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.
There’s a lot of good information in Linda Tucci’s report from the SIMposium 08 conference in Orlando this week, including an interview with Sunoco Inc. CIO and incoming Society for Information Management president Peter Whatnell discussing his company’s approach to budgeting in this recession. Sunoco prepared three budgets for next year: what IT would have proposed had the recession not occurred; what happens if the budget stays flat; and what a 20% reduction in budget would look like.
Here’s one part, toward the end of the story, that jumped out at me:
“One game changer [Whatnell is] pushing is using providers like Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. for email service. The move to cloud providers for email would eliminate the need for disaster recovery for email, since that is baked into the service. If the tradeoff is 90% of the service for one-tenth of the cost, this is an option CIOs must consider.”
Especially in a recession, CIOs and their technology departments are looking to cut costs. So why isn’t this option being discussed more often? Are companies just so used to Outlook and the like that they don’t consider alternatives? Is it because business addresses including @yahoo.com and @gmail.com would appear unprofessional?
If it’s because of some of the well-known scares associated with using cloud email for business purposes, I fully understand. Remember when Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account was hacked? Nobody wants sensitive company information floating around channels that are not secure. Before overhauling one’s email-server approach, a CIO and his staff would need to methodically review and implement email policies aimed at protecting passwords and other personal information.
Welcome back! We know last week was a busy one, with the U.S. election and all, so we can understand that you might have missed some of our stories from SearchCIO.com. Here’s an easy way to catch up!
- Outsourcing contracts drop sharply in third quarter – Outsourcing fell off a cliff in the third quarter, as both the number and total value of outsourcing contracts decreased by double digits compared with the prior quarter, according to global advisory firm TPI. The lesson for CIOs? Think Priceline Negotiator.
- Forrester: How IT rides out the recession – Forrester says in recession times, CIOs should look for smaller projects with faster paybacks. Tight alignment with business strategy is more important.
- Outsourcing contracts need tightening in poor economy – In slow economic times, organizations in the past have turned to outsourcers to cut costs. But that model may no longer hold true as IT leaders are asked to cut deep — way deep.
- CIO Briefing: Disaster recovery and business continuity guide for enterprise CIOs – Recover from disaster and keep your business on track with the advice in this guide.
Interesting interview from Time magazine this week with Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini, discussing to what extent technology will suffer in this economic downturn. I liked it for its broad assessment of technology from both an enterprise and consumer perspective. Some highlights:
Otellini: “Whether it’s for work or entertainment or resume creation, computers have become an indispensable tool in the daily lives of over a billion people, and there are another billion people who are going to buy them in the next few years, so that’s a different dynamic than we had in the past.”
This came during a discussion of whether people will stop buying computers during bad financial times. The reporter pointed out that he has a BlackBerry (presumably indicating that he could access the Internet without a desktop or laptop), but Otellini laughed and wished him luck on writing a full story using a BlackBerry. He has a point. I love my iPhone and will often use it to check my email and read news online even when another computer is available. But type a full story on it, or take full notes on it while attending a conference? Forget it. (Hint, hint, Apple: A copy-and-paste function would be much appreciated.)
But how will the economic downturn affect the financial services sector, a huge consumer of technology? You’d think the financial crisis would have an impact but, apparently, Otellini doesn’t think so:
Otellini: “Financial services, before the meltdown, represented about 15% of our server business; servers represent about 20% of our [total] business — so it’s not significant overall. And it won’t go to zero — everything I’m reading points to more, not less, regulation. That stuff is going to require tracking software. Sarbanes-Oxley led to significantly more IT spending.”
Otellini makes a good point. Although many companies are laying off employees — or shutting down entirely — those that continue to do business must be even more diligent about adhering to local and federal compliance guidelines. Nothing says bad PR — and the loss of vital customers — like facing a good old-fashioned data breach or being publicly cited and slapped with a fine for noncompliance.
Now, for a bright spot, from Otellini’s perspective:
Otellini: “The big growth driver over the last couple of years has been notebooks, and that’s not changing. There’s a shift from desktops to notebooks, and a shift within notebooks to come down in price as volume expands. Both of those trends are very good for us. We have entered a new class of notebook machines called netbooks, which are small machines with 10-inch screens. You don’t use them for content creation, but they are great for simple things like surfing the Net and email. And they’re taking off. They’re at great price points, so you see this situation where people that couldn’t afford computers before are buying them — and as prices come down, that’s just going to continue.”
Yesterday, I read this Boston Globe article on netbooks; for those really feeling the credit crunch, but who don’t have the money for a souped-up new computer, they sound like an excellent option. Now, is the netbook something a CIO is going to consider deploying to his or her staff? Probably not — business needs dictate the power associated with higher-price models. But it’s always important to be aware of consumer buying trends and consider how those patterns affect how you do business. And, while you’re looking into it, it might not be a bad idea to invest in a few netbooks and keep them handy for yourself and your staff, for trips out of the office when you won’t need to use all the features on your larger, bulkier laptop.
The Express Scripts data breach comes with an alarming twist.
Yesterday, the St. Louis-based pharmacy benefits manager revealed that it received an anonymous letter in early October demanding that it pay up or risk exposure of the records of millions of patient members on the Internet. Express Scripts did not say if the extortion letter specified an amount of money. The anonymous letter included the personal information of 75 members, including their names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, their prescription information, the company said.
In its announcement yesterday, the company said it turned over the letter immediately to the FBI, which is investigating the threat, and hired outside experts to help in its own investigation of the data breach. The company said the 75 members singled out in the letter have been notified, and that it is unaware at this time “of any actual misuse of the information.”
A company website on the data breach and extortion letter states that Express Scripts staff members believe they “have identified where the data involved in this situation was stored in our systems and have instituted enhanced controls.”
One of the largest pharmacy benefit management companies in the country, Express Scripts provides prescription benefits to about 50 million people. The website said the company deploys a variety of security systems designed to protect members’ personal information from unauthorized access.
“However, as security experts know, no data system is completely invulnerable,” said George Paz, chairman and CEO.
“We have been conducting a thorough investigation since we received this threat, and we are taking it very seriously,” Paz said. “We are cooperating with the FBI and are committed to doing what we can to protect our members’ personal information and to track down the person or persons responsible for this criminal act.”
The New York Times said the company has not ruled out the possibility that the data breach was an inside job.
A Wall Street Journal blog says this is not the first extortion attempt involving health records.
“Just last month, the FBI announced the arrest of some guy who allegedly stole a computer server from the Indianapolis office of Medical Excess LLC, a subsidiary of AIG, that contained “personally identifying and health care sensitive information” of more than 900,000 people. The man is also accused of trying to extort AIG for $208,000 under a threat to release the data on the Internet, the FBI said. A spokesman for AIG told us that to the best of the company’s knowledge, no personal information was disclosed.”
I know I’m not alone in believing that it’s been fascinating to watch this year’s presidential election from a technology perspective. I have to keep up on Web-based advances as part of my job, but the Internet, obviously, is becoming very integral to the way my generation interacts with and learns about the world. When we at SearchCIO.com talk to CIOs about the power of Web 2.0 (and even Web 3.0), the Obama campaign should now be considered a bellwether for the movement.
As The New York Times pointed out, “the Obama campaign sought to understand and harness the Internet (and other forms of so-called new media) to organize supporters and to reach voters who no longer rely primarily on information from newspapers and television. The platforms included YouTube, which did not exist in 2004, and the cell phone text messages that the campaign was sending out to supporters on Monday to remind them to vote.”
And, according to Newsweek, “the Obama campaign’s New Media experts created a computer program that would allow a “flusher” – the term for a volunteer who rounds up nonvoters on Election Day – to know exactly who had, and had not, voted in real time. They dubbed it Project Houdini, because of the way names disappear off the list instantly once people are identified as they wait in line at their local polling station.”
I know I’m convinced by what I witnessed Tuesday. On Facebook, nearly everybody I know had status updates alluding to the election, many of them proclaiming proudly that they had already voted. Facebook had a running app throughout the day tallying the number of Facebookers who said they voted, and it reached more than 5 million. It was even pointed out to me that some election-day freebies many people jumped on, such as free coffee at Starbucks and free ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, were by and large promoted electronically.
This emphasis on democracy via technology continued throughout the day. I received several texts and emails from friends encouraging me to vote. When Obama’s victory was announced around 11 p.m. EST, another round of text messages streamed in.
The Obama campaign really seized on the modes of communication that will propel Americans – and particularly young voters – into the future. According to The Guardian out of England, Facebook is more popular than the BBC’s network of sites. I couldn’t find a similar survey in America comparing Facebook with, say, CNN.com, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results.
As the AP points out, there were only a few hundred websites in existence when Bill Clinton assumed the presidency in 1993, and hardly any blogs when George W. Bush became president in 2001. The world has changed, and with it, the electorate has, too. Never again can a viable presidential candidate ignore the power of the Internet in an election.
And, thankfully, we’ve got at least a couple of years before any of them will have to start thinking about it again.
I hope everybody had a great Halloween weekend! Here’s what we worked on last week at SearchCIO.com:
- Adjusting your budget in a volatile economy — Most CIOs are still using traditional financial models that are not well-suited to a volatile business environment, let alone a global recession.
Also, while you’re reading this story, don’t forget to take these Gartner quizzes on managing growth and setting priorities for 2009.
- Scottrade reinvents PMO for speed and volume — Scottrade Inc. CIO Ian Patterson discusses the transformation of the company’s program management office from creaky to competitive.
- Tips on how to dodge the scariest of IT worst-case scenarios – We couldn’t let Halloween pass by without some sort of acknowledgment. Scare yourself silly with these IT horror stories, and learn how enterprise CIOs can exorcise past mistakes.
For all the YouTube addicts out there (myself included), there’s an interesting blog post on NYTimes.com this week about online-video attention spans. According to Saul Hansell, who attended a roundtable this week dedicated to online video, people are watching longer and longer video clips on their computers.
YouTube really kicked things off a couple of years ago. Hulu, which just celebrated its first birthday, served 142 million steams, including full television episodes and shorter clips, to 6.3 million users in September. And on Blip.tv, which aggregates semiprofessional and professional videos, the average length of a program has increased from three to five minutes a year ago to five to seven minutes now, said Mike Hudack, its chief executive.
The possibilities for online video continue to ramp up. I was introduced this week to Gaudi, Google’s experimental audio-indexing site. Gaudi allows users to search for specific phrases in video and presents search results listing the number of times that those words appear in the video. When you click on a video, you’ll even see time stamps noting where, exactly, the word is uttered. Wow. So far, this works with only election-related coverage, but it’s sure to branch out once Google works out any kinks.
So, what does all of this mean to the CIO? For starters, it means taking a fresh look at your company’s online strategy with regard to video. Conventional wisdom has dictated keeping video clips short and snappy so visitors don’t lose interest. However, as Hansell points out, online visitors have the option of perusing sites much like they would a newspaper, skipping items that don’t interest them and poring over those that do.
Is there a product your company would like to promote that is better conveyed through visuals and audio than .jpgs and text? Don’t be afraid to dedicate a good five or 10 minutes to that puppy (provided it’s well-produced), showing off its attributes, showing customers talking about it and demonstrating its uses in action. Yes, you might lose some eyeballs after the first minute or two, but the people who stick around for the full presentation? Probably more likely to be your real customers, anyway.
And when you script these videos, make sure you’re including the keyword phrases for which customers might be searching — it’s good practice and will mean you’re ahead of the game when this audio-indexing thing really takes off.
If the economy puts your job at risk, you might want to consider a career at those places that are always giving you advice.
Both Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research Inc. beat earnings estimates for the third quarter. Gartner’s quarterly profit of 19 cents a share easily beat Wall Street estimates of 12 cents a share, sending shares up some 6% on Thursday. Forrester shares beat analysts’ estimates by a penny, sending its shares up 9% on Wednesday. Sales were also up at both research houses. Gartner saw third-quarter revenue rise 11% from a year earlier, to $297.3 million. Forrester’s revenue came in at $59.1 million for the quarter, up more than 15% from a year ago.
Cautious optimism was the watch phrase from both firms. Forrester chairman and CEO George Colony pointed to new clients added in the third quarter as a sign that the firm’s “role-based strategy” remains relevant. Gartner CEO Eugene Hall noted that the firm’s events business showed signs of slowing in July, prompting Gartner to trim its revenue outlook for 2008, but 2008’s profits are expected to beat the firm’s earlier estimates.
Downturn, shmownturn. Your peers at technology companies apparently don’t need a global recession to get their juices flowing. A new survey of 151 U.S. technology company executives by Deloitte Consulting LLP identified competition, not a downturn in the economy, as a main driver of change at their companies. The execs hailed from a variety of technology sectors, including telecommunications, semiconductors, OEM/hardware and software industries, Deloitte said.
According to the study, a majority of the technology companies (59%) surveyed said they had shifted focus prior to the economic downturn to concentrate more on tuning up internal operations that would make them stronger and more flexible in the face of global competition. Company-wide initiatives centered on implementing information technology, driving cost reductions and restructuring operations, as opposed to emphasizing new products and services.
“While new product innovation and market expansion have and will continue to be crucial elements to a technology company’s success, they alone are not longer sufficient to guarantee long-term survival and value creation,” says John Ciacchella, principal and U.S. consulting technology leader at Deloitte.
Not only were these technology warriors on the rampage before the recession hit, but they’re also pretty delighted by their own efforts. Another eye-opener from the survey: The majority of initiatives met (60%) or exceeded (23%) expectations, while comparatively few failed (5%) or only partially met (12%) expectations