Archive for October, 2009

The other day a debate heated up in the office (again) about the internal re-charge model we have to live under. I’ve written previously here about the issues, but the main consequence of recharging is to set-up barriers between the IT operation and the business users and this almost always has a negative effect.  It leads to an inability to properly engage and support the business users.   There is a wider issue in organisations about re-charge models, since they aren’t always applied just to IT:  I think I’m right in saying that booking a meeting room in our organisation costs £400.  I think you would probably join with me in believing that a reasonably intelligent primary school child would view this as nonsensical.

The only possible advantage I can see in re-charging is that enables money to come in to a department throughout the year.  It also, to some extent, prevents the department from being viewed as an ‘overhead’ and therefore something to cut at the earliest opportunity.  If you abolish re-charging there is also the danger of endless board-level argument along the lines of ‘why should my department contribute to the IT budget when I don’t get much out of it etc’.   (To which I reply: well you’re part of the organisation and as such we’re all in it together).

So there are dangers in abolishing re-charging. If you are looking to Beyond Budgeting to save the day, forget it: it promotes the idea of internal markets, recharging, trading companies and the like, and seems to perpetuate the myth that all these things lead to efficiencies and and a better organisation.  I have seen the heart torn out of organisations that have implemented these sorts of things, so no:  Beyond Budgeting isn’t the way forward.  What we need is a return to a simple structure where you decide what you are going to do and you simply employ people to do it.  Simple.  No barriers.  No labyrinthe accountancy. No complexity.

I am against re-charging, but it is important to have arguments in place to counter those that will start viewing IT as an overhead: This is easy to do by the way.

It won’t have escaped your attention that the web and media industries have been engaged in a deep and meaningful debate over paying for content.  The article here gives a bit of the myriad of background, but you will be aware of the general issues.  The answer in my opinion very simply, is yes.  You should pay.   The tricky bit is how.  The simple reason that paid for content is such a difficult subject is simply that people are uneasy about handing of their credit and debit card details to web/internet companies unless they absolutely have to. And who can blame them.  They will do it for physical goods: Amazon, ebay, Supermarkets and the like, because these are services that have a clear benefit in terms of delivered goods; but to hand over cash to view any number of content sites – news say – is a different matter.  It’s irritating, slow, and people are concerned about security.

The reason pay as you go phones took off also isn’t accidental:  It isn’t because of the cost – it’s probably cheaper if you are on a tariff ( although I wouldn’t know myself as I am on pay-as-you-go).  The reason is that the pay-as-you-go option disconnects your payment/bank details from service itself.  If I want to give up my phone, I can just stop paying.  It’s fairly anonymous.  Also, if I change banks (and in the current climate anything can happen), my phone is one less thing to worry about informing.

The idea of paying for a service in an over-the-counter way (i.e. just handing over some cash for a newspaper, magazine or other ‘old media’ as some refer to them), is quite a different experience having to hand over your trusted bank payment details for the electronic equivalent of the content. This just isn’t something most people are happy with.  And who can blame them.

No-one disputes that newspaper and magazine circulations have plummeted in recent years and this is almost certainly down to the internet [See note below], it seems to me though that there is more to this story than immediately meets the eye.  If in the past, people had been forced to hand over credit or debit card details at the news stands to get their printed newspaper, this circulation decline would have happened much earlier. It would also have resulted in a much more dramatic delicline than anything the web has delivered:  At least free newspaper web sites give the opportunity of advertising revenue for the provider.

So, let me offer a new proposal:  You buy a voucher or card in the newsagent or similar shop, in the same way that you would buy a lottery ticket, mobile phone top up card, public telephone phonecard etc (or even the way you used to buy your newspaper).  This card has a unique ID on it:  You enter this ID on the relevant part of the newspaper/media web site and it gives you access to the content you wish based on how much you purchased.   The access could either be time-limited, or perhaps limited to certain sections depending on what you bought.   Like a printed newspaper or magazine, lottery ticket etc., registration information need not be provided by the user – the experience is anonymous.  You should be able to register if you want, and this gives you additional benefits in return.  Perhaps the physical newspaper or magazine actually IS the voucher:  It has a unique number printed in it.  They seem to be able to do this kind of thing for competitions when they want to – so it’s clearly possible…

So, In essence, you still buy something from your newsagent/newsstand:  just not the physical printed item. Personally, I would be quite happy to buy a voucher or card that gives me on-line access for a nominal charge.  But I don’t want to hand over bank payment details thank you.  And yes, people should pay for content, and yes, they probably will.  The problem is that content providers seem to be overlooking many of the available models for doing this:  Paying for something need not equate to handing over a bank card, endless registrations and yet more and more usernames and passwords.

[NOTE]  I don’t believe the same applies to all branches of the media:  Television and Radio viewing is actually going up.

It sounds a bit pedantic but I get rather perturbed when I hear people referring to every IT system as ‘software’. I work in an area that mainly develops internal business systems and, frankly, I don’t believe this is software: Internal business systems are – well, Internal business systems. As far as I am concerned, ‘software’ is something you either go out and buy or download.

You might think this distinction isn’t very important, but I think it is fairly obvious that if you are producing ‘software’ in the true sense of the word (e.g. working for Adobe on the next version of Photoshop), this is quite different for working for an internal IT operation on their expenses claim system and that furthermore, both these environments will need different skills,techniques and methods. For one thing, in one case you are creating something directly for users that you quite possibly know, and can visit and talk to, and in the other you are dealing with someones abstract view of what the users might want. The whole culture is different.