CIO Symmetry

March 20, 2012  3:34 PM

Renewable energy sources scarce, but there’s plenty of energy to save

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

This wasn’t a new story, but it was to me. So, I was a little disappointed to read about the dangers of wind power. Dangers? From a clean, renewable energy source? Yes, the magnets used to build wind farm turbines are made of the rare earth metal neodymium, which, while not toxic itself, creates a mess of the environment when it is mined.

Many New England residents and even the late Sen. Ted Kennedy fought wind farm development off Cape Cod, but it wasn’t really because of neodymium. It was about the view. Either way, it’s an example of how we can find so many issues with alternatives to fossil fuels. Let’s take a look at the energy hit list: Coal, bad; oil, running out; nuclear, fugetaboutit. Read about what hydroelectric dam projects are doing to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Now, wind. Is there any solution that isn’t a danger to people or the environment?

Well, there’s conservation for starters, and solar. I’ve given kudos to one office park developer that is turning the roofs of its parking garages into solar power stations.

And now a nod to Kevin Soohoo, director of IT at Air Systems Inc., a finalist for the Green IT Award of SearchCIO-Midmarket’s 2012 IT Leadership Awards. Soohoo, who also is a finalist for the Outstanding Midmarket IT Leader of the Year Award, has deployed a variety of power-saving gadgets and systems throughout his company, including smart power strips, solar keyboards and PC power management. Though small, each contribution to energy conservation adds up big on energy cost savings and usage. It’s a good place to start for all of us.

March 19, 2012  11:42 AM

The new iPad release: A win or a wash?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

Each week, we cover all the best blogs and give an executive summary for busy CIOs. Things were shaking in the world of IT last week, with the breaking news that there’s a risk of data privacy on Skype and the very revealing study that women are considered better leaders than men. And let us not forget that the new iPad release dropped on Friday.

• As predicted when the new iPad release date was announced, throngs of Apple faithful waited in line to buy the new iPad last Friday, including the Woz. However, at least one store had more Apple employees than waiting customers.

• Are you on Google+ yet? Mike Elgan feels that after years of ineffectual social media marketing, Google+ is the best thing that ever happened to his career.

• The Sistine Chapel is now digitized and allows you to fly around examining Michelangelo’s crowning achievement. Does the Vatican have a CIO?

• In the mobile apps arena, PayPal has announced a Square competitor, PayPal Here. It’s essentially just like Square, only with the pain and anger issues from being a PayPal product.

• According to a Harvard Business Review survey, women are considered better leaders than men. However, looking at the reasons why, this is hardly a coup for women in IT.

• Think your Google Fu has what it takes? Maybe, but we bet you don’t know each of these 10 Google search tricks.

• our next Skype internet telephone call might have an unwanted visitor. Microsoft and Skype have built a backdoor into the Skype internet telephone application that allows for “Lawful Interception” — aka eavesdropping.

• If you celebrated the new iPad release with a fresh tablet device, here’s how to transfer everything from an old iPad device to the new iPad painlessly.

March 16, 2012  1:47 PM

The bad example set by the Britannica online edition

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

This week, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that its most recent print run would be its last, ending a 244-year run of printing out giant tomes. The $1,395 print-bound sets were swooped up by libraries and embassies, but for those without the largess of government funding, the company offered a $70 annual fee for a Britannica online edition, which will be the company’s primary encyclopedia offering going forth.

As only 8,000 sets of the 2010 print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica have been sold and another 4,000 are sitting in a warehouse, one has to wonder why the company took so long to devote itself to the Britannica online edition. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has been around for over a decade, has more than 16 million authors and is the sixth-most visited website in the world. Meanwhile, is ranked 6,509th most-visited website in the world. Ouch.

For more than 200 years, the Britannica was the trusted source for facts in the world. In the span of two decades, the world changed — and Britannica’s business model didn’t change fast enough. It may have gotten along with the $70 annual Britannica online edition in 1995, but once Wikipedia hit the scene as a free online encyclopedia, it was a wake-up call that the Britannica business model was being challenged.

While library lovers may moan for the loss of those beautiful gilded volumes on bookshelves, CIOs can take a reminder that innovation is not an option but a necessity. Obviously someone at Britannica had read the signs — the Britannica online edition was definitely a step in the right direction — but the corporate culture at Britannica is steeped in tradition. And every CIO knows — tradition can be the death by a million cuts.

March 13, 2012  7:53 PM

Big data meets automated content development

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

I was thinking about automated content development before it was possible. Now it’s a reality.

My first job in journalism was to take calls on Friday nights from high school football coaches, who would relay the stats and a few details about the game. A bunch of other college interns and I would take the information, create a box score and write a short story about the game, which would then get compiled into a conference “wrap.”

The job was interesting but so repetitive that I used to say that robots could do it. It turns out I was right.

It’s being done now by Automated Insights, a Durham, N.C., startup. The company has married big data and content creation with developers and writers to create completely automated news and information services. I met with founder & CEO Robbie Allen at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and he explained how he started out in sports but is now looking to branch out.

“We have done a lot in sports, but we’ve done a lot in other verticals as well, like finance, real estate and traffic, and others where there are large sources of data,” Allen said. “We are moving forward with the approach that we are not just sports, but a B2B company that’s leveraging customers’ big data to generate unique and interesting content that they can use in a variety of ways.”

I should be worried that computers have finally replaced real writers, but when you consider the demand for content around large data sets (think fantasy sports or rush-hour traffic reports), there is a real need.

Automated Insights’ writers design what the content is going to look like and the developers translate that into code, Allen explained.

“The writers determine what are the things that go into a game recap; what are the data triggers that we would want to generate a sentence or paragraph about,” he said. “And the developers are responsible for marrying that design with the available data to generate actual content.”

March 7, 2012  4:30 PM

Could tablets replace laptops at your company?

Sarah Blanchette Profile: Sarah Blanchette

With Apple’s launch of its new iPad, the world is buzzing with tablet hype. Apple’s newest device, which will be available March 16, might have you wondering whether you should do away with laptops altogether and issue these shiny new tablets to your entire company. Or maybe you’re contemplating whether the high price tag is worth it to add another gadget to your workplace. According to TechTarget’s 2012 Global IT forecast, 34% of companies plan to implement tablets in the workplace in 2012. Although some have argued the possibility of tablets replacing laptops in the future, keep in mind that organizations and employees differ and have different preferences and needs.

Tablets are one way to ensure that employees can get work done while they’re out of the office, particularly if they are remote workers. A poll conducted by Sybase Inc. found that “working outside the office” is the No. 1 reason U.S. consumers give for their using a tablet. Half of those responding to the same poll said they are most likely to use a tablet to work on the go. On the other hand, laptops can do these things as well, although even the thinnest laptops are heavier than the lightweight and convenient tablets.

Many assume that replacing laptops with tablets is an economical move. In some cases, this assumption is correct. For example, the Kindle Fire averages $199, whereas the price of a laptop can range from $350 to $1,000 — sometimes even more. The Kindle Fire, however, doesn’t offer what a laptop does. With regards to work, you can check your email on it, but typing lengthy reports and analyzing data are more difficult than they would be on a laptop.  If you are looking for a tablet with better business capabilities, you might have to be willing to spend about as much as you would for a laptop, if not more. The popular iPad starts at about $500 and can go up to $829; however, it has a long list of practical business apps that can help to compensate for the high price. These apps include business intelligence analytics apps, and IT dashboards, to name just two.

If you do decide that tablets can replace your company’s laptops, it will certainly take some easing into. It could be a viable strategy if you employ many remote workers or employees that are constantly in and out of the office. Still, tablets can be hard to work on for extended periods of time: Consider keeping desktops at office locations for employees who prefer them or who are working on a large project. Also remember that you will get what you pay for. A $200 tablet will not have the same functions as a premium tablet. Most importantly, listen to your employees. A fancy new technology is futile if nobody wants to use it.

Sarah Blanchette is a journalism student interning as an editorial assistant at TechTarget.

March 6, 2012  5:07 PM

Big data in context is how real understanding begins

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

Big data, big picture, big salad. It really doesn’t matter, according to IBM’s Jeff Jonas: The more the merrier. Jonas, the big brain behind IBM’s business analytics efforts, spoke about the latest technological developments in crunching big numbers at the recent IBM PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans. And what’s going on is a big deal — very big.

Jonas, chief scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics group and an IBM Distinguished Engineer, doesn’t fear large data sets. He’s working on systems that work better and more efficiently, the more data there is to crunch. “Big data, new physics,” he calls it.

“It’s really about big data in context,” he said. “On this journey, with context, you end up with having higher-quality predictions because both your false positives and your false negatives are declining.”

Whereas data managers for years have worried about data cleansing, data hygenics and data sterilization, Jonas says that more data — and more information about that data — helps define patterns in data that otherwise would not be found. “Your bad data becomes your friend. It turns out you don’t want to overly clean your data.”

The next generation (dubbed G2) of business intelligence systems Jonas is working on will be able to evaluate new observations vs. previous ones in real time, he reported. It also will be able to handle “abstract entities” and “exotic features,” and become tolerant of “uncertainty or disagreement.” In other words, G2 will be able to “learn.” And all in a response time of less than 200 milliseconds.

Is there any limit to our ability to understand the world around us through data? That’s the big question.

March 5, 2012  7:54 PM

Will the Apple iPad 3 release date ever get here? Do you care?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

We’ve tracked down the hottest blog posts and the best tech news that’s fit for consumption. This week, we’re narrowing in on the Apple iPad 3 release date, the problem with the original iPhone on the new AT&T networks, the latest work of the hacker group Anonymous and the philosophical question of how all this technology changes our perception of loneliness.

If you have an original iPhone in NYC, you’re about to become very sad when you attempt to make a call on a 2G network.

Is technology making us lonely? Or is it alleviating loneliness when we’re alone? Perhaps it’s two sides of the very same coin.

Remember how everyone was upset last week when it was discovered that iPhone apps were stealing copies of your personal photos? Android apps are doing it too.

Is it the project manager’s job to fix companies? Elizabeth Harrin ponders the role of project managers in portfolio management and delivering cost efficiencies.

Rumor has it that Yahoo’s new CEO Scott Thompson is gearing up for some big layoffs at Yahoo over the coming months.

Is being targeted by hacker supergroup Anonymous ever a good thing? It is when it’s a wake-up call for companies like Sony and the latest to fall, geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.

It’s time for another round of Apple iPad 3 release date rumors. Where is it? Is it en route? Is it on the way? Is it a unicorn? Frantic fan boys are imagining all kinds of Apple iPad 3 release date scenarios while they salivate over the next precious Apple deliverable.

February 29, 2012  8:22 PM

Chief scientist urges CIOs consider big data analytics

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

NEW ORLEANS — The highlight of IBM PartnerWorld 2012 was not the sales updates nor the award winners, but a half-hour presentation by IBM’s chief scientist, Jeff Jonas. The Las Vegas resident genius invigorated the 1,000-strong crowd of IBM’s partners and guests, starting with the simple tale of a very complicated puzzle experiment.

Jonas took a puzzle and removed 10% of the pieces, threw another four partial puzzles into the mix, then a duplicate of the first puzzle, also with pieces missing. He watched how long it took four teenagers to realize that they had been duped (a little under three hours) and how long they sorted out duplicate “data,” as well as data that didn’t belong to the picture they were creating.

For instance, what was a Las Vegas neon sign doing in a puzzle that clearly depicted “hillbillies” on a porch? Jonas explained how this represented exactly the constraints our big data analysis efforts operate under. Midmarket companies aren’t playing with a single puzzle showing the neon landscape of Las Vegas or a charming vignette of some country types playing jug-band music.

As IBM’s chief scientist explained, until you have context, you wonder if the puzzle piece with flames on it is showing a fire in a fireplace or a fire in the kitchen. As the puzzle experiment at PartnerWorld demonstrated, we are in danger of throwing out “bad data” that could become useful in the future. Scott Lowe discussed this phenomenon in our tip last week on Big Chaos.

As a big data analytics junkie, I see the inherent value in using technology to make these connections. For instance, at PartnerWorld, Jonas cited the example of a top five major U.S. retailer at which two out of every 1,000 new hires had been charged with theft from that very same retailer. It boggles the mind that HR wasn’t talking to the loss prevention department, and yet it’s easy enough for a giant enterprise to make such a glaring oversight. Jonas calls this enterprise amnesia and cautioned that companies must stop trying to squeeze data out of the puzzle pieces. Instead, “the data must find the data and the relevance must find the user.”

Of course, IBM PartnerWorld exists to encourage midmarket CIOs to use its big data analytics, under the wing of Jonas, its resident genius and chief scientist. I do wonder, though, if midmarket companies aren’t being coaxed to apply the big-data-analytics square peg into a round hole. It’s rarely a case of pulling out a snazzy GUI to call up a magic answer, as much as departments outside IT would like to imagine.

Big data analytics requires some level of finesse, not to mention some intuitive leaps, to yield the gold in them thar hills. Are midmarket companies ready to take the dive? I suspect many midmarket companies’ big data analytics might be driven from departments outside the CIO’s control. But smart CIOs will have anticipated this movement and taken some proactive measures to insure that the right action is taken at the right time.

February 24, 2012  10:45 AM

CIO survey shows executives satisfied with their jobs — for now

Sarah Blanchette Profile: Sarah Blanchette

Most midmarket IT executives don’t see themselves job hunting anytime in the near future. According to a CIO survey conducted this past November, 28% of senior IT executives said they’re satisfied with their current jobs and companies and plan to stay in their positions for the foreseeable future. In addition, 42% of those surveyed replied that they’re open to new job opportunities but aren’t actively seeking new positions. Only 13% of midmarket senior IT executives reported that they’re actively looking for new positions for 2012, according to the same CIO survey.

Despite a difficult job, a total of 70% of those surveyed reported that they aren’t seeking new positions or jobs for 2012. A mere 2% said they’re eyeing internal moves, and 15% reported that they’re keeping their eyes open for when the economy picks up. Continued »

February 23, 2012  7:54 PM

Will Obama’s data-privacy bill of rights work?

Wendy Schuchart Wendy Schuchart Profile: Wendy Schuchart

After a month fraught with data privacy disasters, the big guns are stepping up to the plate. Yesterday, the White House issued a call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights” that will give U.S. citizens a finer degree of control over their personal privacy. The proposed bill includes seven governing principles: individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection, and accountability.

Now, Google has agreed to support the Do-Not-Track button and will add it to Chrome within nine months. You may remember that the Federal Trade Commission called for the adoption of a Do-Not-Track button on Web browsers two years ago. In theory, it would allow consumers more autonomy in sharing their own personal privacy with third parties. Nevertheless, when Firefox and Internet Explorer added Do-Not-Track buttons, users were still tracked by advertisers and companies that hadn’t agreed to honor the arrangement. What is it they say about good intentions?

Meanwhile, California is attempting to shut down data privacy leaks via mobile applications. The state has reached an agreement with Google, Hewlett-Packard,, Apple, Microsoft and Research In Motion — one that it hopes will protect smartphone users from further privacy breaches like the Path and Google debacles uncovered earlier this month.

When it comes to the Internet and government intervention, we have to be mindful of the careful dance around precedent. We applaud when the U.S. government tries to protect us from data poachers with a privacy bill of rights, but just a month ago we were up in arms about the Stop Online Piracy Act. So, which is it going to be? Do we want the government regulating the Internet or don’t we? As you well know, I tend to have a cold, black heart that’s filled to the brim with pessimism about Internet privacy; the Do-Not-Track button and the White House’s privacy bill of rights feel to me like security theatre.

What do you think? Will the Do-Not-Track button make a difference in upholding consumer data privacy? Is it the role of government to regulate the Internet? The comments are waiting to hear from you.

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