SciBlogs

Archive 2010

Agile methodology seems to suit kiwi psyche Peter Kerr Dec 23

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A relatively recent ‘movement’ in software development runs the risk of dovetailing perfectly with the kiwi psyche.

‘Agile Methodology’, as used by super graphics creators BIS2, is, as self-defined, a quicker and better means of delivering bespoke software to clients.

The traditional (ironic, given that computing’s really not even 50 years old) method of software creation starts with asking the user what they want, what their requirements will be, and getting a first sign off.

Developers, and the company supplying the solution, build, test and fix the bugs in the client’s software before releasing it. This is a long process, which by its end often sees the client’s requirements having changed. And so the process begins again.

Under Agile Methodology the question is constantly being asked what the client wants next. The work is packaged in an iteration which can be as quick as a couple of weeks under this methodology, and then it is done again.

“It’s a major part of what we do,” says BIS2 development team leader, Jeremy Banks.

“It is also part of the reason we’re in Wellington. The method suits kiwis, mostly because we’re not big on bureaucracy. It is a highly effective way of doing things.”


Time for BIS2 to stop flying under the radar Peter Kerr Dec 22

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Super graphics creators, BIS2 flies under the radar in New Zealand, partly because at this stage the three year old company doesn’t have any clients in this country.

That makes is somewhat problematic for attracting software developers to its Wellington base, where it currently runs a team of 19 across Java and Flex that enable it to derive complex data into meaningful visualisations for its clients.

The knowledge from such graphics enables clients to make informed business decisions says BIS2 development team leader, Jeremy Banks.

Banks makes the point that there’s a number of advantages to the company’s development team being based in the capital, even though its competitors can have up to 1000 developers.

“Some of them can’t believe how good our product is, and how we achieve it with the team that we have,” he says.

That flying under the radar aspect is something BIS2 needs to address as it looks to expand and grow in the next stage of its expansion.

“Nobody knows about us here,” he says.

“But we’re really exciting, with great technology; if more people knew about us it would really make my job easier. For our own, selfish, development team perspective, we need a public face here to attract people to something that’s a load of fun.”


Kiwi culture to ‘look under the IT hood’ provides an overseas opportunity Peter Kerr Dec 21

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We’ve got the national initiative and creativity to look under the hood of IT systems, but the country’s missing an opportunity to collectively sell its IT security expertise to the world.

“If we took a pan New Zealand concept of IT security, we could export it and charge accordingly,” says Lateral Security sales director, Ratu Mason.

The kiwi attitude to delve into software and its security’s depths, as well as legislation that while not exactly encouraging such behaviour, also doesn’t forbid it, is an advantage for this country Mason says.

“It is intellectual property that we have, and Google’s willing to pay for it because they realise that we’re good,” he says. Three of Google’s top IT security specialists are New Zealanders.

“We’re creative, and we need to foster and use that to our country’s benefit.”

Mason envisages that New Zealand IT security companies could virtually come together, and target a country by setting up a small branch office of five or six people in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia or even China.

“This would be a commercial set up, with service offerings that are different from someone else,” he says.

Such an overseas front office would use a New Zealand back-office to test and monitor for IT system vulnerabilities.

Mason says he’s had difficulty convincing government departments of the opportunities for a collective NZ approach to such IT security challenges, but he points out that such opportunities are only going to grow larger.

With more online transactions, there’s more privacy and monitoring of privacy requirements, as well as increased opportunity for fraud to be carried out.

The huge rise in mobile applications will only see these risks grow for companies, and banks in the first instance he says.

“New Zealand’s recognised as world leaders in IT security,” says Mason. “We could be the next Nokia in this field, and we wouldn’t even have to carry out manufacturing. That’s because it is all in your head knowledge.”

He says the opportunity exists for a collective New Zealand approach to offering and serving the IT security field, but that a shared and planned approach to providing such a service could create a vibrant industry and new wealth for the country.


Wellington start-up MusicHype scales up at world’s largest digital media conference Peter Kerr Dec 20

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Selection to showcase its ‘social commerce’ platform at MIDEM in late January is a big deal for Wellington Internet start up MusicHype.

MusicHype has spent the past year perfecting its business model, which reward fans for support and interest in a band through conversations they have across various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

In turn, through exclusive deals with the bands themselves, fans are able to use MusicHype’s online shop to purchase concert tickets, digital downloads, USB and vinyl recordings, and T-shirts and other merchandise related to the band.

A recent campaign example was allowing fans to select, and talk to each other through social media, about their favourite Crowded House live song from a recent American tour. The most popular songs were put onto a USB memory stick, only available through the MusicHype online store.

MH is one of only 30 music related digital companies invited to MIDEM. Mitchell is to pitch to MIDEM’s live audience, as well as a panel of international judges. The six day event attracts over 7,000 delegates, across 60 pavilions, with 120 conferences, 3,200 companies and over 400 journalists.

Having tested and tweaked its model in the New Zealand market, now’s the right time to scale globally says managing director, Jeff Mitchell.

“Our platform and widgets and tools allow us to pull band campaigns together quickly,” he says.

MusicHype’s connections with merchandise partners (such as producers of USB sticks and T-shirts) mean that a warehouse of products doesn’t have to be provided. Billing and shipping can be carried out seamlessly.

Once a campaign starts running, to all extents it runs on autopilot. “We turn it on, and then let the fans run it,” he says. “For the past two months, we’ve had six overlapping campaigns. The reason we can do it is because everything’s pre-built, and run through ‘The Appreciation Engine’.” (See previous sticK explanation of the company’s ‘secret sauce’ here)

Naturally, MusicHype’s been talking to some senior music industry people, “all of whom can see the potential of our idea,” says Mitchell.

The company’s already generating significant revenue, with Mitchell being absolutely clear in his mind that the business model “has to be about revenue.”

Feelgood experiences may be good, “but there’s a middle space where a band’s fans are happy and prepared to pay, and the band gets the exposure it needs and also gets paid.”

To get to scale, MH needs to get to the U.S.A and European markets – the places with volume. This is where exposure at MIDEM could provide a valuable leg up to those markets.

MusicHype would like to develop relationships with some high tier bands and run campaigns in conjunction with them.

The company’s open to its long-term options, which could be being acquired by a large new media body, setting up an IPO, sale to a large distribution company, or continuing to do it all themselves and growing organically.

Ironically, the old-school record label companies could also be interested.

“Things are happening very quickly in the social media space,” Mitchell says. ’Labels know they have to adapt, and they’re interested in what we’re doing’.


Kiwi praetorian guards Google’s global network Peter Kerr Dec 17

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Three of Google’s top internet security people are Kiwis – which on the law of averages is punching way above our weight.

But there’s a pretty good reason for them landing roles as the world’s biggest search engine’s (of just one of its roles) sheriffs, based in Zurich.

All three, Ben Hawkes, Darren Bilby (‘Sham’) and Morgan Marquis-Boire had worked at either Lateral Security in Wellington or Security Assessment in Auckland.

Ben Hawkes was essentially headhunted to Google after winning a competition ‘Google Native Code’ that exposed a number of security vulnerabilities. The company’s HR department then contacted Lateral Security’s sales director Ratu Mason who quite unashamedly was able to say Hawkes was a highly skilled operator who would be an absolute asset to any organisation. Hello Zurich.

The fact that there are three NZrs in Google’s goodies ‘white hat’ gang isn’t surprising given this country’s creative environment that encourages techies to look under software’s covers.

Mason says there are a number of IT tools which can be run in New Zealand that are considered illegal in Europe.

One example is Metasploit (no, sticK had never heard of it either), an open source platform that provides information and tools on system penetration – in other words a way of testing vulnerability.

These and other manual tools are used by security researchers to uncover vulnerabilities in a legitimate way and sometimes they get paid to find these holes. Both Microsoft and Google pay for techies to find holes in their software in a legitimate way.

Mason says many organisations in this country let their IT people carry out vulnerability testing in the background, with managers either not understanding what’s being done or turning a blind eye and hoping that the internet world is safe.

“The fact is, you need to discover things, you need to prod and poke,” he says.

“It is always on the edge of legality; but the fact is that those guys who have gone to Google have done so because of their ability to push the boundaries and be creative at the edge.”

The job of Google’s security gurus is to “discover the next vulnerability, to be creative about thinking about them before someone else does.”

An IT term called Zero-Day, are vulnerabilities within a system that can’t be protected, mainly because they’re newly discovered – a new virus with no cure for example.

Within Lateral Securities’ daily work for its clients’ systems, the company will often come across a Zero Day vulnerability. They will take this information to the original manufacturers of the services and software, pointing out the issue.

Mason regards this as being a responsibility to clients, “something we know about, but the rest of the world doesn’t.”

Mason says this ‘white hat’ (read good guy) approach by NZ techies is partly a result of kiwis ‘have a go’ culture.

“There’s plenty of guys who will pull a PC apart in their garage, try to reverse engineer something.”

One example of this is the ‘Kiwicon’ event, recently held for the third time in Wellington. This year 350 IT individuals, “security nuts” as Mason calls them, attended, and such was the demand that numbers had to be restricted as tickets sold out in three days.

“These people are enthusiasts, creative individuals,” he says. “A lot don’t know where to point their attention, they’re not comfortable to disclose their findings. This is an event where they can point their knowledge.”


Super graphics make sense of a sea of data — (BIS2) Peter Kerr Dec 16

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Ever tried to make sense of a spreadsheet of numbers – data that in its raw form can be a sea of complexity?

Sure, a bar graph or pie chart can do for some statistics, but once you start getting two, three or more variables in the scheme of things, it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘see’ meaning.

Enter BIS2 (Business Intelligence Software Systems), a three year old Wellington-engined, with a USA front-office marketing and sales company, that ironically as yet has no New Zealand clients.

“We make super graphics,” says BIS2 development team leader, Jeremy Banks. Kiwi founders, chief executive Mukesh Gordhan and chief technology officer Andrew Cardno are based in San Diego.

“We provide visualisation tools that make it very easy to take the mass of your data and see what areas you need to look into.” (If you haven’t already, go and check here to see how visualised data provides knowledge).

An example is the casino industry, which the company has initially concentrated on in America as a “low hanging fruit”.

Many gaming machines are software-based, with up to five different game types able to be played at any one time. Such games’ appeal changes during the day, depending on a multitude of factors. By providing a supergraphic, or visualisation that shows its use, a casino manager has an objective tool to fine-tune their decision making process of what should be available, when.

In saying that BIS2 provides seven types of visualisations, it underplays the powerful algorithms and mathematics that lie at the heart of the interpretation of data provided by the company. Banks wouldn’t be surprised if BIS2 has one of the biggest patent portfolios in the country, based mainly around the processes to create its graphics.

Its visualisations are one of the company’s points of difference. “Other companies do similar things in different ways….but they’re not as good,” Banks says.

Another major advantage of BIS2′s system is that its front end (the part that the customer sees and uses) is a standard Flash plug-in. Unlike some of its competitors which can take days, if not weeks to set up, BIS2′s configuration can be up and running in a couple of days.

“Some of our competitors have to set up their bespoke applications on the client’s desktop,” Banks says. “We’re also light on the database aspect of things.”

By this he means that the company’s competitors take their customer’s data, manipulate it and transform it to their own repository. “We sit on top of our customer’s repository that’s already set up, pull the information out, and create a super graphic from that,” he says.

Its standards-based system makes for easy interoperability with other computer software products, possessing what is known as a “RESTful interface.”

In the meantime, BIS2 is partnering with third party vendors, who would help sell, configure and train users.
“The job now is about getting more sales, with the airline and telco industries being more than suitable for our different visualisation types,” says Banks.

“We can work with exactly the same software, and it’s about whatever the industry actually wants to measure. Then we simply put our templates on top.”


(John)Key timing for Innovation Council? Peter Kerr Dec 16

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New Zealand’s innovation system is like a large industrial plant according to the New Zealand Institute.

“Where each department performs reasonably well given the resources and information available, and manages hand-offs to adjacent departments,” it says in a recent internationalisation strategy called ‘Plugging the gaps’.

“However the plant as a whole is underperforming because there are bottlenecks, missing functions and missed opportunities for coordination.”

The report proposes 14 policy initiatives to accelerate the export of high value differentiated goods and services based particularly on information, communications, technology, and niche manufacturing.

The institute says that many of the policy proposals identified are available because the NZ innovation ecosystem has not been managed as a whole.

“Instead, individual pieces have been proposed and adopted by governments, and numerous government and non-government agencies have made improvements within their scope of responsibility,” the report says.

It says the formation of the Ministry of Science and Innovation is an important step towards solving the problem, but isn’t enough.

“Several countries pursuing innovation strategies have established innovation councils or equivalent bodies, usually chaired by their Prime Ministers, which identify obstacles and opportunities, and mobilize resources,” says the report, written by Rick Boven, Catherine Harland and Lillian Grace.

They suggest that having the ministers for science and innovation, education, economic development and finance on an Innovation Council, along with their chief executives and leaders from industry and finance would create the conversations and shared understanding that are needed to agree priorities and quickly reallocate resources.

The report suggests following the Danish model, where in 2006 it launched a strategy called ‘Progress, Innovation and Cohesion’.

The Denmark strategy contains a total of 350 specific initiatives, which together entail extensive reforms within the fields of education, training and research as well as substantial improvements in the framework conditions for growth and innovation in all areas of society.

The strategy says, “Each year, the Government will publish a report that provides a picture of whether developments are going in the right direction and whether we are reaching our objectives in relation to education and training, research, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Given the paucity of policy options to grow the economy, and given the Prime Minister’s stated enthusiasm for high value exports, could Mr Mapp’s announcement be Key timing?

Footnote: As this post was being written, Minister of Science and Innovation Wayne Mapp announced he will not be standing in the 2011 election.

It would be a pretty neat thing if John Key stepped into such a pivotal role……especially as he has often said that high value exports are the only way this country’s going to move forward. However, the word is it would be too much on his plate.

More’s the pity……but think about it eh John!


Bands and fans connect and interact through start-up’s ‘Appreciation Engine’ — (MusicHype) Peter Kerr Dec 15

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One way of looking at the world of music is to say the game is changing. Another way is to say it’s a complicated mess where making money’s nowhere as simple as it used to be.

However, in a world of free and of digital there are two facts that remain.

Firstly, bands need to establish and grow their fan base, and many of those fans are prepared to pay for music and merchandise associated with music that they love to support the bands they love.

How to connect the two is a conundrum that not only the old school record labels are trying to figure out, but also every man/woman and his dog (perhaps even the HMV dog for those who are old enough to figure the analogy) with access to the Internet.

Enter Wellington start-up company, MusicHype.

Its goal is to reward music fans for loyalty to their favourite bands, and increase bands’ revenue opportunities through ticket sales, merchandise and other derivative products of their music.

MusicHype only began life in January 2010, and, pretty surprisingly for a start-up, has even managed to reach cash flow break-even recently.

It is still in growth stage, but its performance and business model has been enough to see it invited to MIDEM, the world’s largest Digital Music conference, a ‘destination for music business connection and knowledge’, which showcases ‘latest technologies and new models for distribution and monetisation’.

MusicHype, along with 29 other global companies and start-ups, were selected from hundreds of global companies to pitch to the audience and judges at the end of January.

“For us it is a big deal,” says MusicHype managing director, Jeff Mitchell.

The start-up came into being following numerous yarns between serial entrepreneurs Dave Moskovitz, Nick Rowney and Mitchell (and others). As musicians, Moskovitz and Rowney were interested in how unsung bands (to risk mixing metaphors) could promote themselves via the web. Mitchell had experience in building global Internet technology platforms, and selling content online.

Result, MusicHype.

Its first test crash dummy (sticK using a bit of poetic licence here) was reasonably well-known band ‘The Mint Chicks’, a group Mitchell describes as being open to new ideas. They had just come off full contract rights with a recording company, which is important “as we only want artists who are in full control of themselves; we’re not interested in licensing deals.”

This allowed MusicHype to work up its business model, and the result was an exclusive USB memory stick with loaded with the Mint Chick’s new EP, also designed by the band, that was only available through MH. A limited edition of 500 were sold at $25 each, with revenue shared between the band and MusicHype.

Another initiative during May’s NZ Music Month was an independent mix tape. The public, via the net, was asked to select their top 12 songs from 40 bands. Again an exclusive MH USB, and clear blue vinyl record (yes record) was produced.

“We wanted to pull an online experience with an offline, tactile experience,” he says. Online’s not just about being digital, fans also appreciate a physical product says Mitchell.

“Our secret sauce is ‘The Appreciation Engine’,” says Mitchell. “All campaigns are run on top of this, and it integrates across all social networks.”

MusicHype has centralised online music fan identification across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms, pulling out the music parts of their conversations.

To do so, MusicHype integrates with social media API’s (Application Programming Interface), following authorization from the user to do so. This allows MH to connect, track and reward music fans for what they do.

“Everytime a person does something good for a band, they get a ‘note’, or loyalty reward, kind of like air points, says Mitchell. There’s some complicated algorithms and programming that enables MH to carry out these functions, as well as rewarding fans.

If fans collect enough notes, they’re able to purchase products, including tickets to live performances, from MH’s online shop. Naturally, they can also use real cash (or credit cards) to purchase products too.

The company’s business model is to work with a band or label, and put together a campaign. This has to be focused around merchandise and/or digital downloads, with both partners clipping the ticket says Mitchell.

Most of the shared income is obtained through these sources, though some affiliate programmes provide other money through (other partners’) ticket sales.

Mitchell says that the distribution and sale of music through the Internet isn’t that difficult, with options such as iTunes being available.

“The real difficulty is how to rise above the noise,” he says. “That’s what we’re providing, and we generate sales on that band’s excitement.”

MusicHype plans to extend the Appreciation Engine to cover other industries.

For example, the Appreciation Engine could track and reward fans’ appreciation of sports teams, automobiles, or any consumer brand.

Their dream is to be the loyalty engine of the Internet, once they’ve fixed the broken music industry.


Who are you going to call first — the information clearinghouse? (NZ Institute) Peter Kerr Dec 15

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As the whole New Zealand environment for turning ideas into income morphs into something better, stronger and faster, it’s worth revisiting independent think tank The NZ Institute’s ‘Plugging the gap’ discussion document.

This report sounds out an internationalisation strategy for New Zealand, proposing 14 policy directions to improve the success of businesses trying to establish themselves in international markets.

As the Ministry of Science and Innovation evolves its national network of commercialisation centres (among many initiatives really), many parts of the document should be required reading.

One of these proposals is to establish an information clearinghouse, concentrated in one strongly branded location so that everyone is aware of where to look and what is available.

Institute director Rick Boven says such information in New Zealand is currently too scattered and too difficult for a business to easily find.

The report (find it here) says that specifically, one single utility information clearinghouse should be the preferred service provider or access point for:
• Access to public good information such as standard solutions
• A directory of expertise, providers an advisors in science, engineering and commercialisation
• Problem solving forums in research, development, business development and internationalisation
• Provision of useful research findings to commercialisation providers and businesses
• Matching of entrepreneurs with business opportunities
• Matching of investors with investment opportunities
• Matching of specialist staff with employment opportunities
• Connections to New Zealand networks overseas, and
• Connections to relevant international solution and resource providers

“Establishing a single information clearinghouse will release resources currently consumed in making connections via less efficient means, while reducing search and transaction costs for businesses,” the report says.

“More important, it will make connections that would not otherwise be made. Concentrating promotion efforts on a single high value clearinghouse brand will increase participation by domestic and overseas people because they will be able to connect more efficiently and effectively.”

The report says existing networks that are working well should be connected to the clearinghouse – not all information needs to be managed by it, but all useful information should be accessible from it.


Keeping TABS so valuable, sticK’s forced to give it a plug Peter Kerr Dec 14

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Those of us with a poetic come wordy bent have to love TABS (Trends + Anthropology + Brands + Strategy) for its acronym alone.

And sticK’s not one to generally go promoting someone or something it hasn’t personally interviewed or yarned to if it can help it. However, the fact that this has been a constant ‘go back to and read again’ document has inspired its promotion in this blog.

In this case, the Canvas8‘s document, a biannual summary of the global consumers’ most important trends and drivers is something worth spreading.

In short, it is knowledge that attempts to peer over the horizon, knowledge worth knowing.

Unlike the vast majority of ‘comments’ (read spam) to sticK, Canvas8 made an intelligent comment on a 77 Pieces article, and pointed out the relationship to its own mass customisation observation.

In fact, mass customisation was the first of its 20 summaries of global consumer drivers. See the document here.

The TABS document is, as they describe it, a trawl through academic journals, the ‘gold’ from hundreds of pop culture and industry blogs, and probing of the minds of global Thought Leaders.

They’ve then pieced it all together in a simple, informative layout around the headings:
1. What is it?
2. Who is it impacting?
3. How has it been developing?
4. Where is it happening

They fire in a ‘what are the signs?’ and ‘where is the trend in its lifecycle?’, along with related trends. The next page provides more reports and articles to back up the reported trend.

Again, this summary description does a disservice; but to illustrate, the 20 TABS drivers noted are:
1. Mass customisation
2. Simple interfaces
3. Brand me
4. Codes of conduct
5. Informed consumerism
6. Natural mindset
7. Sustainable capitalism
8. Hyperawareness of health
9. Social participation
10. Attention economy
11. Rising social conscience
12. Mobile living
13. Hyperlocalisation
14. True stories
15. Privacy and control
16. Neo-tribalism
17. Collaborative living and working
18. Slow
19. East/West
20. Blended reality

Yet again, sticK recommends going and having a look for yourself.

And among dozens of interesting points and observations, here’s one from Eugenie Harvey, founder of WeAreWhatWeDo and 10:10, under the ‘Codes of Conduct’ driver

“There is no doubt in my mind that kindness is the new currency. As life becomes tougher, which I’m afraid it’s going to do, being generous to your fellow man will keep the world afloat.”


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