Government paints IT buyers as vampire-loving, chicken-rearing, rock-climbing misfits

30 Jan 2015

Cloud computing is heralded by many as the future of IT, but it's an occasionally obtuse subject despite the government wanting the public sector to embrace cloud migration.

However, selling cloud services to the public sector, often seen as stuck in the analogue age of paper documents and Windows XP, can be a bit of a challenge even for hardened IT suppliers.

So, in a creative attempt to solve this, the Government Digital Service (GDS) has created three fictional 'government buyers' for cloud vendors to target.

With names as everyday as Gareth Holmes, Patricia Greene and Jess Clarke these are three characters that have been assigned persona-specific ‘buys', ‘hopes' and ‘fears' when it comes to cloud procurement so vendors know how to pitch their products accordingly.

GDS also indicated how evangelical the three are when it comes to technology, procurement processes and desired outcomes.

I just don't want to get into trouble

Gareth just wants an easy life when buying IT from the Digital Marketplace

First up is Gareth, a tech architect working for the government. Gareth is a cloud buyer who has good technical knowledge but needs a helping hand with procurement, according to Mark Branigan, a researcher at the Cabinet Office and blogger.

"Gareth wants a straightforward process he can follow which will reassure him that he's following the right procurement steps," he said.

Poor Gareth is made out to be a bit of a feckless coward, desiring "short and convenient processes" and shunning anything that requires innovative thinking and investment in time.

Still, he's noted for his rock climbing and love of the great outdoors, so perhaps he's simply wasted in the stuffy confines of government IT.

Two chickens and an eye for procurement

Government cloud buyer personasMeanwhile Patricia (pictured right) is an IT procurement specialist but lacks Gareth's technical prowess. She hopes to end up with the right cloud service to suit her department's needs, and fears the opposite result.

Branigan, perhaps erring on the side of patronising, explained that customers like Patricia need to "understand how services are described by suppliers so that she can find services that will meet her requirements".

GDS felt it was important to note that Patricia enjoys spending time looking after her two chickens, something V3 was not aware of as having a direct influence on cloud procurement desires.

'She enjoys Zumba and vampire books'

Jess Clarke wants cloud serivces on time and on budgetLast, but by no means least, is Jess (pictured), a project manager who cares about services that are delivered on time, on budget and provide direct outcomes.

Branigan paints Jess as an uncompromising customer. "Any delays caused by a procurement process are unacceptable to her, and she is very price sensitive," he said.

Jess does not like to waste her time understanding technology or procurement, either, instead preferring to dedicate herself to Zumba and vampire books.

"Jess needs a service which allows her to very quickly analyse her options and find the right product. She does not want to concern herself with the intricacies of the procurement process, and relies on others around her to look after this part," he said.

It's interesting to see the government exploring ways to simplify the process of selling cloud and IT services to the public sector, particularly given the focus on digitalising public services.

However, Branigan added: "We know that users don't always fit neatly into boxes and we test these personas regularly against the buyers we talk to in the lab."

With a get-out clause like that, V3 is left wondering whether the whole exercise was really worth it. We are, however, curious to learn more about this 'lab' Branigan mentions.

Bill Gates warns tech world to watch out for Terminators

29 Jan 2015

BotMicrosoft founder and general do-gooder Bill Gates has expressed concerns about artificial intelligence (AI), warning that dystopian futures portrayed in series like Battlestar Galactica and Terminator could become a reality.

Gates issued the warning during a Reddit question and answer session, arguing that artificially intelligent systems could become a threat to humanity if left unchecked.

"I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned," Gates said in response to a question about the threat posed by AI.

"First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that, though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern."

Gates is one of many tech moguls to warn of the danger posed by AI. Professor Stephen Hawking expressed concerns about self-learning machines earlier this year, and Tesla founder Elon Musk argued that AI poses the biggest risk to humanity if it is not properly monitored and controlled.

Luckily for the tech-savvy members of society, Gates said that humans are likely to serve some purpose for our robot overlords in the immediate future.

"It is safe for now. It is also a lot of fun and helps shape your thinking on all issues to be more logical. There is a prospect for change in this area for the next generation, but that is true for most fields and understanding how to program will always be useful," he said.

Gates' comments follow the widespread release of Microsoft's Cortana digital voice assistant. Cortana debuted on Windows Phone 8 and allows web searches and the opening of apps using voice commands.

Cortana's answers are based on data stored in the user's Microsoft account and the public internet, and the service will be integrated into Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system.

Gates closed his doomsday report by promising that Cortana will not betray us and is simply a useful service designed to help, not rule over, humans.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson 

Kids create cyber security education tool to tackle hacking

22 Jan 2015

Cyber security is normally highlighted as a concern for corporations and celebrities, not something to worry school children.

But a group of students aged nine to 17 from the Digital Youth Council showcased an internet safety tool at BETT 2015 consisting of a series of mini games aimed at educating kids about online threats such as data theft and hacking.

The tool injects fun into the complex and often sinister world of cyber security, and was developed using the resources of Virgin Media Business, which established the Digital Youth Council in December 2014.

Gerry Arthurs on stage at BETT 2015 V3 wondered whether kids really need to concern themselves with the threat of cyber attacks, but Gerry Arthurs (pictured), director of public sector at Virgin Media Business, suggested that it is not as unusual as one might expect.

"The idea was generated by the children themselves, and it was they who communicated to us not just the cyber security [concerns], but the fallout, the stress and panic that they could see in their parents when they thought things had gone wrong," he said.

Arthurs explained that today's children are "much more educated in what's occurring in the world around them", and are aware of news coverage of major cyber attacks.

He also pointed out that today's children have experienced cyber attacks first hand. His 12-year-old daughter suffered emotionally when her Instagram account was hacked, which made her more aware of data protection.

The Digital Youth Council has taken a positive step towards cyber security education, but it shows just how rampant cyber attacks have become when children are directly exposed to and affected by malicious hacks simply because they have access to the latest technology.

The flipside is that increased awareness may make it easier to tackle cyber threats as children avoid the digital mistakes of their parents.

It also hammers home the extent to which technology is embedded is in the lives of children, as many have access to cutting edge hardware from the moment they are able to swipe a touchscreen.

Some could argue that this access leads to a loss of innocence, but technology is a way of empowering children and allowing them to be more innovative in their learning and development.

It is inescapable that future generations will be more tech-savvy than their predecessors, and keener to adopt the latest cutting-edge technology.

Intel's $300m diversity drive marks a major move for women in tech

08 Jan 2015

There has been little in the way of direct action from major companies to address the gender imbalance in the technology industry, despite calls from the government throughout 2014 and numerous diversity reports revealing that major firms have a serious workforce imbalance.

More women are entering the industry via corporations or their own digital start-ups, resulting in positive reactions from women already established in the field, but IT and the surrounding sectors remain male dominated and few women fill high-level positions.

However, Intel has now thrown its hat into the ring with a pledge to increase diversity across its entire workforce by 2020 by hiring and retaining more engineers and computer scientists who are women or from under-represented minorities.

Rather than backing a programme or supporting an external organisation, Intel has put its money where its mouth is and will invest $300m to increase the company's diversity, hoping that its example will encourage other tech players to do the same.

Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich revealed the Diversity in Technology initiative at CES 2015 in Las Vegas.

CES is an event known for courting tech enthusiasts with consumer products, and may not seem the likely place to launch a diversity strategy. But with the industry's eyes glued to Las Vegas for several days, it presented a powerful platform for Intel to get its message across.

And the message is that action is needed, not just from Intel but from the technology industry as a whole if diversity is to be achieved and not merely encouraged.

In a surprising move, Krzanich said that the pay of Intel's leaders will be linked to the performance of the initiative in their areas in a bid to galvanise change from within.

Krzanich's CES keynote is a refreshing change from the situation last year, which saw Microsoft's Satya Nadella offering negative advice for women in tech, and appears to present an answer to the gender imbalance as the technology industry enters a new year.

If 2014 was a year in which women and diversity in technology was discussed, Intel may have made 2015 the year in which action is taken.

YouTube: iPhone 6 Plus bend test and mutant spider-dog most watched videos

12 Dec 2014

A video of a dog dressed as a giant mutant spider was the most popular video on YouTube in 2014, the site has revealed.

As part of an annual run down, YouTube revealed the top 10 most popular videos on the site. While the mutant spider-dog won, there was a notable inclusion in the list of a video showing how the iPhone 6 Plus is susceptible to bending.

The problem of the bendy iPhone 6 Plus, dubbed 'bendgate' by some, dominated the headlines for a few days earlier this year after reports surfaced that the devices could become misshapen in certain circumstances. Apple denied this at the time, claiming that only a few handsets were affected.

Nonetheless, a video (below) demonstrating how this bending can occur - admittedly through brute force - racked up the views to almost 60 million. Be warned: if you're an Apple fan it's not a pleasant sight as the defenceless iPhone 6 Plus is mangled beyond recognition.

Still, while this is scary to some, there is little doubt that millions more were scared witless by the site of the giant mutant spider-dog that roamed the streets of South Africa, terrifying all who encountered the eight-legged canine-arachnid hybrid.

To date it's been watched 115 million times. See why below.

While these video view numbers are impressive, they are not a patch on everyone's favourite South Korean K-pop exponent, Psy, whose Gangnam Style video was viewed so many times that it actually broke the YouTube hit counter.

The video had been watched 2,147,483,647 times at the last count. This was the limit that YouTube's hit counter could handle. It has now amended this to a top limit of 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. That's nine quintillion.

If you want to add another one to the view counter, watch away below.

BBC launches Technobabble game-creation tool to teach children digital skills

02 Dec 2014

Tabloid newspapers in search of a sensationalist story often claim that computer games are harmful for children. However, despite the red tops' machinations and protestations, the gaming industry continues to enjoy healthy growth.

The BBC has now entered the debate and come out in favour of such games for children, and has developed a digital tool that lets children create their own games based on CBBC show Technobabble.

Make It: Technobabble aims to encourage children to get involved with digital technology and use their creativity to manipulate the rules, background and physics of their game.

Martin Wilson, BBC Future Media's head of digital creativity, said in a BBC blog post that the tool requires only access to the web, willingness to experiment and an idea.

"It's a starter kit. It requires no technical knowledge, no download and works just as well on mobile and tablets as desktop," he wrote.

Make It: Technobabble was created as part of the BBC's Make It Digital initiative designed to introduce children to the world of coding and digital creativity.

Children can create apps for smartphones and tablets using the tool, which could inspire them to go on to create multimillion selling apps such as Angry Birds and Flappy Bird.

The BBC has a history of involvement with coding and technology, having created its own coding language and given many people their first taste of computing with the BBC Micro.

Such initiatives have been designed to develop digital skills at a grassroots level, running parallel with the introduction of coding into the school curriculum in September, all with the goal of closing the UK's digital skills gap.

The skills gap has prompted concerns that many technology companies will not have access to people with the right skills to fill the UK's digital jobs of the future

Box CEO bemoans inability to insult rivals as industry embraces cloud

19 Nov 2014

LOS ANGELES: Tech leaders love to make digs at their rivals over perceived sluggishness, particularly in areas where they consider themselves to be ahead of the curve.

The cloud has been a hotbed of such activity for many years. One of the leading proponents of this unique form of cloud computing trash talk is Aaron Levie, CEO of Box. V3 has heard Levie mock rivals on many occasions for failing to embrace the cloud, something which no doubt helped his own company to grow.

aaronlevieboxHowever, as Levie noted at the Cisco Collaboration Summit 2014 attended by V3, most major IT vendors are now fully committed to the cloud. One upshot of this is that the chance to chide rivals in a jovial fashion has diminished.

"I don’t even know who. Maybe IBM. I don’t know who’s not in the cloud now. All the people I make fun of has reduced over time," he said.

"You used to be able to make fun of Oracle, of Microsoft but it’s going away. Everybody is so pro-cloud."

Indeed. Even IBM, which Levie unfairly name checks, has been making notable strides to get into the cloud, spending big on its SoftLayer acquisition and moving numerous services onto the platform to meet customer demand for this delivery model.

However, while the move to the cloud being undertaken by most IT giants has deprived Levie of his punchline punch bags, other areas of the industry still give him plenty of material.

When asked what he’s hearing from customers at present, Levie used the question as a chance to trot out one of his standards: "What we hear from customers is, what if Lync and SharePoint just worked?"

Given that Microsoft is rebranding Lync as Skype for Business, Levie might need to rewrite that zinger, or get some new material.

Tiny 3D printer based on Raspberry Pi hardware passes Kickstarter target

07 Nov 2014

A Kickstarter project to sell a miniature 3D printer based on the Raspberry Pi looks set to come to market after reaching its funding target in just a few weeks.

The iBox Nano is a tiny 3D printer measuring about 10x7.5x20cm that uses the Raspberry Pi single-board computer as a controller, demonstrating the flexibility of the low-cost ARM-based device.

Developed by iBox Printers of Melbourne, Florida, the device had secured $340,730 on the Kickstarter crowd-funding website at the time of writing, passing the firm's goal of $300,000 with seven days to go before the deadline.

iBox Nano 3D printer

The iBox Nano is a 3D resin printer that is the world's smallest, quietest and only battery powered model of its kind, according to the firm, and is set to be the most affordable when it goes on sale on Amazon Prime and for $299 (probably at least £299 for UK buyers).

While many other low-cost 3D printers use a thermoplastic method, where a plastic filament is melted and built up in layers by extrusion, the iBox Nano uses a variation of photopolymerisation technology, where a synthetic resin is solidified using LEDs.

In fact, iBox Printers claims to have developed a new twist on this technology, using an LCD and ultraviolet LEDs instead of a laser or projector, allowing for smaller packaging, completely silent operation, and significant reduction in power consumption, according to the firm.

The company also claims it as the world's first battery powered 3D Resin Printer, saying that the battery option is estimated to give approximately 10 hours of printing.

With its Raspberry Pi controller, the iBox Nano is more flexible on connectivity than many other 3D printers, using Ethernet or WiFi to receive print jobs.

"iBox Printers believes the iBox Nano will accelerate the adoption of 3D printers into the home market because of its affordability, silent operation, ease of use, small size, and cordless WiFi browser-based printing," the firm said in a statement.

Although smaller in size than most 3D printer devices, iBox Printers said this is a deliberate design choice as most of the objects consumers are likely to produce will be small.

"The iBox Nano is designed for the home user who wants to print small to average sized 3D objects with good resolution without having a large noisy printer intruding on their workspace. The goals were to be small, quiet, inexpensive and portable," the firm said.

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