CIO Symmetry


May 3, 2011  3:36 PM

CIO innovation is about getting ahead of the problems

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

My colleagues and I in the CIO/IT Strategy Media Group have spent much of the first half of 2011 talking with CIOs about innovation. So much time that I think I might go crazy asking another question about CIO innovation. But happily, I’m always surprised by the answers we hear.

The latest sampling came from the CIOsynergy Chicago 2011 conference I attended last week.

One CIO, Paul Cottey of Accretive Health, talked about innovation not as something that has to be forced but something that will happen naturally, given the right environment. “Expect innovation to occur,” despite a bad economy or fewer people doing more work, he said. Not everybody can be an innovator, but it may be enough to enable others to be innovative. “I got out of the way,” he said.

Others said that innovation may simply be a matter of recognizing an opportunity and seizing when it comes along. “One person’s ceiling is another’s floor,” said Greg Goluska, CIO of DSC Logistics.

What keeps coming through for me is that to be truly innovative, solutions need to be put in place and be ready before the occurrence of the problem for which the solution was designed. In other words, IT innovation isn’t about keeping up with the business; it’s getting ahead of it. That does not have to be accomplished through some magic trick or guessing game. It comes from developing an understanding of the business as well as anyone else in the company.

April 28, 2011  1:33 PM

PlayStation Network breach is Sony’s shameful nadir

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

Another week, another major hack. It seems these things go in cycles. There was a major breach at email provider Epsilon earlier this month. But the recent attack on the PlayStation Network is unprecedented, in many ways. And most of it does not have to do with gamers.

First, with more than 70 million users affected, the PlayStation Network breach could potentially be the biggest identity theft event in history.

Second, and I think more egregious, is the incredibly slow response from Sony. As of this writing, the breach is a week old and the network is still down and could be for another week.

Third, Sony, a noted technology vendor, visionary and pioneer (and also perpetrator of the infamous CD digital rights management scandal a few years ago) should be ashamed of the scope of exposure to its network.

But there is a ray of hope. For the millions out there who are addicted to the PSN multiplayer versions of Call of Duty: Black Ops and the new craze, Portal2, as my two sons are, there is a rare opportunity for a respite from the virtual world and a chance to face reality.

Time for Sony to do the same.


April 22, 2011  10:00 AM

A bad experience with a Trojan virus drives home BYOD benefits

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Mondays have a reputation for being the least favorite day of the week for many people. Normally I disagree with that feeling, but this Monday at 9 a.m., my laptop started acting a little hinky. I knew something was up, but then 10 minutes later, Windows warned me that it had blocked some strange ISP traffic. Yep, I’d been hit by a Trojan.

Because I’m remote and didn’t want to involve the help desk unless I had to, I spent a day running antivirus software, then another day playing phone tag with the help desk, all the while I was rebooting again and again and again. Whatever demon got hold of my machine was very, very good, because even after a clean scan and blessing from my antivirus software, the system would continue misbehaving. It was clearly time to hand the machine over to our tech support folks. Slight problem: I’m in Wisconsin and they’re in California.

While my machine is in the shop, I’m living the Bring Your Own Device dream. I’m an incognito Apple fan girl and while I always thought the BYOD ideal was preferable, I’m now seeing how difficult it is to manage while I try to re-create my work environment on my Mac. Some programs aren’t playing nice together– some processes won’t even speak to each other, which I’m still trying to figure out – but overall, I am adapting to this process a lot faster than I would a loaner machine simply because it feels like home.

In an ideal BYOD shop, I could have just plucked from a menu of apps and data governed by IT, installed them myself regardless of OS and gone on my merry way. Mick Hollison of Citrix Synergy advocates the BYOD model, calling it “people-centric computing.” He feels it drives employee satisfaction while enabling IT to have a more strategic focus, freeing the help desk from having to, say, support three-month-old laptops that are infected with mega Trojans like mine. Citrix doesn’t even have to deal with purchasing: They just give employees a stipend and say, “Go buy yourself a little something.”

The stereotypical response from Mac fans is that if my work laptop had been my choice of a MacBook Pro, I wouldn’t have gotten a Trojan because Macs aren’t targeted by these programs, but that is not entirely true. However, I have to admit that rather than playing phone tag with the help desk, I probably would have just gone down to the Apple store that’s less than a mile from my house.

Sure, same end result whether it’s a BYOD or not: Someone else has to fix my problem. And while I can’t say that it would have been resolved faster with a BYOD paradigm, I know for a fact that my laptop won’t even be in California until next week. If I had the power as a user to self-support my own device, it would have been in a tech’s hands on Monday by 10 a.m. From where I’m sitting, that’s a pretty huge argument for BYOD.


April 19, 2011  2:01 PM

Cisco killed the Flip camera and other surprises

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The news last week that Cisco killed the Flip mini-camcorder — or, as Cisco put it, restructured its consumer products division – is full of surprises.

First, I have to admit, even as a Cisco Flip camera owner, I had no idea that Cisco owned the product, but it has since 2009. Guess I missed that one.

Second, everyone seems to understand that the death of the Cisco Flip camera is because of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and other HD video-ready smartphones. But, as New York Times technology columnist David Pogue points out, the actual number of multitasking smartphones out there is still relatively small compared to the number of phones that only offer voice services. So discontinuing the product (and, in the process, laying off more than 500 people) seems pretty premature.

Third, if Cisco really wanted to get some return on its investment, why not try to find a buyer for the Flip camera? Or give management an opportunity for a buyout? Crazy.

But given Cisco’s history in the consumer (small-business?) products space, it’s buyer beware the next time Cisco starts to take its eye off the enterprise


April 15, 2011  3:28 PM

CIOs and facilities managers need to be BFFs with green IT practices

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

I live in a relatively modest 1,500-square-foot bungalow. It was built shortly after World War II by the first owner, a man who wanted his house to withstand possible mortar attacks from a resurgent Axis Alliance. Embedded within its very walls is a steel mesh that is great for stability but turns simple home improvements into a nightmare. It also means that we live in a form of a Faraday cage.

Our smartphones go from five bars to maybe two the minute we step inside the door. We also need to have two Wi-Fi hubs. They’re maybe 40 feet apart, but the signal just can’t make it through — literally — three walls of steel. Of course, old buildings being quirky is nothing new: A friend works in a rehabbed warehouse space, and deals with the constant issues caused by his overworked HVAC system not being able to chill the servers due to lousy insulation on the outer walls.

So, you move your operations to a new structure and problem solved? Maybe! Or maybe your problems are just beginning.

Modern builders employing green building methods tend to wrap the building frame — from floor to rafters — in insulated membranes like Protect TF200 Thermo or gold foil TyVek wrap. It’s a reflective surface, which is great if you want to prevent lost heat and cooling, but it might not be so awesome if you rely on wireless connectivity. And the worst part is that it’s already in the walls when you sign the lease on your new space, and you’ll never realize that you’re in a Faraday cage until your team logs onto their iPads and BlackBerrys.

Features Writer Laura Smith wrote last month, “IT may own the blueprint of the future, but facilities owns the blueprint of the building, and that usually determines where pipes and cables are laid, as well as where vents and access control points are located. IT’s involvement at the beginning of a data center consolidation and virtualization project helps eliminate the need for expensive retrofitting later.” You can’t really do anything after a building has been wrapped in environmentally friendly construction materials, but this is the kind of information that the facilities manager might not realize will impact the CIO’s bottom line. Sure, another AirPort Extreme isn’t going to kill anyone’s budget, but an unexpected 1,000 extra AirPorts and a need to change a telecom strategy most definitely will have an impact.

You never really know what you don’t know, especially when it’s bricked up inside the walls. Great CIOs have always been able to roll with surprises, whether it’s an unexpected system outage or a lost radio signal; but this is just one more reason why a CIO needs to establish a great relationship with her facilities manager.


April 12, 2011  1:32 PM

What have we learned from the Epsilon security breach?

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

My wife and I started getting the emails April 4. Best Buy. Our bank. Other e-commerce sites we had shopped. The impact of the Epsilon security breach was far and wide.

My first thought was that at least companies are getting less squeamish about putting out breach notifications. By now, businesses understand that a security breach doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be put out of business, which we learned with the TJX data breach.

But what is different in the wake of the Epsilon attack is that cybercriminals don’t necessarily have to get all of your personally identifiable information anymore to be able to get an edge on the consumer. Here, they just got names and email addresses. But that may be enough: A mere notification may be enough to spur someone to reply to a phishing email and inadvertently give away much more information than the original breach garnered.

Just as companies all have to have security and privacy policies, so do individual consumers when dealing with cybercrime. The same rules apply, however — awareness, diligence and taking the responsibility to know with whom you are doing business.


April 8, 2011  1:40 PM

Mobile technology in health care now the answer instead of the problem

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The first “mobile computing device” that I used was a 30-pound IBM “luggable” PC. It cost more than $4,000 and boasted the Intel 8088 microprocessor running at a blazing 4.77 MHz and ran off of two 5 1/4-inch floppy drives. There really wasn’t anything mobile about it, and not much computing was to be had, though it helped get me through college.

Today I am writing this on a 1 GHz dual-core Apple A5 “custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip” (as described by Apple) — an iPad — which costs $500 and weighs only 1.35 lbs.

IT has taken the economy and productivity in most industries to new heights in the past 30 years. Health care has stubbornly stayed on its own course, sometimes fitfully trying to play catch-up. It was only about two years ago that my doctors first started bringing laptops into the exam rooms instead of paper charts.

Now, with mobile technology devices like the iPad, tablet PCs, the iPhone, the Droid phone, BlackBerrys and a host of new remote home monitoring technologies and services, it’s time for health care to make the great — albeit delayed — leap into the Information Age.

I spent this week at the Institute for Health Technology Transformation’s conference in Atlanta, “Health IT in Practice: Strategies for a next generation health care system.” Based on what I saw and discussed with attendees, it seems that health care could now even be in the HOV lane, speeding by other industries.

The requirements of security, privacy, multiplatform capability and usability are pushing health care developers to create truly revolutionary apps for patient care. The difference this time is that these are technology answers to crucial questions being driven by health care reform and other electronic health care mandates, rather than whiz-bang technologies trying to change things.


April 5, 2011  7:56 PM

Are the Mozilla Firefox 4 and IE9 releases wreaking havoc on your old apps?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 and Mozilla Firefox 4 dropped within a week of each other, and now that the dust has settled, Internet users are finding that there are pieces of their daily lives that aren’t quite gelling with the new world order. For instance, certain programs just don’t play nice anymore. Firefox 4 refuses to load certain websites, and Microsoft has chosen to no longer support Windows XP in IE9

Don’t expect any sympathy from Microsoft about the fact that you can’t upgrade to IE9 without moving off of XP. IE9’s senior director, Ryan Gavin, has no patience for any complaints. “You simply can’t build on something that is 10 years ago,” he said. Who can blame him? (And also, I’m starting to feel like a maiden aunt at a family reunion. XP was released 10 years ago! How is that possible? They grow up so fast.)

Anyone who has been around an IT shop for even a matter of days knows this is nothing new: We’re constantly in a state of innovating our systems while cursed with foundation apps that no longer work with this program or that plug-in. In my last role, at least once a week, one of my team members would complain that the production management database was broken. Even though I haven’t worked tech support in years, I usually diagnosed the problem without even leaving my desk. “You installed Flash, didn’t you?” I’d say, and they would assure me that they did not break my seemingly draconian rule of never, ever, ever installing Adobe or Java updates — and yet, when we’d take a closer look, they magically had an updated version of Flash sitting on their desktops.

They’d blush and get quiet — to say more would reveal that they had been clearly trying to watch videos on YouTube. Hey, “Charlie bit my finger” is hilarious, and I dare anyone to watch it without cracking a smirk, but the simple fact was our ancient collaboration tool got jacked up when YouTube helpfully guided them to update their Flash software and that single mouse click brought their job performance to a screeching halt.

Operating systems aside, I wonder how many other processes broke when thousands of employees installed the Mozilla Firefox 4 or IE9 releases. Last week, SearchCIO-Midmarket.com editorial director Scot Petersen wrote in a post about IT innovation that the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ philosophy will eventually hurt your business,” and here we see that sentiment being demonstrated by those scrambling to deal with these browser upgrades. CIOs dealing with “broke and busted” this week are paying the price by being stuck with outdated tech or upgrading systems before they were ready.

If Microsoft is telling people that it’s time to move on from one of its biggest business products, perhaps CIOs should take this as a cue to look at their legacy apps and get transition plans in place before it’s too late. Otherwise, they’ll forever find themselves racing to keep up while dragging years of outdated technology behind them.

Are you in the middle of a headache caused by the Mozilla Firefox 4 or IE9 releases? Hit the comments and commiserate with the group.


April 1, 2011  3:32 PM

Are aging Baby Boomers taking your IT wisdom with them in retirement?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that retiring Baby Boomers will leave a record number of jobs open when they retire — by the time 2018 rolls around, we’ll be looking at a hard-core worker shortage. According to the attendees at FusionCIO conference last month, it’s happening already in IT.

One CIO who asked not to be named said that out of his 72 employees, more than a third (24 workers) could retire at any moment. And he was stressed about the fact that they could all walk at the same time, basically putting him in a solid state of hiring mode for months. The problem isn’t limited to just his team: He laughed and said the company literally had to issue a memo forbidding the use of conference rooms for retirement parties because his office had so many people retiring that it couldn’t find space for actual meetings.

The Baby Boomers gave birth to the Information Age. We are so focused on looking toward the future at new technology that sometimes we miss the importance of history. There’s the old cherry of never really knowing what you’ve until it’s gone: If you looked around your office right now, how many of your graying IT workers do what they do so competently that you never get to see how crucial their functions are, or how their absence might lead to a catastrophic failure of the process?

At my last employer, one IT guru had retired in May 2009, but he was still working in a consulting role as of February (making five times what he did as a regular employee). During his career, everyone knew that he was amazing, but no one had ever thought about how much pivoted around the information that was trapped inside one guy’s brain. They didn’t see that many processes literally could not function without his constant vigilance. In theory, he was brought back to mentor, but the mentees were so green that half of the information he was imparting flew totally over their heads. Every time he finished up his mentoring and left, a few months later some crisis would arise or the replacement quit and he’d be called back. And each return took more incentive for him to leave retirement life and return to the cubicle gulag.

Mentoring is critical as our aging Baby Boomers prepare to make the transition to retirement. With something as blatant and predictable as seniority, there’s no excuse for being taken by surprise by a retiring Baby Boomer.

What mentoring and knowledge transfer programs are in place in your organization? What are you doing to ensure that your brilliant fiftysomething IT professional that you rely on daily isn’t going to leave you and take with her all the magic that makes your legacy systems or installed base programs function?

Shoot me a comment and let me know what you’re doing to mitigate the pain of losing your valuable retirement-age IT workers.


March 29, 2011  3:34 PM

Why ‘IT innovation’ is less about technology, more about integration

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

What are we talking about when we are talking about IT innovation? The answers are as varied as there are people to answer the question. And the answers rarely have much to do with technology, which might seem odd when you are talking about innovation with CIOs.

But that’s the impression I got from several CIOs whom my colleagues and I interviewed at the recent Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz. The theme of the conference was “Creative Destruction: Radically Rethinking IT.” That in itself is certainly a way of thinking about innovation.

Here’s Bryan Smith, CIO of Volvo Construction Equipment North America:

“I think of the process that either individuals or businesses go through of purposefully making the decision to do something in a different way, even though it might be disrupting a comfortable way of doing things,” he said. “Creative disruption is necessary, because it becomes so easy to say, well, we’ve always done it this way.”

The “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy will eventually hurt your business and your career. Given a lack of much technology innovation of late — the cloud may be new and innovative, but the technology behind it is not — CIOs are making up for it with new thinking about what the business wants to accomplish with the existing technology.

That’s why the CIO is so bound up in the innovative process. Change and growth rely on close businesses and technology integration. The CIO is the one person in your organization who can start bringing the two together.


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