Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Selling SMS Services in Australia

One of the key challenges faced by our sales team in Australia is selling on the benefits of reliability and availability. It seems there are still a lot of people who consider these generally less important when choosing and SMS service provider, price is what it's all about.

The UK market was like this a couple of years ago. But we've seen a definite shift towards customers using selection criteria that include reliability and availability more recently. Notably several customers who left us for a keener priced service and come back finding it didn't meet their requirements.

In these early days, price was everything it was about proving business cases and trying out ideas. This isn't critical to my business, why do I need to pay for a UK routed service when I can buy it more cheaply off-shore.

These services typically used off-shore routes taking advantage of lax interconnect policies to submit messages to subscribers on the UK operators without paying interconnect fees (3p between UK operators and possibly more internationally). The UK operators soon started closing these routes with AA19 Interconnect Agreements, effectively pricing the off-shore routes out of the market.

As the price went up, people started to notice the intermittant nature, or total lack, of delivery receipts.

The non-GMT timestamps (the time the message is marked as sent is that of the sending SMSC and not the destination) became an irritating source of confusion.

The availability of these systems were constraining business processes that had come to rely on the delivery and/or receipt of SMS messages.

We've always built our service around the best quality routes for send and receiving messages ensuring delivery receipts are available, timestamps are correct and the system is available. It did take a while for the the UK market to realise that we had a point.

Recently in Australia, Telstra seemed to have blocked one of the key offshore routes in used by many of the budget SMS providers.

Most likely this was due to high levels of spam. Cheap routes make it economic for SMS spam to be carried. The problem for legitimate traffic also using this route is that the operator will just block everything, irrespective of content. Another way availability can suffer.

This kind of incident is obviously great news for Esendex and companies like us who provide quality services. Telstra is educating the market about the true cost of using off-shore routes far more effectively than any sales pitch from us.

Not everyone can justify a quality service straight away, back to trialling, proving business cases, etc. The problem is they come to rely on the service more quickly than they expect and when it goes wrong, things get messy.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Power efficiency with virtual servers

Kevin, our Systems Manager, has been evaluating some interesting technology that should not only make his job easier, but also save some power as well.

VMware provide arange of server virtualisation products that allow you to run multiple operating system instances on one instance of hardware.

There are number of servers sitting in our production network performing essential roles (Windows Domain Control, DNS Services, monitoring, etc) that do not result in heavy hardware utilisation. From a utilisation point of view the services could easily run on one server. The problem with these services however, is they're not necessarily good bed fellows and are recommended to run on separate boxes. These services also need to be resilient so 2 servers are required for each service.

Enter VMware, their technology sits between the hardware and the operating system unlike Windows Virtual Server which is an operating system service. This means any OS can be installed side by side, ideal in our environment where we do have some Linux servers in place.

If the technology passes our evaluation, 6 servers that were running 3 services in a resiliant architecture can become 2. 3 virtual servers on each box each 'side' running a copy of the other.

So we need less hardware which also means less power (see Power is the currency). Instead of 6 servers consuming power just to sit around and do very little. 2 servers are running optimally, reducing the consumption by at least 50%.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

It's the little differences

Just had my first ever Australian Snickers.

Thinner and made to a different recipe.

Suprisingly unnerving

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Happy Birthday to the SMSC

15 years ago the SMSC (Short Message Service Centre) was born. This is the component of a mobile network that is responsible for storing and forwarding SMS messages from one handset to another.

The very first examples could process just 10 messages per second, latest models can get up to 16,000 per second.

According to Informa's World Cellular Data Metrics 620 billion messages were sent globally in Q1 of this year. Generating revenue of US$ 80B per year, SMS is truly a modern phenomenon

One can imagine that while the birth of the SMSC was exciting for the people involved, as is any technical project, it probably wasn't sending shockwaves around the industry.

Imagine the party they would have had if they'd known they were witnessing the birth of a multi-billion dollar industry that would redefine communication for over a third of the worlds population.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Doing the right thing

This is something I've been thinking about for a while and follows on from a post Julian made: Conduct Unbecoming of a Gentleman

I'm a reader of SMSTextNews as is Steve Procter of iTagg. It's not unheard of for him to mention in his comments how iTagg are a wonderful company that follow the rules and make sure subscribers of the services they host don't get ripped off.

Now, I'll be honest, I used to think, 'give it rest Steve, being sanctimonious isn't endearing'.

I've changed my mind.

At Esendex, we work from a premise too of doing all the right things. Like enforcing compliance on our customers to ensure consumers don't get ripped off. Like, not bare-faced lying about other companies as described in Julian's post.

I think it's time to shout from the rooftops about being responsible, acting appropriately and distancing ourselves from the companies facing allegations surrounding the GMTV debacle and all the other sordid stories.

Companies who want a service for the long-term need to know that the service provider is going to be around for the long-term. Flounting the regulations and acting irresponsibly/dishonestly means the service provider is at risk of being heavily punished. That punishment, and/or the ramifications, can destroy a company.

Now that approach may suit some key individuals who have made their money and are happy to walk away. But what about their customers who are left without the service they've come to rely on. For so many of our customers, our SMS service is integral to their business processes. Losing it would cost them an awful lot of money.

Now I'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking what a load of wishy-washy, liberal nonsense and heh perhaps even a little sanctimonious towards the end. Maybe, that I should stop being naive, business is war, any weapon, any cost, winning is all that matters.

Ultimately the market will decided and we'll see who's left standing at the final reckoning.

Our flag is raised, we've shown our colours, now bring it on.

Length of pool at Dubai airport

Short. Push off to hard and you've just about got to the other end, short. It's a 10M oval.

Obscure post title I know but I'm doing my bit for the blogosphere with this info-gem. I tried to find this out by searching before I left to no avail. I can now see why the G-Force Health Club didn't include it in their literature. And probably why the man at reception took my US$17! for a swim before remarking

It's a bit small

Still I had it to myself and as long as I remembered not to push off too hard, I had 15-20 mins of something approaching a swim. Add the sauna and a long shower and it was just the tonic to break the journey to Melbourne.

So, if you're looking forward to an endurance session while transitting, you'll be disappointed. If you just want to gently exercise those swollen, aching limbs then it's probably just the tonic.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

The 'Exclusivity' of Business Lounges

On my way to Melbourne to spend a week with Chris, our man in Oz. Flying Emirates for the first time which means I get to fly from Birmingham rather than Heathrow. Given the flooding that hit Heathrow today, I've benefited from more than just a shorter journey to the airport.

Once I arrived I headed straight to the business lounge (run by Servisair, not Emirates) for a drink and a relaxed wait for the flight only to discover a tiny room filled with people. I just managed to find a seat but the people behind me were just milling around. Hardly the exclusive experience you're sold on by all the airline promotion.

It reminded me a bit of when I last flew with BA out of JFK. It was a Friday evening and the Executive Club lounge was full to the rafters with barely enough seats for everyone. I nipped out into the main terminal to get a book and discovered a relatively serene atmosphere with very few people. The majority were enjoying the 'exclusivity' of the lounge.

So this time I left to find that the Costa Coffee was offering a more pleasant ambiance, with better coffee. And given that they were too tight in the lounge to offer free Wifi access I was definitely in a better place.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

PayForIt web site found

Thanks to an anonymous comment on one my previous posts about PayForIt, PayPal Mobile Checkout opens, PayForIt watch out, I can now reveal the location of the PayForIt web site


Had a quick check again and it still doesn't come up on the first 4 pages of a Google search. Although a service called PayForIt, http://www.payforit.net that allows you to pay for school dinners does.

When choosing a name for this service, given that is was to service the mobile internet, you'd think they'd pick something that at least had the domain name available.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Business Continuity, always expect the unexpected

When discussions turn to business continuity talk generally turns to server failures, power outages, fires and the like. However there is always the unexpected.

The centre of Nottingham, where our office is located, was without mains water today Taps Run Dry In City. Seems a leak had developed but Severn Trent Water couldn't find it.

This seemed quite funny at first. We have water bubblers for drinking water anyway and people were happy to hold-on, imagining it to be a temporary situation. By the time lunchtime arrived and still no sign of a fix we had to give people the option of going home.

Fortunately, most people stayed on so the show went on and business carried on as usual. We are lucky in that most people, certainly in sales, operations and support, can do they jobs from home in a crisis situation, but it's not ideal. It's another scenario to be considered in our contigency planning.

Another example was given to me by a friend who is responsible for his company's IT infrastructure, including their datacentre. In the recent floods, their datacentre flooded. The cable void under the floor was filling with water at an alarming rate.

Suddenly he was faced with questions like "Where do I hire a pump?", "How big a pump do I need?", "Where do I pump the water too?", "How quickly can IT engineers pail water?". Questions you don't want to be asking for the first time on a Saturday afternoon when your servers are on the verge of bath.

Preparation, redundancy and contigency planning are key to surviving most incidents. Unfortunately the unexpected laughs in the face of planning so having people with the ability to think effectively on their feet is probably as important.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Moore's Law in action

We recently replaced the front-end application servers that support our Web SMS and SMS API services as part of a longer term infrastructure refresh programme. We've essentially replaced them with their current equivalents and the difference is astounding.

Where our last servers were averaging 70-90% CPU utlisation, these new ones rarely get above 20%. In additon, they draw less power than the servers they've replaced. handy given Power is the Currency for datacentre charging these days.

Moore's law tell's us that processing power doubles every 2 years. It seems he had a point.

Proactive Customer Service - Remember the miss-spellings

Just realised that I didn't have 'Essendex' as a search term in Google Alerts. It's a miss-spelling we didn't foresee when we came up with the name but it's turned out to be common. A lesson learned.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Training in the art of SMS

Saw this and thought it was worthy of note http://www.mediaburst.co.uk/news-2007-06-18.htm. The guys at MediaBurst are running training days to help companies make the most of SMS marketing campaigns.

Seems like a really good idea. When you're deep within an industry, it can be very hard to see it from outside. This kind of initiative should be a great way of spreading the word as well as the benefits of using SMS as a communication channel.

Ride to Work Scheme - UPDATE

Seems that www.cyclescheme.co.uk manage this for most bike shops in the country. Seems a pretty comprehensive service and every local bike shop I could think of was on their list. My shortlist is almost down to one.

Incidentally, it's great to be working with great people. I passed a quote from one of the guys onto Jenny, in our finance team, asking her to check out what was involved. I was expecting something to review in a couple of days. Within the hour, almost, I had the paperwork ready to sign and she was on top of what we needed to do. Marvellous.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Interconnecting for minnows

News today from Truphone : Truphone wins court injunction against T-Mobile blocking tactics. In short, T-Mobile UK were blocking calls to Truphone phone numbers, Truphone have successfully proven that they have a sufficient case to argue in court, the judge has required that T-Mobile UK started connecting calls from next Monday.

Great news for the developing internet telephony providers? Well it's certainly a start.

This reminded me about Mark Hay of HSL's campaign to try and compel T-Mobile to interconnect with them over SS7, see Dispute between Hay Systems Limited and T-Mobile UK Limited about SMS termination via Signalling System 7.

Now this case was different in that in centered on a dispute on the technology of interconnect but yet again it was T-Mobile UK blocking the way (incidentally I understand HSL have successfully interconnected with other UK operators). All consistent I hear you say, big company protecting the status quo what's to talk about?

You'd be right if it wasn't for the investment T-Ventures (investment arm of Deutsche Telekom) made in Jajah an internet telephony provider : T-Online Venture Fund Makes Strategic Investment in JAJAH. Left hand not talking to right hand or a more strategic vision of blocking or owning.

What with Orange and Vodafone disabling the VoIP functionality on their Nokia N95's it all seems to me that the operators plugging the mobile VoIP dyke but are rapidly running out of fingers.

Fixed rate data plans and an acceptance among users that if it's free, poor quality voice is fine (I use Skype but boy is it hard work at times) is opening the door up for more and more VoIP providers. These providers are lightweight, nimble and completely without a PSTN legacy. Couple that with Mobile Broadband being rolled out and the mobile operators have put out a Welcome mat.

For me this raises the question of what these 'minnows' of the telecoms world will do when it comes to interconnecting with each other.

Will they perpetuate the closed shop, 'interconnect where I have to' approach or, create an open system where each provider interconnects with each other provider.

Traditional marketing and competitive strategies would drive people to keep their communities to themselves and only interconnect where the have to, ie to the incumbents. But I think this time has passed.

The opportunity exists for multiple niche players to exist, each serving very specific markets providing just the hooks and add-ons to a traditional telecoms service that their target market needs.

Chris Anderson demonstrates in The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand that companies like Amazon, Rhapsody and iTunes are already serving these niches in their respective markets. I believe VoIP technology can remove the supply constraints on the telecoms markets to allow the same to happen.

The danger for the new players is that a large player comes in and does it before they've had a chance to get to critical mass, eg T-Mobile with Jahjah.

The answer, in my view, is for all these players to interconnect with each other. Enable your customers to talk to as many of their friends and colleagues as possible and they'll love you for it. Couple that with a range of services that are made for their market and they'll have no reason to move and eulogise about your service to their colleagues and friends.

It's also a defensive option, as the VoIP community grows, the collective strength grows, critical mass arrives more quickly and the incumbents won't be able to ignore you. Rather like a shoal of smaller, nimbler fish staying out of the way of the lumbering predators, it's easier and more effective in a group.

I'll be watching the space with interest and welcome any comment from the existing players, this could get interesting.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Naked Conversations

Almost at the end of Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers and for someone who is relatively new to blogging it's been a fascinating read. Chock full of examples of businesses blogging, in fact that's pretty much most of the book, but all pertinent and presented with considered commentary.

I've enjoyed producing this blog and this book has inspired me to make blogging more central to our customer communication processes and given me some guidelines for doing it effectively.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

SMS Alerts from Salesforce - A Confession

I did promise to create a CodeProject article covering this development project.

Unfortunately I had to rebuild my laptop and in the process lost my code. School-boy error. Good news is that I've got the posts to get the code from and a flight to Australia coming up. I'll get it up soon.

Open Source Components

I ended up on the Truphone web site today after a bit of browsing. I do like their approach and positioning, I reckon they've got it bang-on for their target market.

Another shrewd partof their approach has been to concentrate on one mobile phone platform, Nokia. So many mobile application vendors try and work across multiple devices and end up underwhelming everyone. I've no doubt they have plans for other platforms, almost certainly Sony Ericsson after their stellar rise to prominence in the last year or so, but they've given themselves the best chance of success by carefully choosing the battleground.

While there, I discovered their How Truphone Works page. They eulogise about the wonders of using open source software components plugged together to make their service work.

We do make use of open source software at Esendex but more in a supporting role than in our core system. This isn't through any fundamental opposition to using open source software, more a indication of the maturity of the open source industry in our chosen development environment.

Our systems are 100% Microsoft.Net, coded in C#, hosted on Windows servers. The open source systems with the most active development and mature feature sets are predominantly designed for Linux systems, coded in C.

So we've had to develop everything ourselves. Good news is that the system works just the way we want it to without any unnecessary functionality. Bad news is that it's taken us a longer to get there.

We have found a place for open source software, we use NUnit for unit testing; NAnt for build automation; Log4Net for application logging; Ethereal for network communication diagnosis; along with a variety of supporting libraries in our SMS SDKs for the open source environments.

The open source movement has been phenomenally successful and has provided a fast track for many companies. For us it's helped us make better systems.

RaceFace Sky Juice Jacket

Off topic but a subject very close to my heart with the current changeable weather conditions in the UK at the moment.

After getting absolutely drenched cycling home Thursday last week I invested in one of these. Got a chance to put it to the test today in a particularly torrential downpour.

Passed with flying colours, it's the business. Bone dry when I arrived and currently a bargain at Chain Reaction Cycles

The Cure for iPhone Hype Fatigue

Thanks to Alex at SMS Text News for finding this: Will It Blend? - iPhone

Not only is it fun to watch, I also think it's a great example of really innovative Internet marketing.

They've got bloggers and YouTube enthusiasts visiting and driving traffic to their site. All of whom could just easily be up for buying a blender. What better demonstration of the strength and power of a blender than destroying things.

Now what can an SMS message be made to do....?

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

PayForIt is a success

According to this article in Cellular News: Can Global Telcos Replicate the UK's Success with PayForIt? it is.

Not sure how a merchant service consumers haven't heard of can be construed a success.

Tell me I'm wrong, what am I missing?

Paralysed by Design

We had a great example yesterday of the beauty of thinking in an XP (Extreme Programming) way about development.

We were making some changes to our billing system to add some improvements and flexibility around our contract billing processes. Very quickly we got into what-if after what-if and couldn't see the wood for the trees.

Remembering the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle we identified some new features required as well as some refactoring in order to simplify what we had in place.

We'll probably still have to solve some of the what-ifs we came up with but we can worry about them when we absolutely know we have to deal with them. We'll also have a cleaner and simplified system upon which to work. It's also amazing how many of what-ifs won't be issues when we come to them.

Velocity maintained, system better for it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Ride to Work Scheme

Seems I've been living under a rock for a while and missed the Ride to Work Scheme that's part of the UK Government's Green Transport Plan.

Going to offer it to everyone, I know I'll be participating.

Reunited with my BlackBerry

It's back, finally. I'm in Qwerty heaven. I never did get on with SureType.

Thinking maybe I should get an Otter Box to avoid being separated again. Make sure you check out the video for the incorrect usage warning.

PayPal Mobile Checkout opens, PayForIt watch out

Picked up a story on Cellular News: PayPal Mobile Checkout Opens for Business. PayPal have launched their Mobile Checkout service to enable mobile commerce for it's merchants.

The solution that the UK mobile industry is touting for merchants wanting to get involved in m-commerce is PayForIt. This relies on mobile service providers like us to provide merchant processes that the operators accredit and therefore the consumer is supposed to trust.

I've searched for PayForIt again, as I have done frequently, and still nothing comes up. No one outside of the mobile industry has heard of it. How can consumers trust something they've never heard of?

Enter PayPal, most people have heard of them, especially the demographic who are purchasing using their mobile phone, immediately it's a trusted service.

They also enforce far, far lower processing charges for the merchants, and I really mean far, far lower.

PayPal is international, if your customer can access the mobile internet and has a PayPal account they can buy in whichever country they want. PayForIt is just UK.

You can probably see where this post is going and why we haven't bothered with PayForIt.

This is another example of the mobile operators just not getting the Internet. They want the sexiness and rapid evolution but have forgotten that the Internet model has been so successful because there are no controls. Without controls there is no opportunity to charge for access and other, more specialised and agile players can pick off the good bits, like merchant services.

I don't know what the answer is, people still want to talk and traditional voice calls are still the best way to do that. Though if the current trend to provide mobile broadband continues, services like Truphone might take that away from them as well.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Service Availability - oh the irony

I only posted about this last Friday and wouldn't you know we had an outage this morning. It was brief and was more of a slow-down than an outage but timing is everything.

We are redeveloping our web site at the moment and will be including a section to contain reports on outages and availability However until then I feel I've let the genie out of the bottle and should follow through with an explanation of what caused the outage.

In short we brought onboard a set of new front-end application servers and our load-balancers did not behave as we expected. They decided to ignore all-bar-one of the new boxes, giving all traffic to that one box. The new machines are faster than the old ones, but not that much faster.

It was picked up very quickly and resolved within a 3-4 minutes. We're updating our procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again. Sorry if you were affected.

Hospital Pariahs

Smokers and mobile phone users.

I was among them, hovering around the entrance to the fracture clinic, getting my fix.

Emails and phone calls, not cigarettes.

'Necessary' Technology

My wife broke her ankle over the weekend as the result of a freak household accident rather than anything more extreme. We stopped climbing, paragliding, etc before the children arrived and had managed to avoid serious injury during those exploits.

It has forced us to rearrange a few things around the house to make sure they are accessible, computers and phones mostly. It's started me thinking about how important technology is to us and how necessary it has become.

With each generation, it seems there is a new set of needs. Now these are not needs in a pure survival sense like food, water and shelter and talking about them as needs is not to disregard the millions in people in the world that do not have ready access to them. It's more that to function in our society and among our peers now requires access to technology to a degree that previous generations have not required.

My children will never know a world before mobile communication and the Internet. The Year 10 students I was helping a couple of weeks ago (blah) have grown up with mobile phones and MySpace both of which are necessary for their lives.

It's not a new phenomena, I think it's similar to me having never known a time without telephones and television. My parents never knew a time before electricity and cars. All have become necessities for many people.

It's easy to disregard the need for new technologies as indulgent and not appreciating what true necessity really is. In a way we are fortunate that these things have become important, it's an indication of how our society has developed.

My favourite local pub serves the best beer, food and is the best place to meet my friends but they are notorious for hating mobile phones. Militant signs warning of penalties for using mobile phones and even having them on are an indication that they haven't appreciated that the mobile phone has made the transisition from luxury toy to necessary item.

Now these rules are blatantly disregarded by everyone I know. Most of us have children and absolutely have to be contactable should anything happen with the babysitter, etc. That said our parents weren't when they went out and we were OK.

But these genies keep on being let out of the bottle and there is now way of putting them back in.

Friday, 6 July 2007

New Esendexees complete their first week

Our two new developers Andy and Jonathon have completed their first week and all looks good. They've already cut their teeth on some production code and are contributing actively to design and solution discussions.

Recruitment is probably the riskiest, most fraught part of running a business for me. It's so nice when it looks like the right choice has been made, by both parties.

Service Availability

As a service provider we have to make sure our service is available for our customers to use whenever they want to use it.

When we opened Esendex Australia a couple of years ago, we did so confident in the knowledge that we were running a 24/365 system. Unfortunately that confidence was a little misplaced.

The service was running but we'd got in the habit of running all those little system maintenance jobs in the early hours when our UK customers were generally in bed or had low volume requirements. Not so those pesky Australians, they insisted on using the system during their office hours! The expected a very responsive system and weren't always getting it.

We soon moved things around and everyone is happy but providing 24/365 availability does require a cultural shift in an organisations approach.

The development team are used to this as an approach, the architecture of the various service components that handle our message processing and routing are designed to be updated live without impacting service.

Our DBA (DataBase Administrator) on the other hand as an especially tough job keeping the databases optimised while also keeping them constantly online, or at least that's what he tells me ;).

Earlier this year we realised we needed an external monitoring service to give us a customers' eye view on our service. We have always had internal monitoring system running all the time, alerting the relevant people. This is an internal system and the danger is you make assumptions that are not correct for customers.

We settled on Alertra as they seemed to provide both the breadth of monitoring points and the depth of protocol monitoring we needed. Their alterting system also seemed pretty reliable.

We've setup monitoring on our key service access points, and thanks to Alertra's rather nifty Public Uptime Statistcs I can share the current status with you now.

Pretty good results, though not necessarily the 100% we were hoping for. It turns out we were really thankful for the external monitoring because we did have an outage that our internal monitoring didn't catch.

We host our own DNS (Domain Name Service) servers and it turns our we had an issue with the configuration. So while our service was happily alive and our internal monitoring was happily reporting all was good, some of our customers couldn't find our servers.

We've now added monitoring of our DNS servers so that base is covered.

It has shown us that there is no room for complacency and that a service truly is the sum of it's parts.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Investing in the Future of Year 10

I assisted at the Investing in Future Conference at George Spencer School. This is one of the school's annual Enterprise focused work and activities

This was a two-day conference where I looked after and guided a group of 12 15 year- olds through a range of activities designed to the help them prepare for work in the future.

The format was very interactive with various activities, student and industry presentations. I was one of 18 'industrialists' who included partners in law firms, chartered accountants, RAF recruitment officers and hotel training managers.

The school had done a fantastic job of organising the conference and the students did their bit by engaging wholly with process with a level of creativity that has encouraged me for the future of this country.

Very tiring but very, very rewarding and best of all, I was called Sir!

The Ampere Strikes Back

Discovered an interesting report from the Energy Saving Trust The Ampere Strikes Back after this popped up on the Inquirer: Gadgets and saving energy don’t mix.

I've definitely over-indulged on gadgets over the years, but fortunately I'm still on a CRT TV.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Businesses Look to Mobile VoIP

Interesting item on Cellular News today: Businesses Look to Mobile VoIP

Seventy percent of businesses plan to be using VoIP regularly on their mobile devices over the next two years, according to research by Coleman Parkes; this is up from 27 percent who are currently using it.

It's a stellar prediction and a potential nightmare for mobile operators' voice revenues if it's accurate. I do feel that there is an increasing assumption among companies that you can continue doing business while mobile. Mobile VoIP is part of a mix of service that are required to make that a reality.

Reading down I discovered that

The research questioned 200 CIOs of enterprise companies across the UK, Europe and the USA.

So not necessarily a representative sample, but possibly where they lead others will follow.

Pro-active Customer Service - Our Turn

I posted a while ago in Keeping your ear to the ground about searching the web for references to Esendex that might indicate someone having an issue.

I've got Google Alerts set up to track terms like 'Esendex Issue', 'Esendex Problem' and 'Esendex Delay'. One finally appeared.

KS-Soft :: View topic - Email relay problem.

Now the posts were from April last year but one of my support team went ahead and posted a reply anyway. Loh and behold the postee came straight back, happy. They were trialing at the time and had subsequently signed up as a customer.

I'm hoping that we're on top of it now and can react more quickly than over a year. If the customer hadn't been happy, they'd have been off and we'd never have known why.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

iPhone taunting

Updated iTunes on my PC over the weekend to discover this:

It's not even launched here yet and their software is mocking me!

Climate Change, what are we going to do about it?

I recently read Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning by George Monbiot. It's a fascinating read that collates some of the wide ranging solutions to reducing CO2 emissions in the key areas

It has as it's base premise the requirement to cut CO2 emissions by 90% if we are to keep CO2 levels sufficently low to prevent further climate change. A shocking number, but he goes onto provide a series of solutions to achieving this in areas such as transport, energy production, housing, food shopping and many more.

Where this book is different is the acceptance that these changes have to happen within the context of an essentially capitalist society. Yes, austerity is required but that doesn't have to mean a reduction in living standards.

The temptation is to rush out and make sweeping changes to my life and the operation of the company to 'do our bit' to prevent climate change.

13 years ago while at University studying Environmental Engineering (blimey was it really that long ago?), that was my response. I was passionate, arrogant and naive and couldn't understand why people didn't want to do something, anything about preserving and protecting the environment.

I soon became jaded as the rest of the world ignored the issue and anyone who tried to make a difference was marginalised. I felt like a few of us were taking on the entire burden without any support from governments or fellow humans.

I sit here now newly invigorated. Climate change is well and truly on the agenda, even the current US Administration is admitting that there might be something we should consider doing. But, exciting as this is, the time hasn't come for sweeping, ill-considered changes.

It's not just because I am older and a little wiser, I might even go as far as to say I'm less arrogant. When it comes to my personal life, I can make whatever changes I want but my business life is very different.

I have a responsibility to all our stakeholders be they employees, customers or shareholders. We have to remain a profitable, viable business so we can:

  • keep our employees in employment
  • maintain service to our customers
  • provide a return to our shareholders

Making sweeping changes to reduce our CO2 emissions that could reduce our competitveness, when those competing against us have chosen not to make that same committment is tantamount to commercial suicide. This helps no-one.

It is at this stage I look to the government to provide the level playing field. I really want to make the changes but government policy needs to drive the majority of the solutions proposed in Heat. The challenge for government will be to do this domestically while also reaching an international consensus to ensure as a nation we remain competitive.

A daunting prospect for those in power, but the alternative doesn't really bear thinking about.

Monday, 2 July 2007

'Single' euro train ticket

No sooner have I posted about looking at lower climate impact travel alternatives when this get's announced 'Single' euro train fare planned.

A group of European high-speed rail operators have formed an alliance that will eventually make it easier to buy international train tickets.

it goes on to say

The alliance wants to compete with low-cost airlines on routes that take less than four hours flight-time and capitalise on their status as a lower-emission option.

All good news, especially with Eurostar moving to St Pancras.

New Years Resolutions

Sat down today and realised I haven't posted anything in the last two weeks. Our financial year runs July to June at Esendex and the last 2 weeks have been filled with annual reviews, budgets and all manner of other tasks.

Rather like the calender New Year, it has been a time to reflect on the last 12 months and look forward to the next. I've also realised I'm making some resolutions.

We've moved offices, made significant investment in our infrastructure, taken on more people, developed some new services, opened in a new country and signed up lots of new customers. When you look back it's an enormous amount, at the time it seemed like business as usual.

One of the challenges I think I face as an entrepreneur and business principle is sharing the overarching vision with the rest of the company. In our situation this is especially easy to forget because Julian and I talk all the time.

I can forget to share my vision with my team, allowing them to understand why we're doing what we're doing and, even more importantly, what do they think we should be doing. That's not to say I present a set of arbitrary dictates to be acted on without question, I don't. It's more about sharing the plans among the whole of the team rather than just giving people information on the areas I think they need.

Resolution #1 - Articulate and share the vision

The success of the company is also something that's easy to forget to share. Julian and I are working on hard on growing the business and are always trying to find ways to grow faster. Our ambitions always exceed reality, we're entrepreneurs, it's the way we're made, it's why we do it.

I think we do forget that we are heading up a fast growing, profitable company in an exciting sector. Everyone in the company is part of that, we should remember to let them know.

Resolution #2 - Remember to view our success from a 'normal' perspective

Sitting here in June, being rained on again, as parts of Yorkshire are still under water, it makes you think that Al Gore fella' might have a point. I'll post in more detail on this subject separately, but we have to consider the longer term impacts of everything we're doing.

My train trip to Monte Carlo showed that there are often alternative ways of achieving the same ends with a lower environmental impact. As a business principle, I can affect change in both my own life but also that of my business and hopefully inspire the rest of the team to do the same.

Resolution #3 - Consider the climate impact of what we're doing and look for alternatives.

Normal service should now be resuming, so speak to you soon.