April 12, 2012  3:53 PM

Some CIOs wary of vendor lock-in with cloud service providers

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

I’ve had my head in the clouds recently. Or I guess I should say, ‘the cloud.’ I’ve been chatting with enterprise IT leaders about which systems and applications they’ve trusted to the hands of cloud service providers. The list runs the gamut. There are the usual suspects — what one analyst referred to as “low-hanging fruit,” like email that seems easy to let go. But even on that front, one IT manager was content to keep things in-house for the very plain reason that it’s working for them. And that was really the key. Sure, it’s a relatively easy decision to outsource email to the cloud; but it wasn’t something that organization needed to do, so they didn’t do it. That very same organization, however, chose to go with a cloud solution for disaster recovery — not exactly low hanging fruit — but it made good business sense.

Interestingly, in all this talk of movement (or non-movement) to the cloud, security didn’t always dominate the areas of concern. I’m not suggesting that worries over security are a thing of the past, but perhaps the comfort level in that area is growing a bit. Maybe there’s a slight warming to the idea that for cloud service providers, ensuring stringent security is paramount — the now-aging adage that “cloud service providers can do security better than you can.” One CIO I talked to just today definitely subscribes to this philosophy and is grateful for it. Trusting his cloud service provider with security, he said, frees up his limited staff for what he views as more pressing issues like data analysis.

What I did hear more about on the cautionary front was vendor lock-in. To be sure, it’s not a new worry. In fact, it was a topic of discussion a few months back at a meeting of the Mass Technology Leadership Council. I just found it interesting that this, in my admittedly limited sample size, stood out. It makes sense I suppose, that even as CIOs get more comfortable with the idea of going to the cloud, they have an out once they’re there. One CIO I talked to plans for this by including a “how locked in will I be?” section on his vendor scorecards during the contract bidding process. For as carefully as you may plan, not everything that goes to the cloud stays in the cloud. Needs change.

What about you? What have you entrusted to the cloud? Are security concerns holding you back, or do you worry about being stuck once you get there? Perhaps it’s both, maybe it’s something else entirely. I’d like to hear what’s on your mind in the comments.

April 6, 2012  8:00 PM

More women in information technology is mission of university prez

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Short week? Long weekend? Whether you have something to celebrate or are simply enjoying the extra time off, we invite you to take in this week’s roundup of tech bits from around the Web. This week’s pickings include some sobering news about Macs and about Google’s forthcoming augmented-reality glasses, as well as some good news about a university president making it her mission to get more women into information technology.

  • This is not what we mean when we say we want to see more women in IT. Please stop using tech for evil. Or at least for extreme social media creepiness.
  • This is what we mean when we say we want to see more women in IT.
  • Back in February, we linked you up to rumblings about Google’s augmented-reality glasses. This week, Google gave truth to the rumors, officially unveiling Project Glass. Now, here are some techies ready to tell us why they probably won’t work. Who didn’t see that coming?
  • Sorry to break it to you, kids: There is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy, and Macs can get viruses.
  • Here’s a simplified answer to a question that sounds simple but is actually rather complex: What is an app?

April 6, 2012  12:27 PM

Analytics technology is racing past our ability to ‘gestalt’ it

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I am back from Gartner’s Business Intelligence Summit in La La Land, trailing visions of nice light and lollipop palm trees. And of real-life analytics technology r-r-racing ahead, outpacing the experts who are paid to make sense of it. The name of the conference this year was “Analytic Excellence: Transforming Data Driven Decisions.” The emphasis on analytics points to the field’s drum beat del giorno, namely, that the traditional role of BI (business intelligence) — being a reporting function for “what happened” in the business — doesn’t cut it anymore.

Companies might still need to know what they did last year or just a minute ago. The real money, however, is in predicting what is likely to happen in the next minute (or milliseconds, if you’re in financial services) and prescribing a fruitful course of action. For that, companies need to understand and be able to use analytics technology. Indeed, the promise of the Business Intelligence Summit, to quote the brochure, was to provide insight into “the latest analytic applications and information management trends” and into many other topics relevant to achieving analytics excellence.

Latency in L.A.

Yet right from the start, there was evidence of attendees wanting more on BI and analytics technology than the conference could provide. Take, for example, the BI expert from ExxonMobil who walked out of the opening day keynote with me. He was dismayed that time was being spent on an historical review of BI (including having Howard Dresner, the coiner of the term if not the inventor of BI, on stage for a bow) or, for that matter, on a description of analytics, when everybody knows, “The real story is how the cloud is changing BI.” Why weren’t they talking about migration strategies to the cloud? Well, I knew of at least one session coming up the next day on cloud, and there were probably others on the agenda, but clearly that wasn’t soon enough for him.

Later in the day, in a session with the come-hither title of “Mobile BI — Finally!” an audience member actually called out the speaker for presenting old news about mobile BI deployments. The outburst referred to the presenter’s example of an unnamed Canadian hospital deploying real-time BI in clinical settings via iPads. “This is already happening now!” the man said impatiently. Yes, of course, it is already happening, the analyst agreed, and proceeded to decode his own slide. But the attendee’s illogical remark only underscored the problem: Tell me something I don’t know, he was saying. Tell me something I haven’t already heard.

Interestingly, the conference leaders seemed to be aware of the problem — of our losing race to stay ahead of technology. The closing guest keynote was a talk on “How Algorithms Shape Our World” by Kevin Slater. Identified in the brochure as an “entrepreneur, provocateur and raconteur,” Slater talked about how computers are the nervous systems of a networked world. Computers — or rather, the algorithms that live within them — are not just quantifying and stitching together information. They’re actually determining our world: carving underground fiber highways between New York and Chicago so Wall Street can trade faster and make yet more money; forcing journalists to lard their stories — shape the news — with text optimized for search engines (for example, analytics technology) that search engines will pick up.

I don’t know that Mr. Slater said anything that anybody in this audience of highly sophisticated technocrats didn’t know. But he made the point in a way I would guess that many attendees had not heard before: He delivered a poetic meditation on the new ways in which contemporary math is coding ideas of the world and making them real. And here’s the scary part: In many instances, it is coding the world without human supervision, in ways that we can’t read, at least not fast enough. What he didn’t quite say, but what is obvious, is that the chasm between human understanding and the algorithms that run our lives is only going to widen from here on out.

April 2, 2012  7:14 PM

Business transformation and the human touch

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

The overarching theme at Gartner’s CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week was not just IT business transformation, but overall business transformation and how the CIO can help the business adapt and change in these crazy times.

The word adaptability was the key phrase that I came away with, whether the session was on risk management, gaining a competitive advantage, CEO concerns, mobility or the “humanization of technology” — yes, an actual phrase floating around at the show, and no doubt soon to be floating around in cyberspace.

As Brian Wong, the 20-year-old Internet/Twitter/gaming/social networking/mobile brainiac behind, put it: “Feel or Die.” That was his closing comment for his “Making Sense of It All: Mobile and The Humanization of Technology” keynote.

Through, Wong is having quite an impact on the advertising industry. He is adding a human touch through an application that rewards gamers for doing what they love — playing games. Players are rewarded through gifts (provided by advertisers) that can be used in the “real world” and even re-gifted to a loved one.

In business terms, you can use an “achievement layer” to reward customers, and create interactions with customers that can seem human, even though the experience is Web- or technology-based, he explained. The point being that, well, IT needs to start acting like a human being.

Another keynote by Polly LaBarre, co-founder and editorial director of the Management Innovation eXchange, and a founding editor with Fast Company, touched on this human-touch concept as well. “The Web is the OS of life,” she said. “It’s how we live and breathe.”

Her message emphasized the need to build an organization that is resilient enough to change as fast as the world is changing. How do we make innovation an everyday thing, something that’s part of everybody’s job, every day?

One avenue is by creating a mass collaboration platform, but another important component is to “build an organization that is as human as the human beings that are inside it,” she said.

Again, it all comes back to business transformation. Today’s organizations are not built to be adaptable, to change as your workers and customers change, she said. A lot of people around me at this keynote shook their heads in agreement, and were up for suggestions on how to shake things up a bit. One example LaBarre gave was a company called Cemex. The global building materials company created a collaboration platform called Shift (as in “shift your thinking/actions to innovate”), filled with real-time collaboration capabilities for its 70,000 employees. The employees decide which teams they want to join, and have the power to build an agenda. The end result was rapid change. Within six weeks of rolling out Shift, 500 employees came up with a portfolio of ideas — that were implemented across the organization — to use more efficient and alternative fuel sources at the company.

The CIOs around me liked that idea. The next idea of a “self-managed organization” didn’t go over so well. Morning Star, a $700 million tomato ingredient producer with 400 employees, did away with job titles. No one has a boss or defined roles. A real-time social network is used to hire the people you want on your team and reward your peers for a job well done.

The CIO next to me, who works for a 160-year-old insurance company, laughed heartily at this idea. “It may work for a small company …” More laughs from him. He went on to explain all the political battles that would ensue, and lawsuits.

Still, I think many CIOs — at least the ones I spoke with — did come away knowing that adaptability was a key part of their jobs. How could it not be, when technology itself changes so rapidly? I think in many ways, it’s the business leaders who have to adapt, and not always the IT leaders. Or, as one CIO of a national educational institution put it, “How do we get the business to start thinking more like IT?”

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

March 30, 2012  10:30 PM

Digestible advice on tech innovation

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

To accept good advice is but to increase one’s own ability. So said playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Here at TotalCIO, we’re all about helping our readers increase their abilities. So, in this week’s roundup, we’ve included some advice on how to promote tech innovation and how to write a social media policy. Oh, and if you’re buying a used car — go orange. We’ve also got what looks to be some good news about employment in the IT world: job growth. Sounds good to us.

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22% in the next decade. It’s recommended that such forecasts be taken with a grain of salt because they can’t account for market changes and technology disruptions. But when it comes to the possibility of more jobs, we’ll take it with whatever seasoning necessary.
  • Books, magazines, seminars! Advice on tech innovation is everywhere, and it can be an awful lot to swallow. Here is some innovation food for thought in seven easily digestible bites.
  • Some straightforward advice on writing a social media policy for your company that somehow manages to include Quatrain LI of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. That aspect alone makes it worth the read, wethinks.
  • Finding it harder and harder to find common cause with your younger workers? Well, you both more or less have Trivial Pursuit editions named for you — see!? OK, maybe that’s not enough to get baby boomers and Millennials in your IT organization to get along, but these tips on fostering intergenerational harmony might help. Besides, as our friend Goethe reminds: “Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.”
  • And finally, why used-car shoppers should lean toward orange vehicles and other odd insights — brought to you by big data.

March 30, 2012  1:59 PM

Teamwork is important, or so say folks at the top

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

There was a lot of talk about teaming at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz. Two keynotes addressed why teamwork is important — but not just any old teamwork. Technology, business conditions, the economy, the weather — shoot, the whole world — is changing so fast that what’s needed is teamwork on the fly.

One keynote was a riveting tale from sailboat racing adventurer Pete Goss about his hair-raising escapades on the high seas, some of them solo, some with a crew but all of them made possible by — you guessed it — the awesomeness of his teams.

The other keynote was delivered by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, a riveting speaker and coiner of the term, teaming. (In fact, it’s the title of her forthcoming book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.) Edmondson’s team-building strategies are based on her far-flung research into endeavors where team work appeared critical to success — actually a matter of life or death in some cases, as in the Chilean mining disaster.

And, because keynotes are supposed to be inspirational — food for thought, if you will, before the wait team assigned to the event serves the actual food — both speakers offered something for CIOs to chew on. Here are some of their observations on why team work is important, on the quality of leadership required to bring teamwork to the fore and — in the view of your humble blogger — the troubling paradox of leaders talking about teamwork.

“Bad News Meetings” part of team-building strategies

For adventurer Peter Goss, successful teams are defined by people who are prepared “to make their own luck,” meaning luck has little to do with the team’s success. In his racing experience, “70% of the result is put in place before the race begins.” The aim is not to take risks but embrace risk by learning as much as possible about what you are going to do. Knowledge dispels fear.

To obtain the knowledge required to be successful, however, trust is essential. Goss introduced something he called bad news meetings. “Don’t have them, unless you are committed to solving the problem,” he told the audience. And, bad news meetings won’t work unless predicated on “totally honest and open communication.” His were usually limited to four or five people, half of whom came to vent. “Which was good, because it diffused the pressure cooker they felt they were in. The others raised legitimate problems to solve.”

Another adage: your job as leader is to train and delegate until you are no longer needed. That frees you up to take the next strategic step, Goss said. But, “people rise to responsibility only if you give it to them.” He trained and delegated with this proviso: if something seems to be going wrong, he had to hear about it early, “before it became visible.” His teams rolled with the punches the seas doled because they were prepared and empowered.

For all the open and honest communication teamside, Goss said there will be things the leader cannot share with the team. Leaders need to find a mentor outside the group to consult,” he advised, preferably one with similar experience to theirs.

Teaming with power

Edmondson also stressed open communication and trust, arguing against an enduring tenet of business management: pitting one worker bee against another. Encouraging workers to regard each other as competitors rather than collaborators is untenable in a knowledge economy, according to Edmondson. As work becomes specialized and thus more difficult for people outside a given field to comprehend, the importance of teamwork grows. Today, business success requires teaming within and between multiple teams. Successful teams are neither totally top-down nor totally bottom-up but a top-led, bottom up operation. And “psychological safety” — the feeling you won’t be dissed for speaking up — can be the difference between success and tragedy. (Google Rodney Rocha if you doubt how important psychological safety can be.)

For example, getting the miners out required self-organization by the miners below ground; technical ingenuity above ground; and the backing of senior executives unconnected to the mining operation, namely Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his dashing Mining Minister Laurence Golborne. Both were warned against associating themselves with an event that could only end in failure. Edmondson argued that a similar teaming structure was critical to the building of the National Aquatic Center in Beijing, popularly known as the Water Cube, as well as in a woman-led patient safety initiative at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota. Teams that do the impossible, she finds, exhibit four characteristics:

  • Real-time innovation
  • Persistence despite failure
  • Process discipline
  • Leadership that supported, took charge when needed and empowered

Keynotes are funny things. By definition they both inspire and inevitably make you feel bad about yourself. Peter Goss is humble in manner. Seeing footage of him as younger man in high spirits even as he is operating on himself on the open seas was fun. The disarming Amy Edmondson, super-confident and attractive, strides the stage, anticipating objections before the audience even knows it has them.

But hearing these two superstars talk about the importance of teamwork when ego got them where they are today — that was a little rich.

March 27, 2012  8:48 PM

Personal cloud solutions are part of a multi-device, frictionless future

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

I was listening in on a Gartner webinar about the personal cloud today, and in the hour-long chat a single word jumped out at me and stuck in my brain: frictionless. “There it is again,” I thought.

Just a few weeks ago, in this very spot, I was talking about the whole idea of a frictionless enterprise. Not my idea but that of many future-looking industry analysts, introduced to me by Forrester Research analyst Phil Murphy. He was talking about manufacturing, ERP and other business processes, but the general idea is the same: Where we’re headed is a world of hands-off, intuitive movement from one thing to the next.

The webinar focused on how personal cloud solutions are poised to be the next big disrupter in technology. How big? Analysts Carolina Milanesi and Michael Gartenberg predict that by 2015, consumers will spend upwards of $2 trillion annually on digital information, entertainment, products and services. Consumers no longer care so much about devices as about what those devices can do. At the core of the analysts’ thesis is that proposed personal cloud solutions will displace personal computers as the center of consumers’ digital lives. Their message seemed to be aimed at marketing, yes; but as we all know now, the CIO and chief marketing officer need to get cozy for businesses to succeed. From their millions of tablets to their billions of smartphones and laptops, consumers want a “frictionless” experience from one device to the next. You can’t save your best stuff for tablet users or laptop users, and expect smartphone users to be happy — mostly because they’re all the same customer.

Whether your company serves up games, insurance or personal banking, it doesn’t matter — customers expect you to meet them where they are in order to do business. And if meeting them means on their iPad or Android phone, the look and feel have to be the same every time, or they’ll get frustrated and start looking at other options — and there are plenty. The only way to really ensure they get your company’s message, the service they want and the most user-friendly experience possible is to have marketing and IT work together to make that happen.

In the Gartner webinar, Gartenberg offered a prediction that drives home the importance of being frictionless, of being with your consumer in the desired context:

“By 2015, context is going to be more influential to the mobile consumer services relationship than search engines are to the Web. The reason is very simple: In terms of context tied to these personal cloud services, I can not only deal with the consumer as a past thing in terms of history, [or] a present [thing] in terms of what they are doing. I can actually tap into things like intention, and influence their decisions going forward.”

March 23, 2012  8:14 PM

Spring is here, and innovation is in the air

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

Spring is here, the season of renewal. In honor of this time of all things fresh and new, this week’s roundup includes a peek at innovators who inspire an innovator, the ways Best Buy’s new digital prez is defining next-gen IT, and something you didn’t know the world needed (and may not). Of course, spring, with its various dusts and pollens, does provide its share of irritants, so we’ve got some unsettling bits on security and privacy as well.  Enjoy.

  • Innovation expert and Harvard Business Review blogger Scott Anthony lists his favorite innovation writers, as well as some rising stars. What an innovative idea.
  • Six ways Stephen Gillett, Best Buy’s new president of digital and executive VP of global services, defines next generation IT.
  • Someday there may be a useful medical benefit for Nokia’s vibrating tattoo, and that would be great news. Until that day — no, just no.
  • We all know in-app advertisements are annoying; it turns out they’re also insidious.
  • Obviously one should never put anything on the Internet that they don’t want to be seen. But even if your wall is just updates on what you had for dinner and pictures of your dog, would you ever hand over your Facebook password to a potential employer? Would you ask for it from a potential employee?

March 22, 2012  9:22 PM

New study sees cloud service providers as jobs generators

Karen Goulart Karen Goulart Profile: Karen Goulart

As studies are designed to do, this one caught my attention with its exciting-sounding prognostication: Jobs! Plenty of them! All thanks to the cloud! Hurray! 

Actually, the title that SAP America Inc. (which commissioned the study) went with was a bit drier: Job Growth in the Forecast: How Cloud Computing is Generating New Business Opportunities and Fueling Job Growth in the United States. Still, the bullet points were pretty juicy (italics are mine):

  • Eleven cloud computing companies added 80,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2010, and the employment growth rate at these organizations was almost five times that of the high-tech sector overall.
  • Companies selling cloud services are projected to increase revenue by an average of $20 billion per year in the next five years. That has the potential to generate as many as 472,000 jobs in the U.S. and abroad at the same time.
  • Venture capital investments in cloud opportunities are projected to be $30 billion in the next five years. That could add another 213,000 new jobs in the U.S.
  • The economic impact for companies buying cloud services might be even more significant. Cloud computing could save U.S. businesses as much as $625 billion over five years, much of which could be reinvested to create new business opportunities and additional jobs.

Study authors that maintain cloud computing has greater potential for employment growth than the Internet in its early years. Another exclamation-point-worthy prediction!

Indeed, it was all so hopeful until a comment on the study in my Twitter feed gave me pause: “Is this just swapsies?”

An interesting question, adorably phrased. In other words, are these new jobs really new jobs for new employees? Or will they mostly be filled by people put out of work because of outsourcing to the cloud? You could be laid off, then get a job with a cloud service provider and technically end up working for the same people who dumped you in the first place. I’m not knocking the idea of “swapsies” — anything that gets people re-employed is a good thing. But it’s not the same thing as growth. Some cloud jobs could require unique new skills the laid-off workers might not have — but how many “new” jobs would that account for? 

Other data that gave me pause were those 472,000 jobs in the U.S. and abroad. How exactly does that big number break down stateside? And by abroad, does the SAP study mean low-paying offshore locations? Also, the technology savings generated by cloud could lead companies to create new businesses and add more jobs — or it could just result in companies spending less on technology.

What’s your gut on the job-adding potential of cloud? Is this a solid proposition, or do they have their heads in the — well, you know. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

March 21, 2012  5:55 PM

A tale of two data quality theories

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Data quality is still the bane of the business intelligence (BI) environment. Or so I was told by two consultants I interviewed for an upcoming BI ezine. Even when everyone agrees the data is not up to snuff, the question remains whether it is worth fixing, they said.

But is concern about data quality misplaced? There are at least two competing theories about this: what I’ll call the old school view and the big data movement. The old school view is that data quality matters: garbage in, garbage out. Thus, time is spent on data cleansing, extracting, transforming and so forth, and the strong belief is that this is time well-spent.

The big data movement has spawned a different worldview on data quality: the bigger, the better. The central idea here is that data-crunching in itself is cleansing. Things that don’t fit into the data model are like flotsam and jetsam — an insignificant, superficial layer on your deep ocean of insight.

In the real world, I’m finding that CIOs understand the big data quality perspective — and some would like to embrace it — but the old school wins out. And that’s not because these CIOs are risk-averse. Case in point is Greg Taffet, CIO at U.S. Gas & Electric, a Miami-based reseller of gas and electricity. The fast-growing company has doubled in size in every one of the last four years that Taffet has been there. Not that he’s complaining. He’s one of those CIOs who like to be where the action is. “I was previously the CIO and employee No. 4 at MXenergy, and left when it hit $1 billion in revenue. I was recruited here to do the same,” he said.

But the ever-changing business fundamentals make building “a real BI environment,” as he puts it, particularly challenging. When it comes to data quality, Taffet is definitely old-school: “The tools are really not that distinguishable. We have to know our business. We have to get into the minds of the executives and the operational people, so we can set up the tools to do their job.” For him, data quality is the bedrock of a real BI environment.

So, amid a whirlwind of growth, Taffet and his BI team meet weekly with people from finance, operations and sales to make sure there’s no disagreement about the quality of the data IT is collecting. “When we see something that is not expected, we drill down into the details and see if it is a variation on something that was not accounted for but should be, or something that should be taken out,” he said. It’s time well spent, he says, toward building that real BI environment.

But then Taffet’s not dealing with the volumes of data that qualify as big data — yet. “I still see that we have several years before we get hit with what we call big data,” he said. And until the tsunami hits, he’s sticking with old school. You?

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