CIO Symmetry


April 28, 2008  7:26 PM

Design Flaws?

Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

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

Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

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!

Roger Crawford Roger Crawford Profile: Roger Crawford

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

Roger Crawford Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

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

Roger Crawford Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

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

Roger Crawford Roger Crawford Profile: Roger Crawford

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

Roger Crawford Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

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…


April 17, 2008  3:17 PM

Report: Stacks of printed data selling for 50 cents

Roger Crawford Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

This story would be hilarious if it weren’t so damn scary. Turns out that a new report from Symantec Corp. found that credit card numbers sell on the black market for “as little as 40 cents each.” Access to a bank account: $10. This, I must assume, does not apply to my bank account, which may have less than $10 in it.

The next number is almost unbelievable: A 468% increase in “threats” (not really defined in the story) from 2006 to 2007.

Apparently, sellers need to keep a good rep. A Symantec vice president says that people selling stolen data need to be honest about how much cash accounts contain, otherwise they’ll lose credibility.

“It’s a sort of honor among thieves, and it’s very strictly enforced,” the VP says. This appears to be the digital equivalent of a drug dealer cutting a bag of cocaine with baking powder.

Here’s my favorite part: Apparently the identity of a European Union citizen goes for almost twice as much as an American citizen. I’ll let you make the self-deprecating joke here.

All in all, a good read. I found this on a strange, broad sheet of paper filled with lines of black type. The header tells me that this curiosity comes from the past – April 8 of this year, to be precise. The upper left-hand corner is coded “B6” and suggests the theme of this page is “Business.”

About 80 percent of this sheet is dedicated to advertisements. But a small hole of information still exists at the top. This “paper of record” is good stuff. I just can’t help but feel there is a better, cheaper way to distribute it.


April 16, 2008  7:40 PM

Taking Linux on a fishing trip

Roger Crawford Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

Remember Big Mouth Billy Bass?It was a wall-mounted singing fish that somebody made a fortune off of in the span of about six months.

This thing would sing “Take Me To The River” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” at the push of a button. And beer-swilling, poker-playing groups of guys would lean back and laugh, no matter how many times you turned the thing on.

My favorite story about this toy (which was featured, along with Billy Beer, on CMT’s “100 Greatest Redneck Moments” a few weeks ago) has always been the guy I knew who actually lifted one from a gas station at 3 a.m. because he realized the next day was Father’s Day.

Until now.

Turns out that anybody with more than a passing interest in Linux can make the fish, still available on eBay, sing along with any recorded bit of music.

Should you want to (and you should), you can get all the directions here.

This is what the site says you’ll need to gut the thing:

  1. Big Mouth Billy Bass.
  2. Phillips head screwdriver.
  3. Soldering gun and solder.
  4. Parallel port breakout box.
  5. Network cables or high-quality phone line cables. At least six wires inside.
  6. Two 4.7 kOhm resistors.
  7. Circuit board.
  8. Audio patch cables.
  9. Multimeter - optional but highly recommended.

All of these items, including the bass, should already be somewhere in the IT department. I will pay $75 to anyone who can send me a Big Mouth Billy Bass that sings the chorus to “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney. That’s a real offer. I wasn’t watching CMT by accident. Email me at zchurch@techtarget.com.


April 16, 2008  4:59 PM

The greatest CIO threat of all time: Women and chocolate

Roger Crawford Roger Crawford Profile: Roger Crawford

A survey by Infosecurity Europe has found that CIOs in the midmarket may have to start preparing for the greatest threat of all time: women and a love of chocolate. InfoSec recently polled 576 office workers in the U.K. and found that 45% of women are willing to give away their password to strangers offering chocolate, as opposed to 10% of men. On the whole, however, employees are less likely this year to Nestle (Tollhouse) up with information thieves, as the number of offenders dropped from 64% to 21%.

But still, of that 21%, the vast majority is women.

These clever social engineers — you might call them the Three Musketeers of data thievery — didn’t stop by simply offering chocolate for passwords. In order to make the breach more harming, these Baby Ruths of deception also asked office workers for names, dates of birth and telephone numbers. The payoff? The possibility of winning a trip to Paris which, surely, is worth a 100 Grand.

Clearly, these survey results are eliciting Snickers around the world today.

I’m amazed that so many women in the Milky Way were swayed by that sort of tomfoolery.

Just imagine the Butterfingers these people must have to let their passwords slip away.

Too much? I could keep going. I’ve got Mounds of material. Ha!

Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on these password perps. Sometimes, at 3 p.m., with the end of the day drawing near, I’d sell my password for a delicious Toblerone.

So here’s the message to you, my midmarket CIOs: Be thankful these clever researchers didn’t offer male employees beer.

It’s also worth noting that someone actually paid money to conduct this survey. I’m not sure who the real suckers are.


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