CIO Symmetry

A SearchCIO Small Business blog


July 15, 2011  4:02 PM

The secret behind successfully balancing work and life on vacation



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
CIO, work/life balance

Confession: I have taken a conference call while walking to dinner down Bourbon Street. I have also been pulled into a meeting while driving my parents over the Golden Gate Bridge and had to pull off at the rest stop to participate in an hour-long argument over which font should be used for a dashboard header. I’ve also submitted reports via my smartphone while waiting to board a plane at O’Hare.

It’s tough to go on vacation when you leave your head in the office.

My old boss used to check his email while brushing his teeth every morning and actually scheduled a monthly operations meeting with our CEO to occur three hours after he was to wake up from having a major operation (he canceled it when he realized that it was probably not the best scenario for success). Sometimes he and I would have IM conversations about PowerPoint decks well after midnight during the week. Needless to say, when he went on vacation, the only difference for his team was that his calls came from his cell phone instead of his office line.

While the IT role of the future trends to be more connected, is it healthy? When I asked a CIO how he was balancing work and life, he replied sarcastically, “What’s work/life balance?” We are always connected, so we’re always on. With increased mobility and desktop virtualization options, you can now log into your office computer and tweak the quarterly numbers from seat 35A somewhere above Nebraska. And while it would be a tough sell to get any of us to ignore unlimited connectivity during a normal week, a vacation should involve actually being on vacation.

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching. Consider making an effort toward balancing work and life.

Here’s how to work on balancing your life on vacation: Start weaning your team and partners from their constant contact by letting them know that you will be out of reach during a given time period, whether it’s because you’re planning the family trip to Disneyland or you just want to have a lazy weekend barbecue. Then make it difficult to perform work during that time period — difficult for others to connect with you and difficult for yourself to “just check email.” Close the laptop and leave it at the office. Most hotels have connectivity and a business center, and you know that if you really really needed something, you can get online somewhere — but it will prevent you from checking your email (and checking out of your vacation headspace).

And here’s the hardest part of balancing work and life while on vacation: Leave your cell phone behind. Give the phone number of a third party to one trusted person in the office, telling them that they can only call you in the direst of emergencies. If your co-workers have the ability to get you on the line by dialing 10 digits, chances are that they will, but if they had to call your admin to get the number and then talk to your husband or wife first — or if you’re really committed to balancing work and life, the front desk at the hotel — they’ll probably find someone else to answer their question or solve their problem.

And if that last thought causes you to get a little queasy, that’s exactly why you need to cut the cord while you’re on vacation.

July 12, 2011  4:10 PM

What chief information officers have in common with Kevin Bacon



Posted by: Scot Petersen
chief executive officers, CIO

What does a chief information officer have in common with Kevin Bacon? Mathematics.

The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game has been around for a while. It proves that all of us are more intertwined with society than we give ourselves credit for. My brother-in-law used to work for Robert Rubin at Goldman Sachs, and Robert Rubin was President Clinton’s Treasury secretary. So I’m only three degrees away from Bubba.

Anyway, now we are all Nth degrees away from any person or topic, in the world of Wikipedia.

Web geeks have discovered that in about 99% of the cases, any term in Wikipedia will eventually lead to the topic philosophy. It follows that a term can be connected to any other term. The common root term of chief information officer and Kevin Bacon is mathematics.

Want to find out more? Try out xefer’s tool for yourself.


July 11, 2011  11:27 AM

Will Google social media be the fastest growing network in history?



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
cloud applications, social media

The world is a busy place, and last week was no exception. We saw the last public launch of NASA’s shuttle program, witnessed tremendous buzz in the wide scramble for adoption of Google’s social media project Google+ and a whole lot of candles on IBM’s birthday cake. Here’s the five-minute lowdown on what you missed around the Web last week.

When Cisco killed the Flip video camera, it was a reminder to the industry that the age of specialization is dead and the multitasker is king. However, David Pogue points out that, while Swiss Army knife gizmos can certainly do it all, it doesn’t mean it’s smart to do everything with them.

Start practicing those stories for the grandkids about how you remember a time before Google social media or free cloud hosting, because we smell a trend: Amazon has upped the ante by giving users of its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player access to unlimited music storage space for Amazon MP3s.

Sometimes, the success of a new IT project is a function of timing versus demand, says Vladimir Mazek.

Last week was the final launch of the NASA space shuttle program. Does that mean the next space walk is going to be taken by a space tourist? Are you ready to be the first CIO in space?

Idealab founder Bill Gross predicted that Google+ social media adoption will go from zero to 100,000,000 users faster than any other service in history. We tend to agree. Too bad Andy Warhol didn’t live to comment on the fact that our 15 minutes of fame might come via a social media network.

With so many major companies taking the hit, why has IBM weathered so many financial storms? Kevin Kelly muses on IBM’s 100th birthday.


July 8, 2011  2:45 PM

Can the new Google social network overtake Facebook?



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
Email and messaging, Google Plus, Leadership and Strategy, SharePoint and Web 2.0, social media

Facebook and Google have been at war for years. They want your eyes on their sites, and they’ll do anything toward that goal.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the potential new heir to the Facebook throne, Google+ (G+). The new Google social network started quietly accepting new users two weeks ago but now early adopters are rushing to join G+ in levels that have exceeded Google’s capacity, causing it to flick on and off invitation and registration capability as it tries to contend with the huge demand.

That sound you hear? That’s the beginning of the huge exodus of Facebook users over to G+.

Once you’re inside G+, you might notice that Google Wave and Google Buzz were prototypes — or perhaps beta releases — for a more robust, integrated Google social network. Aesthetically, the G+ system is very clean and pure, as though the GUI were designed by a Swedish furniture maker. There are some analogs to Facebook’s design — for instance, instead of a “Like” you push the Google +1 button — but G+ has the benefits of slick new toys like Hangouts, which integrates a video chat room component for entire Circles as you’ve defined it. Of course, if you’re already using Gmail, G+ knows who you’re conversing with via email and will helpfully make suggestions to populate your Circles. Similarly, G+ is expected to integrate the sharing feature in Google Reader to automatically share to your G+ network. The organic relationship with its own applications gives the Google social network a huge advantage over Facebook.

The general interaction with my social network is already very robust and — forgive the generalization — seems a bit more intellectual and witty than Facebook. Perhaps this dinner-party atmosphere is due to self-selection in this first month. The kinds of people who are interested in jumping on trends are at the G+ party, while the more Luddite social media participants are still playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. Or maybe the discourse has been more interesting because there are fewer distractions: There are no creepy surveys (at least, not yet) or announcements about one’s Farmville status. Or maybe everyone is just still experimenting with the GUI.

The G+ circles are a tad confusing at first, but when you realize that it’s just like the Facebook friend groups out in the open, it becomes more organic. Mark Zuckerburg seems to feel threatened by this approach and took a dig at G+ circles earlier this week.

So why the rush to adopt? Perhaps it’s the allure of a clean slate: a chance to undo the bad decisions made on Facebook.  Did you “Facebook friend” (yes, it’s a verb now) your teenage sweetheart on a whim and now are subjected to numerous status updates on their insane political stance? Instead of forcing the issue, you have a chance to simply avoid connecting with that person in a whole new environment. It’s a bit like the teenage movies where a nerd switches to a new school and gets a whole new identity: the promise of a perfect social network.

G+ does not yet have capacity for Business Pages, and while it does not actively ban businesses from signing up for the system, it does warn that businesses may have to create new profiles and rebuild their Circles when Google+ for Businesses is implemented. However, this should serve as a good reminder to check those social media strategies and update them to include the Google social network technologies and schema.

Just the same, you should check it out for your personal use. If G+ overtakes Facebook as the social media network of dominance — and the general feel of the first two weeks indicates that it will — late adopters will have to spend a lot of time playing catch up.


July 5, 2011  1:34 PM

Hacking activities mean security risk is everybody’s business



Posted by: Scot Petersen
CIO, Hacking, security risk

The LulzSec hacker group recently announced it was backing off its spree of network break-ins — but only after making off with gigabytes of sensitive documents from large private- and public-sector organizations. Meanwhile, other groups continue on with their hacking activities. Security vendor RSA is still picking itself up from having its token technology hacked earlier this year.

No one, it seems, is immune from security risk these days. But don’t take my word for it.

Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony, whose PlayStation Network was down for weeks this spring after a breach, recently told Newsweek, “How can I sit here and tell you there will be no further vulnerabilities? We’re dealing with it. Now it’s a known hazard. Everybody is being hacked now.”

Not very encouraging, is it?

Security is no longer the domain of CISOs but also CEOs, who must take responsibility for security risk and how it affects corporate assets, the bottom line and the company’s reputation.

Like the cultures of innovation sponsored by so many of the CIOs whom we have spoken to this year, security risk culture must start at the top. “Dealing with it” just doesn’t cut it anymore.


July 1, 2011  2:35 PM

What IT/business alignment has in common with the TSA



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
CIO, IT/business alignment

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harman CIO Michael Ali’s discussion of IT/business alignment. We spend of lot of energy in IT worrying about how to align with the business, while our users are figuring out ways to circumvent IT completely. New initiatives are exciting within the organization, but users tend to view changes by what they can’t do instead of what they can, which is hampering IT/business alignment at its very core.

Then I had a flash of inspiration on the problem of IT/business alignment (bear with me): I travel a lot, both for business and pleasure, and like George Clooney in “Up in the Air” I have the security check down to a streamlined dance of removing my bag of liquids and my laptop from my bag and taking off my jacket and my shoes practically in the same motion. I used to be really grumpy about the TSA’s various regulations, but now I am just resigned to it as part of flying. I knew my spirit was officially broken when I had to choose between being photographed by the backscatter machines and being frisked by a TSA agent. (How bad has it gotten when walking around in your stocking feet at a public place is the least silly part of a process?)

IT is in danger of becoming the TSA of the organization.

If you were to measure the company’s general feel for IT outside of the department, would the employees be excited about what you’re accomplishing, or would they grumble about the firewall or how IT’s BYOD policies won’t let them legally use their iPads on the network or the fact that their laptop’s processer dates back to the Cold War? At my last company, I still remember the shock and awe when IT finally gave its blessing on a company-wide IM protocol. Instead of being excited about having new technology to play with, there was a huge rumor going around that the IT department was giving us IM to be able to spy on our conversations. Ridiculous, but true.

Crazy paranoia aside, think about how IT is perceived by the people who work in production or marketing or human resources. Do those people believe — really believe — that IT is enabling their productivity, or do they grudgingly feel like IT is holding them up when they’re late for a deadline and demanding that all of their liquids be placed in a quart-sized Ziploc bag? Think about how employee suggestions are considered: Is the first instinct to say “No,” or do you embrace IT innovation from everywhere in the company?

“All of the data suggests that midmarket companies will lead the economic recovery, and all of our data shows that those companies that leverage and exploit IT will be at the head of the pack,” said Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM global small and medium-sized business division.

So forget about IT/business alignment, and worry about IT’s serious image problem. It could have an actual and measurable effect on your company’s bottom line.


June 28, 2011  5:35 PM

Even the Geek Doctor couldn’t save Google Health



Posted by: Scot Petersen
CIO, Google Health, Personal health records

My first thought when I heard that Google Health is shutting down is, “what’s the Geek Doctor going to do?” My second thought was shock.

Dr. John Halamka, aka the “Geek Doctor,” has been one of Google Health’s biggest boosters since the passage of the Recovery Act and the HITECH Act in 2009. He has touted the use of personal health record (PHR) services as a key piece of the coming digital landscape in health care. He made PHRs a standard part of his frequent presentations on the status of meaningful use requirements, even going as far as showing his own personal Google Health record.

All of which makes it more surprising when Google announced the “retirement” of its health record service as of Jan. 1, 2012. This is from the company where beta projects live forever.

John Moore of Chilmark Research, who predicted the demise of Google Health more than a year ago, posted an interesting recap of its downfall this week, while Microsoft officials are giving kudos to Google for its efforts and using the opportunity to sell Microsoft HealthVault to consumers.

But that is the problem — consumers. Google’s issues were more about the PHR model than their service, which was considered very user-friendly. Doctors and patients haven’t bought into the concept. When you consider issues of privacy and security, ownership of and access to the records, and integration with payer, provider and health information exchange systems, PHRs have come to resemble the quagmire that is the health care industry in general.

PHRs’ time may come, but they might have to wait until the transition to the digital hospital is complete – and that may take decades.


June 27, 2011  4:53 PM

Women in technology and science have an advantage



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
CIO, disaster recovery, women in IT

It’s a short week for a lot of people, but with vacations popping up, the work doesn’t go away. That’s why we’re rocking out an executive must-read list so that you don’t have to risk getting sucked down the rabbit hole that is the blogosphere. Here’s a quick executive summary of disaster recovery issues pertaining to zombies, the importance of working one’s network and the dynamics of women in technology and science.

  • What is the easiest way to kill innovation? Adam Hartung outlines several innovation killers, most easily identified by the statement, “We don’t do that around here.”
  • You think your data center is tough to cool? Try to make a tent in the Iraqi desert comfortable. The U.S. military spends more on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan than NASA spends on, well, everything.
  • The town of Leicester, England, has got a bit of a business continuity and disaster recovery blind spot. Local government officials recently admitted that they didn’t have a plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse ,and then 150 zombies invaded their city council offices. Point taken!
  • Adaptive’s founder, Audrey MacLean, says that women in technology and science are more rare because little girls get stymied at an early age. The trick is in getting girls into tech while they’re still young.
  • Author and techno-speaker Scott Berkun asks, “What’s the difference between arrogance and self-confidence?” We’re pretty sure it has to do with the proverbial ability to write checks that your posterior can actually cash without requiring two forms of photo identification.
  • Maybe the women in technology and science just aren’t networking enough to get ahead. LinkedIn ranked many industries by gender and found some counterintuitive results: Guys in the cosmetics industry are better at networking, while women in ranching subscribe to the “good old boys” network.


June 24, 2011  2:05 PM

Vulnerability in Dropbox security leaves user accounts wide open



Posted by: Wendy Schuchart
CIO, cloud computing, data privacy

No bones about it: Dropbox security just took a huge dive in user confidence. This past Sunday, Dropbox user accounts — all of them — were open and accessible to the world, no password required. What’s worse — the fact that the Dropbox security team must not have adequately done QA on its patch that left all accounts unsecured, or the fact that they acted like nothing happened for almost a day, until they posted a very unemotional update to their blog?

My favorite part of the Dropbox blog notice: “The glitch was a programming error related to a code update and accounts were only vulnerable from around 1:54 pm PST to 5:46pm PST.” It’s like a subtle pish-posh on your worries for your data. Nothing to see here! Your files and data were only unprotected for four hours. Or, as I like to think about it, it only took Dropbox four hours before it noticed that it broke its own encryption.

Actually, it appears that Dropbox only noticed the error when one of its users, Chris Soghoian, discovered the issue and sent in a support request. The failure to acknowledge the concerns of its users and the fact that as of June 21, Dropbox still hadn’t notified all of their users directly, has made a lot of people upset. I’m not sure I can blame them: We’ve said before that the truest test of a company’s strength is how it reacts to bad situations exactly like this one.

We’ve recommended Dropbox as a nice free business app for your iPad in the past, and we’ve also reported on the FTC complaint that Dropbox security wasn’t up to par and recommended that you go through the extra step of adding a secondary encryption by using Dropbox and TrueCrypt. Undoubtedly, trolls in tinfoil hats will now use this as an opportunity to feed more cloud paranoia, but let’s look at this misadventure with a little perspective: Your own desktop is probably more vulnerable to outside attack than most cloud services, and rarely is a desktop vulnerability noticed in only four hours.

Yes, Dropbox promised it was free awesome encryption and data storage. So do a lot of cloud providers, and we’ve learned from many examples that there is no such thing as “too big to fail“. As CIO Marc Seybold said in this week’s news story, “You can put all the antivirus software in the world on the network, but something will still make its way past those defenses.” As with so many things, Dropbox and all public cloud options (hello, Google, I’m looking at you) have always been caveat emptor.

I’ll still use Dropbox as a convenient service for my own data storage, but just as before, I’m not putting anything on it that I wouldn’t want my grandmother (or a hacker) to see.


June 21, 2011  1:46 PM

Twitter hoax reveals another shift in information landscape



Posted by: Scot Petersen
CIO, social media tools

If Twitter were a person, it would just be turning 5 next month (they are so cute at that age). But in Internet time, Twitter has already gone through rehab, a foreclosure and a losing custody battle over the kids.

But Twitter is still a good person, right? “There’s nothing  intrinsically immoral about Twitter,” writes Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times. As we have seen with tweeting athletes and celebrities, and especially with disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, Twitter doesn’t kill careers — people do it to themselves.

The latest from the social media highlight reel is the Twitter hoax that was revealed last week. Erstwhile Tweeting celeb Amina Abdullah, aka the “Gay Girl In Damascus,” who was chronicling the political uprisings in Syria, was in reality an American male and his wife, who are living in Scotland, according to reports.

Social media scandals are no longer surprising, or even that exciting. What is interesting about this particular story was pointed out by my former colleague David Strom in his Strominator blog. He describes how an NPR reporter, Andy Carvin, tracked down the truth and broke the story — using Twitter and other social media tools to do it.

The lesson for all is being smarter about how to use social media tools. We have pointed out the great opportunities and opportunity costs of Twitter for business. But with social media in the hands of our country’s leaders, as Heffernan says, “we need more thoroughly digital minds – even if, like all minds, they periodically turn dirty – in public life.”


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