Could cancelling Lovefilm subscriptions be the only blemish on Amazon’s almost dreamlike customer services?
I recently wrote an article on this blog about Amazon Web Services. The article was about how IT services firms all want to be friends with AWS so they can build services on top of the raw computing power that AWS offers. Here is the post.
I then interviewed AWS’s UK managing director and subsequently wrote this story.
It is an article of positives but I should have asked the managing director of AWS for some advice about cancelling my Lovefilm subscription (owned by Amazon).
I have used the “Lovefilm by post” service for years and it is a great service. Problem is my wife and I don’t get time to watch the films. Last year I tried to cancel and gave up. I even sent an email to Lovefilm about this and had no response. It seemed inevitable that I would have to call them. I put it off and then ended up staying a member.
But having looked at the latest unwatched film sitting next to the DVD player unwatched I decided to try again. I failed again. I followed all the instructions and have not managed to do it.
I have to say I have never had the slightest inkling to complain about Amazon. We are huge users of Amazon for pretty much anything we need that can be bought online, but where is the Amazon perfect customer service when it comes to cancelling Lovefilm by Post?
As I said earlier I hope it is easier to unsubscribe from a cloud service.
Anybody else having the same problem?
I was one told by someone that It suppliers have an attitude of “any news is good news.” What they meant is if a journalist is writing about you in a reputable magazine it is good news even if the actual news isn’t good.
In other words if you are on the journalists radar it is good news.
The troubles in Ukraine, a country still in limbo, have certainly increased the number of IT stories about the country in my inbox.
I was actually looking at Ukraine’s IT services sector before the troubles really kicked off because a contact of mine, Sam Kingston, told me he was leaving T-Systems, where he was UK head, and joining Kiev based Ciklum as COO.
We also wrote an analysis about the country’s IT sector back in 2011.
But there is nothing like a world event to bring focus on a nation. I hope it isn’t all negative.
The Ukrainian IT sector is certainly pulling out the stops to get its message out loud and clear. Just this week I have received two separate press releases about how the Ukrainian IT industry is reacting to the political crisis.
The first was about the Ukrainian government and IT Industry’s plan to position Ukraine as a European IT powerhouse by 2020. It has launched a working group.
“We wish to transform the Ukrainian economy from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy” said Pavlo Sheremeta Minister of Economical Development and Trade.
The plan wants to create 100,000 new jobs in the IT sector by 2020 and generate over $10bn export revenues from IT services (mainly from EU and the US). It also wants a $1bn investment in modernizing the Ukrainian education system.
Then I had something sent to me about how despite the troubles Ukrainian IT Industry growing. The press release was about the launch of Ukrainian Information Technology (IT) Development Center.
Its founder Ihor Pidruchny hopes to raise awareness to promote the Ukrainian IT industry. It will feature a social media campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to encourage interaction with Ukrainian IT talent. The initiative’s mission is to let the world know that despite the current political situation, the Ukrainian IT industry is going strong.
Many in the IT services sector see countries in central and Eastern Europe as the main threat to India’s offshore dominance. These nearshore destinations as they are known offer lower costs but close proximity. They also have a very strong IT skills base, party the legacy of the former Soviet Union.
Read this written in 2011: Outsourcing in the Ukraine: benefits and drawbacks
Technology is changing. The consumerisation of enterprise IT is putting pressure on CIOs to change how they operate.
So how do CIOs retain relevance in a world where business executives buy their own devices and expect to be able to connect to enterprise apps anytime, anyplace?
Steve Nice CTO at IT services firm Reconnix wrote this guest blog in the subject.
The Changing Role of the CIO
By Steve Nice
“The role of the CIO in 2014 is in a state of flux. CIOs are increasingly becoming overlooked, ignored or side-lined by their fellow c-suite executives, despite increasing reliance on technology, and therefore the IT department, to ensure the success of businesses the world over.
Reconnix recently commissioned research, the results of which highlighted how technological advancement will affect current CIOs. A striking 73 per cent of IT leaders were unsure that the CIOs of today will be the right people to lead IT within UK businesses in the next five. This begs the question why do CIOs feel so disenfranchised and detached from the decision making process?
Unsurprisingly it is those who are stuck in their ways and reluctant to drive change that feel most at risk. Gartner has stated that only 18% of CIOs are responsible for digital. This statistic is clearly far from ideal given the increasingly digital nature of the world. A new generation of CIO, who drives the corporate culture away from digital deficiency, is helping re-address this. At the same time our research indicates 37% of today’s IT leaders still believe that not enough is being done within their organisations or the industry to guarantee that future CIOs will have the skills needed to achieve business objectives.
Most importantly, with trends such as mobility, cloud collaboration and BYOX still on the rise CIOs must understand the ways that new technologies can, and do, help facilitate business efficiency and flexibility. Cloud computing services for example benefit the CIO, and by extension the business, by offering improved collaboration, as well as reducing the complexity of the IT infrastructure.
As much as the technology is important, it’s also a question of engagement. If a CIO is stuck in their ways then they, and their business, will be left by the wayside whereas a forward thinking CIO, who engages with the board, will help produce real change. This is why it is essential for CIOs to be able to communicate effectively with other department leads in the organisation. The best communication is multi-directional – the CIO will need to take on board what other areas of the business need to succeed and interpret how to achieve these goals with technology solutions.
It’s as much a cultural shift than anything else. If IT leaders approach their role as delivering ‘Business as a Service’, if they push an open, innovative agenda whilst persuading the board how change will benefit their aims, but also the wider aims of the business, then their position as a future CIO will be cemented.”
High performance computing in the cloud will make supercomputing a possibility for companies of all sizes.
I have written about the attraction of public clouds such as Amazon Web Services for raw computing power to support things like app dev and here in this guest blog post from CEO Bull UK & Ireland, Andrew Carr, we learn how high-performance computing is moving from the realms of academia and into the SME.
High Performance Computing on demand attracts SME interest
By Andrew Carr,
“We are seeing a radical shift in the high-performance computing (HPC) market today. Traditionally, it has been dominated by academic institutions with the necessary funding to take on big supercomputer projects. This is changing fast. Fuelled by an understanding of HPC’s potential to reduce ‘time to insight’ and accelerate time-to-market, commercial organisations from engineering firms to geoscience companies are expressing interest in HPC. In the UK, the Government is playing its part too, recently announcing its intention to invest £270 million into research into quantum computing.
Talent and Technology – The Magic Formula for SMEs
The latest developments in the HPC market are now even bringing HPC into the orbit of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The emergence of a cloud-based approach to HPC – HPC-on-Demand is helping this previously neglected group harness the power of supercomputing for digital design and simulation and compete on a level playing field in this area with their larger enterprise peers.
This innovative approach enables SMEs to buy access to a supercomputing resource provided through the cloud on an as required basis rather than forcing them to make an upfront investment in a complex IT hardware implementation. They don’t waste their investment by having infrastructure running idle.
The key to the success of any HPC-on-Demand service, especially for SMEs is flexibility. The customer can choose everything from the operating system to the task scheduler and the size of the storage capacity used. They should also have the flexibility to choose from a range of different services whether their preference is for Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS), Platform as a Service (PAAS) or Software as a Service (SAAS).
The other area that SMEs need to address is talent. Skills shortages still represent an obstacle to HPC’s long-term success – and SMEs with their limited resources often struggle more than their larger enterprise peers to attract the right level of graduate.
Today, many universities in the UK are developing courses that respond to industry’s needs. Also, there remains a rich source of people, even among non-technology graduates with the potential to become excellent HPC consultants. The question is how can industry attract and then develop this talent?
Some technology businesses are doing this themselves and building networks of HPC specialists to identify and develop people. Others are working with universities to provide post-grad and pre-grad education to introduce valuable skills to the market. SMEs can often tap into this emerging skills base by bringing in freelance consultants with the right level of expertise on an as required basis.
When they engage with recruiters to look for full time staff or freelance consultants, SMEs should look to deal with specialists that can spend time identifying what each is looking for. That means they may only deliver up two or three candidates for each available HPC spot but those candidates are more likely to fit the bill.
Delivering Enhanced Competitive Edge
Talent and technology are now coming together within SMEs, enabling them to profit from the new focus on HPC. With expert freelance or full-time consulting staff increasingly in place, SMEs are benefiting from the ability of HPC-on-Demand to drive ‘time to insight’ – the time taken between the presentation of the problem and reaching an understanding of how to solve it.
By shortening this cycle, SMEs have the opportunity to cut the product development phase, increase innovation time and reduce time to market. HPC-on-Demand gives SMEs the opportunity to drive through innovation, understand more complex issues, achieve more accurate and predictable outcomes and make solutions or services development faster and more efficient.
Perhaps most importantly of all, HPC-on-Demand enables SMEs to compete on a much more even basis with their larger rivals than ever before. It’s an unprecedented shift in the balance of power and with the market set to develop further in the future, it is likely to be a sustained one.”
Milton Friedman will be turning in his grave as a report published this week seems to imply that his laissez-faire economic stance doesn’t work.
The OFT’s report into government procurement of IT says little more than the plethora of similar reports published in the last couple of years.
However what did strike me is how the reference to suppliers co-ordinating tacitly to fix prices. The report suggests that although there is no evidence suppliers could be dampening competition through “implicit understanding of each others’ future actions, rather than through arrangements.” In other words they know what each other will do so they deliberately and covertly keep prices at a level that suits them.
If the suppliers are left alone and prices are related to supply and demand then surely the price will reach the right level. Unless the private companies have it in their collective interest to prevent this from happening. So capitalism doesn’t work then?
Here are a couple of articles I wrote about the report.
As Orson Welles in the Third Man said: “In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Continuing the film theme, this time Monty Python, we could ask the question what have the Swiss every done for us? The answer might well include the Cuckoo clock, banking, cheese and chocolate.
But according to a press release we received this week, IT services accounts for six times more export value to Switzerland than cheese and chocolate put together.
In fact exports of Swiss IT products and services were worth 8,814 billion CHF (over £6bn in 2011) compared to a mere 1,335 billion CHF (just under £1bn) worth of cheese and chocolate.
A report, from ICT Switzerland, lists IT among the top ten main export groups, according to foreign trade statistics from the Swiss Customs Administration.
According to one supplier IT services such as data storage in Switzerland are becoming increasingly popular, as global companies are choosing to take advantage of the country’s strict privacy laws.
The NSA scandal is only going ton increase interest in storage in Switzerland said Mateo Meier, director of Swiss data storage company, Artmotion. “Switzerland has previously been associated with luxury food and jewellery exports, but now we are receiving international recognition for IT services as well. The country has traditionally acted as a hub for multinational corporations’ financial needs, and we’re using the same experience and expertise to become a big player in the IT industry.
“Within the IT industry, private data storage using dedicated servers has become highly sought after. No longer happy with cloud computing and US data storage companies, firms are turning to so-called ‘Silicon Switzerland’ to entrust important data and business secrets. In light of the NSA scandal, we’ve seen more interest from companies across the oil and gas, financial and retail sectors.”
It looks like the government will soon extend the Freedom of Information Act to private companies including IT suppliers to government.
A recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report into government procurement reported that suppliers “were content that Freedom of Information provisions should apply to public sector contracts with their companies.”
Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said the change would be written into the contracts of companies after the publication of a new code of practice, which should be in place by the end of this year.
“We intend to publish a revised code of practice to make sure that those private companies that carry out public functions have freedom of information requirements in their contracts, and go further than that, and we hope that will be in place by the end of this year.”
This will improve the transparency of suppliers and address concerns that they are not open about the details of contracts.
The PAC report said: “Government is clearly failing to manage performance across the board, and to achieve the best for citizens out of the contracts into which they have entered,” said the report.
“Government needs a far more professional and skilled approach to managing contracts and contractors, and contractors need to demonstrate the high standards of ethics expected in the conduct of public business, and be more transparent about their performance and costs.”
It would make a change if a report into government procurement actually results in changes, rather than just pages and pages in report after report coming to the same conclusions with nothing actually done.
With all that is happening in the Ukraine it is easy to forget that the country has international businesses that need some of the government’s attention.
A contact of mine, Sam Kingston, is heading out to Kiev to become COO at IT services firm Ciklum.
He told me that Ciklum CEO, Torben Majgaard, has written an open letter to the new government based in Kiev on behalf of the country’s indigenous IT companies, to ask for it to continue to invest in the UT sector despite the political turmoil.
I am waiting to receive the full letter and will go into more detail when I do.
The Ukraine offers highly skilled IT specialists at a low cost for companies looking to develop projects within Europe. But while the honesty of its people appears to be a key selling point, problems of corruption and the social unrest remain. Read this written in 2011: Outsourcing in the Ukraine: benefits and drawbacks
A couple of years ago I did a series of blog posts featuring the views of experts on why large IT projects fail. I had 27 experts ranging from academics to IT services experts.
I enjoyed the series as did readers. Well it seems some were inspired.
Here are links to the series in full: Part 1 Brian Randell, part 2 Anthony Finkelstein, part 3 Yann L’Huillier, part 4 James Martin, part 5 Philip Virgo , part 6 Tony Collins, part 7 ILan Oshri, part 8, Robert Morgan part 9 Sam Kingston, part 10 Peter Brudenal, part 11 Mark Lewis, part 12 John Worthy, part 13 Stuart Drew, part 14 Milan Gupta, part 15 from a reader known as Matt, part 16 Fotis Karonis, part 17 Fergus Cloughley, part 18 Steve Haines, part 19 David Holling, part 20 Bryan Cruickshank, part 21 Rob Lee, part 22 Tony Prestedge, part 23 BG Srinivas, part 24 Craig Beddis, part 25 Stuart Mitchenall, part 26 Colin Beveridge and part 27 from Trevor Christie-Taylor
Inspired by the question, Mark Seneschall starting working on my challenge of summing up in a few hundred words why large IT projects fail? He ended up writing 100,000 words and has published a book. The anatomy of IT projects: why they’re hard, and why they fail, can be found here. And here is a website about it.
This is what Mark said about how a question posed in this blog inspired him to write a book.
“I suppose I’m something of an IT projects ‘nerd’ – I’m not an IT technician at all, my background is commercial, finance and control, but as I describe in the book I got sucked into these sorts of initiatives from the business side of things, and found them the most difficult, frustrating, horrendous – but also the most challenging, stimulating and ultimately rewarding – things I got to do in my entire career. From about 2002 onwards – at the same time as NPfIT was going on – I was working on some very big projects, and I knew how hard these were proving. While NPfIT was another order of magnitude bigger than what we were attempting, given my experience I felt I could understand and identify with some of the challenges it was struggling with. As a regular reader of Computer Weekly, when you posed the question in your blog, I thought I had something to contribute, and I started trying to draft my 200 words.
But at that time, although I’d begun work on the book, my focus had been more on the question ‘why are IT projects hard?’, principally because (as I describe in the introduction to the book) I’d been struggling to explain this to a company who I was then working with, who had kicked off a project to install a new end to end system to handle most of their activities, but had little concept of what this entailed. So my initial answer to the question ‘Why do these things fail?’ was ‘Because they are hard’. But then I thought about it some more. Being hard obviously raises the bar, but as long as you acknowledge that they’re hard, and respond accordingly to the difficulty, then you should still be able to succeed. For example, while it might be hard, say, for me to run a marathon in 3 hours, if I prepare properly for it, train hard, eat properly etc etc, ultimately I ought to be able to do it. So it isn’t actually the fact that these things are hard that causes them to fail (even though they are hard), it must be because the response is inadequate. This realisation, which arose from the thinking I did in response to the question you’d asked, and when combined with this other question of ‘why are these things hard’, led me particularly to come up with the ‘opposing forces’ concept I discuss in chapter 2 (ie that the complexity inherent in any project – IT or of any other type – needs to be met by a sufficient response in order for the complexity to be addressed and the project to succeed), prompted the discussion in chapter 6 around the factors that cause the response to be insufficient to address the complexity), and resulted in what is probably my most important conclusion – that the key to success in these sorts of initiatives is understanding as comprehensively as possible the complexity that you are likely to encounter when undertaking any such project before you start, and ensuring you are as well positioned as possible to address it. Perhaps this seems obvious – but on the other hand, as the discussion in Chapter 6 highlights, there are lots of reasons why organisations in practice very often do not do this – and the evidence from NPfIT and any number of other projects (and my own experience) supports this.
Ultimately, therefore, the question you posed really helped take my thinking to another level, and made the book a much more powerful and distinctive analysis than it might well otherwise have been…”
I met up with tier-two Indian IT services firm ITC Infotech for a catch-up on its progress in Europe. Back in June Hardeep Garewal, who is the head of Europe, told me some of the company’s plans.
ITC Infotech has an interesting history. It was previously the internal IT department at Indian conglomerate ITC Ltd (originally Indian Tobacco Company), which has revenues of $7bn and is focused on fast moving consumer goods, hotels, paperboards, paper & packaging and agri-business.
ITC Ltd still owns ITC Infotech and is a major customer but spun it out in 2000 to serve other clients.
Although the company has big name customers Garewal told me as a tier two supplier ITC Infotech is challenged winning business in large companies even if the IT leaders there want their services. This is because many of the big companies have Preferred Supplier Lists (PSLs) and they can only buy from companies on these lists for a set period of time.
Garewall believes in today’s IT and business environment where businesses want to be quick to market with new products, need to be innovative, or need to adopt new technologies this model doesn’t work.
“We often speak to CIOs about our services and they tell us they want the service but can’t even consider it for a year because of the PSL,” he says. He said a system should be created where a CIO can buy certain services that are not on the list if it meets a business need.
Obviously this is good for companies like ITC Infotech, but it is a valid comment. New technologies from new suppliers that have the potential to change business come out regularly these days. Business need to update their procurement rules to allow them to benefit from rapid IT changes.
Smaller suppliers are innovative and can offer services that might not be available at bigger players on preferred supplier lists.
Garewall told me about a service ITC Infotech offers to customers, which I found interesting. It involves creating appstores for businesses.
For one of its customers in Holland, a large corporate, the company has introduced an app that means IT departments don’t even have to get involved in setting new starters up
A new employee joins the company and has a job profile assigned to them. When they log in they are automatically presented with all the software they need and are approved to use. They simple check boxes and are given access to cloud based software such as SAP.
This sounds good particularly with the increasing take-up of BYOD schemes, which threaten to put pressure on busy IT departments.
This makes me think that appstores will replace PSLs.