Category: News

BRC: Easter drove retail sales, fashion crumpled

highEaster and Mothers Day went some way to helping rescue the high street, but the winter weather kept clothes on their rails.

That’s the latest from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG, which said in their monthly survey that UK retail sales had risen by 1.9 percent on a like-for-like basis from March 2012, when they had risen 1.3 percent on the preceding year.

It said on a total basis, sales were up 3.7 percent, compared to 3.6 percent for the same time last year.

Easter, which fell in March this year as opposed to April last year, had helped the growth, however the winter weather still had a knock on effect in the fashion categories.

Online sales rose 6.6 percent compared with March 2012, when they had risen by 13.9 percent.

Helen Dickinson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said food and homewares had done well last month as a result of Easter, while the weather also drove consumers to  buy hearty meals such as roasts and chocolates. However, as a result, fashion suffered.

She said retailers were now hoping for a boost in consumer confidence as they headed into the second quarter, praying for some sunshine to get things moving.

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG,  agreed – claiming the early Easter this year boosted the March sales figures and food and drink sales in particular soared as people stocked up to enjoy the long weekend. He said there was “also a welcome rise in house-related spending over the Easter break”.

Marks and Spencer sees decline in fashion

marksandspencerExpensive celebrity fueled adverts have lost their magic with Marks and Spencer reporting a fall in clothing sales.

The company has struggled with its clothing sales over the past few year.

However, it enjoyed a brief success after a range of initiatives. This included
hiring celebrities such as Myleene Klass, Dannii Minogue, Lulu and Gary Barlow to promote the brand, as well as targeting younger consumers.

Despite its latest figures rising slightly in the first three months of 2013, the company pointed out that the profit was gained through its food business, which offset a fall in clothing sales.

UK food sales hit a four percent growth compared to the same time last year, however clothing and merchandising was down by 3.8 percent.

M&S chief executive Mark Bolland said the company was “working hard” to improve its performance on general merchandise, blaming “difficult trading conditions.”

The company said its food division had been outstanding, with Easter food sales their best ever. The figures matched recent research by the British Retail Consortium, which in its latest highstreet tracker said Easter sales had helped revenue rise.

And it isn’t isolated in failing to make a profit on clothing with the highstreet in general suffering as a result of prolonged bad weather and the economic climate.

According to Clive Longbottom an analyst at Quocirca, there are a few things the chain could do to improve its flagging fashion figures.

“I think that M&S has started to slide back to the things it was doing wrong before,” he said. “It has a massive range of clothes, far too many for the sort of clientele it has”.

“Therefore, it has to carry a lot of inventory, and I expect that a lot of this has to be disposed of through sales or through cutting the labels out and selling off to others at cost or below,” Longbottom said.

He gave an example of a personal trip to a store , which he said was “laid out badly”.

“We were there to find a dress for my mother-in-law, a woman in her late 80s.  If she had been with us, I doubt that M&S would have made a sale at all, the clothing was laid out in completely different areas with no commonality or means of identifying where we should go,” he said.

“Better structure to how M&S lays out its goods may well help in ensuring that its mainstay audience can shop by category, rather than having different “makes” of clothing bunched together when all of them are M&S anyway.”

However, he praised the company’s underwear department, which he said kept everything in in one place and it is easy to compare and contrast and said Marks and Spencer should extend this to other parts of its store.

“Try to compare and contrast a skirt and blouse – you’ll need to pick things up and carry them around the whole store so that the three that you want to compare and contrast are in the same place at the same time – and then you have to dump the two that you don’t want, as it will be impossible to remember where they came from in the first place – so causing cost for staff to put things back where they came from,” he said.

“I’d advise cutting back on the number of styles M&S stocks; grouping by type of clothing, like skirts, dresses, blouses, etc, and having more staff on the floor to provide sales help to shoppers. On the whole, the M&S people we saw were generally behind the sales desks.”

Windows 8 drags down PC sales

Windows-8The first quarter of 2013 was the worst for PC sales since 1994, IDC said.

In its Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, the company pointed the finger at Windows 8 disrupting the market amongst tough trading conditions, reporting that shipments totalled 76.3 million units in the first quarter of 2013, a decline of 13.9 percent compared to the same quarter in 2012.

The dismal figure was also even worse than the forecast decline of  percent 7.7 percent IDC had predicted, with the company adding the extent of the year-on-year contraction marked the worst quarter since it began tracking the PC market quarterly in 1994.

The results also marked the fourth consecutive quarter of year-on-year shipment declines.

Despite some mild improvement in the economic environment and some new PC models offering Windows 8, PC shipments were down significantly across all regions compared to a year ago.

IDC said fading Mini Notebook shipments had also taken a big chunk out of the low-end market while tablets and smartphones continued to divert consumer spending.

And it seems innovation has also hindered rather than helped the PC industry with IDC pointing out that efforts to offer touch capabilities and ultraslim systems have been hampered by traditional barriers of price and component supply, as well as a weak reception for Windows 8.

It added that the PC industry was struggling to identify innovations that made PCs stand out from other products and encourage people to buy.

The Windows 8 launch was blamed partly for the huge decline with Bob O’Donnell, IDC Programme  Vice President, Clients and Displays claiming it  not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but had also slowed down the market .

He said the “radical changes” to the UI including the absence of the Start button, plus the costs associated with touch had made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices.

“Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market,” he warned.

And other vendors have also been blamed with the restructuring and reorganisation efforts of HP and Dell claimed to have hampered the market.

In fact it seems only Lenovo has come out smelling of roses, with IDC claiming it continued to “execute on a solid “attack” strategy”,

It said to keep up with the rat race, vendors had to revisit their organisational structures and “go to market strategies” – whatever that means, as well as their supply chain, distribution, and product portfolios in the face of shrinking demand and looming consolidation.

And regionally there wasn’t better news. Across the pond, the United States contracting 12.7 percent year on year, with a drop of -18.3 percent for the first quarter of 2013 compared to the fourth quarter of 2012 and quarterly shipments reached their lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

In Blighty and the EMEA region, the news remained bleak with IDC claiming that the area
posted a stronger double digit decline than anticipated in the first quarter of 2013.

Results fell short of expectations in the consumer segment as softness in demand persisted amid a continued shift to tablets and budget pressures. Meanwhile, the market response to Windows 8 and touch-enabled devices remains slow, leading to cautious “sell-in” from most vendors.

Japan fared a little bit better, with PC shipments in line with expectations in the first quarter. IDC said this was down to some economic improvement, which was helping to support commercial replacement demand ahead of the scheduled end of support for Windows XP next year.

However, consumer shipments remained very weak.

And Japan’s friends in the Asia/Pacific region didn’t have much to celebrate about with PC  shipments declining  sharply, dropping a record 12.7 percent.

IDC also pointed out that this was the first time the region had experienced a double digit decline. Although much of the earlier Windows 7 stock had cleared, a lukewarm reception toward Windows 8 hampered new shipments.

China’s inactivity contributed heavily to the decline, as public sector spending continued to be constrained.

HP remained the top vendor, but posted a substantial double digit decline in shipments after an aggressive fourth quarter kept growth flat during the holidays. HP’s worldwide shipments fell more than 23 percent year on year in the first quarter of 2013, with significant declines across all regions, as internal restructuring continued to affect commercial sales. Although HP maintained its leadership position in the United States, the company saw US shipments fall -22.9 percent from a year ago.

Lenovo remained second in global shipments and nearly closed the gap with HP, while Dell saw shipment decline by 10 percent globally and 14 percent in the United States. The vendor continued to face tough competition and struggled with customer uncertainty about the direction of its restructuring.

Apple fared better than the overall US market, but still saw shipments decline as its own PCs also face competition from iPads.

Employers rely on staff not to snoop

snoopBusinesses are placing too much trust in their employees when it comes to safeguarding company data, a survey by LogRhythm has found.

However employees are pulling the wool over their bosses’ eyes.

Questioning 1,000 employers, the cyber threat defence, detection and response company found 80 percent do not believe any of their workers would view or steal confidential information, while three quarters admitted to having no enforceable systems in place to prevent unauthorised access to company data by employees.

And some seem to have all the faith in the world when it comes to their staff with a third claiming they don’t believe they need such systems at all.

In addition, around two thirds of companies surveyed  admitted to not regularly changing passwords to stop ex-employees being able to access sites or documents.

However, on the employees side, it seems not all is well. In a separate survey of 2,000 staff LogRhythm found that 23 percent had accessed or taken confidential data from their workplace, with one in 10 saying that they do it regularly.

The most accessed confidential data related to details of colleagues’ salaries,  with 38 percent of staff admitting to snooping around to find this out, while a further 23 percent said they looked for details of colleague bonus schemes.

A huge 94 percent of those who had accessed confidential information or stolen company data had never been caught.

When asked, more than a quarter of employers could not identify the biggest threats to their confidential data, while 14 percent did not even know whether employees have stolen data – even though they believe employees would do so.

Ross Brewer, vice president and managing director for international markets at LogRhythm, came to the groundbreaking conclusion that this showed there was a “clear gap between businesses’ internal security procedures and the harsh reality of employee behaviour”.

Jobs shrink in the UK

Jobcentre-plus-KPMG has reported that the UK saw its slowest growth of job vacancies for seven months during March 2013.

The latest findings form part of its Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and report on jobs, collated through survey data provided by recruitment consultancies.

The availability of candidates to fill permanent job roles decreased for a fourth successive month in March. However, KPMG pointed out that the rate of deterioration remained only “modest.” It said the availability of temporary/contract staff meanwhile increased slightly, maintaining the trend seen since the turn of the year.

It was also better news on the pay front with the company reporting that permanent staff salaries and temporary and contract staff pay both increased at moderate rates over the month. It said in the case of the latter, inflation was at a 12-month high.

The Midlands, North and South all registered higher permanent placements in March. London, however, saw a renewed decline following two months of growth.

Private sector vacancies continued to increase during March. Expansions were signalled for both permanent and temporary staff,  however KPMG pointed out that these were at slower rates compared with February.

In the public sector, demand for temporary workers increased for the first time in three months. However, demand for permanent employees was down marginally.

The strongest rate of expansion was signalled for IT and Computing staff, a trend carried on from February, while hotel  and catering registered the slowest growth of vacancies.

For the fourteenth consecutive month, nursing/medical/care was the most in-demand category for temporary/contract staff during March.

Ingram Micro floats further into the cloud

clouds3Ingram Micro is expanding its offerings in the cloud.

The distie has decided to add new clould telecoms services to its existing set of 170 services already being offered in this space.

Announcing the new moves at its Ingram Micro Cloud Summit, taking place in Phoenix, this week, the company said it would now be able to offer customers support for  voice video and data from CenturyLink and Time Warner Cable Business Class.

And its not just this service the distie is offering. In its bid to conquer cloud further its announced the hardware-as-a-service (HaaS) program, which claims to allow its channel partners resell packages of hardware, software and cloud-based services for a monthly fee without the need for a large upfront investment.

Other services it said it would be offering for customers in the future were enterprise-class business intelligence platforms from Birst as well as moving into healthcare with services specially for this sector in partnership with  Medweb and NextGen Healthcare.

Ingram Micro brings SAP enterprise mobility to market

IMIngram Micro and SAP are helping customers make the most of the enterprise mobility market, or so they say.

The dynamic duo have teamed up with Ingram Micro claiming to help leverage its value-added reseller (VAR) channel to help push SAP products into small-to-medium-sized business (SMB) market.

From April 15, 2013, Ingram Micro Mobility will provide its VAR community access to the SAP mobile platform, which includes the SAP Afaria mobile device management service.

Ingram Micro VARs will also have access to SAP’s extensive portfolio of more than 300 mobile apps that support tasks from simple productivity to complex transactions across 24 different industries, employing mobile devices using iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry operating systems.

Here’s their spin. Leveraging Ingram Micro’s extensive distribution infrastructure and expertise will make the SAP apps available in an on-demand fashion through the proven Ingram Micro distribution model to the VAR community and end customers, the company has boasted.

Ingram Micro and SAP expect the relationship to benefit VARs and end-users by providing a cost-effective solution for the SMB market to take advantage of enterprise-class mobile solution software applications to dramatically improve productivity.

Fujitsu UK and Microsoft continue cosy relataionship

cosyFujitsu UK and Microsoft have extended their partnership, announcing that they have created a new centre of excellence business model.

The new addition to the couple now means that Microsoft staff will work on-site at Fujitsu’s premises to generate the two companies’ first Centre of Excellence (COE), which is aimed at helping Fujitsu customers drive innovation across their businesses by ensuring the adoption of the right technology options for their organisations.

The Centre of Excellence, which has been born through an investment of £4.5 million from Fujitsu, will create an environment for both Fujitsu and Microsoft experts to combine their core strengths in delivering complex IT products. The companies said this includes enterprise desktop transformation projects and bespoke enterprise consultation services.

The cosy pair also claim to work together to engage customers early on in the technology adoption cycle.

Fujitsu will use its experience in delivering complex desktop transformation products and implementing successful end user services projects and combine this with the COE team’s  knowledge of Microsoft products and services.

The pair said this would to help address the challenges that many of their joint customers face with regards to the enterprise-wide implementation of technology products.

In addition, the companies working together will ensure that both organisations and their customers experience an increase in global delivery capabilities that will in turn ensure that projects are completed in as fast a time as possible.

Marks & Spencer kicks off mobile payments trial

marksandspencerMarks & Spencer has launched a small pilot program to test its new mobile payments service. The M&S Digital Lab app was launched in February and Marks & Spencer says it will help it explore emerging technologies and understand how they might work.

However, the new mobile payments service is not actually a part of the m-commerce app. It is merely an element of Marks & Spencer’s overall marketing and technology campaign, reports QR Press Codes. Marks & Spencer is using a third-party app to try out its new service.

The Paddle app was developed by a London based startup and it is supposed to be leaner and easier to use than competing solutions. The app sorts out transactions by scanning QR codes and developers claim it is very secure.

The information is transmitted in the cloud, the credit card information and delivery address need to be submitted only once. Only the last four digits of the card must be submitted to validate the purchase, which should speed up transactions and improve security.

Avnet partners with IBM SmartCloud

avnettsAvnet has chosen IBM SmartCloud as its platform for its Cloud Solutions programme in India.

The move is said to allow Avnet to offer small and medium business in India a selection of services in the cloud sector including storage capabilities in a utility model and customised services such as disaster recovery and managed services.

Avnet has a strong presence in India and it hopes that the cloud offerings will allow it to make more railroads into sectors such as retail, logistics, manufacturing, banking and financial services, public sector and education.

Its partnership with IBM SmartCloud will also mean that its partners benefit offering customers   access to enterprise-level IT at affordable price points without additional investment in infrastructure, security, back-up, upgrades and maintenance.

Avnet said the partnership would help those customers garner benefits by adopting a robust cloud architecture and service model, leapfrogging the traditional investment in enterprise IT and allowing them to focus on specific needs.

HP chucks Moonshine at non-x86 SECCs P.I.E

hpmoonshineHP has announced the latest in Project Moonshine, which CEO Meg Whitman said in a web conference should be a shift in the way servers handle data. It may also be a shift away from X86.

If nothing is done to address core infrastructure problems, Whitman said, infrastructure could be something that actually holds back the development of the web instead of enabling it. “It’s not just about cellphones and tablets connected to the internet but millions of sensors collecting data,” she said, machines talking to machines, and generating not petabytes but brontobytes of data.

Project Moonshine, Whitman promised, would not be jailhouse toilet booze but a “multiyear” and “multi phased” program to shape the future of data centres – as the current path we’re on is “not sustainable from a space, energy and cost perspective”. Using years of HP Labs research, Whitman and HP Moonshine will hel create “the foundation for the next 20 billion devices”.

In a webcast, HP’s Dave Donetelli mentioned the proof of concept for Moonshine which was unveiled in 2011, and since HP roped in 50 beta customers to thoroughly develop and test its various iterations. Now, HP has given the world the second gen Moonshine servers, which it claims are based on the concept of the ‘software defined server’ – that is, specifically with internet scaled workloads in mind, and designed for the software that needs to run on it.

Donetelli said the servers address Space, Energy, Cost, and Complexity (SECC). By which he means there’s less of all of the above.

The Moonshot 1500 enclosure, Donetelli points out, can hold 45 Moonshot servers, and compared to the traditional ProLiant server, it uses up to 80 percent less energy, 80 percent less space, and is 77 percent cheaper. Customers, then, will be able to build better revenues from a smaller footprint for less cash. These servers run on the Intel Atom s1200, though partners like AMD, Applied Micro, Texas Instruments and Calxeda are all bringing in new chipsets – which HP hopes will provoke market competition and more innovation.

Targeting big data, high performance computing, gaming, financial services, facial recognition, video analysis and other stuff, Donetelli promised that the portfolio of the servers will grow – and at a quicker rate thanks to the competition between its partners as it’s not tied to an 18 to 24 month chip cycle.

Partners will be able to, and encouraged to join the Pathfinder Innovation Ecosystem, or P.I.E., including operating system developers and software vendors.

Donetelli said this announcement is not an “incremental change” but a “new class of servers designed for the data centre”.

When asked if these will replace X86 servers, an HP spokesperson said PCs were the high volume product at that time, today things that people buy in high volume are smartphones and tablets. A transition from Unix to X86 took time, and HP believes a transition from X86 to Moonshot will take time. “X86 will be here for a very long time, but Moonshot will be here for a long time,” the spokesperson said.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead said that the developments are positive because the servers of today aren’t ready for the explosion in data driven by future trends such as the all-singing all dancing totally connected internet of things.

The first Moonshot server is shipping today in US & Canada and will be available to channel partners around the world next month.

AMD launches battle against Intel over APUs

roytaylorcropAn interview with AMD last week shed light on the latest battleground between Intel and AMD which underlies future changes in computing.  In a meeting with corporate  vice president for global channel sales, Roy Taylor, he said  both AMD and Intel are investing in microprocessor architectures which give equal prominence to both serial and parallel computing. And he claimed AMD is ahead of the game.

Using both the CPU as a serial processor and the GPU as a parallel or GPGPU (General Purpose GPU) processor these new devices form a category that AMD calls the APU.  The APU will be the bedrock of a new generation of x86 based HSA or Heterogeneous System Architecture devices. Current generation APUs such as Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and the forthcoming Haswell parts from Intel, and AMD’s Trinity and Richland parts from AMD still use separate memory configurations, with each processor  having its own defined memory block.

But future devices in 2014, said Taylor, will use single memory configurations, allowing both the CPU and GPU to dynamically share a single memory array and be true HSA enabled processors.  Intel’s introduction of an L4 cache to speed up the performance between its CPU and GPU is also an indication of its intentions.

In defense of his argument for APU as a new microprocessor category, Taylor showed a diagram that illustrated the increasing commitment by Intel to a larger GPU configuration in its APU generations.  These indicated, he said, the need for successful HSA architectures to be balanced.
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APUs and Open CL
The growth and success of Open CL, which is able to take advantage of APU devices by using the GPU to accelerate parallel functions, is further ammunition to the establishment of the category, said Taylor.  Popular applications such as Handbrake for transcoding, and VLC Player for watching movies, take advantage of this open standard maintained by Khronos and supported by AMD, Apple, IBM, Intel and Nvidia. Open CL received a strong endorsement last week by the announcement by Adobe that it is using Open CL to hardware accelerate its Premier Pro product.

Since HTML5 also takes advantage of GPU acceleration it seems to make sense that in the future we will see APUs used wherever there is a need for a device which can replace the traditional but separate PC configuration of having a separate CPU and GPU.  “That configuration makes sense for higher end systems’”, said Taylor. But in the meantime currently available APU performance is surprisingly strong, he said.  To this end he went on to show the performance of AMD current APUs compared to Intel’s or configurations using both Intel and a separate Nvidia GPU together.
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When asked what this meant for the channel, Taylor said that at a time of austerity, being able to build relatively high performance desktop and notebook computers at a fraction of their traditional prices could have a huge impact. He may be right but only if system builders and e-tailers recognise the value of the new category and get behind it.

A quick read of the HSA Foundation website seems to show a significant ground swell behind the use of balanced compute architectures.  With companies like Qualcomm, ARM, Imagination Technologies and Samsung also investing in HSA it does seem that we can expect to see strong developments in this area.  It will be interesting to see what Microsoft thinks of the use of APUs to power Windows and whether the software community in general gets behind the category too.

We contacted Intel in Santa Clara for comment but at the time of press had not received a response.

Canon touts compact imaging

Canon logoCanon is helping its partners make the most of the increasing demand for compact imaging products.

It has launched two new compact black-and-white multifunctional devices (MFDs) as part of its  ImageRunner Advance range, which it claims will create new revenue opportunities in the desktop capture and output market.

According to the company’s recent Office Insights report, value and cost of MFDs were found to be the most important factors in the purchasing process for 34 percent of decision makers, followed closely by reliability – 20 percent and output quality – 18 percent.

Canon said its new devices helped bridge this gap and also added to its partner’s portfolio.

The new ImageRunner Advance 400i and 500i A4 devices have output and capture capabilities in a compact design claimed to provide users with smarter ways of working.

End-users can print from any Google Cloud Print enabled web-connected device, or scan to and print from the iPad, iPhone and Android mobile devices. The Uniflow platform is said to offer configurable document workflows to larger organisations or more demanding environments.

Uniflow also provides a secure platform for users to print from any device to any networked MFD.

The ImageRunner Advance 400i and 500i devices will be available across the UK & Ireland from 1 May 2013.

Labour wades into high street debate

highstreetLabour has put its oar into the “how to fix the high street debate”.

Ed Miliband, Labour leader,  said that he wants to see payday lenders and betting shops that “engulf” people in debt, as well as take-away food chains, banned from the high street.

The Labour leader is speaking out against the way these shops are allowed to open up at the drop of a hat – sometimes next to each other – at the launch of his party’s local election campaign.

He proposes changes to planning laws, allowing councils to refuse permission for certain businesses.

He is expected to say councils should be allowed to prevent shops opening, such as payday lenders and bookmakers, which do not have a community’s backing as he believes in “local solutions to local problems”.

Miliband says that too many councils are finding that they don’t have the real power to stand up for local people. He said that if a bank or store closed down there is currently nothing that can be done to prevent a payday lender or betting shop opening up.

Last year 1,800 leisure, retail and services shops closed in England. Many were replaced by pay day loan shops, which saw a 20 percent increase in openings.

Notebook shipments in Q2 to remain weak

notebooksIncreasing demand for tablets, coupled with weak demand from China, is expected to hit notebook shipments in the second quarter.

According to Barclays Capital, global shipments will tumble 17 per cent from Q4 2012, traditionally the strongest quarter for notebook shipments. Notebook sales in Q2 usually grow by about 6 per cent, but Barclays believes shipments will grow only 4 per cent this year. Yang attributed the decline in demand from China to the ever increasing demand for tablets.

Barclays analyst Kirk Yang believes the weaker than expected growth also reflects delays in the introduction of new models. Both Intel and AMD are about to introduce new mobile processors and a new generation of touch enabled Ultrabooks is also on the way.

Taipei Times reports that Quanta, the world’s leading notebook ODM, is simply not receiving many orders. International brands are reluctant to place large orders, as better gear is just around the corner.

The really bad news is that things will not pick up anytime soon. Weak demand will plague the market well into the fourth quarter of 2013.

There are some technical challenges as well. Next generation hybrids and convertibles aren’t making much of an impact on the market yet. A shortage of touchscreen panels means that the production of touch enabled notebooks won’t pick up until later this year, which will roughly coincide with the rollout of new Intel mobile chips. SSDs remain prohibitively expensive for some market segments and they are still reserved for quite pricey SKUs. The same goes for high definition 1080p screens in sub 14-inch market.

In other words, consumers who don’t opt for high end devices really don’t have much of an incentive to upgrade.