Is your leader computer illiterate?

While taking a quick break, I caught a CNN piece on the comparative computer literacy between Obama and McCain. McCain admits to being computer illiterate and they showed a video clip of Obama almost walking into a concrete flower pot while reading his blackberry. Even George W gets into the piece when he says that people get on the internets to dial-up information. I am not getting into a political discussion on Obama vs. McCain here and I never will. But it got me to thinking about the computer literacy of company leaders and senior executives and how it affects the role of IT in an enterprise.

Is your CEO computer illiterate? Even if they are – does it matter? What really matters is that they understand the value of computing and IT within the organization. It is important that they see the value of IT as a strategic business tool. Even if they ask their assistant to print out all of their email messages so they can read them they can still leverage IT to gain an edge in the marketplace.

Is your CIO computer illiterate? No really! Does your CIO or IT Director or IT Manager embrace technology, love it, use it and evangelize its value to the organization and the world at large? Or do they view it as a beast that needs to be beaten into submission with heavy handed management strategies? I’ve talked to CIOs and IT Managers who seemed to be genuinely afraid of technology.

I was talking to a CIO on cell phone and he asked me to call him back on a land line (his end and my end) because he ‘didn’t like these damn cell phones’. An uncomfortable feeling came over me because of the way he said it. Was he talking about the particular model of phone he was using or because he had poor reception in the location he was at?  My gut told me he didn’t like technology all that much. Further into our conversation on land line it occurred to me that he was a manager first and an IT guy last. Although he had been in IT management in some form or other for almost twenty years the things he said tipped me off to the fact that he didn’t really like technology all that much. His job was to ‘manage’ technology. That was why the senior executive had just hired him into the CIO spot. His purpose in the life of the enterprise was to bring some order to chaos. He outlined to me the value of ITIL and how ‘processes’ and strict adherence to ‘procedures’ would allow him to turn things around. When I told him that I was heavily involved in Web 2.0 as a business tool ‘you know, things like wikis and blogs and social networking’, he replied that he had seen lots of fads come and go in his time and this would pass too. Letting users tell the IT department how to run technology is what created all the problems this company hired him to fix. At the end of the conversation he advised me to forget all about consumer driven fluff and focus on ‘managing’ IT. It would be good for my career.

Another IT Manager asked me to FAX him some information because he didn’t trust email. What? When I told him I didn’t have a fax machine (and I don’t) he said just put it into an envelope and mail it to him. So I did – I put all of the documentation in PDF format with hyperlinks along with some audio and video files on a CD and snail-mailed it to him. I never heard back from him. Maybe he didn’t trust CD’s because they make whirring noises and if you looked at the laser light you could go blind! And this guy was an IT Manager!

Maybe these are odd and unusual examples that I just happened to stumble upon. I think they are. On the other hand I always listen closely to what IT Managers say when they talk about technology. Most aren’t like the two examples above but some show signs of fear and hints of illiteracy. Time for retirement? Maybe!




Decentralized IT

Here’s a great article from Ramon Padilla of TechRepublic on central vs. decentralized IT models with a theme on security breaches. Who runs (controls, manages, governs etc) IT in your organization?

There is a lot of real world experience in this article but what I really liked was this:

The laissez-faire model can work to deliver IT services. Sometimes well, sometimes not so well…Often staffed by people that are wearing an IT hat in addition to their “real” job and view IT as a hobby, a right, or a requirement … IT is not their profession… they have neither the time nor the resources to run IT like a business or a profession.

IT run by “amateurs” and I am not saying that in a derogatory way, have and continue to deliver necessary services but they cannot keep up with the level of sophistication that the “bad guys” have evolved to nor the responsibilities and liabilities that come with IT in this day and age. Once upon a time an organization could do mediocre IT and only be a danger to itself – now it is a danger to others.

Think about it – would you trust your personal information in the hands of that guy over in shipping who  built a data base over the weekend on the same computer his kids use to download music from a peer-to-peer bit torrent based network?


Digital Landfill

Lately I’ve become attracted to phrases which capture a wealth of ideas or concepts in just a few words. I’ve been accused of talking too much while saying too little. While reading the book Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath it occurred to me that I need to trim down my use of words into what they refer to as proverbs. While I work on my own verbiage, I’m always on the look out for other peoples simple catch phrase or coined expressions or proverbs. Digital Landfill is one of them.

Check out the great slide show here at the AIIM Information ZEN site or here on YouTube, where they talk about the corporate digital landfill. Not hardware or electronic devices but data that lives everywhere in an organization and on a multitude of storage media –  PC hard drives, PDA’s, phones, CD’s, DVD’s, servers, USB RAM sticks (thumb drives), backup tapes and on and on. Digital Landfill – there is no better way to describe all those files. At least we clean up and recycle our paper once in a while. Digital ‘stuff’ seems to go on forever (or at least until your hard-drive crashes and takes the only known copy of your resume with it).

Back in the good ol’ days of mainframes, data storage space was expensive so there was little waste. Or at least little chance for waste to grow into a landfill. It was also highly managed. With today’s extremely cheap storage space  (I just purchased a Maxtor external drive with 500Gigabytes of space for $200 – my first PC hard-drive was 20Megabytes and it cost me $250 used) it’s easy to amass a mountain of data and just forget about it.

What’s the solution? Move everything back to the hosted environment! SaaS (software as a service), web based storage, cloud computing, thin client desktop and portable computers that have little to no storage capacity. Within a corporate environment and a world with almost ‘ubiquitous’ internet access (I love that word ubiquitous – “Existing or being everywhere, or in all places, at the same time; omnipresent“!) this is not an impossibility. At least this keeps your data from wandering off and making landfills of it’s own. But even by putting your data in a cloud you still need to manage it. Digital landfills live on servers as well.

Corporate policies regarding data (creation and duplication and re-storage) are important but they need to be tuned to meet the needs of the community of workers who need access to data. Keep it simple and easy to navigate. Keep it protected and confidential when required. Accept the fact that digital landfills exist and work hard to eliminate them. There are countless stories in my past when our servers alerted us to a disk capacity threshold being reached. We would take a look at the top consumers and what they had stored: hundreds of songs from Napster (how did they get past the firewall? – another problem to look into), four complete and distinct copies of an obsolete version of Novell Netware installation CD’s (we didn’t run Novell so where did these come from and why?), weekly backups of local PC images from the last year-including the Windows OS, every email message this user had ever received from email systems we abandoned years ago and lots of porn. Less than 10% of the users consumed 75% of the available diskspace. Talk about a digital landfill stinking up the neighbourhood.

Unlike physical landfills that are a huge challenge to deal with, digital landfills can be disposed of by simply deleting them when the data is no longer required. I’m reminded of the BOFH (the bastard operator from hell) who was a cranky character whose adventures many IT folks followed years ago. Some still do. When a user called to ask for more storage space on the mainframe, the BOFH had a simple solution…something like this – “Just let me enter a few commands here at my terminal and you’ll have lots of space – del *.*, enter. There you go!”


Lost: data and personal information

Here we go again . . . here is an article from ZDNet … NY Bank ‘loses’ 4.5M unencrypted customer records.

And talk about timing – as I was reading that article, Jennifer Stoddart , Privacy Commissioner of Canada, was on BNN TV talking about data loss. She was to the point and articulate and I really enjoyed listening to her. (NOTE: they are fast over at but the clip hasn’t been posted online yet as I write this. But it will be later  – check it out!)

At the heart of it all was unencrypted data lost over and over again in the same fashion, for the same reasons. The example she gave was of data downloaded to a notebook pc and then the computer would be stolen out of the car it was left in. It seemed to me that MS. Stoddart said something about hearing this story over and over again. (I’ve seen computers with confidential corporate data on the hard drives stolen right out offices). When asked why companies didn’t apply appropriate security to their data, she replied that it was based on cost. As an example she told us about TJX and how investigation has determined that it had been decided by the TJX executives to not implement tighter security prior to the incident because it would cost too much and would affect their profit. Or words to that effect. It’s all about risk management, TJX gambled – and lost. (Don’t get me wrong, I shop at one of their stores and I really enjoy it – they have some great stuff that you can’t get anywhere else. And by the way, I never use my credit card.)

But I’ve been there too and I quote…”Keeping all data on protected servers is just not in the budget! It’s just too inconvenient to not be able to take my data home (or to a conference or a vacation or where-ever) and work on it. I burn everything to CD’s – it’s my backup in case the IT department misplaces it (or) I delete it by accident!”

Is this a good case for ‘cloud computing’? If data lives somewhere other than a local hard-drive is it safer? What about 8Gb USB memory sticks? Should the IT departments fill up USB ports with epoxy as part of their standard desktop configurations? The bank mentioned in the ZDNet article lost their data back-up tape – should they ship their tapes with armed-guards like they do with money?

I used to read this site all of the time but I got tired of seeing the same things over and over . . . but I still wander by once in awhile just in case my name might be on one of data breaches they report on.