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When you realise that something is true

A few years back, well actually maybe more than 10 now, the word Cloud started getting thrown about. Getting your arms around this term at the time was pretty illusive, something to do with web based services, services that were, at the time, served up on you laptop like accountancy packages for instance.

Fair enough; but it was deinitely a case of marketing getting a little ahead of the technology.

What you read about this Cloud all seemed a bit vague, a bit difficult to grasp, just like grabbing at a cloud I guess. Hosting and storage would be on the cloud somewhere, and the cloud would be all around us – like some omnipresent slab of silicon.

Capacity and available computing power could be dialled up with ease. It all seemed great. But in reality it was nonsense. The big players were overplaying their hands… a lot.

The possibility of elastic computing simply didn’t exist, except in the flyers and tag lines. As far as most of us were concerned the cloud was much the same as using shared hosting servers in a data center someewhere. When the time came to upgrade storage, processors or bandwidth it was the same old hassle, and involved a lot of effort.

So I’m sure a lot of us put the word Cloud back in the drawer and got on with our lifes.

Except the techy guys at the likes of Amazon had read the flyers and marketing stuff and liked the idea of cloud computing. So they cracked on with it.

Fast forward and guess what? Cloud computing is here – honestly! It sort of sneaked up on us and now we are all using it.

But I mean more than simply running an application on a server somewhere, I mean proper elastic computing where you dial up the sort of environment you want and start using it… within minutes. You don’t have to negotiate the set-up, security, price and contract length – you just get on with it.

We’ve been developing on AWS for a while now (Amazon Web Services). And each time we use a new element that we haven’t needed before, we find our jaws falling open. Sort of Jaw Computing rather than Cloud Computing.

The first thing you have to get used to is the flexibility when it comes to setting things up on AWS. Want a bigger disk – no problem, want to move up the processor ladder – easy. Need to push more data back and forth to your SSDs – yip, that’s covered. Want to keep an eye on the costs, and see if you can save some money – that’s covered too.

The first time we used Lambda, we actualy started to laugh! We were processing a queue of data and when it got a bit long becuase of peaks in demand we fired up a Lambda routine or two and watched our queue get eaten up. And then we watched the Lambda functions all finishing tidily and shutting down. That extra burst of huge processing power to deal with a huge data set was pennies, but it was priceless to us.

We’ve been developing software for a while, and normally we roll our eyes when a new wonder language comes out, or operating system comes along. Because for all the hype, they don’t do an awful lot more, or an awful lot better than the one before. However, everytime we’ve explored AWS over the years we are seriously impressed.

We use AWS, on Seller Dynamics, and we’ve used it with clients; it’s allowing us to think more and more “out the box”, when it comes to software development projects.

Our AWS development expertise is continually expanding, thanks to the steadily expanding range of services that Amazon keep adding. It’s a moving target, and so far we haven’t rolled our eyes when something new comes out. Each time we see something new… our jaws fall open again.

You can find out about AWS on our Podcast (iTunes, Podbean, Our Site), and you can see what we do with the various AWS tech on the site – the AWS development services page is a decent enough place to start.

Look… Amazon have transformed computing, it just happens that they have also transformed Cloud Computing as well to make it happen. AWS is awesome – I don’t normally say that about computing.

The initial Cloud marketing was nonsense, but now it’s all true.


How to manage AWS Costs

We’ve been busy! Hence the huge radio blog silence… so there is lot to catch up on. Not least the truly Amazing AWS stuff from Amazon.

We’ve properly embraced the AWS technology, and if you haven’t yet, then you really need to have a proper close up look. Just as Amazon did with online retail and revolutionised it, they have done the same with hosting. In fact, it’s not really hosting anymore, it’s much more than that. The range of services provided is awesome, from server hosting through to AI services. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start at the beginning. First you’ll be wanting to get yourself set up on AWS (Amazon Web Services) for the purposes of hosting a website, or a database, or maybe you just need some storage. Whatever the reason you are looking at AWS, you’ll be thinking about costs.

To help you get up to speed with AWS Costs we’ve a podcast to share. It’s our CTO (Fraser) talking to me, and explaining, where the costs are and how they can be managed. This isn’t theoretical stuff, we’ve had to do it for ourselves, with Seller Dynamics, and we’ve had to do it for clients. So this is proper grown up advice, that we’ve found out the hard way and want to share.

You can listen to the Podcast above, or you can read the full transcript on the supporting page on our site – How to manage AWS costs. And if you need some help, that’s what we do, so don’t be shy –

We’ll be sharing a few of these as the weeks pass – so you can follow here, or on Podbean or on iTunes.


Win a £100 Amazon Voucher

The sales boom has started – no sooner is Halloween past than we all start buying wrapping paper for Christmas presents.

Over at multi channel ecommerce software company, Seller Dynamics, they’ve marked the start of the buying season with the chance to win a £100 Amazon voucher.

All that is required of anybody entering is to tell them whether they Love or Hate Brussel Sprouts.

At a time when our wallets and purses are under the most strain – a £100 gift is not to be sniffed at. You can enter here: make sure you enter before 5pm GMT on 1st December 2014.

Best of luck.

14 brings Captain America to John O’Groats

At the end of the long Easter Weekend I was completely relaxed and chilled and then as if to remind me it was a school night again the BBC stuck on an hour long documentary on Amazon (the online department store not the river). You can catch up here if you are quick: .

Being part of the ecommerce world how could I possibly head to bed – even though I hit record on Sky+ – and even though I could have watched it on catch-up later in the week – and even though I could have watched it on the iPlayer later – and even though… you get the idea.

So what did I learn – well I learned that Jeff Bezos has an annoying laugh apparently and that as a way to demonstrate frugality he started the business by making the desks out of (hopefully) disused doors.

Everything else was pretty much expected – though Captain America walking into a bar in John O’Groats was a surpise, if perhaps not as uncommon as you would think given the non-reaction of the barman.

In an hour Sandy Toksvig’s voiceover didn’t have enough time to go into everything in as much detail as I’d have liked – especially the bit involving third party sellers. That could fill an hour all by itself. The two third party gentlemen explained they could buy stuff at the local supermarket and then sell it for more on Amazon – that seemed a little of an oversimplication but it must have caught the interest of a few retail entrepeneurs out there. Completely missing was the aspect of Amazon being a dynamic price environment thanks to amazon repricing software and that seemed a pity – it’s an area that OU business students would find fascinating I’m sure.

Catch up on the iPlayer when you can – I recorded it for some reason.





Microsoft join ebay USA – the evolution of ebay continues

If you were selling Microsoft kit on ebay in the USA your heart might have sank a little when the latest ebay-er to join the platform was announced as Microsoft.

ebay have been repositioning for some time moving away continually from the auction site that they pioneered to a sales channel for retailers of all sizes. With the addition of Microsoft, retailers of all sizes now includes behemoths.

As part of the ecommerce multichannel Seller Dynamics team we have been aware for some time that ebay were keen to build stronger brands into their line up. Unlike Amazon ebay is clearly encouraging its retailers to develop their brands – ok perhaps Microsoft doesn’t need to do that but its a strong signal to others that ebay is supporting your brand. Building a brand within Amazon is a much more challenging activity.

You can check out the Microsoft ebay store here.

Retailers who are not familiar with ebay shouldn’t assume that this is a USA all strategy, Argos and ebay have been building a stronger relationship month by month in the UK for some time now. For us the message is clear if you are not selling on ebay then you really better have a good reason why not.


Google Glass – efulfilment and the forklift driver.

OK Glass…. can’t really see me (or hear me) saying that. Well not until they make the lenses available through Lenses Express and can cope with my astigmatism (I’m so proud of being astigmatic). Google Glass is one of those things that you know will make you look like a…. fill in your on rude term.

But hang on… it might actually be pretty useful in the workplace… for instance it could help you find the scissors, or maybe the stapler (subject to them being RFID tagged of course).

And then again it might help you find your picking list if you’re a forklift operator in a warehouse doing e-fulfilment. I’m indebted to my son and now supply chain student Stewart Ogilvie who pointed us in the direction of a YouTube video that shows how Google Glass could be applied to warehouses and e-fulfilment.

The strength in the solution is that Google Glass removes the need for a handheld – a big improvement if you are a forklift driver in a warehouse who needs to keep both hands on the wheel. The video shows barcode scanning and location-ing  to ensure that the picking goes quickly and smoothly. Here is the video – click here.

For a while we have seen ourselves as part of the supply chain rather than a simple ecommerce developer. Seller Dynamics is an essential part of a retailers operation and we know we have to think differently. Seller Dynamics allows integration with third parties via our API and we are hoping that one of our clients will want to strap on the Google Glass especially if they are selling hundreds of thousands of SKUs across Amazon, ebay, Play and FNAC.


My day at The Edinburgh Pop Up Business School and how to solve everything with one small idea

I’d heard about Pop Up Restuarants and maybe even Pop Up Art Galleries before, but I’d never heard of a Pop Up Business School… seemed a bit odd. But then it was Eddie Cochrane (Ed Uni Biz School, Exec Dev Mgr) who was talking to me – so it was bound to be right enough…  errr probably.

The Univerity of Edinburgh were pulling together a Pop Up Business School to explore the topic – “Leadership For Social Change”. Could I go along and help one of the MBA groups by throwing in a small minded perspective… sorry that should have read a small business perspective. No problem Ed, I’m your man.

A week later and there I was introducing myself to a collection of MBA’ers from various parts of the globe. Greece, South Africa, The States, China, and many more including Norn Irelin (good to see a local).

“So how does small business relate to these issues?”

I looked at the sheet I’d been handed…. it listed all the socially important things which I studiously avoid reading in the Sunday Observer and instead head straight to Nigel Slater explaining what you can do with a left over sausage. I turned the sheet over looking for a recipe, nope nothing there, I was stuck.

The list of issues that I was expected to reflect on for Small Businesses everywhere was lengthy, ranging across Green Issues, Social Polarisation, Education Reform, Paternal Rights, Prisoner Reform – even World Peace. The word “tricky” was forming somewhere deep in me.

So nothing else for it – time to behave like the stereotypical Small Business – “As a small business I don’t care about these issues, I can only properly care about generating sales. If someone wants to incentivise me to care that’s great – but normally if this sort of stuff comes through the door it’s normally going to cost me time and maybe cash. As a small business I don’t care and I can’t afford to care.”

Now admittedly that does seem a bit harsh in the cold light of blogging. As a person of course I care – but the business has completely different drivers from my wishy, washy liberal sentiments, lets face it the business is a brutal master when it comes to priorities.

However, apparently it was the correct answer. The team had been out and about doing the Pop Up Business School thing and had been interviewing the entire population of Edinburgh on the question of who was best placed to address these big issues (a) Central Government (b) Local Government (c) Business (d) Simon Cowell. And yip – no one felt Business was the answer. In fact the answer was (a) followed by (b).  Phew – got that question right, nearly got found out there. And yes, no one even considered Simon Cowell for a second, he’ll be crushed.

But with almost an hour still to fill in the workshop we thought we should discuss these big issues a little bit further, and that’s when it all started to make sense. Looking at the list again it seemed to change from being a simple list to being a challenge that we were obliged to fix in the next 45 minutes.

Well…time for a sweeping statement… fix the economy and you fix all these things. If you have a strong flourishing economy, you can find the funds, you can secure the resource, motivate the people and reach Nirvana (A one time Washington based indie rock band… ok, Nevermind lets move on).

But how to fix the economy? As a small business it’s nice to put yourself at the centre of things – afterall 59% of private employment is in the SME sector- isn’t Google great?  So to fix the economy lets put small local businesses at the centre.

After that it was easy to lead social change…heres how:

If Small Local Businesses are the engine room lets give the engine a tune up. Why don’t we remove employers NI contributions for small businesses so that they can improve profits, and develop through non penalised employment and renewed growth.

With increased employment there will be less chance of the young becoming the long term unemployed and adding to the already socially divided nation.

With a livelier and healthier local collection of businesses and employees, money will flow locally to rebuild communities and fan optimism.

The increased tax take from an expanded workforce will offset the reduced NI income for central government. Any reduction in central spending will require to be addressed at a local level where the community will need to figure things out. That’s not to suggest we start playing at being nurses or policemen – but the occasional run to the local tip with the neighbours garden refuse shouldn’t hurt, or lifting discarded cans and paper from the street is hardly penal. It might create some social ownership.

And that was pretty much it – QED. Put SMEs at the centre of the economy and everything gets fixed (bowling averages go way up, mini golf scores go way down – excellent… or was that San Dimas?).

Small Businesses are by their very nature sustainable – tick the green thing box. They help cement communities – tick the social fabric thingy box. If you’re busy you’re not getting into trouble – tick the prisoner reform box. If you’re working hard you won’t have any energy left to become a parent – tick the paternal rights thing. And if the kids can see there is a decent job or the chance of building a business for themselves when they leave school we might need to worry less about education reform and instead worry more about making sure they understand that dropping the chip wrapper from their cholesterol dripping hands at lunchtime isn’t cool. (World Peace we would have cracked given another 9 minutes.)

So at the end of our Pop Up hour and much to my surprise it turns out that small business does actually care about Social Leadership and the BIG Social issues of the day after all –  and small businesses can actually fix all the issues given the opportunity.  That was a surprise.

The team did their big presentation thing later that week (I couldn’t make it – as I was too busy shoving 8 year old children up chimneys – it helps build communities) but apparently the team won the competition side of their week long Pop Up Business event. I’ve no idea what they presented – but I suspect it would have included something on World Peace in 10 easy steps (just like the “10 step” list things you get in the Sunday Observer that I don’t read either).

Best of luck to MBA’ers everywhere, and remember think small! You only need a small idea.

Cheers Ed, that was fun.