Small Business Digitization Initiative launch in Ontario

The Digital Revolution is happening! The Small Business Digitization Initiative (SBDI) was officially launched on April 6th in Ottawa. A hundred youth from across Ontario are helping Small and Medium-size Businesses (SMBs) thrive. This exemplary collaboration between businesses, academia, young talent, and government is positioning Ontario as a world leader in the Digital Economy.

Amanda O'Reilly, CEO @BalanceInStyle, explains why she invested her time in the SBDI program
Amanda O’Reilly, CEO @BalanceInStyle, is leveraging the SBDI program to build stunning customer experiences

SBDI is designed to support small and medium-size businesses like Balance InStyle (illustrated above). Amanda O’Reilly, award-winning CEO and Top 40 under 40, moved the audience when she explained why she dedicated her life to reducing stress and saving people’s time. She is generously communicating her sense of purpose and business savviness to the young generation. Also, she believes she could leverage technology to improve customer experience. Enters Melanie.

Melanie is telling the audience about her work with Amanda
Melanie is building a digital sales channel for @BalanceInStyle

Melanie is a highly driven and well-educated young professional. She became frustrated when she could not find a job in IT after graduating with a degree in Interactive Design from York University. She has the right credentials and skills, but too many small businesses don’t understand how to leverage her talent. Melanie grew frustrated that many businesses “don’t get it”. She has been eagerly looking for opportunities to apply her skills, including as an entrepreneur.

Melanie and Amanda are a fantastic match. Amanda has become a role-model for Melanie, on her way to become one of the top business women entrepreneurs in Ontario (watch for it!). At the same time, Melanie is applying her IT and Design expertise to improve Balance InStyle‘s customer experience.

Small Business Digitization in Ontario, Canada, and the World

Funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, the Small Business Digitization Initiative connects talents with business opportunities. The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), a national center of expertise for the digital economy, acts as the catalyst to make the Canadian ICT sector thrive globally.

Savoir-faire Linux is the main training delivery partner, and a leader in technological innovation and Open Source Software since 1999. A recent study by Black Duck Software estimates that 78% of enterprises run on Open Source Software. Savoir-faire Linux shares its expertise with customers and partners such as Microsoft, IBM, Desjardins, General Electric, the Canadian Space Agency, and many other leading companies.

ICTC research shows that too many young ICT professionals (13% are unemployed) struggle to start a career in ICT where, on the other hand, jobs opportunities are enormous. The ICTC will need to fill 216,000 new positions in the next three years, and the gap is widening. ICT Job growth outpaces other sectors by 4 to 1.

There is a real risk for small businesses to be left behind. On one hand, technology and skills are changing fast as the world is going through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, 2016). On the other hand, IT companies and large enterprises are competing for the same talents. Small businesses face the double challenge of envisioning where technology can help transform their industry, and acquiring the talent they need to execute on their vision.

SBDI strengthens Canadian businesses, helping them thrive locally, building on local talent excellence, and opening the door to share their expertise to the rest of the world.

Early Lessons Learned

For the little time we’ve been running the program, we learned there is a real need to educate small businesses. We realized that a program that we originally presented to employer as a “co-op” opportunity for students, is really an educational opportunity for businesses. We flipped the model on its head.

We are fortunate to work with leading business executives like Amanda O’Reilly, and many others in Ottawa, Toronto, and North Bay. They are visionaries who understand that technology can help make their business processes faster, better, and cheaper.

The Honourable Bardish Chagger and the Honourable Anthony Rota on a group picture with SBDI participants
The Honourable Bardish Chagger and the Honourable Anthony Rota with SBDI participants and the ICTC team

Our ambition is to inspire SMBs to leverage digital technology to grow their business, and to attract the young talent they need to succeed.

We also thank Microsoft, a Savoir-faire Linux and ICTC partner, for hosting the event at their Ottawa Office.

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Pictures & Tweets

Savoir-faire Linux and ICTC empower Young Digitization Leaders

The first cohort of the Small Business Digitization Initiative kicked off in Ottawa. Young Digitization Leaders with diverse backgrounds are honing their skills in class and in their work placement.

A terrific first cohort

Our first cohort is committed to make a difference in the Ottawa region. Some students come with previous business experience, while others have followed a more classical Bachelor of Commerce program. Another group of students is bringing to the table strong technical foundations earned at the local college or university, or from abroad. Finally, some students are young entrepreneurs in their own right (and may already be serial entrepreneurs). All of them will be joining forces, as a cross-functional team, in order to solve authentic challenges faced by Small Businesses.

Digitization Leaders with a Vision

The first classes set the stage for the course, especially as students explored the major trends affecting all industries. Every company is challenged to level up its game. Businesses compete on new and smart ways to leverage digital technology, in order to improve customer experience, productivity, and accessibility for their products and services. Our students already had a chance to reflect on innovation, and how it happens. They learned about S-curves and network externalities. They reflected on the pros and cons of diverse software licensing and adoption strategies. Disruptive innovation is on the back of their mind.

Finally, we discussed business strategy. Our students are already familiar with the internal and external forces that affect a business. They know how to assess those. We explored a bit more in depth the importance of a business’s core capabilities. As technology allows to automate certain processes, Digitization Leaders also need to understand where to (re)focus resources to maximize revenue (economic, and other types).

Domesticating Technology

One of the main challenges faced by the Senior generation is our relative uneasiness with technology. Digital natives have an advantage, because they’re “naturals”, who are not afraid of technology. During our three days of Tech Labs, everyone installed Linux and the Open Source Community version of Odoo, in a matter of a few hours. I was pleasantly surprised by the intellectual agility demonstrated by the students. They don’t get stuck in the details. Instead, they have a very pragmatic approach, focusing on “making things work”. So, we went on experimenting with a wide range of applications used in business, popular and less popular ones. We installed and configured WordPress. One student even managed to set up his own website in Amazon Web Services. Another configured his machine to serve multiple customers from a single virtual machine. We had fun!!!

Solving real business problems

After these exciting first weeks, I’m looking forward to tackling the productivity challenge for small businesses. This week, students are diving deep into the main business processes run by all businesses: accounting, customer relationship (CRM), purchasing, selling, human resources, project management… They will build on what they are learning in class (including theory and software skills), to propose novel solutions at their workplace. At the end of the day, our goal is to help Small Businesses gain in productivity, reach new markets, and compete locally and anywhere in the world.

In conclusion, I’m confident our young Digitization Leaders will help Canada strive as a nation of modern business entrepreneurs and innovators. I’m looking forward to helping them realize their professional aspirations!

2017: The Year of Intelligence

Happy New Year! If 2016 has been a year of many surprises, 2017 is the time for intelligence and bold actions. Technology is getting smarter, and so must we.

Looking back for a moment

As always, the passing to January is a time to meditate on what we’ve accomplished, and on what happened around us. Quite a lot last year, as it turns out. We lost several artistic geniuses, particularly musicians. The citizens of the UK have embraced their islander identity to a deeper level. Our Southern neighbours have made a drastic turn in terms of both policy and tone at the last presidential election. I remember being riveted at my screens more than a couple of times, watching the British Pound and major stocks rise and fall in matters of hours. No wonder why business leaders have been advancing very cautiously last year.

However, the conversation dramatically shifted in Canada during the first days of January as gas prices rose in Mexico (20%) and Ontario (~10% at the pump), along with rumors of companies leaving due to the cost of doing business, and as people (including our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) are getting ready to handle the big NAFTA renegotiation with the US. Some wonder what will happen to Ontario’s (and Mexico’s) car industry. Thankfully there is a note of optimism coming from CES 2017. The time is for bold and decisive action. More than ever we need intelligence. Luckily, it has been a theme in the technology sector.

Looking forward from CES 2017

I like to start the year thinking about new ways technology can help us live fuller and richer lives. The car industry, for example, has done remarkable progress. Toyota presented the Concept-i car, while intelligently setting expectations about what robotics and artificial intelligence can do, particularly when safety is a prime concern. BMW may have a more robust approach, however, calling industry partners to join them with Intel and Mobileye to collaborate on an open platform. BMW aims to release its first fully autonomous car iNEXT in 2021.

I believe this approach is more robust because it leverages both people and technology at the same time. In this regard, the French Renault group, allied with Nissan and Mitsubishi, came up with a very bold plan to create the world first mass-market open source vehicle. The group sells 10 million vehicles a year, placing it on the coveted top 3 list of car manufacturers in the world. Renault is opening the Twizy entirely: both hardware and software will be open. ARM and OSVehicle are key partners in this venture, inviting other car manufacturers, and the broader community of developers and car enthusiasts to join their efforts into building the car of the 21st century.

The first mass-market open source car
Picture By JwhOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0 lu, Link

The challenge is set. The call is made. The best and brightest are working together to create the fully autonomous smart car. I’m excited about Intelligent technology, yes, but I really believe we’re on a fast track to achieve this goal because intelligent professionals collaborate in a free and open manner. The more eyeballs and brains at it, the better the data, and the better the solution.

Intelligent technology

New industrial and commercial applications coming up today leverage some kind of artificial intelligence. Over the years, technology has moved from analytics to big data, to artificial intelligence. These techniques have in common the massive use of data (the more data the better the training and the resulting performance). Fully autonomous cars for example will only be possible through computer vision, and techniques like deep learning are key to achieve this goal.

Interestingly, many of these technologies are available under a Free/Libre Open Source Software license. For example, TensorFlow, originally created by the Google Brain Team, is available from GitHub under an Apache 2.0 License. TensorFlow is used by Google, Twitter, Airbus, Uber, Snapchat… While IBM, Microsoft (e.g. CNTK, DMTK), Facebook, Amazon and others are actively working on their own projects. Datamation presents 15 of the top Free/Libre Open Source AI projects. Most people familiar with Big Data will already have heard about Hadoop, Spark, R, Python, MongoDB…

Intelligent professionals

Still, artificial intelligence doesn’t build itself. Intelligent people design this technology, as discussed last year at Davos. For once, the industry (all industries) need to recruit a lot of talents (read: there are many good job opportunities) in Free/Libre Open Source Software. The automobile industry is just an example where technology needs to be invented as consumer products are built. There is really a high demand for scientists and engineers (Youth out there if you’re listening…).

Work intelligence rests in what people know, in what they do (their skills), and in how they do it (their ability to reflect and to improve). The Free/Libre Open Source Software community demonstrates everyday how software and solutions improve when people share their knowledge and skills. For young professionals, it is a great way to learn the ropes (acquire best practices, learn the art from experienced professionals). For industrials, it is a great way to build complex and yet scalable and interoperable systems that can be maintained relatively easily over a long period of time. For example, Bosch is building a number of Free/Libre Open Source Software for the car industry.

RU Secure panel at the Ryerson Commerce and Government Association (RCGA) –From left to Right: Diane Francis (Award-winning Canadian author and entrepreneur), Alex Goncharenko (CPA from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services), Marc Lijour (Director, Savoir-faire Linux Toronto)

Contributions from Savoir-faire Linux

Savoir-faire Linux is committed to the community, an important part of its triple-bottom line strategy. We’re helping the Youth by sponsoring initiatives like the Maison du logiciel libre in Montreal (with Google and Red Hat). In Toronto, we gave a number of presentations to postsecondary and high school students exploring the thought of building a career in technology.

A few months ago, we gave an Introduction to Android at T.Hacks 2016, and an Introduction to Python to Women in Computer Science and Women in IT Management at Ryerson University. These slides are available on GitHub. We discussed privacy rights and cybersecurity at RU Secure, organized by the Ryerson Commerce and Government Association (RCGA). Starting 2017, we’re partnering with ICTC on an innovative training program funded by the Government of Ontario. We’re empowering Youth to find a job faster in ICT, while helping small businesses digitize with intelligence.

We’re calling all intelligent youth and professionals to join us in our journey to make the world more connected, more secure, and more human. And when the time is right, join us to Free the World!

Let’s meet at LinuxCon Toronto!

Savoir-faire Linux is proud to Sponsor LinuxCon North America. We could not miss this edition happening in our playground, as the conference is coming for the first time in Toronto! Is it the ‘Drake effect’, bringing the buzz to The 6ix, or the combination of our very entrepreneurial tech community and pro-innovation government… In any case, I’m pausing my blog series on FinTech to invite everyone to attend this conference. Next week, we’ll make an important announcement jointly with The Linux Foundation.LinuxCon banner

Savoir-faire Linux is a proud member of The Linux Foundation since 2011. We contribute to Linux, now hosted at The Linux Foundation, home to its creator Linus Torvalds and to its lead maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman. It seems logical for a company using the Linux® trademark(1). Our team has made some significant contributions to the Linux kernel, which is one of our specialities, and the reason why many customers are trusting us. Our contributions range from networking (bridge, switching) to hardware acceleration and embedded boards. We made it as top 40 contributor to Linux 4.4!

Today, Linux is used in industrial equipment, home equipment, aerospace, supercomputers (98% of the 500 fastest computers on earth), smartphones (e.g. Android), most of the global stock exchanges such as NYSE and NASDAQ, and the Internet (95% of the top one million domains, a majority of VMs running in the cloud)… At Savoir-faire Linux, we help our customers leverage all the benefits of Free/Libre Open Source Software such as Linux.

The Linux Foundation is not limited to Linux though, as it embraces all the software stack (see picture). Its mission is “to provide the knowledge acquisition, services, and infrastructure needed to develop professional open source software”. Web developers will recognize projects such as Node.js, Big Data scientists will recognize the R Consortium, Cloud Engineers will recognize Cloud Foundry, Embedded Systems engineers will recognize Yocto and Tizen, Networking Engineers will recognize OPNFV and OpenDaylight, Blockchain developers will recognize Hyperledger

Projects hosted by The Linux Foundation
The mission of the Linux Foundation goes beyond Linux

The Linux Foundation plays an important role in the Free/Libre Open Source Software ecosystem, but also in the ICT industry at large. It offers a trusted neutral ground for industry giants to participate in collaborative projects that will define and redefine the key technical standards that will shape the future of Internet and our increasingly digital societies. On the success of their mission depends our ability, as consumers and developers, to use technologies from different vendors that must interoperate while guaranteeing our security and privacy. To put it simply, standards allow a person with an Android to call another person with an iPhone. Without open standards, the Internet and its services would be idiotically ghetto-ized and useless. As a result, the cost of our most basic digital services would be unbearable. Entrepreneurship and innovation would be impossible without access to massive amounts of capital. Our most fondamental privacy and human rights would be at risk.

The Linux Foundation also fills an important gap: the maintenance of our digital infrastructure. Free/Libre Open Source Software is so ubiquitous that most people don’t even realize, or care, that it’s there. It seems that today’s developers download and submit code without caring about licensing terms (a 2013 study found that 85% of projects on GitHub had not defined a license). This carelessness has a cost, as we discovered two years ago when Heartbleed threatened more than 17% of the world’s secured Web servers (including banking and government). The industry suddenly realized with horror that OpenSSL, the key software securing the vast majority of Web servers in the world, was supported by a single full-time person.

Nadia Eghbal exposed the state of our digital infrastructure in her recent report sponsored by The Ford Foundation. I also want to give a shout out to my friends at Software Heritage, a project from INRIA (France) aiming to collect and preserve “the source code of all software that is publicly available”. Services like this one and The Linux Foundation are critically important to protect our digital heritage (Free/Libre Open Source Software), as well as to guarantee our freedoms (in particular the freedom to fork a project from an earlier version of the code).

Software Heritage logo

Savoir-faire Linux has done a lot of work with Ring, featured on an article from The Linux Foundation. Our team has developed an identity management tool on the blockchain, which we are testing right now (and aiming to release early 2017). We’re also redeveloping the Windows client to work natively on all Microsoft platforms. The beta version gained significant improvement, such as better video quality and better handling on cellular networks. You should come by to meet us and find out more!

Don’t miss the conference this year. We’ll have special celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Linux. Most importantly, 175+ sessions and activities will feed the hearts and minds of the 2,000 most saavy Free/Libre Open Source Software Developers in the world. The schedule is the who’s who of the IT industry: Red Hat (Jim Whitehurst will also appear on The Street at 7:30am before his keynote), Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Huawei, VMWare, Citrix, Intel, Paypal, GitLab… and of course we’ll be there! Join us at LinuxCon!

Meet the Savoir-faire Linux team at booth #12 to @JoinTheRing and to hear about career opportunities with us. Or you can just drop by to chat about Product Engineering, Embedded Systems, DevOps, Infrastructure, Ring, and Linux of course. We are working towards a free world!

In case you still need to register, use the discount code from ICTC.

Notes
(1) The registered trademark Linux® is used pursuant to a sublicense from LMI, the exclusive licensee of Linus Torvalds, owner of the mark on a world-wide basis.

Canadian Retail Banking: Innovate or else!

Traditional banks and newcomers in FinTech are ready to innovate together. Improving the customer experience and reducing friction were the two main themes discussed on June 9 at the Canadian Retail Banking Conference in Toronto. I’ve been invited by RFi Group to talk about innovation, and particularly about how Savoir-faire Linux helps traditional banks transform. In this first instalment of a three-part blog, we’re looking at the environment, the conversations, and the things that may keep people awake at night.

RFigrouplogo

A Wake-Up Call

Fortunately for us Canadians, our banking sector remained strong throughout the 2008 crisis. Our risk management approach paid off. We protected capital and we strengthened our reputation as one of the best countries to invest in. At the forefront of banking reinvention, our FinTech sector (which literally leverages technology to innovate) attracted more that $1B since 2010.

Where Canadian FinTech companies innovate (OMERS Ventures)
Map of the Canadian FinTech sector (OMERS Ventures)

Less fortunately, we don’t seem to feel the same sense of urgency to innovate as other countries. Global investment in FinTech: US represents 75% in 2014 For example, the US FinTech sector attracted $9B in 2014 alone (75% of world wide investments) according to The Economist (May 9, 2015 -see the figure on the right). Adoption seems to be more rapid in those markets as well. Paypal, Square, the Lending Club are good examples, not to mention Apple Pay and Android Pay. We should be careful that healthy prudence does not turn into a barrier for innovation in Canada.

The Business Case to Innovate

There are two well established areas of disruption everyone is talking about. The first area tackles the barrier to families of foreign workers who are sending cash back home.

However, services like TransferWise can save at least twice this amount on services otherwise provided by an Oligopoly (including Western Union and Moneygram). Many argue about how many schools and hospitals could be built in Africa with these savings. In 2014, remittances amounted to $582B ($435 of which was sent to developing countries). Mexico amounting for half of remittances may be a future topic of conversation for the three amigos.

The second major area of disruption occurs in the lending space. Following a model similar to Uber, individuals are bypassing banks with Peer-to-Peer lending. The Lending Club is often cited as the most successful IPO, which suddenly positioned the new company as the 14th largest bank in America, valued at $9B. According to Foundation Capital (invested in the Lending Club), the total addressable market (TAM) is about $1T. In the UK alone, the Peer-to-Peer Finance sector raised over $7B (close to $4B last year alone).

The World Bank estimates that crowdfunding could reach $96B per year by 2025 in developing countries. It becomes more interesting when we think that access to capital was a major issue not so long ago. Entrepreneurs around the world are starving for funding to innovate. Also, 2.5B individual still have no credit historial, since they remain unbanked!

The business case is easy to figure out: great margin savings and massive (global) scope. Furthermore, the collective intelligence seems to be more accurate in picking the right investments than fund managers. The rapid increase in FinTech investment is relentless to innovate. What other value can massive collaboration bring to businesses and individuals? How will next generation ventures further leverage the decentralization of the Internet and massive collaboration to disrupt the disruptors? In the next blog post, we’ll look at what banks and new FinTech ventures are developing today.

The Open Source Awakens

WIRED said that ‘Open Source went nuclear‘ in 2015.  Join the xiRADIO lunch-time podcast on May 18, to explore the forces disrupting the software industry.

Today, more than 3 out of 4 companies run on open source software, a pace that keeps increasing (it doubled since 2010). Why so much interest? There exist a wide variety of reasons, we can resume in three big points for now. (Note to the purists: to further simplify, I’m putting Free Software and Open Source in the same bag.)

#1 – Open Source is good for customers.

Cisco-on-advantages-of-FLOSS_Cg-iEn8U0AErnevCisco @lewtucker arguing for Open Source at the recent OpenStack Summit
(Austin TX, April 26, 2016)

It is no surprise that Google, Facebook and other IT giants have built most of their entire business on Free/Libre Open Source Software. According to Sylvain Carle, former Twitter employee and FLOSS advocate, Twitter runs on about 95% of Open Source software. It’s a great way to bootstrap a company, and to scale fast. Lew Tucker, Cisco Cloud VP/CTO, explained why Open Source makes sense to his business partners at the recent OpenStack Summit. Open Source is less expensive (e.g. no vendor lock-in, no per-user or per-CPU fee that would not allow scaling exponentially), more productive (e.g. code reuse, sustainability, agility), and it levels the playing field for everyone to collaborate and to compete, thanks to industry standards.

#2 – Open Source is good for IT Services companies.

wipro-innersourceWipro’s recorded presentation at the recent OpenStack Summit (April 2016)

Open Source builds on a deep tradition of Savoir-faire (Know-How) considered as best practice in the software development industry. That’s why companies like PayPal adopted Open Source practices without necessarily adopting Open Source (strictly speaking Open Source refers to a type of software licensing). They call this practice InnerSource: “a great tool to help break down silos, encourage internal collaboration, accelerate new engineer on-boarding (…)”. One step ahead in sophistication, Wipro leveraged Open Source to improve employee engagement and expertise. The Open Source way encourages developers to collaborate and to learn new skills fast, which is life and blood for service companies selling their time and expertise.

#3 – Open Source is the new de facto outsourcing model.

KubernetesA short history of Kubernetes

Most software is so complex that it can’t be developed by a single individual. More recently, large companies also have started to question whether they should carry the burden of developing everything on their own. When Google open sourced Kubernetes, derived from Borg -an internal tool that made scalable updates possible for services like Gmail, most major industry players offered to partner almost immediately. Although it may sound crazy that Google wanted to share their secret sauce, in fact it wasn’t really. Google did not vanish. As a result, the entire industry started to work together on improving how Google deploys software, and how everyone else is. Google ended up outsourcing part of their R&D for free, while scoring big points on technical leadership and vision. Today’s new normal is that two-thirds of companies find a benefit in contributing to Open Source.

In conclusion, did Open Source win?

Lao Tzu explains the principle of Self Realization in the Tao as 无为 (Wú Wéi), or the art of non-doing. If we look back a few years ago, we can wonder what happened to the dualistic view between Proprietary and Open Source software. What happened to all the hate between one side calling the other a ‘cancer’, and the other complaining about an imposed software ‘tax’ on computing? There is no such thing as winning or losing in achieving the harmony of Tao.

If today’s world seems much wiser, it is also more pragmatic. Software is often times governed by a blend of Open Source and other licenses. For example, Microsoft has nearly become an Open Source company close to open source Windows, and contributing to GitHub “with love”.

Whenever peace and love rule, carefreeness should not turn in carelessness. We should worry that a great majority of code on GitHub lacks a license (which means the author was clueless or did not care), and some thinkers like Nadia Eghbal already speak about a post-Open Source world. In fact, like Monsieur Jourdain, in Moliere’s play, suddenly realizing he had been speaking prose all his life, we see many young developers using Open Source tools without even knowing what Open Source is.

For end-users, it may well be that nothing has changed. They have to continue relying on intelligent and enlightened software developers and companies, hoping they won’t have to trade their Freedom and Privacy for good design and convenience.

Update May 19: The podcast is available on Vimeo.

The predicament for modern ERPs: to customize or to standardize?

I’m writing this note in response to Dwight Fischer’s post on ERP trends for Education. Dwight is CIO at Dalhousie University, and IT leader among his Canadian peers. There have been conversations, also largely led by ERP vendors such as Ellucian and Oracle, about the cloudification of ERP systems (or so-called Student Information Systems). Software vendors are interested in selling subscriptions (i.e. recurring revenues), while they can provide economies of scale on the hosting side, as well as more OpEx and less CapEx for universities.

Although this sounds like the future is happening before our eyes, one of the major obstacle has been the wide variety of modules installed by universities and colleges. No one seems to agree on the same bundle of modules, and if we add the custom modifications to the picture, the standardization of ERPs across institutions (a pre-condition to cloudification) remains only a dream at this point. Dwight advocates that encouraging standardization is the natural course of action for CIOs.

I wanted to make two simple points:

  1. the value of ERPs comes precisely from customization
  2. customization is affordable (and desirable) when industry best practices are followed

I’m drawing from the savoir-faire of the Free/Open Source Software community, widely used across industries (80% of the software is open source), and in particular from the ERP practice at Savoir-faire Linux. In the last four years, we helped more than 50 customers digitized their practices, while leveraging Odoo, the Open ERP.

odoo_ca_white

I’m also sharing what I learned from my own experience at the Ontario Ministry of Education, helping school boards share their IT services. Over several years, IT teams across organizations learned to collaborate in progressively sophisticated ways. Today, they accomplish more together than they could ever have done in silos.

Here is my response to Dwight:

Thanks for the post Dwight. Great summary of the disruption happening in the ERP industry. One idea I would challenge though is that standardization is a good thing for ERPs. Since the role of ERPs is to digitize (and enforce) business processes, standardization may only work for an organization with standard processes, but is there any? For the regular guy or gal, it may mean some gymnastics to fit what the software thinks he or she should be doing in an utopian organization, thus a lack of adoption at best, and a lack of productivity at worse. It sounds counter-intuitive to me, since adoption of IT technologies (and responding to user needs in particular) is the top factor explaining the software crisis we’re experiencing since the 60’s. Projects go over budget, over time, or don’t deliver on expectations (in some cases it’s all the above). Can we meet user needs with a standard/generic ERP?

Most of the customers we’re helping with their digitization actually find more value in custom-fitting the software to their needs, and not the other way around. Although buyers think about software first, they quickly find out the whole purpose of the ERP implementation is about increasing productivity in their organization. We identify and we avoid processes that are not mature, to focus on those processes that are mature and time-consuming. The business case is easy to make when we can show that FTE time can be spared in some area, so that it can be focused where it should be: serving students better (possibly more interaction and customer service). In the end, the ERP pays for itself rather quickly. It does so when it supports people in their tasks, vs asking them to work differently.

I would agree that making modifications on school ERPs has led to complexity and exponential costs. Primarily that is because IT teams have been working in silos. The industry practice is to collaborate on software development, thus outsourcing and lowering the maintenance cost. The Linux operating system is a good example. You find it in Android phones, data centres, Samsung TVs, networking gear (Cisco, GE, Brocade, etc), planes, cars, public clouds (e.g. 25% of the Microsoft Azure workloads), now Blackberry… In the end, the cost of maintenance is very low for a single organization, and near zero for a university and college (most work being handled by Intel, Microsoft, Google, and companies like Savoir-faire Linux). Companies compete on areas of differentiation and core competencies, while cooperating on the non-essential. The same can apply to ERPs in education. Why keeping these customizations secret, when someone else is out there to help you pick up the tab? It is only a matter of collaboration and managing code repositories effectively. This is what the Odoo Communication Association members, for example, are aiming to do. There is no secret. Collaboration is key!

When it comes to ERP implementation, you can have your custom cake, you can eat it too with your friends, and you can still pay for it.

Toronto Magazine: Activities for February

This month Savoir-faire Linux celebrates its first 100 days in Toronto. By engaging with the community early on, we have demonstrated our commitment to the people of Ontario, and laid the foundation for open innovation to play a major role in the digitization of businesses and cities. And we’ve just started to pick up speed! Savoir-faire Linux invites everyone to join a critical conversation every week to improve productivity and accessibility.

Downtown Toronto skyline at night
Photo: Rick Harris via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Feb. 17: Odoo Meetup (the community-driven ERP)

Odoo Toronto MeetupMaxime Chambreuil, co-founder and Board member of the Odoo Community Association, is organizing a second session of this monthly meetup on open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). We are inviting everyone to consider joining this community. It’s an open group and everyone who valuable thoughts and/or knowledge to share about Odoo and ERPs is welcome to contribute.

Join and register now

Please check and register also our community website (http://odoo.ca) where you will find more information and resources about Odoo and the organizers.


Feb. 24: Toronto OpenStack Meetup

OpenStack Toronto LogoOpenStack is the gold standard for cloud computing. Jonathan Le Lous, VP Cloud Infrastructure and Business Development at Savoir-faire Linux, is a leader in the French OpenStack community and an active speaker and organizer in the Montreal OpenStack community. Rather than starting another group in Toronto we approached the local OpenStack community to revive their meetups, and Jonathan will talk this month about OpenStack deployments in Canada.

Join and register now


March 1st: Digital Accessibility in Ontario

march1st-logoAt this lunch & learn, we will hear Mike Gifford, official Drupal 8 Core Accessibility Maintainer, Founder and President of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, speak about Accessibility in Ontario. Accessibility is inherently the result of an open and inclusive ecosystem. Open Source technology — and Drupal in particular — provide great examples of community-driven projects improving accessibility.

Register now

Toronto Businesses are prime for Digitization

CN TowerThe Toronto area is becoming a top spot for tech innovation. While the IT sector is propelling industry transformation, business owners are still struggling to capture the benefits of digitizing their business. What are the IT trends that really matter? When is the right time to digitize processes? Which solutions fit the business best? How to best use technology to maximize your investment?

Business digitization boosts competitive edge

John Tory, Mayor of Toronto, working with the Tech community at TechTOFirst of all, we should rejoice that technological innovation is booming in Toronto, in Ontario, and Canada. John Tory’s speech at TechTO last week was all about supporting local start-ups — many of those among the 400 attendants at City Hall — and Cisco’s launch of its Innovation Centre. The week before, the Ministers of International Trade and Small Business and Tourism announced a new export program funded with $50 million.

Combined with a lower loonie, this initiative can help Canadian businesses gain a strong competitive edge. Southern Ontario is becoming a powerful tech corridor, very similar to the iconic Silicon Valley, from Kitchener-Waterloo through Toronto to Ottawa. The region ranks fourth behind California, New York, and Texas, in terms of finance and technology strength. At the same time, the latest report from Oxfam raises concerns about growing inequalities. The 62 richest individuals control as much wealth as the bottom half of the humanity. The wealth of the poorest dropped by 40% in the last five year, and the gap between the extremes keeps increasing: there were six times more people at the very top in 2010. Chances are small business owners fit closer to the bottom half.

Every company is a tech company

Small businesses are the strength of Canada, amounting for 98.2% of Canadian business (i.e. under 100 employees). They account for more than 25% of the country’s GDP, and more than 30% of R&D spending. Small businesses also employ close to 70% of the total private labour force. With such profile, it is clear that small businesses are at the root of business digitization and country digitization.

Cover picture of 'Bold', book authored by Peter Diamandis, on business digitizationToday, every company is a tech company. Every business leader needs to understand the opportunities described in books such as Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold. Small businesses can indeed apply simple lessons immediately to stop paying too much in some areas, and to figure out where to start investing more. The barriers of entry in technology have never been lower. Now is the time to lead or to survive.

Let’s explore together, starting by sharing our experience with ERPs. Three years ago, Savoir-faire Linux migrated to Odoo, a Free/Open Source Software ERP. As far as I can see (as a standard user), it replaces expensive solutions from ORACLE and SAP that handle expenses and procurement, but it does much more than that. Odoo handles our accounting, invoicing, and hiring too.

A couple of weeks ago, I’ve been pulled seamlessly into a workflow to review a job candidate. The interface is beautiful and responsive, with a social component that allows teams to communicate effectively. It’s working well, and so we should be soon migrating more data from SugarCRM to Odoo. Yes, Odoo does CRM too!… and e-commerce, and much more. This comprehensive solution saves us a lot by avoiding duplication of records and saving time.

Even better — it is free software.
Why is that better?

Free Software is often referred as Open Source Software, or Free/Libre Open Source Software (to skip the subtle difference). The first advantage is that downloading useful software is free (as you might be familiar with Firefox or Chrome on your PC, and with apps on your mobile). However, free means more than free of charge, since at the same time it warrants four freedoms including the right to use the software, and the right to study it so you can modify it.

Empowered by this right, our team localized Odoo with a Canadian chart of accounts, tax configurations, interaction with Canadian banks… and we made it free (thanks to the last two freedoms), so that any Canadian business can leverage it with the same freedoms. In addition, Savoir-faire Linux is leading meetups (communities of practice) in Montreal and Toronto.

Some will ask where is the catch with free software, and whether it makes business sense. There is no trick. It is just a different business model.

The Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) model is at the core of the most successful businesses we know. Not only Google, Facebook, Apple, Tesla use open source (not reinventing the wheel), but they contribute back to the FLOSS ecosystem to gain traction and adoption (e.g. Apple Swift, Microsoft .Net, Google Android). To take an example from Peter Diamandis’ book, the Linux project has evolved into a $30 billion dollar ecosystem, whereby Linux is present in data centres, cars, planes, phones, TVs…

Small Business in the captain seat

In addition to FLOSS ‘the product’, there is also FLOSS ‘the methodology’ which inspired the modern software industry (distributed team, agile methods, DevOps). Small businesses can leverage the same products and techniques that made large businesses successful.

We’re talking about putting Small Businesses in the captain seat. The challenge is real to our mindset, wrongly educated to fit the business around whatever technology was available off-the-shelf. We know the results in the ERP business: costly and challenging implementations leading to project delays and more cost overruns.

If branded products are not cheap, servicing them is not cheaper because certified professionals command high daily rates. In comparison, working with Free Software is a little like cabinet making. You buy the materials (some of it is freely available, other you have to finance e.g. servers, hosting, premium subscriptions), and then you call the local entrepreneur to assemble everything to fit your needs. Naturally, you always have the option to do it yourself. It’s not about the product, it’s about making it work for your company!

The next digital revolution: IoT, big data, and a stronger Canada

EdTech Leadership SummitWe had a great panel at the MindShare Learning EdTech Leadership Summit today, enhanced by a profound participation from the audience. I’d like a to share a few highlights, leaving the comment section open for everyone wishing to share their own take-aways.

Victor Garcia, Adjunct Professor at the Schulich School of Management and Senior Fellow at Bell Canada, gave a clear definition of IoT from his big data class. He stressed that technology is not the issue, instead we need to focus on the business outcomes. The real value is the ability to help executives take the right decisions, to make money, save money, and/or to make the world better. Later somebody from the audience made the point that, more than money, it is more about saving people’s time (e.g. faster clearing of paperwork, less wasted time allowing nurses to focus more on patient care). Don’t we all need more time?

Shawn Naroozi, IoT expert from Microsoft USA, and Jeff Lundgren, IoT Sales Lead for Microsoft Canada, shared a compelling example of an IoT implementation for truck management (connected transportation). Connecting to the TV screen with a few clicks from his Surface device, Shawn demonstrated the wide amount of live information available from any particular truck (engine levels, status of the cargo, etc). We discussed applications in education, for example connected buildings. It is clear that IoT can benefit both the operations of educational organizations, as well as the quality of the delivery in the classroom (making the class more relevant and engaging).

Kelli Davis, VP Integration Services at CastleBranch, explained how her company found a gap in higher education. They started to digitize student health records to save everybody’s time and to ease the transmission of information to the right parties at the right time. Privacy and security are important concerns. The younger generation is more inclined (and more trusting) about sharing their information, especially when it add value for the user experience. Somebody commented that students are really becoming the teachers in some way. Sometimes it is more effective to call a student to fix a problem that the local tech person.

Amir Anani, CEO and President of ICTC, shared a lot of insights about ICT trends, the labour market, productivity and innovation, and the relative position of Canada in the global market. Training and investing in the future workforce is required to maintain a competitive advantage, noted the audience. Namir made the point that in some situations there is no significant revenues for the private sector to justify an investment, in which case the government should step in. The audience added that government should take a leadership role, especially when it comes to strategic issues as education.

The audience also made interesting comments about the role of trustees, the turnover among their ranks, and the opportunity to educate them on ICT trends. We discussed change management, and some success stories (supporting champions, and celebrating heroes). May be we’d need the kind of executive education that private sector managers receive? The conversation turned back to education.

IoT could be used to cross-reference brain waves with student activities and learning outcomes. Interestingly, InteraXon is one of the 3 Toronto-based start-ups to make the top 100 by total funding. Nobody seemed shocked by the idea. It looks like we all believed that students would have absolutely no issue with that. In any case, the point was to engage students better while providing the best support at the time of need. Shawn added that another way to use data would be to improve the process and the system over time (as an iterative feedback loop).

Douglas Reid, Director Learning & Research Infrastructure at the Lassonde School of Engineering, told us that the main point about IoT is that it makes us think (harder). The Renaissance Engineer (trademarked) combines knowledge and skills from multiple fields such as engineering, law, and design, to solve problems more effectively.  The audience noted that companies have a role to play in delivering education. We came to agree that a joint effort by a large number of businesses, building on common ground, would be helpful for the education system to innovate faster. Students and educators could be part of this.

Finally, Jonathan Le Lous, VP Cloud & Infrastructure and Global Alliances Manager at Savoir-faire Linux, reminded us about the nature of sharing software code and best practices. The Linux ecosystem has turned into a $30 billion industry. Linux now runs a wide majority of devices from Android watches to cars, supercomputers, phones, TVs… We can learn from the start-up playbook. Those fast-rising ‘unicorns’ often bootstrap their business with free software (e.g. Twitter, Facebook). We don’t need a lot of money to create new value. We just need to get started!