Friday, April 29, 2011
  Cable plans set up lazy monopoly to fail
NZ Herald April 27, 2011

Steven Joyce prides himself on being a pragmatic guy. That's what he told this year's Telcon conference, anyway - that's he's surrounded by people who like talking but he'd like to be remembered as a guy who does stuff.
That must be why he's giving Telecom and Vodafone $285 million to build a rural broadband network that relies on technology nearing its use-by date, which won't deliver the promised speeds.
If nothing else, it gives his boss John Key the chance to jump in an airforce helicopter for an election photo-op at some remote location.
The RBI contract gives two of the most profitable companies in the country a huge competitive edge on their rivals, which the market recognised by boosting Telecom's shares 5 per cent - although investors would probably be better off buying Vodafone shares.
Couple that with the regulatory holiday associated with the ultra-fast broadband initiative and you have a recipe for a lazy monopoly that fails to deliver.
As Labour's Claire Curran has pointed out, it's even more alarming that one of Joyce's main advisers on this, Ministry of Economic Development official Bruce Parkes, has just been fingered by the High Court for his lead role in designing the anti-competitive regime Telecom used to charge for access to its data network between 2001 and 2004.
It's the Silvio Berlusconi approach to regulation - rewriting the statues so what was criminal no longer is.
The low turn-out at Telcon was an indication of how this Government has stifled innovation and investment in the sector.
When I last weighed in on this, Vodafone claimed I'd made "misleading statements" - open access was at the heart of the bid and its 3G HSPA (high-speed packet access) solution was the global standard being deployed in the majority of developed countries.
I stand by what I said. Any 3G networks being rolled out today would be at the tail end of old projects, as the technology is supersede by the 4G LTE (long-term evolution) kit proposed by other bidders.
LTE networks will be built this year in Australia, the United States, Germany, China, India and so on.
LTE is a data network. 3G is a mobile phone network with a data service added on top.
Ordinary users struggle with the fact that existing mobile networks weren't designed to cope with the volume of data that smartphones are generating, and data-pricing plans also don't reflect evolving needs.
Claims that the RBI is open access have failed to convince the industry, both for technical and competition reasons.
With its massive taxpayer subsidy, Vodafone will have an overwhelming first-mover advantage and the number of potential customers isn't big enough to justify competitors adding their equipment to the Vodafone towers, let alone into Telecom's fibre cabinets.
The risk is that this anti-competitive subsidy, combined with the regulatory holiday Joyce is giving companies that participate in the ultra-fast broadband scheme, will give New Zealand an internet that's not what it wants or needs.
As IDC analyst Rosalie Nelson told Telcon, mobility, social networking and Generation Y-style communications are driving technology adoption among consumers, rather than the vision of fat pipes delivering data-rich applications such as video on demand.
Nelson asked whether open-access fibre would encourage new service providers - or lead to rapid contraction and consolidation.
She warned that if the Government marginalises competing infrastructure and creates a government-controlled monopoly, that monopoly is likely to become lazy and leave few incentives for private operators to invest.
There is also wallet share: If people opt to spend on their mobile pad, phone or other device rather than on a fibre connection, it will make a big difference to the economics of the ultra-fast broadband roll-out.
Given that the Government isn't investing enough in its broadband projects to buy the required outcomes, it needs to keep private-sector investment flowing, and not just the sort that aims to capture subsidies.
One company that does see opportunity in the mobility explosion is Christchurch software-maker Jade.
It has just released Joob Mobile, a platform that developers can use to connect any business system to mobile-device users.
Managing director Craig Richardson says that by 2014 more people will be accessing the internet from mobile devices than desktop computers.
The problem is that many large enterprises and software developers fail to deliver the mobile experience that customers expect.
On the other side, the sort of small teams that develop mobile phone and tablet applications can't be expected to understand all the intricacies of interfacing with a large enterprise system.
The Joob Mobile cloud service aims to bridge that and give developers on both sides the tools to do the job. It's the kind of pure technology play that Jade has succeeded with in the past.
The fact that it has come together from conception to beta in six months - despite two earthquakes - should give Joyce and his advisers pause for thought as they ponderously build us a new internet.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
  Bulls and a piano lead the way to Venice
NZ Herald, April 23, 2011

The morning started with a call from Creative New Zealand to say Michael Parekowhai had notified them of the interview. Expecting a postponement, I was surprised to hear instead a request that I be gentle on the sculptor - odd, given his working uniform of blue overalls and heavy boots.

I took it as a sign of the extreme sensitivity in the arts funding body to everything around its participation in the Venice Biennale, the Olympics of contemporary art; ie, the only such event where art is used for nationalistic competition.

It still hasn't got over the furore over Et al/Merilyn Tweedie's installation Fundamental Practice in the 2005 biennale, clearly blaming the media for the negative response, rather than considering that maybe the New Zealand public just didn't buy into the Elam lecturer's visually unattractive reworking of post-Beuys German feminist art.

In selecting Parekowhai, CNZ clearly wanted a spectacle, and Parekowhai is keen to deliver one. He's filling the Palazzo Loredan dell' Ambasciatore on the Grand Canal with a Steinway grand piano carved with Maori patterns, two blackened bronze pianos with bulls on top, the life-size sculpture of his brother as a security guard, and some bronze pot plants.

The works are on their way to Venice - the bronze pieces by ship and the Steinway packed up waiting to be air freighted, so the interview happens in their absence, which seemed to suit their conceptual nature.

When I arrived at the studio in Henderson's industrial edge at the appointed time, the place was empty.

When Parekowhai eventually arrived, he apologised for having to pick up guests from the airport and would I mind if they sat in? (Was I supposed to feel intimidated by having the interview chaperoned by Jim and Mary Barr, Wellington-based art bloggers, occasional curators and long time champions of Parekowhai's work?)

"Sure," I said, amused rather than intimidated.

I report my conversation with piano restorer David Jenkin, that the piano in the Auckland Art Gallery, The Story of a New Zealand River from 2001, did not work well as a musical instrument.

"That one was never meant to be played," says Parekowhai. "The piano series I am working on is a bit like the George Lucas Star Wars movies. I started with that one which actually [follows] the one I've just done, so only in years to come will the story make any real sense.

"The one at the Auckland Art Gallery has lilies and some roses flicked on it, and ideally they were supposed to surround the floor as if the concert [pianist] or diva has just left the stage. The Maori ornately carved piano is meant to be played continuously.

"The one after is called the Horn of Africa which is basically a seal which balances a piano on its nose. [That 2006 work is now in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery.]

"So when you see those three together at one point, it will be one that has been played continuously, one where you have just missed the performance, and the next one where it ascends to a new space so it just hovers in space and balances at the end of the seal's nose. It's only after the fat boy sings that it will all make perfect sense, or a sense."

The idea for He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand River, which has been given the working title "the Maori piano", came when Parekowhai was asked to submit a proposal for New Zealand's first venture to Venice in 1999. He'd just completed the Ten Guitars project of custom-made guitars.

"When I was thinking about what Maori and Italians have in common, for me it was quite simple; opera, and then comes music and other bits and pieces. I always thought it would be a good way to build a stage or a platform for other things to happen around the art and through the art rather than for it to be about the art.

"An object works on the eye and in space but when the piano is played, all of a sudden there are other ways of engaging with the art. It's like closing your eyes and listening to the music. What's nice about that for me is the focus no longer becomes about the object or even myself but you get carried away by something else and for me that's always been a strong driver in the Venice proposal.

"I had proposed, given that 1999 was our first time in Venice, that we possibly might have someone like Dame Kiri to sing next to the piano, because 10 years before that she was singing at Prince Charles and Di's wedding [actually in 1981] and I thought she was wearing a fantastic dress and a beautiful hat and kind of being the Maori princess she was even in the old days but with a voice that had real resonance for the wider community.

"When she sings in the park thousands turn up who may not know anything about opera or supposed high culture but they all go to the park and have a picnic and listen to the opera and I love it that art doesn't just have to be for aficionados, and neither does opera. So the strategy was if you got someone like her to sing, it would be a party everyone would want to go to.

"The next time they went to Venice [in 2001] I was rung up and they said, 'would I put a proposal in?' and I said, 'I'll just do the same thing as I would last time.'

"Mike Stevenson went that year, fantastic, so no complaints about who goes and does that, for me it's more about the process. The next time they rang me Et Al and I shared an office, and they rang her five minutes before me because I answered the phone and handed it over.

"I said don't ask me again until you ask only me because I don't want to get into a competition with my colleagues and friends, and the nice thing was at the beginning of last year [CNZ Venice Commissioner] Jenny Harper asked me to do the Venice project so I couldn't say no.

"I kind of did know it would have to happen at some point, they'd have to ask me one day."

Parekowhai says when looking for exhibition space in Venice, he was struck by the fact the palazzo had a garden - unusual for that space-limited city.

"I remember coming back to New Zealand and telling Jim it's got this little garden but it's not little, it's 23 by 32 metres.

"So the great thing is, as you stood in the garden and looked through the promenade into the canal you have this interesting sight line where you are kind of standing above the water but it's like your feet are in the water as well and it reminded me of home in Huia, standing in the lounge with this green and the tidal sea in the background.

"I made a bronze piano that sits outside in the garden and on top of that stands a Spanish fighting bull so as you sit on the bronze piano stool, you are looking into the eyes of this Spanish bull. [The work is called Chapman's Homer - referring to a poem by John Keats about Cortez first seeing the Pacific from "a peak in Darien".]

"If you enter from the inside space, you walk into this quite dark room, gloomy, and it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to the light, but I'm hoping you will hear the music before you see the object. That's where the carved piano will be doing its thing.

"If you enter from the Grand Canal, you will see a black bronze security guard there. [The piece is called Kapa Haka.]

"He's a reminder of something back here and he stands there and oversees anyone who enters the space. He's kind of based on my brother. I remember going to a Burger King out west one night when I was working late and I saw him in the light drizzle at 3am and he had his arms folded and was standing there and I said, 'Jeez, that's an artwork.' I did like the idea security is more about presence rather than actually doing anything.

"As you walk in that door, it's like a little foyer which fills with water when the canal rises. And the cool thing about that is there is another bronze piano [studio technician] Ian and I and the boys have constructed and on top of that is a bull that sort of lies. [The work A Peak in Darien.]

"It is quite a big form and I wanted it to look quite landscapy so you walk around it and suddenly it reveals what it is and it too haunches over and looks at the prospective player or the audience.

"What I like about the work is it is not activated until you have an audience or you have a performer. The performer could be as simple as someone who sits in the chair."

Says Jim Barr: "I think there are going to be many, many photos of people sitting in those chairs."

"I hope so," Parekowhai responds. "I like how the work reminds me of a sense of art history or even just history. It is quite interesting for me that we should choose bronze as a material to take to Venice, it seems quite odd. All the way from New Zealand.

"I like the way it is very weighty, very heavy, and as a material it is very loaded and what I'm trying to do is by giving it a patina and forming it in a way so the materiality of it becomes irrelevant and it just becomes a bull and a piano."

Parekowhai clams up when asked how much the project is costing. "I have yet to pay all the bills."

CNZ's budget for the exercise is $650,000, although not all that is going to the artist nor even represents the costs of the work being sent.

Says Mary Barr: "Michael has put in far, far more than anyone else."

It's an investment, then. Given the New Zealand market is too small to fund the pieces of the scale Parekowhai wants to create, he needs to establish himself as a significant international contemporary artist. If it comes off, it's a symbiotic relationship - Creative New Zealand gets a spectacle, and the artist gets a new market.

* Five pianists have been selected to staff the Parekowhai exhibition, performing a mix of New Zealand, jazz and classical music on the carved Steinway. They are Rose Campbell, Dan Hayles, Catherine McKay, Ariana Odermatt and Flavio Villani. Three Italian speakers from New Zealand have also been engaged to explain details of the exhibition to visitors.

A grand restoration

The piano going to Venice was part of New Zealand's cultural history even before Michael Parekowhai took to it with chisels. Restorer David Jenkin says the Steinway concert grand was first sold in London in 1926 and shipped to New Zealand half a century ago.

Inside the body was pencilled a dedication: "Dear friends, may this beautiful instrument bring you happiness and inspiration. All my love, Lili Kraus, London, Christmas 1959."

Kraus was a Hungarian-born pianist who wound up in New Zealand in 1945 after three years in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia. She toured the country extensively before moving to England in 1948, and her concerts would have been the first time many New Zealanders heard live performances of Beethoven, Mozart and other greats of the classical canon.

"Michael has this thing about pianos, as a statement of high Western art," Jenkin says. "This piano was probably selected by Lili from Steinway in London for broadcasting or one of the town halls. When I first came across it, it belonged to a jazz pianist in Whangarei.

"Then Michael turned up with it [in 2002] and said, 'Can you do anything?' I said if you're serious, it will need some serious work and he said, 'I am serious."'

There is a tradition of art case pianos, where material is added to the outside then carved. "But they are mostly ugly," says Jenkin. "Michael's aesthetic is around the shape of the piano."

That meant the carving needed to be in the existing rim, but when it came back to Jenkin's Glenfield workshop in 2006, about a third of the mass was gone, which need to be returned for strength and to restore tone.

"We got oak and mahogany, put it through the thicknesser, and laminated it in alternate 2mm horizontal bands around the inside of the piano. It was a nightmare of a job, but we understood why he had to do it that way."

The cast iron frame was trimmed 10mm all round to fit in the new frame on a redesigned mounting system, and a new soundboard installed.

Because it is pierced by carvings, the lid does not reflect sound in the way of normal grands, creating a more diffuse effect.

"I have to say I think it's a thing of spectacular beauty. I love it, and I love that it's a Steinway concert grand and I love that it kind of looks tribal," Jenkin says.

He won't reveal how much his part of the job cost, but "it's the most extensive and expensive piano restoration ever done in New Zealand".

Venice Biennale

What: On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, by Michael Parekowhai

Where and when: Palazzo Loredan dell' Ambasciatore, Grand Canal, Venice, June 4-November 27
  Decade shows Moore's Law in action
NZ Herald April 20

Ten years is a long time in technology, so the blowing out of candles on the birthday cake by New Zealand IT firms Oxygen and SnapperNet is worthy of note.

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every 18 months.

Moore now says that dictum has about served its usefulness as the size of atoms becomes the fundamental barrier to the industry's growth, but the exponential nature of Moore's Law means the basic building blocks of computer hardware have increased their capacity a hundredfold over the decade.

On the software side, the improvement has been even more dramatic.

According to a report on funding for IT research and development by Barack Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, progress in numerical algorithms far outstrips advances through silicon.

It cites research by German optimisation expert Professor Martin Grotschel, showing a benchmark production-planning model would have taken 82 years to solve in 1988, using the computers and the linear programming algorithms of the day.

Fifteen years later - in 2003 - this same model could be solved in one minute, an improvement by a factor of about 43 million.

Grotschel estimated a factor of about 1000 was because of increased processor speed and a factor of 43,000 was because of improvements in algorithms.

The two 10-year-olds are on both sides of that equation.

SnapperNet distributes a wide range of hardware for data networking, such as switches, routers and internet gateways.

Managing director Richard Paul said when it started much of its business was supplying network interface cards to the thriving local personal-computer assembling industry - remember that?

"The first Ethernet switch we sold was 8-port 10mbps and cost $2500. You can buy one now for $25, and we're selling 10GB switches for $2500," Paul says.

Moore's Law in action.

SnapperNet's customers are now the re-sellers and large services firms such as Axon, Datacom and Gen-i have become the main interface to the technology market for many medium-sized and large New Zealand companies.

Over at Oxygen, it's the algorithms that underlie the extraordinary growth of its business, which is installing and maintaining systems from German company SAP, the world's largest business software company.

Oxygen grew out of a decision 14 years ago by forest products conglomerate Carter Holt Harvey to run its business on SAP.

For a company that size, the normal process is to engage a large global consulting firm.

The consultants analyse the business processes, change the software to match the business or the business to match the software, and leave - taking with them much of the company's cash, valuable business knowledge and some of its IT-savvy staff who have found the excitement of large IT projects appeals more than going back to business as usual.

Then-chief executive Chris Liddell decided instead to use internal resources, with the aim that at the end of the process Carter Holt would not only have a team that understood its business but it would also have a valuable IT business that could be sold.

That duly happened and, for the past five years, Oxygen has been owned by Australian IT group UXC, which also owns Microsoft specialist Eclipse and Red Rock which services all the flavours of Oracle.

Liddell, of course, moved on to Microsoft and General Motors, but the person he brought in to run the fledgling company, former Jade chief executive and Harvard alumni Mike Smith, is still in the job.

"It actually feels like it's been three distinct jobs," says Smith.

"First there was growth under the Liddell model, then the 18-month process of selling the company - longlisting, shortlisting, doing due diligence, communications with staff and so on - and then under UXC it has been a different regime."

Over the decade, Oxygen has maintained SAP for a solid list of blue-chip customers on both sides of the Tasman, including Air New Zealand, Fonterra, KiwiRail, TVNZ, Zespri, Blue Scope Steel, Bridgestone, Linfox, Oxfam and Rio Tinto.

The exponential rate of technology improvement means many of the capabilities which only the largest organisations could afford, such as business intelligence, are now available to a much wider range of firms.

"For the large end of town, there has been an incredible amount of R&D within SAP to simplify the product set and make it much more user friendly," Smith says.

"In the mid-market, SAP has taken a leap forward. It had no story for the mid-market six or seven years ago. It does now with A1 and B1."

A1 (or SAP All in One) is the main SAP engine wrapped into a templated form so it can be dropped quickly into smaller firms. B1 (or Business One) is a separate suite of business software for small and medium-sized firms.

Oxygen resells A1 and B1 in Australia, as well as the Business Objects business intelligence software, but in New Zealand it tends to implement the systems that SAP sells directly.

It now has 180 permanent staff and 40 contractors.
  Stay one step ahead of cyber criminals
NZ Herald April 6

Listen to Tom Clare speak and you would be extremely concerned about where you go on the internet.
You'll not just consider updating your antivirus software, you might start asking questions about what your internet service provider is doing to protect you.
Clare is the principal author of the Blue Coat 2011 web security report.
Blue Coat sells a secure proxy gateway that sits between customers and the internet, rating 3 billion web requests a week from its 72 million users. In combination with the antivirus information it pulls in from partners such as Trend Micro, that sort of reach gives it a handle on the changing face of cyber-crime.
"The top categories for delivering malware used to be the traditional red light areas - hacking, gambling, personal lust," Clare says. But during the past year cyber criminals have moved their activities to known sites with good reputations.
Dynamic web links are used to load attack elements from a number of sites, rather than lurking on one dodgy server in downtown Taipei.
The criminals hack insecure sites or acquire access credentials, thus getting around reputation filters, the so-called white and black lists and commonly blocked web categories.
Death, drama and disaster are powerful lures to get people to jump on to the internet, and any news story can be used by criminals to create hooks to web links that lead to threats.
Social networking is creating new opportunities, through Facebook links or tiny URLs from Twitter. Simple keyword ratings prove ineffective against such attacks and defences need to understand wider patterns - why is this page from Boston going to Kiev to load an invisible element?
Last year opened with Operation Aurora, a sophisticated attack over the holiday period when IT shops were thinly staffed, which used flaws in Internet Explorer and Adobe's PDF technology to target more than 30 technology, finance and defence firms.
The attack seemed to be aimed at getting source code from companies such as Google and Adobe.
Once the IE vulnerability was exposed, cyber criminals were quick to launch "me too" attacks, by which time companies with updated antivirus software could expect to be protected. Clare said Aurora led to the creation of advanced PDF tools and active script analysers. "Eventually all attacks reach out to a remote host for more content or to deliver information. These dynamic links and requests are the key to effective web-defence filtering," he says.
Malvertising, or delivering malicious software through fake ads, takes patience. Clare said in one case a relatively new ad domain had existed for about six months, delivering cheap ads to web pages and passing any checks for malware.
One day in November some of the ads sent to selected targets were malicious javascript, sending the browser to an attack site. The domain then shut down.
Another attack which hit many Italian websites used Twitter search results to create domain names for each day of malware delivery.
A major Google study found fake antivirus software accounts for 15 per cent of malware found on the internet and half of the malware delivered through ads.
Users are told their system is infected so they click on the link to accept, install and pay for fake software. Scareware merges into ransomware, where payment is demanded for a tool to clean up the infected computer. Better to stick with antivirus software from major brands.
Then there's the fake update, which often links to searches for adult material but is now increasingly tied to social networking.
A cyber criminal breaks into a social networking account and sends a short message and link to all the user's friends asking, "Is this a picture of you?" Instead of leading to a picture, the dynamic link asks the users to make a software update before the picture or video can be viewed.
The 2010 Soccer World Cup created many opportunities for cyber criminals, especially for phishing attacks which outnumber malware attacks two to one. Fans looking to watch matches online would be directed to pages which would collect private information and payment credentials. Expect more of the same for this year's Rugby World Cup.
Some crime is moving to malware, which puts keyloggers on to the computer to collect logins and passwords.
Lazier criminals can buy fully developed phishing kits. They may be surprised the kits have a backdoor, so its creator can steal their catch.
  Endace: Being first and going fast
NZ Herald March 16

Every second millions of electrons stream across glass or wire networks, pulsing on-off, building into patterns that turn into numbers and words and pictures and whatever the human imagination comes up with.
Many firms are looking for ways to trap that packet information to look for other patterns, good, bad, even dangerous.
New Zealand firm Endace has got further than most, growing from its origins in Waikato University labs 15 years ago into a global company supplying network monitoring technology to some of the world's largest telecommunications and financial services companies and government organisations.
Growth is accelerating and the company is looking to hire more talent for its Hamilton and Auckland research and development labs and for its global sales team so it can stay ahead of the pack.
It has got a $6.7 million infusion of Government cash over the next 36 months though the "funding winners" strategy that replaced the universal research and development tax credit.
"We're looking for the next generation of developers to take us to the next level," says chief executive Mike Riley, an Englishman who followed his New Zealand-born wife back here after a career with high-tech firms in the UK and Boston.
When Riley joined Endace four-and-a-half years ago it had fewer than 50 staff and revenue was in the low millions. Last year it sold $31 million in technology. Current headcount is about 150 and, if the right people can be found, could be 200 by the end of the year.
Endace's accelerated growth has involved a move up the value chain.
Instead of selling a US$7000 ($9400) card that plugs into a server - a geek to geek sale - the firm is now more likely to sell a $40,000 appliance that sits on the network and comes loaded with all the software and analysis tools needed to give "the power to see all."
"We guarantee we can monitor and record every incident on a network. The only way to do that is deliver the complete solution," Riley says.
Incidents like Wikileaks and the subsequent attacks on networks by the Anonymous collective has made organisations more aware of the need for good packet security. Endace allows businesses to track and visually identify security breaches and stop them happening at a network level in real time, rather than by a post-hack examination of logs.
It is looking to fill a range of positions, including another 20 in R&D. It set up an Auckland office in anticipation of the expansion, with the Auckland and Hamilton teams linked through high definition video conferencing.
"We're looking for the best of the best, both recent graduates and people with experience in this field."
While the company has many international staff, Riley is keen to hire New Zealanders.
As the solution grows into a fabric that sits across networks, there are more software layers to build, each requiring specialist expertise. Selling complete solutions means selling to CIOs and higher, and having sales and implementation teams who understand large and complex networks.
"We need not just more people but more skill sets," Riley says. "We are bolstering quality assurance and customer support, because we don't just test components but complete systems."
These are systems that can't go down.
"We have customers who tell us five nines (99.999 per cent availability) isn't good enough. So they don't buy one, they buy two just in case."
Endace finds it is competing with the traditional network management vendors such as Cisco, IBM, HP and so on, as well as network security vendors like McAfee, Symantec, Juniper and Cisco again,
"Rather than have different vendors supplying part of the solution, why not see everything on the network all the time. We are a consolidation play," Riley says.
In common with many New Zealand tech companies, Endace doesn't play the patent game, relying on levels of encryption tricks to keep its secret sauce safe from prying eyes as well as making sure it stays a head of the technology curve. "Be first and go fast," Riley says.
Endace is listed on London's AIM market, with about 7 per cent of the company held by large institution shareholders in the United States and UK and 20 per cent by founders and staff.
It has an employee share scheme, adopting the norms of the technology companies with whom it is competing for talent. "I'm a huge believer in stock options. We are a global company that happens to be in New Zealand."
Riley says the big selling point for getting "the best of the best" is the technology. "It's hard to find places where you are working on as cool a technology as Endace."
  Put your firm's best online face forward
NZ Herald March 16

Websites have become the most-seen faces of many businesses, but are New Zealand organisations putting their best face forward?
Not according to a new study of some of the most used sites.
Intergen web strategist Giles Brown based his study on similar work by EpiServer, a Swedish firm which makes tools for web content management (WCM), online social communities and e-commerce.
"We were curious about the level of engagement in the New Zealand market, and EpiServer's template is an attempt to measure and quantify that engagement," Brown says.
He rated the performance of New Zealand's most popular websites as average, with limited scope for user contribution and interaction.
"Engagement is one aspect of what makes a good site. A lot of that is around the tools people have to share and distribute content," he says.
Many entertainment, automotive, news and media sites are performing well but Brown says a lot of government sites, as well as sectors such as food and beverage, still haven't got past the model of passive "shop window" sites.
Intergen used Experian Hitwise to identify the top five sites in 10 industry sectors. It looked at whether they had online communities and whether the company participated in those communities, the sites' readability and multimedia content, whether sites could be personalised, whether there was "sticky" content that would keep visitors on the site, whether blogging or social media was part of the strategy and how easy it was to find contact details on the site.
It found 73 per cent of the 50 organisations feature a community on their website but they were created through Facebook and Twitter rather than being a built-in forum or chat room.
About 83 per cent of websites with online communities initiated conversation with visitors by uploading new content regularly, but many online forums and chat rooms had no specific "company" member, making it difficult to tell whether they were not engaging with members.
The report says if organisations don't invest effort into participating in online exchanges, they run the risk of their customers answering their questions for them.
"A community needs support and attention - too many community initiatives feel empty and unattended.
"A lot of people open the fire hose without thinking how they will manage that channel. The 'launch and leave' mentality is still there."
Brown recommends setting up an editorial team which has responsibility for refreshing content and driving engagement.
Customers need to be given reasons to use the site, and fostering conversations between employees and users will help with brand awareness and loyalty. Firms also need to keep an eye on how their online community can lead to more sales.
Intergen found all 50 sites had some rich multimedia content, including videos, animations, audio and interactive content.
While it found 81 per cent of sites easy to read, the balance were cluttered with too much dense text. It says online viewers are looking for concise messages that are easy to digest, so snappy copy is the aim, with video or pictures used to explain long or confusing concepts.
But don't go overboard - too many multimedia elements turn people off.
While Web 2.0 is said to be about interaction, the next wave is likely to be about greater personalisation, so visitors are identified and presented with new content which matches their stated interests or browsing history.
About 86 per cent of the sites had started the process by giving visitors the opportunity to sign up, and some shopping and classified sites such as Trade Me contain a range of personalised features.
Sticky content refers to distractions that draw people into using a website, such as news feeds or updates on company information.
Brown recommends talking to users and analysing website metrics to find out what works, and dropping or reshaping pages that don't work.
Having the right content-management system is important, so refreshing content isn't a major task.
About half the sites used blogs, with the majority updated on a regular basis. Blogs have their own culture - they need to be informal and personal and it doesn't pay to use them as a blatant sales tool.
Intergen says many organisations are investing a lot of time in nurturing communities on social networks, but then neglect to advertise these to visitors on the site. Of the 61 per cent of surveyed websites which had a Facebook presence, 40 per cent failed to mention it on their home page.
It's in the design area that most New Zealand sites fall over.
Brown says many sites present an inconsistent brand image through their design or copy.
Many are simply tired, poorly executed, inconsistent or text heavy.
  US giant shows the Lovey with buy out
NZ Herald March 9

People often don't realise that very large software companies are not that quick at developing things.

The sale of EMS-Cortex to United States software giant Citrix shows Mark Loveys has become one of New Zealand's most successful serial IT entrepreneurs.

Of course there's more to it than the softly spoken chief executive. There's the management and governance team that has grown around him, and the developers who have cracked problems some of the world's largest software firms still struggle with.

Those 20 developers will stay with the product, forming the core of a new Citrix New Zealand research and development centre.

Loveys and the parent company Enprise will move on. Or rather foster parent. The EMS assets came to Enprise five years ago, as part of a $2 million funding package from TMT Ventures and the Government's New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

EMS had started out promisingly enough, making a tool to add new users and applications to computer networks. Its foundation customer was the era e-solutions joint venture between Telecom, Microsoft and EDS, but the company's attempt to expand overseas almost killed it.

"It was a business before its time. The cloud-computing model was in its infancy, and by the time the company came to us there was just the development team left," Loveys says.

The team was left servicing existing customers while Enprise got on with its main business, selling exo-net accounting software to mid-sized Kiwi customers as a complete ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.

A short history lesson.

Back in the 1980s, when Loveys wasn't writing songs for his band Satellite Spies he wrote business software under the name Orbit Computers. One of his customers, PC Direct, was so impressed it bought Orbit and took Loveys on as information systems manager.

When PC Direct was sold to Gateway, the accounting software found new life as exo-net - which after a complicated saga involving greed and hubris and companies like IT Capital and Solution Six, ended up in the hands of MYOB.

As well as selling exo-net on steroids, Enprise also had a brief spell selling SAP's Business One package to small and medium businesses who wanted a foreign brand on their accounting software.

That brought him into the orbit of one of the world's largest business software companies - and its worldwide reseller network.

Spotting that many customers bought exo-net because of Enprise's job-costing module, Loveys wrote a similar module for SAP.

After a couple of years Enprise judged New Zealand didn't need four Business One resellers and sold its agency to Eagle Technology, keeping the software-development business.

The job-costing module isn't a big-ticket item - just under $1000 a seat - but lots of firms use Business One.

Loveys and his team used their venture funding to build the relationships the business needed to grow, spending a lot on airfares.

He was elected to the SAP Business One customer advisory council, which he now chairs.

As more implementations of both Business One and Enprise systems became hosted rather than installed on customer premises, the EMS-Cortex product came into its own.

Citrix came into the picture when Loveys was working on a proposal by Canadian telco Telus proposal to expand its hosted services business.

"Citrix wanted to analyse what we added to the mix with our control panel, so they took it into their labs in Florida and their engineers got all over the product and really liked it."

The price is confidential, but an industry analyst who has tracked Enprise reckons $18 million.

And lessons for other Kiwi firms?

Listen to the customer. "With Orbit, I used to customise by doing the job on the customer's site. ... It helps me relate to how much upset you can give a customer if you get it wrong. So get it right first time."

The name of a product is important. "For a long time we called Cortex a provisioning product, which is the correct term, but as soon as we started calling it a 'cloud-control panel', it gelled with the surge of investment going into cloud computing."

Kiwi companies should stop trying to do everything. "We can play well in niches. People often don't realise that very large software companies are not that quick at developing things."

Surround yourself with good people. "EMS-Cortex has a lot of talented people who made this happen. My job as CEO is to talk about it and represent the company, but I could not do that without passionate and hard-working people."

Know when to sell.

Ant Howard, the chair of Enprise's board and head of technology investment and advisory firm Howard and Company, says New Zealand capital only goes so far. "Cloud technology is taking off, but we don't have the distributions channels in place for New Zealand-built software nor the capital to create them.

"The lifecycle for New Zealand technology is to create market credibility, then find a home for it."
  Disaster-proofing pays off for firms
NZ Herald March 2

In a building in the Christchurch suburb of Middleton, staff from six of the city's firms are trying to keep their businesses going.
Out at the airport, space is being transformed into another shared office, with desks, chairs, computers, printers, faxes and other equipment trucked down from the North Island over the weekend.
This is Plan-b in operation, a firm whose business is keeping others in business when disaster strikes.
"We had to get our Middleton building signed off as safe but, by Thursday evening, we had customers in there," says managing director Ian Forrester.
Plan-b inspected the airport space when it was looking for Christchurch premises a year ago, so it made the necessary phone calls when it became clear its 70 existing seats would not be enough.
Kordia is putting in Wi-max to cope with likely data loads and Forrester says the firm should have more than 250 seats available in the city by the end of the week.
"We can see demand for about 700 seats just from our existing customers, so we are looking at other options, such as running multiple shifts if that is suitable."
Plan-b is also looking at setting up childcare, in case the city's schools remain closed for a long time.
If firms need to relocate staff out of the city, Plan-b has facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington. Its services also include offsite and online data back-up, so firms can keep going even if their buildings are off-limits or absolutely trashed.
Forrester says that while the September earthquake didn't bring in many more customers, there was a big jump in existing customers testing their business continuity plans - something that is helping the transition this time go more smoothly.
That means not just how to get servers back up but who takes charge in a crisis, who makes decisions about moving, who talks to customers or the media.
"It all needs to be rehearsed. It's not just backing up data. You've got to practise these things or when it happens people don't know, they run round like headless chooks."
He says last week's quake is clearly more devastating than September's.
"It will have a longer-term impact, so where previously people were with us for one or two weeks, now it could take a year or longer to rebuild."
He says the phones have been ringing off the hook since last Tuesday from firms around the country suddenly wanting a back-up plan.
"New Zealand has had a big wake-up call about business continuity. We still have businesses here who say their plan is to get a fireproof safe and keep the back-up tapes there. That's not going to work.
"Working from home doesn't work. Schools are closed, homes are damaged, phone circuits are overloaded. internet connections go down.
"In a crisis, people need to be together, make decisions together. Small businesses can work from someone's home but, for larger organisations, it doesn't work."
Another firm whose service is helping Christchurch firms recover is Datalock, which offers online back-ups.
Andrew Schick says its Christchurch customer base increased by a third since September, and many will now be thanking their foresight.
"If they can find any computer that works and an internet connection, they can get their data," Schick says.
Datalock is flat out setting up new virtual private servers so firms can move their vital applications and data online.
Many firms are looking for short-term back-up solutions, while they wait for tape back-up services to resume, and the civil defence staff and volunteers flooding into the city also need an efficient way to back up their hard drives.
Schick says many of the city's schools are Datalock customers, and roll back-ups, in many cases done hourly, helped rescuers account for whoever was in buildings.
"Our databases were the first port of call. If the data back-up is only done on-site, or it's only done at the end of the day, you can't do that. That's where continuous data protection is valuable."
He says many firms are now tracking down back-up tapes and trying to reconstitute their business.
Cloud economics means virtual back-ups are no longer just for large firms.
Schick says Datalock is talking with resellers about creating a service that will allow individuals to back up their data for $5 a month, with a donation going to the Red Cross for earthquake relief.
"The aim is to raise $1 million in three months. If we get 50,000 people using it, we can do that."
NZICT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are collecting equipment for Christchurch firms, especially laptops, and Wellington firm Catalyst IT has created a website, to co-ordinate support for IT businesses in the city.
  Hot shots offer right skills at right time
NZ Herald February 23

The challenge for IT professionals wanting to maintain their market value often comes down to picking the right technologies and the right projects.
Recruitment firm Randstad has been looking at the hot skills and top growth sectors in the New Zealand technology market this year.
Unsurprisingly, SAP remains top of the totem pole.
Paul Robinson, Randstad's New Zealand manager, says the German business software giant's success here means the demand for staff skilled in SAP enterprise resource planning software will continue to be strong, both from end users and consulting firms.
"Typically when a client decides to do an installation, they will engage a systems integrator to do that. As they go live, they hire people to do the application support," Robinson says.
"The trend in the past few years is a lot of the technical development work is done offshore, so we see more the demand here for functional consultants, the business analyst types."
He says as demand for SAP skills is strong across the Asia-Pacific region, salaries are correspondingly high.
There is also a lot of activity round business intelligence and data warehousing, with increasing demand for high-end professionals with expertise in products such as Cognos, Teradata or and Hyperion.
In application development, employers are looking for experienced developers in languages such as .NET and Java-related platforms, as well as people with expertise in systems integration and messaging technologies.
He says much of this work will be done on a contract basis or through third-party vendors rather than internal teams, and given the shortage of skilled applicants for these roles, rates and salaries are expected to increase for more senior candidates.
"There is still a lot of pent-up demand from the slowdown during the global financial crisis."
The fourth area that will drive the year is data-centre design and management, and the maturing of what is called cloud computing.
"We are seeing big growth in chatter from corporates round cloud," says Richard Talbot, Randstad's solutions director. "There are large investments being made in data centres, with web-oriented technologies in extraordinary demand."
There is also demand for storage experts and people who understand the virtualisation technology used to run multiple servers on shared hardware.
Sovereignty concerns about where data is held means organisations may need "nearshore" data-centre capacity, rather than offshoring all their information to Singapore or the Arizona desert.
"Infrastructure is a real growth area. As people invest, the demand comes for more people in that space."
Australia's $40 billion investment in its Next Generation Network is also creating strong demand in the region.
Robinson says organisations are reluctant to increase salaries for permanent staff but pressure will show up in the contracting market.
"What we see now and expect will increase is more jobs with fewer ideal candidates, so as that work moves to [being done on] contract, it will put pressure on rates.
"We won't see a huge shift in the daily rate initially but it will be an ongoing challenge for clients and prospective contractors," he says.
Robert Walters is also seeing a return of confidence, with pressure on salaries and contract rates set to rise.
In its latest global salary report released last week, the recruiting firm said it saw an increase in permanent recruitment of IT staff in the second half of last year as firms rebuilt teams they slashed during the downturn.
It also saw some larger organisations creating new teams as they looked to grow their businesses again.
Rather than paying higher basic salaries, firms offered bonus incentives and improved packages overall.
Hiring levels were highest in the insurance and financial sectors, which were the first to be hit in the downturn and the first to recover.
But confidence means projects, and projects are more likely to mean contractors.
Robert Walters says shortages are emerging of candidates with niche skill sets such as digital marketers, business analysts and IT professionals with cloud-computing experience.
Business intelligence and social-networking experience will also be in demand.
Monday, April 04, 2011
  Where danger always lurks

Publishd NZ Herald April 2, 2011

What is sometimes labelled southern gothic is a persistent mystery - why is it so many Christchurch artists and musicians mine feelings of darkness and disquiet?

The earthquakes which turned much of the city's gothic revival architecture into heaps of dust and rubble show the artists may have been tapping into some deeper premonitions of stress below.

Their landscape turned upside down as the faults hidden beneath the moraine ripped and tore, and in the battle between the swamp and the Anglicans, the swamp proved stronger.

At Ivan Anthony Gallery are two artists from over the hill in Lyttelton whose work fits in the gothic vault.

Bill Hammond's response to the September earthquake was to start work on a large canvas. Wishboneash: Urns and Burners was finished (or work ended) on February 22, the day of the second quake.

It was rescued from the damaged studio.

The view is from a cave, propped up in the centre by a Doric column, looking out at a harbour and low hills.

Bird figures, in red or yellow shifts, stand or levitate, holding smoking burners. More smoke comes from a volcano across the harbour or depicted in large funerary urns. A grey pallor hangs over the picture.

It's an extraordinary distillation or processing of experience. Over the past 20 or so years Hammond has re-imagined the New Zealand landscape, moving beyond McCahon's unpeopled hills to fill it with bird archetypes, a mythology from here we did not know existed until it sprang into being from his subconscious.

His Arcadia is untameable, a place where danger always lurks.

That willingness by southern artists to trust the tenets of surrealism and surrender themselves to the activity of art making, rather than trying to think everything through beforehand, gives their work its dark power.

Hammond is also showing smaller paintings on paper, birds and urns. Some are merely decorative, some step over into mystery.

Jason Greig makes monoprints, rolling, smearing or painting ink on to formica or hard plastic, then rolling off a single impression.

Trained as a printmaker, he says he hated doing monoprints while at Ilam art school, but discovered the technique again while showing it to students a decade later.

"They're all one-offs, so you don't have to print editions, and you can use the same block over and over for different images. You get the idea down and then go on to a new one," he says.

It's also a much cheaper way of working for an artist who has been at various times "down to the bones of my arse" and unable to afford zinc plates. "You can be painterly, and as the years went on I found I could make them as tight or loose as I wanted, even make them look like an engraving."

Greig bristles a bit at the southern gothic label. "I'm a printmaker. I was brought up on medieval images, that's the tradition. Durer, The Temptation of St Anthony by Martin Schongauer, Goya, when you see his work you've got this whole social commentary."

Then he concedes he wonders why he is drawn to darkness.

"Perhaps repressed guilt and bullshit and hypocrisy. I'm as uncomfortable with the label as the works make people uncomfortable."

It's hard for him to deny a gothic label when his last show in Dunedin was a suite of works based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"I made it a personal story so I plugged myself into the characters. I was sitting drawing myself screaming with a mirror on my shoulder and another on the table, so I was getting cramps and needed to draw fast.

"I found I clicked on to overdrive and was doing an hour's worth of sketching in five minutes, the drawings coming very swift and pared down but holding all the information I needed to flesh out the monoprints."

The series came out of his recovery from alcoholism, something he said took him "two weeks away from dying" and took away his ability to draw before he checked into a three-month residential rehabilitation programme.

"I cleaned up my act and now I'm doing what I love doing," he says.

Phantogram draws inspiration from a Vampirella comic Greig found in a Sumner junk shop one wet Sunday.

Some of the images stick closely to the Frank Frazetta/Jose Gonzalez model, others go somewhere else.

"I make images I want to see. It makes me happy when I pull off some of these prints. I'm glad I'm here. I want to see things creeping out."

There are boats on storm-tossed seas, bridges over dark gorges and a lone figure stranded on an asteroid, which bubbled out of his subconscious after the February quake.

Greig says the quake shook his house around like a rubber band, causing its two chimneys to implode, coating everything in the house with brick dust, but surprisingly leaving the pictures just swaying on the wall.

"When they come it's like a pneumatic drill. One aftershock - it must have been right underneath - it felt as if someone had picked up the house and slammed it down."

Fortunately the 115-year old cottage survived, and Greig was back working within days. "The porch is a bit munted though."

During the clean-up he found an obituary for Hurricane Higgins, the George Best of snooker, so turned out a couple of small prints of the star as Franciscan monk and in skeletal form.

"I take love, life and death and squish it through a press. Half the time you are working on something and the ink takes over and takes you on a wee drive of its own."


What: Phantogram by Jason Greig and Wishboneash: Urns & Burners by Bill Hammond

Where and when: Ivan Anthony Gallery, cnr East St-Karangahape Rd, to April 23
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