Monthly Archives: August 2010

Blog will be quiet for a bit

This blog could be quiet for a while as I’m going to be on the road for a few weeks…

Back in September…

Foreigners get 77% of new jobs

The Daily Express screamed on the front page today that 77% of jobs in the UK are going to foreigners. It’s a rather typical scare story and I’ve already heard of people waving the paper around today and shouting that all those pesky foreigners are coming to steal our jobs.

But the situation is far more subtle and complex. Even thinking about this for just a few minutes typing this blog I can surmise:

  • We live in the European Union. There is a free movement of labour within the union, meaning we as British people can freely go and live and work in other EU member nations. There are more Brits overseas in the other 26 member states (working, or with family, or retired) than this ‘flood’ of immigrants coming to the UK. So, if the UK decided to suddenly pull up the drawbridge, then what do you think would happen to all those pensioners in Spain or Brits working in France and Germany?
  • Many of the Europeans coming to the UK for work are extremely mobile, which works in their favour. Not many Brits living in Newcastle, and suffering a life on benefits, would jump at the chance of a job in Bristol, or Reading, or even London, if they were only slightly better off. We are not a very mobile society in the UK and this creates structural unemployment where hundreds of thousands of jobs are available, but nobody locally wants to take them.
  • And, in that kind of environment what do you expect will happen? Britain does have a lot of employment available, but it’s not always where people want to work or live. That’s not a problem for someone coming in from overseas who can arrange their accommodation close to their work.

But let’s be clear, these non-British Europeans are not coming in and ‘stealing’ jobs. I’m sure most businesses advertising jobs would be only too delighted to be hiring and supporting local people. But what do the companies do when no locals respond to the job adverts? Go bust because they have no staff? Of course they take the search further afield, and if Brits are not prepared to move 50 miles for a job, then it’s easy to find others within Europe who are happy to work hard, pay their taxes, and add something to the community they move into.

This is not so much a story of foreigners stealing jobs, it’s a story of British people failing to adapt to the international nature of work in the twenty-first century and the DWP not offering enough incentives for those already on benefits to cast the net a bit wider when seeking work.

Election reaction

Personal Branding

I’ve read more and more about ‘personal branding’ recently online. Perhaps it’s just because I’m British and tend to shy away from some of the more garish Americanisms around marketing, but isn’t this just a ghastly phrase?

I’m a freelance worker and I do my own thing, working for corporate clients, in the media, and for trade bodies, so a personal brand is important for me.

But isn’t it just my good reputation? I’m not a brand… I was asking a trade body yesterday about a project we are planning together. It’s something where I will need to pull in a corporate sponsor to fund it and I asked them if they had any requirements about the kind of supporter I could work with. They told me that common sense was all we needed to apply. If it won’t ruin my reputation then it won’t ruin theirs.

That’s a good pragmatic approach to reputation, but it seems the personal branding gurus are going crazy on Twitter at present. Either I need to stop following a few more people or just ignore the whole fad until it blows over…

Burberry - What Not to Wear...

Mexicana struggles – no surprise there then

Mexicana airlines is in complete turmoil. Having filed for protection from bankruptcy, they are now fighting off a complete collapse as the unions refuse to allow restructuring and the management have axed services – including the Mexico City to London route.

I had the misfortune to use Mexicana to go to Mexico City from London last December. It was possibly the worst airline I have ever used in terms of service, aircraft, and overall experience. Imagine catching the 73 bus from Hackney to Oxford Circus in the rush hour and you get an approximation of what it’s like to travel with Mexicana… including the crowding and lack of any form of on-board entertainment, despite the long-haul nature of the journey.

I took an American Airlines return flight from London to New York last week and I encountered similar chaos on board – the crew wanted to charge me $7 for a glass of wine despite my ‘economy’ ticket costing $1475.30. The cabin crew were upset with me when I told them to take the wine back. But they had spent the entire flight calling me ‘special’ because I had ordered vegetarian food… somehow not realising that it makes me sound more like an asylum inmate than José Mourinho…

Airlines all over the world seem to be in chaos, yet surely they can see there are two basic business models. No-frills like Ryanair, where the service is cut to the bone so that the price reflects only a safe journey and nothing else, then the regular full-service airlines where a price comparison is still important, but value enters the mix… airport used, ability to select seats, quality of service… This is where airlines like BA can stake themselves out as leaders (if the unions don’t bring them down first) because they have the quality on-board service and innovative online services.

Having got used to ba.com allowing me to set my meal preference, choose a seat, and get my boarding pass before I even leave for the airport, I’m not really all that tolerant of companies like Mexicana who tell me that online check-in doesn’t work “because you live in London…” Will anyone be sorry to see them go?
Rolls Royce jet engine

Leaving the BCS ELITE…

I’ve been on the the main committee of the BCS ELITE group for the past couple of years, but I just resigned my position.

I do like the BCS, I think they have a role in helping people map out a career in IT. I know a lot of people in the industry think the BCS is pointless and detached from reality, but I’ve loyally been a member since the 1980s even when it meant nothing to me, though in the past few years the management of the BCS has started focusing on helping people to build an IT career.

The BCS itself is more relevant than ever and after the recent drama of an emergency general meeting, where some members were questioning the agenda of the society, I think the society is now through the storm and ready to start making a real difference.

To those who don’t know anything of ELITE, it “is the UK lead forum for IT Directors and Senior Managers to exchange experiences, views and expectations on how information systems should be managed to achieve business objectives.”

In short, it’s a group for BCS members who are of IT director level or above – the senior management of the British IT industry. I was elected onto the committee with a mandate to offer a few modern ideas, get some new research published, and influence the events that ELITE runs… getting real industry leaders available for debate.

But things never really worked out like that – though I tried. ELITE is like a gentleman’s club for people who work in IT. Events are a success if they break even – rather than if they add to the body of management knowledge – and publications are torturously slow to materialise. In an era where companies need to be planning for every quarter and using modern-day communication systems to ensure rapid decision making, the ELITE culture of cigars in Pall Mall clubs grates somewhat… and how annoying is it to find a committee of IT experts who cannot use any scheduling tools (beyond mass emailing) to arrange meetings?

Take a look here at the forthcoming events organised by ELITE. Well, actually as you can see there are none. And even those that you can see arranged in the past hardly have any appeal for any CIO level management I have worked with. The last management level event that was organised was an audience with Michael Dell back in April 2009. That’s if I’m not including the dinners in Pall Mall clubs that are so important in setting the future strategy of the British IT industry.

Even then, does anyone really want to pay to listen to Dell anymore? Perhaps back in the mid-nineties yes, but what would a present-day CIO get from listening to former industry greats, apart from hearing some old war stories? When I once suggested getting Jimmy Wales to talk about Wikipedia, I had to explain to the committee who he actually is.

Or how about the management publications? You can see them here… A report from three years ago and a survey from five years ago. Cutting edge stuff…

Surely a group priding itself on independence and access to senior level IT managers should consider why it exists? Why should the group exist in the first place? If it is for producing independent research and comment, and offering high-level events and networking opportunities, then why not schedule some of those reports or events? It seems logical.

Instead, the meetings are dominated by a dogmatic adherence to committee politics that are reminiscent of ‘Wolfie’ Smith organising politics in Tooting. Some committees need structure and rules, but when the structure and process becomes the main topic of meetings then there is something seriously wrong. The events and publications timetable speak for themselves anyway.

I’m not detaching myself from the BCS in general. I’m still a member, and I’m cooking up some ideas with the head office in Swindon, for some work that should help promote the BCS and stimulate debate on IT careers in the future – I think the BCS does have a lot to offer. And I think the current management team have a clearer view than ever of what the BCS can achieve – there is a bright future ahead for the society.

It’s just a shame there is not more that the BCS offers to the thousands of senior IT executives in this country. There are already some people out there working with this community. The Computer Weekly CW500 club does a great job with monthly events always featuring a CIO speaker and regular publications, CIO Connect has a regular magazine and events… the IT management community is busy, but there must be room for the BCS to be doing something that addresses their needs to constantly be learning about their own industry.
Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field

London to Cornwall on a bike

I did manage to get all the way down to Lands End last week. I followed the whole length of the A30 on my bicycle.

One of the things you find when you spend hour after hour cycling is that it’s not so much the physical exertion that matters, but the mental willingness to just do nothing but cycle for hours. It’s something you hear with long distance runners, they enter a zone where the focus is on the next step. I can’t say I’m in the league of a pro athlete, but when yet another big hill stretches out in front of you and after an enjoyable ride in gear 21, it’s down to gear 1 for a walking-pace struggle uphill, I know how they feel.

Running a marathon or riding long distance is one of those things that is enjoyable before you do it – because of the anticipation – and enjoyable to recall afterwards. There is a strong sense of achievement. But the actual time spent doing it is full of pain and discomfort…!

I wasn’t even doing this ride for charity, it was just to get out of London for a few days on my bike, so it was sometimes hard to push on. When I cycle in London, it is rarely beyond 10 miles – you can get from the suburbs into town in usually less than that, but when cycling across country, it’s always 20-more-miles-before-taking-a-break!

Anyway, if I do another long distance ride, I’ll probably arrange to meet some people along the way, perhaps organise it on Twitter, so people can join for a chat and ride for 10 miles or so before they head home…
Penzance harbour