April 22, 2011  2:15 PM

NASA takes off with an open government and cloud infrastructure plan

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

Don’t be surprised if NASA’s Nebula cloud becomes the model — and maybe the mother — of cloud infrastructure in the U.S. NASA is embarking on an ambitious plan to overhaul its existing data center infrastructure to standardize on open source technologies and ideas.

At the forefront of the Obama administration’s efforts to consolidate data centers and adopt cloud services, Washington, D.C.-based NASA has “aggressively consolidated” 32% of its data centers in the past 12 months, according to Deborah Diaz, the agency’s deputy CIO. That had been a goal to be reached by 2015, but now NASA expects to consolidate 66% percent of its data centers by then.

“We’re looking at this holistically,” said Diaz, who is heading up a transformation that involves virtualization and such new technologies as geothermal power. The goal is not simply a reduction in the number of data centers, but also the “better utilization of computing resources,” she said. The result will be a hybrid cloud infrastructure that standardizes on open source technologies to save the American public money and further the agency’s lauded Open Government plan.

Diaz is leading an initiative as part of NASA’s IT Infrastructure Integration Program that’s called the computing services platform. Next month on, I’ll look at how she’s bringing together virtualized data centers that combine cloud infrastructure with high-performance computing and energy efficiency. She was in the private sector before she launched and became CIO of Homeland Security.

NASA was founded in 1958 to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information,” and its principles of open government are deeply embedded in its culture. Yet new initiatives are designed to take that to the next level by giving the public a voice in future endeavors. NASA’s Citizen Engagement Tool, for example, deployed through its Participatory Exploration Office, netted 420 ideas from 280 individuals in February and March.

NASA also co-founded (with Rackspace Hosting) the OpenStack initiative to foster open source development in the private sector. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Red Hat and JBossWorld conference in Boston in two weeks, where I’ll learn about the latest in open source cloud computing. Are you going? Email me at

April 21, 2011  2:09 PM

What does it mean that Wal-Mart is buying social media company Kosmix?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

When I read the news that Wal-Mart is buying a small software company specializing in social networking, thoughts swirled. How they swirled! Kosmix upsets the Wal-Mart cosmos. All that stuff about social media and networking ushering in a third wave of capitalism that I reported on last year was so not over the top, my editor’s skepticism notwithstanding.

I thought about how quickly a capitalist giant can transmute, if it wants to. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Wal-Mart was called out for promoting fake blogs — or to put the company’s fine point on it, paying real folks handsomely for generating positive PR? Kosmix has developed a concierge platform that filters information for people from social networking sites. Never mind brainwashing customers with mercenary social media — Wal-Mart wants to know you by your online social networking habits. So, the Kosmix acquisition has implications for retailing and for social networking, or what’s being called social shopping.

But mostly I was thinking when I read this news, what a heady mix! Kosmix’s founders are Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman. Silicon Valley royalty, they operate in an entrepreneurial world apart from the one that spawned the entrepreneurial genius behind Wal-Mart. The pair’s previous venture, Junglee, was bought by for a reported $250 million.

Part of the business folklore about Wal-Mart is its policy of bringing store managers to rural Bentonville, Ark., its headquarters, to be steeped in the Sam Walton ethos. Not so here. Not so now. According to reports, Wal-Mart will come to Kosmix, setting up a new group called @WalmartLabs, which will be based in Silicon Valley. What does it mean? “Upsetting the cosmos,” as my editor would say, is probably overstating it, but IT really is making the world flat.

April 14, 2011  7:10 PM

Cloud service providers urge lawmakers to postpone legislation

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

Only a science fiction writer might have imagined that consumer technologies like smartphones — coupled with a cloud computing service like Facebook — would be dissidents’ weapons of choice in toppling regimes, as we have seen these last few months in the Middle East.

Facebook, the social network credited with the collaborative oomph needed to galvanize dissent, is one of the most popular cloud computing services, with more than a half billion users worldwide. Will it someday become the engine for a smarter planet, used to distribute food, water and other vital resources equitably?

As Facebook has shown, cloud computing makes the world an even smaller place. Yet global cooperation could be hamstrung by unnecessary regulations regarding data location, according to the cloud computing vendors who flocked to Washington, D.C., this week for a meeting of the Congressional Internet Caucus. In Canada, for example, the government has already forbidden Canadian citizens’ personal information to be taken out of the country.

Dan Burton, executive vice president of global public policy for, a provider of cloud services for customer relationship management, urged lawmakers not to enact such hurdles to cloud adoption by U.S. companies, saying that if they do, they will forestall momentum in the cloud computing market, which is led by such U.S.-based companies as, Google, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Burton said the existing Safe Harbor certification program for data security seems to be doing the trick for vendors, as well as for users of cloud computing services, by following data protection principles established by the European Union. At the very least, the Obama administration is backing a new Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, which would give consumers more control over their personal data and how it is collected and shared among third parties.

Perhaps today’s science fiction writers can take it from here, and craft stories about how various governments came together by 2015 to establish common laws surrounding cloud commerce, and how that eventually led to a single global government with the United Nations as its council. These stories would go on to describe a consolidated and green global data center infrastructure; better resource allocation; development of solar, wind and geothermal energy; space exploration — and peace.

Back on Earth, cloud computing is moving at such a rapid pace that everyone in the enterprise is being forced to catch up with the mobile technologies that are transforming the workweek into a more flexible, integrated, 24/7 lifestyle.

Stamford, Conn., consultancy Gartner Inc. expects the market for cloud-based infrastructure services alone to nearly triple in the next three years, from the current $3.7 billion to $10.5 billion in 2014. That doesn’t count the Software as a Service market, which is becoming a mainstream part of enterprise IT architecture, according to Julie Smith David, a professor at Arizona State University and a co-author of a report about integrating SaaS with legacy systems that was commissioned by the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council.

Look for a SaaS reality check on next week.

April 13, 2011  7:14 PM

In the cloud, even custom apps will be a commodity

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I’ll make this short because God knows you’ve read enough about cloud computing and its software variation, SaaS. This concerns the cloud and custom apps, in particular the proprietary apps and IT systems for specific industry verticals. These are the technology-driven unique solutions that give a business its competitive edge and that IT departments have hung their hats on for a long time.

Cloud computing, a delivery mode well-suited to commodity services, will change the delivery of those custom apps too. Or at least, that was the observation of Dave Hansen, a former CIO who now works for CA Technologies, in a recent discussion about the impact of the cloud on the role of the CIO.

“These are the things your industries all have very unique solutions for, that you say … no way anybody else can do,” Hansen said.

Right now, Hansen ventured, there is no such thing as a poultry IT management system — as far as he knows. But there will be one. There will be a poultry IT management system because even though the market for it is small, the cost of entry to develop software and deliver it as a service is soooo low that somebody will do it.

“CA would never ever, ever spend a dime looking at a $10 million market. It wouldn’t be worth it, given the infrastructure that we have,” Hansen said. “But two monkeys and a zebra with a couple of cases of beer would, right?”

As the cloud market matures more, those two monkeys and a zebra will be bundling software into vertical solutions and selling them as services.

April 8, 2011  4:01 PM

Multi-tenancy leads to risky development on cloud platforms

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

Why buy when you can rent?

It’s the new credo among savvy spenders everywhere — IT shops included. More and more companies are renting space on a cloud (Infrastructure as a Service) or paying for what they use of applications hosted on one (Software as a Service). In either situation, one provider serves multiple customers simultaneously, a concept known as multi-tenancy.

I recently read an article about how people in cities are using the cloud to share goods, from tools to tripods. There’s a movement toward owning less and sharing more, the article said, that’s spurred no doubt by the unemployment that 20% of college graduates are facing. The surprise is that this act of sharing — or perhaps its inherent thrift — produces a shot of happy chemicals in the brain.

The world is mad about multi-tenancy, not just because it’s less expensive — or at least appears to be more equitable in the pay-as-you-go model; and not because it’s better for the Earth — one consumes only what one needs; but because it feels good.

Ever see an unhappy Zipcar driver? Not likely. The Cambridge, Mass., company has spawned a passion worldwide for sharing cars to save the environment. It accomplishes this through the use of innovative technology that gives members 24×7 access to thousands of cars around the globe. It’s a jolt for the green economy, almost as good as walking to the train.

In the IT world, the concept of multi-tenancy is transforming data centers, saving both money and emissions through the consolidation of virtualized servers. A cloud, whether public, private or hybrid, is similar to a hotel, with each customer inhabiting a room that uses the same electricity and plumbing infrastructure. The bigger the hotel, the more service providers there are to supply such things as linens and food., for example, one of the first SaaS providers, is surrounded by an ecosphere of developers adding value in vertical industries. Microsoft, likewise, is luring a bevy of developers to its Windows Azure platform.

The security risk, to extend the hotel analogy, is whether your company’s data goes out with the sheets.

“I wonder whether customers understand those risks,” said Julie Smith David, director at the Center for Advancing Business through IT, and associate professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “If Platform as a Service ends up the winner, it may provide a single-source comfort to the customer, but there is still this world of developers innovating.”

Within the platforms, developer apps are housed on the developer’s hardware, David explained. “I may trust and set up an app exchange, but if I don’t recognize that a piece of my data ends up at the third-party developer,” there could be a shot of unhappy chemicals in the brain. “I don’t want my trusted data too many hands away in the cloud,” she said. Even though uses stars, reviews and other assurances that third-party developers are dependable, “my guess is those risks are being underestimated.”

Stay tuned to next week to hear more from David about a report she co-authored for the Society of Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council on integrating SaaS with legacy systems.

Have a SaaS best practice to share? Email me at Laura Smith, Features Writer.

April 7, 2011  4:35 PM

Are CIO leadership skills moot if the business has you pigeonholed?

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Are you lacking in CIO leadership skills, or do you lack CIO leadership qualities because the business has boxed you in, pigeonholed you as the IT guy? The question came up at a private dinner for CIOs, where I was the proverbial insect on the wall. Not in so many words, but it was out there, definitely out there, attended by the kind of anxiety a conundrum like this provokes.

“Let’s say, hypothetically that you’re a CIO in a $5 billion business,” said one of the dinner guests. “Good on the left side, been there for three or four years, and typecast. The business sees you as the IT guy who keeps the infrastructure running. How do I break out of that so I can start moving to the right side?”

“Don’t get in the box in the first place,” someone at an adjacent table retorted. “Once you get in, it is hard because you have already told them what your comfort level is.”

The left side vs. right side discussion was in reference to the evening’s presentation — a discussion of The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results.

The authors tapped into the mammoth databases of executive search firm Korn/Ferry to come up with seven skills typical of really successful CIOs. The gist is that those technical, left-brain smarts might be table stakes for running a data center, but they won’t get you a seat at the table. The latter requires the right-brain skills that allow you to manage, manipulate and mesmerize people. (This press release will save you the trouble of buying the book.)

An elder-statesman CIO from a large utility company softened the blow: “Depending on the situation, it might not be worth your time and energy to make them see you in a different light.”


“So quit,” he said.

With unemployment at 9.2%?

You could feel the air getting sucked out of the room, as table by table the guests pondered whether CIO leadership might be out of one’s grasp, due to one’s own half-brain nature or a pack of unnurturing business partners.

“Say that you are going to make a change,” a guy piped up. “Say, ‘I have spent the last three years on delivery and getting things in shape. And now that things are in pretty good shape, I am going to focus on other things.'”


“Whereas,” this guy continued, “If you just try to change without telling people why you are changing, then it is just this odd behavior.”

Now there’s a CIO with right-brain skills, I thought, joining in the relieved laughter that filled the room.

April 1, 2011  3:13 PM

Cloudsourcing and lean methodology tap customer input

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

Whether your IT organization is thinking about becoming lean or using cloudsourcing techniques, it all boils down to customer input. After all, they’re the ones on the front line, with the best information about your company’s product strategy.

Unlike old-fashioned focus groups, cloudsourcing and the lean methodology ensure that businesses stay focused on customers’ needs while continuously improving business processes to eliminate waste, save money and ensure customer loyalty.

My story on Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s lean initiative on this week demonstrated how an organization can bring employees from various departments together to identify redundancies in business processes. Putting lean concepts to work, in 2010 Nationwide was able to trim $2 million in excess costs, according to Mimi Chizever, vice president for claims technology at the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance company.

According to Chizever, the lean methodology is all about understanding interdependencies between departments; reusing code and other resources as much as possible; and above all, staying focused on customer requirements. The lean process works backwards: Instead of finding a market for a product, companies find out what customers need, then focus on solutions and deliver them just in time.

One way to find out what customers need is to use cloudsourcing. This is a technique in which companies poll their customers to drive development. The idea comes out of the concept called crowdsourcing (where businesses look for feedback, ideas and talent in a crowd of users), but the cloud aspect enables the interaction to take place anywhere, through a Web browser.

For example, Vision Critical Communications Inc., an interactive market research company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, uses its Sparq cloud platform to manage research data from thousands of respondents to its polls quickly and conveniently. Sparq also is available to Vision Critical clients so they can deploy surveys, review results and communicate with their customers.

Auto racing organization NASCAR, for example, uses the Sparq platform to ask race attendees their opinions about various issues and generate buzz. Other Sparq users include the National Football League, Major League Baseball, ESPN, Taco Bell, Nordstrom, Frito Lay — about a quarter of the companies in the Fortune 500, according to Andrew Reid, Vision Critical founder.

Vendors including Oracle Corp. are jumping on the cloudsourcing bandwagon. Oracle announced last month that it would integrate Accept Corp.’s Accept360 crowdsourcing software with its Oracle CRM On Demand. The integration will enable users to create internal and external social communities where customers and partners can collaborate and vote on, and prioritize product, campaign, services and opportunity innovation ideas.

Even New York City is getting into cloudsourcing, launching an online program called Simplicity, which is based “on the idea that government should be organized around the needs of its customers, who are taxpayers, businesses and service users,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his January State of the City address. “In the year ahead, we’ll launch online forums where every city employee can post ideas that he or she thinks will improve services or save the city money. Others will be able to comment on those proposals, and then we’ll implement the best ones.”

March 30, 2011  9:12 PM

‘Understanding the customer is the wrong unit of measurement’

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

CIOs often are advised to think of their users (a sleazy term if there ever was one) as customers. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has news for you: “Understanding the customer is the wrong unit of measurement,” he informed CIOs at the recent Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., on disruptive innovation.

Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, offered the following story to show why he feels that way: He and a colleague were hired by a well-known fast food chain to find a way to boost its sales of milk shakes. The chain asked the people who purchased its milk shakes — aka focus groups — for suggestions on how it could improve the shakes so that customers like them would buy more.

“They got clear feedback,” Christensen said. The chain duly improved the product per the customers’ suggestions, but this turned out to have no effect on sales or profits. Understanding the customer was getting them nowhere.

Companies, and by proxy, CIOs, explained Christensen, typically define the markets they serve by customer category or product category: low-, middle- and high-income households, for example; or compact, midsize, full-size and luxury cars. They can win a product category by making a better thingy than everybody else. Based on market research, they develop products for their average customer (and hope the outliers will buy it too.) If you are a customer, Christensen postulates, you don’t think of yourself as a category: “Stuff just happens to you, and you hire products and services to do jobs for you.” Understanding the customer (in the traditional sense) is the wrong unit of measurement.

“My colleague and I decided the fundamental question was, ‘What job are customers trying to do when they come here to hire a milk shake?'” Christensen said.

To answer this question, Christensen et al. manned the fast-food restaurant for 18 hours, taking data on everyone who bought a milk shake: what time they came in, what they were wearing, whether they were alone, whether they bought the milk shake with food, and so on.

They discovered that about half the milk shakes sold were bought before 8 a.m. The milk shake was the only thing these customers bought. They were always alone, and they always got back into a car with the milk shake and drove off. So, what job were these early birds hiring the milk shake to do? As it turned out, they all had the same job: a long, boring drive to work. They needed something to do while they were driving to keep them interested, Christensen relayed.

The chain’s viscous milk shake took 20 minutes to suck up through a straw. The customers were not particularly hungry when they bought the shake, but knew they would be by 10 a.m. “‘Who cares what the ingredients are?’ they said. ‘All I know is that I am full all morning, and it fits right into my cupholder,'” Christensen said.

Peter Drucker was right when he said that the customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling, Christensen told the CIOs. He suggested that CIOs try the following: Rather than think about their IT products and services in terms of product or customer segments, or customer reports, they should figure out the job their customers are trying to get done, figure out how to get the job done perfectly, and design and buy accordingly.

It’s not products that make a company [read: internal IT shop] very hard to compete against. After all, those are easily copied, Christensen said. Instead, it is providing experiences that customers can use.

I thought that was useful advice, and so did many of the CIOs in the audience, as today’s story on the CIO’s dilemma shows.

And the fast food chain’s dilemma? Why I should care, I don’t know; but it occurred to me that it could expand its customer base for milk shakes to people on long trips by increasing the size and narrowing the straw.

March 25, 2011  2:04 PM

Courion’s user identity management gives the Red Cross an infusion

4Laura Laura Smith Profile: 4Laura

Suzanne Hall is “really excited” about the pilot the American National Red Cross will launch next month, thanks to the largesse of Courion Corp., an identity management provider that’s given away $100,000 to charities over the last nine years.

As the first winner of the new CourionCares Program for Non-Profits contest, the Red Cross received an enterprise license for identity and access management (IAM) and compliance software from Courion to manage user access, demonstrate access policy compliance and improve IT security.

“We have significant issues around identity management,” said Hall, chief information security officer at the venerable organization founded by Clara Barton. “The gift is very much appreciated.”

The Red Cross has about 75,000 users who work with a variety of applications and have varying types of network access, she said. Currently its help desk spends 30% to 40% of its time on resetting passwords manually, a laborious task for IT that involves a lot of downtime for the organization.

“Being able to deploy a self-service identity management solution is a huge work saving for us, and an enabling empowerment for the organization,” Hall said.

The pilot will take place in the IT department, and a rapid rollout across the organization is planned. Hall said she expects high adoption rates because of users’ familiarity with self-service passwords on the commercial Web.

Nonprofits come under the same privacy and access control regulations as the commercial world, whether those involve protecting donors’ credit card information or clients’ personal health care information, according to Chris Zannetos, president and CEO at Courion in Westborough, Mass.

I’ll be following the Red Cross rollout of the self-service user identity management software on, to see what benefits — financial and otherwise — the organization reaps.

“We’re expecting that we’ll have a labor or soft savings that’s pretty dramatic,” Hall said. “It’s true that you often have to spend money to save money, and Courion helped us get over that hump.”

The semi-annual call for entries for the next CourionCares award is now open, and the winner will be announced in July. To enter, organizations must submit a 250-word descriptive overview of the IT security and regulatory challenges they face, as well as the reasons they believe Courion’s software will help them with these challenges. All entries must be received by 5 p.m. EST on April 29.

March 24, 2011  6:24 PM

Perfecting the elevator sales pitch by channeling your inner Hollywood

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

Why don’t a CIO’s ideas stick? Your ideas are too complex. They’re not spoken in the language of the business. They solve the wrong problem. Customers don’t see what’s in it for them. Your boss doesn’t believe they will work. You come off as a buttinsky. Your timing is off, sometimes by years.

That was the CIO feedback in a workshop titled “How to sell internally without ROI” at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week.

The session no doubt began with a trenchant analysis of why CIOs often find themselves in the position of having to sell ideas that don’t have an ROI. By the time I walked in, however, attendees were engaged in that staple of CIO conferences — self-flagellation self-examination. This was followed by an exercise aimed at developing the perfect elevator sales pitch for executive peers and other business customers.

What? You’re not a salesperson, and all your constituents take the stairs? Irrelevant.

Developing an elevator sales pitch for your proposals, whether recited in an elevator to the people you’re trying to convince, or never delivered at all, is a useful exercise for CIOs, explained Leigh McMullen, the Gartner analyst leading the workshop and author of “Creating Proactive Proposals That Stick.” For starters, the process helps crystallize your ideas. The cost of sales is an important metric when you’re selling an idea or proposal, he said. CIOs have enough to do without wasting their time pitching ideas that don’t go anywhere. A good elevator pitch also forces you to think in terms of two things that don’t come naturally to many CIOs: affinity (as in, what you and your ideas have in common with the people you’re trying to sell to) and messaging (more on that in a moment).

So, how do you develop an elevator sales pitch that might actually get you somewhere — aside from couching it in the language of business (for example, “What if I can shorten the cash-to-close cycle to 15 days from 90 days?”), establishing trust and improving your “opportunity management” skills?

McMullen’s advice to CIOs is basically to channel your inner novelist — or better yet, your inner Hollywood scriptwriter. Turn your proposal into a story that will resonate with the people you’re trying to convince.

Without further ado, here are Leigh McMullen’s step-by-step instructions for developing proposals that stick, as well as a sample elevator pitch in which a hypothetical CIO of a major hotel chain tries to sell the idea of putting in check-in kiosks:

1. Good characters drive a compelling story.

Decide who the “main characters” in the story are. These aren’t necessarily the stakeholders or influencers who are being sold to. They usually are constituents of these stakeholders.

The main characters in the hypothetical automated-kiosk caper are the hotel’s frequent (aka high-margin) travelers.

2. Reveal the problem.

Determine the problems the main characters face. What keeps them awake at night, and what is the basic problem the proposed solution is trying to solve?

“Frequent travelers are always standing in line — at the airline check-in, at security, when boarding the plane. And finally, when they get to their hotel, there’s another long line.”

3. Allude to, but do not reveal the solution.

This is often called the compelling question, because it causes the stakeholder to focus on the answer that the seller is about to provide.

“What if, when they got to our hotel, there were never any lines?”

4. Pitch the solution, then anticipate objections.

In one or two short, simple sentences, describe your idea and how it solves the problem of the main characters.

“If we deployed automated check-in kiosks, we could virtually eliminate customers having to wait.”

“Now, I know that sounds expensive, but we can more than make up for the investment by reducing front-desk staff. Additionally, we’ll actually improve customer service and perception of value, because the front-desk staff will be more available to help serve the customer rather than be occupied with mundane tasks.”

Or you could just download “Get Shorty.” Not that I’m saying you or your customers have anything in common with loan sharks and petty mobsters.

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