TotalCIO


November 26, 2008  1:01 PM

Black Friday: Shopping (online?) ’til you drop

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

If you’re reading this on Friday, I’m going to assume you’ve just returned from a harrowing Black Friday shopping experience at your nearest department store or mall. But it’s possible those days of waking up while it’s still dark and dashing off to the closest Kohl’s at 4 a.m. (or earlier) could become a relic of the past.

Online retailers are kicking up their websites in order to promote Black Friday deals, anticipating more visitors who might “map out” their shopping plans. Then, there’s the newer phenomenon known as Cyber Monday, where shoppers might turn online for holiday gifts after shopping ’til they dropped amidst the crowds this weekend.

Online shopping during the holidays (or Black Friday) is nothing new: About 10 years ago, I remember writing a column for my local newspaper about what was then a burgeoning trend. But, now, type Black Friday into Google and you’ll get more than 22 million hits. Clearly, the Web is a new destination for Black Friday shoppers, and beyond – I know I plan to hit up Overstock.com and eBay this holiday season.

According to this article on retailers and Black Friday in the Baltimore Sun, the creator of Blackfriday.info says that his website traffic has doubled in the past year, and he expects 5 million unique visitors this week, more than double the 2 million he received a year ago. The reason? It’s the economy, stupid: Blackfriday.info purveys coupons and Black Friday ads, offering visitors a better shot at bagging an early-morning bargain.

Five million unique visitors in a week, for a site that probably does very little Web traffic the rest of the year? Sounds like somebody must have stepped up his server system in the past year. Check out this post on e-commerce site crashes at the CIO Symmetry blog. (And, for a related story, check out this item on Texas A&M’s Aggies NCAA basketball program, and how the school prepared to handle a spike in traffic when the team played a big game on ESPN.)

I don’t mean to imply that the traditional Black Friday shopping rush is magically going to vanish one of these years. But more and more people are turning to the Web to shop. Especially since it might be tougher for people to part with their hard-earned paychecks this holiday season compared with those past, online retailers must respond with user-friendly websites that make browsing and purchasing a breeze.

November 26, 2008  12:00 AM

SaaS integration easier said than done

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Questions for you Software as a Service (SaaS) devotees about SaaS integration:

Did your vendor give you enough information up front about the potential difficulties of integrating the SaaS application with your existing applications? Were you able to find SaaS user groups to vet concerns before signing on the dotted line?

I am asking because I recently heard a panel of Boston-area IT and business executives talk about their companies’ experiences with SaaS implementations. One company had just gone live with customer relationship management (CRM ) software from Salesforce.com. Another talked about her firm’s implementation of a time-tracking and scheduling system from OpenAir Inc. The largest company there was weighing whether to go with Salesforce.com or the CRM on-demand offering from Siebel. The company had just gone through a labor-intensive migration to an on-premise Siebel CRM solution! (I can’t name names: Press is tolerated at these seminars but only as flies on the wall — ugh, not a very appetizing metaphor on the eve of Thanksgiving, sorry.)

All three sounded like happy campers (the flexibility! No capital investment! No server room!) until the moderator probed about integration challenges. Whoa, Nelly! Out came the sob stories, snags and second-guessing. The guy whose company had recently gone live with Salesforce, for example, basically said his team grossly underestimated the technical conundrums that can occur when there is a “significant difference” between the technology of the in-house database and the Salesforce.com “family” of apps and tools. He said that for all the attention they thought they had paid to integration, it wasn’t enough. In retrospect, they should have done a sample movement of data.

“We discovered, frankly too late in the project, that the original technology approach was just not going to work.” In fact, they had to switch integration tools midstream.

Asked if the snags were a matter of his company not asking the right questions or a vendor failure to understand the problems of clients, the guy politely acknowledged it was a “combination,” then pointedly added that the Salesforce.com implementers “are very immersed in the Salesforce community and how you do integration within that community, but what we were doing was going outside that community.”

The kicker? On the question of how this SaaS integration compared with other software integrations he’d done — just as hard, or less so? “I think it is substantially harder just because of some of the unknowns in the process.”

The OpenAir gal? There were problems mapping billable and nonbillable expenses to her firm’s accounting system. Manual checks were still required to make sure the coding was right. But the biggest adjustment was having to modify the firm’s business processes to fit the software. As for the big company trying to decide between Salesforce and Siebel, he’s keeping a close eye on how the CRM on-demand solution will integrate with Business Objects reports that currently feed so nicely into his company’s on-premise solution.

All three panelists said that what was really needed was for the SaaS vendors to go public with the potential problems customers will confront if they are integrating outside the family of apps pushed by the vendor. User groups would help. And the user groups should not be for just existing customers, but for prospective customers before they sign the contract.


November 24, 2008  11:21 AM

CIO weekly wrap-up: DR, SharePoint, innovation and IT managed services

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Happy Thanksgiving week! I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes … really, any type of potatoes this Thursday. But first, there’s work to be done. Check out the most recent stories from SearchCIO.com, and feel free to comment on any and all of them below!


November 21, 2008  11:53 AM

IT turkeys: Technology issues that we don’t give thanks for

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

The holidays are almost upon us, starting with Thanksgiving, the day we Americans reflect on the things we are thankful for in the past year. But what about things we aren’t thankful for? What about things we could have done without because, to be honest, they didn’t measure up to our expectations? What about – dare we say it? – the real turkeys we’ve encountered over the past year?

The following are 10 IT turkeys from 2008, culled from SearchCIO.com. Feel free to chime in with your own!

  • CIOs kowtow to Wall Street, not users, study finds — Yeah, and look how well that whole bowing-down-to-Wall Street thing has gone for our country. I supported the bailout package, but I do have serious qualms about giving money to people who were apparently so far removed from Main Street. CIOs, don’t be sucked into the same cycle – first and foremost, cater to your users.
  • Resume right or wrong? Readers react – Having a poorly constructed resume — especially in this job market — is a major turkey move. Don’t miss out on job opportunities that could have been yours because you didn’t put enough time into your resume. This story offers feedback from recruiters, consultants and former IT execs.
  • CIOs must say no to generic IT – While a lot of IT folks understandably want to play it safe right now, generic IT continues to be a big turkey. Companies can use IT to create differences that make them stand out in the marketplace and to customers in tough economic times, but only if they’re willing to take some risks in order to reap the rewards.
  • Indian offshoring firms raise rates; costs often hidden – For a while, and in spite of inflationary pressure, Indian providers kept rates in line, knowing that cost remains the chief draw for going offshore. But that’s been changing, according to this piece. Hidden outsourcing costs? Definitely not something to be thankful for.
  • Outsourcing deals no good if contract is weak – A lot of companies have looked overseas to save labor costs, but you won’t be thankful for the savings if your poorly constructed contract lands you in unanticipated legal or financial troubles.
  • Angelina Jolie-inspired spam campaign signals disturbing network threats – Let’s be frank: Spam (the email variety) is never in vogue with 99% of the emailing population (I made up that stat, please don’t ask me to cite it). However, I hear Spam (the meat product) is making a comeback in these economic times – anybody planning a Spam turkey this Christmas?

  • CIOs must learn to brand themselves despite stereotypes – Stereotyping is never really an acceptable workplace practice, so I’m bestowing turkey titles upon both those CIOs who don’t properly brand themselves in the workplace, and those who would look to stereotype them in the first place.

Tired of my grousing? Check out the CIO Symmetry blog for associate editor Kristen Caretta’s list of technologies to be thankful for.


November 21, 2008  11:00 AM

Is IT innovation possible now?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Before the economy crashed and the word recession was officially applied to the economy, the buzzword of the IT conference circuit of 2008 was innovation. The trend, we were told, would be that as the more basal functions of IT move inexorably to service providers, the internal IT shops would focus more on strategic initiatives — those that differentiate the business and generate revenue.

This was not just idle chatter. Between 1994 and 2005, IT did indeed generate revenue. IT accounted amazingly for two-thirds of the all productivity gains in this country! And there is no doubt that since 2005, IT innovation has been, if anything, going on at an even faster pace, with technologies like virtualization and Software as a Service (SaaS) fundamentally transforming how IT is done.

But the signs are not good, at least for the immediate future.

In our TechTarget September 2008 survey of some 1,000 IT professionals, nearly three-quarters said the economy is now the single biggest factor in their decision making — and this was before the November market nosedive. Three-quarters of the respondents said their IT budgets would be further curtailed if things do not turn around in the first six months of the year.

So, what is on the chopping block if budgets shrink?

According to the TechTarget survey, what is still safe is compliance, followed by disaster recovery and business continuity, the network, security and custom apps. What’s not safe? Not surprisingly, people — job security always goes down in tough times. What’s also likely to be jettisoned are the newer technologies — SaaS, mobile enhancement, wide area network optimization/acceleration, SOA.

The fierce urgency of now means that technologies that save money, that provide transparency and allow companies to absorb change will be implemented before any newfangled innovation.

So is innovation in jeopardy? It depends on how you define innovation.

Two quick examples. One is from a government CIO I talked to recently. All of the new projects he was planning on for next year have been put on hold. The one new project he has been told to go full steam ahead on is automating a business process that was previously done by human beings, because, guess what? Those human beings are no longer there. Re-engineering a business process is not a new technology, but it’s new to him for next year.

Here’s one more, from a CIO of a large building services company. He’s building a social networking site – an au courant technology, to be sure. But it’s not just to show how cool the company is. It is to save his company money on consulting fees and leverage its workforce. The site is tapping a database of former, retired employees to act as consultants to his employees who still have their jobs.

Will the recession kill IT innovation at your shop? Let me know.


November 19, 2008  10:39 PM

Electronic-discovery worries may lead to BlackBerry blackout for Obama

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

See, maybe we all shouldn’t have been so down on John McCain for acknowledging that he didn’t know how to send an email – apparently, it’s something presidents don’t do, thanks to electronic-discovery concerns. According to CNN.com, in taking his oath for office, President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to carry his BlackBerry, and will probably not send an email for (at least) four years.

That’s because, according to the article, the president’s emails, whether personal or for business, are subject to a subpoena at any time and could be considered public records. Neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush emailed while they were in office, CNN reports.

“It’s all discoverable; it creates a trail that might end up in congressional investigators’ hands,” said Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry in the CNN article. If you want to delete White House email, you get a stern warning about archiving presidential records, he said.

Now, I’ll ignore the fact that CNN’s fact checker apparently missed a beat with this article (toward the bottom, there’s a psychology professor quoted from Keene State University, but it should be Keene State College – that’s my hometown). But I’m still kind of baffled and left at a loss with this whole issue. Naturally, the president wouldn’t want his private emails out there for the world to see. But am I the only one who thinks that there must be some better solution than the chief executive of the country living without email?

There’s a reason that email is so ubiquitous in the business world: It allows for communication across geography and time-zone differences. It can provide useful information more quickly and efficiently to a range of people, and certainly increases productivity, in my view. Shouldn’t the chief executive of a 300-million person “corporation” have access to the same tools on which other top executives rely, especially when he’s clearly already a “CrackBerry” addict?

Maybe the answer is to give Obama “read-only” access to his email. That way, he can feel in the loop without ever typing a sentence or hitting “send.” What would you suggest, given his current “BlackBerry blackout” predicament?

It’s up to Obama whether he keeps using email, of course – he’s the president, and I don’t think anybody can command him not to send an email. I’ll be curious to see which way he goes, and whether he feels more or less productive as a result.


November 18, 2008  1:55 PM

IBM survey: CIO leadership skills rank high, business clout lower

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

A new survey on CIO leadership from IBM finds that you’re pretty pleased with yourselves. Congrats.

According to the survey, taken in July, 91% of CIOs see themselves as leaders of their IT organizations, possessing a clear vision of how IT can drive the business forward. Ninety percent said they have the ability to influence others, even without formal authority. Eighty-seven percent enjoy “strong executive relationships.”  

It seems that CIOs also did their best to prime their people for the economic pain ahead. Eighty-five percent told IBM that they are leading initiatives to ensure their organizations are “flexible for change.” Even better? Eighty percent report that they are regarded by their colleagues as a leader of change and transformation within their companies.

The survey results are based on responses from 300 CIOs in 45 countries and 32 industries across the globe. 

The fly in the ointment for the technocrats of the executive suite?  The business doesn’t think quite as highly of you, as you do of yourselves.

Compared with the overwhelming majority who saw themselves as masters of their IT domain, “only 67% are active participants in developing business strategy,” according to the survey.

Sixty-seven percent doesn’t sound so bad to me, judging from the CIOs we hear from. But a perusal of the 2007 results from IBM’s inaugural CIO leadership survey suggests CIOs have lost a bit of ground on this front in the last 12 months. Last year, 69% of the CIOs surveyed said they had “significant involvement in strategic decision-making.”

There are other indications that CIOs still function as the Rodney Dangerfields of the enterprise. 

In contrast with the 90% who said they are leading and influencing across the organization, even when they lack formal authority, only 74% of the CIOs surveyed say that their business colleagues are aligned with their vision. In addition, only 80% say they are regarded as trusted advisors to their business colleagues.

Finally, many of the survey respondents also ‘fess up to falling short on the mantra du jour for the ambitious CIO:  IT-enabled business innovation. Less than two-thirds of those surveyed (63%) said they have successfully “secured resources for innovation by identifying technology-enabled business opportunities.”

You can access the detailed analysis of the survey results and learn more about the “opportunity gaps” for CIOs by registering at the IBM link above.


November 17, 2008  11:44 AM

CIO weekly wrap-up

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Good morning! Here are the latest stories from SearchCIO.com:


November 14, 2008  12:29 PM

Brownie points for green IT will go away … and then?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

On the trip down to the annual SIMposium conference in Orlando this week, I leafed through Time magazine’s commemorative issue on the presidential election (great photos from both campaigns) and was struck by the number of advertisements plugging green IT.

Right now, the inconvenient truth that human beings have something to do with the degradation of our environment is a commonplace idea. Everybody is talking it up — well, almost everybody. Companies that are getting on the green IT bandwagon are getting brownie points for showing their awareness of the issue. CIOs are being urged to look beyond energy efficiency in the data center and the IT realm for ways to help their companies reduce their carbon footprints.

It’s not just companies. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), in its recent paper on green IT,  points out that state governors are among the strongest advocates for green technology and suggests CIOs can essentially earn some career brownie points of their own by taking the lead on green issues.

Here’s an obnoxious caveat you might want to think about — actually, I’ll give you three caveats on the rush to go green:

Caveat No. 1: Heavy-metal footprint

Forget about the carbon footprint we hear so much about; consider what I would call IT’s heavy-metal footprint. This relates, of course, to the disposal of IT assets. Think of this like the benefits of nuclear power and the tremendous environmental problems generated by the spent nuclear fuel.  

Although the heavy metals found in electrical devices and computers (including computer screens) — lead, cadmium mercury, chromium plus organic compounds related in part to flame retardants — are not radioactive, they are highly toxic to wildlife and children, in particular to developing brains. Think lead paint. Tons of equipment is dumped daily.

At the moment, if the pictures are to be believed,  a considerable portion of this IT waste is ending up being disassembled by children in Third World countries, where few or no environmental protections are in force. While regulations are increasing, particularly in Europe, in the U.S. the best practices for disposing of much of this waste are still voluntary.

If money is an object in 2009, as most agree it will be, the least expensive ways of disposing of this waste will likely be associated with unscrupulous agents. The effect will be that poor regions of the world will be contaminated. 

To put it another way, as your companies brag about reducing their carbon footprint with energy-efficient data centers and telepresence, it is at least worth keeping in mind that your heavy-metal footprint could have as bad or even worse consequences, like turning a child’s brain green!

There are companies that already get this. Pepsi Bottling is a good example. CIO Neal Bronzo faced the issue head on when he needed to replace 20,000 handheld devices used by delivery drivers. It was discovered that a Pepsi logo could not be removed without destroying the device, and the last thing Pepsi wanted was to see its brand piled atop a smoking heap of electronic waste in a poor Chinese town. Bronzo found a recycling company, Redemtech, which has put a stake in the ground against exporting IT waste.

Caveat No. 2: RoHs and other legislation is coming

Going green is very soon going to require buying electronic parts that don’t have the heavy metals. RoHs  (I have no idea how to pronounce this) stands for the “Directive on the Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment.” It is already in effect in the European Union and is headed this way. Companies like Toshiba and Zeiss and others are already starting to sell electronic devices that are compliant with these new legislative initiatives. And given the focus of the president-elect on environmental issues, it would not be surprising to me to see legislation enacted. And that will come with a cost.

My very obnoxious caveat No. 3

Pretty soon the extra credit for going green is going to go away. When green IT becomes the norm rather than the exception, there will be no more brownie points, just like there are no brownie points for complying with Sarbanes-Oxley. If you don’t comply, you go to jail. When that happens, going green will no longer be a bonus point but a cost. And sooner or later, doing the right thing, I hate to tell you, is going to be headache.


November 14, 2008  10:21 AM

Obama administration: Internet rogues need not apply

Rachel Lebeaux Rachel Lebeaux Profile: Rachel Lebeaux

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine neither you nor I will be working for President-elect Barack Obama’s administration in any high-ranking official position (that is, unless any of you intend to pursue the Chief Technology Officer job we’ve heard so much about).

But that shouldn’t stop us from gawking at the seven-page questionnaire one must fill out to apply for a top job in the Obama administration, according to a New York Times report. It also raises an interesting question for CIOs: To what extent do you keep track of your employees’ outside-of-work online presence? 

The Obama questionnaire asks whether the applicant and his/her spouse or immediate family members have been affiliated with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, American International Group, Washington Mutual or any other institutions receiving a government bailout, the Times reports. It questions the immigration status of applicants’ housekeepers, nannies, chauffeurs and yard-workers, and whether the applicant has paid the required taxes for household employees. It even asks about diary entries that could be potentially harmful to Obama if they were to get out.

And here’s the tech angle: Applicants must include any email “that might embarrass the president-elect,” along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages. The application also asks people to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”

It’s a good thing I don’t plan on joining Obama’s cabinet any time soon, because I don’t even know where to start. Sure, Obama, you can view my Facebook page, but don’t ask me to be responsible for some of the acronyms my friends might leave on my “Wall.” All of my online “handles”? I know I often use derivations of my first name, last name and favorite numbers, but I couldn’t list them all for you. Embarrassing emails? Define embarrassing. I think we all correspond with friends over things that could be personally embarrassing to us if they got out, but does Obama care that I’m embarrassed that I ate all of my dinner and half of my friend’s meal too?

Yes, I’m being a bit facetious here. Like many people, I try to stay on top of my online “image” through Google searches and Facebook-page culling. And I haven’t documented any criminal activity in blogs or emails, as far as I’m aware. But it does raise the question of what red flags the Obama campaign will be searching for.

The Times article rightly points out that applications for high-ranking government posts always evolve over time and adjust to new technologies. But I think this degree of thoroughness is specific not only to the times, but also to Obama, whose tech-savvy campaign should now be considered a bellwether. He appears to understand not only the positive attributes of the Internet – the way it can bring people together and build communities – but also the why-did-I-write-that? faux pas it documents and preserves.


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