The U.S. Postal Service and IT innovation doesn’t strike me as a natural pairing. But after listening to CIO Ross Philo, a Brit who was named to the post in 2008 after a long career in the oil and energy business, perhaps it’s time to re-examine old assumptions. He spoke about the agency’s efforts to make the leap from print to the digital age at Forrester Research’s recent CIO Forum in Washington, D.C.
In many ways, the Postal Service qualifies right now as a leader in technology. For example, it has a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles that’s the largest in the world, although it has a long way to go to convert its hundreds of thousands of vehicles. USPS.com is the third largest e-commerce site in the U.S. A decade ago, the 35,000 letters the USPS sorted per hour would have taken 70 people. With bar code technology, two people manage an automated postal sorter that sequences letters into the order of the houses on the carrier’s route. That’s progress.
The USPS handles 60% of all passport applications, including the proofing and data collection required to capture identity. That’s opening up opportunities for the agency to provide identity management and trust services as the world moves into the digital age. In fact (and unbeknownst to me), the majority of mail services can be done online, including printing and paying for an address label for my packages and calling a carrier to pick them up the next day. That is an example of IT innovation (albeit ineffective marketing). In addition to having a post office in every home, Philo is working on putting a post office in our hands, by providing similar technology for our smartphones.
It is in its use of intelligent mail bar codes, however, that the Postal Service strives to better serve the national business accounts that account for 80% of its income, Philo said. The new bar code replaces the series of bar codes issued over the past couple of decades, and provides mailers visibility from the time the mail is sent to when it’s delivered.
“That visibility will deliver value and innovation to companies in terms of knowing with assurance that the package that they sent was delivered. They will have complete visibility into how efficient the mail actually is,” Philo said. Postal customers will be able to take advantage of tracking to do multichannel marketing: following up the delivery of an L.L. Bean catalog, for instance, with a phone call directing the recipient to check page 42 for an item of interest. Moreover, the deadbeat response that the bill was lost in the mail or that the check is in the mail — well, that excuse will no longer work, Philo joked.
Of course, the intelligent mail bar code delivers what the public already takes for granted from such carriers as FedEx and UPS, Philo conceded. “The difference is they may be tracking tens of millions of packages; the United States Postal Service is talking about billions of pieces we need to track with the intelligent bar code.” On that scale, you can’t change the mail overnight.
For all his encouraging news about IT innovation, Philo, with typical British understatement, hinted at the many barriers to innovation, IT or otherwise, that are part and parcel, so to speak, of a federal agency with 600,000 employees and a huge customer base. “Every time we make changes to our systems, it also impacts every large mailer out there in the United States. Every time, we do a new software release that introduces new capabilities, collaboration with our customer base is critical,” he said. Then there is the numbing fact that the USPS is losing $7 billion a year on $70 billion in revenue. And the bargaining unit agreements to deal with. And the static nature of civil jobs. And the fact that quite a few of the changes the USPS hopes to make in its mail service will require legislation (ugh).
But Philo knows that his outfit “can’t just tinker.” “We have to do the big bets. The last thing we want in this trend from print to digital, is for us to have a Kodak moment.”
For those of you who spend your days thinking about business continuity, and your nights tossing around disaster recovery solutions, I thought I would share some of the wit and wisdom gleaned from my readers and sources these last two weeks.
The funniest comment regarding my article this week on SearchCIO.com about Austin Powder Co.’s DR plan, post-virtualization, to make its HQ a hot site for its remote data centers came from “Richard” via email: “Sorry, but when I saw the tag line on this article [‘A powder keg of BC and DR planning’] and the opening sentence, ‘blasting through,’ I thought it was April 1!” he wrote. “And later in the article, the reference to Symantec reminded me of Semtex, and made the article even more explosive! I just hope these folks don’t lose track of any of their explosives products in their quest for virtualization.”
I emailed Richard to share that my copyeditor and I had had similar chuckles. However, I should add how impressed I am by the IT vision at Austin Powder, a company that was founded in 1833 and has seen more general ledgers in various formats than most enterprises.
The best wisdom of the week came from another Richard — Dick Csaplar, of the Aberdeen Group in Boston. “A disaster plan ages very quickly,” he said; disaster recovery solutions are a constant effort: “You are never done. People in charge of doing this need to stay on top of it. The people who pay attention and update their disaster plans are among the best-of-class organizations.”
Companies of all sizes can benefit from this lesson, as demonstrated by another story source, Greg Schulz, author of The Green and Virtual Data Center, and founder of The Server and Storage I/O Group in Stillwater, Minn. His own BC/DR strategy involves three laptops: a small one he uses for travel, a bigger one in his office, and another one as a backup. He’s not into the “less laptop” trend, but is going toward a more robust laptop using virtualization to seamlessly move his workloads wherever he happens to be: on the road, on an airplane, in his office.
And Austin Powder Network Administrator Chris Benco described how shared storage, added to the company’s virtualized environment, enables him to do the same thing among the main site and two remote data centers. Now the company not only is protected, but also can proactively move workloads to avoid a storm in one area, perform maintenance in another, whatever.
Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.
How do you tweet?
I’m supposed to use Twitter for work, but I don’t. Now I believe I know why. According to two CIOs who do, David Buckholtz and Ralph Loura, tweeting requires first, “a moment” that drives home the benefits, and second, the will to form a new habit. The two were featured in a recent webinar, “CIOs Reveal Why They Tweet.”
For Buckholtz, divisional CIO for Sony Pictures Entertainment, the moment came four years ago when a Sony colleague got a “cool job offer” through LinkedIn. He internalized the value of social networking. That Thanksgiving, a holiday he commemorates each year with a significant organizing task, he took his thousands of business cards and put them on LinkedIn. “That investment has paid off many times,” he said. (Another year he digitized all his records.)
Buckholtz decided to use Twitter after hearing Silicon Valley venture capitalist and business guru Guy Kawasaki extol its virtues. “The speed of news” on Twitter appeals to Buckholtz. (When he recently saw a small plane crash on the horizon near his Santa Monica home, but could not find any information on traditional news outlets, he usedTwitter to quickly tuned into real-time accounts.)
But Buckholtz, who describes himself as more of a consumer than a “publisher of tweets,” has fully deployed the social networking tool professionally too, posting problems that come up. Twitter, for example, helped him round up an Adobe engineer to troubleshoot the launch of a new app for the Sony screening room. Twitter “streamlines” his learning, he said. “Rather than having to go out and look at different websites, I now have this whole community of hundreds of people filtering that information for me.” He devotes 30 minutes every day to checking his TweetDeck.
Ralph Loura, CIO at The Clorox Co., also appreciates Twitter’s ability to filter information. He and a friend call it the “lazy Web”: “You don’t go to Google to do the search and try to figure it out. You just post it out there and wait for all your friends and followers to do the work for you and send you the answer.” While his use of Twitter has a Tom Sawyer quality to it, his decision to use Twitter was as disciplined as Buckholtz’s determination to leverage LinkedIn.
Loura challenged himself to use Twitter after seeing a non-technology pal use the tool to follow his favorite hockey players. To test whether Twitter was worth his time, he set himself the task of tweeting daily for one month: “I gave myself an objective to go on Twitter daily, to try to tweet daily, at least for a month, [to] try to build a habit and try to discover value.”
Loura quickly found “interesting folks to follow” on topics of interest — content management or a new technology tool. (He also followed Guy Kawasaki, then “unfollowed” him when he found his content “less useful.”) The “habit-forming thing,” making the “effort to power through,” was critical, he said: “If I hadn’t set myself that challenge, I probably would have dropped off Twitter early.”
How do you tweet?
We’ve been looking at evolving technology strategies around disaster recovery in a virtual server environment this week at SearchCIO.com, but some of the best advice I heard came down to managing people’s expectations.
“With DR, you need a Get Out of Jail Free card,” said Edward Haletky, CEO of The Virtualization Practice LLC, in Wrentham, Mass. Testing a disaster recovery system can be an opportunity to wave the IT flag and, rather than suffer the frustration of impatient users, spin the event to make them understand the miracle of recovery. IT needs to adopt and share the general hot-site mentality, he said. When you switch to a hot site, be sure to send an email to let users know that the system will be slower than normal but, remarkably, is running, he added, emphasizing the last word.
“Don’t expect your hot site to be as fast as your production environment, and reinforce it to your staff: ‘We’re running in a reduced-capacity environment — but we’re still running,'” he said.
Haletky, a virtualization evangelist since 2004, consults with enterprise companies and mentors other enterprise consultants. He is an architect — both physical and virtual (because “you can’t just be in the virtual world”) — who had an opportunity to test the beta version of VMware Workstation. He also helped to judge the products at VMworld 2010.
“I always dreamed of having a machine that, no matter what I had, would run everything. Now I can do that with virtualization,” said Haletky, who is also author of two books: VMware vSphere and Virtual Infrastructure Security: Securing the Virtual Environment and VMware ESX Server in the Enterprise: Planning and Securing Virtualization Servers.
One of the keys to disaster recovery in a virtual server environment is reducing the amount of time it takes to make a backup, and that depends on such strategies as deduplication, as well as on bandwidth. Next week on SearchCIO.com, learn how to deal with the top concerns for virtual disaster recovery: bandwidth, testing the system, and deciding whether virtual DR should be located in the cloud.
Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.
I heard from a reader recently that Chief Idiot Officer, not Chief Information Officer, is a more apt descriptor for CIOs he’s dealt with. Harsh.
The scathing note was in response to my recent story, “Role of CIO increasingly calls for monetizing IT, intellectual assets,” a look at a trend I am hearing about from CIOs, headhunters and analysts. Why so acerbic? I emailed back. He wrote back that he believes the CIO role is “redundant and glorified,” mainly because CIOs fail to live up to the information part of their duties. In his experience, CIOs equate information with IT, failing to take into account the human element in information, in all its “fuzzy logic,” thus fulfilling the role of CTO, not CIO. The complaint bears posting, I believe, as a reminder that the CIO role is ultimately about business outcomes, not product features or technology.
With his permission, here is an excerpt from Richard Ordowich on the role of the CIO.
What I find is that most CIOs know nothing about “information.” Ask a CIO about the information needs of their organization and they’ll tell you about cloud computing, virtualization and business intelligence, not about what information is needed to meet strategic business goals.
I worked with a large insurance company and met with their CEO and asked him what his information needs were and his response was that his CIO told him they needed master data management! Further conversation with the CEO revealed that the company needed increased real-time data to quickly estimate their policy premiums and analyze their risks as claims were filed. The CIO sat there, dumbfounded, and began talking about how they were working on enterprise architecture!
At one of the largest retailers, I reviewed their data governance plan. They focused on master data management, data quality, establishing data stewards, etc. When I asked them about how this was going to improve the information needs of the business and contribute to revenue, they looked like I had asked them for how the world was formed. This was after they had a drink of the Kool-Aid from the pundits online and a LARGE consulting firm, who will go nameless, who told them about their need for data governance!
CIOs typically believe business intelligence is a data warehouse and BI tools. They forget the fact that the intelligence really exists between the chair and the keyboard. They know little about semantics of data (and I don’t mean the semantic web). They know little about assessing the value of data, except when a mistake is made. They think about information only in terms of IT. What about all the information that is exchanged verbally, in reports, around the coffee machine and in written form? How is that information managed — and I don’t mean digitizing it. What flows of information occur outside of the IT environment, between people! …
Have CIOs established best practices for assessing the quality of their BI data and reports? Most reports continue to be generated, day after day, without any formal review process to validate their accuracy.
I subscribe to the Kool-Aid of Nicholas Carr and, more recently, Jaron Lanier’s book, You Are Not a Gadget. I think these should be required reading by all CIOs, and they should be required to do a book report after reading these to make sure they learned something!
Then maybe, I will grant them the opportunity to redeem themselves and truly fill the role as Chief “information” Officer, not Chief IPad officer.
Transferring data outside your four walls, particularly over the Internet, is not an appealing prospect to many CIOs.
But cloud uptime? Now that is an even larger trust issue that CIOs just can’t seem to get past. At least, not the CIOs attending a recent gathering of public cloud services providers sponsored by the trade and investment arm of the British Consulate-General.
The CIOs and cloud services providers came together to hash out what it’s going to take to get enterprises onto the cloud. Security was an issue, of course, with data transparency and knowing who has access to their data among the concerns.
As for performance, one CIO said he would FedEx a terabyte of data to a public cloud provider for fear that the provider’s network couldn’t handle a data transfer of that load. One attendee said performance uncertainties in the cloud could possibly weaken your disaster recovery plan.
The CIOs also didn’t trust that their public cloud providers wouldn’t go out of business. CIOs have a long memory and haven’t forgotten that seemingly well-established hosting providers can go out of business — think Exodus Communications.
In 2000, Exodus was the darling of the hosting industry, with revenue of $818 million, stocks worth $90 a share and 42 colocation facilities — not to mention nearly 5,000 customers, including Microsoft, Yahoo and the New York Stock Exchange. Many of the company’s customers, however, were dot-com startups that failed to pay their hosting bills, pushing Exodus further into debt as it continued to build and acquire more facilities. (Some experts believe that the next wave of winners in outsourcing will be the ones that have large infrastructures that can support the entire services layer, from software to hardware. That would require big investments in infrastructure, like those Exodus made.)
Public cloud providers are not immune — a few bad infrastructure and financial planning decisions could bring the multitenant house of cards down. What happens to customer data then? Just as they asked during the dot-com bomb and downfall of application service providers, CIOs want to know how public cloud providers will deal with porting data and services to another cloud provider, or back in-house.
They don’t want their data to end up as an asset in bankruptcy court.
But this is a nascent industry, and CIOs are willing to wait for public cloud providers to grow up a bit. And as they grow, CIOs would like the providers to keep these other capabilities in mind:
- The ability to work offline, as well as online.
- The ability to manage multiple cloud services and relationships under one umbrella.
- The ability to speed up, not slow down, change management.
CIOs are sending clear messages to public cloud providers. It will be interesting to see how the providers live up to these demands — or maybe private clouds are the way to go?
Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.
To hear the prophets tell it, virtualization — of both the server and the desktop — is inevitable. VMware says we’re at the tipping point — a point in time where the need for more efficient, lower-cost and green computing meets a virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI), with virtualized servers in data centers automated to deliver content to thin clients on a user’s desk. The upside is security, a welcome recentralization in the dangerous era we’re in.
Yet the fate of virtual desktops seems less assured than the vendors would have it, given casual conversations I had with attendees at VMworld a few weeks ago. Most of the people were there to learn, and wanted to be “more virtualized,” as if 100% virtualization was a laudatory goal. But what I took away from sessions and discussions was that businesses should start the VDI conversion slowly and thoughtfully, with non-mission-critical apps first. The oft-repeated disclaimer was that VDI may not work for every application. The downside is disconnection and latency, which renders employees less productive; and that costs a whole lot more than the VDI hardware.
Other reality checks are coming in. “If time is money, then, in my anecdotal view, this is a huge money hole,” writes a senior programmer analyst in response to my story last week on the ROI of VDI. “I do not have quantitative numbers to give you, but I would guess I am 100 times more productive on my old laptop than on the VDI environment. . . . I am excluding the number of times the VDI is down, or my session is unexpectedly terminated.” The performance is significantly slower, he adds. “Any action or movement by your mouse, or by entering in keystrokes, adds 5 seconds. . . . [A] problem that used to take 15 minutes to resolve will now take about an hour because I have to wait for the desktop to respond.”
While the virtualization industry works to improve such performance issues, significant growth in desktop virtualization has not been realized, according to IDC. “Vendors would need to continuously improve and simplify the [virtual desktop infrastructure] solution, and customers would need to understand client virtualization technologies and how to extract value from each component,” IDC concluded in a recent report predicting that client virtualization will begin to experience rapid adoption in the latter part of 2010 and in 2011.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think the Great Recession is over? Not for CIOs. For the second year running, business productivity and cost reduction was the No. 1 concern of CIOs, CTOs and IT executives in the annual CIO survey from the Society for Information Management — and by a wide margin, according to Jerry Luftman, who has conducted the survey for SIM for the past 10 years.
Luftman, a professor of IS at the Stevens Institute of Technology, said the SIM study confirms that the economic downturn is causing “a significant shift in IT priorities,” signaling that businesses continue to lean on IT to get through this (when will it end?) rough patch. Business agility and speed to market jumped from the No.3 slot to No. 2 on the list. The perennial headache, IT and business alignment, took the third spot.
Interestingly, IT cost reduction was No. 8 on the top list, confirming what we here at SearchCIO.com have been hearing from our CIO readers since the recession began: namely, that IT executives came well-equipped to deal with the belt-tightening required of this latest downturn, having learned fiscal restraint and having sharpened their strategic planning skills during the tech implosions of the early 2000s.
A newbie concern to the list, making an appearance in the No. 10 spot: globalization! That’s been our impression too: Increasingly, CIOs, even those at small and midmarket companies, are architecting solutions that can accommodate the global reach of their businesses. Full results of the study, which delves into CIO careers, reporting structures, allocation of time and other IT issues, will be released at SIM’s annual meeting in Atlanta next month. Here is the Top 10 list from SIM:
- Business productivity and cost reduction
- Business agility and speed to market
- IT and business alignment
- IT reliability and efficiency
- Business process re-engineering
- IT strategic planning
- Revenue generating IT innovations
- IT cost reduction
- Security and privacy
SearchCIO.com will be sending out its annual tech spending and CIO career survey soon. Meantime, send me your Top 10 concerns.
Let us know what you think about this blog; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.
Navigating the crowded halls of VMworld 2010 in San Francisco last week, I couldn’t help feeling drawn to the signage developed for this year’s event: “Virtual Clouds, Actual Roads. ” The backdrop image of a road meeting a cloudy sky looked a lot like a scene out of My Own Private Idaho, a confusing movie if ever there was one. But that isn’t why the signs spoke to me. It was during an event called “Women of Purpose, Moving Beyond” — designed to bring together the women attending VMworld — that I saw the sign’s image as a metaphor for the perennial lack of women in IT.
Sure, there are lots of notable women involved in enterprise technology operations, but they still make up only 5% of IT staffers, according to experts. Of the 17,000 VMworld 2010 guests, fewer than 400 of the female persuasion gathered in the upstairs ballroom at Moscone West for a program developed by Sonal Patel and JJ DiGeronimo, employed by VMware.
I was one of the lucky women present at the first Women in Technology event in the early ’90s, which kicked off with about as many participants as Women of Purpose, VMworld 2010. Back then, a fashionable St. John suit was recommended to women wanting to work in technology, along with sage advice to secure adequate household help. Over the years, more women’s groups have banded together to raise their collective profile in IT through mentoring and information technology strategizing. “I always aspired to have a career and leverage the education,” says Melissa Armstrong, vice president for technology infrastructure and operations at Fannie Mae in Washington, D.C., and a mother of seven children. What works for her? “Listen most, question often and speak least.”
Responding to colorful and honest queries and comments from the audience — ranging from “How do I move up?“ (answers: build relationships through face time, training and mentoring; be nimble and flexible because technology is always changing; do chores no one else wants to do; say to your manager, “I can do more for you, I am an underused asset.”) to a well-put rant on timeless booth bimbos — the panelists made it clear that they are women of substance. Marj Hutchings, vice president of Internet operations at Esurance, an auto insurance provider based in San Francisco, even granted that the “booth bimbos” are effective at what they do, which is to drive traffic into their space. “It’s a male-dominated industry,” she says with a shrug.
We were all at VMworld 2010 to learn about virtualization, a technology that helped Suzanne-Lee Haskell, vice president of strategy and planning for Pearson’s CIO group, achieve $27 million in savings. Adoption at the education and media company, based in New York, is through the roof, Haskell says, “wildly successful.” Meanwhile, Fannie Mae’s virtualization efforts have been a “journey of ‘show me,'” Armstrong says, in which the home mortgage organization is experimenting with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Karen Paratore, CIO of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, led the Houston-based law firm on a technological path that is now a 100% virtualized environment.
After the panel concluded, the talk at our table turned to the task of explaining virtualization. IT departments need to gain widespread buy-in from company executives and educate users before undertaking a virtualization effort. On the sales side, the challenge has been “getting the marketing folks to speak virtualization,” says a female engineer for IBM who has been pulled recently into a more explanatory, up-front role with customers.
At a session the previous day, a desktop architect at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. revealed a successful strategy for getting the business fired up: a tech fair. “It was a really great thing because people were calling to see when they could have this cool device,” says Kimberley Christiansen of the financial services firm, based in Denver and New York. Leave it to a woman to come up with an idea like that — and read more about it soon on SearchCIO.com.
Harvard in the palm of your hand! Just in time for the start of classes, the most Ivy-ed of the ivory towers has launched a mobile initiative that delivers university content — campus maps, the course catalog, a people directory, news and student dining, to start with — to mobile devices. Harvard’s mobile strategy is a joint effort of the Office of the University CIO, Harvard Public Affairs and Communications, and Harvard Alumni Affairs and Development. The first products are a native iPhone application and a mobile Web application accessible by browser on any smartphone device or feature phone. Modest enough, you say, but in the university’s view, the start of something big.
According to its press release, Harvard’s mobile strategy is “a response to the rapid worldwide shift toward a ‘mobile-first’ culture of information consumption.” “Mobile technology represents a profound evolution in the way people connect to information, services, culture and community,” Harvard President Drew Faust is quoted as saying. “Increasingly, students, faculty and staff members carry the Internet in their pockets and purses. This unified Harvard mobile experience allows individuals within and beyond our community to access the information they need to know, anywhere, anytime.”
Harvard is not the first school to adapt to this profound evolution.
Indeed, the Harvard offerings are being developed as part of iMobileU, a collaborative framework based on the MIT Mobile Web Open Source Project, formed last year to allow universities to jointly develop mobile-friendly apps. In the commercial world, the term mobile strategy has become an agenda item. Even a conservative mutual fund company like Vanguard is determined to adapt to an information anytime, anywhere world.
So, does Harvard’s official endorsement of mobile computing mean the world has changed? As I was debating whether the university’s mobile strategy merited a blog mention, another pronouncement showed up in my inbox: “Google CEO Eric Schmidt delivers closing international keynote at the IFA 2010 conference: ‘The future is now,’ says Schmidt.”
According to the press release, Schmidt “took to the keynote stage” at the world’s largest consumer electronics and home appliances trade show to preview new technologies. The marvels included tools for Android-powered smartphones that translate conversations from one language to another as one speaks.
But it was not the preview that boggles the mind, so much as the here and now. More than 200,000 Android-powered smartphones are activated every day, and the Internet will soon deliver information to three or four billion people, “not just the elite,” via smartphones, Schmidt said. (His observation echoed a 1939 keynote at IFA [the German name translates into “International Fair of Broadcasting Services”] by Albert Einstein, said Jens Heithecker, IFA’s executive director: “Einstein was talking about radio, the new technology of the time. He said, ‘technology enables communication and communication connects people.'”)
Everything that rises must converge, is what I thought, and that naturally sent me scurrying to Google to check the reference. What I found was that the pronouncement was made first by religious philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Future of Man: “At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”
English majors and viewers of the “Lost” episode “Incident, Part 1”, will more readily identify the prophetic words as the title of a short story collection by Flannery O’Connor. (Jacob is reading it while sitting on a park bench at the moment John Locke plummets out of a window.) O’Connor’s harrowing stories mostly leave the salvation part of the quotation unsaid. They examine people who are forced to confront a dramatic shift in their world view — in the case of the title story, racial integration — and who sometimes do not survive as a result of that confrontation.
For those among us who can stand the ascent, however, mobility holds out the promise of making a multitude upwardly mobile, at least culturally: Harvard in the palms of our hands.