Ideas and Innovations Committee

I believe the creation of an ‘Ideas and Innovation Committee’ would be of great benefit to any company and its staff members.

The purpose of the meetings is ideas, not whines or whinges. Basically we are asking our senior personnel for ideas on how we can make the company more efficient, more profitable or maybe just a better place to work.

If we are not improving then entropy guarantees we are getting worse. Companies needs innovation and the more minds that focus on this the better the chances of making it happen.

My proposal is that the Ideas Committee meets monthly and consists of managers and possibly senior supervisors.

The meeting will be organised by a Chairman. The Chairman will ask around the table for ideas, each individual will have a maximum of 5 minutes to present their idea, only one idea per individual, per meeting will be accepted.

Stage 1

Once an idea has been presented there will be a short period to allow for discussion and questions. At the end of this period the presenter will ask for support for their idea. If at least one other person will second and support the idea then the idea is classed as Stage 1.

Once an idea is accepted as Stage 1, the presenter will be asked to come to the next meeting with the idea written out to be properly presented to the group. This is Stage 2.

Stage 2

Following the Stage 2 presentation the idea will need majority support to become Stage 3.

Stage 3

To reach Stage 4 a Stage 3 idea needs to gain an Executive Sponsor who will support the idea and present it to the board for approval.

Each idea, who presented it and what stage it reached will be documented and sent out as minutes to each committee member following the meeting.

I’d expect each manager to involve their team to help come up with new ideas. To provide further incentive maybe we could have an annual ‘Most Innovative Department’ award, maybe a wall plaque or similar. Not only does this show our employees we listen and are invested in the future but it also demonstrates the same to our customers.

For companies to go forward and succeed I think new ideas and better communications are essential. The time to implement something like this is now. There is never a better time to implement change and improve our culture than right now.

Artificial Intelligence: Badly Named?

It’s often said that it’s all in the name. Naming is extremely important whether variable naming in Software Development or naming a particular technology itself.

Artificial Intelligence or Synthetic Intelligence as it is often called is in my opinion badly named, as the words Artificial or Synthetic imply that the noun Intelligence is achieved, only through a non natural process.

I believe a better name would be Simulated Intelligence, as this implies something that imitates intelligence, rather than achieves it.

I’ve not seen this articulated elsewhere so it might be that many, or most, would disagree. I stand by it however, but until we are able to adequately describe what intelligence actually is, it may well be a moot point.

Learning and Teaching Organisation

If you are not constantly learning, you are losing out to an organisation that is …

The idea for this proposal came from the fact that there are things I need to learn and embrace to help me be better at my job.

A while ago I came up with a list of areas of ‘learning’ in which I need to get everything from a brief overview to a deep understanding. Many areas were technical, some were more practical and for me more difficult because they are, if not outside, at least at the edge of my comfort zone. I have been working through this list recently and will continue to do so going forward.

If I as a typical employee in a regular job have realised how much I don’t know and how much I need to learn, do others think the same about themselves? Could we all benefit from additional learning? Funnily enough on a daily basis we are surrounded by people who know stuff we don’t, but that we could benefit from knowing.

I think it would be a great idea for all organisations to become a Learning and Teaching Organisation.

Why can’t the company allocate a time period (2 hours?) on a regular basis (fortnightly, monthly?) for our staff (managers only? Supervisors? everyone?) to optionally either learn or teach something?

It could be myself and a couple of others sitting with ??? to learn how he optimises product and how he overcomes daily scheduling of production problems. It could be ??? and a few others sitting with ??? in Accounts to learn about how credit cards and invoices are reconciled. It could be ??? and ??? taught by myself how to do SQL queries. It could be a group brainstorming about the current disrupters such as AI and Machine Learning and what will be the benefits and issues for us as a company?. It could be any individual or group sitting with someone and learning about something.

Some ideas about things that could be taught are:

Part of your own job
An industry best practice
A specific technology or skill
A particular methodology or book
Our products
Certain customer organisations
Company standards
Company techniques
Health and safety
HR related information
Company disciplines
Rules and regulations
Selling techniques
Customer Service techniques
Lean / TQM / TOC manufacturing
I could go on, but you see where I am going with this.

Learning is beneficial and so it teaching. I think it would make for a better educated, more cohesive, more confident, more empathetic workforce with much better knowledge of the organisation as a whole and their colleagues roles within it.

What’s not to like ?

Software Licensing & Piracy: Part 2

Part one of this article finished with the following question:

What is it fair to expect your customer to do to license their copy of your product, and so help protect your product, your sales, your livelihood and the future investment and development in a product that is important to both you ?

I believe that it is fair to expect the customer to do something to help the software developer protect their product, after all if the developer doesn’t stay in business then the product doesn’t have a future and the customer could be left high and dry.

That’s not to say the customer can be expected to jump through any hoops … the emphasis is on the developer to provide a method of licensing their product that can be done quickly and easily and thus encourage the customer to purchase and use a legitimate copy of the software rather than paying a visit to insert name of dodgy virus ridden download sites here or similar.

My opinion is that if I, as a user, purchase a piece of software for my own use, then I should be entitled to copy it onto my PC and my Mac and my Laptop for use whenever I like. I should also be able to copy it onto a USB Drive, connect the drive to a friends computer and use the product there also. I should not however copy the software to my friends computer thereby giving them the ability to use it in my absence. I expect to have to follow a documented procedure to identify to the software that I am the legitimate owner. This should be a simple and one off process.

I believe the previous paragraph is fair to both the customer and the software developer. I believe most people are honest and do not mind paying a reasonable price for a quality product. The software industry has in some ways become its own worse enemy with some companies having complex and unworkable, illogical and unfair licensing practices. ‘We need the customer more than they need us’ is something developers should be bearing in mind.

Offer a choice of license types and schemes that not only give the user choice, but also offer additional discounts for worthy establishments, education and charities for example.

The different types of software license that are necessary in order to give the customer the choice they require, can also bring additional and unwanted complexity. In order to also give the customer the licensing choice as well as the simplicity they desire then maybe cost additional license types at N * x. N is the Single User Standard Price, and x is the multiplier?

UPDATE IN DECEMBER 2023: Is this still an issue? It seems software companies have over the last few years decided to adopt the subscription mechanism for almost everything. This makes sense for some categories of software, but for many others it is just an unnecessary inconvenience and expense for the customer. We’ll see if this model is sustainable over the long term…

Software Licensing & Piracy: Part 1

This is an article I wrote in 2014 and which was later published in Better Software Magazine, September / October 2014 edition.

Your favourite piece of software was created by someone, or many someones, who used their time and hard won expertise to build something useful or enjoyable, or both. With the exception of Free Software or Open Source Software, that someone is entitled to, expects and deserves to be rewarded for their efforts.

If a price is attached to the software and you use the software without paying the price that is asked, then that is Software Piracy. Many would argue that it amounts to nothing less than theft.

If I sell physical products, lets say Widgets, then if I have 10 and you take 10 without paying for them, then I now have 0, you have 10 and hopefully a guilty conscience as well. That is theft. If however you use my software without paying for it then I am not directly affected by it. I still have it. Would you have bought it if you couldn’t have obtained a pirate copy ? Maybe. Maybe Not. In my opinion that is why Software Piracy differs from traditional theft. What you have actually done is taken away my chance of receiving income from you for that software sometime in the future. It just isn’t clear cut either way, with laws, policies and attitudes being firmly rooted in the ‘pre digital media’ 20th century.

Having established that there is a cost to producing software and that the developer does deserve to be rewarded for their time and efforts, it stands to reason that we have to have a mechanism in place that makes this possible. That mechanism is generally known as Software Licensing.

I’ve been developing software for financial reward for nearly as long as I’ve been using computers, well over thirty years, and I have never wavered in my belief that whatever form of licensing you use, you should never punish the genuine, fee paying customer for the actions of the Software Pirate.

Seriously, I have bought software in the past that had licensing schemes so restricting or complex or time consuming (or just plain ridiculous), that I have saved time and effort by downloading a cracked copy of the software and using that instead, all the time cursing the software developers for making me waste my time and effort. In effect punishing me for my honesty. As a Software Developer or Software Publisher that’s not an experience you want for your customers.

Whatever Software Licensing mechanism is used, there will always be some who do not like it and resent it being used. If as a developer you have done your best to minimise the impact on the genuine customer, whilst making some effort to thwart the Software Pirate, then you have done all you can and any customer who is going kick up a fuss about your licensing mechanism is unlikely to be a customer you actually want. Most customers would actually like you to stay in business and realise that to do that, it is necessary to be paid for the work you do, and / or the products you sell. Sacking your customer can sometimes be a good thing. But that’s a subject for another blog post 🙂

So what is a fair software license, for both the supplier and the customer ? What is it fair to expect your customer to do to license their copy of your product, and so help protect your product, your sales, your livelihood and the future investment and development in a product that is important to both you ?

I’ll continue this in the next post.