The Business-Technology Weave

April 13, 2013  12:00 PM

BIG DATA – Are You Leveraging Data to Modern Standards?

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

BIG DATABIG DATA is becoming well-established at big organizations.  But it is coming rapidly to other orgs as well.  If your organization’s enterprise has not yet captured the advantages in leveraging BIG DATA, it’s time to at least get familiar with the concept, and to get it onto your planning schedule.

BIG DATA reigns in data that has become too big and too disparate:  The days are fast closing for any organization that harbors data in a plethora of discreet systems.  That is, vertically isolated databases supporting enterprise-core business systems, e-mail systems, accounting systems, personnel systems (HR), order systems, discreet CRM, and so forth.  BIG DATA shatters walls and allows inclusive datasets in response to queries and calls for comprehensive information regarding specific entities:  clients, competitors, concepts, projects, forecasts, analysis… name any type of informing content (information) that your organization has, and BIG DATA serves up that information in a cohesive and collective manner.

BIG DATA serves Business Intelligence, and BI is huge.  BI essentially is the intelligent use of data that is leveraged across and through dispersed systems that are internal to the organization.  The sources are your organization’s assets – but too often, incomplete content is delivered in poor service to actual needs.  Business forecasting suffers, analysis suffers, forward progressions suffer.  Reporting, survey, and intelligent thinking are ill-served by virtue of the fact that much data gets overlooked – it’s hidden.  Consider:

“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”  ~ Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Indeed, Sherlock:  “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.  Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” ~ A Scandal in Bohemia

“Data!  Data!  Data!… I can’t make bricks without clay.” ~ The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Remember –  Data and its related management and use represents a major investment:  You must achieve the proper return-on-investment (ROI)  – and that ROI is dependent on doing something productive with that data, which means you must leverage it in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Your bricks – projects, reports, deliveries, forecastings, analysis, products, services, progressions, protections, et al – are going to require more than data.  They’ll require complete data – and that’s taking on a whole new meaning:

You need BIG DATA.

Next:  Competitive Intelligence (CI) Leveraging external data

April 12, 2013  12:13 PM

How Do You Manage Team Members Who are Afraid to Commit?

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

FearA great question came to my attention recently.  Essentially:

How best to manage team members who are afraid to commit to tasks?

Background information showed the central fear being one of committing to a schedule.  Generally, most folks working in IT, in any capacity, can predict with a fair amount of accuracy when they can have a task, project, piece of work – whatever – completed… if they are experienced.  It helps if they are familiar with the nature of the work – but they usually are, or close enough, if they are the ones selected for assignment in the first place.

Those folks who lack experience – either generally, or according to specific piece of work – can be skittish about committing.  However, schedules do need to be set, and often times tasks support much larger efforts:  The project-whole; a key module’s enablement, and thus business’ enablement; a critical update, and so forth.

In the case of subordinates, working under a manager or team leader, who are reticient:  You must meet with them one-on-one, and explain the importance for setting some sort of marker.  Confide some unease that you had early in your career, and what you did to ensure things worked out – and they did!  Commit to helping the trepidatious person if the going gets rough:  “We’ll get you the resources and help you need – we’re a team.”

Emphasize the “team” aspect – both in terms of support, but also in the critical sense that the team needs this person’s best engagement, analysis, commitment, and delivery-to-schedule.  It’s all a part of growth.

It’s essentially an opportunity – and sell it as that to the fearful member.  Step up, move up, step up, move up…  Even for folks who desire to remain static in their IT career – the world does not.  They have to evolve, learn, adapt, and take on new challenges regardless – so they’d better get on it.

Afraid to commit?  In IT?  Nah – not an option.

April 2, 2013  10:40 AM

Apple App Store Approaching a Million Apps – Here’s a few of them

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

Let’s start with a few that might serve your existence, and we’ll finish with a couple games (in that case, I guess they all serve existence); most of ‘em free:

MyFitnessPal:  This app seems to have great utility in helping any of us manage our diets and our workouts.  Nutritional information for a diverse array of foods and meal ideas is key, and you can keep track of your workout routines – don’t miss those, and get tips for safe, effective exercises.

Path:  Here’s a mobile social network with many recent improvements, such as “stickers” (which are of greater variety, and more definitive, than emoticons), and special messaging involving group and individual capabilities.  Be wary, though, as Path has had some privacy and breach issues in the recent past, hopefully resolved.

System Util Dashboard:  This can be handy for heavy mobile users:  You can track phone usage from a utility point of view – space left, battery life, and data and processor usage.  Even if you aren’t experiencing crunches, gadget freaks will want it.  :^ )    (I could use a sticker here…)

Vine:  Here’s a gif maker for Twitter.  If brevity is the soul of wit, then I guess we’ll be seeing plenty of wit in videos, as they’re limited to 6 seconds.  Come to think of it, that’s plenty of time for me to blast out a 360 of my new hairstyle…

Tinder:  A dating app that syncs to your Facebook profile, it surveys for any share of friends, your location, interests, networks, etc.  You can then view other users near you of potential compatibility… and hopefully, something catches fire…

Here’s some games.  I’ll admit that I don’t play games (on devices) – mainly a time factor – but I understand the appeal for those that do:

Sonic Dash:  Hmmm… lots of running, jumping, obstacle-avoiding… measures of merit like the collecting of rings, tracking of meters travelled.  WTH, it’s free.

Bastion:  Fantasy setting, “the Kid” fighting enemies in a post-apocalyptic scape – geez, I’m not looking to relive my childhood.  Wait, it was ok.  No really

Punch Quest:  Enemies and pushing and punching.  I’m not looking to… wait…

Nimble Quest:  If you run into a monster or a wall, you die.  Other than that, it’s life as we know it:  Assembling hero-sorts of various capacities; sword-wielding, fireball-throwing and so forth, creating a longer and stronger “snake” as you fight monsters and… critters… and avoid walls…  it’s my last office all over again – minus the squirrels    ;^)   (where did I put those stickers??)

With all of the free and low-cost apps, it might be time for a tip-toe through the Apple Apps Store.

NP:  Sonny Stitt, Only the Blues, original 1957 Verve LP.  A thrift store find, this LP was abused and heavily scratched.  The sound was considerably improved by virtue of my KLH DNF 1201a (Dynamic Noise Filter – a transient noise impulse reducer – or, a “click-and-pop” machine), allowing me a great listen to a great session.  From Wikipedia, session notes.

March 31, 2013  3:26 PM

Project Management: Is Certification Necessary?

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

A great, and provocative, question arose recently:

Agree or disagree:  Many people list Project Management as a skill, but have no certification to support their claim.  Does this bother you?

The short answer is “No.”

Education is what is left after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned.” – Albert Einstein.

Certifications can make some hiring authorities feel comfortable, but experience is everything. A PMP certificate doesn’t accommodate organizational politics (certainly not specific environments), and may not delve far enough into the greatest challenges for any endeavor: People.  The rest (the mechanics of PM’ing projects, and acclimating to specific ones upon assignment) is a piece of cake, comparatively speaking.

In my case, I’ve managed large capital projects, and written frameworks for Fortune100 companies as well as Pentagon agencies.  I have no project-related certs and doubt I ever will.  I’m strictly experienced, having worked my way up by the seat of my pants, starting small, and graduating to larger and larger projects (and larger and larger enterprise environments). Nothing – NOTHING – trumps experience, knowledge and, in particular, wisdom.  That’s not to say that someone with certs is discounted – but they have to have the practical experience to go along with that before I’d ever call them a true Project Manager.

I would never screen someone from consideration who is minus a PMP – however, I do look to schooling and degree levels in general – it shows discipline and the ability to reach goals.  Recognize too that, depending on when any certificate was issued, it’s going to be out-of-date fairly quickly.  Unless a person is taking refreshers (some of which may be necessary for maintaining a certified status), then “old” education may actually be inhibiting.

Give me someone, anyone, immersed in IT that has common – make that exceptional – sense, and I’ll give you a Project Manager.  Maturity, focus, confidence (absent arrogance), social skills, ability to prioritize, and ability to compromise are measures not often embodied in single individuals.

But, when canvassing IT – those are the people who make good project managers, certs or no.

March 30, 2013  3:37 PM

Unburdening Security

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

As a follow-on to earlier articles (scroll down), in the weave of business and technology, there is a growing burden associated with the sheer weight of effort in maintaining and securing technology – as an understatement:  a large part of business’ indispensable foundation.  IT will need “breathing room” for proactive survey of new security burdens, and space for efforts associated with those.

From the expanding power and knowledge at the desktop, to mobile enablements, and to the self-train aspects of enterprise enablements, you can look for burdens that can be shifted out of the IT arena to the Business arena.  Are there information service endeavors going on in IT that can be shifted to your users?  Perhaps you can train administrators in each department to run regularized reports that are being handled by IT.  You can and should train users to craft and run ad hoc reports from your main business systems.

Particularly for small-to-medium business (SMB), you need to build a network of user support out amongst the users.  As we’ll see, a Users Support Group, led by a user, meeting on a regular schedule, can help users not only push through difficulties with common problems, it gives them the ability to maximize their use of office technologies.  At the same time, it can free your IT department for the more challenging problems and give them more space for researching a better future.

An Absence of Wasted Effort:  Revel in the glory of the absence of wasted effort.  Place effort where it belongs.  Do a regularized survey, for where new apps and systems are delivering more power to specific areas of business and people, and ensure that everyone maximizes their use of these tools, in support of your redistributions of burdens.  Watch for efficiencies to be had.  Your potent efforts now translate more directly into continuous improvement, increased quality, productivity, and delivered service.

We want our efforts to maximize the bottom line – to maximize success.  You’re not operating in “burn-out” mode – you have a store of energy for the challenges that spike.  Remove the tax on success invoked by wasted effort.  Remove the divide between effort and reward.  Make these contributions to business security, success, and the Weave.

March 30, 2013  3:27 PM

Swapping Burdens

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

Keeping with the theme, one way to “zero” burdens is to move them.  In this case, a burden isn’t completely zeroed from an overall organizational perspective.  However, it is zeroed from a department or practice perspective – by repositioning the burden in an area that can better perform specific work.  To the organization, overall efficiency increases as the burden is lessened; work achieves proper distribution and placement.

This positions the original department to better tackle its emerging burdens, and clears work for which it was not optimally suited.  Many organizations shuffle burdens, resources and people during major reorganizations, and reorganizations are necessary from time-to-time.  But what we’re talking about here are things that can be achieved between departments, without a lot of research and analysis.  These are things that are large enough to be viewable through a common sense lens.

Often times organizations find that they’ve placed work, not according to where it is supposed to reside, but rather where the organization “found” someone willing or able to do it (perhaps forcing the issue).  Over time, these sorts of placements wobble out of balance as personnel change or move up in the organization – the original good-hearted person who took on the work, or perhaps had a natural talent for it, is no longer in the position.  That’s a problem.  These placements of work are not even prudent at the outset – placing work based on personalities, or a reason other than appropriate business discipline, is shortsighted and does not build a solid foundation.

March 28, 2013  12:08 PM

Project Failure and the CEO

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

A question was served recently on an online forum for project management:

With the failure rate of IT projects so high, what should the CEO do about it?

The questioner appears to be taking the burden of project oversight from the CIO (and assigned PM), and [mis]placing the burden for “fixes” at the door of the CEO.  The questioner’s argument then follows that “the money belongs to the enterprise” (true), and “If the CEO isn’t involved enough to know whether there’s a problem, then the one person in the organization who could fix the problem would apparently not care to get involved…”.  (This line of argument would seem to indicate that a sugar-rush of $$$ is all that’s needed to ‘fix’ projects – whatever the remiss).  Advice that the CEO be somehow more involved (with a money trigger?), is followed by a further suggestion that all PMs answer a daily, online, question as to whether any specific “xyz” project is “on schedule” and “on budget” according to specifications.  Presumably the CEO would have the administrative duty of reviewing all project reports!

Couple serious problems here:  C-class executives, to include CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, COOs, CFOs, etc. – rely on PMs and other qualified people to steer, adjust, and deliver projects.  C-class folks are maneuvering pretty large business and tech variables.  If the CEO is “the one person in the organization” who can fix a project, that org is in deep trouble.

Further, the questioner assumes that money (and the CEO’s ability to apportion/dispense that money) is all that’s required to “fix” projects.  Not so.

Plenty of expensive project failures are out there, harboring generous budgets:  Many have money lavished on them, to no avail.  Besides, part of any project’s definition is… THE BUDGET – arrived at through prudent examination and a defined scope of the project.  That’s the whole point of “projects” and “project management.”

Project failures result from poor project definition (What is our present position?  Where are we trying to go?  What do we need, and need to do, to get there?); poor oversight; unrealistic expectations (resulting in unrealistic milestones), missed deliveries, push-backs on goals, and either a late “go-live”, or a project that crashes and has to be re-mounted, with adjusted goals and deliverables.

No CEO is in a position to “fix” projects – if he or she was, there’d be an enormous breakage in the org chart and related discretion of duties.  CEOs (and the org) employ people to fix projects, and those people are there to keep “project fixes” off CEO’s backs.  Recognize too that CEOs cannot merely lavish money unconditionally to lagging projects (whether more money is justified or not).  CEOs answer to budgets, to boards, to outside partners, and to regulatory oversights both internal and external.

For projects that are wobbling off balance – with missed deadlines and zooming expenditures that eclipse budget elements – it’s clear that they do not enjoy effective project management.  The org needs a solid refresher for how to mount projects, manage them, and deliver them.

PMs and CIOs/CTOs should not embarrass themselves at the door of the CEO.  Rather:  Know, and do, your job.

March 28, 2013  12:04 PM

Zeroing and Managing Burdens the Right Way

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

In picking up from a couple articles ago, recognize that burdens have sponsors too:  When seeking to reduce burdens, based on the assumption that they are unnecessary or inflated, we may run into a familiar problem.  Someone sponsored the burden.  Someone has a vested interest in this burden, and won’t appreciate it being exposed as a “time waster,” or as something poorly sized or fitted – whether it’s a business process, reports-set, some oversight endeavor, etc.  This is why it is important to make an objective case for reduction or elimination of the burden, and to show the benefits to be had.  At the same time, the organization must ensure there is no liability in reducing or closing the burden.  Remember the rules of valid, justified, criticism when tackling burdens that are being improperly managed and sponsored (scroll through past articles for that).

Burdens can be Born of Larger, Natural, Biases:  We’ve been making a sale here – a twin track to performing (general) work more efficiently, is to eliminate certain work entirely.  This is a tricky affair, for it goes against a natural grain.  Most of us have an upbringing that includes a heavy indoctrination regarding hard work.  Work in general is presented as laudable and necessary: the key to “getting ahead.”  And it is.  Work builds character.

Therefore, it too often follows that a reduction of work, an elimination of work, or some combining of work for reduced effort, gets automatically labeled as a “short cut” that imperils quality.  It’s a “shirk” of responsibility; or a flat “get out of work” scheme.  Any or all of these things can be true – in the correct context.  However, we oftentimes misapply these general feelings about work.  Governance, managers, and individuals have a natural bias toward believing specific work necessary simply on the basis that if we’re doing it, there must be a good reason for us doing it.  At the very least, doing it will build and support character.  Don’t let this bias influence an objective examination of work’s actual contribution to productivity, efficiency, security, and desired organizational results.

Burdens as Sustained by Inertia:  There too is the inertia that is imposed by fear, ignorance, or just an unwillingness to examine a new way of doing something – again, all that stuff we’ve been discussing.  Fear of change, too.  It’s important for the organization to take an ongoing objective look at the expending of various efforts – where effort is being applied, to what end, and the usability of that “end.”  Often times we find that were producing very little of value for our efforts.

Beware the “Trendy:”  Gone down a path because it’s popular?  Trendy?  “Everyone’s doing it” because it’s the latest buzz?  There are all sorts of panaceas that look good to people – particularly to managers who don’t do the actual work in implementing the “panacea;” the work in maintaining them, and the actual work in attempting the payoff.  Those who do do the work, however, frequently see through these endeavors for what they are:  resource hogs that deliver little return on the efforts.

None of this is a bash on managers, or those in the trenches who may be reticent to expose unnecessary work or procedure:  we’re all one and the same, as pulling in the same direction for positive business.  In other words, we all have to look at ourselves and what we’re doing.

NP:  CCR – Keep on Chooglin’    – sounds like good advice.

March 22, 2013  12:24 PM

Trends Regarding Content and Integrity

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

When speaking to audiences, I have a set of questions I ask at random intervals – regardless of the specific business-IT topic I’m covering.  One such question is:  What is your organization’s #1 asset?  (I’ve asked it here in past articles too).

Invariably the answer is:  Our people.

I counter:  No.  Your organization’s #1 asset is its reputation.

Lose your reputation, and your people may have nowhere to work.  Even surviving a harming event in terms of reputation can be extremely expensive and painful.  You can lose profit, partners, customers, sales, and employees.

Your reputation should be a part of your branding.  Be proactive, and monitor your web presence.  That not only means a regularized review and update of content, but you should monitor and manage search results that deliver on, and speak to, your corporate presence.  If something negative shows up, be agile and ready to spring into action.  It may be removal of negative comments to blogs, news articles, or on social media.  That may require legal activity, or it may be as simple as contacting a site administrator for removal.  But be aware.  Organizations should define their response mechanisms now, by effecting the right partnerships and teams comprising IT, HR, your in-house legal counsel (and/or relevant outside counsel), and assigned business stakeholders/oversight personnel.  If you have nothing at present, get something embryonic on paper, and work it.

Also, strive to own the top 10 returns on relevant Google searches.  Show your dominance on topics by delivering on the returns to searches, and at the same time, push any negative returns out of the top 10, and to subsequent results pages.  No one that I know of goes past the first page of returns; rather, they usually tweak their search.

Consider online press releases, if you don’t already have/release them.  These allow you to steer the view to your reputation, and also they’ll help fill those search results – seed the releases with powerful search-relevant key words and phrases.

If you’re a large organization, there’s likely a Wikipedia page regarding you – monitor it.  If you’re smaller, you may wish to get one.  Regularly review relevant pages.

Assign someone to regularly review online reputation.  This person should look at search results for various words and phrases that are associated with your org and business; have them examine relevant discussion forums and news articles; have them identify and monitor pages that peg your org (such as the aforementioned Wikipedia; bio type pages at online journals and mags, etc.).

Develop a hierarchical response template for various discoveries, conditions, and managed response – in achieving favorable dispositions/outcomes.  Manage reputation on a proactive basis, and prevent small initial negatives from spreading and inflating.

March 18, 2013  2:48 PM

Zeroing Burdens – Ensuring Survival

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott

We’ve talked about the competition for resources with the Business-Technology Weave.  Yesterday’s post about IT asset management systems (ITAMS) discusses the benefits of tight management of resources from a systemic point of view; there are even automated components to ITAMS, as you’ll see, and well-worth leveraging.  At the same time, regular old thinking and work are also necessary to for the proper balance of work, securing of the present, and planning of the future.

We know there’s going to be a steady advance in the burden for maintaining business.  The general, collective, advancing burden in maintaining our Weave requires up-to-date knowledge; best, vetted, practice; and intelligently applied effort for maximum affect and return.

Let’s also take this opportunity to mention that we don’t mean to imply a negative connotation to “burden” here:  we’re talking about the weight, or load, of work – it is work we’re discussing, after all – so by all means let’s talk about burdens.  In the face of tight resources, possible reduction of resources, and expansion of need – what can we do regarding the non-stop advance of burdens?

We can be bold:  When we can offset a zooming consumption of resources in one area by virtually eliminating the consumption of resources in another, we can achieve an overall parity between the onset and offset burdens.  We can even get ahead of the game.  This is going to be very important in the coming years as you balance your ever-changing Business-Technology environment’s consumption of resources.    Consider this:  In most organizations, there is a natural resistance to change, coupled with inefficient change management and action.  There’s inertia.  This inertia exhibits itself in individuals, and in the organization at large.  Why does it exist?  Often, a “go-slow” (or even a “no-go”) approach is considered safe.  Frequently a go-slow approach is necessitated by ignorance:  no one is qualified to go at a better speed.  In these circumstances, the organization has created a self-fulfilling requirement for the go-slow approach.  How can you be bold when you’re ignorant?  How can you sustain confidence in a changing Weave?  You can’t.

The Divide between That Which You Must Do, and That Which You Can Do:  When you combine this go-slow situation with new requirements that constantly stream into the face of business/technology, you have a divide.  That is, the organization struggles to close the gap between what it is able to do, and the seemingly constant elevation of what it must do.  This is often because the organization finds itself performing relatively obsolete chores, or chores in a manner that deliver appropriate return for “yesterday.”  Concurrent with this inherent lag in the fixing or tuning of wasted, inefficient, or outdated efforts, is the forced assumption of new burdens.  In the absence of planning on your part, new burdens don’t bother to align with your condition of awareness or preparedness.  These new burdens may be necessary in the advance of business – or they may be necessary just to keep up.

Burden Management:  Burden management can be an umbrella concept for the modern organization:  it entails the review of work, resources, and returns.  The essence of burden management goes on to some degree everywhere, by various names and reviews, in various formal and informal manners.  Those things should continue – but burden management here is an aggressive, but responsible, effort to identify and stamp out foolishness.  Just as there are false solutions to problems, there are “false burdens.”

The False Burden:  False burdens present real burden – but they are false in the sense that they are falsely assigned and falsely borne.  They are false in the sense that they have no merit – they don’t deliver, or protect, or advance anything.  Many of us have discovered thick reports that are generated on a regularized basis, delivered to some location, and thrown away without any sort of attention.  Many organizations conduct mandated training that is poorly attended, or which delivers little in the way of real knowledge.  Cloaked criticism – that which is delivered as valid or justified criticism, is more of the ‘busy-work’ variety, and its attendant destruct of efficiency yields a false burden.  And of course we have probably all experienced the wasted effort of projects that go nowhere, and even of implementing the burdens delivered of the False Solution (a “solution” that does not solve or serve).

When we become practiced at making objective, successful, arguments for doing away with wasted work, we find that we can maintain headroom to tackle unforeseen changes with aplomb and efficiency.  Zeroing and reducing burdens provides a yield:  It means that we can fill any new “slack” in resources with support to the emerging demands of the Weave.  It also should grant time for research into those things necessary for a better business-technology future.

Use the zeroing of burdens principle to grant space to your efforts so that you can make more fully informed and therefore more intelligent, more accurate, forecasts and planning.  Seek to size burdens appropriately (new and old), to seize and implement best practices as soon as possible in order to resize (reduce) burdens, and to even eliminate (zero) burdens as we can.  The result will be more accurate implementations and supports to the Business-Technology Weave.

Next:  Zeroing and managing burdens the right way.

NP:  Bix Beiderbecke – streaming audio.

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