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Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Our Software Industry needs to step up to the crease and tell the world that we can write code

In business, Culture, management, software, technology on November 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm

8 years ago I had a very embarrassing meeting. I laughed at a major global company that had invested over $ 600 million in a shared system. It took 5 years for the companies representative to talk to me again.

I did not actually laugh initially. I did something much worse.

They explained what they had done, and I kept trying to understand how they could have taken so long and spent so much money, and they explained again and again, as I looked at them in complete disbelief.

I think they may have initially thought that I was impressed or astounded. They certainly thought that their system was amazing, a first of its kind, the best of the best etc. etc., and they had been jumping up and down shouting from the roof tops about its brilliance.

Eventually, I said “is that it, is that really all it does, its trivial” I was shocked. It was about 3 months effort for a competent developer on a decent platform. We had done something much much better 5 years before, and regarded it as nothing to boast about.

My shock showed. They were affronted and angry. I laughed from embarrassment, and was promptly shown the door.

It has taken a very long time to rebuild the relationship.

So it would be very nice, if other people could point out that the UK software industry does create great things, and that when someone from another culture says theirs is “Amazing” and we say that we have created something that is barely adequate. Our barely adequate may only be 100 or 1,000x better than their Amazing world beater.

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The Government Needs to Answer back

In business, Cloud, contract management, ecommerce, eprocurement, management, p2p, software, source to pay, technology on November 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm

One of our more noisy US colleagues recently stated that the UK Government needs to do more in the cloud.  Given our experience the UK Government is doing lots in the cloud, they are just not doing it with our US colleague.
So I thought it would be helpful to provide a few examples of what the UK Government is doing in the cloud with my company @UK PLC a single UK cloud provider.
The major projects so far this year are as follows:-

  • February this year the National National Audit OfficeAudit office used our cloud services for an in depth analysis of NHS GeM Online Store for HE and FEprocurement (£ 500 million savings identified)
  •  August go live of the worlds first nationwide B2B card based marketplace for all UK Universities and Colleges
  • September launch of nationwide schools marketplace with all items carbon neutral voluntarily offset  by NHS Sustainable Development Unitthe suppliers as part of a drive for savings and sustainability(another world first).
  • September start of data collection for the NHS Sustainable Development UnitNHS carbon footprint project another world first looking at the carbon footprint of all the items purchased by the NHS.

Last year Richard Benyon the Minister for the Natural Environment launched our Green Marketplace and we passed the £ 100 billion of spend Analysed. We have users from every single major public sector body on our system, which we would suggest is a reasonable level of engagement in the cloud for a single supplier sample, and that our Government is doing interesting and innovative things.

New email system is brilliant

In business, Cloud, Email, software, ubuntu on October 4, 2010 at 10:46 pm

@UK PLC’s new cloud email system is brilliant.

I am in the midst of parallel running our new cloud email system vs Microsoft Exchange, and we have just been sending out 100’s of thousands of emails as part of our new green marketplace launch. The new cloud email system has been fast and responsive through out, where as exchange has frozen the computers that are connected to my exchange account.

I wanted to make sure that customers were not upset by our sending out emails, and so had all the emails send out with delivery and read status turned on to feedback to my own email address.

The result was hundreds of thousands of mails hitting my account at the same time, which was a great test of both systems.  Sue and my pc’s ground to a halt with outlook connected to exchange, but my PC was fine when just connected to our Cloud Email 4 business system.

In terms of managing the email, it was quick and straightforward with a reasonable imap client.  I have been experimenting with Mutt, which is brilliant if you like vi.   However, the great thing about imap is that virtually all email clients from Outlook to thunderbird support imap and work fine.

I was able to move tens of thousands of emails around quickly from folder to folder, and I was delighted with the speed and responsiveness. It was remarkable how much faster it was than exchange, especially as exchange is sitting on our local network and has about 30 accounts and our cloud email 4 business is in a remote data centre and has tens of thousands of domains a huge number of clients.

We are going to try and switch over from Exchange to cloud email 4 business as quickly as we can.

Unix on Jamie’s Laptop

In freeBSD, Linux, technology, ubuntu, Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

I wanted to install unix on Jamie’s new laptop for him. It is a wireless enabled notebook from Novatech with an AMD x64 processor.

I kept notes as I went along, unfortunately the windows box I was putting the notes on restarted, so the following is from memory.

The distros I tried were as follows:-

  • freebsd 7.2 and 8 RC2,
  • opensolaris 09 06
  • centos 5.4,
  • debian 5.03
  • fedora 11
  • gentoo 20091029
  • knopix v6
  • openSUSE 11.2 RC2
  • PC-BSD 7.1.1
  • Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10

The quick summary is that only a few of the distro’s installed at all, and almost all were unable to deal with the network card.  This is because the card driver is only available in the linux 9.   There is some info on the hardware and a how to at http://forum.novatech.co.uk/showthread.php?t=15068, but if it is your only machine you need to get networking set up before you can browse and find things.

The really bad

  • Centos – install crashed can not remember why now
  • Fedora – install crashed can not remember why now
  • PC-BSD – install got to the point after configuring disks and the could not mount the CD, that it had used to boot off

Installed, but did not have network card driver

  • Freebsd 7.2 – I was able to get an IP address that I could ping from another machine so probably me, could not get dhcp to work or to get it to look out at the world to download files
  • opensolaris
  • debian
  • gentoo
  • knopix
  • openSUSE
  • Ubuntu 9.04

Fully worked from install

  • Free BSD 8 RC2
  • Ubuntu 9.10

So the quick review of the various distros, starting with what worked and going downwards.

Working Distros

Ubuntu 9.10

This is definitely the easiest to install and use and just worked straight off, with a quick painless install.  There was a quick download of the wireless drive and make; make install, reboot and both wired and wireless networking were working perfectly.

This is what Jamie’s laptop is using.

Free BSD 8 RC2

Personally, I like the ugly text based BSD installs, because they work.  However they are a very long way behind Ubuntu if you are not a complete techi.

FreeBSD installed fine, DHCP worked with the wired network, and I was able to install everything from ports, apart from Open Office, which I downloaded.

Issues

  • I love ports, but compiling and installing X11, Gnome2, etc takes a long time.
  • Open office installed fine using the compiled version
  • Java is a real pain – because of sun licencing

Java on Free BSD

I installed wget, because the Gnome2 browser was a bit iffy about where it tried to save files.  Which was a problem for the various things that wanted me to accept licence terms around “very evil SUN” java.  I had to download somethings onto the windows box and scp them over.

I also needed to edit the make files and filelist since things had changed since the port was created, and I was not able to find the tzupdate file that was in the port.

By this time I had found the Novatech howto for the wireless side of things, and decided that Ubuntu would be much, much easier for Jamie.

Did not Support network card

Free bsd 7.2, Gentoo, Debian

Card was required to work for rest of install so did not get much further, all fairly similar text based working installers

Knopix, Open Suse, Ubuntu 9.04

Nice graphical working installers, and OS installed fine.  Just did not have network support built into kernal.

OpenSolaris

First time I have tried openSolaris, and it was really good.  It has a nice set of hardware diagnostics, that worked.  Unfortunately it did not support the hardware, and I did not try compiling the drivers.

Network Manager issues

Goes mad if network card not supported same issue across all linux distros that did not support the card in the kernel.

Summary

Ubuntu, has a more up to date kernel at the point when the laptop was updated, and this made it the only distro to install out of the box.  Free BSD also had kernal support for the system, however there was significantly more work to make it work and it was not appropriate as a starting form of Unix.

Text File formats – ASCII Delimited Text – Not CSV or TAB delimited text

In ASCII, development, File Formats, software, technology on October 31, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Unfortunately a quick google search on “ASCII Delimited Text” shows that IBM and Oracle failed to read the ASCII specification and both define ASCII Delimited Text as a CSV format.  ASCII Delimited Text should use the record separators defined as ASCII 28-31.

The most common formats are CSV (Comma Separated Values) and tab delimited text.  Tab delimited text breaks when ever you have either a field with a tab or a new line in it, and CSV breaks depending on the implementation on Quotes, Commas and lines. Sadly Quotes, Commas and Tab characters are very common in text, and this makes the formats extremely bad for exporting and importing data.  There are some other formats such as pipe (|) delimited text, and whilst better in that | is less frequently used they still suffer from being printable characters that are entered into text, and worst of all people, when they look at a file format and see the delimiter, think that it is a good idea to break things up with in fields using the same delimiter as the file format.

The most anoying thing about the whole problem is that it was solved by design in the ASCII character set.

If you use ASCII  31 as your field separator instead of comma or tab, and ASCII 30 as your record separator instead of new line.   Then you have a text file format that is trivial to write out and read in, with no restrictions on the text in fields or the need to try and escape characters.

It is even part of the design of the file encoding system.  The ASCII standard calls these fields

  • 31 Unit Separator
  • 30 Record Separator

And ASCII has two more levels with Group and File Separators

  • 29 Group Separator
  • 28 File Separator

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_separator and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delimiter#ASCII_Delimited_Text

In summary ASCII Delimited Text is using the last 4 control characters (28-31) for their purpose as field and record delimiters and not using CSV (Comma Separated Values)

What capabilities differentiate the various EDI companies?

In technology on September 30, 2009 at 9:44 am

There are two parts to EDI,

  1. Message transmission, and
  2. getting the right things in the message.

Like most things in software, most systems do a reasonably good job of transmitting messages, and there is a bit of variation between systems in the ability to translate between different message formats.

MESSAGE TRANSMISSION
Most ERP vendors have their own message standards e.g. SAP iDoc, Oracle OAG XML etc.

There are then EDI/Vendor Neutral Standards

e.g.EDI
ANSI X12
Tradacom
EDIFACT

or XML
BASDA XML
cXML
UBL
etc

You need to check that your provider supports the various standards required to communicate with all your customers.

There are a few different business models:-

Software solutions such as Webmethods or Microsoft biztalk etc. These say they can translate anything from anything to anything. Unfortunately they often do not work as advertised. e.g. BizTalk had problems with cXML, and one customer with WebMethods was unable to set up their test system and so had to test everything on live, which handled all their WalMart transactions.

Integration services, where someone carries out the integrations on your behalf to all your partners. This is our business model, and I think it is better because
a) We charge less then the licence fees for gateways,
b) We already have live integrations to a large number of parties,
c) Plenty of experience of adding on additional integrations.

GETTING THE RIGHT THINGS IN THE MESSAGE
We were running one of the top 10 EDI sites over 10 years ago, so getting the messages right (for us) has always been easy, and we were surprised when some people had difficulty with routing and translating messages.

Getting the correct parts, and pricing into the messages is a completely different problem, and this has been our focus for the past 10 years. It is straight forward for an MRP system, that has a few hundred parts. It is challenging as soon as you get into 10’s of thousands of items and a serious exercise once you get over 100,000 items.

We have a single customer that has over 500,000 items under contract with suppliers. This is the UK National Health Service, and we are providing the top health suppliers, with e-commerce systems so that they can maintain all of their products, pictures and descriptions.

As the volume of information expands, the quality needs to improve so that buyers and see items that they buy infrequently and purchase the correct item.

Our focus for the past 10 years has been the correct item at the correct discounted price, with the correct carriage/delivery charges, and any configuration information(business cards, hearing aids etc).

Automating the flow of this information into a suppliers system removes most of the causes of returns and ordering errors.

We then flow back the delivery information to the supplier, so that they are aware of any disputes up front, and can send back an accurate invoice that covers the goods or service that has actually been delivered.

There are lots of other messages that can be exchanged, but the initial focus must be on accurate orders and invoices, since this removes the most waste from the process.

BEYOND EDI

There is a lot of stuff around getting quotes and ordering services, along with small business adoption so that you can have a 100% solution.

We have developed an integrated Web Development environment (Cloud Development Platform), so that it is quick to add in any bespoke applications that are required for customers. e.g. a Domiciliary Care Portal for social services, along with an integration tool kit for most common web languages so that it is easy to add in any existing applications to the process.

KEY DIFFERENTIATOR
After writing our EDI systems in the 90’s, we came back at the problem from the opposite direction by creating a business directory, and writing e-commerce sites for suppliers (which have correct price, delivery etc).

This started as a post on one of the supply chain groups in linked-in answering the above question.

Technology plus ça change plus c’est la même chose

In technology on September 10, 2009 at 5:23 pm

This is a quick response to an article http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/124  about 3 trends that will change the world over the next decade (NOT).

Unlimited Bandwidth, Quantum computing, synergies between technologies and appliances

About 25 years ago my research topic was point contact Josephson junctions. The basis for quantum computing. It may be a little longer. However the technology will continue to advance even if quantum computing, and room temperature superconductors are not yet available.

 

However, the big issue is use of technology by people and business, about 15 years ago we were signing up organisations to electronic data interchange (EDI), and B2B transactions have not yet moved on very far.

We have around 1 million people that have purchased electronically through our network (http://www.uk-plc.net), and are still struggling to get full take up by public sector bodies. It is possible to purchase everything electronically and do away with paper. However, the change over has now taken 20 years and counting.

By contrast startups in the UK are now almost all created electronically and we have formed around 200,000 companies.

So individuals and small businesses are leading the way as usual, and we need to help large organisations to make the change into an electronic age.