What we did this week:
Took Monday off. Not a bad trade for kick-starting this country and all.
The Real Niel pointed out that information is worthless if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.
Delved head-first into state security breach notification laws. Not that we’re planning on losing any personal data, but preparation should count for something.
Collected a bunch of really good stories about mobile computing, including some new ones, and put them all in one guide. Still trying to figure out what to call it though.
Not more than 48 hours seems to go by here without another press release on some new Software as a Service (SaaS) offering that promises to make life a heck of a lot easier for midmarket CIOs. As a reporter, I’m a bit skeptical of just about anything that comes via a public relations firm. It doesn’t help that the pitches, both on paper and in person, include words like solution. As in, “The new solution from company X will help midmarket IT departments…”
Yeah, I get it. By using the word solution, you imply that this product is the only fix for an otherwise unbeatable problem. Thing is, if I understand why they’re using that word, the purpose of using the word is defeated. A magician whose tricks are exposed isn’t a magician. He’s just a hack with a cape and saw. All that said, the recurring line that SaaS products cut down on installation costs, infrastructure and staff time does make sense. SaaS folks, with a little prodding, will generally admit that these products do limit customization. But for a smaller midmarket shop, that may not be a problem. It may even be a blessing, helping to restrain the urge to customize something into an overdetailed, unusable mess.
And it does appear that CIOs want this stuff. I spent some time on the phone last week with George Jaquette, vice president of product management at Intacct, which makes a financial management SaaS. The spring 2008 version of the product doesn’t bring anything astounding to the table. Talking with Jaquette, I left with the impression that this was a competent product that probably does exactly what it is supposed to do. He did hit pretty hard on the fact that Intaact has two backup centers, in San Jose and
Philadelphia. That seemed meant to soothe any concerns about having important data stored on someone else’s servers.
But here’s the part of the conversation where I really became interested: Jaquette says 70 percent of the company’s current customers have signed on in the last year. Self-promotion, yes. Manipulation of data? Possibly. But I doubt the guy would straight-up lie. I’m ready to take SaaS at face value. The concept has gone beyond trend, and although the market seems flooded with soon-to-be also-rans, some real leaders will emerge to match the few that already have, like Salesforce.com. We’ll continue to report on this and will even produce a SaaS All-in-One Guide in the coming months that will package all the relevant information potential SaaS buyers will need.
Accountability, budget constraints and cost of provisioning services – these are all issues that CIOs hear about when presenting IT budget numbers. “Why does this cost what it costs?” and “Can’t we outsource some of these functions?” are both questions that you’ve likely encountered when justifying expenses to your bosses.
The Naked CIO argues that outsourcing and offshoring IT projects isn’t necessarily the right move to make. In fact, he thinks it may cause more problems than it could potentially solve:
“Cost-based models drive a wedge between business and IT and this type of services-based arrangement makes business alignment more difficult.”
Keeping a project agile through a grass roots-style approach is, in his opinion, the route CIOs should go.
From where I sit, this makes the most sense. When contracting an outside company to do the dirty work that you need done, improvisation and adaptability is necessarily curtailed. In most cases – unless a contract is reworked – the company tapped will produce what you ask for and deliver it, hopefully, in a neat box with a bow on top of it. But project parameters are often subject to change and having the flexibility to address new needs is key for a CIO, not to mention IT on the whole.
I’ll give you a real-life example. A friend of mine works for a large hardware company whose name you would know if I mentioned it. Half his team is stationed abroad in the Middle East, and the other half is located right here in the Bay State. Because of cultural, religious and time zone differences, the half of the team that is abroad works on Sundays, while the Massachusetts-based cohort does not. Changes in his project are often subjected to approval from managers on both side of the Atlantic, and just getting a simple OK can be an ordeal. My friend has occasionally been called into the office or forced to work on a Sunday afternoon to sync up with his team, while the foreign contingent sometimes takes conference calls in the late evening local time.
The company has an internal instant messenger client that, in theory, should allow team members to speak to each other when they are all online over the course of the day. Yet still, my friend’s project has been delayed numerous times. Some of those delays are because of the problems inherent with developing a new product. But to think that the location differences and the limited communication doesn’t play a role into the delays is just naive.
Now translate that to your organization. My friend is working with co-workers who, albeit in a different country, draw their paychecks from the same source, teleconference regularly and communicate daily. When CIOs outsource a project, a direct line of communication is often lost. I doubt that when you have a question about why an application or piece of hardware isn’t working properly that you get to speak directly to the programmer who designed it or the tech who built and maintains it. My friend does. He still experiences delays and setbacks.
It might look well and good on the bottom line when a CIO produces numbers that cut costs because an outside contractor is doing the majority of the work cheaply. But what those numbers often time don’t include are the cost of delay in rolling out the project due to communication snafus and the cost of ironing out wrinkles that always seem to appear.
Have I got a solution for you? No, I haven’t – but if I did, I’m sure I’d be making the big bucks advising CIOs on how to keep projects in house without driving up costs. But ultimately, when you go to the bigwigs with the purse strings, you have the option to tell a couple of different stories. One involves up-front platitudes about the lower cost, while hidden snags lie around the corner. The other involves using the staff whom you’ve likely hired, whom you trust and with whom you can speak directly to develop whatever solution your company needs.
The question is really: Which are you going to tell?
What we did this week:
Realized an envelope on top of a dresser probably isn’t the best place to keep our health records.
Racked our brains trying to figure out what the difference is (if any) between Web 2.0 and
What we’re doing this weekend:
Showing a big red ball what for.
Saying goodbye to a band that actually cared.
Wondering what on earth would possess a person…
This story would be hilarious if it weren’t so damn scary. Turns out that a new report from Symantec Corp. found that credit card numbers sell on the black market for “as little as 40 cents each.” Access to a bank account: $10. This, I must assume, does not apply to my bank account, which may have less than $10 in it.
The next number is almost unbelievable: A 468% increase in “threats” (not really defined in the story) from 2006 to 2007.
Apparently, sellers need to keep a good rep. A Symantec vice president says that people selling stolen data need to be honest about how much cash accounts contain, otherwise they’ll lose credibility.
“It’s a sort of honor among thieves, and it’s very strictly enforced,” the VP says. This appears to be the digital equivalent of a drug dealer cutting a bag of cocaine with baking powder.
Here’s my favorite part: Apparently the identity of a European Union citizen goes for almost twice as much as an American citizen. I’ll let you make the self-deprecating joke here.
All in all, a good read. I found this on a strange, broad sheet of paper filled with lines of black type. The header tells me that this curiosity comes from the past – April 8 of this year, to be precise. The upper left-hand corner is coded “B6” and suggests the theme of this page is “Business.”
About 80 percent of this sheet is dedicated to advertisements. But a small hole of information still exists at the top. This “paper of record” is good stuff. I just can’t help but feel there is a better, cheaper way to distribute it.
Remember Big Mouth Billy Bass?It was a wall-mounted singing fish that somebody made a fortune off of in the span of about six months.
This thing would sing “Take Me To The River” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” at the push of a button. And beer-swilling, poker-playing groups of guys would lean back and laugh, no matter how many times you turned the thing on.
My favorite story about this toy (which was featured, along with Billy Beer, on CMT’s “100 Greatest Redneck Moments” a few weeks ago) has always been the guy I knew who actually lifted one from a gas station at 3 a.m. because he realized the next day was Father’s Day.
Turns out that anybody with more than a passing interest in Linux can make the fish, still available on eBay, sing along with any recorded bit of music.
Should you want to (and you should), you can get all the directions here.
This is what the site says you’ll need to gut the thing:
- Big Mouth Billy Bass.
- Phillips head screwdriver.
- Soldering gun and solder.
- Parallel port breakout box.
- Network cables or high-quality phone line cables. At least six wires inside.
- Two 4.7 kOhm resistors.
- Circuit board.
- Audio patch cables.
- Multimeter – optional but highly recommended.
All of these items, including the bass, should already be somewhere in the IT department. I will pay $75 to anyone who can send me a Big Mouth Billy Bass that sings the chorus to “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney. That’s a real offer. I wasn’t watching CMT by accident. Email me at email@example.com.
A survey by Infosecurity Europe has found that CIOs in the midmarket may have to start preparing for the greatest threat of all time: women and a love of chocolate. InfoSec recently polled 576 office workers in the U.K. and found that 45% of women are willing to give away their password to strangers offering chocolate, as opposed to 10% of men. On the whole, however, employees are less likely this year to Nestle (Tollhouse) up with information thieves, as the number of offenders dropped from 64% to 21%.
But still, of that 21%, the vast majority is women.
These clever social engineers — you might call them the Three Musketeers of data thievery — didn’t stop by simply offering chocolate for passwords. In order to make the breach more harming, these Baby Ruths of deception also asked office workers for names, dates of birth and telephone numbers. The payoff? The possibility of winning a trip to Paris which, surely, is worth a 100 Grand.
Clearly, these survey results are eliciting Snickers around the world today.
I’m amazed that so many women in the Milky Way were swayed by that sort of tomfoolery.
Just imagine the Butterfingers these people must have to let their passwords slip away.
Too much? I could keep going. I’ve got Mounds of material. Ha!
Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on these password perps. Sometimes, at 3 p.m., with the end of the day drawing near, I’d sell my password for a delicious Toblerone.
So here’s the message to you, my midmarket CIOs: Be thankful these clever researchers didn’t offer male employees beer.
It’s also worth noting that someone actually paid money to conduct this survey. I’m not sure who the real suckers are.
In an article published April 13, Todd McGregor, managing director of Forrester Middle East, laid out his “Top five CIO mistakes.”
Here’s an abbreviated list:
- Conflicting culture and structure.
- A management style that conflicts with IT goals.
- Metrics that don’t support the direction of IT.
- Weakened strategic functions.
- Overly fragmented functional groups.
(To see the full list, check out McGregor’s article with his explanations and examples.)
Far be it from me to pick a bone with a Forrester analyst — especially a managing director — but that list seems a little simplistic. It could be that he’s addressing enterprise CIOs as opposed to CIOs in the midmarket, but it seems like each of those mistakes boils down to simple management flaws.
It could be a function of being too far removed from the IT department itself, but, really? Metrics that don’t support the direction of IT? Someone who is in charge of managing and directing technology for a company doesn’t know which metrics should be pulled and what data needs to be analyzed? I’m sure that is a top mistake for a CIO — assuming they’re making that mistake at all. C-level employees reach that position for a reason, and while employees might think that most CIOs are clueless when it comes to daily operations, being that far out of touch should be grounds for firing.
Look, McGregor does make some salient points about the general strategies that CIOs should use while running their departments. They just strike me as a little obvious. Feel free to disagree.
In the meanwhile, I’d like to humbly submit my top five rookie CIO mistakes.
- Not wearing pants to work.
- Parking in the CEO’s spot –this is still IT, after all.
- Telling the facility manager he “missed a spot.”
- Ordering the tuna salad with extra pickles in the cafeteria.
- Contracting Rent-A-Center to redesign the data center.
Last week I wrote something about how I hate meetings.
I also hate the dentist.
Not personally. My guy’s real nice and all. But he makes my mouth hurt. And he bears bad news. And he costs a lot of money.
My teeth are about 30 years older than the rest of my body, the legacy of a childhood addiction to Pepsi, the vilest of drugs.
So I’m well acquainted with the sinking feeling that comes with a tooth cracking off. Time for another crown.
Thanks to the Lava Chairside Oral Scanner, that whole horrible process just became a lot easier.
Briefly, your dentist can now skip the whole “bite on this goo and let it run down your throat while I watch TV for a few minutes” step of making a tooth impression. Instead, the dentist painlessly waves a small wand to create a digital scan of the offending tooth.
The data gets tossed off to Brontes Technologies, the division of 3M Co. that created the Lava, which sends it to a lab where the new crown is built.
So not only do patients skip the goo, but the crown is both a better fit and is ready sooner than it would be if the dentist had to mail a mold out and wait for the crown to come back.
The Boston Globe put together a nice, to-the-point article about the Lava. It’s worth a read. Right now the Lava is marketed as a way to map teeth to create crowns. But it appears to have a lot of potential for use in other dental procedures.
So why am I writing about this here? Why the excitement?
Two very good reasons:
1. We see so many incremental steps in technology that we sometimes miss an innovation that, though not earth-shattering, will make life both easier and more pleasant for so many people.
2. My cousin is a senior software engineer of research and development at Brontes. I got the overview of this thing a while back (actually, I was almost a guinea pig for it) and I am quite proud, by proxy, to see it hit the market.
Shifting gears here, I must confess to a sentimental moment earlier today when I reflected on the good my relatives do in their professional lives. My father makes wedding rings. My mother works with autistic children. Both teach. My aunt caters barbeque. An uncle has built his small farm into a family destination in an time when the family-owned farm is too often a sentimental memory.
And now my cousin has spared me the goo.
I hate meetings.
Not the couple times each week I get together with my editors for a “what’s going on” sort of roundtable. Not that.
I’m talking about those mandated sort of sit-downs that leave me with sunken eyes and a raging headache. And even worse, feeling like my momentum for the day has been lost, all that precious caffeine time wasted.
Back when I was a local newspaper reporter, I had a nasty habit of stumbling upon breaking news just before these meetings, which usually involved PowerPoint presentations. Frankly, I’d rather be working.
Man, just thinking about PowerPoint hurts my eyes. I’ll grant that the program has its benefits when used correctly, but why can’t people just talk to me? I totally know how to take notes.
However, I am only a lowly reporter. Paul Levy, the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, though, he’s got clout.
Levy today posted a blog entry entitled “Throw off the crutches of ppt!” In it, he lists seven very good reasons to use PowerPoint less often, including “Oops, did I say ‘eye contact?’ That was already lost when the lights were dimmed for the presentation.”
He argues that PowerPoint presentations are often cumbersome and counterproductive, with presenters focusing more on the presentation than on their audience. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it.
Levy is the same guy who tossed his BlackBerry, for equally valiant reasons. Which is kind of funny, because his CIO, Dr. John Halamka, loves his BlackBerry. So much so that he shot an ad for RIM. I had been wondering what the story was behind that, but Halamka cleared that up in a blog entry of his own. Turns out he was paid scale, a paltry $100, and donated it to the hospital.
OK, point is, I hate PowerPoint. It hurts my eyes. And you should be reading Levy’s blog. I’ve been a fan since last year, when he quite publicly dressed down his staff for poor hand-washing compliance. How refreshing to have a CEO writing an intelligent, insightful blog and actually be addressing issues that other executives would only broach behind closed doors. Halamka’s blog is worth seeing as well. He runs a “Cool Technology of the Week” column there.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I came across all of this at the indispensable universalhub.com, which aggregates Boston-area blogs, pitching out news, photography and other bits of general interest. I give it more face time each morning than I do boston.com, The Boston Globe’s website. Live in or around Boston? Bookmark it now.
Actually, now that I look at the comments on universalhub.com, I notice one addressing how a fourth-grader is being taught PowerPoint in school. I’m just going to go punch my eyes into the back of my skull.
One last thing: The Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint.