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What an interesting couple of years it has been! The economic crisis has impacted everyone on a global scale. Economies have been in meltdown, businesses going bust, almost everyone forced to re-examine the things that were previously taken for granted and try to work out how to avoid being dragged down into the doom and gloom of economic uncertainty.

Out of the darkness cometh the light as they say– Certain things that were not getting a lot of airtime are now worth listening to. There are other ways of doing things, other ways of de-risking, reducing outgoings, making sure you protect and maximise whatever assets you might still have.

It’s also a time for caution. Things that may have seemed “must have” or “irreplaceable” are now being scrutinised more and more and in some cases becoming “nice to haves” or “worth seeking alternatives”.

I read with increased interest about some of the challenges facing the IT industry and how this relates to the bigger economy. I think about what the “big boys” are up to and how they are going to protect their shareholder value and ride out the storm.

From what I see, a colossal battle awaits.

Google have just unveiled their Chrome OS notebook as part of a pilot programme aimed at people who “live on the web” alongside their Android OS for mobiles – seems a great idea to me.

Cloud computing is continuing to grow and gain acceptance as an economical and “clever” way of reducing IT spend whilst increasing availability and scale – makes perfect sense to me.

Apple is growing and growing on the back of their super cool handheld devices, iPods, iPhones, iPads, the App Store and iTunes are now established online marketplaces – we use all of the above almost every day.

So who is going to lose out?

How is Microsoft going to take this on the chin and come back fighting?

Isn’t it already common knowledge that Windows 7 is likely to be the last version of the Windows OS?

If the Google OS is free (which it is) and everyone uses Open Office (not quite true today, but take up is increasing), where are Microsoft’s license revenues going to come from? What has Microsoft got up their sleeves?

I know they’ve now got their own phones (a bit behind the curve here) and they’ve brought out that new “Nintendo Wii” busting “Motion Censor Controller” for the XBOX – but what else have they got?

Is this rolling juggernaut going to be able to change direction quick enough to keep up and overtake some of the new kids on the block?

For now, I am nailing my colours to the new Google OS, the Cloud and Apple’s amazing hardware stack… however, I am sure there are many more twists and turns in the latest race for global domination!

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The answer is yes. Is this a new topic? Well no and yes.

Nowadays when you mention mobile, most people will immediately equate this to mobile phones.

Believe it or not, mobile phones could be found in cars as long as 50 years ago and handheld phones could be used in 1979 when the first publicly accessible cellular network existed. But the technology really took off as we know it today about 25 years ago when Mobile phones the size of a brick appeared, and they became commonly used in cars (without hands-free) shortly afterwards and so started the era of universal mobile telephony.

This, of course, pre-dated email and of course the internet or at least as we know it today. So for a long time, we have enjoyed the ability to make a phone call while on the move (mobile) which personally saved me a lot of time looking for a phone box which hadn’t been vandalised.

PDA’s even pre-date mobiles, they were used by mobile workers (those who were out and about to you and me) who needed to (or just could) capture data while they were out and about which could then be uploaded at the end of the day onto the server for whatever processing was required. So in a sense haven’t we have been mobile for getting on for 30 + years? So what’s changed and why is it even important what mobile is or isn’t?

The reason it matters is this–

If you are a software vendor and you are not mobile ’enabled’ for all but a few specialist applications, you will be DEAD. Business applications have been sliding towards thin client web-enabled mode for years, i.e. you don’t need a client machine to run these applications just a thin client device. Personal applications (and dare I say it MS Office) are going the same way so don’t be dumb, be mobile in everything you do.

The ‘Net’, inter or intra has in effect given everybody the ability to be mobile and continues to define what mobile is; and if enough people think it’s a good idea (and we are way beyond that) then that’s what will happen.

There are massive philosophical issues here. Why talk when all you have to do is txt? Personally, I am not sure about that but that’s me. Why go in the office where you can interact with your team when all you have to be is, online. Anyway, back to the point. So what does mobile actually mean because there are many types of ‘mobileness’? Telephony, the most ubiquitous was not even the first way of mobile working, as discussed earlier?

Well, try this; The opportunity to interact or operate socially and/or professionally without being location dependent.

If this is a fair description then this has to be applied to applications to see if they pass the acid test. BUT, is even this a true definition? Any idiot can move around with their laptop in any location and as long as there is wireless, are they therefore not living in truly mobile world?

Well in a sense they aren’t because at the end of the day their ‘client’ (i.e. their laptop) is only superficially mobile (i.e. you can carry it); most of the installed software is stuck in one place on their laptop which needs to be with them. I would suggest being truly mobile, a person must use an application that can operate on the ‘thinnest’ client whilst interacting with the cloud in the ‘skinniest’ way to qualify as the gold standard of mobile working … and we all know its better for the planet.

The demise of the desktop is probably a ‘given’; that device which allowed everybody to exist in their own little IT ‘bubble’. and it will be replaced by a mobile IT world where everything is in the ‘cloud’, everything is on demand and everything is mobile. This means of course, applications need to run on whole ’raft’ of mobile devices, phones just happen to be the most common. But, if you are not bothered about talking, just txting, maybe you don’t need one of them either.

So my point is, for the foreseeable future and for most applications, the test of their longevity will be their ‘mobileness’ a new word you heard here, first.

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Here are some thoughts following the Audley Harrison versus David Haye fight on Saturday…

So what or who am I talking about?

Naming no names, some of the bigger boys in BI are ready to be put out to graze. Not saying we’re the David Haye of BI, but we know who the has–beens of this world are, and were trying our best to arrange a head to head and knock them off their perch…

So, some things to bear in mind when choosing a BI vendor…

Remember, speed and power will always win the day. Size doesn’t always matter! 

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When I thought about writing this blog it was going to be called “death of a PC”. This was going to be about what happened to me on a recent sales trip to Dubai when a demo machine we had set up remotely from the UK died before my eyes a few hours before an important presentation.

I ended up doing the demo on my laptop and averted what could have been a total disaster; however, it made me think a bit about how we can avoid this kind of thing in the future… don’t use standalone desktops for demos and make sure you have a backup plan for starters…

On my way home I read an article in “Computer Weekly” titled “Keep taking the tablets” about the projected 198% increase in tablet computers in 2011. This made me wonder about the future of the humble desktop and whether or not this was the beginning of the end…

When my son and daughter last complained about being left behind by their mates on the hardware front because their machines were now 12 months old, they didn’t want new desktops, they wanted to replace their PC’s with laptops. Things are changing…

Over the past couple of weeks, my son has started to use an iPad to operate his laptop or his old creaking PC via WIFI using some really impressive remote control software that cost just 57 pence!

The next time I’m dragged down to PC World or trawling the internet for hardware, am I really going to be interested in buying a desktop?

What seems an age ago now, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison took opposite sides on where hardware was going (remember the thin client debate?).

Larry Ellison believed that the personal computer was about to be eclipsed by the internet. Bill Gates believing that every man and his dog would own a PC (with windows on it).

Larry Ellison’s vision was around the use of lightweight network computers which would use the capacity and grunt of large servers hosted on the internet to process and run the application software, leaving the clients doing little more than sending and receiving messages and rendering output to a screen. With less demand to host heavy weight applications on the client, there would be less need for client licences – a scary thought for Mr Gates at the time.

Away from the big hitting business visionaries, what does the average man on the street mainly use their desktops for today?

…Games, word processing, social networking and music?

These days, most gamers get their kicks from their XBOX, Play Station or Nintendo so the desktop is not quite as important as it used to be.

Mobility and portability are becoming increasingly important too. The weight and size of the machine are becoming as big a factor as a machines power, memory and storage capacity.

We see Google writing more and more free applications that run over the Internet. When we all start to do our word processing over the internet too, where does this leave the humble desktop?

Looking from a business perspective there is an even bigger shift going on as the demand for making things available over the net and 100% reliable makes more and more people look towards hosting and outsourcing.

Server hardware is getting better and better. Whilst power is increasing, price is decreasing, while the internet is getting bigger, our connection to it is getting ever faster.

We now have virtualised servers, we have the cloud. The barriers to usage are being knocked down one by one.

As I sat in despair watching the desktop blue screen and crash, I knew that the software was not going to be moved to a new desktop.

Two weeks later and it was moved to a blade. In fact, it’s on a VM on a blade, and soon to be moved to the cloud. When it’s it in the cloud it could get moved from machine to machine at the flick of a switch or a click of the mouse. To access the application you need a browser, so an iPad, Smartphone or dusty old desktop will do.

Things are definitely changing. It’s all pretty exciting as long as you’re not a desktop manufacturer! I’ll be run my demos on hosted servers from now on – with my laptop as a backup just in case access to the Internet’s down!

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In these difficult times, people have to be more and more careful about how money is spent.

Many of us will have made impulse buying decisions in the past; be it a CD, computer game, wide screen TV, camera or at the other end of the extreme, a car, a holiday home or a yacht.

At the time it’s a great idea. What would I ever be able to do without one? In fact, is one enough? Should I buy two? A few weeks later, it’s still in the box or still in the drive or moored at sea several hundred miles away.

The events of the last two years have certainly made a difference to the way people go about buying things. Sure, there is still impulse buying but this is becoming a more and more restricted practice…one for the rich or the reckless, less for the normal man or woman on the street.

I recently came back from a business trip to Dubai. I have been visiting Dubai and Bahrain regularly for the past three to four years and it is obvious how the current economic downturn has affected Dubai…

Most (if not all) of the building has stopped. Loads of cars have been impounded by the police that were dumped at the airport by people trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities for fear of bouncing cheques and getting thrown in a cell.

There are still lots of people, still lots of opportunities but people are starting to reset expectations and looking more closely at what they might want to invest their hard earned cash in.

As a consumer and a supplier of goods, I am personally looking at value for money when I buy, and providing value for money when I sell a product or service to a consumer.

Most people are looking at cutbacks in one form or another. Spending less and making sure what they spend is either essential or will help make additional money or further savings in the near future.

We’re stripping back the excess built up over a sustained period of economic growth to reveal a leaner, more agile and more sustainable way forward where we are more accountable for our own wealth and less reliant on the whims of some madcap bankers and property speculators.

Companies are looking at ways of saving money and looking at new revenue streams that fit in with today’s economic climate. There is likely to be a waste in any organisation but how do you identify it and how do you reduce it?

Understand your data so that you can better understand your business. Understand what people are buying, what people are not buying, what things are costing…

Understand how well your staff are performing. Understand who and what your most expensive resources are and see what revenue or value those resources are generating.

In these difficult times, people have to be more and more careful about how money is spent.

Making spend decisions has become more critical. Everybody has the data (or should have) that appropriately analysed, provides you with the insight to make the important decisions. However, this all assumes that you have the right tools in place to be able to analyse your data in a timely, efficient manner. Sadly, many organisations do not have right tools in place for this basic task and it is a question of ‘Data data everywhere but no information’.

So why not get into CXAIR and at the click of a mouse understand where your waste is, where your performance is low and where your capacity is at its greatest.

See for yourself how you can improve the performance of your business by maximising your operational efficiency, reducing risk and improving customer retention and overall customer satisfaction without wasting your hard earned cash.

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Today we are pleased to announce the partnership between Antavent, the business system integration and modernisation experts, and Connexica, the leading next generation business intelligence tool provider. Based in Dresden, Germany, Antavent will be selling these innovative BI tools within central Europe.

Through this partnership, Antavent will be able to offer organisations the ability to retrieve, analyse and report from their business data whether held within many disparate data sources or within a data warehouse. They will empower the user to access and present the information they need in real time without the costly involvement of IT resource.

“This partnership will enhance our offering to the business community and will help organisations to obtain faster business critical information to enable faster decision making.” said Reinhard Wetzel, managing director at Antavent. “We are delighted to be working with such a forward thinking company to help our customers be more effective. We will be able to build on our existing successes in central Europe and we are very excited about the opportunities this partnership will bring.

Connexica’s sales and marketing director Chris Finch said, “Antavent’s expertise and reach will give us an exciting opportunity in many organisations throughout Central Europe”.

About Connexica

Established in 2006, Connexica provides a fundamentally different approach to information retrieval and management reporting. Their powerful querying and analysis tools offers organisations the ability to index (using a search engine), retrieve and analyse their data at extremely high speeds even on large data volumes, easily and securely from any location. Their vision is to improve access to intelligent information for millions of people. Not just the elite, technical few.

About Antavent

Established in 2009, Antavent provides consulting, product development and modern integration solutions based on SOA concepts preferably on .NET environments. With methods successfully used in large IT modernisation projects they support their customers to modernise eCommerce and other business application systems. On the area of reporting, business intelligence (BI) and publishing, they provide beside their own products, modern tools of their business partners. Therefore they are able to offer and implement appropriate and flexible solutions based on their customer needs in a fast and effective manner.

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Have you ever returned to your desk to see a little progress bar on the screen saying that your system is about to be restarted in 30 seconds time?

Even worse, have you got back to your machine to find that your system has magically re–booted and the documents you were in the middle of reviewing, the websites you had been browsing, the reports you had been viewing etc… are now toast!

I have.

It happened again today and it’s doing my head in. I know I can switch auto updates off but if I do, some hacker will find another way of breaking down the defences of my laptop, so if I don’t get the latest patch where does that leave me?

Here’s another thing that annoys me…

Have you ever been in a hurry to go home so you shut down your machine only to be told that Windows is automatically updating it “Please wait”?

So what do you do? You wait and wait and finally “power off” in sheer fury. You then hope and pray that after driving 200 miles to a client’s office the next day to do a demonstration your machine boots up successfully.

I have, and it didn’t.

I remember going to a seminar a few years ago when I was told about some of the latest product features in Windows XP or some edition or other and they proudly announced that there would be less system re…boots. Little did we all expect that was going to be because software updates were now going to be applied as part of the shutdown process! You couldn’t make it up could you?

There is something a little sinister here. Microsoft will argue with some conviction that this is the only way their billions of customers can be kept up to date and their support infrastructure does not get flooded with support queries which would happen a whole lot less if customers kept their software up to date.

Well, hold on a minute here, who is the customer. Their responsibility surely is to make sure their customers are informed of available updates (which they do) and then give us the choice to install, which they also do, BUT then why drive a bus through this process by assuming we are all too stupid to make a decision on updates … aaargh!!!

Anyway, there is a part of me that feels, well sort of violated if something (in this case a huge corporate) can nip into my personal computing space, check me out, update me and then disappear into the ether and quite likely at the most inopportune time … best case.

Anyway, how do I turn all of this negativity into a positive?

Have you ever tried Linux?

At the end of the day, it’s all about software design and how we try to make things easier and more cost effective.

Reducing the number of re–boots helps the marketers defend themselves against some bad publicity, however ultimately it’s the customer, the end client that matters.

Try to design software that makes things easier for the end user, something that saves them time and effort, something that gets things done quicker. Something that does not get people infuriated and in danger of having a stroke.

That’s how we at Connexica try to do it.

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How often have you seen a demonstration of a product and been left feeling “all might not be exactly as it seems”.

We have all seen “slideware”. Some carefully hand crafted screen mock-ups in PowerPoint, designed to wow and amaze the target audience without having to reveal too much about “how” it works and indeed whether it does.

Sometimes it might just be a load of “vaporware”. Software that’s nowhere near finished or in some cases not even started!

Sometimes, reality runs deeper than just slides. Software is involved. You get shown an early “proto-type” or an “alpha release” or in other words, software with a caveat. “Don’t be surprised if something goes wrong as it’s nowhere near ready and the real thing isn’t going to look anything like this anyway.”

If the salesman has over egged the pudding, you may go away with the feeling that something is “too good to be true”. Wondering what the “catch is” and looking for support from someone else who has just seen the same thing to see if they had been “convinced or maybe not”.

Too often in IT, we get sold a “Demo Dolly”. Mocked up software that is spliced together to create a “sexy sales prototype” that holds together just long enough to get you through a pre-canned demo without erroring.

You are being sold the ‘sizzle’ NOT the steak.

A “Frankenstein” application superficially integrated together with nuts, bolts and a bit of sticky tape. Something that was architected on the back of a fag packet and pulled together over the weekend by some poor souls having to work through the night fuelled on pizza and caffeine drinks… but demonstrated in a slick, well rehearsed and flawless way that makes it strangely believable…

…Welcome to the strange world of software development! This is often how software design starts; building a rapid proto-type. Getting something together quickly that can be shown off by the sales team to generate interest and feedback, creating something that can be shown to the market to let them know that you’re on the case, being innovative and listening to what the customer needs – and of course getting someone credible to wow you with pretty screens and an engaging smile to sell you the vision.

The trick is to make sure you don’t hand over the cheque until you are sure you know what you are letting yourself into. Dig into the demo, throw some challenging questions at them; ask them to go off piste…

At Connexica we offer our customers the opportunity to get their hands dirty. We don’t do PowerPoint’s and our demos are real, NOT dollies.

Rather than trying to flog a dream, we leave the software with the client as part of a proof of concept (POC). We train them up, show them how easy it REALLY is to use and configure and let their users loose on the system.

If enticed in by the smell of the sizzle (slick sales presentation), demand to taste the ‘steak’, how else are you going to know whether this particular solution is more than you can chew.

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I remember watching an episode of Dragons Den a good while ago when someone was pitching a new power saving device that cut all power to an appliance when it was put on standby.

The new super adapter plug would retail for around £15 and would pay for itself in 135 years or something like that.

Over the past 18 months I have noticed my house getting gloomier and gloomier. Perhaps this is due to general malaise (which is obviously directly linked to the economy) or something a little more sinister…

It’s because my wife has gradually been replacing all of our light bulbs with expensive eco friendly, low wattage bulbs that last for ever and pay for themselves in 135 years.

I go into the garage through a side door in our hallway, switch on the garage light with the expectancy of being able to see only to have to wait 60 seconds for the bulb to have sufficient time to heat up so that I can see what’s going on.

I have stubbed my toe, walked into the corner of our freezer and trodden into something my cat had left behind, all within the last couple of months and hand on heart, I blame it on not being able to see when I put the light on.

We may be trying to save the ozone but I wonder how many injuries and deaths will be caused by this brilliant advance of science.

Browsing the internet the other day, my wife found a web site selling 60 and 100 Watt light bulbs. The old fashioned sort… The site was selling them cheap due to the fact they are being phased out. We’ve bought £100 worth (to stock pile them for the next few years) and changed all of our eco light bulbs and I’m much happier with life.

…However, that’s me. I would rather see than save the planet although some of our customers have the opportunity to show their eco friendly credentials and save company money without it impacting on their home life.

I was at a meeting the other day when I was told how our software was being used to save money.

I was told that for some of the beefier desktops, it costs about £100 per year in electricity to run them. Many of these machines are left on overnight so our customer has configured some software to run on these machines in the middle of the night and report back whether or not the job was successful.

If successful – the machine was on! It sounds obvious but it’s clever none the less.

Our software does the analysis which is great to hear as it adds further credibility to our software’s “go green credentials”.

This customer believes that discounting weekends, accounting for the working week, bank holidays and the amount of time a person spends on average at their computer, their staff are probably only using their machine for 3 hours on average per working day.

Taking off weekends, 9 bank holidays and the time spent away from their machine, switching a machine off would save almost 90% of their PC power budget.

On 2000 machines this is a saving of almost 180K per annum!

Standby is not quite so good but certainly an option worth considering as if all of these machines were in the same room and could be daisy chained together through a £15 standby adapter–

I may not be green, but from an economic perspective you can’t argue with the logic. Turn things off or at least put things on standby and you’ll save more money than you think. What’s more, you’ll be saving the world.

…I’m instructing my kids to switch off their laptops, PC’s and speakers when they are not being used. Turn off their TV or at least switch to standby. Save Dad some money.

…but on safety grounds, I’m sticking with my non-eco-friendly light bulbs.

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Working in IT you have to constantly keep your eye out for the latest innovative gizmos and tricks of the trade that allow you do flashier and flashier stuff in your web browser. We keep searching for new innovative products and services that spring up out of nowhere. Looking to back the ones we think might take off and become main stream in the next 6 to 12 months.

The pace of change is rapid. Hardware is getting faster, software is getting sexier and yet at the same time things are getting cheaper.

The market demands that this is the case. The more there is of something, the less valuable something is perceived to become. Sure the big boys do their best keep to prices up even if that’s by making their software solutions require oodles and oodles of services and training and putting their profits into implementation, program management and consultancy.

The public are not stupid however. There is so much out there that is free or costs less than your monthly phone subscription, the way people buy and what they consider to be value for money has changed. People expect (demand in fact) more for less.

So as a software supplier what is the outlook like for us?

The software as a service (SaaS) model is not new (few things REALLY are in IT they’re just improved and rebadged) however it is now seen as an essential offering that any serious software provider needs to think long and hard about.

People like “Pay as you go”. This method of payment is no more widely used than in telecoms. Pay for calls as you need them. Watch your credit and when you need a bit more, either stop using your phone or buy a top–up.

So what does this mean if you’re a software supplier trying to sell software licenses to SMEs and the big blue chip companies?

It means that you need to provide different buying options to the customer and be extremely flexible from a pricing perspective or you’ll die.

The ray of light at the end of the tunnel is actually a cloudy mixture of new technology and examples of “innovative gizmos, new tricks of the trade and new innovative products and services”.

We as software suppliers can also pay as you go. We can buy capacity at an ISP that is adequate for our needs and then add and subtract capacity as demand grows or declines for the services we decide to put on these machines. We get security, backups, built–in redundancy. Hardware failures can go unnoticed with virtual servers swapping systems and data from one system to the other at the speed of light – and all for a price that suits the market.

What’s more we can say we are “in the cloud”. You don’t need to worry about buying hardware. Get a big pipe onto the Internet and your laughing.

The cloud is here. It’s accessible. It’s fast and secure. It’s supported by technology and gizmos. It’s SaaS and its here to stay.

CXAIR is an example of leading edge BI technology that is superfast and ideal for the web and the cloud. We will be looking at investing time and money into creating new services that have an appeal to the consumer not just the massive enterprises and SME markets.

This is the natural evolution of IT. Its piggy backing off a wave of new technology and an appetite to pay for things as you use them. Driven by necessity and possible through the ingenious discoveries of many very clever people things are changing.

We’re going to make sure we’re part of it!

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Going Green – now there’s a phrase that normally raises my hackles. Turn the fire up, open the windows, I am paying for this stuff so to hell with the environment…

Or am I missing the point?

What is going green? Traffic lights go green. Dead bodies go green. Doctor David Banner goes green. What’s going green got to do with IT?

I think IT is already green.

Sure if you’re a big enterprise you need to have on-site and off-site storage with state of the art power supplies, backup power generators, air cooling and banks of 50-inch monitors and security systems. These facilities are essential so that you can monitor system down-time and cope when a cleaner decides to unplug a server to do some hoovering – saving you from having to stare at a blank screen for two minutes while the machines re-boot…but what’s the big deal?

Software saves time. Software reduces the need for people. Software is by definition green.

Do you think developers have ever written some really complex number crunching code and thought; “If I leave that running over night it’s going to make the CPU overheat, switch on the internal fan and melt the Polar ice caps?”


Why is green IT discussed let alone something organisations should aspire to?

Why is green IT seen as the start of a new fashionable alternative to coal-powered mainframes and gas guzzling rack mounted server farms?

Since when has someone bought an IT solution so that you need to employ more people or take longer to perform a particular process?


IT is bought because it’s green.

Going green is in vogue. We need to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce the cost of making hardware, reduce the amount of electricity to power our servers, and reduce the number of machines you need to have switched on at any one time.

Let’s face it green means saving money – oh, and protecting out future generations…

Our software is green.

It’s highly scalable, a single box serves loads of concurrent users reducing the need for truckloads of machines, it works on low specification equipment, never needs to be re-booted.

Our software is an efficiency tool, making people get answers to questions quicker with less reliance on external staff. Our software is web based and produces many of its outputs on the screen reducing the need for boxes and boxes of paper and colour ink cartridges.

It’s browser based meaning people can access the same output from anywhere in the world reducing the need to travel and rack up unnecessary air miles. The software installs from a download so there is no packaging required…

To me, green IT is common sense. That’s why people buy IT and that’s why we all develop green software… can I have a grant now please?

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When I started to develop commercial software in the early eighties the general approach to writing code consisted of finding something that someone else had written that was similar to what you wanted to do, hack it around until it did what you needed to do, change the author and then show off at how fast you had been able to write the code from scratch.

This worked fine. It got me quick results and the code generally worked after a few compiles.

After a while, this approach got boring. The more experienced I got the better I thought I could do things. Why start off with someone else’s code when I could start from scratch and come up with something that from a source code perspective is more pleasing on the eye and is a little more challenging to do? It’s much more fun starting with a blank canvas…

Personal development and making your day more interesting is one thing but from a company perspective, this was probably not the best and most financially prudent way to be going about things…

As time went by I started to get into research and development which allowed me to push my knowledge further and further and experiment more and more in coming up with bigger, better and faster technologies that could be applied to build new innovative solutions and services.

I was joined by a number of like-minded people with similar backgrounds and ideas about how to code. If there is something that exists that does what you want, write your own version to show that you can do it better than the original and then do the bit you were meant to be doing later…

Now I own my own company and employ my own people I realise just how scandalous this approach was and how things appear to have changed for the better.

Why re–invent the wheel? Surely the biggest advancements that can be made are through the adoption of proven techniques and standards and then seeing how you can add value to those technologies to extend their capabilities and improve what was already there not always throwing away the blueprint and starting from scratch.

In one of my previous roles, after years of self-indulgence and profligacy, there was a big shake-up in the development team. A guy came over from the States and said how things were going to change.

“From now on we will be writing glue” he announced.

Horror above horrors! The team was in an uproar.

“We write clever code not glue” the team muttered under its breath (and in the pub afterwards).

It felt like being told; “From now on son, you’ll be on full-time support” – the ultimate nightmare for a software developer.

All of the fun of what we did had been taken away by the fact that we were now going to be sticking bits of code together with gaffer tape and glue.

How right this guy was and how wrong we had been. The software has evolved and continues to evolve rapidly. New standards in the way products interoperate coding techniques, the amazing open source fraternity. There is such a wealth of extremely clever stuff out there that you can use to create amazing and new products and solutions faster than ever before.

These are exciting times. Writing “intelligent glue” is now where it’s at.

Take our product CXAIR. We have taken some of the best in open source technologies such as Apache Tomcat, Java, Lucene, JDBC, more open standards than I care to mention etc…, etc…, and created something that is new. An amazing Business Intelligence Tool that is faster and easier to use than its competitors because it’s built on the latest and greatest proven technologies.

Our experience has allowed us to glue these components together and build intelligent layers on top.

This might make things sound really simple well I guess it is; however don’t underestimate how much glue you are going to need.

At the last count, CXAIR is running at about 35 man years worth!

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I remember when someone was asked to come up with a phrase that described some new high tech software we had just come up with about 10 years ago.

They came up with “how about keeping ahead of the future? ”

I looked at the guy quizzically and tried to sound impressed whilst my mind tried to work out whether this was complete clap trap or actually quite clever.

As I tried to juggle around my head the principles of time travel, different dimensions, the Tardis and other similar mind boggling concepts I came to the conclusion that it was a load of rubbish and made no sense what so ever.

I am all for leading and in fact bleeding edge technology but keeping ahead of the future was one step too far for me.

Trying to keep ahead of the curve (which in reality means keeping ahead of Microsoft) has always been something I have felt necessary to do. Following the masses is fine however how do you differentiate yourself from everyone else?

By being a head of the game.

By being ahead of the market trends.

(And dare I say it)
By keeping ahead of the future?

As our core business is the development of business intelligence software, we have always looked at being innovative and how we can best advance current findings in research and turn them into something new, usable and most importantly sellable in what is an increasingly competitive commercial landscape.

Utilising search engine technology instead of traditional RDBMS or OLAP databases is one way we have found to enable us to compete against the big boys. We apply innovative features and capabilities over what is extremely fast and exciting technology to provide a fresh new angle on traditional BI.

Self-service BI that is as easy and fast to use as Google. We may not have discovered a new dimension but we have discovered something that we believe is ahead of the game.

It’s difficult to put into a few words what we are able to offer in terms of speed of deployment, ease of use, value for money, leading edge technology, innovative and modern etc…, etc… so I am going for…

CXAIR – Keeping ahead of the future. Try it and see what you think!

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Born in the late 60’s and not knowing any friends who had flown until my teens or even had relatives who’d worked, lived or holidayed abroad is almost unbelievable today.

People think nothing of flying halfway across the world for a week in the sun or a business trip. The world seems so much smaller.

When I was younger I did what most of my friends did for holiday. We stayed in the UK and went to Wales.

My own kids (who are now as tall as me and equal in almost every respect other than the fact Dad pays for everything) expect to go abroad at least once a year. Usually once with the school (Cheddar Gorge was the most extravagant school trip I went on) and once with the Mum and Dad although this is unlikely to last much longer now my son is close to leaving home to go to University.

When I was younger I used to love the magic of going away on holiday.

Pretending to help with the packing but generally getting in the way (something I still do today). Helping Dad to layer polythene and spider ropes over the cases on the roof rack before cramming myself into the back of the car. Trying to find room for my legs over the piles of bags stacked in the foot well. Then the layers of blankets, towels and sleeping bags lining the seats and parcel tray at the back.

Handled with almost military precision, every meal had been mapped out, every required cooking utensil and ingredient stashed away, every pound of spending money budgeted for throughout the week.

Everything would follow the same pattern every year. We would set off on the same day of the week, the same month of the year on the same route from the Midlands to the start of the Welsh Mountains.

After a couple of hours of driving we would stop for some fish and chips wrapped in newspaper before starting the climb up the mountains dodging sheep, goats and falling cases to North West Wales. Then it was two weeks in a caravan listening to the rain fall on the tinny roof, with misted up windows and no room to swing a cat (we had a dog anyway)…Great memories…

As soon as I managed to get a part time job I started saving up for two things – extra gear for my computer and a holiday abroad.

I sometimes look back to that day and try to think what the allure of going abroad was to me. Was it the UK weather or was it a growing feeling of independence I had and the recognition that the world was so much bigger and I wanted to see more of it?

Fortunately my career in IT has allowed me to travel all around the world and whilst I have more knowledge of the quality and prices of the hotels that I have stayed in than the countries themselves, I have been able to meet and socialise with people of all nationalities and backgrounds which has been a real education!

In business, my company Connexica primarily sells through partners. Recently we have acquired partners in America, Canada, Ireland, India, South Africa, Dubai, Bahrain, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands.

Ironically we don’t yet have a partner operating out of Wales however perhaps this might soon change?

All of this offers me plenty more opportunity to fly! The world is so much smaller than I remember it which is great as there are so many things to see and interesting people and businesses to work with.

If anyone reading this blog is interested in partnering with us please drop us an email.

There are loads of opportunities to push our leading edge BI technology into new territories and markets.

… and of course if you operate out of North Wales, get in touch now! I know somewhere to stay…

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I come from an age when the Spectrum was the new kid on the block. I remember the smell of the machine when I took it out its box. The comforting heat omitted from it when I switched it on and sat at it writing code for hours on end.

For those of you who don’t know, the Spectrum was a competitor to the BBC computer, Commodore 64 and later the Acorn. Despite it’s rubber keys and the need to be some form of contortionist to get the keyboard to type “Beep” or “Poke” I loved it.

I bought magazines about the latest games. I brought them to school and ended up arguing with fellow geeks about the merits of the Spectrum over the Commodore 64. Why there wasn’t enough RAM in a VIC 20, why the Oric (which made me think of the talking plastic cube Orac out of Blake’s 7) came too late and was a year too late and never going to take off.

After learning to code and writing a few games I realised that I couldn’t do things by myself anymore. Games were becoming a big business. In fact games were no longer something that could be knocked up by a spotty teenager in their bedroom upstairs. Games now required teams of graphics designers, sound engineers, testers, marketing moguls and hordes of developers.

The games Industry was starting to boom. Hardware suppliers started to build low cost, powerful gaming machines. It was GAMES WAR. It was Atari against the PC, it was the Amiga against the Atari, it was both of them against the Sega and then all three against the Nintendo. That was the start and it’s been relentless ever since.

Think of some of the technology battles that have occurred over the past 20 years;

All of these have been great products but there is only ever one winner. Is it always the best product? What is it that makes the winner “float to the top?” Is it the quality of the product or is it the way the product is marketed and branded?

As a consumer what do I want? Do I want the product that everyone else has or do I want the best product? Personally I want the best product. I don’t go for designer labels and I don’t go for things that are in vogue, I go for the things that make a difference to me, make a difference to my business and above all helps the bottom line.

I run a software company that writes bleeding edge technology. This is my story about why we do what we do and why I think that what we have is all about substance. For us the brand comes second however if we get that right too then perhaps someone will write about us in the future and see us as “remember the way things changed in BI? Remember Connexica versus Business Objects, remember Connexica versus Microsoft?

When I started my life as an IT professional, I was an analyst programmer specialising in COBOL and IDMSX on ICL mainframes. It was not long before I got into Oracle and enjoyed the delights of SQL, Oracle Forms 2.3 and Report Writer version 1.0 (which was shocking…)

I then moved onto SQL Windows, Ingres, Informix, SQL Server, DB2, C, C++ and finally Java with a bit of .NET before I decided enough was enough – get other people to do the programming as keeping up–to–date with new technologies and standards is a young mans game!

Throughout this time, I concentrated on data access and management information solutions. Designing applications to put data into a database and finding ways of getting it back out again – what a fulfilling career!

All sounds simple, in fact it really is however despite your best efforts you can only do as good a job as the tools that you are using will allow.

If the database does not support stored procedures or functions you end up writing more code and things tend to go slower. If you need to program in a language that doesn’t have very good de–bugging facilities you end up having to take twice as long and resort to adding loads of print statements and stack traces to help you identify where you are in the code when things go wrong – back in the 80’s, the Spectrum had no de–bugger so I was in my element here!

Up until the last 10 years of my career I had no say in what software languages we used or what database technologies we adopted. They were all chosen for different reasons. Some because they were functionally great but the majority because they had a good brand and the guy making the decision felt a “warm glow” when they spoke to the supplier (as if things didn’t work out they could always defend their position by the fact the supplier was in the magic quadrant at Gartner or had a balance sheet that RBS or Northern Rock would have died for).

Throughout this time I battled to create the best software solutions possible based on the raw materials I had at my disposal. I was pretty successful although if these solutions were re–produced today using the latest and greatest, the users would have been blown away.

One of my greatest loves was SQL (Structured Query Language) which I learned on a series of excellent Oracle courses in the late 80’s. A lot of what I programmed subsequently was around accessing databases, and I became pretty good at getting the best out of Oracle and applying what I knew to other databases “to get data out” that either I or someone else had managed to “get the data in”.

I grew to be (and would like to think still am) a SQL expert who could write line after line of SQL to navigate around the most complex of database schemas to return the relevant data rows back to the screen or a report. Twenty years of experience meant that SQL was no trouble to me.

Unfortunately, in later years, implementing solutions to customers, I found that end users and other IT departments did not share the same depth of knowledge that I have in “getting data out of a database” (perhaps this is because they didn’t know how to “get the data in?”) and struggled to use the same tools I grew to love as a serious software developer.

I now realise that getting data out of databases is not easy. It requires a lot of expertise in understanding where the data is, how to get at the data and how to bring it back in a meaningful form. Let a user loose on a database who is not a “professor in databases” is like letting a tourist attempt to translate a foreign paper when they don’t understand the language. They may understand part of it but will never see the full picture.

5 years ago I got all excited about search technology. It wasn’t new but I was starting to use it more and more to find “stuff” on the web and was amazed how easy it was to get results and how quick it was to get answers to the most bizarre of questions. The fact the answers were somewhere amongst several million search results was irrelevant to start with, I was simply amazed at the scale and the speed of this new technology.

It was not long before I formed a few ideas in my head about how searching for stuff using a search engine was child’s play and how searching for stuff in a database was for the “weird and unwashed” – like myself.

“What would happen if we used search technology to search databases?”

“How great would it be if people that understood the business but didn’t understand SQL could finally get at their data?”

From this idea came CXAIR – A business intelligence tool that takes the best elements of search engine technology and combines them with the best elements of business intelligence. A master stroke!

It’s super fast, easy to use, easy to implement, based on the latest technology, an evolutionary leap from other business technology that sits on top of the now legacy database systems however… we’re not Microsoft. We’re not Oracle. We’re not Business Objects.

I run a UK company with a team of extremely gifted geeks who like me love software and love “getting data out” of systems – they’re not too bothered about “getting data in” as we leave this to the database specialists because after all databases are designed for “storing data” not “retrieving data”.

We understand business intelligence but don’t have the legacy the big boys have and have been able to come up with something that is fundamentally different from any other BI tool. It’s easy to use! It’s lightning fast! It’s installed and working in under a day!

We are all about substance. What we have is real and not over-egged by some giant marketing machine. What we have is amazing. Give us a call and we’ll show you what we mean.

Contact or email me personally at

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Some thoughts on the dark art of hardcore SQL and why there might just be an easier way of doing things.

I first got introduced to SQL in 1989 when the company I worked for embarked on the development of a new system using what was then a fairly early version of Oracle.

I was lucky enough to be sent on a couple of courses to learn about Structured Query Language (SQL) and an Oracle Forms course in Reading.

Being relatively new to commercial IT (I was previously a free lance games writer in my teens), and initially being trained to code in COBOL and IDMSX, the concepts of SQL felt like a breath of fresh air over the old style methods to navigate around databases.

One of the things I instantly took a liking to was how easy SQL was and yet how devious you needed to be to do anything difficult. SQL brought out the maverick in me. If someone was to say “you can’t get it to do that”, I’d think “yes I can” and go and write some convoluted, unfathomable code that would do exactly that.

I took pride in writing queries that would take over a minute to print due to the huge number of DECODE statements, CORRELATED SUB QUERIES, OUTER JOINS, UNIONS, WHERE EXISTS etc…, etc… the 50 to 60 tables in the FROM clause, imponderably large WHERE clauses and SORTS and GROUP BY statements.

I strongly believed that the bigger the SQL the better. Perhaps it was a “man thing”. More likely it was a “me thing”.

I was well on my way to becoming a SQL Ninja… a master of my craft.

Someone who would quietly stand to one side as other developers toiled and scratched their heads then leap into action seconds before it was too late to write some mystifying code that returned the results they needed in minutes.

So what does this tell you about SQL?

It’s powerful, very powerful.

If your data is stored in a database that supports SQL and in particular, supports the extensions that were built into Oracle’s implementation of SQL, if you knew what you were doing you could produce any report, any extract. It might take a while but it could be done.

So where’s the rub?

SQL Ninjas are few and far between. SQL Ninjas are being left behind by some new methods of accessing data that does not require the same level of “geekiness” you need to extract data out of complex database schemas and marts.

Someone invented the search engine – A new super fast data access tool that allows children to search for data as soon as they have learned the basics of writing.

What could be easier than typing in the key words you are interested in and then see the results appear in front of your eyes in a matter of milliseconds? True it doesn’t have the richness of syntax or ability to join data together from multiple sources but the fundamentals are brilliant and it’s so fast!

Being a SQL Ninja and becoming a big fan of search engines, I wondered what would happen if you combined the flexibility of SQL and the sheer speed and simplicity of search technology together.

What if you could come up with a tool that could give you the flexibility of SQL with regards to the kind of outputs you could produce but used the power and speed of search technology to filter down the information you wanted to display?

So we wrote CXAIR.

A tool that allows your child to generate the type of outputs a SQL Ninja would be proud of. Step aside Ninja’s, your time is up!

CXAIR – “probably the best BI tool in the world.”

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