other social media though to be honest I’m unaware of anything coming in from those channels as we were all so engrossed in the conversation. I met several great people and will no doubt keep in touch with a few.

We started by defining just what is a small business and the differences between the countries was not that great. We went on to discuss the relevance of technology to SMEs, how best to lever that technology etc. While we were talking a couple of ladies created the most fabulous – how can I describe it, whiteboard/graffiti/word cloud I have ever seen! For reference the company who did this are called CreativeConnection. If you look at my Google album at the whiteboard (larger image) you’ll see the range of subjects covered. Really very interesting and informative. One fellow, David Hathiramani – co-founder of “A Suit That Fits” described his business which started as the world’s first online tailoring company and now has over 30 locations worldwide and that’s largely down to use of technology.

We had lunch at the venue and then our driver took us back to Schiphol airport to go our separate ways.

Think TankAll in all quite a pleasant couple of days. Next stop Chairman’s dinner, a couple of days of meetings in London and another short trip, this time in Gibraltar as a guest of ESBA, the European Small Business Alliance – looking forward in particular to a talk on Intranets. No doubt I’ll take the camera and just hope it’s not raining.

See the Google+ album for more pics.

The Changing World of the Web

I’ve been doing some research for the FSB and I thought I’d put down some information I’ve picked up – all of this is bang up to date.

Amazing as it seems, up to a third of the world has Internet access. That might not sound a lot but think of the people who will never have access – those parts of the world for example where they’ve gotten themselves into a situation where they are utterly controlled or they don’t even have electricity. If for the sake of discussion we discount those people – it’s fair to say that the majority of people who are going to get access in the near future, already have it.   Even at home in the UK there are those (primarily age-related) who simply don’t see the point and are not interested.

As for who’s using what.. PC sales seem to have levelled off whereas tablet sales are going through the roof right now – no doubt this Christmas will have an affect on that – apparently 47% of American kids want an iPad (I’d imagine a very small percentage will actually GET one). So the big drivers right now are smartphones and tablets and as we know, iPad and Google Nexus are the two big names here right now.

Right now, more broadband is consumed by mobile devices than fixed devices and the theory is that by 2015 (only a couple of year) that’ll be more like 4:1 in favour of mobile!

There are currently 6 bullion mobile phone users, 1 billion of those being users of smartphones but in current SALES, Smartphones are sailing ahead of the older feature phones which are starting to die off. As you’d imagine the whole thing is definitely age-related with the highest users of Smartphone being by younger people with more cash to spend. But of course once hooked as they get older there will be no way they’re going back… China, incidentally has 25% of smartphone sales and that puts them at around twice the size of the US market.

The Internet used to be full of free content – which made it hard to run a business from it but of course that has all changed – iTunes, Netflix (and similar), buying and selling on Ebay all play a major part today in the massive and every-increasing commercialisation of the Internet. Digital advertising has gone from just about zero in 1995 to around 20 billion pounds today.

For American companies at least – and limiting to those in the media and tech areas, around 40% of their income is now digital – i.e. online. For advertising, TV still keeps the lead (42%) – but online advertising is coming closely behind and advertising in print is starting to go very much downhill (9%). Newspaper advertising in particular has dropped through the floor (I don’t know about you but I haven’t bought a newspaper in years).

On the subject of digital photography, we all know that Kodak are stuffed – who would have thought… but today, phone cameras are now giving traditional cameras a run for their money not because they are as good but because they are far more convenient.

As a life-long amateur photographer, I gave up on film as far back as 1997 and only a couple of years ago I gave up on large bulky cameras as being just too much like hard work for hot holidays… the convenience of the phone camera and the ability to send to Facebook etc. straight from the phone was the main driver. Throughout it all however I’ve sorely missed the quality and control that comes with a DSLR. Then out of the blue the traditional cameras are fighting back – I’ve just bought the new Samsung Android camera – a full-blown Android unit with a decent lense – the first of it’s kind. I predict that a variation on this will become the norm (pending people coming out of their comfort zones) and that non-updatable, proprietary camera interfaces will hopefully soon die out. For now I’m ahead of the pack and enjoying every minute – I just wish someone would invent decent batteries!

One wonders what it would be like to to transport 10 years into the future. The changes are likely to be far more dramatic than the changes we’ve seen in the previous 10 years – but making predictions is probably a fool’s game.

Retail versus the Web

Never let it be said I don’t try to shop retail….

After a tip-off that Asda have a Bluetooth keyboard the same width as the iPad, I put my Apple keypad on eBay and planned a trip to Gateshead for the weekend to get the new keypad – along with a replacement soldering iron bit for my bog-standard Antex soldering iron. In addition, the backlight went on my keyboard and so I decided it was time, after several years, to go buy a new one.

First stop Maplin in Gateshead, one of very few places left where you can buy electronic stuff locally (there is always RS Components but they close on Sundays and as for so many others, Sunday is my best day for shopping). The guy showed me a pack of generic soldering iron tips that weren’t even remotely suitable – that was it, our main electronics component shop and they had one set of soldering iron tips. Fail. While I was there I had a look at keyboards – nothing but low-end rubbish.

Next stop Asda. After a thorough look around the relevant section of the store I finally asked an assistant who clearly didn’t know what a Bluetooth keyboard was – she rang up the store manager who obviously didn’t know either. You would think they’d simply get on the computer and check stock, but no.

Last stop PC-world. You would imagine as a shop that sells games, they’d have a range of top-end keyboards – but no, just one vastly over-priced Logitech gaming keyboard and the rest were your average run of the mill.

So.. when I got home I spent 5 minutes on the web and ordered everything I need, wondering why on earth I ventured out in the first place.  I did manage to buy an excellent stand for the iPad from Poundland but that hardly justified the fiver or so in petrol for the wasted morning trip.

Peter Scargill

The Digital Economy Bill – or how to screw up free WiFi

The bill is an attempt by the government to crack down on internet copyright infringement, not a bad idea in itself, but as usual with this government, it is the implementation that’s totally screwed. By attempting to place the burden on the provider, the bill, which went through the house of Lords this week and looks set to fly unless someone DOES something,  is likely to affect, Internet Cafe, Hotels, service providers, trains and the PUBLIC.

Anyone offering WIFI access – how about the COUNTLESS FON USERS !!???!!

The bill could also affect any small business that allows for home working… the list goes on and on and on…  apart from anything else, why on EARTH should any hotel, faced with the possibility of having to police the use of their WIFI – which is WAY beyond the technical or managerial skills of your average hotel, why should they BOTHER to continue to offer free WIFI.

We’re still living in the DARK ages in the UK and this bill is about to make it a LOT WORSE. What about the free WIFI on TRAINS??!!??

If ever there was an example of the government trying to turn us all into willing participants in a POLICE STATE you are now looking at it!!!  

You may find these links useful…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/apr/08/internet-piracy-bill

http://www.fsb.org.uk/policy/assets/0310%20digital%20economy%20bill%20briefing.pdf

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/

http://computingblogs.typepad.com/peter_scargill/

and to gripe to your MP

http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/extremeinternetl

Finally a Decent Fuel Cell?

When I watched this I was thinking “total con artist” until I saw the customers… this actually looks like it might be real!??!?

Early Sunday Morning in Aberdeen

Amusements in Aberdeen

It’s a lovely Sunday morning here in Aberdeen at the seafront. The FSB’s conference which I’ve been working on since Tuesday is now all done and dusted, is all done. It would all have gone without a hitch had it not been for some idiot turning the electricity off at the last minute, losing hours of valuable time for our IT support guys.

Conference is always a great time, meeting people you’ve not seen for a year or more, the political wrangling, new places to visit, new technologies to try out. I’ve spent the past few days struggling with my new Dell Studio XPS laptop which has been acting up and new video software as I put myself in charge of “voxpops” which means processing vast amounts of video data for just a few moments of results. The whole thing has been interesting and at times, quite exciting.

My last duty last night after dinner (something like 700 attendees) was to announce, along with our recruitment chairman and a very enthusiastic staff member the results of a competition for the best interviewee (we had a roving cameraman along with said staff member doing interviews throughout the event, asking members their views on a range of subjects). Even that had it’s political elements as the outgoing secretary amazingly managed to call the staff member up on stage while totally ignoring the fact that myself and the recruitment guy were a key part of the presentation. Fortunately between us we expertly rescued the situation and I got up on the platform with the mic for a few short minutes, which in itself was a nice end to the occasion.

Amazing car in AberdeenHard work, hard play and non-stop for days on end… This morning it all seems different, everything is very quiet, the sun is up already and it’s boding well for a quiet morning driving home. Next week we start afresh, new senior executives, no doubt new ways of doing some things, but life moves on and I’m sure I’ll enjoy every minute of the changes… not so for some folk who’ll now be considering retirement as the job they’ve done for years and years suddenly disappears from view.

And now a quiet breakfast, possibly a trip to the seafront – and then we start the long drive home. If the conference is of any interest, visit the website or even the mobile version.

Another fine weekend in Aberdeen

image For most folk, the FSB conference in Aberdeen was a 3-day affair beginning with the AGM on Thursday night followed by 2 days of motions, talks and entertainment.

For those of us in at the deep end it was more like a week. I arrived after a 4.5 hour drive on Tuesday night and am heading off tomorrow. Maureen joined us last night. (That’s Lorraine Kelly on the left incidentally – during one of my few excursions down to the exhibition hall).

Most folk have no idea the amount of work that we put into these exhibitions – but lets suffice it to say the raw materials come to thousands of photos, 30+ GIGABYTES of video, many thousands of lines of reporting – and a lot of running around, getting stressed and most importantly – having fun.  Leading the whole thing I had tremendous support from my head of Systems and Data Ian Martin, from the teams at SoftwerX and DRP and from Melanie-Jane and Michelle Almond.  More later…