CIO Symmetry

A SearchCIO Small Business blog


May 1, 2008  5:31 PM

Please don’t be like Buzz



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Media, Midmarket CIO

H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize winner and sports scribe for the ages, has become irrelevant. And insane.

The author of the phenomenal Friday Night Lights, an outstanding book about life and football in a Texas oil town, pretty much lost his mind on HBO’s CostasNow the other night. You know that first rant in Network, when our angry messiah spouts off from a news desk? It was like that, only instead of speaking for the general population, Bissinger was piping up for a handful of angry, aging sportswriters.

His target: Will Leitch, editor of sports blog Deadspin.com. And blogging in general.

Bissinger in a nutshell: Blogs are bad, cruel, unprofessional and useless. Professional sportswriters work hard and deserve to be read on that basis alone. I’ve spent years working to “perfect the craft” (gag!), and you and your Interweb come in here and take my readers away and pick on me.

Look, I know the frustration. The newspaper industry is tanking. Jobs are gone, wages won’t go up and papers are getting smaller. I love, love, love newspapers, and this crushes me.

But I get something the great Bissinger doesn’t. We can’t stop it. There is an organic aspect to industry change that can be resisted and shouted at but not halted. The cycles vary, but every industry will at some point shuffle, shake up and be spit out, looking quite a bit different on the other side.

Bissinger’s idiocy here is that he treats Leitch like some guy who just got out of bed and decided to start posting on the Internet one day. You would think a journalist would have taken a few minutes to look Leitch up and find out that he’s sort of a, you know, professional writer.

So don’t be like Buzz. When things start to change and they don’t look like the IT you used to know, keep an open mind. Listen to your staff members, ask them for help and ideas. Do NOT become a raving lunatic. Do NOT batten down the hatches unless you have a damn good reason. Do start reading Deadspin. It is so much more fun than your newspaper sports section (minus the fact that your local paper will obviously focus on your local teams).

Leitch should be commended for keeping his cool while Bissinger rants. He saved his best comments for his site. Instead of exploding on air, he went back to the Internet and picked up exactly where he left off. That makes him smarter than a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Here’s a link to this catastrophe, as hosted by Gawker Media, which owns Deadspin. I should warn you that it is loaded with foul language and bad, cruel, unprofessional and useless comment. It all comes from Bissinger.

April 29, 2008  7:42 PM

Fencing for recognition: Sword fight your way to the executive table



Posted by: Roger Crawford
Best Practices, CIO, Job Development, Midmarket CIO, Strategy for CIOs

Normally, I’d take a pass on commenting on a report like the one EDS recently published entitled “CIO at the Table.” But today I feel like this could be a useful read for you, my midmarket CIOs.

As with most of the reports I come across, there isn’t anything entirely earthshaking or world changing about this. The main thrust of the article is about including CIOs at the decision-making table at any given company.

“In either case, technology isn’t something you can ignore in the 21st century. No matter what your industry, IT is at the center of the action… Yet many organizations continue to misstep, not quite understanding the role of the CIO, the part that IT technicians should play in daily operations, how to make investment decisions, set sequence and priority, or even the best way to capitalize on the latest innovations to expand and change the products and services they are taking to market … What most senior leaders fail to grasp along the way is that making IT work has as much to do with business as it does with technology itself … But you have to do more than invest in good infrastructure and applications. You have to integrate and align IT with the enterprise’s overarching goals.”

I just went ahead and grabbed the most salient points of the article. But, by all means, you should read the whole report, even though it’s aimed more directly at your CEO than it is at you.

It does, however, provide some insight into the way your boss is trying to wrap his or her mind around what you do on a daily basis and why a good CIO is vital to the company.

Maybe I should say the way your CEO isn’t thinking about your job. EDS suggests an expanded role for the CIO with a more strategic vision for the whole company and IT governance in general. It’s a decent argument and could provide a few thrusts and ripostes for your next performance review.

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April 29, 2008  7:29 PM

Vista steps into users’ crosshairs



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Microsoft, Midmarket CIO

There’s a scene in the classic film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut that finds an army colonel’s holograph machine cutting out as he discusses strategy with his troops. Long story short, it is Windows 98’s fault. Bill Gates gets shot in the head. 

But now the colonel’s frustrations have returned, nearly a decade later, when faced with Windows Vista. The New York Times’ tech blog last week got into the “Save Windows XP” campaign, which is perpetuated by users who don’t want to be stuck with Vista when XP contracts are phased out. 

I’ve got half a mind to sign up myself. I use Vista on my home computer, and I can’t say I’m thrilled. 

Two things:

1. Startup is slow. More memory, you say? Forget it. I use the thing to surf the Internet, listen to music and watch Netflix On Demand (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is so great it hurts). I don’t need more memory. I need an OS that gets out of the way.

2. What’s with all the notices and pop-ups? I understand this is all for my own good and computer security. But I’m not dim. And I have my own security software. Yes, I can customize this. But not easily. I tried a few times and realized that beating Vista into submission has achieved “project level,” something I need to tackle on a weekend afternoon. 

Here’s a bit from the Times’ blog:  “Mr. [Christopher] Liddell [Microsoft’s CFO] dismissed claims that some customers were reluctant to buy Vista machines. ‘There are no Vista-related issues at all,’ he declared. ”

That’s like saying there are no issues with likely steroid user and now possible child-dater Roger Clemens. Yeah, we can’t prove it. But dude isn’t allowed anywhere near my medicine cabinet or teenage cousins. 

Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer has said the final date for new XP contracts could be extended if users ask for it. But for now it is standing still at June 30. 

C’mon now, that’s way too soon. IT folks have said to me, and I’m sure to Steve Lohr at the Times, that they don’t want Vista. Period. 

I’m not saying Vista is worthless. Just don’t try to tell me it’s great. And listen to your customers. 

Oh, I’m not getting out of this without at least some South Park computer-humor action. Mac, meet PC.

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April 28, 2008  7:26 PM

Design Flaws?



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Midmarket CIO, SaaS, SAP

The folks over at the SearchSAP.com blog are reporting that SAP has delayed its Business ByDesign rollout. Apparently, there are some bugs to be worked out in the on-demand ERP program, which is still less than a year old.

The delays could push as far as late 2009, according to German news source Handelsblatt. What’s not really clear right now is where it is delayed. The service, aimed at midmarket companies, is currently available in the U.S. though it has been a slow climb in user adoption for SAP. To be fair, the thing is still less than a year old.

Will SAP CEO Henning Kagermann hit his 10,000 users by 2010 promise? It was already looking like a tough road and now the spring potholes are starting to show up.

I’ll be in Orlando next week for Sapphire, SAP’s big annual conference. So hopefully I can learn a bit more down there. There’s even a free Eric Clapton show for attendees, though I won’t be attending. I prefer my rock without a layer of extra-thick smugness.


April 28, 2008  4:24 PM

MSM Monday Round-Up



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Midmarket CIO, MSM

Maiden voyage here for this MSM (that’s mainstream media) Monday round-up. Inspirational props are due to Slate’s “Today’s Papers,” all the Gawker sites and everybody else who thought to do this before us.  But the short of it is, this is what caught our eye in the fishwrap this week. 

Cracking the bottle against the bow: 

“Touchscreen? Full browser? Who’s gonna buy that?

“If it’s broke, we’ll fix it. But it will never be broke.”

E-mail voting for the troops?  I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be there for four years.

I CAN HAZ MY LNGWGE BK?!?

Muxtape.com is cool. But nothing beats an old-fashioned mix-tape for showing her how psychotic you are.


April 25, 2008  2:07 PM

IT staff to CIOs: Pay us more!



Posted by: Roger Crawford
Best Practices, CIO, Development, Midmarket CIO, Strategy for CIOs

A recent phone survey of 1,400 CIOs across the country revealed that offering increased compensation is the greatest incentive for IT staff to stay with a company.

The survey, developed by Robert Half Technology, asked CIOs this question: “Which of the following elements have you found most effective at improving IT staff retention?”

The top three responses were:

  1. Increased compensation 27%
  2. Professional development or training 21%
  3. Flexible schedules 18%

(Check out the press release for the rest of the results.)

For a second, I thought maybe the survey takers were responding to the question: What’s the best way to hire and retain auto mechanics, CEOs, convenience store clerks, killer whale trainers – or reporters.

Wow, imagine that. Money is the key issue at the heart of retaining employees. Well, I never.

What might be even more shocking are the conclusions that Robert Half Technology extrapolated from this survey, which, in my opinion, are worth reprinting here:

  • Pay competitively.  Periodically benchmark employee compensationagainst industry-standard ranges to ensure your salaries are keeping pace.  Robert Half Technology produces an annual Salary Guide with salary ranges for more than 60 IT positions.
  • Offer and promote training.  Provide IT staff access to the courses and certification programs they need to grow their careers.  Make sure employees are aware of professional development opportunities.
  • Support work/life balance.  To prevent teams from burning out, ensure that workloads are realistic. Encourage employees to ask for help when they need it, and consider bringing in project professionals to help during peak periods.

That’s some skilled analysis.

It’s easy for me to sit here and lob grenades at these kinds of surveys — and the accompanying results — but there may be some merit in pointing out that after money, training was the next concern that CIOs feel will help retain IT staff. This is a pretty solid point.

Working as a midmarket CIO offers you a different opportunity than being in an enterprise company. I bet you get to know your employees. You might even hold the door for them on the way into the office in the morning. Use that familiarity and train the people you work with. Not only will your employees appreciate the way you’re helping them enrich their professional lives, it’ll also make the operations that they manage for you run that much more smoothly. (And once they have those skills, they will, no doubt, use them to leverage a new position at a company that pays better. See survey result number one above.)

Think about it. Remember the first day you learned how to fix a transmission or tie a fisherman’s knot or sauté an onion in oil? Didn’t you feel enriched at the end of the day? Maybe you wanted to get back out there the next day and do it all over again. I bet your employees would feel the same way about using that new cooling technique they learned about.


April 25, 2008  1:48 PM

Weekly Wrap-Up



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Midmarket CIO, Weekly Wrap-Up

What we did this week:

Took Monday off. Not a bad trade for kick-starting this country and all.

The Real Niel pointed out that information is worthless if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.

Delved head-first into state security breach notification laws. Not that we’re planning on losing any personal data, but preparation should count for something.

Collected a bunch of really good stories about mobile computing, including some new ones, and put them all in one guide. Still trying to figure out what to call it though.


April 23, 2008  5:32 PM

SaaS: Probably worth a look, despite the overwrought pitches



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Midmarket CIO, SaaS

Not more than 48 hours seems to go by here without another press release on some new Software as a Service (SaaS) offering that promises to make life a heck of a lot easier for midmarket CIOs. As a reporter, I’m a bit skeptical of just about anything that comes via a public relations firm. It doesn’t help that the pitches, both on paper and in person, include words like solution. As in, “The new solution from company X will help midmarket IT departments…” 

Yeah, I get it. By using the word solution, you imply that this product is the only fix for an otherwise unbeatable problem. Thing is, if I understand why they’re using that word, the purpose of using the word is defeated. A magician whose tricks are exposed isn’t a magician. He’s just a hack with a cape and saw. All that said, the recurring line that SaaS products cut down on installation costs, infrastructure and staff time does make sense. SaaS folks, with a little prodding, will generally admit that these products do limit customization. But for a smaller midmarket shop, that may not be a problem. It may even be a blessing, helping to restrain the urge to customize something into an overdetailed, unusable mess. 

And it does appear that CIOs want this stuff. I spent some time on the phone last week with George Jaquette, vice president of product management at Intacct, which makes a financial management SaaS. The spring 2008 version of the product doesn’t bring anything astounding to the table. Talking with Jaquette, I left with the impression that this was a competent product that probably does exactly what it is supposed to do. He did hit pretty hard on the fact that Intaact has two backup centers, in San Jose and
Philadelphia. That seemed meant to soothe any concerns about having important data stored on someone else’s servers.
 

But here’s the part of the conversation where I really became interested: Jaquette says 70 percent of the company’s current customers have signed on in the last year. Self-promotion, yes. Manipulation of data? Possibly. But I doubt the guy would straight-up lie. I’m ready to take SaaS at face value. The concept has gone beyond trend, and although the market seems flooded with soon-to-be also-rans, some real leaders will emerge to match the few that already have, like Salesforce.com. We’ll continue to report on this and will even produce a SaaS All-in-One Guide in the coming months that will package all the relevant information potential SaaS buyers will need. 


April 22, 2008  5:09 PM

Justifying IT expenditures: Outsourcing isn’t always the answer



Posted by: Roger Crawford
Best Practices, CIO, Midmarket CIO, Outsourcing, Strategy for CIOs, Vendor Relationships

Accountability, budget constraints and cost of provisioning services – these are all issues that CIOs hear about when presenting IT budget numbers. “Why does this cost what it costs?” and “Can’t we outsource some of these functions?” are both questions that you’ve likely encountered when justifying expenses to your bosses.

The Naked CIO argues that outsourcing and offshoring IT projects isn’t necessarily the right move to make. In fact, he thinks it may cause more problems than it could potentially solve:

“Cost-based models drive a wedge between business and IT and this type of services-based arrangement makes business alignment more difficult.”

Keeping a project agile through a grass roots-style approach is, in his opinion, the route CIOs should go.

From where I sit, this makes the most sense. When contracting an outside company to do the dirty work that you need done, improvisation and adaptability is necessarily curtailed. In most cases – unless a contract is reworked – the company tapped will produce what you ask for and deliver it, hopefully, in a neat box with a bow on top of it. But project parameters are often subject to change and having the flexibility to address new needs is key for a CIO, not to mention IT on the whole.

I’ll give you a real-life example. A friend of mine works for a large hardware company whose name you would know if I mentioned it. Half his team is stationed abroad in the Middle East, and the other half is located right here in the Bay State. Because of cultural, religious and time zone differences, the half of the team that is abroad works on Sundays, while the Massachusetts-based cohort does not. Changes in his project are often subjected to approval from managers on both side of the Atlantic, and just getting a simple OK can be an ordeal. My friend has occasionally been called into the office or forced to work on a Sunday afternoon to sync up with his team, while the foreign contingent sometimes takes conference calls in the late evening local time.

The company has an internal instant messenger client that, in theory, should allow team members to speak to each other when they are all online over the course of the day. Yet still, my friend’s project has been delayed numerous times. Some of those delays are because of the problems inherent with developing a new product. But to think that the location differences and the limited communication doesn’t play a role into the delays is just naive.

Now translate that to your organization. My friend is working with co-workers who, albeit in a different country, draw their paychecks from the same source, teleconference regularly and communicate daily. When CIOs outsource a project, a direct line of communication is often lost. I doubt that when you have a question about why an application or piece of hardware isn’t working properly that you get to speak directly to the programmer who designed it or the tech who built and maintains it. My friend does. He still experiences delays and setbacks.

It might look well and good on the bottom line when a CIO produces numbers that cut costs because an outside contractor is doing the majority of the work cheaply. But what those numbers often time don’t include are the cost of delay in rolling out the project due to communication snafus and the cost of ironing out wrinkles that always seem to appear.

Have I got a solution for you? No, I haven’t – but if I did, I’m sure I’d be making the big bucks advising CIOs on how to keep projects in house without driving up costs. But ultimately, when you go to the bigwigs with the purse strings, you have the option to tell a couple of different stories. One involves up-front platitudes about the lower cost, while hidden snags lie around the corner. The other involves using the staff whom you’ve likely hired, whom you trust and with whom you can speak directly to develop whatever solution your company needs.

The question is really: Which are you going to tell?


April 18, 2008  2:19 PM

Weekly Wrap-Up



Posted by: The Weave
CIO, Midmarket CIO, Weekly Wrap-Up

What we did this week:

Realized an envelope on top of a dresser probably isn’t the best place to keep our health records.

Prepped for our fifteen minutes of fame. Not that we haven’t been there before.

Racked our brains trying to figure out what the difference is (if any) between Web 2.0 and
Enterprise 2.0.

What we’re doing this weekend:

Showing a big red ball what for.

Saying goodbye to a band that actually cared.

Wondering what on earth would possess a person…


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