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December 2009

2010 Predictions? No Chance!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 0

Last year I predicted the outcome of the Formula One 2009 Championship by declaring that Jenson Button would be hot favourite to win driving for the very talented Ross Brawn at Brawn GP.

Reflecting on the 2010 season ahead though, I’m already having some difficulties in repeating the trend and picking another Champion. It could literally be anyone out there on grid – and as Brawn GP proved, even a newbie team could very well end up winning in their debut season (although, none of the new teams have employed Mr Brawn in fairness).

The most promising rookie thus far to be entering the fray, in my opinion, is Bruno Senna. Having watched him in GP2 a couple years back, I was impressed then – despite hitting a wild dog in the Turkish GP and having to retire on the spot whilst comfortably leading! I will be most interested in his F1 career when it starts in March.

But looking down the list of confirmed drivers for 2010, its going to make for an explosive season. First Jenson Button has moved to partner Lewis Hamilton for an all British battle at McLaren – and despite my dislike for McLaren, they did end the previous season with a pretty decent car, which puts them right on the pace going into next year. I expect Jenson to stamp his authority and show his superior skill – but it will be much closer than the competition with Barrichello.

Red Bull – despite narrowly missing out in 2009, will undoubtedly be on the pace again next season, they’ve managed to keep hold of Adrian Newey, who is the closest thing to Ross Brawn in the pit lane as money can buy. I have no doubts that Vettel will be keen to show more too.

Meanwhile both Williams and Renault – following big, major changes and new investment in both teams – will also be fascinating to keep watch over. In my opinion, Renault were wrong to let Flavio disappear from the scene and retire with the ease in which he was allowed to do so and the loss of Pat Symonds (another old school engineer of the Ross Brawn/Adrian Newey class), may show the most obvious signs of Renaults downturn. Williams, however will hopefully be a different story – new investment may allow them to stay in the development race over the course of the season – in recent years they’ve always tended to start well but fade as the season progresses.

Would anyone dare count out Force India after their impressive showing in the close to 2009? They seem to have unlocked the potential to their car and whilst I don’t expect them to challenge for the Championship, race wins could be on the cards if they play their strategies right and their car is as good and as understood.

Another exciting prospect is Kamui Kobayshi – another GP2 driver getting a chance in F1 after a couple of dare devil races for Toyota. With luck he’ll continue to be a feisty driver who will battle with just about everyone for any position going. Also the reaction to the BMW Sauber team being re-owned and ran by Peter Sauber will no doubt renew the loyalties of the employees for the team and perhaps they might produce something a little bit special.

And for me, as a Ferrari fan, comes the most interesting aspect of the 2010 season; the return of Michael Schumacher, the arrival of Fernando Alonso and the return of Felipe Massa.

Massa first of all will be keen to get back behind the wheel of an F1 car after his accident which sidelined him from the latter half of the 2009 season. He’s already proved his potential in 2008 and given the car should be able to deliver a championship win – and what a story it would be; the wild man of F1 after moving to the most famous of all teams developing and then winning the Championship; testament to why Ferrari have recently setup a Young Driver Development programme – Felipe the first to follow the unofficial programme.

Much has been written about Fernando Alonso’s arrival at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen moved aside early for his arrival by Ferrari Management, they obviously believe him to be “the real deal”. As a Ferrari fan and an admitted Kimi fan - his daring and skill obvious to all when he was really on it, but distant and lacklustre whenever the mood didn’t quite take him – was not what Ferrari needed as they looked towards the “Schumacher Replacement Driver”, even if he did win the 2007 season.

Alonso provides a very different style and temperament – though not without risk. Remember back to the 2007 paring of Alonso/Hamilton and the disruption that was caused within the team as a result – but who knows what Alonso’s contract stated; if he was lead driver or not. I’m positive that a repeat won’t happen at Ferrari – Massa is too welcoming and friendly and sure of his position in the team to be threatened and Alonso will be fully aware of his own ‘Mission Statement’ and role within the Prancing Horse to disrupt the team. But I believe Alonso is much more to Ferrari’s liking than Kimi was becoming in his 3 years with the team. Alonso’s battled with Michael Schumacher during 2005 and 2006 – where he beat Schumacher remember – were blinding and some of the closest racing of the decade. Despite the lacklustre cars over the past couple of years, anyone who’s kept an eye on Alonso’s performance will have seen the genius is still at work behind the wheel and his talent hasn’t faded, the results haven’t told the full tale, his consistency his greatest strength and that is similar to what Schumacher brought to the team.

The only question mark over either Massa or Alonso challenging for the Championship will be that of the car. Ferrari have to deliver a Championship winning car in order to win. Last season after the confusion over the new rules and double diffuser, they were on the back foot from the off and never seemed to recover at all – the loss of Ross Brawn a few years back hasn’t seemed as apparent as I first feared, the loss of Jean Todt from the pit wall calling strategy seemed to hurt more. Dominicali addressed that problem and hopefully with a fresh piece of paper and an early start on the design of the 2010 challenger will return the famous scarlet cars to the front of the pack.

And then there’s the final element to the up-coming season; Brawn/Mercedes. If you haven’t already realised from my writings, I have full admiration for Ross Brawn and his abilities in F1 – he really is one of the greats and more credit should have been given to him after the season ended to Jenson Button’s championship victory. My thoughts ahead for 2010 were that it would be difficult for the small Brawn team to maintain their dominance going into 2010 – their budget perhaps fading slightly dropping them a little bit behind, but still a solidly designed car (Ross Brawn doesn’t “lose it” from one season to the next), but falling back due to the attention being solely on bringing home the 2009 Championship.

But then it all changed – Mercedes have bought the team and then Ross went and secured the signature of one “M.Schumacher” as his driver to replace outgoing Champion Jenson Button. For what’s its worth – I think Jenson was foolish not to stick with Ross Brawn, if I were a driver after Ferrari the next team I’d want to drive for would be the one that had Ross Brawn heading its design team! The Schumacher effect cancels out any drop in performance – especially if he’s lost none of his speed after sitting on the sidelines for 3 years. No doubt Brawn will make sure the 2010 Mercedes challenger will be up to par for his old buddy and the budget is now more than accounted for by the Mercedes cheque book.

What is my prediction for 2010 then? I don’t know, I wouldn’t even like to try to predict anything..……I can only agree with one Bernard Ecclestone who says that “2010 will be explosive”, and he tends to know what he’s talking about.

Amazon: Coming To A Store Near You!

Sunday, December 6, 2009 0

Amazon have always been a smart company.  They survived the .com boom of the 1990’s and they’ve remained a dominant force online ever since, whilst also expanding beyond books, music and movies to an all star line up of electrical equipment, computer games, home ware and a lot, lot more.

 

Now it seems that Amazon are trying to get into the High Street space – article here – and who could blame them?  One of the biggest book stores, Borders, has just gone under making some prime real estate available and a reduced competition in the book market place. 

 

What’s more it brings them head to head against other already well established companies such as Game, Argos, Curry’s, PC World (potentially), and others.  In my opinion the thing that always let Borders down was Amazon.  Borders prices for book were always way above those available online, and that wasn’t lost on shoppers – who could browse to their hearts content in a Borders (or a Waterstones), store and then return home and order up your favourite books online at a fraction of the price.

 

For me, the only attraction – other than being able to actually pick up and flick through the books before ordering – was the “in-house” Starbucks that encouraged readers to grab a book, take a comfy seat and relax for a moment.  Whilst I never noticed that many people reading in our local Borders/Starbucks, its certainly something both companies could have taken advantage of by expanding the coffee area a bit more and having a “Quiet Zone” where people could read or work away from those who wanted to a chat and a catch up over a coffee.

 

Another thing that Amazon could put right that has always bugged me about Borders/Starbucks is the lack of free wifi for shoppers.  Being an online retailer, if they were able to offer free wifi connectivity to allow shoppers to check their ‘in-store’ deals against those on the web, that would be a revelation.  Even if customers had a buy a coffee in order to qualify for – lets say – an hours worth of free connectivity to the internet and somehow Starbucks split that with Amazon, that would surely draw more people into both Starbucks for a coffee, online onto Amazon’s website, whilst they are in an Amazon store – where they can both browse the shelves at the latest deals or order through the website and pickup on your way out. 

 

That combination would be mighty and so unique on today’s High Street, it just might work and it just might lead to a very different fate than that of Borders.  RIP Borders, but bring on the “Amazon Store” I say.

Internet Shopping For Christmas

Saturday, December 5, 2009 0

I was handed a rather interesting form at work today, which advertised an internet filtering solution that I’d personally never heard of – but really, it could have been an advert from just about any company in the internet filtering business (you know the one, its not quite as glamorous as “Show Business” I admit, but there is no business like that!).

Anyway, it wasn’t so much the company or the technology that caught my attention, but rather the claim the leaflet makes that made me read on. It proclaims thusly: “Staff plan two days Christmas shopping at work”. The article reads as follows:

“According to a survey conducted on behalf of ISACA, a non-profit association of 86,000 information technology (IT) professionals, employees plan to spend nearly two full working days (14.4 hours) on average shopping online from a work computer this Christmas.

One in 10 plans to spend at least 30 hours shopping online at work. Convenience (34%) is the biggest motivator, according to those polled.

Despite an economy expected to show flat or declining holiday retail sales, the second annual “Shopping on the Job: Online Holiday Shopping and Workplace Internet Safety” survey found that fully half of those surveyed plan to shop online for Christmas using a work computer.

The potential danger of shopping online is that it can open the door to viruses, spam and phishing attacks that invade the workplace and cost enterprises thousands per employee in lost productivity and potentially millions in destruction or compromise of business data.

“With the Internet now available to almost any employee in the workplace, it’s unrealistic to think that companies can or should completely stop the use of work computers for online shopping,” said Robert Stroud, international vice president of
ISACA.”


That last quote really sounded the alarm bells in my head – “it’s unrealistic to think that companies can or should completely stop the use of work computers for online shopping”, which to my mind is complete rubbish! We’ve just gone through exactly that process at my place of work – blocking all but a pre-approved white list of websites for all employees, meaning that only business related websites can be accessed.

Whilst I disagreed with the notion of closing our Internet communication platform down to our users, potentially stifling our users creativity and ability to research new methodologies, new thinking, new ideas and gain important business knowledge on their specialist subjects.

I’m all for opening up the internet and allowing people to choose how, when and the best times to access the internet to allow the living within the 21st Century and enjoy the benefits the web brings to successfully managing what is already an often already complicated home/work life balance; just as I’m fully behind the opening up the social networking sites at work for all of the same reasons. However, these things all come at a cost and reliance upon the user knowing when to surf and when to work. Staying productive and getting things done is absolutely essential for any business to make money and we all know how distracting the Internet can be at times and the need for proper filtering to be put in place for some website categories.

If there was one site I would love to open up at work, it would be Twitter – it’s the perfect internet platform for just about everything – open the 140 character messaging service and block everything else that isn’t work related. News, social networking, business related activities, everything right there in one site – centrally located. Alright, you can’t shop on the site or play any sort of meaningful games or browse endless photographs like you can on Facebook, but that’s the point. It provides just enough information to keep users informed and connected to the online world, yet doesn’t distract them forever from their day to day tasks – a quick glance every now and again doesn’t result in massive loss of productivity.

The problem – like all things – especially in a company such as the one I work in, is protecting data, credit cards, customer information, negativity, etc. For all of the upsides to opening Twitter at work, the downsides are far greater (in our office). That’s not to say it will be everywhere, but enterprise sized businesses cannot rely on “trust” and “goodwill” of disgruntled employees not to release this sensitive information into the public domain. This is why my vision of an open internet platform at work will never become a reality.

Mobile Payments Square

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 0

As soon as I talk about mobile payments, they start to happen!

Jack Dorsey, of Twitter invention fame, has just launched a new product called "Square", which allows companies to take credit card payments via their smart phone. Ok, it's not allowing the end user to make payments via their mobile phone, but its certainly a step in the right direction and its pretty cool technology.

Imagine this being used in places where telephone lines or credit cards aren't currently taken - such as the local market or in outdoor concerts held in big fields! The possibilities are endless. Check out the following video from TechCrunch for a quick interview from Jack and a very simple demo:

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