CIO Symmetry

June 19, 2009  3:37 PM

Using PPM software to bring financial accountability into IT

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

The CIO, as the liaison between business and IT, needs to know exactly what’s going on in IT and then translate it into something the business side understands: dollars and cents. To do that, the project and portfolio management (PPM) discipline — and software — is becoming increasingly important, midmarket included.

At the 2009 HP Software Universe conference this week, I came across an attendee who stressed just that. Introducing himself as a “turnaround CIO” (who turns around failing businesses), this particular gentleman had a lot to say about the IT culture.

“It can be really difficult to get a data center manager, for example, to tell you exactly what he’s doing and when he’s doing it,” he said. “They turn to you like you have three heads — ‘I’m doing my job, what else would I be doing?’” Continued »

June 12, 2009  5:20 PM

Five key questions about cloud computing

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

It seems every time I ask someone what they think about cloud computing, I’m asked five or more questions in return:

Isn’t what cloud providers offer pretty cookie cutter? Translate that as, “They might not support the particular platforms and configurations I have.”

What about licensing? Just the other day, someone at a business intelligence show said it wasn’t clear how database licensing would be handled. Would he license the database, or would the cloud computing provider?

Which led to a question many people have: If I host an application, such as a business intelligence application with a cloud provider, it would have to connect to my data sources. Wouldn’t that be a security risk?

How will that impact compliance with regulations?

And the most popular concern: Why would I want to expose my data sources like that? Continued »

June 9, 2009  2:56 PM

Can startups get to market quicker via Amazon’s cloud computing model?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Amazon’s cloud computing model is allowing startup companies like Confidela to bring their products to market quicker and cheaper.

The company of 15, which recently launched WatchDox, a document and permissions product, decided to utilize Amazon’s Elastic Compute cloud infrastructure (EC2) rather than to invest time and money in a new data center.

“For a startup just launching, we get huge data center capabilities,” said Confidela CEO and co-founder Moti Rafalin. “It’s one of the benefits of this era.”

Previously, a small startup company like Confidela would need to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a data center. Now, Confidela and other small businesses can take advantage of the scalability and “buy as you grow” option available with public clouds like Amazon’s – a natural way to grow and progress over time. Continued »

June 5, 2009  3:29 PM

Looming questions for managing your data protection services

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Should midmarket companies consider using outside providers to manage their data protection services? For companies with smaller staffs and budgets, using a third-party provider to manage their data protection services can pay off, as long as certain issues, including security, are addressed up front.

For a story I did this week on a Houston-based nonprofit moving from tape backup to an online data backup and recovery service, I asked analysts to give me some sense of the enthusiasm out there on the degree to which companies are using outside providers to manage their data protection services.

The resistance to using outside providers for data protection services has fallen from near 70% a few years ago to 32% now, according to Gartner analyst Adam Couture.

Burton Group analyst Gene Ruth told me there are a number of “enterprise-ready” online backup and data protection service providers out there who are growing and are particularly suited for midmarket or small companies that may not have the staff or capital to handle automated data backup and storage and disaster recovery facilities. They include the IBM/Arsenal Digital solution used by the Houston nonprofit profiled in my story, as well as EVault, AmeriVault and EMC’s Mozy service.

As with any newish technology, however, there are lots of questions that don’t yet have standard answers. Let’s go through some of them. Continued »

June 2, 2009  4:59 PM

Don’t be like GM: How a BPM strategy can help you avoid bankruptcy

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Midmarket CIOs who think of a business process management (BPM) strategy in its basic form as a tool for putting processes around purchase orders, claims or employee onboarding and offboarding should re-consider the role it plays in business sustainability during a recession, according to one analyst.

“You look at all the businesses that didn’t survive the recession – some of them were in a bad market segment, OK, but some of them just couldn’t scale down fast enough,” said Clay Richardson, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Look at GM, for example. That’s really the GM issue — they couldn’t scale down fast enough.”

Although a BPM strategy and scalability might seem like minor factors among the financial obstacles GM is facing, the expansive company has been unable to respond quickly enough to decreases in demand — GM has lost about $88 billion since 2005 — and as a result, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

As more and more businesses suffer the same fate (Chrysler, Circuit City, Linens ’n Things) how helpful can a BPM strategy be for companies in a rocky economic climate? Continued »

May 28, 2009  6:23 PM

Update on move to Gmail: Cost-cutting measure a mix of sun and clouds

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I checked in with early cloud adopter Jerry Hodge, CIO of Hamilton Beach Brands Inc., for an update on his pioneering migration from Lotus Notes to Gmail — the quintessential cloud app. The company, which started the project in January, is among the first ever to move to Gmail from Lotus, according to Hodge.

The backstory: Hamilton Beach was facing a mandatory upgrade of Lotus Notes that would have required not only the expense of the software upgrade, but also additional hardware and considerable staff effort. Hodge realized he could save about $500,000 in capital and operating costs over five years, and another $400,000 in labor if he went with the enterprise edition of Gmail.

In a year when his capital budget request was cut 60%, saving a million bucks seemed like a great idea, despite some trepidation on the part of his staff. He made the big switch the right way– gradually. He lined up a test group in the company’s Mexico City and China offices to try it first to work out the kinks, and he smartly waited until everything was working before the C-suite got it. People’s email would be maintained as, which was important to the company.

So how did it go? Continued »

May 21, 2009  6:04 PM

What IT executives are talking about at Forrester’s IT Forum 2009

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

My first day at Forrester’s IT Forum was filled with everything today’s CIO should be aware of — the changing role of IT, the need for constant innovation and the rapidly evolving workforce. By day four, attendees are still buzzing about what they’ve seen and heard while here.

Six Sigma process implementation has been mentioned a lot, especially together with Lean IT. Other trends in discussions have included how IT is changing, the introduction of millennials into the workforce, cloud computing, offshoring and Twitter.

I can’t say I’m too surprised by these points peppering almost every conversation — except for the latter. It seems every conversation I’ve had, regardless of who it’s with, has turned to Twitter at some point. CIOs, IT directors, performance managers, operational directors, analysts — everyone is talking about Twitter. But not many are actually using it. They’re just interested in it. Continued »

May 14, 2009  12:58 PM

Legacy systems integration: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

Recently, while researching some information for a story on legacy systems integration, I dug around to figure out how midmarket IT execs determined and measured the benefits of legacy applications — How did they decide what was important? What needed to go? Was it worth investing time in one of the many process acronyms offered (BPM, APM, etc.) to sort everything out?

I asked one midmarket CTO just that — what he uses to justify the existence of any of his legacy systems. His response? “If you are a CTO in the SMB world, you don’t need very organized thinking to detect differences in criticality among applications. As soon as something fails, you get to measure its importance very viscerally.”

TTYL to the APMs, huh?

In sorting through the legacy systems of his 25-year-old business, he has not found practices like application portfolio management (APM) necessary. Quite frankly, he has other things to do. In a large enterprise organization with hundreds or thousands of applications that need sorting and analyzing, portfolio management may prove very useful — necessary, even. But in the midmarket? Continued »

May 8, 2009  2:29 PM

Job security worries? Advice for keeping your CIO job in a recession

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

If I were a CIO who had just gotten canned or was just worried about my job security, I would want to be counseled by someone like John A. Challenger. Challenger is CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the marquee outplacement firm. Mild in tone, armed with statistics that put one’s private misery in a broader context (No-fault job loss is a term to remember; 100,000 job cuts a month for the foreseeable future), he is a tireless giver of practical tips and advice for the jobless, the insecure and the corporate climbers. Two pieces of advice off the bat for keeping your CIO job: Be well-liked and boast.

Challenger was in his hometown of Chicago last week, addressing an audience of risk managers, business continuity and compliance officers at the Gartner Risk Management and Compliance conference there. From a show of hands, it seems this audience enjoys a fair degree of job security, with not a single person admitting to be out of work. (About 70% had a colleague who had lost a job.) After Challenger got through calmly laying out what it takes to secure your chances of keeping a job in a recession economy, I can guarantee that same group must have been feeling a tad more nervous.

1. The boast of indispensability
For starters, you don’t ever want to be considered a routine employee; nor do you want a job that is considered routine because it is only a matter of time before that function is outsourced or folded into somebody else’s job. Most people have a good sense of how important their job is to the success of their companies. The challenge is conveying that message to the executives at the top of the corporate ladder.

“Regardless of where you fall, the first person you have to convince of that indispensability is the person directly ahead of you on the organizational chart. And the way to do that is by offering viable solutions to real-time problems, or, better yet, to problems not yet on the radar,” Challenger said.

2. Fly the company flag even when there’ s bad news.
Risk managers are often bearers of bad news, and so are CIOs. Challenger said he speaks to lots of managers and executives in technology who have lost their jobs who feel scapegoated for being the bearer of bad news: Servers will crash if this is done; our database will be exposed to outside threats if we do this.

“You are often in the position of saying no, and no is not the kind of word that upper management likes to hear,” he said. “You want to be the person waving the company flag.”

Sometimes when layoffs are mandatory, it is not the low performer who gets the ax but the person who creates problems for management. Find the right way to bring up those problems, while “flying the company flag,” Challenger advises, by figuring out how to achieve the same result without the same risk.

3. Solve problems and no one will notice you’re home on the weekends.
“A lot of people mistakenly believe that all it takes to save their jobs in downturns is working long hours and being politically astute, but really what it comes down to is being valued by your boss, and your boss’s boss, in case your boss loses his or her job.” That won’t be accomplished by politically maneuvering but by providing solutions to real-time problems. “And if you can do that between the hours of 9 to 5, then no one will notice you are home on the weekend.”

4. Think of it as back to the guild days (free agency).
Yes, you have to make yourself indispensable at work, but no job is safe. (71% of CEOs recently said they expect hiring to decline; 67% said they expect sales to decline in the next six months; plus, the across-the-board salary cuts being implemented now are “unprecedented,” Challenger said.)

You must think of yourself as a free agent. While companies don’t want to hear this, in a climate like this we are returning to a guild environment where your peers are more important to your career health, to finding you a path into the next job, than your bosses. Network, network, network and help others who have lost their jobs, so when your turn comes they might help you.

Challenger’s closing disclaimer: “You can adopt all the measures and actions I have spoken about and still lose your job.”

Get more tips in “10 ways to keep your IT job in this recession.”

May 8, 2009  1:58 PM

Open source cloud computing: The future midmarket sweet spot?

Kristen Caretta Kristen Caretta Profile: Kristen Caretta

What happens when open source and cloud computing collide? Cost savings, flexibility and (at least one open source vendor hopes) midmarket CIOs checking it out.

Open source CRM provider SugarCRM has launched an on-demand version of its software that is included free with an on-premise license.

Subscribers can switch back and forth between the local server and the cloud version, called Open Cloud. They can make one version a hot backup for disaster recovery, or use one version for testing and the other in production if they like. “There’s no one asking you if you want on-demand or on-site; you get both,” said Martin Schneider, director of product marketing at SugarCRM Inc.

Jay Lyman, an open source analyst at The 451 Group, said the number of startups emerging pairing open source with cloud computing is a clear indication of a growing trend. “Open source is a good fit for cloud computing because of the interoperability and the portability,” he said. “We’re going to see rapid experimentation, testing and vendors using this as an opportunity to learn customer pain points and match the right apps in with the clouds.”

In many cases, small and midsized businesses will investigate cloud computing the same way they checked out open source – by experimenting with and investigating minimal fees. “[CIOs] can’t revamp their entire systems in the down economy, but they can look into trying new things while still leveraging their existing applications with open source cloud offerings,” Lyman said.

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