Sunday, 30 March 2014

Broadband ... the new UK postcode lottery?

So, your company has grown enough for you to move out of your front room or from that tiny office above the launderette and find somewhere better. Or you are on the run from your creditors and need to move house. If you are an iProfessional then you need your broadband. This is most likely to be what is called ADSL, which stands for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (or Loop). Fortunately you have a wide range of suppliers to choose from, even if most of them actually sell you something they bought from BT Wholesale.

What is more difficult is predicting just what kind of broadband you will get once you are connected up.

Having spent almost the last 20 years of my working life managing a database of digital television reception data I have some experience of the difficulties of predicting such things. With broadcasting it is the vagaries of how radio signals travel across the landscape and interfere with each other. With ADSL it is the layout of the phone network and how signals deteriorate as they travel down the, often ancient, copper wires between exchange and your premises and how they interfere with each other in the exchange. ADSL uses a high frequency carrier signal to carry the broadband data between you and the exchange. If you're lucky enough to have a 'fibre to the cabinet' (FTTC) connection (branded as 'Infinity' by BT) then the ADSL part only has to go between you and the green cabinet in the street. The onward connection to the exchange is handled separately using optical fibre. (Note that just because your exchange is 'enabled' for FTTC it doesn't mean every cabinet is.

The Wikipedia entry on DSLAM ADSL modems gives some interesting figures for the likely connection speed for the latest ADSL2+ technology which ranges from 25 megabits over just 300 metres down to 800 kilobits over five kilometres. You can see that since the line length in rural areas is usually longer, the connection speed is slower.

You can do a line speed check once you are in your new premises by putting your telephone number into checkers on the BT web site (and others ... more in a moment). However, it's likely you won't know the number until you move in. Even if you do, it can be misleading. When I moved house last time I was able to check broadband speed with the previous occupant's computer. Despite this, when I moved in, with a different ISP, my speed was significantly higher ... but it could have been lower.

I asked a question about broadband on Linked-In's BBC Alumni group and it has generated a lively discussion, just demonstrating how frustrating it is for anyone trying to run a business that needs broadband, even if they are in an urban area. The news today has the Guardian reporting on customers in central London who can't get a phone line installed and Facebook saying they'll use drones to provide rural broadband connections. This is clearly a significant problem, but one you don't know you have until it's too late. [April 1st: More criticism for BT about how rural broadband is, or isn't, being rolled out]

So, if you are planning to move office, what can you do? I'm assuming that your proposed office isn't a serviced one with a ready-made internet connection. Firstly check that there is a phone connection already in place. This should be a direct line. The property web site RightMove now has a broadband speed checker attached to each result. This is probably based on the post code rather than a line to the premises but it's a useful indicator nonetheless. An alternative is PlusNet who, if you say you don't have a phone number, will allow you to search on post code and choose a premises from a list (which BT won't let you do). These will be useful but, sadly, there is no totally reliable way to know until you know the phone number.

One final note, a respondent to my LinkedIn topic said that moving from a consumer supplier to a business supplier got him an increased speed; so talk to your ISP ... or move to a new one. Good luck.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Stakeholders – a key piece of the digital project management jigsaw

Paying attention to stakeholder influence has become more and more important in defining the success of projects. Even if the project comes in on time and within budget, if the stakeholders are not happy, then the project hasn’t succeeded.

Katharine Thornber states this when she identifies Stakeholder identification and analysis as her second overlooked task in project management in Project Neglect: Four Overlooked Tasks for Starting Projects (27.2.14).

Let’s go back to basics. Who are ‘stakeholders’? They are any people that can influence the outcome of your project. So this can include internal as well as external people. There’s the rub. It’s hard enough getting your diverse and maybe dispersed, cross-functional team focused in one direction; but several divergent yet powerful client-facing perspectives affecting your direction, now that’s the reality of digital project management.

Many digital jobs - from marketing related, account management and project management - now demand being able to manage stakeholders. However, it’s very hard to find any helpful information on what this means in a digital environment. Classic stakeholder management has been around and analysed for many years. There are processes and tools that are recognised to help. We cover the power grid, RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) charting and Communication chart in our book with several updates in this blog.

It’s good to see a process in action though and Melanie Frank learns some basics from one of her students in Agile Coach learns from Coachee (3.3.14). Yes, even Agile can learn from older techniques! Melanie describes five stages of stakeholder management analysis affecting a project as demonstrated by her student;
  1. Visual representation of the challenges.
  2. Stakeholder mapping.
  3. Analyse each stakeholder requirement.
  4. Summarise core asset of success criteria.
  5. Define core areas for improvement.
The link between identifying and analysing digital stakeholders with marketing and project management is well served in a recent PhD thesis by Steven Boyer, Glasgow Uni. Steven investigates the digital games industry. He defines his second and third stage of investigation as looking at the influence of institutional stakeholders and the way in which they analyse data about the audience (he prefers ‘player’ as a term for the reasons he gives) relating to the images in games, and the power-play within institutions that then influences the production of images in new games. This is the closest we got to a definition of how important an influence stakeholders can exert on digital projects. Congrats on the doctorate, Steven. Playermaking: the institutional production of digital game players, February 2014. Yes, it is necessarily written in a very academic and rhetorical style but we hope you can gleam the nuggets.

Overall, the environment in which we are operating is changing: no surprises there. What this means is that the business public and the way they are improving - in what is called ‘digital literacy’ - is becoming a factor we can’t ignore. The general public are changing their digital literacy too. This concept is one that needs to be watched and analysed as it affects how people relate to our products/projects. There’s a definition of ‘digital literacy’ and more at JISC – well, Northumbria Uni on behalf of JISC - that sums it all up in plain English. Honest, we didn’t aim to plug some universities over others!

Friday, 14 March 2014

When the economic situation improves, employees walk: Are you ready?

Just as you think your company is coming out of the repressed economic times and you can focus on improvements to the bottom line linked to project success, the idea of your talented employees going elsewhere may not be a factor you have considered. Worse, if they do walk, there is a skills shortage so it is harder to replace them. Can you do anything to mitigate this? Have you even thought about it?

The Hay Group have conducted research into the trends for employees moving jobs worldwide and predict that the UK will see this peak in 2015. The poor economic times meant that employees were prepared to stick with a job because there were genuine fears that there may not be another around. But, as the economy improves and confidence improves, employees will find that there are more jobs around. This means that they can leverage their expertise and skills for more money and they do not have to put up with aspects of their working environment they haven’t liked.

The Hay Group list five factors that have an impact on employee retention as:
  • Confidence in the organisation and leadership
  • Room for employees to grow
  • A fair exchange between employee and organisation
  • An environment for success
  • Authority and influence
Here is the Hay Group web page. It’s worth watching their 2 minute presentation on ‘Preparing for take-off’ to get the impression of why and how they have reached their analysis. It’s linked to from the page.

These wider concerns for a company are echoed in ‘Higher pay does not equal higher retention rates’, HR Review, 26th February 2014, (look at the quoted last paragraph for this.) Also, ‘Great with Talent’ has researched ‘Why employees leave and retention for 2014’, meaning improving retention in 2014, we believe.

Well, do your employees line up with those the Hay’s five factors? Would you know? It’s interesting that more and more companies are conducting ‘exit’ interviews with employees who are leaving to get to grips with aspects in the company that work against retention. These ‘exit’ interviews need to be handled well, of course, so there are specific training courses to prepare people to get the truth from leavers, and, even specialist companies that will do this for you (See ‘Great with Talent’, as an example). Do you have anyone qualified to conduct ‘exit’ interviews? Are you prepared to use the information positively to change your company?

It may well be worth your while, as the costs of recruiting someone are real costs. There’s the recruitment agency fees (if you use them), time for reading CVs and interviews, meetings to make decisions, then the integration time to up-skill him/her to get them working efficiently for your circumstances, teams and clients. You may well have to take on a contractor to cover the interim etc. The Hay Group mention 12-18 months to find and get a new employee up to speed. Is this true for you?

And, just to rub it all in: there’s a great question in ‘The Value of Project Team Members’, Francis Hooke, 19th February 2014, that asks, ‘If you are a project manager and you completed your project on time, in budget, but 30% of the team members have left the company, did you fail?’

See Quality Project Delivery for the answer!

Friday, 7 March 2014

An interesting week in UK image rights

Engraving of old typrewriter
You know that old Chinese curse: 'May you live in interesting times'. This last few days have been interesting for followers of copyright in photographs and other images ... but not necessarily cursed. If you're putting together a web-based project some things just got a lot easier.

We are already well advanced in discussions about how to implement the scheme for using orphan photographs. I've attended a few meetings at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) discussing how the licences might work. One key discussion point is just what constitutes 'non-commercial use'. So I will briefly digress from my main point to refer you to an old document from the Creative Commons people which, based on a survey, does just that.

The reason why this question is important is because there is a significant difference between what rights owners will allow a 'commercial' user to do as opposed to a 'non-commercial' one. And often it is the use itself rather than the user; so it's complex.

Recent UK government legislation made provision for the IPO to occasionally issue 'notices' to explain and clarify aspects of copyright in a way that can be understood by the average person. This is what Lord Justice Greer once famously called the man on the Clapham omnibus back in a 1933 court case. So now there is some suitable reading for that bus journey for the IPO has issued its first such notice ... for photography on the web. They plan to issue more and will link them from this web page. On the whole it's a very good document. There are a few niggles I have with it but it is possibly the first step towards a universally useful Copyright Highway Code, so I'm all in favour.

Images on the web made the news yesterday, when the huge image agency, Getty, announced that it was now providing a service to allow people to embed images from its library, free of charge, on web pages that fit their quite broad definition of 'non-commercial'.  The story broke in the British Journal of Photography and their piece includes helpful elaboration from Getty's senior vice president of business development, content and marketing (must have a very long business card) Craig Peters. He says that a web page or blog with Google ads would not be considered commercial.
The fact today that a website is generating revenue would not limit the use of the embed. What would limit that use is if they used our imagery to promote a service, a product or their business. They would need to get a license.
The question of whether Google ads on the average blog is 'commercial' or not is one issue that makes deciding where to draw the line between the two very difficult. [There is a separate issue of just what Getty's initiative might do for the stock photo market and for stock photographers. However, Getty are being pragmatic: there is a lot of web infringement of their images and they now have a plan to control and eventually monetize this.]

Finally, in case you missed it, the British Library have placed over a million of their scanned images (basically etchings from 'old books') into a Flickr Photostream for anyone to use. The BL have said that they are not aware of any copyright restrictions, which is probably good enough for most of the rest of us. I should add that this project, with definitely out-of-copyright images, should not be confused with scanning of 'out-of-commerce' books, which may well still be in copyright. That's a whole different ball game. The typewriter engraving above is from the BL collection and, good for them, includes title and attribution metadata.