Should your company buy netbooks?

The latest next big thing in desktop computing is the netbook. Should your company go out and buy netbooks to replace the desktop and laptop computers that your folks are currently using? No . . . not unless you’re able to look beyond the low price and are willing to place it in the role it plays in the new IT ecosystem. Netbooks are low in price but are also slim in resources – no CD/DVD drives, small displays, low storage capacity, limited amounts of processing power and minimal RAM. Here’s a Wired article which gives a good history of the netbook. Read it first before you make a decision to purchase netbooks with the goal to save tons of capital on these new fangled and cheap computers.

Netbooks are part of a larger system and culture that you will need to have in place in order to reap the benefits. If you aren’t willing to build and support the new IT ecosystem model that netbooks are made for, then this initiative will result in failure. Your goal of saving money will backfire and end up costing you more than you bargained for. Users will be left unsatisfied and the IT department will be left with the stigma of yet another failure-to-deliver.

Netbooks are made for a whole new world of computing. Web browsing, apps in the cloud, pictures stored on web servers, streaming media – music and video, mobile access through wireless connections, connections to people through social networks and SKYPE. I’m writing this on a full-sized laptop computer. For the most part this computer isn’t utilized much more than a netbook would be. It’s just bigger, heavier and consumes more battery power. Lot’s of unused capacity though. It sits in our dining room and  is powered up first thing in the morning along with the TV. It runs all day and sometimes becomes more important than TV. Nothing good on cable? Let’s watch YouTube! Check email. Send messages to friends on Facebook. Chat with family members in other parts of the world via live-chat and skype. This is the environment that netbooks are good for – a web centric appliance. A consumer oriented tech-gadget.

If your company still purchases and installs full blown copies of MS Office, stores corporate data on local computer hard-drives, uses MS Outlook for calendar and email, equips your field staff with ten pound laptop computers and argues with the IT staff over their budget requests needed to keep this all working then netbooks aren’t for you.



Whitehouse IT in the dark ages

Now the news comes out – Obama’s staff move into the White House offices and discover old, tired and broken technology. This along with restrictive policies which appear to be based on 1970’s IT thinking are hampering his teams ability to do their job. They sound like web savvy workers slamming into the wall of antique technology. My god – most of them use MACs and Blackberrys. Sorry – not allowed at the White house. “Here’s a PC running Windows 2K . . . the last person using it didn’t complain, so what’s the problem?” I’m sure they’ll work through it. Their boss has managed to hang on to his Blackberry or something like it (rumour has it a $3,500.00 General Dynamics highly secure PDA) so I’m sure he’ll sort things out for them.

I can’t help but wonder that this scenario is being played out in other enterprises without the high profile the White House has. Gen Y tech savvy workers leave school and go to work and discover their employer’s idea of high-tech is four year old PCs running MS-Office and Outlook email. They’ll find a way around it but may put their jobs in jeopardy by ‘breaking the rules’. My advice? Break the rules – be careful – be productive – but break through to the 21st Century. It’ll pay off in the long run.


Some fresh insights on IT and Business relationships

If you listen to podcasts, how often do you go looking for something new? At least once a month I go looking for new shows to listen to. Sometimes I’ll drop an old show that isn’t quite working for me anymore. Change is good! If you’re not doing it – give it a try…you just might like it. Heck you might even learn something new!

Just the other day while looking for new podcast shows, I added Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast to my iTunes list. One of the shows that I listened to twice was Show #97 – 8 Thing We Hate About IT with Susan Cramm. Wow! There is more wisdom from Susan Cramm on her HBR blog ‘Have IT your way’. Hey Susan! I really like what you’re saying and how you’re saying it!

Susan has clear insights and suggestions on how IT and business can work together. No really! Not just the same time worn phrases like I’ve heard for the last twenty years ago like ‘IT needs to align itself with the business side of the organization’. It’s easy to say but what actions do both sides need to take to make their rrelationship successful? That’s the advice we all need but doesn’t look like we’ve been getting. It may be old to some folks out there, but the things Susan talks about in her blog are a breath of fresh air for me and is actually getting me excited about the future of IT in not just large enterprises but in small and medium oorganizations as well.

Here are some snippets that caught my attention . . .

  • The end goal is to manage IT as an organizational asset, not an organizational structure.
  • IT is Stocked with Out-of-Date Geeks. It’s not good when you learn about social networking from your 12-year old at home while IT is still trying to cope with email.
  • Problem is, as we’ve discussed, IT is so busy managing the trees, they can’t afford to even think about the forest.
  • How do we reduce our lights-on costs to increase innovation capacity?
  • In my experience, 30% of the IT requests aren’t worth the effort and 20%-30% can be accommodated by leveraging existing systems.
  • It would be great to take a vow of IT celibacy – but in today’s information intense, connected world, that’s the modern day equivalent of living on bread and water.

Great stuff . . . thanks Susan.

Dean Owen

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!



SOA versus WOA

Service Oriented Architecture and it’s promises are now being assessed by enterprises. There are some success stories but for the most part SOA is coming up short of the outcomes made by consultants and sales people and IT experts.

What exactly is SOA? Here is the elevator pitch from John Reynolds

SOA is an architectural style that encourages the creation of loosely coupled business services. Loosely coupled services that are interoperable and technology-agnostic enable business flexibility. An SOA solution consists of a composite set of business services that realize an end-to-end business process. Each service provides an interface-based service description to support flexible and dynamically re-configurable processes.

In order to succeed with a fundamentally sound solution, the SOA disciples need to look at WOA or Web Oriented Architecture. Not so much for the technology but from the culture that makes WOA a very fast moving and user acceptable and supported path to follow. If traditional IT lead initiatives could achieve the success and acceptance that WOA has enjoyed recently then things could be a lot different for everyone involved – the CIOs, the business and the people using technology in their business.

But the enterprise is not the Web (Dion Hinchcliffe)

While heavyweight top-down IT can certainly do a lot of good for a certain class of business problems, it’s not the right answer to everything. At its basic level, IT is good for ensuring some basic level of consistency to enable interoperability between corporate systems, safeguard data compatibility, the provide long term safety of corporate knowledge and systems, and as it turns out, give us the ability to access and exploit the vast, unique, and competitively vital repositories of knowledge that have built up inside most organizations.

Thanks to Google (which truly embodies WOA and the web model) information, data and collective intelligence is within our reach – almost instantly. Legacy IT systems on the other hand are often disjointed and since most are based on proprietary data standards they lack the interchange and open data standards that make WOA successful.

Why is it hard for enterprises to make the move to WOA…

  • the silo mindset of traditional IT leaders and IT vendors based on their concept of ‘ownership’ of everything within their view;
  • and the legacy infrastructure systems based on this mindset.

I’m a big fan of cloud computing, portals (aka mash-ups), interchange of data between systems, APIs, protection of corporate data and access to this data in a quick and easy way. Why? Because I have been a victim of disjointed data which made it difficult for me to perform my job as a manager and to be a productive contributor to the organization. As a provider of IT services, I’ve seen many of our clients struggle with disjointed data systems. I’ve also seen many creative solutions cooked up by users of technology. Most were not very elegant but they solved the business problems that these legacy systems created.

Don’t worry – it isn’t the end of the world and you don’t need to burn the data centre to the ground and start all over again. By combining SOA (the good parts at least) with WOA success can be achieved. The big question is whether the IT department will lead the parade or be delegated to just keeping the legacy systems working. At least until they fade away. Will the Web Services department be elevated to the role of leading the enterprise in this new world? Consider it a possibility. Of course you’ll need to pry them away from the Marketing department.

Dean Owen

Google – the ultimate IT service provider?

If you think Google is just a search engine, then come out of your cave and take a good look around you. Google might just be the ultimate IT service provider. If not now then certainly in the near future. After reading through Jason Hiner’s Tech Republic post on Gartner’s view on Google’s role as an IT service provider I want you to think about your current IT department and the services they provide. Particularly if you are a small business struggling with internal and/or external IT service providers. Is Google in your future?

For what it’s worth, we use Google a lot . . . for search as well as Google docs and Gmail. I like the idea of being able to access my documents and email anywhere, anytime from any computer. I still use Microsoft Office occasionally but more out of habit and familiarity. When the next version of MS Office comes out I plan on moving over to software as a service/cloud computing and save myself a lot of money.

The statement from Gartner that caught my eye was this,

Google is disruptive and disruptive technologies produce big winners and big losers,” Hunter (Gartner Vice President Richard Hunter) said, “One of the big losers is potentially traditional IT departments.”

What other disruptive technologies are in recent memory (mine at least)?

  • personal computing – Apple and Microsoft were the rebels back in the day!
  • world wide web – it’s everywhere!
  • wireless networking – it allows us to work anywhere, a huge convenience!
  • cell phones – and the evolution of smart phones and mobile computing!

I remember when these things first appeared and how disruptive they were to the status quo of traditional IT operations and even corporate work flows. Can you tell me which one of these your company could live without? Is Google’s disruptive technology going to become the next can’t live without? For some it all ready is.

As to the statement “big winners and big losers“, there are always great business opportunities when paradigms change. Traditional IT departments are already being eroded and the model of services which Google brings to the world might finish them off completly. Don’t get me wrong, I love IT and have great faith in IT departments, but they need to evolve their operations whether it’s in application development through agile development or on the operations side by understanding and applying utility computing strategies.

To finish off this post, let me tell you about a meeting I had with a potential client. This was a small company but they had business units spread across four western Canadian provinces. They had one full time IT person, the manager, one part-time tech and called in local service providers in their remote locations when needed. The IT manager was late to the meeting because he was struggling with the email server and it’s erratic behaviours. He had screwdrivers in his shirt pocket. He looked tired. His phone rang four times in twenty minutes. He had to leave early because the email server went down – again. The business manager was receptive to what I had to say but the IT manager was too distracted by his email server problems to truly focus on the value of my presentation. To me the pain point was obvious, the value of the solution was obvious. I didn’t get a contract out of this meeting and after doing my follow-up with the business manager I found out that they hired a full-time junior tech to help out. Did they ever solve their email server problems? According to the business manager – sort of. It didn’t go down as often after two weeks of dedicated work from the IT manager. 

The solutions I offered consisted of disruptive technologies – cloud computing, utility computing services, outsourcing of basic infrastructure tasks and an IT strategy based on industry best practices such as ITIL.

I guess they weren’t quite ready to be disrupted.


Extinction of the IT department

Extinction is a strong word to use for what many view as a fundamental business service. The need and value of IT to the organization isn’t in fear of dying out – just the departments and the people who run those departments. In order to survive we all need to adapt, evolve and improvise to some degree.

This article from ZD Net… 5 tips to prevent IT extinction Posted by Michael Krigsman brings up those important issues that pit the IT department and the enterprise against each other. It’s hard to believe that these are still issues in this enlightened day and age, but they are in many environments. Read the article for the details – and they are very good details, not just the rehashing of ‘alignment with business needs’ that’s been beat to death.

Here are the headings and my thoughts on them . . .

Continue reading “Extinction of the IT department”

Turmoil in the IT department

TechRepublic is a great source of information regarding the world of professional IT. Not only technology issues are addressed but staffing, strategy, vision and management from a higher level.

The latest item that caught my eye is discussion over the new model for the IT department . . . you can check it out here.


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Ubiquitous Participation

Why IT departments will survive Web 2.0 By: Shane Schick
Dr. David Jacobson, from PriceWaterhouseCooper talks about an ‘enterprise IT centre’ – more than just a data centre – it would support technologies thatallow customers, partners and employees to collaborate and communicate with each other’. According to Dr. Jacobson, this would allow the CIO and the IT department to get back into the game.

Well said Dr. Jacobson! According to this article, PwC is studying ‘social networking’. With this heavy duty endorsement, does it mean Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 is starting to be seen as a legitimate business tool? I would think so. If you read the article you will notice that there are references to the IT department role changing for some, if not most enterprises. Dr. Jacobson is encouraging CIO involvement with business decision and planning. That’s the big leap for many folks out there. I doubt that most – enterprises and/or individuals – will be able to make it.

As to the title of this post – it comes from this article: “PwC uses the term ubiquitous participation to refer to bottom-up approaches to content generation and sharing.”  It sounds like the wikifiying of the enterprise to me!

Dean Owen