Fryup: New year blues, learning and counting

Start as you mean to go on; education gets IT; he's the count.

Start as you mean to go on

Which in our industry apparently means staff redundancies. It's a sad state of affairs, especially since so many people seem to be so positive about the year ahead, but for some companies the good times can't come soon enough.

Ihug has laid off another 10 staff members and high-flyer Synergy will reduce its Auckland office by about the same amount. Unisys has laid off up to 30 staff and the country manager has resigned as the New Zealand end of the operation will be run directly from Australia.

It can't be easy out there at the moment September's terrorist attacks are being blamed for all manner of things but I think nobody could have expected an already-fragile IT sector to be quite as shut down as it was. Companies have been grinding to a halt as projects are frozen or cancelled outright, expansion plans are put on hold and any unnecessary expense is cut to the quick.

Synergy had budgeted for a 25% annual revenue growth and was doing quite nicely in July and August but September saw a huge drop that left them 10% short of their target. When you've hired staff on the basis that you'll grow phenomenally and instead you "only" grow at 15%, something has to give. Sadly, that usually translates to people. Hell, even Dilbert's been laid off if you're keeping up to date with Scott Adams's creation.

It must be a terrible position to be in, for both employer and employee all your hard work down the drain and counting for little. Being told you're surplus to requirements can't be good for your self esteem.

And these few certainly won't be the last - don't forget TelstraClear has roughly 400 staff too many. An announcement on that will be only weeks away I'm sure.

One interesting point to note in most of these cases is that the companies continue to employ new staff in other areas even as they're laying off others. Synergy will reduce its administrative staff but is still looking for Java developers and Ihug has also announced it is looking for staff while "letting go" some senior employees.

Hopefully this trend will change I've spoken to a number of people this year who are brimming with optimism. Sales are up, the NASDAQ is up, profits are actually being reported as ahead of expectation (gadzooks). I guess 2002 can't be much worse than 2001 but it's good to see other people looking cheery about the year ahead.

Dilbert - Follow the thread - there are about a week's worth after this one

Ihug sacking up to 10 after bank pressure to trim costs - NZ Herald

Oracle NZ jobs safe for the moment - IDGNet

One good news story at least

Education gets IT

I remember the "computer lab" at school. A dozen green screens, probably VAX machines I would say, accompanied by one harassed-looking maths teacher who would allow you 10 minutes (booked in advance) on which to discover that there were no applications of any kind and that the lab was really for "serious" students only. Needless to say as a non-maths kind of student (a shoes-and-socks mathematician at best) I was excluded from the arcane circle. My, how times have changed.

These days educators are making use of IT as more than a way to entertain during a wet lunch break. Students are being informed of class times and room changes via text messages, they're getting exam results ("U FAIL. BOOHOO") and they're registering for new courses online.

This is great tertiary institutes and schools are saving money (no more printing thousands of copies of course information, for one thing) by using the technology not in a flashy over-the-top "look at us" kind of way but in a more mature manner that actually helps.

Being able to get your exam results online is great for secondary school students. Do you remember the awful wait for the postie that fateful day (I scored 28% in School Cert music: Mr Hinds, if you're reading, I'm really really sorry) or even worse, being away from home on holiday somewhere when the results came in? None of that nonsense now just click on the site and you're away laughing.

It's also good to see universities getting it right. After the, ahem, problems of years gone by with registration systems failing to meet demand (or was it more a case of universities not employing enough people to make the system work, I wonder) finally they're implementing solutions that actually work. Bloody good to see.

Waikato students get exam results via text message - IDGNet

Online Bursary results exceed expectations - IDGNet

He's the count

Brian Milnes has been counting viewers for a very long time. Decades. He's been something of a fixture at AC Nielsen since before it was called that, and in all that time he's helped us get a better understanding of the media market and who is doing what where. Most recently Milnes has been running the division that counts internet users and works out which sites are most visited.

But now Milnes is out on his own, after AC Nielsen's partner company, NetRatings, decided to bail out of the New Zealand market. Apparently it will still run a panel here, even if it's just for the time being, so it can still gather information, but beyond that, it's all over.

The panel is something of a problem as well. Four thousand home users log on and are tracked as they surf the net. Whether they will be replaced as they drop off or not is up in the air - the problem for most site managers is that home users aren't really what they want to know about. Business users, those of you reading this at your desk, for example, are what they're after because anecdotally we believe there are more business surfers than home surfers at the moment.

I say anecdotally because we just don't know for sure and that's the whole problem in a nutshell. We just don't have the research. AC Nielsen was one of three companies providing figures on surfing habits and without the qualitative results it provided we are kind of lost.

Why is it important that we know who surfs where? One word that you're all familiar with I'm sure: money. Without the numbers you can't say to an advertiser, or its agency, my site can provide you access to gerbil breeders between the ages of 14 and 27 with high levels of disposable income and an interest in World War II German uniforms. With the numbers the world is your oyster and we might just see this whole internet thing take off as a medium.

Let's face it you won't pay for anything online. I know I won't. I like Salon magazine but haven't signed up for the premiere version, although I really should. It just seems so wrong to have to pay to subscribe. So advertising is really the only way to recoup those millions of dollars invested in giving stuff away free. For that we need the numbers. We need to know who you are and then sell that information on to those who want to get in touch with you. Nothing sinister in it, just business.

Milnes is setting up his own company to provide just that kind of demographic information. Hopefully it will mean advertisers stop ignoring the net, and its users, and start treating it as a viable part of the media. We already know it is. Now we have to convince them.

Former NetRatings boss set to fill market gap - IDGNet

Internet ad numbers fall again - IDGNet

Related news, about job ads online, that might reflect the trend. Or not.

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