Wednesday 8 April 2009

From Virtual Reality to Pyramids in Halle

Traveling south of Berlin into the plains that reminded me of flat East Anglia, Sylvia Schmidt of Come Across and I headed to Halle to meet a further five companies curious about opportunities for their businesses in the UK. It promised to be an even warmer day than our visit to Potsdam yesterday and our run of appointments precluded any thoughts of sightseeing or even lunch!

Michael Dresher of the IHK in Halle made us welcome and lent his support in the meetings that followed.

Michael K├Ąding of ANOVA had come down all the way from Rostock on the Baltic coast. Instead of my research memories of ANalysis Of VAriance, the company ANOVA deals with the far more exciting software for visualising home furnishings. Ideal for large sellers of curtain materials, flooring and other interior furnishings, the neat feature of the software is that patterns on fabrics selected by a shopper are molded to the shape of the folds on a particular curtain or drape – giving a much more realistic impression on how their purchase might fit into their home.

Now I know that the standing joke in the UK is that Christmas starts immediately after Easter, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Manfred Salzman was a bit premature in coming to talk about a unique German decoration, the Christmas Pyramid. This is a multi tiered, decorated wooden construction with rotating platforms of Xmas figures, driven by a candle powered fan. Except that Manfred though big, real big – nearly 10m tall in fact! His Christmas Pyramids are centrepieces of German Xmas Markets and contain 25 square metres of pavilion shopping space for businesses that recoup their purchase price. Brilliant for city centre attractions in the December run up to the festive season.

Whilst Saloons epitomise Westerns (films), the company Celloon links itself more to the social aspect of Saloons – meeting people and entertainment. Last week at a Brimingham IT fair, I saw mobile phone interactivity with posters or othr printed media using RFID or bhluetooth technology. Mirko Kisser had come up with an ingenious variant that embedded a visual pattern in the advertising medium and background pictures. A simple piece of self installing software would enable anyone with a mobile phone having a camera to scan an ad or poster with such a design and immediately be redirected to the relevant site on the web. Mirko showed another application by having a design incorporated onto his business card – another mobile could view the card and download his contact details almost instantaneously.

Still waters run deep, as I found when talking to the quiet spoken director of DSSD, Dirk Schulz and his ebullient Sales Director Andree Kruczynski. Dirk has developed a 3D virtual construction software that allows manufacturers to build their prototypes and test them. The neat feature is that real hardware and existing software can interact with the prototype to test functionality and identify issues arising during design. The system had already been used successfully in the automotive industry in Germany and was now available for other manufacturer worldwide. There was a possibility of having a play with the VR Helmet and gloves of the deluxe version on a return visit which I could look forward to.

It was also good to see a familiar face again, Dr Holger Noffz, who had developed an excellent relationship with Sylvia, as evidenced by their animated conversation. Holger's company ACL manufactures high specification PCs and equipment that is suitable for use in operating rooms and other medical environments. The key feature of his products, from a client's purchasing perspective, was that whilst specifically designed to function safely and relevantly in a medical environment – these were not medical devices. This means that they can be purchased on the normal local budgets, rather than under the demanding conditions set for purchasing medical equipment such as X-ray machines etc.

Our enthusiasm on the day let us overrun, which meant that we had to sprint to the railway station to catch our train back to Berlin. Sylvia and I crashed late that evening, exhausted by the busy days yet still exhilarated by the meetings with the people we met.

My Tweets on Twitter for the day were:

#halle-ihk 5 varied and intersting companies met in Halle Germany , searching for UK contacts & partners

#halle-ihk the software for interior design: visualising 3D Window dressing, floor patterns and layouts from digi photo

#halle-ihk X-mas pyramids for Xmas markets - 10m high and with 25m floor space to sell Xmas goods from! contact me for more info

#halle-ihk "Click, Collect & Share" -Mobile phone interactivity to events via 2D codes on printed ads caught on camera

#halle-ihk interFACE reality for designing virtual prototypes able to interact with real hard & software

#halle-ihk modular operation room PCs - Hi spec for medical environment without hassle of being medical equipment!

Tuesday 7 April 2009

IT companies met in Potsdam

The sun was just breaking through as I arrived with Sylvia Schmidt of Come Across in Potsdam station. A city still in change, we picked our way across the road works and construction sites. One strangely silent – we heard of our luck not to arrive the next day when an unexploded bomb found there was going to be defused.

The ever cheerful Torsten Stehr greeted us at the IHK building where we were holding our meetings, to then hurry back with his planning of this years Green Ventures (photos 2008 – Green Ventures, photos Potsdam 2008).
Our guests over the coming hours were German IT businesses looking for a UK entry and we were curious to hear their interests and activities, fervently hoping that they were more exciting than the website content which is so often misleading.

A laid back and curious Patrick Schwalger of V-CAT dropped in first, having only recently heard of the excellent subsidies by the German Government for business trips abroad for SME’s, which cover a substantial proportion of the costs (nearly two thirds!). V-CAT provide the next generation of platforms for collaborative projects. Cloud based products are aimed primarily at the education sector – those of us with children are already aware of the first generation products in this line being used for student & teacher e-mails, time tabling and daily register. With businesses and employees geographically dispersed, the contract based solutions are secure enough to have been trusted by the Berlin Senate and user friendly enough for a teacher to have described them as “intuitive”; Patrick emphasised “You don't adapt to our software, our software adapts to you”.

Uwe Brodtmann of Inchrom breezed in for an enthusiastic presentation. 80% of innovation in cars is now electronic. The rising number of components have to talk to each other, accurately and without fail within milliseconds (just think what could happen if your ABS fails at a critical moment!). Timing is everything – yet each electronic component has its own clock speed – and these can also drift. Inchron's simulation software allows the user to model scheduling of events and even simulate different scenarios, based on the electronic components talking to each other; Hence “Think real-time for embedded software”.

With more employees, the complexity of management increased exponentially, so processes and Standard Operating Procedures required. The difficulty is often visualizing them and then ensuring that they are followed. A quiet, unassuming Stefan Zorn of Imatics demonstrated his software solution with aplomb. Accessible set up to ensure that new users or followers of SOPs are assisted and guided through a completion process that makes compliance painless. When I asked, tongue in cheek, whether he had a process set up for his sales strategy, his humour shone through as he promptly pulled one forward so that we could use it for our further discussions.

I must admit having looked forward to the MicroMovie delegation of CEO Jasdan Bernward Joerges and his colleague Katrin Ebersohn. MicroMovies provide short films for major advertisers with a twist. Mobile phone users can take a picture of themselves and upload it to a particular advertisers movie and be integrated into the action. I couldn’t resist having a go for their demo based on a ZDF soap!

Whilst I’m fairly adept at technology, I really appreciate solutions that make life simpler! What I had not realized was that this could also safe large firms a lot of money. Christian Dietze of Revacom introduced be to a hidden benefit – software packeting. Think of easy to install Acrobat reader or other software with it’s own installation wizard – it’s the wiz that is the packeting. If a large company wants to install new software company wide, having it encapsulated in a software packeting can save several man days in work time and as we know, time is money!

I ended the day enthused and after a well earned Mexican meal just off the Karl Marx Allee, hurried back to send out some tweets on the subject:

miltoncontact #potsdam "You don't adapt to our platform, our platform adapts to you!" -12:27 AM Apr 7th, 2009.

miltoncontact #potsdam "Think realtime for embedded software when considering our simuation solution" -12:32 AM Apr 7th, 2009

miltoncontact #potsdam Simple visualisation and implementation of process procedures for non-IT managers -12:39 AM Apr 7th, 2009

miltoncontact #potsdam micromovies with customer's faces are innovative new viral marketing tool used by german TV soap -12:42 AM Apr 7th, 2009

miltoncontact #potsdam Superior international outsourcing partner creates software packaging for companies worldwide. -12:22 AM Apr 7th, 2009

Friday 3 April 2009

Restaurant 22, not just a number

Some restaurants might regard a restriction of available seating in a restaurant to just 26 a severe limitation. Armando Tommaso, owner/manager of Restaurant 22 has made it into a true benefit. I dashed out of the rain on a March morning and into an intimate small Victorian house at the bottom of Mitchams corner in Cambridge to find out more about Armando and his successful restaurant.

Armando took over Restaurant 22 in 2007 with the objective of providing good quality modern European food based on recipes from France, Italy, Spain and the UK, with a set price, three course menu. Because of the limit on the number of tables and the need for prior booking, Armando was also able to provide a more personal service to clients from Cambridge and the surrounding areas, distinct from the tourist based services in the City itself.

Professionals and academics are a part of his regular and returning clientelle who are kept in touch with the offers and menus available throughout the year through the e-mails sent to friends of the Restaurant. Indeed, regular bookings were being phoned in during our conversation, attesting that even in a recession, a good business model can help you survive!

Our conversation turned towards possible expansion into providing a lunchtime option. Within easy reach of the Science and business parks and other professionals, particularly in the north of Cambridge, the venue is particularly suited for advanced booking by small parties of 6 or more wishing to break up a day of meetings with a good meal in conducive surroundings. One innovative idea was to link with a taxi service to pick people up and drop them back at work again after the meal, neatly avoiding those parking issues in our city.

My particular pleasure of the visit was to end it with a photograph of the gorgeous Art Nouveau window decorating the main dining room, which encapsulated the positive impression created by both Armando and his Restaurant 22.