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July 2011

Blue Skies and Laptops

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 0

I cannot express fully just how beautiful it is outside this evening.  Its so nice, I’ve dragged the laptop outside so I can sit in the clear blue sky and sunshine.

 

It’s almost a shame I’ve missed most of it today sat in the office.  And it’s doubly frustrating knowing that as an IT person, we have the technology to allow me the power of working from just about anywhere.

 

Still, nothing will ruin my evening tonight.

FNL UK

Sunday, July 24, 2011 1

“30 Rock” is a love it or hate it show; personally I love it.  I think its has just the right blend of off-the-wall antics, outrageous storylines and colourful characters, all balanced off against a dry, witty humour.

 

The show is a backstage look at the workings of a comedy show and how the producer (Liz Lemon aka Tina Fey), deals with her demanding cast, writers and the troubles of her boss (Alec Baldwin).  The reason I write about “30 Rock” is that when I got to the end of my collection (which is only 2 series at the moment), I bought Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” to learn more about her – as she was after all the first female head-writer on America’s popular and legendary “Saturday Night Live” (SNL).

 

Half way through the book, I got the urge to watch another of my favourite shows – “Studio 60 Live from the Sunset Strip” (or just “Studio 60” for short).  Another behind the scenes look at the workings of a live comedy show and the going-ons with executive producers, actors and TV execs.  (I really do urge you to watch this show, it is amazing!)

 

All of these things got me thinking though; apparently the UK produces some of the best comedy in the world, yet we haven’t got an equivalent to SNL.  The only two shows that I can think of which come close are “The Fast Show” and “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross”, neither of which are broadcast any more. 

 

Its not as if we haven’t got the talent in the UK for such a show – our comedy performers seem to be more interested in producing for themselves though; just think of any comedy performer and you can insert their name into the following caption to work out the name for their show:

 

“The <Insert name> Show”

 

So, here’s my plea to the UK terrestrial channels and comedians; get it together, pick an hour on a Friday night (which seems like the perfect night since Wossy isn’t around any more), get some good comedy writers together and go nuts, push some boundaries.

 

You can even call it “FNL UK” – no fee required.

RIP Winehouse

Saturday, July 23, 2011 0

The hair wars are finally over….

 

Are Google Still Innovative? My Google+ Follow Up

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 0

There is no denying that both inside the tech industry and outside of it, Google is a big company. They are valued in the billions and seem to attract a lot of traffic to their online properties on a continuous basis, but something doesn’t appear to be right:

  • Google still dominate the search business, but Bing/Yahoo is closing in.
  • Android is growing in the mobile arena, but Microsoft is squeezing them on patents and Apple is seemingly focusing their crosshairs too.
  • Chrome OS launches shortly, but no one seems to be talking about it.
  • Google Music has failed to get any sort of traction.
  • Google TV seems to have died out.
  • Google Health has recently shut down.
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets seem to get beaten by Microsoft Office for all of the major contracts.
  • Google Buzz and Wave have both arrived with fanfare, had huge initial growth and then have slid and failed as products.
  • And recently Google launched Google+, their ‘Hail Mary pass’ to finally enter into the world of social networking.

I guess what I’m trying to say are those things don’t appear to be going well for them at all. Google are supposed to be the fresher, younger version of Microsoft and were set to put the world to rights with new ways of thinking and doing things as a truly innovative company, yet look again at their products:

  • Search is copying features and layout from Bing (regardless of results).
  • Android is similar in look and feel to Apple’s iOS, yet infringes on Microsoft patents.
  • Google+ is a direct clone of Facebook.

Which begs the question, has Google ran out of innovative and creative ideas? Or are they trying to stretch themselves far too much in order to keep up with Microsoft and Apple who appear to be able to diversify much better?

 

One might argue that Microsoft isn’t as innovative as it once was, but I disagree; their Metro UI is very different from what the others are doing, they’ve added unique functionality to Bing and search, Health is still going strong, they’ve invested in Skype (not innovative I know, but it’s a major strategic move), they have their unique Surface platform, Xbox and Kinect, and deep integration with Facebook (meaning social is effectively taken care of for them).

 

Additionally, Microsoft has traditionally been able to successfully sit back and enter markets after others have already dominated that space, with a product that either rivals/matches or offers something more unique (search, mobile, gaming). They’ve had their failures too of course; Zune players are the obvious example that comes to mind. But getting back to the point....

 

I recently signed up for Google+ (despite my thoughts before even getting onto the service), and what I found was what I’m calling a “Hail Mary pass” to finally get into the social space following the disappointments and failings of Buzz and Wave. But just by looking at the UI it’s clear that their strategy has been simply to follow in Facebook’s footsteps and clone them.

 

But that’s not all; Google not only appear to be going after Facebook (with friends), but also Twitter with followers, by using different circles to separate your distinct ‘sharing groups’ of people. This is a good idea in theory, but for me, when you read down the status updates (or what I’d guess we’d call it ‘a wall’), it appears to be cluttered and difficult to follow (much like Buzz and Wave), which may make you miss that update you care most about because it’s lost in the crowd.

 

You could argue that Twitter and Facebook have the same problem, but that’s where two services are seemingly better than one; Facebook for friends and Twitter for follows. Google+ tries to be all things to all people and I’m not sure it works – I don’t think Facebook or Twitter could fix this problem either mind, but they’ve shown no signs of trying to address this problem.

 

For me though, Google+ still offers no USP and still faces numerous hurdles. The biggest one I can think of is that integration with other manufacturers may be a headache/problem; think about it, you pick up your Windows Phone or Apple iPhone (or HP webOS phone, or Symbian phone, or Android phone, etc), tap in your account details and the phone is instantly connected to your Facebook and Twitter database of contacts. Why would Microsoft or Apple want to integrate with Google when they are competing in the mobile space when they can integrate with Facebook and Twitter and not make themselves irrelevant out of the market by tapping into and boosting Google’s social space?

 

Sure Google will make these API’s available, but who will use them? And what happens when Google closes off aspects of them for their own benefit (i.e. think better integration for Android devices or be given priority over iPhone traffic, etc)?

 

The second problem Google has is that many companies (thinking Zygna in particular, but not limited to), have long been aligned with Facebook and as a secondary route they have developed their own stand-alone sites. Google have “Slide” of course after their buyout, the company that brought the world the ability to throw sheep and other bizarre virtual items at each other, but it’s my feeling that social networking sites have since grown up and moved on since those days.

 

The only way for Google to win in social is to attract and keep users on their platform with something unique that can’t be replicated so easily by Facebook (Hangouts are already matched with Skype on Facebook). What that is, I don’t know – but right now, without that special something – the service will go the same way as Buzz and Wave for sure.

 

Unlike those services though, if Google+ fails then this time it really will be seen as a huge failure by Google in social and leaves them nowhere in terms of product development and undoubtedly will leave some users feeling cold and possibly even untrusting of other Google products in case those are pulled or shutdown when they are no longer deems sustainable for the search giant.

 

Speaking of Google’s “Do No Evil”.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

On a slightly different note (but sticking with the Facebook integration theme), I’ve recently switched back on “Facebook Chat” within Microsoft Live Messenger. I’ve been a long time user of Live Messenger (since it was known as MSN Messenger), and tried the Facebook integration previously, but found that ‘chat’ never worked as expected. It seems that Microsoft and Facebook have been busy and finally resolved those problems, which means that I’m now part of the conversation even when I’m not on the Facebook home page.

 

This now means that between Live Messenger and Tweetdeck, I never actually have to actively go looking for status updates or post updates or log into chat on the Facebook homepage and instead have those services come directly to me.

 

And that is why integration with others is so important.

Radio Killed the TV Star

Monday, July 11, 2011 0


At various points in my life, I’ve came close to announcing that radio as a medium is dead to me; the moment when Chris Evans walked out on the Radio 1 breakfast show, then again when he and his team made their exit from Virgin Radio and finally once again when Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross made their infamous departure from Radio 2.

All three of these incidents made me think that the radio personality of the modern era had come to an end, especially after the Brand/Ross ‘Sachsgate’ incident left only Chris Evans as the last man standing of the radio celebrity era. Without Evans I’m pretty sure I would have tuned out my radio entirely (only very recently I’ve started listening every now and again to Fearne Cotton on Radio 1).

But the big news reported today is a rumour that self-made billionaire Richard Branson is in the running to buy back ‘Virgin Radio’ (now ‘Absolute Radio’), for an estimated £20 million and it seems that Jonathan Ross is also thought to be part of that deal, potentially lining up on the Breakfast Show.

First things first; if successful, the deal would be something of a coop for Branson having sold the station to Evans for £80 million in 1997 (ah I remember it well), before Evans was then forced into selling it on, including his ‘Ginger Productions’ company to the Scottish Media Group for £225 million just three years later. Branson would be picking up the station at a bargain price compared to what it was worth, but ‘Absolute Radio’ have been no-where in radio terms as the BBC seemed to have regained and strengthened their stranglehold on the radio airwaves in the UK.

The return of Jonathan Ross to the airwaves is also tantalising; Ross is a truly great broadcaster and very different from his TV persona, but the choice of the Breakfast Show is very strange indeed and could be the mis-step in this entire plan. Putting a personality and ego as big as Jonathan’s against the already established Chris Moyles on Radio 1 and the number one Breakfast Show on Radio 2 by Chris Evans could spell disaster.

In my opinion, it would make much more sense for Wossy to slot back into his Saturday mid-morning slot or even enter the fray with a gig on drive-time (Chris Evans’ former stomping ground prior to a certain Sir Wogan stepping down). The only problem I can see with a drive-time slot is that it may interfere with his TV commitments, but it would make more sense than trying to muscle in on the already crowded early morning slow.

On the other hand, of course, if the Breakfast Show slot was taken by Ross it would cause a stir and battle of “Radio 1 vs Virgin Radio” when Zoe Ball took over the Radio 1 Breakie show at the same time as Evans’ return to radio for Virgin (a battle that turned out to be a ‘no contest’ as Evans proved he’d lost none of his magic when it came to commanding the radio airwaves). The prospect of Wossy hosting the show in direct competition with his former employer (Evans), on the very station that he formerly owned could be an interest twist to the story.

Perhaps even more speculative and promising could be the return of one Russell Brand returning to the UK airwaves. Russell brilliantly put himself on the radio map with his stints at BBC 6 Music and then later a bump to the masses on Radio 2. His show was an instant hit and his weekly podcasted show dominated the charts much like Ricky Gervais had done earlier at the height of the podcasts success.

I still have no doubt that Ross feels still somewhat responsible for ‘Sachsgate’ and forcing Brand to quit the radio he loved to do. What better way for Brand to return to the UK airwaves full time (as opposed to one off shows on the bizarre choice of TalkSport), than his very own show on Virgin Radio alongside Wossy (perhaps not on the same show though eh)?


Being an independent station though, the pressures that arose when working for the BBC would be significantly lifted, although a return to the airwaves may be controversial at first, the press coverage couldn’t be matched. But would Brand be willing to return to the UK airwaves? Judging by the TalkSport one offs and his lengthy time away, the chance to link up with Matt Morgan and Mister Gee as well as Wossy himself on the airwaves without the shackles and public pressure of the license payer, I think Brand would jump at the chance.

Regardless of who will be hosting what show however is going to be the secondary problem to Absolute Radio/Virgin Radio, as the primary has to be securing that elusive FM license they have tried for so many times and failed to secure. Perhaps that won’t be primary objective however as I believe they should do something different on the re-launch; changing to be a more online station perhaps?

I’m not saying that they should give up their medium-wave and London FM frequencies at all – those should remain in place, but positioning the station with a strong online presence may be a smart move and it would certainly get around the hurdles of an FM license. Targeting online streaming directly into offices across the country and with the use of smart phones and creating their own streaming applications onto those phones would be unique and different and a major statement in the future of technology and where radio is ultimately heading.

It’d be a bit of a masterstroke if anyone could pull it off, and who else better to disrupt the radio industry than Branson himself?

Kindle It

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A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine was in town (not my town or his town anymore, but our town for so many years), which provided us with a good chance to catch up; one of our chosen topics of conversation was ebooks and tablets.

 

My chosen tablet is of course the Amazon Kindle; his weapon of choice is the Apple iPad.

 

Comparing the two is almost pointless, they are two very different devices with two very distinctive and different purposes, but I was fascinated by his views on the iPad as a reading device especially as I don’t think I could read from its screen for long periods of time verse the ‘Pearl’ eInk screen installed into the Kindle.

 

But my friend assured me that the iPad is fine for reading ebooks with, which I accepted but remain unlikely to switch my choice in technology just yet (regular readers will already know what I think of tablet devices, though my mind is slowly starting to change with the prospect of Windows 8 proving that full touch-enabled Windows experience).

 

Then the conversation turned; you see, my friend said he still preferred the touch and feel and smell of a traditional, paper-based book preferred to its electronic counterpart and openly mocked me for abandoning print in favour of the Kindle. Of course, this very change was something I wrestled with myself for some time before realising that as a child of the digital age, it makes perfect sense that the digital lifestyle is embraced throughout (that and a full bookshelf). Whilst I would find it extremely difficult to get rid of my paper-based books, the electronic version is the shift I’ve made moving forward; the exact same shift we all made in music from the CD to the MP3.

 

This changed my outlook slightly; is the reason my friend still prefers traditional print rather than ebook because of the limitations of the iPad or because he’s stuck in the past? He claims that it’s because he’s stuck in the past with the romantic notion of nothing being better than visiting a second hand book store and trawling through looking for the gems of literature.

 

That’s a concept I could have totally supported just a few months ago, but now my mind has been changed entirely; the price of ebooks at around £7 or less turns the prospect of buying a book from a luxury item to almost a price worth paying for a punt. Amazon’s ‘sample’ feature also helps the reader select titles that most appeal. My friend disagrees of course, by claiming that £7 is still a high price to pay for an ebook; but when you consider that the writer has spent considerable time writing said book, I don’t think it’s too high a price to pay.

 

After all this talk, we went an took to our seats at the cinema for a movie and it just so happened that the latest and last Harry Potter trailer was shown and I made the comment that I had no interest in seeing it or reading any of the books, to which the reply came that I should ‘Kindle it’ and understand the hype (I’m not going to, I still have no interest in the wizard boy).

 

That’s when I knew my argument for ebooks was valid and my selection of tablet correct; the product has been turned into a verb, one which can be used in everyday language, without having needed to be invented or prompted. Much like Google has been turned into a verb (‘Google it’), or to some degree Facebook (‘Facebook me’/’Friend me’), it appears that Amazon may have inadvertently tapped the ebook market through a clever strategy, a great product and capturing the audience and future success on their product name – so for your next book, forget about traditional print media, take a chance and go ahead and ‘Kindle it’.

F1 2011: Race 9, British Grand Prix

Sunday, July 10, 2011 0

We are in the middle of nothing

The haunting words of Fernando Alonso at the last race after finishing a superb second around the streets of Valencia.  Two weeks later the paddock was all talk of blown diffusers following the change of rules to ban them from the sport, but when it was all done and dusted, it was Fernando that delivered exactly what was required and in dominant style at race 10 9.

 

It wasn’t all plain sailing of course; Alonso who started in third position on the grid seemed to have another good start being able to push Webber quite hard for a pass which unfortunately never materialised as the grid all looked for grip on intermediate tyres on a wet/dry track.  The big decision was always going to be about who made the switch to slicks first; which turned out to be Michael Schumacher, following a minor collision with Kobayashi.

 

The call to slicks were made and every team headed for the pit lane, unfortunately for Massa being too close on track to Alonso meant he had to struggle around with a set of tyres that had fallen off the cliff forcing a major shift in strategy.  To make matters slightly worse though is that Ferrari failed to get their slick tyres up to temperature and fell backwards through the field as Lewis passed Alonso and Button passed Massa.

 

All seemed to be lost.  And then, and then, the tyres for Ferrari switched to the ‘on’ position and it was race on.  Re-passing Lewis just before the second stop and charging after the two Red Bull cars – Webber pitting early allowing Alonso to have clear track.  By the time the second stops were due, Fernando was 5.1 seconds behind Vettel: they followed each other into the pit lane and it was down to the mechanics.

 

The Red Bull guys making a rare mistake with Vettel and the clockwork like precision of Ferrari meant there could be only one possible outcome; Fernando left in the lead, having jumped past the earlier stopping Webber and Hamilton.  Vettel emerged just behind Lewis, who was already struggling for pace compared to the Ferrari who just seemed to streak away at the front.

 

Alonso looked like he could be Vettel this weekend, pulling out a 15 second gap to Red Bull.  Things for Button also seemed to fall apart after a bizarre pit stop where the front, right mechanic failed to get the wheel nut onto the new wheel and the lollipop man letting the car go far too early!

Worse for McLaren, they figured they were running out of fuel in Lewis’ car and had to slow him down.  This set up the final few laps for some extreme racing; Massa on a fresh set of tyres closed down a 12 second gap to Lewis to go wheel to wheel racing in the final corners – meanwhile, Webber was doing exactly the same with Sebastian Vettel only to be told by his Red Bull team not to pass his team leader, but Mark ignored those radio messages and plugged away at Vettel, unfortunately not being able to find a way past.  Massa also failed to pass, despite a late braking attempt into the final few corners.

 

*************

 

Race nine:  A titanic battle throughout as the race swung away from Ferrari in the opening stages towards Red Bull, only for the track to dry and swing back in the opposite direction.  Fernando and Ferrari had this race well under control and the victory was set, even without the pit stop mistake by Red Bull.

Ferrari Result:
Alonso – 1st:
Alonso has been threatening a win for the past few races, but mistakes and things not falling necessarily towards Fernando has prevented those things from happening.  But today, with blown diffusers out of the equation and a bunch of updates from Ferrari, this was a fine, fine win.

Massa – 5th: Missed out big time at the first stops by being too close to Fernando at the first round of stops.  This seems to be a problem for Ferrari at the first round as the drivers are often so close to each other on track at this time – and it seems that Felipe loses out more often than not which shifts and changes his strategy for the remainder of the race.  It’s a problem for Ferrari, but its a nice problem to have with two drivers who are quite close.  Difficult race today, but Felipe never gave up, almost snatched 4th from Lewis in the last few laps, but ran out of track to make his move stick right at the end but he can’t be disappointed with 5th today!

 

Man of the Race: Perez hassled Rosberg all day long, Massa never gave up, Schumacher had great pace throughout and delivered 9th even with a 10-second stop/go penalty, Lewis drove in difficult conditions and held up the Red Bulls allowing Ferrari to scurry away….yet Alonso had everything under control today and delivered everything that was required of him; a well deserved top spot of the podium today.  Forza Ferrari!

A Review of Google+ Without Having Never Used It

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 0

I can’t ignore it any more. I have to write about Google+, if only to keep my sanity.

It seems that Google have overlooked me – again – for an invite to their new social networking site, so like most people I have yet to get anywhere near to the actual site and play with the “new” features and wares offered by the search giant.

But even before gaining access, I think I’m all ready to declare that Google+ isn’t going to wipe Facebook from the Internet any time soon and it doesn’t take me to tell you why – I’m going to anyway (otherwise this would be a real short post).

For a start we need to look at Google’s track record here; both Buzz and Wave have failed to capture the Internet’s imagination, either through being far too complicated (Wave), or being too integrated with Gmail (Buzz). Plus is hopefully built on the learning of those two products, Google are a smart bunch of engineers after all, but history isn’t on their side.

Within the product itself is what appears to be a number of smaller products ‘circles’, ‘huddles’ and ‘sparks’. Which when broken down are essentially ‘groups’, ‘video chat’ and ‘interests’; hardly ground breaking features in my opinion, especially when you consider that Facebook have already done groups and found that users find them difficult to set up and maintain (admittedly, the ‘circles’ idea brings a rather nifty graphical approach, which seems to make it work), but I can’t see that vast majority of people taking the time to set up and group their friends, colleagues and associates quite how Google have envisioned. They may set up one or two circles when the occasion calls for it, but that’ll be about it.

Sparks are your ‘Likes’ or “+1”, mixed in with a bit of Google search know-how to bring content directly to you based on your interests, which is great but again not that impressive when its likely you already know how to use Google or have a bookmark to your favourite sites already tagged to your browser window.

Finally ‘Huddles’ may be the most interesting aspect; a place to ‘hang out’ on your webcam waiting for others to join the huddle and the conversation, essentially bringing video conferencing to the browser and outside of the corporate office. I admit that I like the prospect of creating a ‘video hang out’ to tell the world that you’re ready to talk and ready to be sociable, but on the opposite hand webcam chat is probably the last thing most users want to partake in, as I don’t think I’d be too far wrong in saying the vast majority of Facebook traffic occurs when users get home from work as a distraction or whilst watching TV; hardly a time when they want to be appearing on camera.

Perhaps I’m wrong on this one though; Apple’s Facetime seemed to be popular and a nice little service to have for those grandparents or work-away parents to catch up with their kids or grandkids. Microsoft announced Avatar Kinect for Xbox users and then spend some money on Skype. Facebook are strongly rumoured to be on the verge of announcing a similar feature on their site after teaming up with Skype/Microsoft to provide the service, so maybe video chat has reached its tipping point and is set to really take off?

Regardless of these three key features however, there remains a problem – how do Google attract the 750 million users of Facebook onto their platform, because let’s face it, without users no social network is going to thrive? That task may be far more difficult than any one has really thought about; sure Google are trying to attract users with these ‘features’, but Facebook are able to just as easily add their own competing features and still have a lot more already on their site.

The problem with Google+ is that it doesn’t have a unique selling point to differentiate itself from Facebook and make users want to switch. Twitter was able to do this and build a competing network because it set itself apart and built a unique service that worked differently to Facebook, what Google have built is a clone almost.

A clone service isn’t really of any use to anyone though and as plus is operated by one of the big names in tech, this could count against it. Some, more privacy concerned, users have pointed out in the past that they are concerned about turning over too much of their ‘data’ and ‘online behaviour’ to one single company, especially one so focused on user analytics such as Google. With Facebook this has been less of a concern for users to share their social spectrum as that’s what the site was designed to do (that’s not to say users haven’t made their voices heard in times, especially when privacy has become an issue).

Please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the vast majority of users would trust their social data entirely to any of the big three (Microsoft, Google, Apple), would they? I don’t think I would, which actually inadvertently makes Microsoft’s investment in Facebook the smartest move of the big three into social networking. If Microsoft were to create a Facebook clone I don’t think I would join, unless there was a big enough incentive to do so – I’m sure the same is true of Apple, which is why Ping failed.

My final gripe, which I’m maybe being too picky about, is the name Google+. Everyone the world over knows Google as a search engine, to me Google+ so easily sounds like it should be just a better or more advanced version of their search engine product which could be confusing to some users. Additionally, Google have chosen to host the service using the DNS ‘plus.google.com’, which again may be a tad too complicated for some users or certainly isn’t as flowing as facebook.com or twitter.com is to type into a browsers address bar. I do concede that Google may be betting on users having Google.com as their home page and simply entering ‘plus’ into the search bar or selecting it from the menu, but for me, a catchier name and a stand-alone domain would have been so much better and perhaps even have stood the service away from the search business as a separate entity, which could win some further trust?

So there you have it – my initial, pre-sign up thoughts on Google+, they aren’t all that positive as a legitimate challenge to Facebook, being the dominant force they are, but I guess it is a good alternative and judging from history a good alternative may one day be top of the tree (read: MySpace).

Everything can change.

Can UK Call Centre’s Bounceback?

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On my Kindle right now is the second book by Howard Schultz, the popular ceo (apparently, none of the job titles are capitalised), of Starbucks, which describes how he lead the coffee company back from the brink of financial collapse and set them back on the right track of producing the best coffee in the world.

It’s an amazing story about the passion and commitment Schultz enthuses throughout the Starbucks community for their coffee and their brand. I’ve hardly been able to put the book (err Kindle), down since I started reading. Starbucks is an amazing company and one which has my complete respect, because as a customer, I can appreciate and feel that passion in their stores. Though, I do wish barista’s were able to spend more time to talk about the coffee instead of moving through the queues, but when queues form, the work for them has to begin I guess.

I’ve never mentioned my place of work on my blog or Twitter, which is because I think my blog is my opinion and doesn’t reflect those views of my employer and nor do I wish to create trouble for myself or the company, but last night the company I work for appeared on BBC documentary “Made In Britain”, a three part show charting how jobs in Britain have changed and how our new industries contribute to the British economy.

Unfortunately, our sector (the contact centre business), was only given a five minute overview which I feel was slightly unfair given that so much of the North East relies upon business generated by call centres and there was so much more for the programme to explore; the migration of call centre jobs from the UK into emerging service sectors of the world, such as India, as well as the return of those back into the UK as companies have come to realise that customers prefer to speak to English-speakers who are able to converse off-script (that’s by no way meant as any offence to the Indian speaking call centres, which have grown and really taken over the sector in a big way; to dismiss them would be a complete mistake).

What really struck me, at the end of the show, was the admission that contact centres were unlikely to be around as a viable business forever which got me thinking; some of the most successful companies in the world today have made their name and success by re-inventing themselves by disrupting existing lines of their own business and others too. The most obvious example is Apple, who have continued to produce Mac computers and laptops, keeping their existing business line, whilst also disrupting the music business with the launch of their iPod product, which revolutionised the way we buy, store and play music (Apple were by no means the only or first company to do this, but they are the most visible in this transformation).

If contact centres are to stay a ‘British industry’ for many more years to come, then surely the key to that is all about disrupting and re-invention of the contact centre – and in my mind, it’s not that difficult to achieve – and as always the Internet is the key and an understanding that the contact centre is not just about telephone calls, it’s about providing that choice to the customer of how they should interact with the companies they want or possible should choose to do business with.

As an example think about the rise of Facebook pages that are dedicated to products – these could easily have ‘click to chat’ or ‘click to talk’ buttons installed directly onto them. Product pages could integrate with Skype or other online services for voice or video chat, instant messaging can be streamed into the contact centre as can Twitter keyword searches which provide opportunities to market, advertise and sell products and address additional questions or resolve problems.

But these examples are all based on existing technologies, what about new technologies? Automated help stations or AI services that are able to respond and react much like a Google search can provide the answers you are looking for? These AI services can easily be backed up by skilled knowledge workers as a second line for when a ‘machine’ just isn’t good enough (remembering these customers who still get frustrated by speaking with IVR and existing automated technologies).

The primary key to the support and services business overall though, is getting the right knowledge workers and ensuring they are knowledgeable enough to remain valuable, whilst this may involve a highly complex and intelligent knowledgebase system (think a specialist Google, but not necessarily online – though in reality it’s highly likely to be online), the ability to read, use and understand that knowledge is what will keep the contact centres open and have them remain relevant.

Which brings me right back to Starbucks, in Schultz’s book “Onward” the fight and challenge became realigning the business back to its core value of serving the very best coffee available throughout the world, which is just what every contact centre throughout the world also needs to do; focus on the business of being a contact centre and opening themselves up to be able to contact no matter what the medium and disrupting those technologies and re-inventing themselves to gain advanced knowledge on their specialist offerings; and that’s how the industry continues to move forwards in the UK.

Onward.

F1 2011: Race 8, Valencia

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Race 9 8, was the held at the street circuit round the Valencia docklands and whilst the track always looks amazing, the race isn’t always as spectacular as the promise and hope it tends to stir before the lights go out.

Which is a shame as I really like the circuit; and that was the same story for Ferrari this weekend. Friday, Free Practice 2 Alonso stole the top of the timing sheets and the promise and hope returned to the Tifosi, especially as Massa seemed to be in close company too suggesting that the scarlet cars had something this weekend.

In Qualifying however, they had slipped back to 4th and 5th after the Red Bulls suddenly switched on their pace and Hamilton managed to pip Alonso for 3rd, but the hope and promise remained. The race pace of the Prancing Horse being the story this season compared to their one-lap shootout performances.

Come race day, as the lights faded, it was Massa who lept off the grid, seemingly beating both Alonso and Hamilton into third and looking for a gap down the inside of Webber for second. Fernando of course had other ideas, after what seemed like a bad start, he kept his brain in gear and stuck to the outside line and catapulted himself into the left hander of turn one to maintain the qualifying status quo between the Ferrari duo.

The race then seemed to be between Alonso and Webber for the squabble over second and third place. Hamilton, who never seemed to be able to keep his tyres in check, reported over his radio at various points during the race that he couldn’t go any slower and then later couldn’t go any faster once his grip had depleted. A sticking rear left tyre on Massa’s second pitstop however allowed Lewis to secure fourth when it should easily have been Felipe’s for the taking – he put up a great drive to try to claw back the time, but never got close enough to challenge.

Webber and Alonso meanwhile traded second and third throughout the race, Fernando showing why he’s still a top driver pulling off an amazing overtake in the middle of the race for second, only to be re-passed in the stops, but reversed during the final stop of the day.

Vettel simply drove off into the distance again, avoiding the battles of the remainder of the field. Neither Ferrari able to get close enough to challenge – the promise faded much like the Valencia circuit’s final outcome for a ‘classic race’. But unlike the Valencia ciricuit, hope remains at Ferrari and determination continues into the next race, despite the 99 point lead Vettel has over Alonso at this stage of the season. We all continue to hope and believe.


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Race eight:

A slightly dull race when compared to the thrillers of earlier in this season, but is it too early for F1 to abandon Valencia? I think so, some minor tweaks could transform this track and deliver the exciting racing that we’re becoming accustomed to this season.

Ferrari Result:
Alonso – 2nd: A great drive, yet I’m still somehow feeling disappointment from the result, as form continues to suggest that Ferrari should be delivering slightly more had more fallen in their favour (especially in Monaco and Canada, where victories so easily could have been). Fernando summed up his year at this race as “being in the middle of nothing”, which tells you everything you need to know about Ferrari’s season thus far.

Massa – 5th: Finished exactly where he qualified for this race, through no fault of his own. The sticking wheel nut settled his position, when he could easily have claimed 4th. The talk of Massa’s performance continues to be debated and whether he’ll be at Ferrari after his current contract expires, in my opinion his performances have turned a corner over the past 3 or 4 races and as long as that continues, I’m thrilled to have Felipe as a Ferrari driver.

Man of the Race: In a race where no one really stood out with an exceptional performance, my driver for today was Alonso. He made a great move to pass Webber and kept both Red Bulls honest for the duration of the race – Vettel had this race win too easy.

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