It’s official – the desktop is dead (well, nearly)

Posted on : 30-04-2013 | By : john.vincent | In : Innovation

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Having spent much of my earlier career in the desktop engineering space (I took the Microsoft Systems Engineering exam in 1995 which included the now “antique-like” Windows NT 3.1, SMS 1.0 and Microsoft Mail), I have followed the whole desktop domain closely over the years.

Back in the mid 90’s, and probably for 10 or so years from that, a whole industry developed helping enterprises manage, optimize and migrate their desktop and associated server infrastructure from one version to the next. Very knowledgeable (and expensive) contractors and consultants advised on the best desktop roadmaps, how to package and distribute applications without conflicts, how to access the corporate network using RAS (cutting edge at the time), how to migrate from Novell Directory Services to Active Directory etc… Indeed, the “Windows Guru” strode majestically through the enterprise hallways.

However, the world is clearly a lot different today. Whether you lay the blame at the rapid rise of consumerisation, the move of compute power to cloud/virtual hosts, the economic decline or, more specifically, January 27th 2010 and the launch of the iPad, the fact is that the desktop PC (and to a lesser extent, laptops), is an industry in decline.

Recent sales statistics do not make for rosy reading. IDC figures for Q1 showed that PC shipments declined 13.9% last quarter, marking two quarters of significant decline with the Q4 2012 also being off 10% from the previous quarter. Fairly depressing news if you are one of the major desktop PC manufacturers.

The bottom line is that the role that the PC plays in peoples day to day lives is changing. Do you still come through the door and “fire up” the old desktop (positioned on a dubiously assembled Ikea workstation under the stairwell) using the time whilst Windows configures its updates to perform household chores? Probably not. Like the tablets and smartphones we carry, I guess you will have been “always on”, consuming important corporate updates, world news and dealing with the backlog of emails built up during the day (plus, multi-tasking on Level 33 of Candy Crush…).

The combination of the way we work, socialise and use applications/data has certainly meant that being physically tied to a desktop or laptop just doesn’t fit anymore. At the weekend I saw someone balancing their laptop on their forearm and attempting to type as they got onto a train – I remember doing the same myself but wouldn’t dream of it now.

What about enterprises I hear you cry? Our users need the compute power and richness of business applications that just doesn’t exist on IOS or Android based devices. This is true, today.

I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that the PC market for desktops and laptops is dead. What it has done is lost its value. for most enterprises the PC has become a necessity for running certain business applications rather than something which is seen as a differentiator, productivity enhancer, or agile.

According to figures, end users have found that they can perform as much as 80% of their day to day needs on a tablet. With the other 20% requiring a PC, one outcome is that people are no longer looking for the latest and greatest desktops or laptops – choosing instead to opt for cheaper options for compute needs and where possible, switch productivity applications to hosted solutions such as Google and Office365.

With the release of Windows 8 Microsoft have sought to capitalise on (and protect) their market through closing the divide between desktop computing and the key features of tablets through mobility and the touch screen interface. It is a large transition and one which, so far, doesn’t seem to have convinced end users.

So what does the future hold for the PC? Well, at the top end of the enterprise market it’s not all bad. The volumes at the higher performance end (£700 plus) seem to be holding up better with greater margins. Plus the indications are that at the lower end they will continue to drive the price down for Windows 8 tablets.

However, we are in the final throes of the PC as we know it. Companies that can evolve their roadmap in line with the needs of consumers and business users will survive. However, at the moment this doesn’t look like an extensive list.

And what about the desktop gurus updating those certifications? Well, at a quick glance it might be best to leave it to Generation Y…


Education – How can technology help?

Posted on : 28-03-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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The development of the Raspberry Pi, (a £30 computer designed to give the next generation of children programming skills) started a few of us at Broadgate thinking about technology and education – Are there ways that schools and other organisations could utilise some of the current technology trends?



ICT in the classroom has changed radically over the last 30 years. In the 1980s there existed  ‘the school computer’ where a select group of students could spend lunch-times and evenings writing programmes in incomprehensible languages resulting in simple calculators or battleship type games. Now computers are embedded in homes, offices and schools – the UK GCSE ICT course now includes a full project management lifecycle study from initial requirements gathering to system implementation. Outside the classroom computers are used for all the usual business processes including pupil records, finance, scheduling and communications.

In the UK the Professor Steve Furber of Royal Society  criticised the skills of ICT teachers (for example only 35% have a specific qualification in the subject contrasting with 74% of maths teachers) and teaching and proposed the standalone subject be scrapped. He said that IT was so important it should be part of the core curriculum integrated into schools to improve digital literacy alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.


Our Broad Thoughts

Integrating technology into the core of the curriculum is key and we think the opportunities for technology to improve, accelerate and enhance the educational experience for both pupils and teachers are huge.

A few of our ideas are below and we’d welcome your thoughts on these and other areas.


1. Social Media – collaborative approach

This is an area were the pupils excel and, as a rule, are ahead of the teachers. These technical natives have grown up with technology and the use of social networks is a natural extension of them. They are used for updating friends, promoting themselves, discussing & arguing and sharing information. Are there ways schools can utilise this technology and more importantly energy & enthusiasm?

The key element of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc etc. is socialising and sharing ideas. Discussions started in the classroom can be extended to home/remote working. These often happen informally amongst pupils but could have added value if teachers could interact and assist. Schools could create ecosystems for collaborative working. Initially it may be difficult to attract pupils to the school created areas so a more successful approach may be for the pupils to create and teachers to join. Obviously there are risks to this but the idea that there be a shared area for thoughts and ideas without negativity in a safe space.


2. BYOD/Mobility – help or hindrance?

Many pupils now carry smartphones some are starting to carry iPads too. These can be viewed negatively from a school perspective as they can, at worst, be a distraction in class and potentially a cheating and bullying device.

So, accepting they are not going away, how can the positive aspects of smartphones be utilised?

Simple techniques such as using calendar facilities to upload the class timetables, reminders for homework, coursework etc. Alerts for taking in gym kit could be pushed out to pupils (and parents) devices. Obviously this does not completely remove ‘The dog ate my blackberry’ issue for teachers but it should help!

Coursework, homework and useful reference material & links can be also pushed up to phones to consolidate knowledge and aide pupils.

Even more useful would be to think how people use their phones and tablets, as well as communicating they are great research tools and could be used within the classroom situation helping finding different viewpoints on historical events for instance (and so helping improve the critical thinking of children as there are so many different and potentially inaccurate ‘facts’ out there –  “Always check your sources!” as my history teacher used to say).

Tablets and iPads in particular are very exciting tools for learning. They move away from the conformity of keyboards and mice and can make learning truly interactive. They are starting to be adopted in schools but we think there is a great potential to radically change the classroom and learning experience.

Obviously not all pupils can afford smartphones so to avoid technology related poverty trap, less well-off pupils should be provided with the same phones/tablets. Cash rich technology organisations should be approached to assist and a need mechanism could be introduced such as that for school dinners. Also parents’ wishes need to be taken into account as the age that a child is allowed to use a phone can vary widely.


3. Data Intelligence – Capturing Trends

As with any organisation there are large amounts of data contained in multiple stores. Also as with any other organisation that data is often not connected with other relevant sources so the information value of that data is lost.

One of our colleagues moved from financial services to education and was surprised by the lack of management information available to the teaching team. The data is there but it was not being translated into meaningful information.

There must be potential to link an individual teachers/class/subject results to identify trends. E.g. if the interim test results for the year 8 history class is going down, is it because the course work has been modified, there is a new teacher or the pupils socio-economic make up has changed? A good business intelligence application can trawl the data to identify the causes and so the appropriate remedial actions taken.

Similarly if maths A level results suddenly improve, what are the reasons for this and how can then they be applied elsewhere (internally or externally see Communications below)

If an individual pupils attainment levels started dropping off then additional attention could be provided to that student to help them get back on track and also identify and help hopefully resolve the underlying cause of the issue.

Other areas which may be more radical may involve gathering the information and identifying the better performing areas within or across schools including measurements such as a ‘cost per GCSE’ or ‘Entry/Exit attainment improvement’ of pupils.


4. Communications – sharing

Schools can sometimes be inward looking. Often teachers stay in one school for a considerable time. This is great for continuity and progression but may result in lost opportunities for innovation and changes that are happening in the extended educational community. Some schools encourage visits to other schools, conferences and courses can help here and there is big opportunity to take this further.

Businesses utilise management consultants to help improve organisations for efficiency or growth with the view to build revenue and profits.

Could information sharing, more inter-school communications, best practice and teaching artefact sharing help schools and teaching? Information is now available locally, nationally and internationally so can be shared and used amongst educational establishments.


5. Cloud Computing – Who needs infrastructure?

Most schools have a room/office with the computers/servers. As IT requirements grew in terms of finance, pupils’ records, assessments, operational and staff information the amount and complexity of equipment expanded often requiring dedicated resources to support and change. As we have been saying to our clients, with the advent of Cloud and Software as a Service the need for this is reducing to the point where the default should be for someone else to host, manage and support a schools technology infrastructure.

Obviously, as with any sensitive information, the question of student data privacy and security needs to be addressed. This should already be the case and the existing policies should be proved by any potential vendor and tested regularly by the educational authority.


6. Security – Paramount

The most important part of the use of technology is pupil safety and confidentiality. This is obvious and needs to be kept in the forefront of any discussion in regard to the introduction of a system whether it is IT or other mechanism.


Final thoughts

The opportunities for technology to help improve schools is both immense and exciting, this is not an area we have worked in but are really interested in stimulating a debate and seeing if we can assist in any way. Every time we help people outside our core business areas of finance IT we find not only do we enjoy it but we too learn a great deal from different working structures and cultures.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” John Dewey – innovation & technology can help us help the next generation.