CIO Symmetry

October 11, 2010  8:29 PM

CIOs feverishly working on mobile strategy

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

It seemed no matter how a conversation started out with IT executives at this year’s Society of Information Management national event in Atlanta this week, it somehow wound its way back to developing a mobile strategy.

One session summed it up: A perfect storm is brewing in mobility, as bandwidth, intelligent mobile devices and social networking proliferate. The result? Companies are developing new ways of communicating with their customers and within their organizations, and IT is smack dab in the middle of figuring out what the organization’s mobile strategy should be.

The argument is moving beyond whether or not they should standardize on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphones, to the process of developing mobile applications useful to the business and customers, on device-agnostic platforms.

For now, Joe Surber, CIO of natural gas distributor AGL Resources Inc., said his company is choosing some standard mobile devices for employees out in the field. Eventually, though, he expects that employees will pick and choose the device they want to use to communicate because the cloud and virtualization allows IT to provide a virtual PC infrastructure that is device-agnostic.

This was during a session on enabling IT change through the cloud — yet, once again, the conversation went back to mobility:

  • How do we harness mobile devices for our business?
  • What mobile apps should we be developing?
  • How can the cloud and virtualization help or hinder mobility?
  • How can IT help or hinder the use of mobile devices and applications?

And the million dollar question: How do we handle the fact that consumers are ultimately deciding the feature sets and applications that corporate business users get on their mobile devices?

Case in point, using his Android, Chuck Musciano, vice president and CIO of construction material supplier Martin Marietta Materials Inc., can’t move emails into his folders. He has 450 folders that he “neurotically” maintains, and that capability does not exist when he’s mobile. And he suspects that such a feature is at the bottom of the list of those developing applications for iPhones or Androids, given that consumers are more interested in Facebook and Twitter interfaces for their mobile devices.

“We, as enterprise architects of our organizations, have to understand that feature sets are going to be driven by consumer demand, not by what we in the business would like to see,” he said.

And something like folders in email may be a moot point anyway, given that newer generations consider email, well, old, said Paul Miller, senior vice president of technology infrastructure and broadcast transmission for Turner Broadcasting System.

“There has to be recognition that some of the ways that many of us are used to working and thinking, are in fact evolving and changing with new generations. Folders are a perfect example of that … new evolutions of search should in fact make folders obsolete. I find that, personally, children could care less about folders. They say email is how you communicate with old people,” Miller said.

Email is only one example. If Millenials don’t care about the ability to read reports or spreadsheets, or maybe tap into an analytics application, which I doubt they do, and they are the ones driving what feature sets end up on mobile devices, will that mean that the main focus of IT departments becomes mobile application development?

If you read some of the recent stories we’ve run, the answer is yes. Not only are organizations developing applications for mobile devices to conduct business in new ways, but they are turning to offshore and onshore providers because they don’t have the talent in-house to make it happen.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email: Christina Torode, News Director

October 5, 2010  4:14 PM

Social media may not be a revolution, but it’s in your enterprise

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The social media multiverse is all a Twitter about the fact that one of today’s most popular intellectuals has written an article saying that the revolution will not be tweeted.

You should read his account, but Malcolm Gladwell’s case in The New Yorker essentially argues that today’s technology-based social media ties are not as strong nor as influential as the ones that galvanized the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On its face I would have to believe that, but nothing in today’s world of social networking is that cut and dried.

On the other site, blogger David Helfenbein is in a huff about Gladwell’s thesis, saying he misses the mark, and that he’s insulted by the notion that today’s generation can’t get spurred to action.

What do CIOs think? Somewhere in between. “Social media, in the small sense, is about marketing and recruiting talent. In the large sense, it represents the transformation of capitalism as we know it,” said keynote speaker John Sviokla, vice chairman at Chicago-based Diamond Management & Technology Consultants Inc., at a meeting last month of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management.

Sviokla’s “third wave of capitalism,” as Senior News Writer Linda Tucci reported, is in my opinion a bit over the top when in reality CIOs are concerned about things like social media usage policies and corporate reputation. In addition, around 30% of respondents to a recent SIM survey said their organizations block social media use.

Kevin M. More, Boston SIM’s vice president and incoming president, just wants to be sure social media is executed correctly. “We don’t want to just throw something up,” he said. “We understand that Facebook has a lot of potential. But for every success, there are probably 30 to 40 failures.”

What is often missing in the discussion about corporate IT and social media is that there are two kinds: one that is used to reach out to your customers, and the other to empower your own employees. These are two different things completely, and technology plans around them should take that into consideration.

Whether your opinion of social media is pro or con, or whether it’s too powerful or not powerful enough, the fact is it’s in your company now, and it’s better to embrace it rather than fight it.

September 30, 2010  8:55 PM

A list of to-dos before taking the email hosting plunge

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Whether you call it email hosting services, cloud or SaaS email, or just plain email hosting, there are capabilities that you will need to have in place before offloading email.

This month, our experts are going to explore the different options for email outsourcing and put forth a checklist for you to follow if you take the hosting plunge:

  • Can your organization’s current bandwidth support what could be a massive increase as a critical, continually used service is moved off-site? asks Scot Lowe, CIO of Westminster College, in an upcoming column.
  • Did you make sure that your email hosting provider is running the latest version of email software? You’d be surprised that some may not be.
  • Is there data that can be archived before you make the move, so costs are lower?

The latter two questions are posed by Nelson and Danielle Ruest, founders of IT consulting firm Resolutions Enterprises, in an upcoming tip.

The benefits of moving to the cloud will also be touched on by these experts, but Erik Dubovik, vice president of information technology at Audax Group LP, a Boston-based private equity firm, sums up the benefits of email hosting like this: “If you are a smaller business, there is no need today to run your own infrastructure for email. You can get email archiving, email hosting, spam and even mobile device capabilities in the cloud. In the next two to three years, you will see midmarket companies move en masse to the cloud for email and email archiving.”

With all these benefits, there has to be some risks. After all, 75% of businesses’ intellectual property is stored in email. Whether an email hosting provider is better at protecting your IP, or not, is up for debate.

September 28, 2010  4:39 PM

A smart business intelligence strategy

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

My campaign to forever rid my home of snail mail is coming along, except for two areas: Clothing catalogs and Sierra Club membership appeals. The clothing catalogs I can understand. They might be the last thing that disappears from U.S. Postal Service mail bags.

The Sierra Club, on the other hand, mystifies me. Every other month or so I get a fat envelope stuffed with different pieces of paper — letters, brochures, maps, return envelopes, etc. — enticing me to join and support the cause. That much paper from an environmental group would be truly revolting if all of it didn’t say that it was 100% recycled. But still, what are they smoking?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is not exactly a competitor, but the nonprofit organization does solicit funds from many of the same people. The WWF does have a different way of going about it, however.

I met recently with Phil Redmond, director of e-business information technology at the WWF, who explained how his organization has a business intelligence strategy that keeps its member and donor recruitment process streamlined.

The WWF uses SAS Institute’s DataFlux Data Management Studio to manage, clean and keep up to date its rolls of members and donors, and the intelligence gathered from the software can help determine who gets what kind of solicitation.

For instance, he said, donors can get an email soliciting funds, but, depending on their profiles and other data, select people could get a more personal treatment. “Using SAS doesn’t replace the handwritten note they send out to the big donors.” If the Sierra Club did this, I would be free of the recurring fat envelope.

The WWF is using BI not only for member management, but for creating data on wildlife itself, and has set up a business intelligence strategy around tracking migration patterns and populations of endangered species.

One result of this effort is a text for Tigers campaign. Now that’s an intelligent use of business software.

September 24, 2010  1:10 PM

Bandwidth and compliance are key to strong disaster recovery solutions


By Laura Smith, Features Writer

As more midmarket firms explore virtualization to achieve cost savings and other benefits, they’re discovering that adequate bandwidth and compliance with regulations as part of their disaster recovery solutions are drivers for success.

“You never know when a disaster is going to hit,” says Ray Lucchesi, president of Silverton Consulting Inc. in Broomfield, Colo., and a 30-year industry veteran with early patents on tape and disk storage devices. Lucchesi now counsels clients on issues such as bandwidth and regulatory requirements when setting up disaster recovery solutions in virtualized environments.

When transferring data from a virtualized production environment to a hot site, having enough bandwidth is critical — and that means planning and budgeting for it ahead of time. “Bandwidth issues can be expensive,” Lucchesi says. “If you’re going to support disaster recovery, you need to support the bandwidth requirements. In the end, you have to transfer the data. Bandwidth is the key governor to that.”

Sun National Bank learned that lesson the hard way — but then, that happens when you’re ahead of the curve. Three years ago — a generation in virtualization terms –the Vineland, N.J., bank embarked on a project that was slightly delayed due to bandwidth issues during failover from the production environment to the hot site. On the positive side, Sun National made good use of its displaced servers, setting up its own business continuity and disaster recovery site and pocketing the monthly fee it had been spending on third-party services. More importantly, the bank, now in charge of its own disaster recovery architecture, can comfortably guarantee it will deliver on user requests within 24 hours.

But this isn’t the brand of home-grown disaster recovery solutions we’re talking about. CIOs are dealing with disaster recovery requirements that are sometimes specified by financial or health regulations that require them to be operational within a certain time frame. “In some environments, such as a bank, being down for an hour can mean the loss of millions of dollars that you can’t retrieve, to a large extent,” Lucchesi says. And when one bank fails, another may follow, given the complex web we live in.

Surprisingly, European companies have been more actively involved in establishing failproof disaster recovery solutions than Americans — perhaps due to terrorist activity on the continent or more governmental regulations requiring it, Lucchesi suggests. After 9/11, the U.S. government initiated similar regulations, recently urging financial organizations to create plans for surviving a regional disaster. Some of these regulations require industries in the critical infrastructure — health care and power — to audit their disaster recovery solutions.

September 16, 2010  6:30 PM

Supporting cloud services is a quandary for IT

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

A CIO was recently approached by a business line manager about a problem with a cloud service. The manager asked if the CIO could help resolve the issue, and the CIO gave him a flat-out “No.”

It is a sign of the struggle going on in many IT organizations: If users bypass IT to buy cloud services, is IT in turn responsible for that service and the support problems that come up?

This CIO, who was one of the attendees of a roundtable on cloud services sponsored by the trade and investment arm of the British Consulate-General in Boston, felt that he needed to make a point. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want to help the manager, but in the future, he wanted the business to come to him before signing a deal with an external service provider. In the end, he felt that IT should be involved in selecting the provider and negotiating the contract.

Several of the attendees, a mix of CIOs, cloud providers and consultants, voiced their concerns about the growing demand for IT to support external services.

What they wanted to see was a service provider, or software vendor, that could develop an integrated services management layer for a mix of internal and external services, or several public cloud services. This layer has yet to appear, they said, yet many companies are moving in this hybrid direction. Of 500 IT executives surveyed, 43% said they plan to have a hybrid cloud services strategy (a mix of private and public cloud services) within the next three years, according to consulting firm Sand Hill Group. Read about the study in this blog post by Sand Hill’s head of cloud research, Kamesh Pemmaraju.

This sounds like a great opportunity for vendors, cloud providers or perhaps a new breed of startups to step in, but for now the attendees said they are developing their own standards and management layer for hybrid clouds.

Let us know what you think about managing cloud services. Email me at

September 14, 2010  3:38 PM

The new data security software landscape

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The number of niche data security software solutions providers is getting smaller, and so are the choices for IT managers.

HP’s announcement this week to acquire ArcSight is its second security acquisition in the last month and the latest in a wave of bigger technology and computer companies gobbling up smaller players in the data security software and services market. HP followed buying Fortify, which specializes in secure development and security testing, with ArcSight, which focuses on compliance and risk management.

Last month, Intel agreed to acquire McAfee while Symantec — already the leader in data security software and services — has bought up PGP, GuardianEdge and VeriSign’s authentication services business in the past month. IBM just came out with new software from its acquisition of Guardium last year.

On the one hand, this market consolidation by these IT leaders will enable more of a one-stop shop for security products, and likely better integration that will enable a holistic solution.

However, many midmarket firms and small businesses that use Fortify, ArcSight or Guardium products may not already be current HP or IBM customers, certainly not for security products, and will miss the ability to build the niche security solution that fits into their environments.

It’s surprising that it has taken so many years for large IT and computer vendors to see the value of security. But now that it has, it could mean more challenges and less opportunity for midmarket security buyers.

September 10, 2010  1:55 PM

Emerging technology that’s hitting its stride

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Social media, it seems, is on everyone’s mind these days. How do I use it as a business tool? Should I allow employees to use social media tools for business purposes?

Its uses are varied, but it is clear, as far as emerging technology is concerned, that social media has entered the mainstream of corporate adoption. This comes from a survey of 100 companies that were asked where 58 emerging technologies stood on their adoption agenda. The survey was conducted by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a consulting firm whose members include some 200,000 business leaders (its IT practice caters to about 2,500 CIOs).

In fact, the mainstream adoption curve for social media started in 2009, as it did for data deduplication, Software as a Service, tablet PCs, 64-bit computing and RSS.

What’s interesting is that these technologies are being adopted because the perception is that they pose minimal risk to an organization. Low risk is determined by the following factors: marketplace maturity, available management tools, scalability, architecture integration, support skills and security, according to CEB’s Information Technology Practice.

Because of the same factors, emerging technologies — such s Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (with mainstream adoption slated for 2012), WiMax, virtual worlds and Linux on the desktop (the latter three not on the adoption agenda of these companies yet) — are considered high risk.

It’s interesting that social media is considered such a low-risk technology, given that many CIOs say their business is still trying to figure out what to do with it and what effect it would have on their security and compliance practices.

The risks are legion, depending on whom you talk to, ranging from malware, phishing and spoofing, to impersonation and blackmail from malicious outsiders.

On the flip side, conservative companies like mutual fund provider Vanguard are taking the social media leap of faith. According to SearchCIO Senior Writer Linda Tucci, Vanguard has staked a claim with a Facebook page, LinkedIn presence, a Twitter account and its own channel on YouTube.

Still, it may be some time before social media truly reaches mainstream adoption status as a business tool, at least beyond its prevalent use for marketing and brand awareness.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

September 7, 2010  4:49 PM

Improving business services management, one vehicle at a time

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

It’s funny the places where you can gain some insight about business services management.

Last week, I spent two hours waiting at my local Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to exchange a green-lettered license plate for a red one (I couldn’t pass inspection without it).

This particular RMV is located in a big mall north of Boston. The place was packed on that afternoon and spilling out into the mall corridor, with people just milling around, waiting their turn. When you come in you get a ticket with a number that includes your approximate wait time. But me, and many other paranoids there, didn’t want to risk walking over to the Best Buy or the food court for fear of some freak occurrence that would skip a bunch of numbers and pass me by.

The waiting throng discussed some better options. “Why can’t we do this online?” someone asked, stating the most obvious solution. But another said, “They should have those beepers like they do at Panera [right around the corner in the mall], and buzz you when your number is close.”

A simple but brilliant solution. But she didn’t even see all the benefits of a service that could not only improve customer relations, but also drive commerce in the mall. A closer partnership with the mall could even enable the project to be subsidized, so as not to spend any more taxpayer dollars, a shortage of which has exacerbated the very situation we were in.

Once my number came up and I got to the service agent, it took her no more than two minutes to fetch me a new plate and print out a new registration. The situation recalled a story we did with another commonwealth of Massachusetts tie, “How CIOs are tackling IT business services creation,” in which Ed Bell, a former interim CIO for the state House and Senate, discussed how he sought to help his customers, the legislators and their staffs.

“I sat in the clerks’ offices, sat on the House and Senate session floors and watched what they did and how they did it,” he said. “From that vantage point you can take that information and do a better job communicating with constituents as well, who really are the ones we serve. It was a good education for them, and for me. From a business product standpoint and a customer standpoint, we need to engage with customers to see how we can improve their environments.”

This enlightened approach has not filtered through all of the corridors of the State House. But it’s a lesson for all managers, technology or otherwise: Get out from behind your desk to understand how your business really runs.

September 2, 2010  6:54 PM

Mobile application development made easy … eventually

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

A while back, I checked in with a few IT managers about their mobile application development plans. I was wondering if business intelligence applications were making their way on to their users’ iPhones.

The answer was, sort of. Basic reports were available, but it was proving too hard to make the information their users really wanted from their business intelligence systems work on mobile devices.

What they wanted was the ability to develop custom reports for users, but the design of iPhones doesn’t allow for local agents — it’s totally proprietary. Still, one IT shop is making a go of it anyway, with plans to take data from its SQL Servers, proprietary applications and a variety of other sources across the organization, and deliver the information on the iPhone.

This project was considered a “major” undertaking, but mobile application development for the iPhone and other smartphones could get a lot easier … in about five years.

That’s when Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith believes the “mobile Web” will take off. HTML5 already makes it possible to bring desktop application capabilities to the browser. (Most popular mobile browsers have already adopted parts of the HTML5 specification). And, he said, you can’t discount other developments like:

  • An emergence of stable Web app stores (this is further out).
  • The rollout of 4G connectivity.

HTML5, the next-generation HTML standard, will allow for offline capabilities and video, and offer drag-and-drop options. Here’s a tutorial on how to make an HTML5 IPhone app by blogger and Yahoo front-end engineer Alex Kessinger.

“[These advances] will start to bring more and more of the richness of native environments to the browser environment, similar to what Ajax did on the desktop,” Mitchell Smith said during a webinar this week on how the Web and cloud computing will drive IT strategies.
With smartphones becoming the primary communication and computing device for many, it is safe to say that mobile application development will become a priority for IT. At Ridley Inc., a holding company for animal feed and nutrition companies, salespeople are getting mobile access to the company’s ERP system. Access is gained over a virtual private network to a Citrix server farm, which in turn connects to an ERP application that’s viewed on a Web portal that the company’s development team built. It’s not a rich client experience, but it gets the job done.
The mobile workforce has become accustomed to the limitations of the mobile app experience, but that acceptance may not remain, and businesses may not be able to just get by, as more business apps must make their way into the mobile world.

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