Season’s Greetings from Memia to all our customers, partners and friends

Well it’s the end of 2010 already!

It’s been a busy year at Memia: Our software consulting practice has worked with growing number of New Zealand software businesses providing architecture, technology strategy, software development management and board advisory services. Meanwhile our Google Apps and SaaS implementation practice continues to provide a one-stop shop for SaaS implementation and customisation services for diverse businesses throughout the region. Sincere thanks to all of our customers for your business during 2010 – we look forward to continuing to work with you during 2011 and beyond!

2010 has seen continued major changes in the information technology landscape: key themes of this year have included:

  • The continued growth and acceptance of the cloud computing IT model
  • The increasing capabilities and sophistication of cloud IaaS, PaaS and SaaS solutions available to businesses of all sizes
  • The amazing uptake and fragmentation of smartphone operating systems amongst many different vendors and toolsets: Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, RIM (Blackberry) and Symbian are the leaders – with HP’s Palm WebOS and Nokia/Intel Meego planned to hit the big time next year
  • In particular, Google’s Android smartphone operating system going from nowhere to over 300,000 device registrations per day! Who saw that coming?
  • The emergence of new business models based around social media, and the major growth of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

The next year is looking like producing even more change, and at Memia this thinking has really permeated how we look at technolology strategy. We have come to feel at ease with exponential technological change, and in 2011 we will be re-focussing our work with our customers to develop robust strategies which take account of the dynamic and ever-faster-changing technology landscape. (See my recent blog post for more details).

It’s also been an eventful year in terms of natural disasters as well: in April, I became stranded in the UK due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and ended up being (I think!) the first Kiwi to make it back home after flying the long way back via Vancouver (and directly over Iceland). Then at the beginning of September we, along with the rest of Canterbury, were amazingly fortunate to come through the 7.1 Earthquake unscathed. As I said in my email around the time, Christchurch can be very optimistic about the future – but let’s hope for a quieter time next year.

So…. as it’s this time of year, I thought I would share with you some of the books and other media that I have enjoyed this year – both at work and personally. All of these are recommended gift ideas – either for yourself or a friend! Click here to see the list on Amazon.

I also invite you to download our 2010 Christmas Card PDF (previewed above) and print out if you are so inclined – this way saves on postage stamps, carbon emissions, ink and trees! (And no, we haven’t yet reached the stage where we just Tweet “Happy Xmas Everyone!” and be done with it, but it’s not far off…)

Memia’s offices will be closing down over the holiday period from next Friday 24th Dec, returning to work on Wednesday 5th January 2011. During this period we will be running a skeleton support operation via the usual email and mobile contacts.

Best wishes for Christmas holidays, Happy New Year and we look forward to catching up in 2011!

Best regards

Ben, Rob and the Memia team


Thoughts on recent NZ IRD advice on using Cloud Computing services

My Twitter trigger finger went off at record speed earlier today:

NZ IRD gets Cloud Computing WRONG WRONG WRONG

…this in reaction to an open advisory notice from the New Zealand IRD (Inland Revenue Department) on using New Zealand businesses “using Cloud computing services to store business records in electronic form”.

The key phrase in this advisory is:

“It is the Commissioner’s view that only business records stored in data centres physically located in New Zealand will comply with the record keeping obligations in the Inland Revenue Acts. Taxpayers are responsible for ensuring they comply with their record keeping obligations. Therefore, taxpayers using a cloud computing service will need to be satisfied that all their business records will be stored in data centres located in New Zealand.

The failure to keep the books and documents in New Zealand as required by the Inland Revenue Acts is an absolute offence under section 143 of the TAA. A person convicted of this offence is liable to a fine.”

In my opinion, although the advisory does raise some serious issues about disaster recovery, business continuity and data sovereignty, it’s clear to me that the law – or at least this interpretation – needs to change urgently. Otherwise NZ inc. will be unable to reap the substantial economic benefits of a 21st Century IT model, and will carry this backward-looking legislation like a dead weight while everyone else in the world runs on ahead…

It seems to me that the IRD’s position boils down to a largely mistaken understanding of technology risk: it assumes that data placed in trust with an (almost inevitably higher priced) on-shore provider is less at risk of loss or security leakage than data placed in trust with an industry-leading international vendor. As a technologist who has been working in the cloud space for over 4 years, my professional opinion is that this is plain wrong: the IT and security maturity of international scale vendors far exceeds the capabilities of our domestic players, who even now sometimes have extremely scary moments. I also think that these international vendors are far better at understanding their own commercial risks around reputation management and know that if they screw up, they’re dog food.

Therefore, any risks that the IRD is thinking of must be non-technical, non-commercial and hence political in character:

Yes, NZ Inc. would be at high risk if both (sigh…) the internet pipes were shut off by overseas governments / terrorist organisations. But then so would NZ Inc if there was a shipping blockade or international sea pirates. At a base level, what fundamental difference is there between shipping containerloads of milk powder internationally (subject to shipping and customs inspections) and shipping cable fibre loads of data back and forth (subject to CIA inspections, natch…)? – other than the value of the items being shipped, carbon emissions involved and ongoing ecological vandalism caused by intensive farming, but hey….

(See also recent commentary from IDC on how this DIY IT position is unsustainable even in the public sector, the NZ Government’s own open-ended advice on using offshore ICT providers and a recent article that quotes a DIA manager saying “the government may have to make sacrifices in such treasured concepts as privacy and sovereignty, so that public sector organisations can take advantage of the “convenience” of the cloud” Some consistency is required!)

Several other counterarguments spring to mind immediately:

– Firstly: precedent – I seem to remember from my time working for a large multinational that all of their primary financial record keeping systems for all of Asia Pacific (including NZ) were certainly not based in NZ – in fact, their superstar CIO was proud of trumpeting the cost reductions from globalization of their IT consolidation from 90 datacentres down to only 6 worldwide.
How does a small NZ business renting a SaaS solution to get the same economies of scale as a major multinational differ from that multinational in terms of data domicile? Not a lot.

– Secondly: With hardly a week going by without NZ’s new government signing another free trade agreement, this is surely a directly discriminatory policy against NZ businesses getting the best value service from offshore.

Rod Drury and co at Xero were onto it immediately (impressive internet media management as always) with this delicately worded blog post: Working with the IRD on cloud computing. Given that Xero are market leaders in this space, and also that they host with Rackspace in the USA, their whole business model (and that of all c.20,000 of their NZ customers) was suddenly deemed illegal by some bureaucrat, no wonder.

“New Zealand legislation hasn’t kept up with developments in technology compared to other countries. We are working towards certification of our current customers and in the longer term expect to see the legislation amended to better reflect contemporary technology. We’d expect this to end up in a similar position to Australia where there is no onshore storage requirement, only that your records are available if requested. There are a number of fall back positions if the industry doesn’t get there.”

Fundamentally: IT and data management risk are just normal business risks to be managed by commercial businesses. The IRD seems to be saying that in fact, they know how to manage IT risk better than business owners and professional IT managers. That is wrong.


Prevailing theme from 2010: The accelerating rate of technology change becomes clear

It’s nearly the end of 2010 (2010!) and I’ve just returned from a short break tramping (hiking) in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand – great weather and nothing but sunshine, nature, sea and a 20kg+ backpack for company for 3 days. (OK, there were quite a few German tourists on the trail as well but other than that…) Highly recommended part of the world if you’ve never been.

Anyway, getting away out of it is a great opportunity to take the mind up out of the day-to-day and reflect on the bigger picture. I managed to spend a fair bit of time thinking about the wider trends behind what’s we’ve been seeing in our business over the last year, what our customers have been seeing, and what the implications are likely to be going forward.

Cloud uptake by in-house IT

When I set up Memia in mid-2008, I was pretty convinced that cloud technology was on the cusp of rapid mainstream commercial uptake by in-house IT departments. However, as it turns out – in our home market at least – the inertia of the embedded on-premise model and residual concerns on security, reliability and usability have slowed down the pace of adoption I expected. Whereas we’ve seen our early adopter customers gain major improvements in reliability, productivity and collaboration – all at a fraction of the cost of traditional do-it-yourself IT – they are still the minority who have dipped their toe in the water. CIOs, generally a risk-averse bunch, are still waiting for greater industry uptake – and, dare I say it, have a vested political interest in keeping an army of “IT guys” feeding and watering servers rather than culling their empire. Plus, many larger IT organisations have 3-year-plus sunk investments in IT infrastructure which they’re not going to write off immediately due to accounting rules. As a result, my experience over the last year has been that SaaS and cloud have only really been compelling for micro and small businesses where there is a compelling focus on cost. That said, the impression I’m getting now (coming out of the recession) is that cloud computing and SaaS is now a broadly accepted paradigm in many medium-sized organisations and next year will see many more CIOs taking the plunge – whether they are pushed into it by their boards or not.

Cloud impact on Systems Integrators

Meanwhile we are observing many of the “Services 2.0” predictions made by Narinder Singh of Appirio (2 years ago!) back in Dec 2008 coming true with uncanny accuracy: where previously on-premise Systems Integrators would have aimed for $10-$15 of services revenues for every $1 of software licences, the new model allows for only $2-$4 – if that. The old labour-intensive, sales-intensive one-off custom integration model just won’t be sustainable going forward. SIs have to turn into scalable SaaS businesses themselves selling “integration as a service” if they’re going to survive. Again, my impression is that today’s established SI’s are sleepwalking towards a revenue cliff and haven’t quite understood the new disruptive cost models and capabilities of the competition. I’m constantly amazed hearing about local organisations who are building their own data centres and server farms even NOW! Guys, have you *seen* Amazon’s pricing? What is it that you can do better??? The infrastructure game is a race to the bottom which will be won by the players with the biggest economies of scale and the best technology. The only question is when, not if. I give it 3 years max.

ISV Migration to the Cloud

Meanwhile in the ISV space again we’re seeing a considerable interest now in the SaaS model. Working with our ISV customers over the last year has given us a detailed understanding of the new risks, challenges, pitfalls and yet major opportunities of moving to the SaaS model. Basically, if you want to run a long-term, scalable software business then you *must* offer a multi-tenanted SaaS offering as soon as possible, period. However, the trick is to know how to do this while keeping your existing on-premise customers and without cannibalizing your existing market.

The key “table stake” of playing in this space is to get your technology strategy right: to support both on-premise and multi-tenant SaaS simultaneously using the same codebase, to support multi-channel mobile access, and to build a new 24/7 IT operations capability. And yet this is really difficult to achieve. CTOs are increasingly nonplussed as the landscape is changing so dynamically and at an ever faster rate, with technology adoption cycles and investment lifespans getting ever shorter. A year ago, who would have anticipated the rise of Android to shipping over 200,000 units per day? The trend for bring-your-own consumer devices (iPads, iPhones) into the Enterprise? Microsoft’s apparent dead-ending of Windows Mobile and Silverlight? (Where IS Microsoft going, anyway…?). Perpetual “nearly there” HTML5 support? Google’s lurking in the background of the Enterprise space and who knows what they’re doing either…

Just how does a CTO in 2011 correctly understand what’s going on out there, and then plan technology strategy accordingly?

The Accelerating Rate of Technology Change

The biggest impact on my thinking this year was reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near back in May. Even though it was written back in 2005, and in many ways should now be superceded, it is an extraordinary, outspoken, visionary book which is highly relevant to today’s technologists. The key theme underlying the book is simply this: technology change – according to many objective measurements – is not linear but accelerating exponentially. Just because our cultural inheritance brings us up to assume that things will continue to change at the same rate as currently, the fact is that they are getting faster. And faster. Put another way, there will be as much technological change between 2000 and 2014 as during the whole of the 20th Century. There will be the same amount again within the next 7 years after that.

Absorbing this fundamental understanding has a profound effect on how one thinks about the future. Whether or not you can bring yourself to agree with Kurzweil’s extrapolation of the Technological Singularity (when machine intelligence capability exceeds all human intelligence capability), as happening around 2045, he still maps out the many potential changes in IT, robotics and nanotech over the next few decades which have to be taken account of when developing tech strategy now. (Amazing meme: 1 human brain = approx. 1016 computations per second (cps). In 2045 there will be approx. 10 billion (109) humans on the planet => 1025 cps in total. If Moore’s law continues at it’s current rate, this would be the equivalent of just $1000 of computer processing capacity!)

So, the major landscape changes we’ve been seeing over the last years can be understood as just the continuation of aeons of accelerating change. Fundamentally: CTOs need to underpin their thinking with this knowledge, and understand the corollary that product investment lifespans and adoption cycles will be ever shorter going forward.

At Memia, this thinking has really permeated our way of looking at strategic engagements, and we have come to feel at ease with exponential technological change. Nay, wildly optimistic at the opportunities it brings! In 2011 we will be re-focussing our consulting offerings to work with our customers to develop robust strategies which fundamenally take account of the dynamic and ever-faster-changing technology landscape.

Exciting times.