IT in the Ad Biz

July 25, 2008  8:11 PM

Am I the Director of Electricity?

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Ouch! It seems like I keep coming back to this topic, but I just received another e-mail in my inbox with yet another article about the end of IT as we know it. The article draws parallels between today’s IT Directors and a position which existed back in the early days of electricity – occupied by the person who ran the company’s power plant. The idea being that these company owned power plants eventually moved “onto the grid”, and that this may also be the future of IT as we move towards cloud computing.

While this is a topic which isn’t necessarily exclusive to the Advertising business, once again I’m going to make the case that those of us in this industry may provide a good place to observe this trend. First of all, there are many smaller agencies out there right now who don’t even have IT Departments, usually companies with fewer than 25-30 employees. These companies are great candidates for getting into hosted, cloud-based solutions for their IT infrastructure. The interesting thing to watch will be whether or not they decide to remain totally in the “cloud” as they grow – or will they still decide to add some of their own IT infrastructure. Also, in our multi-platform environment where we commonly run both Macs and PCs, web-based alternatives provide wonderful common ground for us right now.

I’m not overly concerned about this happening in the near future, and I’m not busy working on my resume, but the article was sent to me by the CEO, so I am paying attention to it. If he’s not already, he will soon be rubbing elbows with CEO’s of smaller agencies who are telling him how wonderful (or horrible) life is without their own IT infrastructure.

July 25, 2008  2:41 AM

Anyone Else Notice an Anti-IT Movement?

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Has anyone else noticed a growing trend in IT bashing? I don’t want to sound like I’m whining myself, but I do pay attention to what’s being written, and particularly about things like the iPhone and the Mac’s push into the enterprise. The articles generally have great relevance to our business, and I do like to keep tabs on what others in my position are doing.

However, what have really caught my eye of late are the comments posted on this and similar articles. There are definitely some folks out there who don’t like IT very much, and it’s interesting to hear the arguments. In this article those of us in IT are accused of using “technical mumbo-jumbo” to stall the entry of Macs into the enterprise and to defend our own staffing levels.

I realize that it’s only one individual’s comment in this particular case, but I’ve noticed quite a few of these comments being posted lately. It’s usually found following an article such as this, where the author is discussing Macs or iPhones in the enterprise, but I’ve seen similar comments with regards to IT getting in the way of other things the user wants to do – it might be installing software or bringing in personal hardware.

We face a tough-sell on this stuff. It’s not always easy explaining our policies and decisions without it appearing to be “technical mumbo-jumbo”. Don’t ignore the public relations element of our job, particularly inside our own companies. I’m lucky enough to be right down the hall from our PR folks, and I frequently tap into their expertise when it comes to selling what we do.

July 22, 2008  9:38 PM

A Return to Dry Land (and a little bit about cellular coverage at sea)

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Just got back from my vacation, and I’m pretty sure the batteries have been recharged, but I’m still trying to get geared back up. I really did manage to disconnect (for the most part) on this vacation, and as I said in my previous post – it is a good idea once in a while.

That being said, I did keep an eye on things while I was at sea, but mostly to insure that nothing major was melting down and also to keep my inbox from being a total mess when I returned. My phone never left the cabin during the trip, but I did check it once a day to clear things out. I left instructions to my staff to mark things urgent if anything earth-shattering did happen, but luckily we dodged that bullet. I’m a huge believer in the philosophy that a manager should be able to disappear without having things fall apart. There is very little that I do where I’m not “backed up” by a member of my staff. The only exception to that are things such as performance review and similar staffing issues.

One of the things which did surprise me during the cruise was the ability to stay connected. Our ship offered a service called Cellular at Sea, and it provided outstanding service for the duration of the cruise. The service works with just about every carrier, and being an AT&T customer I found that I had about 4 bars of 3G coverage in my cabin. The service shuts down while you’re in port, so you’re on your own in picking up local coverage if any is available.

You do need to keep in mind that you’re roaming while using the service, and costs can go up accordingly. This wasn’t a huge concern for me, because I didn’t use the phone for any voice calls. I did bump my kids’ text service up to allow for international text messaging, and I’m hoping that saved me a few bucks. They did limit their use of texting, so I’m hoping the hit isn’t too bad when I see next month’s bill.

July 10, 2008  1:03 PM

Going Offline for a Week

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

I’ve been very delinquent on posting to my blog of late, largely due a crazy workload centered on our merger with another company. Office moves will do that to you. The growth is good, but it does take its toll.

In a couple of days I’m going to be taking off on a long overdue vacation, celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary and also taking what is probably the last big “family vacation” with my two teenagers (one of whom will no longer be a teenager when we end the vacation).

One of the things I intend to do on this trip is to completely disconnect for a change. It’s not going to be one of those vacations where I sit in a beach chair and respond to e-mails as they arrive. You can never completely disconnect in this job, but sometimes it’s a good idea to try. This is one of those times. I’ve got an outstanding staff that I trust, and I’m completely comfortable allowing them to make some big decisions for a week. I’ll be just fine checking on urgent messages at the end of the day. At the end of the vacation, I’m also building in a day to decompress and ease back into work. I’ll also try to get caught up on the inevitable glut of e-mail on that day.

While I will be taking a laptop on the trip, I probably won’t be posting to the blog during this vacation (although it is kind of tempting to post something from the middle of the ocean just to prove that it’s possible). The primary purpose of the laptop will be to download and store images from my camera, and also perhaps watch a movie or two. See you in a couple weeks.

July 8, 2008  1:41 AM

Sparking Innovation

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

I’ve always been in favor of rolling out new products to small groups of end-users, especially when a new app arrives and I’m a little unsure of how it might be used. I trust my users to come up with innovative ways of using some of these new products, and I’m not so sure that IT would ever be able to envision all the possible uses. Recently, we’ve done this with both Microsoft SharePoint and OneNote. One of those experiments has turned out well – one not-so-well, but both continue to be works in progress.

When we first began deploying SharePoint, we correctly suspected that it was probably too big for IT to figure out. I don’t mean that we couldn’t figure it out from a technical perspective, but rather that we simply couldn’t envision the twists and turns the deployment would bring. We were correct, and for the most part the deployment has gone very well. The original group “got it” with regard to the application’s purpose, and they were instrumental in helping us launch the product to the entire company. To this day, the twists and turns surprise me, but so far we haven’t run into any major issues or what I’d call misuse of the product.

We tried a similar tactic recently with OneNote – a product which I personally love, but unfortunately this one has taken an entirely different direction with regard to my test group. One of our users has proposed turning OneNote into our primary product for managing all of our workflow, and has even proposed that we utilize it for filing other documents – embedding Word documents and Acrobat PDFs into OneNote notebooks.

This is by no means a disaster. The problem for us is that many of these ideas for OneNote are actually running counter to ways in which we’re just beginning to use SharePoint. It’s certainly something which can be controlled. My bigger fear is creating a perception, especially with a power user, that IT is standing in the way of innovation and new ideas. The trick is keeping the user involved, and getting them to understand why you’re saying no to what they think is a great suggestion.

July 1, 2008  12:05 AM

What’s the Plan?

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Having just been through another merger, we’re just now beginning to see things settle down following a big move day last week. During 15 years in this business, I’ve been through about a dozen office moves, mergers, etc., Earlier this year, I had one of my new staff members ask me what the plan was for bringing his office online with the rest of our Agency, and I had to chuckle since it always seems as if we’re making up as we go along.

I certainly don’t enter into these things without a plan, but I honestly don’t think that any two of these moves have been the same. There are certain things surrounding moves which happen every time, but it seems like the differences far outweigh the similarities. For example, the biggest issues surrounding our move earlier this year involved telecommunications and actually turning up the connections between sites. In last week’s move, the single biggest issues involved the physical move itself. We actually had two moves to deal with, first an internal reshuffling of our offices, followed by the move-in of nearly 45 people a week later.

There are certain things you do for just about every office move, and I’d probably put communications at the top of the list. One of the keys is letting employees know what’s happening and when, whether it’s about who will actually be moving their computers to what their new phone number will be. We’ve also assembled a pretty good team of people who’ve been through this a few times, and that doesn’t hurt either.

Finally – flexibility is critical. You can’t get too hung up on that whole planning thing. As much as you may want to have a certain phase completed at a certain time, you had better be prepared for changes and schedules that slip. There are a lot of things surrounding moves which you can’t control, especially the vendors. Things will get delayed. You just deal with it. That’s part of the plan.

June 23, 2008  12:21 AM

Let the Users Decide?

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard floated in a while is that of letting our users decide what platforms they use. The idea surfaced again here in an article about how Gen Y will change some of our institutions, including IT. It’s an interesting idea, and there are days when I feel like it’s already beginning to happen to those of us in the Advertising business. Perhaps we’re a good barometer for this particular trend.

For us, the trend is most apparent with regard to PDAs and Smartphones. Almost from the beginning, we’ve been very liberal in terms of what we allow and support. In fact, we’ve simultaneously allowed the use of Blackberry, Palm (Goodlink), and ActiveSync devices on our systems. We’re soon eliminating support for Palm-based devices, but at the same time we’re going to be adding support for the iPhone.

At first we were concerned about our ability to support all the different devices, but I’ve found it more and more difficult to make this argument. Beyond the initial setup, and possibly the need to support a specialized server, we really haven’t been taxed in terms of having to support these devices. For the most part, we get involved during the initial setup, and the basics of configuring a device for Blackberry server or Exchange Activesync are pretty much the same from one device to another. We’re currently telling users they can use any device they want as long as it supports ActiveSync (soon to include the iPhone), and we only limit Blackberry’s because of the licensing costs.

The issue becomes a whole lot trickier when we begin talking about computers and applications. We’ve always had pretty clear lines dividing our PC users and our Mac users. We’ve also had some pretty clear rules dictating who gets laptops. The applications we use have generally been even more defined. When new employees walk through the door we never asked them if they would prefer to run Outlook or Lotus Notes. Exceptions to these standards have been few and far between. It just seemed to make sense for us to standardize on the products we support.

However, I’ve seen the cracks beginning to appear in these areas too. The Macs are beginning to find their way into areas traditionally reserved for PCs. It’s usually been the result of moving an employee between departments, and not feeling that it was worth the effort to take away their computer just because they were switching departments. I still think it makes sense to standardize on hardware platforms for purposes of support, but I do think the day is coming in when we’re going to find ourselves facing some real battles over which platform we expect an employee to use.

While our software platforms have been more rigid, there is one excellent example of letting the users dictate our software choices. A few years ago, our Creative users decided they wanted to make the change from Quark Xpress to Adobe Creative Suite. IT was definitely involved in the process of switching, but the switch itself was definitely dictated by the end users.

This will be an interesting trend to keep an eye on, and I do think we may be seeing it impact our industry sooner than others.

June 15, 2008  3:25 PM

Supporting Creative (Part 2)

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

When I first launched this blog, I pitched IT in the Advertising business as being unique. I also stated that much of that “uniqueness” was due to supporting Creative. Now that I’ve been writing this blog for several months, I’m beginning to wonder if the people we support are truly unique or not. The last time I discussed this topic, I also promised to talk about the differences between the typical IT person and the typical Creative person. I guess it’s time to take a crack at doing just that.

IT people and Creative generally don’t think alike, with IT people tending to be much more logical and Creatives being much more, well, Creative. I guess we could get into the whole right-brain, left-brained thing, but the bottom-line is that we tend to be different. Generally, this doesn’t cause many problems, and in fact we seem to work pretty well together.

There are many users in Creative who just don’t have that troubleshooting mentality when they encounter an issue. A simple example – when a document doesn’t print, try printing a different document, or try using a different printer. Over the years, we’ve found that many of our Creative users do catch on to these relatively simple troubleshooting steps we ask them to take, and now many of them have already tried these things before calling us. The part of this I wrestle with the most is whether they’re really any different from any other department we support in this respect.

However, I do think there are definitely IT types who don’t thrive in this environment. I’ve had IT guys over the years who are outstanding in what they do, but who just don’t have the personality to survive in this particular business. The problem comes when we try to hard down to lock things down, and to force too much structure on our users. It’s probably a whole lot easier to do in a financial environment. I can think of one IT person who struggled in our environment, and who is now thriving in an engineering company.

I’ve also found that you can find ways around the personality issues, but it’s only when you have options available to you because you’re growing. One of the things we’ve done in the past is to move folks who don’t thrive in the desktop support role into backroom IT roles as Systems Administrators. Keep them in the server room where they have less interaction with the end-users.

When I think about supporting Creative due to the personalities involved, I’m just not sure they are all that different from Account Service or other non-Creative departments. I keep coming back to the bigger issues and differences stemming from supporting Creative, and that’s the Mac-PC thing, and the file sizes they routinely deal with. Those issues outweigh by far any personality-type differences

June 6, 2008  8:49 PM

Apple’s Acceptance by Corporate IT

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

As I mentioned in my previous post regarding the iPhone, the level of general buzz surrounding Apple really seems to be at an all-time high. At the same time, Microsoft seems to be hitting all-time lows with the news stories we’re currently seeing about Vista and Windows 7. As a result, I think we’re going to see some significant inroads by Apple into mainstream IT over the next couple of years, and their market share is going to continue to increase until something changes. I’m just not sure that I see anything significant changing in the near term, so it’s going to be interesting seeing just how large that market share will become.

I think the biggest issue facing Apple is going to be how they handle this growth and whatever inroads they do make into corporate IT. A good example of what I’m talking about is a tool such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. This is comprehensive tool for the deployment, management, and updating of systems across our network. It’s a great tool. Other than some 3rd party tools, Apple has no equivalent product, but these are the types of tools we need in a corporate IT infrastructure. I realize that 3rd party tools can fill this void, but the problem with them is that they can breakdown when the systems they support are upgraded. I’ve seen this happen over and over again in both the Microsoft and Apple worlds. It makes sense to me to use Microsoft support tools to support Microsoft OS’s, and it would make just as much sense to use Apple tools to support Apple OS’s.

I suppose we can go with 3rd party tools in the interim, but I think this is an area which Apple needs to address. If they don’t they’re simply going to reach a point where they’re not going to gain significant ground into corporate IT. Adding Activesync to the iPhone is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of providing this type of support. It will be interesting to see what, if any, tools might begin to appear for desktop and server support.

June 3, 2008  2:08 AM

iPhone Mania

JohnWilder John Wilder Profile: JohnWilder

Holy cow! Is anyone else’s e-mail inbox filling up with news items about the imminent changes to the iPhone? Before Noon today, I received 4 different news articles and newsletters featuring headlines and stories about the upcoming announcements which are still a week away. I can hardly wait for next Monday afternoon to see what the actual announcement itself will bring. The buzz Apple manages to create surrounding their product announcements is truly something to be admired.

Yes, I do think the iPhone will make some significant inroads into corporate IT as a result of the upcoming changes, chief among them the addition of 3G and Activesync. We’ve already got between 5-10 employees with iPhones, and they’re already using them to hit Exchange via Outlook Web Access. For us, connecting them via Activesync makes a lot more sense, and it should add some significant security features such as the ability to perform a remote wipe. However, we are an ad agency, so what makes sense for us might not make quite as much sense for other industries.

Frankly, it will be much more interesting to see what happens in those other industries. Will corporate IT be as willing to accept iPhones on their systems? I’m guessing they won’t be as receptive as we are, but I’m also well aware of how difficult it is to say no to the CEO.

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