Thursday, January 31, 2008

Google Analytics - Wow, I am impressed!

Having been involved in software development for the last 13 years, and spending a fair chunk of that developing for the online world, I am now (somewhat regretably) rarely impressed by the technology that crosses my desk. I often get the feeling I have seen it before, used it before, been there before. So having set up Google Analytics on this blog on 21st January, I wondered what it would deliver.

While adding the necessary code to my home page might scare the less technical amongst us, once I had it set up I sat back and watched as nothing happened. Having the "oh well, what a let down" feeling, I have ignored it for the last couple of weeks. But today, the whole world changed for me. I logged in and saw the results.

Wow, I am impressed!

I can tell you everything you might want to know about visits to my site over the last two weeks, and forever into the future. The area that 'wowed' me the most was the colour shaded map of the world, with drill down to individual regions.

Someone from Germany visited my site - can you believe it. I clicked on Germany on the map, and it showed the region ... Leverkusen - how cool is that!

View Larger Map

Now all I need is for Google to tell me the address of the person so I can visit them next time I am in west Germany and thank them in person - maybe that will be in the next version ;-).

So, if you have a web site, and want to make reporting the easiest you possibly can, I strongly recommend this free service by Google.

If you're wanting to know how to set this up for your site, then let me know. I'm happy to help.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Corporate Intellect Plateau Effect - Part One

Over the last six months, I've discussed with a number of my friends the concept that I call "The Corporate Intellect Plateau Effect". This is the first part of a series I'll write on this topic.

Whenever I talk to business owners, they often say that the number one asset of their business is their employees. This is mostly because the way the business operates is locked up in the heads of the people that work there. Not only that, over time staff learn the tricks needed to be more efficient with their time and the company's resources. Also, they discover the individual quirks of fellow employees, and how to maximise one anothers expertise. All of this contributes to the total intelligence of the organisation, or what I call, the "Corporate Intellect".

Most businesses start out with one or two people deciding that they want to be their own boss. At this time, Corporate Intellect is very low, as while the individuals have a clear understanding about how the business should operate, there hasn't been sufficient time to learn better and smarter ways to do those activities. Also, typically the customer base is small, which means there hasn't been signficant exposure to a variety of customer interactions. Over time, as the business grows, more people are employed, typically in specific roles, such as sales, marketing, finance, operations, manufacturing, etc. Each of these 'early' employees are faced with the challenge of shaping their own teams, and as the business is still relatively small, they are aware of each of the other teams, and the importance that each play in the overall success of the business. (To read more about team interaction, here is a good starting place on Wikipedia.)

As staff numbers grow, and time passes, the Corporate Intellect increases. However it is natural for some individuals to leave the organisation, with a resultant impact on the net Corporate Intellect with each departure. While new people are employed to fill these roles, they start with a clean slate, and thus initially have little or no positive effect on the Corporate Intellect. Subsequently, with each long term employee leaving and being replaced by a new employee, the Corporate Intellect begins to remain fairly static. This cycle is the Corporate Intellect Plateau Effect.

In my next post, I'll look at how to quantify this effect in an organisation. In the meanwhile, let me know what you think. Have you come from, or currently work for a corporate and seen this too?


Friday, January 18, 2008

What next for Microsoft in the Accounting/Payroll space?

It wasn't my intent to discuss this topic today, but having read this news about the Payroll module in Microsoft Office Accounting for the UK, it got me wondering about where to next for Microsoft. Microsoft has now released Microsoft Office Accounting in the US and the UK, so I suspect the established leaders, being Sage (UK) and Intuit (US), will be working on how to fend off the M$ challenge.

Interestingly, the news reporter interviewed George McHamish of Moneysoft, who was quoted as saying: "It's a worry when a new competitor arrives, but we already compete with Sage, which is a huge company compared to us. So another competitor like that doesn't worry us." I was surprised actually, that he starts by saying it is a worry, and ends saying it isn't a worry. Perhaps he was misquoted? Anyway, I digress a little (which is not unusual for me), so back to the point ...

What next for Microsoft in the Accounting/Payroll space?

I don't claim to have any insight into Microsofts plans, but as a Product Manager, Software Developer & general IT geek, I have learnt that first and foremost, you need to look at the market to determine what opportunities really exist. And the size of the market is often a critical component. The cost to develop, market, sell, support and train software is far greater than a lot of people might think. And in the commercial world, it is important to be able to demonstrate that you can attain a reasonable return on this investment. With a significant number of small businesses that are also employers in the UK (over 1 million) and the US (over 5 million), it is reasonable to expect that Microsoft will be able to attain a reasonable market share, and subsequently a good return.

So what other markets are as viable. Interestingly, looking at Australia (500,000) and New Zealand (125,000), the numbers might not be as favourable for Microsoft. I guess time will tell, but I believe the same reasons apply for Microsoft as I gave for Google not entering this space, in that customising and maintaining a solution to meet the particular unique needs of a region is not an easy task.

Here's an interesting thought though ... What if either Google or Microsoft (or both) could team up with some Open Source advocates, who may be willing to volunteer their own time to maintain the region specific needs of their solutions, while Google/Microsoft deliver the rest?

What would you like to see happen?


Friday, January 11, 2008

The Aftermath

Since my previous post on Does Open Source Have Commercial Viability, I've learnt that owning a blog is a lot of fun. It was great to hear all the feedback, much of which I disagree with. Perhaps it was my fault for not setting the context of my post correctly, or I not arguing my point strongly, or (some might say) I'm just ignorant. Nevertheless, that's the luxury I have of owning this blog - I can say what I want, because it is mine.

So now on to the next (quite different) topic ... I'll just need a few more days before I post that, so stay tuned.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Does Open Source Have Commercial Viability?

On my usual search for opinion on Online Accounting, I came across this local post by Bevan (here). He is impressed with Xero, however he is critical with their use of Microsoft .Net. He believes (perhaps somewhat biasedly) that it would have been easier to build using the open source tool "Drupal". This got me thinking: "Does Open Source Have Commercial Viability?"

I think not.

Here's why:

A business needs assurance of continuity. Most business owners have no real understanding of "IT". It is a mystery to them. And so like other mysteries, they look to follow the norm, which (today) is Microsoft. Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. They are the benchmark (albeit a low one at times), but everyone compares themselves firstly to Microsoft. So a business owner will be wanting to stay with what they believe will give them continuity, which is Microsoft.

A business wants simplicity. Microsoft have carefully and successfully managed to be the single provider of the greatest portion of a businesses IT needs. Once a business owner first strikes incompatability issues, they quickly realise that standardisation is the best panacea, and since all of their computers come with Windows & Office, and all of their staff are experienced with that, and their IT people are Microsoft certified, it is just so much simpler to use what is already familiar to them.

A business has money. This is unlike "consumers", who often have unlimited amounts of spare time to spend on their home computer or MySpace or personal website, but no money. A business is prepared to pay. In fact, paying for a product or service gives comfort to a business owner, as it is what they expect as part of running a business. Unfortunately, "Open Source" carries the stigma of "it must be free!" And so a business owner will subsequently treat it as anything else presented as free - it doesn't have any value.

Over the years, I have worked in all aspects of IT, from selling, installing and training software and hardware, to developing desktop and web based solutions, and more recently as a Global Product Manager. There has only been one time when I have been convinced that Open Source had a place in a business, and that was in the emergence of the internet in the late 1990's, when there simply was no other commercially viable and usable alternative.

Having said all this, I'm quite open to hear your opinion.