Friday, 24 December 2010

What happens when the cloud bursts? Skype shows the risks...

I beleive that the recent failure of Skype shows how dependant some businesses are becoming on cloud based services. Although Skype isn't a true Cloud technology, as you need to install its software locally, the service uses the WWW in a 'cloud like way' to transport data. Skype's recent system failure (click here for BBC news story) have left businesses that are reliant on its services wide open to problems; especially those that have no alternative solutions in place. There are likely to be many more events like this over the coming years and the lessons learnt for some organisations may be terminal. The Cloud places risks into any adopting organisation and each risk needs to be evaluated with mitigaton strategies in place should specific 'critical' events occur. I question how many organisations, particularly smaller businesses, undertake this level of contingency planning however.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Leveraging technology to raise productivity in academia

University life is diverse and multicultural by design and underlying these attributes are key roles that support learning and research. Most institutions have an elearning strategy but something more over-arching in technology strategy terms is be useful in that it should capture more academic/administration activity. By thinking in this way, the silos of learning, research and administration merge into a single seamless environment. In such an environment knowledge flows between areas of the organization seamlessly. Information is made readily available to those that need it and this leads to greater operational efficiency overall.

As technology is leveraged to this end and people become accustomed to its presence whole new ways of working emerge that simply could not be done before. For example, linking departments or even other institutions becomes a real possibility with relatively minor software adjustments. This alone fosters conditions for easier collaborations that lead to increases in the knowledge base. Cloud technology provides us the conduit to make this a reality at a relatively low cost. For example, there is a project in the US called Kuali. This is an open-source modular architecture designed for universities by universities (e.g. Indiana and Michigan). It contains modules on finance and web-based student management (among others modules). It is free software with solid open-source support mechanisms. Kuali is now gaining traction. It also ties into other open-source platforms, like the Sakai collaboration framework, which is useful because people can move about the environment but not feel or see the barriers between the various tools they use. And why should they? After all web conferencing (e.g. BigBlueButton)is useful for academics to communicate with co-researcher but also administration and students. So the tools should be accessible in all aspects of the environment.

Underlying any technology deployment are people's activities. A key learning in the academic domain of Information Systems is that people are the key resources in any organization. This means technology serves a particular purpose, that is, to help people do better than they could do before. So, in terms of an overall strategy institutions should focus on understanding human processes in the organisation and then develop new technological approaches that raise productivity, improve the flow of knowledge (across students/academics/partners/admin/alumni) and simplify the human-computer interface of the technology; that is, make the technology more seamless.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Orange mobile services sucks. Failing customers on clarity of pricing plans

There are times when we must stand up for the rights of people, and fight improper business practice and those organisations whose ethics are suspect. At the Centre for eScience we look at new emerging mobile technologies with a view to delivering our services across them. Recently, we took delivery of a new HTC Wildfire, to evaluate how our Sakai based technologies could be delivered. And here begins the story on a complete lack of clarity on call charges that is likely to affect many 1,000s of Orange customers in the UK...

I am a low usage Orange pay as you go customer. Low usage means that I use less than £5 of credit per month. At present I am a Dolphin user which the Orange website tells me means: free internet and texts (see here to view the price plan for Dolphin). I was curious about what 'Free Internet' means, after all it does cost money to provide data, and services must be limited in some way to reflect this cost. On reviewing detailed Dolphin charges it soon became clear that Orange were not happy to divulge the true cost of internet usage on this Pay as You Go contract type. The only detail it has on costs and internet is the statement, "Maximum daily charge for mobile Internet browsing £2". Surely, if I download a 0.5 gigabyte movie file it won't be capped at £2? I checked for small print documentation and could not find any on the orange site. Next step, call customer services for clarification...

On my first attempt I was put through to customer services and I asked 2 things. First, please clarify what internet use means. Secondly, please guide me to documentation on your website explaining in detail internet charging structures. The person on the other end of the phone explained that for Orange, free internet is not free internet, only free Facebook. What? I don't even use Facebook (see my earlier blog on the risks associated with use of social networks)! How can Orange equate internet use with just Facebook? Surely this is mis-advertising? Isn't that illegal in the UK? So, the question became, how much do you charge for non-Facebook internet? Aha, the real story begins to emerge! The lady explained that for non-Facebook internet, users on Dolphin are charged £4 per megabyte transferred. Not a cheap deal as it is advertised. I probed deeper and asked where this information was stored on the Orange website, she was unable to show me. I explained this this position was not satisfactory and that Orange were likely to be breaking the law by advertising their product in this way. The phone went dead...

Now, phone lines can go dead for various reasons. This call was probably directed to customer services in Middle Asia, and I'm guessing that the recent Perseid meteor shower knocked out communication between Middle Asia and Europe momentarily...

I dialled again. I was put through to customers services again. I requested all of the information a second time. The customer service representative was exemplary and knew her plans and charges by heart. Service was with a smile also. She explained concisely that internet equals Facebook only, not internet per ce? Again she explained that I would be charged a fee £4 for every non-Facebook megabyte downloaded. She could not explain clearly what the £2 maximum daily charge was however. Again I asked her to locate on the Orange website clear data charge structures that would be available to all customers. She tried and tried and could not locate the information for me. At this point I decided to blog the event in the hope of reaching out to users to make them aware of Orange's less than ethical approach to dealing with customer charging. In view of this activity I have decided to veto any use of Orange services and would recommend that you all do so.

Does this sound a bit like sour grapes? I bet your thinking this guys come back from holiday with a £200 unexpected data charge. Nope, I've spend about £6 on data before realising the real cost. I feel quite smug that I checked. What is important is that we have a place to go where we can complain. My blog is my conduit for complaining. When this blog becomes Google searchable, maybe Orange will find it and get back to me.

A final element to the puzzle. Why do most countries have Telecoms Regulators? In the UK we have OFCOM. OFCOM adjudicates telecom market pricing and networks and forces changes if imbalances are found. Unfortunately, they are always chasing their own tails as the telcos employ teams of people strategising how to get more money from consumers. During a Telco conference I attended about 8 years ago, one CEO proudly exclaimed that they (the Telco industry) now had a high profit instrument that would keep shareholders happy for the years to come. This was text messaging. During the presentation he was proud to announce that for every text send the consumer was charged 20 pence, but it only cost 0.0001 pence to send via their networks. The question that OFCOM must now address, is what is the real cost of sending 1MB of data across mobile networks. I bet it's really cheap to do so...given that I can buy 30Gb of download from British Telecom for £25 on a broadband service. So, data is now the money spinner of the mobile telcos, I'll be looking forward to see how OFCOM deal with this, but I am also concerned that funding cuts will limit their ability to control them.

Ok, I'm off to buy a non-Orange pay monthly sim. I can't wait to get into the new HTC phone, so far I am really impressed.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Developing Government Policy via Facebook - who will have their say?

Published on the BBC news website is an article on how the new government intends to use Facebook to get the UK electorate to vote on where spending cuts should be applied. An initial thinking suggests that this is a novel approach to driving new government policy. For example, it will be inexpensive to apply as the social network is already in place. BUT: who's voice will be heard most as a result of this policy? Facebook advises that there are now 23 million Facebook accounts in the UK. In the UK there are approximately 61 million people of which approximately 75% are of voting age implying that about 40 million people should be polled on the direction of anticipated cuts (data reviewed at the Office of National Statistics). Earlier research shows that users of Facebook are characteristically different from those that do not use its service. For example, studies find that Facebook users tend to be younger and better educated. Research that I have undertaken at Lancaster University highlights very clearly that non-IT adopters, as measured by comparison of households with and without access to computers, are on average older and/or less wealthy; this pattern of digital exclusion will be directly implemented in the governments initiative. What this means is that any vote via Facebook will be biased towards those that are younger and wealthier. There will be other distortions that will be unmeasurable. Biasness aside, what of our much more experienced seniors that have a wealth of experience having lived through both good and bad times? Surely, we should pay special attention to their voice? What of the needs of those less wealthy households without decent IT access? They too should have a voice. Moreover, by shifting policy development onto social networks the government is forcing those that wish to abstain from social nets (and this is your right!) to become online active; even if they do not wish to share their data and lives online. Earlier this year I published a blog titled Rejecting Social Networks as a Good Idea Poorly Executed. In the blog I highlighted why it is a highly risky practice to submit personal data on social networks. For example, where is your data stored? How will privacy policies be changed? Who has access to your data? If Facebook is sold in 1, 5 or 10 years time how may the company use your data and could the data be physically moved to a geographic location with few data protection regulations in place? These are valid criticisms of why we should not use social networks until the market for personal data is better defined.

In terms of what the government is hoping to achieve with the present Facebook initiative, it will not be certain that the results it views are representative of the UK voting population for the reasons given above. Crucially also, we cannot be certain that those that vote are actually UK voters. Just because a Facebook account was created in the UK does not mean the account holder is actually a registered UK voter. Clearly, there is no easy solution to the problem of getting closer to the electorates way of thinking on important country matters. I do accept that we need a communication platform for people to become part of the decision making process; but the plan needs to be better thought out than the one that has been proposed.

Friday, 28 May 2010

On Microsoft and anticompetitive positioning in e-learning environments

During the early stage of world ICT adoption growth Microsoft was very much influential in providing the operating systems that simplified computer use. This simplification allowed users to navigate complex computers more simply by providing a neater graphic interface. This was a major break though and very welcomed. During its time as a major software producer it has had to deal with significant complaints of anti-competitive behaviour. At eScience we see with great surprise that Microsoft are again more then willing to enter new and emerging markets using what can best best described as 'anti-competitive' behaviour that will limit innovation in the e-learning and course management market. In the US Microsoft has launched its new educational support service called live@edu. It is a service that devolves information system responsibility to Microsoft by use of its cloud centres. On the face of it the service looks quite good (although we haven't had an opportunity to evaluate tools). The service offers educational establishments the opportunity to move information systems into the cloud yet maintain branding. Institutions that run with the service will be provided free branded email services, free online storage and backup (25Gb per user), free class worksites, free collaboration tools, free access to Office 2010 and free support. Our problem is nothing to do with the products or services, which on the face of it look OK, our problem lies in the disruptive way it is entering the market.

Our objection is that they are entering a fairly mature industry disruptively that will eventually limit competition they face. There is no such thing as free software solution on this scale and there is already very little profit left in the VLE market. If all UK universities where to adopt their model, Microsoft would need to account for approximately 100,000 terabytes of storage space. This will cost something somewhere down the line and that is impossible to refute. The issue, however, is that during times of financial crisis institutions may be tempted to take on this technology to minimise budgetary problems. Come the next economic up wave they'd be locked into a corporate technology where they have no influence on future technology developments. Welcome to a world where Microsoft guides how you research and teach; whereas those institutions with open source developers embedded into their e-Learning/research frameworks can ask for tools to be developed to meet specific institutional needs... to the benefit of all universities using the open source technology. In the long run, the open source opportunity will cost much less than the corporate version as an investment of, say, £100,000 could raise productivity for millions of people globally. We firmly believe that software for universities should be designed by universities that understand the dimensions of academia; not by external profit making agencies seeking to capture human market share. One cannot help but think the long term plan for Microsoft, similarly banks that offer special incentives to students, is to establish a large scale market of well qualified, high earning graduates that it can use to make money from later on. Whatever the business model they have in mind, we must not allow Microsoft to become dominant in this field. Given the recent bad press relating to how large organisations can abuse our online data (e.g. Facebook, Google) we should be quite fearful of storing so much academic material with any commercial organisation that can change privacy and cost settings as it likes and has unlimited financial might to fight the courts.

We hope that you share our concerns regarding Microsoft's aggressive launch; maybe it is too new for people to see the real long term impact of the offering. As far as we are aware live@edu is not yet available in the UK, possibly as the necessary hardware in Aberdeen (the cloud centre) is not complete. It will come online next year however, and we hope resulting cloud services are priced fairly to reflect real operating costs.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Workshop on business support using the Sakai portal

The Lancaster Centre for eScience in collaboration with STFC Daresbury, the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development, Hull University Business School and JISC are hosting a workshop on the strengths of using the Sakai portal as a business support tool. For more information and to register online for the workshop please visit

In brief, the workshop will highlight how private social networks combined with online collaboration environments can be applied to support public service organisations that provide support to business in various ways. As support service provision increases, the question of how to maximise the benefit to all stakeholders needs to be addressed. This workshop shows how cloud based technology has been applied to maximise the impact of business support programmes. The model that has been applied shows that large numbers of owner-managers can be e-managed to the benefit of support initiatives (e.g. Solutions for Business and Business Link). Moreover, it provides support agencies the ability to remain in close contact with the people they support, both service providers and clients are readily contactable as needed quickening knowledge exchange between stakeholders. Additionally, we are able to create support worksites which existing users can voluntarily opt into. Using this 'joinable' site approach we are also able to provide social networking areas designed to help people meet up and communicate on matters of interest. The workshop will live demonstrate portal technology and engage delegates into online communication using a variety of online tools.

The workshop is open to all so please forward the workshop web address ( to all interested party's.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Rejecting social networks as good idea poorly executed - bring on the rebellion

The blogosphere is a truly useful tool for keeping in touch with new world ideas. Social networks on the other hand contain considerable risk to those that 'give up' their data to them. Few are aware or are even concerned about how their data is stored or used. None of us know how this data will be used or abused in the years to come. Inevitably a whiplash occurs when people begin to reject improper use of personal data, as seems to be ocurring among Facebook users. In the UK we have the Data Protection Act which is designed to protect consumer electronic databases. For instance, eScience's Sakai user data cannot be exported outside of our Sakai server without express permission of the data owners, that is, the user's that submitted the content or the creators of the worksites. Since people presently volunteer data to Facebook under their terms and conditions of data ownership they are not covered by its regulation (although this 'exemption' remains untested in UK courts as far as I am aware).

Never in world history have we as a race given so much away for free; without even a cautious second glance.... Marketers will be looking at this world scale experiment with glee. If you use Facebook to its fullest extend everything you submit is contained within it forever more; even complete Facebook suicide is difficult to accomplish as long term backups are unlikely to reflect your change of heart. This means that your social graph that reflects who you are, what you have done and where you have been could be accessible to everyone with an interest in your life whether you like it or not. This is an anthropologists dream come true...

It is refreshing to read a BBC blog by Maggie Shiels that describes the Anti-Facebook group. These are a group of postgraduates from Columbia University that formed the Diaspora Project. The Diaspora project develops open source social environment designed to put peoples' own data back into their ownership. We support this notion to the fullest extent, as evidenced by our past and current endeavours. At Lancaster eScience we are deeply critical of cloud services that own peoples' data and last year began the Collaborative Research in Business (CRIB) project (see earlier blogs for a fuller description). CRIB is a JISC funded project designed to develop 'safe' social networking tools within the Sakai environment. It is now reaching maturity and the software is embedded into Sakai 2.7 that will become available later this year. Note that we are not against social networks in any respect, in fact, the social network revolution has shown us that the online world can support collaborations that people endear themselves to. We are only rebelling against the issues surrounding abuse of personal data. We support a social rebellion seeking security for personal data. In this sense, does our rebellion imply that we seek to overthrow the dark lord of social networks, Mark Zuckerberg? Not at all, his concept of Facebook is as good as it was when it first launched on the Harvard Campus during 2004. It is its poor legal execution we seek to change. In view of our stand, we support the Diaspora project and all that it stands for.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Blending VLE and VRE? - time to re-examine the issues

This post is designed to stimulate debate on how to manage ever increasing demand for Virtual Research Environments (VRE) and linkages or differences between VREs and VLEs. An earlier post in this blog highlighted that at Lancaster University Management School we have platforms that can be used for both; but this is a rare find. At other universities reports are emerging of increasing demands being placed on learning technologists to support research collaborations. Often, they will apply VLEs to the researchers needs. Importantly however, most VLE technologies don't fit research agendum and do not always carry sufficient tools to engage research users. On the face of it, the difference between learning and research, in human process terms, is quite small. In some sense, both processes are about making learning and resource discovery convenient. We are presently in a far better position to do this than ever before. Approximately 6 years ago the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC, which funds UK core academic information systems infrastructure in the UK) funded research looking at the possibility of applying VLEs as VREs. The following quote highlights, unsurprisingly, that VLEs are not usable as VREs as researchers required a broader set of research tools than VLEs of the time had.

“The first phase of the JISC VRE programme in 2004 experimented with the use of VLEs for research, but came to the conclusion that, although a shared environment works well for research, researchers’ requirements are too diverse for a single solution. One of the biggest differences between a learning and research environment is often the much greater diversity of specialised tasks and the need for security of research data and files. Researchers may also require an area in which they can experiment with the VRE.”

We now believe that the issue of ‘too diverse for a single solution’ is no longer the issue that it once was; based on initial findings at Lancaster. We now successfully use a VLE as a VRE; it's called a collaboration environment. It works well for students (as a course site and to set up group work collaborations; students prefer the platform over the existing home grown technology) and researchers (collaboration worksites and e-community development). Times have moved on and since the 2004 VRE study several key changes to the human condition have occurred. People are now fully connected to internet (if they want to be connected at least); this is especially true of researchers in UK institutions. Researchers are now much more aware of their IT needs, but university based technology leadership is often quite weak due to political/financial pressures. Often, all researcher's need to speed up knowledge generation/exchange are supported online spaces to centralize project resources (e.g. works in progress docs, bid information, web resources), engage in academic discussion securely using forums or chat tools and make online presentations.

An issue in all of this is that we now have 2 distinct VLE and VRE research streams whereby the interplay between VLE and VRE are ignored. We at the Lancaster Centre for eScience propose that the agenda on the interplay be re-opened, to re-examine the issues in light of new technological developments. If you have any views relating to this blog please provide comments below.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Exciting times lay ahead, for the technophiles among us at least!

Sakai 2.7 is due to be released shortly bringing a host of bug fixes and new tools for you to use. Several key developments will appear in 2.7. For instance, we'll be hosting a new web conferencing service allowing all users to communicate to each other (via video or just voice), share power point presentations to groups and produce basic webinars. It works a bit like Adobe Connect but is simpler to use.

We will also be launching a new profile tool. The current tool is at best cumbersome, the new tool is much neater and allows people to build top notch profiles of themselves and their activities. Adding personal photos is much easier also. It also contains a general photo gallery and messaging tool. The new profile tool works in unison with a social networking tool that will allow users to search each other out, form private social networks and special interest groups. Be assured however that users don't have to participate and must select options to make their profiles visible to other users. Also be assured that any information contained within worksites will remain entirely confidential. Later this year we'll be deploying tools so people can create new worksites for their own purposes also. We hope that these tools will help empower people to work together more effectively and creatively. If you have any views, concerns or queries regarding this upgrade feel free to comment below.

Friday, 26 February 2010

JISC Project Updates: CRIB and EMBRACE

This blog publishes project updates for both the Collaborative Research in Business (CRIB) and E-Managed Business Relationships and Cohesive Environments (EMBRACE)projects. Both projects are managed by eScience and are funded by JISC. Click on the links to view video updates, project updates are no longer than 5 minutes each:


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Taking the ‘e’ out of eLearning and eResearch?

Imagine a day without technology in my work day? No thanks and no more shall be said about it! This would certainly reduce my teaching quality and decrease my research outputs. The trick however, is to apply technology via a common platform suitable to eLearning and eResearch. My thinking on this is that research led academics mostly prefer to conduct research than teach. Since teaching and research are deeply entwined, if an approach to eLearning is proposed that increases the workload of academics it would reduce research output. As an academic institution we train our students and those we consult to that technology is the enabler that incrementally improves human productivity in a number of ways. Evidence suggests that those businesses on the leading edge of technology boundaries do better than competitors. They become better at managing their work flows and have improved customer interactions. For academics in research led institutions the situation for technology based productivity increases must surely be similar? It should be that we only deploy technologies that raise productivity in both teaching and research practice and that these elements should be optimised simultaneously. Typically however, we find across many research led institutions that two distinct elearning/eresearch 'silos' appear where one does not influence the other. When this occurs rarely do they meet to seek commonalities in collaborative approaches or work out productivity trade off's between silo activities.
A key ability of elearning platforms in research institutions should be to raise communication efficiency between students and lecturers, moving away from door knocking and inefficient emails that take academics off their research stride. Contemporary students are the Web 2.0 generation and prefer seeking information via course wikis and forums. To quote a student in eBusiness that had used Sakai CLE for the first time, “It's a little bit addictive and it's practical” which is partly due to the social aspect of Sakai but also because if I provide an answer to a common student problem via this route everyone learns from it. In this sense, it manages my knowledge and time better. Qualitative discussions with students suggest preference for this approach over traditional course delivery methods and it's definitely helping them engage more fluidly with me. So, the story so far is that it has reduced my teaching load and improved the student experience. Reducing my teaching load in this way indirectly increases my research output, but crucially Sakai CLE directly increases my research output. I organise projects and collect research data (e.g. via forums and surveys) via Sakai and it also brings geographically distant co-researchers together into a common collaborative platform from any internet ready computer. In this sense there is a double research increasing 'whammy' to applying Sakai in the way I do as it reduces my teaching load and it increases my research productivity. So, I don’t want to imagine a day without Sakai; why change a winning formula?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Academic roles in research led institutions and the simultaneous impact of technology on teaching and research productivity

Academic roles in research led institutions are markedly different than those in teaching institutions. It is therefore unlikely that technologies deployed at either type of institution should be the same. At research led institutions academics mostly prefer to conduct research than teach. Although lecturing is critical to funding at research led institutions engaging academics into using eLearning technologies to enhance student experiences has fallen on deaf ears. At teaching institutions the reverse is true where those academics take considerable pride in their teaching and actively seek new advancements in technology to enhance practice. This critical distinction must be embodied into any strategy aimed at research led institutions. To this extent, teaching and research are deeply entwined. Introduce an approach to eLearning that increases the workload of academics would be to the detriment of research. Now let us think in terms of academic productivity. As an academic institution we train our students and those we consult to that technology is a great enabler by incrementally improving human productivity in a number of ways. It is commonly found in the literature that those businesses that have looked beyond traditional technology practice boundaries do better than those that do not. They have become better at managing their work flow and have improved customer interactions allowing them to compete better than those that are less technologically advanced. For academics in research led institutions the situation for technology deployment must surely be the same? It should be that we only deploy technologies that raise productivity in both teaching and research practice and that these elements should be optimised simultaneously. Typically however, we find across many research led institutions that two distinct 'silos' appear where one does not influence the other. In this case, eLearning and eResearch approaches operate apart and rarely do they meet to seek commonalities in collaborative approaches or work out productivity trade off's between the silos. More frequently it leads to under adoption of key technologies that can reduce the time spent teaching, increase student satisfaction and enhance research productivity simultaneously. Many academic researchers are apathetic toward eLearning because of the expectation of increasing workloads. Although some eLearning approaches may increase workloads, this need not be the case and Lancaster eScience provide the Sakai platform that accommodates this way of thinking. A key ability of learning platforms is to significantly reduce door knocking and emails from students as all communication is managed online at a time the suits the academic. Answer a common student question (e.g. when is the deadline) via a forum just once, and all students get to see it. Contemporary students are the Web 2.0 social networking generation and are very amenable to this method of communication and actually prefer it to traditional teaching practice. A student in my eBusiness module wrote in a forum post that he found, I quote “It's a little bit addictive and it's practical”. Informal discussions with students also highlight that they much prefer this approach over traditional delivery methods and it's helping them engage more fluidly with me. So, the story so far is that it has reduced my teaching load and improved student experience. So where does research fit into this? Apart from reducing my teaching load which therefore increases my research output, the application of Sakai as a virtual research environment allows me to organise my research and research resources better than existing university infrastructure would allow. Crucially to my work it allows me to conduct both qualitative and survey based data collections online and also brings geographically close or distant research groups together into a common collaborative platform designed to work online from any internet ready computer. In this sense there is a double research increasing 'whammy' to applying Sakai in they way I do as it reduces my teaching load (indirectly giving me more time to research) and it increases my research productivity directly by improving my efficiency. Many others such as Mary Rose of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development at Lancaster uses Sakai for both teaching and research collaboration and has similar experiences. It gives us a common platform for both teaching and research simplifying the accessibility of both.

So, what is the takeaway from this blog? By creating eLearning and eResearch silos that do not communicate with each other we run the risk of adopting the wrong technologies, or indeed, slowing the process of diffusion among academics. There are number of good virtual learning environments available to choose from (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle) that are perfectly usable at teaching institutions; but these have not been designed specifically for the research led academic. Sakai has been designed by research led institutions understanding the distinctions between research and teaching. If you have any comments on this blog please do leave them, I'd like to hear any counter or pro arguments.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Innovex blog on collaboration, social media and cloud computing

I attended the student presentations that Mary Rose discusses. As a technologist I was fascinated by what the students had discovered during their journey. From my experience, among entrepreneurs are groups of technology lovers, but a good many cannot see the benefit to their bottom line, and even see additional risks imposed by collaborative platforms. There is an upfront cost to switching to a new platform (e.g. training) but implementation need not be rapid and new platforms can be brought in gently until staff become comfortable with the new ways of working. Starting simply is key. Once engaged however, the knowledge management benefits very much outweigh the initial switching costs. A clear advantage of collaboration platforms, as Mary highlights, was presented during the recent bad winter weather. Although I could not travel to work, I was able to work from home as productively as I could in my office. In this sense, collaboration platforms are also green technologies as working from home or hosting meetings whilst participants are geographically dispersed is now possible. Technology during the 1990s and the early naughties became far too complicated. Large firms adopted new technologies quite well as they have the resources to buy in consultants, but smaller firms lagged due to a lack of finance, skill and a 'one liner' explaining the benefits more clearly. Heck, you needed to be a computer expert and an entrepreneur at the same time and this is a fairly rare blend of abilities! With cloud technology becoming more widely available the IT world is going to be simplified and less expensive. So, here is my 'one liner': Employ collaborative platforms to raise productivity, manage your people, manage their knowledge, keep IT costs down, find/retain customers better and simplify your operations.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Building novel e-communities

Recently, Lancaster eScience, the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED) and the Northwest Regional Development Agency was awarded JISC funding to develop online communities of business professionals using the Sakai collaborative environment. Called EMBRACE (EManaged Business Relationships and Cohesive Environments), the project builds on the JISC award (CRIB, see blog roll for more detail) and seeks to apply embedded social network functionality that Sakai now contains to develop lasting communicative relations between the public sector (e.g. academic and governmental agencies) and small and medium sized enterprise. The project begins on the 1st of February. EScience would like to take this opportunity to thank collaborators (IEED, Northwest Regional Development Agency) and supporters (Swansea University) for providing the evidence base that led to the successful bid. Without their support new opportunities such as these would not be feasible. I would also like to thank the Sakai development community for providing incentive to developers to keep on producing innovative and new ways of building e-communities. In particular, we would like to thank Steve Swinsburg (Sakai Fellow) for delivery of a new and innovative social networking tool beyond his contractual obligations. I personally would like to thank the development team at Lancaster eScience (Adrian Fish and Dan Robinson) for their sterling work in delivering Sakai to the academic and business communities and supporting the Sakai service provided at Lancaster. For further details of EMBRACE or CRIB please contact me at