Internet Killed the High Street Store

18 January, 2013 (12:32) | Business | By .

To Let

In 1979 The Buggles sang “Video Killed the Radio Star” and so it came to pass, although it turned out to be YouTube not MTV that actually made the fatal blow. Back to the present day it’s the high street that is taking a beating and again it seems the internet is packing all the punches.

In the last few years the UK has seen Woolworths, MFI, Comet, Jessops, HMV and now Blockbuster all going into administration. The obvious culprit would seem to be the internet but is that really the case? Let’s look at the evidence:

  • Woolworths

    Once a UK institution, Woolworths was famous for selling pick ‘n’ mix, 7 inch singles and loads of other cheap but cheerful tat for your home.
    VERDICT: Not guilty – Certainly its sales of music, DVD’s and games would have been hit hard by the rise of online traders (Amazon, Play etc) but supermarkets were probably the real culprit, as they started to sell just about everything Woolies stocked but cheaper and without the need to desperately search and then pay for a car park space.

  • MFI

    Since 1963 the MFI brand had battled it out with DFS to become the top acronym in home furnishings, but in 2009 the retailer went into administration. Subsequently snapped up for a pittance by a private equity group, MFI was resurrected in 2011 as an online only furniture retailer.
    VERDICT: Not guilty – Ikea and a glut of other retailers entering the home furnishing market (Next and M&S to name a few) were actually responsible. The internet has given MFI a second lease of life.

  • Comet

    Dixons, Currys and Comet were just about the only places the British went shopping for electrical goods until around 1990. The rise of the internet certainly didn’t help Comet as more and more people researched purchases in their stores before returning home and scouring the internet for the cheapest online price.
    VERDICT: Not guilty – A downturn in the economy and an increase in competition on the high street was the more likely culprit. Online competition could have played a part but Comet were selling online as well.

  • Jessops

    The rise of digital camera in the early 90’s boosted Jeesop’s fortunes for a while but it didn’t last. Jessops specialised in mid-range instant cameras but this sector of the market has been decimated as everyone started to us the cameras built into the smart phones. Jessops also suffered as people stopped buying film and associated equipment.
    VERDICT: Guilty – Online retailers priced Jessops out of the market especially for high end SLR’s. Ultimately the camera on your smart phone (and people sharing their images online) coupled with a massive change in photographic technology was Jessops undoing.

  • HMV

    With roots that trace back to the 1890’s HMV have been selling us records for longer than most people can remember. It was all going so well until a general downturn in record sales coupled with napster, bit-torrent, iTunes/iPod and supermarkets selling CD’s (I could go on, but you know the rest.)
    Verdict: Guilty. Despite a general drop in record sales all over the world, HMV would still be okay today if it wasn’t for the pesky internet. The internet (and the MP3) facilitated a move away from selling music in a physical format, HMV could never recover.

  • Blockbuster

    Every Friday and Saturday night the ritual of renting a video was practiced en mass across the UK. It all seems so ridiculous today in the age of iTunes, Netflix and iPlayer.
    VERDICT: Guilty. – Blockbuster did try and diversify into renting video games but even this sector is moving towards the download on demand model. Did Blockbuster ever stand a chance against the mighty internet? Their only chance was to adopt the Netflix model in the UK before Netflix launched in the UK, which they failed to do.

It’s clear that while the internet is playing a big part in changing our shopping habits, but it’s not the only factor in the high street stores demise. Recessions don’t help, nor does online competitors who avoid paying all their tax.

What is clear that many of the businesses mentioned above failed to adapt to changes in technology and consumer demand. Blockbuster in the US (still trading) has an on demand streaming service, so why was this not launched in the UK before Netflix ever reached our shores? Comet were sucked into an unwinnable price war with online competitors. They certainly didn’t sell on good service, remember how Comet staff would try and hard sell extended warranties? It made you scared to walk into the place.

Businesses need to have a strong online offering that compliments their physical stores and physical stores need to be more than showrooms for other online competitors. Richer Sounds and Maplin are two good examples of companies that employ knowledgeable and helpful shop floor staff who add real value to the shopping experience. In the age of the internet things change fast, consumer habits change almost overnight and for businesses this means learning to adapt before you get left behind.

Staff Training with Siemens

16 August, 2012 (09:52) | Unified Comms | By .

‘Unified Communications’ it’s a term that encompasses a whole range of technologies, applications and methodologies and in the IT industry we have a tendency to use it rather a lot! Once a certain phrase or term joins the ranks of the other top IT buzz words (Cloud and Social Media for example) then we latch onto it and run with it, flooding our customers and potential customers with a mass of buzz word based marketing. The general outcome is that any benefits or examples of real world application get lost in the noise generated by a marketing overload.

As I mentioned above the term ‘Cloud’ is a good example of this marketing overload in action. ‘Cloud’ can be pinned onto a variety of products and services in the IT industry (not always appropriately) but overuse in headlines and marketing copy has only muddied the waters for anyone looking to move their organisation onto a cloud based solution.

The term ‘Unified Communications’, ‘Unified Comms’ or ‘UC’ has also been gracing headlines all over IT trade publications for a few years now. But for many companies the thought of moving to a Unified Comms solution leaves them with a two big questions: “What is UC?” and “Why do we need it?”

This week four members of Powernet’s sales team were lucky enough to have these questions answered for them by our friends at Siemens Communications Systems. A thorough training programme in Siemens OpenScape Office UC solution has left no doubt in our minds why UC is right for almost every size and kind of organisation. Many of our sales team are now qualified SOCAs or (Siemens Enterprise Open Communications Associates) if you want to give them their full titles.

Siemens were also kind enough to train up our technical team in all things OpenScape Office (it’s good to be able to support what you sell).

Powernet are now Siemens Plus Partners, so if you’re looking to demystify how your telephone system integrates with your email or CRM package. Or want to learn how even social media fits into the UC big picture. Or just want to get past all the marketing noise and learn more about Unified Comms then get in touch, we’re now qualified to answer your questions.

ViBE Expo at Bletchley Park

10 July, 2012 (10:40) | Business, Managed Networks, Powernet, ViBE, VoIP, WAN | By .

We recently held a small event at Bletchley Park to bang the drum about ViBE technology. Filling the ballroom at Bletchley Park with a mixture of resellers and end users, we proceeded to show our audience the things ViBE could do. The day was about educating our audience about ViBE and giving them an opportunity to look at physical kit. If you don’t already know about ViBE you can learn more over on our mini-site:

Powernet CEO, Tony Tugulu kicked off proceedings with a short introduction and run down of the agenda. Mark Williams, Product Manager and all round ViBE know-it-all, then took to the floor with an excellent presentation followed by a real-time demonstration of ViBE in action.

Finally independent IT consultant, Richard Smeeton gave a short talk about computing – past, present and future and its relationship with Bletchley Park. Richard is an advocate of ViBE technology and has a wealth of experience especially with networking technologies. Richard’s been the network and voice manager with Next PLC and the CTO at the University of Herts. If you are looking for an IT consultant with networking expertise then you could do a lot worse (Shameless Plug). Contact Richard via email: Richard(at)smeeton(dot)co(dot)uk.

After lunch our guests enjoyed a guided tour of Bletchley Park, many thanks to our excellent tour guide Nick Miers who was entertaining and informative. Unfortunately we were unable to see the Colossus computer in action but a working Bombe machine more than made up for the disappointment.
So a good day was had by all. Those who attended were educated in the way of the ViBE and also experienced a place that has important links with modern computing whilst also playing a huge part in ending WW2.

We have posted some pictures from the event on the Powernet Facebook page.

We thought it was so good that we might do it again. If you are interested in attending a future ViBE event then send us an email: vibe(at)powergroup(dot)co(dot)uk

Powernet and the 2 Day Power Cut

5 July, 2012 (14:49) | Business, ISP's, Powernet | Tony Tugulu

We recently experienced a power cut here at Powernet Towers. It was no ordinary power cut, oh no this one lasted two days. ‘How can this happen?’ I hear you ask. After all Powernet are based in the sprawling metropolis that is Milton Keynes, not out in the sticks, hundreds of miles away from the nearest electrical engineer.

The problem was down to a faulty part in the electrical service-entrance to our building. Unfortunately the only replacement part available in the UK was in Glasgow, so it took a day to get it couriered down to our building. By the time the problem had been located, a new part sourced and fitted, Powernet Towers had been without electricity for two days.

Faced with a problem like this most businesses would have been forced to shut-up shop. As a business grade ISP, shutting down for a few days is simply not an option (those networks are not going to monitor themselves). So once the power went down in our building we started up our generator on the roof, providing enough power to run essential services (technical support, NOC and the kettle).

After the first day without power we realised that our fire alarm system was no longer functioning and so everyone was sent home (health and safety is very important). Again this was not really a problem for Powernet as most of our core internal services are not located in our office but hosted remotely in a local data centre (they have two large generators). Our IP phone system can divert calls to staff mobiles and IP phones at home, meaning most Powernet staff members were able to pack up their laptops and work from home.

So despite the power cut it was business as usual for Powernet and its customers. A quick review of the reasons why we were able to successfully navigate this potential 2 day disaster:

  • Resilient power supply – UPS and a generator on the roof meant that we could keep the office open.
  • Off Site hosting – Our essential internal services (email, phone, network monitoring software etc) are all hosted in a dedicated hosting facility that is off site (yes in the cloud) so even when our office is in darkness our servers (and our business) are still running.
  • IP phone system – Our IP phone system was able to divert specific calls to appropriate staff mobiles. Some staff members have IP phones at home meaning they can be in the office even when they are working from home.
  • A home worker policy – Some Powernet staff already work from home, so it was business as usual for them. Others were able to access essential services because they were in the cloud. We keep things secure by using VPN tunnels into our network.
  • Team spirit – Last but not least, when faced with a challenge all our staff (especially technical) worked together to minimise any disruption to our customers.

Our recent experience is proof that any business can keep operating even when the unforeseen happens; you just need to think like a Scout ‘Be Prepared.’ Apart from the generator (despite our name, we don’t sell those) Powernet provide co-location, remote worker and IP phone solutions that will keep any business running when things go wrong.

BT’s Olympic Commitment

29 February, 2012 (15:46) | BT, Business, ISP's | Tony Tugulu

Any ISP looking for some easy PR coverage knows that nothing beats predicting a surge in bandwidth during major national and sporting events (Euro and World Cups, Wimbledon, Royal Weddings etc). Forecasting a strain on the national broadband infrastructure, should Andy Murray reach the Wimbledon final is almost guaranteed to create a news story somewhere on the web. So what is this blog post about?

Yes – you guessed it a prediction of broadband infrastructure strain during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great that we can watch this historic sporting event at work (note to Powernet staff: not too much at work please) on your laptop or mobile phone, but the real concern for anyone relying on BT’s infrastructure is their Olympian commitment to delivering the voice and data infrastructure that will make this year’s games happen and what this could mean for the rest of the UK.

BT is an official supplier / partner for the 2012 Olympics which means they have effectively installed enough infrastructure to support a new town. By the time the Olympic park closes in September BT will have:

  • Installed 80,000 connections across 94 UK locations
  • Laid 4,500m of internal cabling
  • Carried up to 60Gb of data every second
  • Supported 1,800 wireless access points
  • Installed 16,500 telephone lines
  • Provided 14,000 SIM cards
  • Plugged-in 10,000 Cable TV Outlets
  • Paid for 642,000 man-hours
  • Put 800 people on the ground during the games

So BT has an undertaking of Olympic proportions on their plate and it looks like they will have enough hands on stand-by in case any problems arise. The only negative to BT’s Olympic commitment is it will leave the UK short of BT resource for much of the summer. London in particular is going to see very little non-Olympic BT activity as staff and resource are thrown at this summer’s big event. BT’s focus on London will also pull in much of its engineer base from the rest of the UK, making it difficult to get an engineer visit through the summer months.

I am suspecting that the games will be available to watch online via the BBC and naturally this will cause a spike in bandwidth usage (Men’s 100m sprint final for example). But the question facing ISPs and network managers (especially if you are based in London) is: “Where do I find a BT engineer this summer?”

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