CIO Symmetry

November 4, 2010  8:01 PM

IT service catalogs moving beyond walls of IT

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

IT service catalogs are apparently back in vogue.

The cloud, in part, is driving this renewed interest. People want to use IT service catalogs to manage cloud services that are delivered to various business units, and charge them appropriately for the use of these services.

Another factor is that the demand for them never went away — the money did.

According to Lisa Erickson-Harris, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., a survey of EMA clients showed that 16% have already deployed an IT service catalog as part of their ITSM strategy, and another 56% plan to deploy a catalog. The study is a year old, but the demand is still there.

“IT service catalogs are a very hot priority for IT service managers,” she said during a webinar this week by EMA.

And IT service catalogs are set to start managing items beyond the walls of IT. The facilities department can use IT service catalogs to track office space or building codes, or the transportation department could use it to schedule maintenance for truck fleets.

The possibilities are endless, but they may not ever enter the business realm if IT does not first deliver on its promises.

She advises business to start small — pilot a project, test out catalog items and how the system works, before you introduce it to the entire company.

You can have all the IT systems working well behind the scenes, but if the IT service catalog is not in sync with those back-end systems, the project could be sunk.

“An IT service catalog can give IT credibility, or give IT negative publicity … there is risk involved, and that’s because [the catalog] is the front office. It’s what people see, and what IT will be judged on.”

An IT service catalog is no small undertaking — it involves setting policies for what employees can and cannot buy, establishing and living up to SLAs and back-end system integration. Or, does it really need to be that difficult? From what I’ve heard, many IT shops have built a catalog pretty quickly using SharePoint.

October 28, 2010  4:41 PM

Agile adoption basics, and basic mistakes

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

I came across a helpful post on the Edge of Chaos/Agile development blog on the 10 most common mistakes for agile adoption.

No. 1: Don’t start with a tool. Choosing a tool will only slow down agile adoption. No. 2: Don’t start with processes, but rather agile values such as communication, collaboration, feedback, trust and passion, the blog’s author, Michael Dubakov, advises.

Sage advice. One of our contributors, Joseph Flahiff, has 15 years of project management experience, the last five of which have been spent working on agile projects. He can’t stress enough how much communication is key to the success of agile adoption.

In his agile tutorial on this week, Flahiff explains:

The best description of the real heart of agile I have ever seen is buried in that [Agile Manifesto] history. According to [Jim] Highsmith (one of the manifesto’s authors), at the end of the [manifesto] summit, Bob Martin, another manifesto author, talked about the process of creating it and about how he “felt privileged to work with a group of people who held a set of compatible values … based on trust and respect for each other, and promoting organizational models based on people, collaboration and building the types of organizational communities in which we would want to work.”
This is what lies deep at the heart of agile: a set of values that put people first and foremost. Above all other things, in work of any kind, people are the most important.

It is not setting the scope up down to the letter — that’s going to change anyway, and it’s not about documentation — that often slows the project down.

The real sign that you are on the right track is a working piece of software … developed by a team of people. “Until a piece of code is working as you expected it to work, you have no empirical evidence that you are making progress. You have documents and plans, and you hope they may result in software that does what you want it to do; but you do not have empirical progress and you don’t have proof,” Flahiff said.

Still, putting people first over documentation, tools and processes is a challenge, as is getting the basics down for agile project management. To get started, Flahiff outlines agile definitions and project lingo in his tutorial.

What other agile basics would you like to see explained?

October 26, 2010  5:55 PM

Ozzie leaves behind Microsoft’s technology vision

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

Last week, I brought up the topic of chief software architect Ray Ozzie leaving Microsoft. Since then, Ozzie, who rarely issues public statements, published a 3,453-word letter as a farewell and a final technology vision for Microsoft.

The “Dawn of a New Day” letter is a must-read. In it, he sticks mostly to the vision thing but also carves out some carefully worded explanations of why the company is where it is today.

Yet, for all our great progress, some of the opportunities I laid out in my memo five years ago remain elusive and are yet to be realized. … Certain of our competitors’ products and their rapid advancement & refinement of new usage scenarios have been quite noteworthy.  Our early and clear vision notwithstanding, their execution has surpassed our own in mobile experiences, in the seamless fusion of hardware & software & services, and in social networking & myriad new forms of internet-centric social interaction.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that he’s talking about Apple and Google/Facebook. It goes without question that Microsoft has indeed transformed (a word he uses 14 times through the letter) not only the computing industry but also the world of business and communication. But a “seamless fusion of hardware & software” is something they’ve never been able to accomplish, and they have always trailed the pack when it came to creating “myriad new forms of internet-centric social interaction” — going all the way back to the first killer app, the Web browser.

Ozzie’s optimistic technology vision calls for Microsoft employees “imagining the ‘killer apps & services’ and ‘killer devices’ that match up to a broad range of customer needs as they’ll evolve in this new era.” But I’m still wondering if this is a vision that is already out of reach. Short of RFID implants or Wi-Fi access points attached to our corneas, we are already connected to the hilt. A bigger issue for businesses that want to be part of this future is management and governance. Those are areas that Microsoft can do a lot about, starting now.

October 21, 2010  7:06 PM

Where’s the love for Microsoft technologies?

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Remember when Microsoft’s marketing machine could make up a word like goodness to describe a new software feature, and people would eat it up like, well, chocolate? The ooohs and aaahs at shows — and not just Microsoft-sponsored ones — when the vendor demonstrated products, were a bit cult-like.

And let’s not forget the famous video of CEO Steve Ballmer pumping up his sales team about the latest Microsoft technologies. The unveiling of a new Microsoft operating system was a major event that couldn’t be missed. Where’s that enthusiasm now?

Google, Apple, Amazon. Those were the vendors that kept coming up at a recent Society for Information Management event. Cloud, virtualization and mobility were the topics at every turn. Microsoft technologies on those fronts weren’t brought up too often.

One CIO said Microsoft’s smartphones blew away the competition when it came to email functionality, yet he used an Android. I saw many attendees carrying around iPhones, Androids, iPads and other netbooks.

Attendees also talked about replacing traditional mobile devices like laptops with end-user devices of choice, on hardware- and operating system-agnostic devices. The cloud and virtualization are allowing companies to build this hardware-agnostic platform, so why not let users buy their own devices, and play in their own OS-of-choice sandbox? One that maybe isn’t Windows.

Some people are questioning Microsoft’s ability to shift its strategy beyond OS licenses and the four walls of an office and the PC. Others are cheering on Microsoft’s efforts, particularly in the cloud, for just the opposite — its ability to create a community with no borders.

Microsoft is making some cloud counterattacks of late, with Microsoft Office 365, a direct shot at Google Apps. And competitors are trying to make their products more like Microsoft technologies, as seen by new features in Google Docs.

Windows visionary Mark Russinovich was also transplanted to the Azure team this year.

But while one Microsoft visionary joins the cloud team, another visionary, Ray Ozzie, was lost to it this week, as editorial director Scot Petersen blogged about. Ozzie invented Lotus Notes and founded Groove Networks, a company ahead of its time with its anytime, anywhere “virtual” collaboration software.

We’ve seen Microsoft fall behind before, and come back in a big way — where is Netscape today? Microsoft has lost considerable ground on the virtualization and cloud front with its late-to-the-game technologies. But again, it has made up ground with a familiar tactic, making its hypervisor free, and bundling virtualization technology with software already in place in businesses and managed by devout Microsoft shops.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email Christina Torode, News Director.

October 19, 2010  6:05 PM

Ozzie’s leaving the latest sign to break up Microsoft?

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

It’s been years since the talk to break up Microsoft. When the company was on trial for antitrust violations in 2000, many experts felt that a breakup was just punishment.

But as time went on, many others, from a purely technological or financial standpoint, felt that breaking up was the right thing to do for the Redmond behemoth. Its stock has languished in recent years despite constant growth, and investors worry that as Microsoft cedes more control of your computing environment to Google, Apple and Facebook, its future growth prospects look dim.

They are right, and the future may be now as users in the mobile workforce start demanding more flexible and efficient computing alternatives.

The announcement this week that Ray Ozzie is leaving his post as Microsoft’s chief software architect, plus some illuminating comments by IDC analyst Al Hilwa, makes me think that it’s time to revisit this theory once again.

Microsoft has gotten too big to maneuver with the likes of the Big Three. “Microsoft’s business is probably too diversified to really depend on a single visionary or software architect,” Hilwa told The Microsoft Blog. “And besides, it is hard to operate when almost each division has a president with his own vision for the group.”

The day is certainly past when Microsoft should go the way of Standard Oil or AT&T, and the new power structure in the industry perhaps vindicates the company’s defense of its earlier business practices. It’s also way too late to recapture, for some, the days when the company didn’t have to work hard to attract and keep the best employees, some of whom are saying goodbye in interesting ways.

But it’s not too late for Microsoft to start taking some bold steps and start creating a future in which it can serve its customers and its investors with equal assurance. That includes breaking up or spinning out segments of the company that can flourish with less corporate overhead and more focus.

October 14, 2010  6:03 PM

Virtual data center: A panacea for governance

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Virtualization, to me, is in many ways like vitamin supplements: Whether you want to save money, pool resources or make employees more productive, there’s a virtualization pill for that.

What I hadn’t considered was how developing a virtual data center — from apps and desktop through servers, storage and networks — could be somewhat of a cure-all for governance.

Your employees want to use an iPhone, but the approved smartphone is a BlackBerry? No problem. Your business managers want to use iPads, but you offer only Dell laptops? A virtual data center has you covered.

Take for instance Joe Surber, vice president and CIO of Atlanta-based natural gas distributor AGL Resources. Surber sees the virtual PC infrastructure that his company is building as a “real game changer” that will allow IT to let employees choose their own devices.

This may not be a cure-all for device management, but it’s a step in the right direction. CIOs are struggling with lockdown, versus a governance policy that allows for exceptions as cloud services and mobile devices creep in under the radar.

Virtualization lets IT govern, but behind the scenes. In the case of desktop virtualization, IT still controls what data those devices of choice can access. It’s what marketing people like to call a “win, win” for IT and users.

AGL was a BlackBerry shop, but iPhones and Androids were popping up everywhere. Surber’s IT team created an application that allows just about any mobile device to access the company’s application servers — that reside in its virtual data center. “So we can say ‘Yes, you can use that device, but we’re not going to pay for it,’” Surber said.

This leads to another virtualization pill: the ability for IT to say yes more often, while offloading some costs on the business.

I’m sure I’m missing ways virtualization is — and is not — a cure all, but I think virtualization is getting IT closer to staying ahead of the curve, as far as accommodating users’ needs.

October 12, 2010  1:00 PM

Mobile workforce will soon demand iPad-type tablets

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

If ever there was a no-brainer reason to get an iPad, or some kind of equivalent thin tablet computer that will be coming soon from HP or Dell, it’s as a journalist covering a remote assignment.

Laptops just don’t make sense anymore for the mobile workforce, or any on-the-go professional who needs the ability to take notes, send and receive email and look up information anytime, anywhere. Laptops weigh too much, they don’t have enough battery life, and connectivity is always a struggle (my experience with broadband access cards is that they are buggy and not reliable).

This is an old story, and I’ve been covering the technology for many years, but this revelation dawned on me like one of those narcissists in the Windows 7 “is my idea” commercials.

I was in Phoenix last week for the CHIME Fall CIO Forum and typing session notes into my laptop, but after about two hours the battery was critically low, and I was forced to find a new spot and plug in. When the time came to send in some copy, there was no Wi-Fi in the conference area of the hotel (events rarely treat their attendees to wireless because of extortionist fees charged by most hotel chains).

I had to go into the hotel lobby to find open Wi-Fi, but then couldn’t find an outlet to plug in my laptop. I had to lug everything back to my room, which had an outlet and a hard line — for $12.95 a day.

See what I mean?

A 3G-equipped iPad is light, long-lasting and can connect anywhere. This should be standard equipment, but everyone I spoke to at the conference about the iPad said they had to buy one themselves.

I realize I’m a little late to the party here, since more than 4 million iPads have already been sold. But considering the pace of business and the growth of the mobile workforce, the standard laptop is beginning to look like the desktop of yesteryear. Consider that when planning for your mobile workforce. Not in the future, but now.

October 11, 2010  8:29 PM

CIOs feverishly working on mobile strategy

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

It seemed no matter how a conversation started out with IT executives at this year’s Society of Information Management national event in Atlanta this week, it somehow wound its way back to developing a mobile strategy.

One session summed it up: A perfect storm is brewing in mobility, as bandwidth, intelligent mobile devices and social networking proliferate. The result? Companies are developing new ways of communicating with their customers and within their organizations, and IT is smack dab in the middle of figuring out what the organization’s mobile strategy should be.

The argument is moving beyond whether or not they should standardize on the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Mobile smartphones, to the process of developing mobile applications useful to the business and customers, on device-agnostic platforms.

For now, Joe Surber, CIO of natural gas distributor AGL Resources Inc., said his company is choosing some standard mobile devices for employees out in the field. Eventually, though, he expects that employees will pick and choose the device they want to use to communicate because the cloud and virtualization allows IT to provide a virtual PC infrastructure that is device-agnostic.

This was during a session on enabling IT change through the cloud — yet, once again, the conversation went back to mobility:

  • How do we harness mobile devices for our business?
  • What mobile apps should we be developing?
  • How can the cloud and virtualization help or hinder mobility?
  • How can IT help or hinder the use of mobile devices and applications?

And the million dollar question: How do we handle the fact that consumers are ultimately deciding the feature sets and applications that corporate business users get on their mobile devices?

Case in point, using his Android, Chuck Musciano, vice president and CIO of construction material supplier Martin Marietta Materials Inc., can’t move emails into his folders. He has 450 folders that he “neurotically” maintains, and that capability does not exist when he’s mobile. And he suspects that such a feature is at the bottom of the list of those developing applications for iPhones or Androids, given that consumers are more interested in Facebook and Twitter interfaces for their mobile devices.

“We, as enterprise architects of our organizations, have to understand that feature sets are going to be driven by consumer demand, not by what we in the business would like to see,” he said.

And something like folders in email may be a moot point anyway, given that newer generations consider email, well, old, said Paul Miller, senior vice president of technology infrastructure and broadcast transmission for Turner Broadcasting System.

“There has to be recognition that some of the ways that many of us are used to working and thinking, are in fact evolving and changing with new generations. Folders are a perfect example of that … new evolutions of search should in fact make folders obsolete. I find that, personally, children could care less about folders. They say email is how you communicate with old people,” Miller said.

Email is only one example. If Millenials don’t care about the ability to read reports or spreadsheets, or maybe tap into an analytics application, which I doubt they do, and they are the ones driving what feature sets end up on mobile devices, will that mean that the main focus of IT departments becomes mobile application development?

If you read some of the recent stories we’ve run, the answer is yes. Not only are organizations developing applications for mobile devices to conduct business in new ways, but they are turning to offshore and onshore providers because they don’t have the talent in-house to make it happen.

Let us know what you think about this blog post; email: Christina Torode, News Director

October 5, 2010  4:14 PM

Social media may not be a revolution, but it’s in your enterprise

Scot Petersen Scot Petersen Profile: Scot Petersen

The social media multiverse is all a Twitter about the fact that one of today’s most popular intellectuals has written an article saying that the revolution will not be tweeted.

You should read his account, but Malcolm Gladwell’s case in The New Yorker essentially argues that today’s technology-based social media ties are not as strong nor as influential as the ones that galvanized the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On its face I would have to believe that, but nothing in today’s world of social networking is that cut and dried.

On the other site, blogger David Helfenbein is in a huff about Gladwell’s thesis, saying he misses the mark, and that he’s insulted by the notion that today’s generation can’t get spurred to action.

What do CIOs think? Somewhere in between. “Social media, in the small sense, is about marketing and recruiting talent. In the large sense, it represents the transformation of capitalism as we know it,” said keynote speaker John Sviokla, vice chairman at Chicago-based Diamond Management & Technology Consultants Inc., at a meeting last month of the Boston chapter of the Society for Information Management.

Sviokla’s “third wave of capitalism,” as Senior News Writer Linda Tucci reported, is in my opinion a bit over the top when in reality CIOs are concerned about things like social media usage policies and corporate reputation. In addition, around 30% of respondents to a recent SIM survey said their organizations block social media use.

Kevin M. More, Boston SIM’s vice president and incoming president, just wants to be sure social media is executed correctly. “We don’t want to just throw something up,” he said. “We understand that Facebook has a lot of potential. But for every success, there are probably 30 to 40 failures.”

What is often missing in the discussion about corporate IT and social media is that there are two kinds: one that is used to reach out to your customers, and the other to empower your own employees. These are two different things completely, and technology plans around them should take that into consideration.

Whether your opinion of social media is pro or con, or whether it’s too powerful or not powerful enough, the fact is it’s in your company now, and it’s better to embrace it rather than fight it.

September 30, 2010  8:55 PM

A list of to-dos before taking the email hosting plunge

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

Whether you call it email hosting services, cloud or SaaS email, or just plain email hosting, there are capabilities that you will need to have in place before offloading email.

This month, our experts are going to explore the different options for email outsourcing and put forth a checklist for you to follow if you take the hosting plunge:

  • Can your organization’s current bandwidth support what could be a massive increase as a critical, continually used service is moved off-site? asks Scot Lowe, CIO of Westminster College, in an upcoming column.
  • Did you make sure that your email hosting provider is running the latest version of email software? You’d be surprised that some may not be.
  • Is there data that can be archived before you make the move, so costs are lower?

The latter two questions are posed by Nelson and Danielle Ruest, founders of IT consulting firm Resolutions Enterprises, in an upcoming tip.

The benefits of moving to the cloud will also be touched on by these experts, but Erik Dubovik, vice president of information technology at Audax Group LP, a Boston-based private equity firm, sums up the benefits of email hosting like this: “If you are a smaller business, there is no need today to run your own infrastructure for email. You can get email archiving, email hosting, spam and even mobile device capabilities in the cloud. In the next two to three years, you will see midmarket companies move en masse to the cloud for email and email archiving.”

With all these benefits, there has to be some risks. After all, 75% of businesses’ intellectual property is stored in email. Whether an email hosting provider is better at protecting your IP, or not, is up for debate.

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