Irish firm to manage iPad payments for US network (IT – 11th June 2010)

Irish company Openet has announced the roll-out of a flexible data payment system for Apple’s iPad on a major US carrier, believed to be ATT.

The company manages the transaction process that users are guided through when activating their iPad’s 3G connection and allows the network to provide fixed and ad hoc data packages.

Prepay and pay as you go options are available to users and the system is flexible enough to allow for more tailored plans in the future.

For example, users could pay for just a set amount of connection time, a small data allowance or even for access to specific sites only.

“The initial roll-out will be followed by a series of innovative roll-outs post event,” said Niall Norton, chief executive officer of Openet.

“What has gone out to the public at first was a very straightforward few choices of how you wanted to manage your account; what will happen later this year is that the options will become more sophisticated.”

The company provides similar solutions for a number of US and international carriers and this flexible system also works on other 3G devices, including smartphones and USB dongles.

Mr Norton said the company had succeeded where legacy billing technologies had not because it is able to adapt to huge numbers of subscriptions and payment options quickly.

“Our platform was designed to be hugely flexible and we are able to be that agile,” he said. “It’s also highly robust, very highly engineered and very fast.”

Despite being headquartered in Park West in Dublin, the company does not have any Irish clients.

However, Mr Norton said he was excited about the launch of a partnership with mobile operator Meteor, which is due to go live this summer.

“We have provided some additional solutions with these guys for the likes of EU data roaming, but we have an active engagement now with Meteor which will launch in the summer,” he said.

“We enable many potential services and are looking to marry them to their marketing plans, so we’re extremely pleased to have a working relationship with them,” Mr Norton added.

Openet was founded 11 years ago by Joe Horgan, who is the companys chief technical officer.

The company employs 210 people in Dublin, 200 in its offices in Virginia, USA and a further 100 people across offices in Malaysia and Brazil.

The article originally appeared in The Irish Times on 11th June 2010.

98FM is going back to its roots (SBP – 6th June 2010)

The ‘FM’ in 98FM’s branding has returned after a two-year absence be cause it ‘‘just works’’, according to chief executive Chris Doyle.

The Dublin station last week unveiled a brand refresh, which returned the traditional radio acronym to its name, having dropped it in 2008 to become Dublin’s 98.

Doyle said that market research showed strong brand awareness behind the 98FM name, with most people still using it to refer to the station anyway. He also said that the motivation for losing the letters in 2008 was no longer as strong.

‘‘There was a lot of talk about DAB [digital audio broadcasting] around that time, and the thinking was to move away from FM, but DAB’s really stalled in the last while,” he said. ‘‘We’ve spoken to a lot of people and it just felt right to bring it back.”

However, while reclaiming its FM roots, the station is still spreading to other platforms.

Its existing iPhone app, which streams the station live, is being updated soon, with an app for other phone types arriving shortly afterwards.

Twitter and Facebook will also be used more, with the station’s presence on these networks being promoted on air and online.

The new look, which was designed with ad agency Rothco, is a shift from the polished purple imagery used for the past two years. The station now sports red as its main colour, with the logo having a more hand-written look.

‘‘That’s something we deliberately went for, to give it that bit of fluidity, perhaps make it feel a little bit less corporate,” said Doyle. ‘‘We also felt there was a requirement to be that bit more positive and that’s where our ‘now is good’ slogan comes in.”

To support the rebrand, the station will be rolling out a ‘‘relatively significant’’ marketing investment in television, print and outdoor ads in the weeks ahead.

There will also be a new fleet of branded vehicles on the capital’s streets, with Fiat 500s replacing the station’s existing SUVs.

Doyle said the ad push was important, not just to promote 98FM, but also to inspire confidence in companies that might be looking to advertise on the station.

‘‘I think it would be cheeky of me to ask people to advertise on 98FM if the radio station didn’t support or market itself,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Business Post on 6th June 2010.

Small firms urged to use website for sales (IT – 4th June 2010)

Small firms still have a lot of catching up to do online, according to David Curtin, chief executive of the IE Domain Registry (IEDR) which manages Ireland’s .ie internet address space.

Mr Curtin said many companies still had a “picture postcard” website containing little more than contact details, with few using their sites for e-commerce or product promotion.

“Those days are over, there is a lot of untapped potential online now,” he said. “Companies should be using their websites as sales channels as it is available to customers 24/7, not like their existing sites which are basically nine to five.”

Mr Curtin suggested that Ireland’s lacklustre performance in broadband had been one reason why small businesses held back from investing online.

However he said that broadband infrastructure and take-up had improved in recent years but small firms failed to keep up with that. The registry had seen a significant increase in the number of small businesses and sole traders buying .ie domains in the past year.

This, he added, was likely to be a side-effect of rising unemployment, with many of those affected deciding to establish small businesses and start-ups instead.

The IEDR took over the running of the .ie domain in 2000 and currently has 142,000 sites registered on its database, about 40 per cent of all Irish-owned domains.

This week it is hosting a meeting of the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries, which will include representatives of 58 international registry bodies.

One important area of discussion is likely to be on the decision by ICANN – which oversees all internet addresses across the world – to allow ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups and cities to have their own top level domain.

Once these addresses become available, it will mark the biggest shift in domain policy since individual countries were allowed to have their own top level domain.

This article appeared in The Irish Times on 4th June 2010

Colourful informalities aim to shake up workplace (IT – 4th June 2010)

With no desks, fixed computers or phone lines in sight, you would be forgiven for thinking Microsoft’s office in Schiphol, Amsterdam, had fallen prey to an overzealous cost-cutter. However this jarringly informal workplace, which looks more like a giant cafe than an office block, is actually the work-life balance theory taken to its extreme.

According to the company, it works too.

Showcased to journalists as part of its Office 2010 launch, Microsoft’s Amsterdam base is the manifestation of its “new world of work” policy. This idea – informed by a 2005 Bill Gates essay and 2006 company White Paper – focuses on increased employee freedom as a way of driving up both productivity and satisfaction.

So – with a move to new offices in early 2008 – the company did away with cubicles, landlines and stationary computers. Employees no longer had their own desk nor did they have set hours to clock in for.

In short, every standard workplace constraint was removed.

“There were a lot of habits to break when we started this first,” said Gonnie Been, communications manager at Microsoft Amsterdam. “Most importantly, we had to change the leadership style to one of trust and output . . . It taught people how to let go of control.”

Instead of desks, employees are now issued with laptops. Workspace within the building is communal, with different styles available for different types of work.

So, for example, those who are open to chat while working might now sit at a long desk with many other seats. In fact, most features are designed to encourage conversation and – Microsoft hopes – collaboration. Even staff at the inhouse canteen have been told to serve slowly to create queues, forcing people to converse while they wait.

For those needing to concentrate, however, there are the glass “isolation” booths, which let people know you are off-limits for a while. There is a strict “no camping” policy in place, however, with staff jokingly reminding each other to move on when their two hours are up.

Overall, employees are given the freedom to completely dictate their day – which might involve an early start, a midday break to collect the children from school, or simply not coming in to the office at all. Employees are trusted to work towards a level of output and not set hours of attendance.

“It quickly becomes an embarrassing thing within a peer group to betray that trust,” said Been, who claimed that productivity did not even drop while people were adjusting to the change.

She also said it was hardest for middle-management to change the practices they were so used to and that major readjustment was necessary for all workers.

“There is a mental dimension to how people are dealing with new ways of working. Some were a little bit afraid about it,” said Dr Eric Van Heck, professor at Rotterdam School of Management in Erasmus University, who worked with Microsoft to study the changeover.

“‘I don’t have my own office any more’, ‘Does my boss see me all the time now and can I make promotion if he doesn’t?’ – these are elements of peoples’ thinking when they first envision this stuff.”

However, despite the concerns, Dr Van Heck’s study suggests the move was well-received by staff. Overall workers felt a little more productive and much more flexible afterwards.

Microsoft’s own figures reflect this with productivity rising, though not dramatically, since 2008.

Employee satisfaction has increased so much that the company says it now has another problem: staff turnover is too low and it is becoming a challenge to make room for fresh blood.

However, the shining example set by Microsoft’s Dutch experiment is dulled somewhat by the simple fact that it is way out of the league – and budget – of most companies.

Besides the huge upfront investment in office refurbishment and staff retraining, a company undertaking this automatically creates other overheads too.

For example, as Microsoft encourages staff to work from home, it must also offer a subsidy on their phone and broadband bills to compensate them. Even in the friendliest of economic climates, it has not been in the gift of most employers to reinvent the way business is done in such a way.

However, Dr Van Heck is less cynical: “We are not talking about the world of work but the new worlds of work,” he said.

“The people dimension is crucial in new working – it is not so much about the technology.”

For him, creating workplace flexibility is dependent on people’s ability to trust each other and give up the controls they are used to. This is about changing minds and can cost very little, if anything at all: it has little real connection to stylish decor.

In that case, it is clear why Microsoft chose Amsterdam as its “new world of work” centre. The Netherlands is the country with the highest number of flexible and part-time jobs in the world, while its populace’s relaxed and open-minded temperament is the stuff of legend.

With that in mind, the success of this cutting-edge office is perhaps not as surprising as it might seem at first.

The real test of Bill Gates’s theory is whether it would work as well for a traditional business in, say, Athlone as it did for a modern one in Amsterdam.

This article appeared in The Irish Times on 4th June 2010.

Microsoft Dublin’s role in new Office 2010 software (IT – 28th May 2010)

Microsoft has launched the latest version of its Office software suite with new features allowing for easier collaboration and multimedia editing in documents.

According to the company, its Irish offices played a significant role in the product’s development, sharing responsibility with Microsoft Seattle for bug fixes in the months leading up to its launch.

In Dublin, 230 people worked on the release over the past few months, also developing different language versions and features, like the Setup process through which users must go to install the software.

“We’ve got a development team here and they’ve developed what are called ‘core features’, which will appear in the US version of the software,” says Derek McCann of the Microsoft European Development Centre. “To be honest, it’s quite exciting and to have some of it done in Ireland is great.”

Microsoft Office 2010 comes three years after the software’s last version and will go on sale on June 15h. However businesses buying in bulk have been able to purchase it since May 12th.

While it is visually similar to its predecessor, there have been a number of changes made to improve much-used functions such as cut and paste.

Users can now also edit videos and pictures from within Word and PowerPoint, rather than having to do this with separate software.

One of the more notable developments is the availability of Office Web Apps, an online version of Office. These free applications are expected to launch alongside the retail version and will allow users to store and share their documents online, as well as collaborate with others.

“What’s best about Web Apps is that the formating is maintained across the platforms, so the document online will look exactly the same as it did on your desktop,” says Richard Moore, business manager information worker at Microsoft Ireland.

“There is no fidelity loss either, which we think is absolutely paramount if you want to show people your work.”

The Web Apps are a clear reaction to Google Docs, the free web-based software suite that now competes with Microsoft Office. However Moore says its online software does not have all the functionality of its desktop equivalent and would be best suited to making final changes in a document rather than creating one from scratch.

“We think people will want to use an office client and use this as a companion,” he adds. “Rather than force people to do everything in the cloud, we are giving people the option.”

Documents that are stored and shared online will likely be accessed from Microsoft’s cloud computing data centre in Clondalkin, Dublin, which was opened by the company last year.

The article was published originally in The Irish Times on 28th May 2010.

Buying ink cartridges is no longer a black and white issue (IT – 14th May 2010)

With cheaper options now available, printer firms have to justify the high cost of cartridges, writes Adam Maguire.

Staff at HP are quick to list interesting facts and figures about the company’s print technology, and they do so with a certain sense of pride. An ink cartridge’s nozzle is one-third of the width of a human hair, for example, and can have up to 36,000 drops of ink passed through it every second. It can take three to four years to develop a new ink formula and it must be suitable to use in several climates and on any type of job.

These and many other statistics are used by HP, to some degree at least, to explain the high cost of ink for the consumer. The mantra that “ink is not just coloured water” is stated repeatedly by Geraldine Morel, the company’s European marketing product manager, as she explains just how much work is involved in print and ink production.

“We are always spending on RD [research and development] at all levels to ensure we can provide reliability to our customers,” she says.

“For example, certain climates can cause mould to grow inside cartridges if they are not made in a particular way so we work to ensure that does not happen.”

In the past printer manufacturers did not really have to justify the cost of ink. But with towns and cities across Ireland – and the world – now dotted with cartridge refill centres and companies such as Tesco selling own-brand cartridges, this has changed.

Customers are increasingly moving to these so-called “after-market” suppliers to get ink for their printers, having noticed a significant difference in the upfront cost of a full cartridge.

HP suggests this is a false economy, however, pointing to research it commissioned QualityLogic to undertake. According to the study, HP cartridges give nearly 17 per cent more prints than third-party alternatives and over 52 per cent more than refills.

This alone may not compensate fully for the price difference but Morel points to the study’s other statistics on cartridge reliability to make up the difference. According to QualityLogic, more than 12 per cent of third-party cartridges and 18 per cent of the refills it tested simply did not work at all.

“Reliability is hugely important – if a cartridge does not work, that’s time you have lost in having to go back out and buy another one, not to mention the headache caused if it means not having a job done when it was needed,” she says. “It also means you might have to buy another cartridge so you’ve spent twice as much before printing anything.”

With these figures in mind, HP claims that after-market ink can cost up to twice as much as its own consumables in the long run.

However, ink is always going to be most expensive for consumers. As Morel points out, ink’s cost per page drops when bought in larger quantities but as home users only buy a small amount at a time the cost stays high. HP is trying to counter this by offering “standard” and “value” versions of some cartridges, the latter being of higher capacity and so cheaper per print.

Morel does not make any cost comparisons between HP and other printer manufacturers, however, saying the company’s focus is currently on the alternative sources of ink for its machines.

Another study conducted by QualityLogic on ink costs does make this comparison and is less than flattering to HP. Kodak machines proved to be the cheapest, costing 4p per colour page printed. HP’s cost fluctuates depending on the machine tested, ranging between 11p and 17p. The worst was a Lexmark cartridge, which cost 22p per colour page.

However, value is not the only thing HP is using to keep customers buying its consumables; its environmental credentials is another. The company, like other manufacturers, has a recycling programme which encourages users to send back empty cartridges so they can be re-manufactured into new ones.

As part of the HP Planet Partners recycling programme, customers can order recycling envelopes or boxes online, and new cartridges are being designed to be more easily processed upon their return. The programme is running in 53 countries and has recycled 770,000 tonnes of waste in the past 20 years, though this only represents a small percentage of the cartridges manufactured in this time.

The company also uses recycled material in its product packaging and says it is considering launching a specialised line of recycled paper in the future. According to Morel, the company previously had a similar product but it did not prove popular with customers.

At present customers are encouraged to recycle for their conscience alone. When asked if the company would consider offering a discount scheme to those returning empty cartridges, Morel says this is not an option.

“Our lawyers say we cannot link [cartridge recycling] to financial incentives as it would be deemed unfair competition to the after-market industry,” she says.

“We would need to find a non-financial incentive instead and so far we have not found anything.”

This article was published originally in The Irish Times on 14th May 2010.