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Wednesday
Jan272010

Respect thy Operators

Information Technology runs with two shifts in many companies. The day shift is made up of executive meetings, board rooms, and initiatives. The night shift is covered by the heart and soul of any Information Technology (IT) group, a group of people huddled in dimly lit rooms staring at flat panels.

The night shift is covered by computer/network Operators, often the most modestly paid in IT. Have you ever considered the irony of the success of many companies resting in the hands of someone rarely seen?

Being a computer operator is analogous to being a police officer. There are hours of boring, mundane work occasionally highlighted by periods of shear adrenaline. It is during these periods where misalignment between the day shift (CIO) and night shift are highlighted.

CIOs spend a great deal of time shaping strategy, and communicating same to staff (often in large group settings.) While these sessions are being presented (often with catered food), the night Operators are sleeping. Operators need to support strategy in an appropriate way, and this often means keeping things running smoothly. For example, while the CIO will work on new means for transportation, Operators keep the trains running on time.

CIOs achieve longevity of 4.4 years, according to a 2008 “State of the CIO” report, often striving their entire career for the role. Most operators are in their role a much longer period, outlasting CIOs, and often fall into the role.

Due to their unique hands-on perspective galvanized over time, Operators are often a wealth of information. They know the stable applications; they know the staff members who will respond and (most importantly) help solve issues. They often have a 6th sense for when something is going very, very wrong. With a little attention, Operators can become trusted allies for any CIO – literally the CIO’s eyes and ears at night.

How does a CIO build rapport? It’s not hard. Spend some time with the Operators on their turf, on their shift. Ask what they do “during the day,” and where their interests lie. Make note of their spouse’s names and children (as appropriate.)

And listen. Listen to what is working, and what isn’t working. Ask what you can do to improve their world, and act on it.

If subsequently an Operator makes an error, build on the rapport you’ve established to understand how you can help them succeed. Operators know when mistakes are made, and genuinely feel bad about it. When mistakes are made, consider what you can do to help the Operator be more successful.

Having sufficient processes in Operations is a management function. Operators are accustomed to doing the same thing on a predictable, repeatable basis. They want and need to understand when changes are made (in a respectful way.) Operators want to please. Often, the instruction they receive is in the form of a never ending series of corrective emails. A single, living process and procedures guide (written, wiki, web) is something operators can reference is a necessity. When you spend time with the Operators, ask them to see the processes and procedures so you can determine if the materials are reasonable and up to date. If not, charge your management team with getting them updated, with the “clients” being the Operations team. Make the solutioning a collaborative team effort. External facilitation can be used if the team is unaccustomed to working in a collaborative manner or if the task seems insurmountable.

Operators are no-nonsense people, and an informal session with them on their shift to explain major changes succinctly will help them buy in.

While it may take time to build rapport, with the Operators generally reticent to open up, the CIO who drops by the Command Center regularly to acknowledge efforts and “catch people doing things right” will solidify their relationships. Remembering Operators are often working holidays, a quick call to wish them the best, and checking how the food you sent in tasted, will help the Operators see you are a regular person, too.

And like the police, night Operators know where to get really unique food at odd times of night. Enjoy!

Sunday
Jan172010

Campaign Technology – A Voter’s Perspective

The Massachusetts senatorial three way race offers an interesting look at how technology is being used to garner voter commitments between Republican Scott Brown, Democrat Martha Coakley, and Independent Joe Kennedy (not related to the Massachusetts’ Kennedy Dynasty). The special election selecting a replacement for the late Senator Kennedy offers an unfettered view of technological use, from a voter’s perspective.

The following table includes hyperlinks to the candidate’s social media sites harvested from each candidate’s main web page.



Scott Brown



Martha Coakley



Joe Kennedy































-



The independent Joseph L. Kennedy has largely limited his campaign to debate appearances. From a technology standpoint, Candidate Kennedy’s technology use is all very basic, somewhat surprising from someone who is a Vice President - Architecture & User Experience for a major Boston-Based Financial services firm. Mr. Kennedy’s materials do not have the appearance of being professionally produced.

Candidate Coakley’s website was developed by Liberty Concepts, with Candidate Brown’s put together by the Prosper Group. These are obviously specialist groups and both sites look very well designed.

Telephony is a major weapon in the Brown and Coakley camps.

Massachusetts voters have received phone calls from Presidents Obama and Clinton, American Idol contestant and Scott Brown daughter Ayla Brown, and Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling.

Brown and Coakley’s websites also encourage individuals to make telephone calls from their homes. This has created an annoying number of calls to individual homes (up to six a day.) Scott Brown is using technology from FLS Connect. This technology opened the campaign to callers from outside Massachusetts, dramatically increasing the number of available callers against an unwavering (in size) voter population. Better integrating these technologies would allow lesser annoyance to voters.

Social media is playing a major role. President Obama is issuing tweets in support, and sending You Tube videos.

While each candidate gives the impression of being active with social media, each is using to varying degrees.

Brown is issuing Tweets, including some rapidly corrected “Apparently, you are having a rally tomorrow and I’m invited: http://bit.ly/5gfbXl ” became “You are having a rally tomorrow and I’m invited: http://bit.ly/5gfbXl” an hour later. Facebook and YouTube were updated regularly, while flickr became stagnant since December 21. TXT messages were used to update followers on campaign activities.

To her credit, Coakley kept all her social media updated and active. Her tweets were generally thank yous…and appreciation of people waiting for her scheduled arrivals.

Kennedy sent a series of Tweets asking for information to be sent on to the media and updating campaign issues on the fly, “Joe Kennedy For Senate Campaign Promise: I will erase the “DO NOT CALL LIST” political exemption so you will not have to tollerate calls from Political Campaigns.” His last YouTube update was November 17.

The search engine optimization (SEO) race was won handily by Scott Brown’s campaign. Martha Coakley’s campaign was easier to find, especially after the DNC started to help. This author had to search to find Mr. Kennedy’s web site (using Google).



What are the lessons for the candidates?


  • All the web sites identify issues easily. This is a help for voters doing research

  • Search Engine Optimization is understood, and you need to use it.

  • Social Media can be used to your advantage. COORDINATE/REVIEW/SPELLCHECK your tweets as you would other messages. If you are not going to stay up on a given media, don’t include it as part of your strategy.

  • Try not to annoy voters with too much use of a media…repeated home telephone calls on the same topic are not endearing.

Good luck!

 

Monday
Jan112010

The Argument against Organizational Silos

Being from the Midwest, SILOS were a common sight. A silo is a structure for storing bulk materials. Silos are more commonly used for storage of grain, coal, cement, carbon black, wood chips, food products and sawdust.

Why are SILOS in place in IT organizations?

We have organizational silos in IT as a way to structure the department or division into components we can manage. While the organizational structure is often started around a “target” (often defined by external factors around responsibilities or metrics for depth/breadth of a targeted managerial scope), they often evolve to being structured around people. For example, we may start with an organization defined by ANALYSIS, DEVELOPMENT, OPERATIONS with a pure distinction, and then move “maintenance & adhoc reporting” between development and operations based on the people in these roles.

With the target organization in place, we then build management systems reflecting this structure. Objectives, budgets, headcounts, reporting and bonuses all get layered around this structure. Each silo begins to have a well defined culture with unique operating norms.

While fine on paper and intriguing to consider, the SILO structure breaks down when a project transcends a silo. We forget the reason we have an IT area is to support and improve the business process. Wherever there’s a handoff there’s potential for friction or something to be missed.

For example, when the CIO makes a commitment for delivery, one would expect all departments to line up around said commitment. In some organizations, the only group aware of the commitment is the business analysis area, who then transitions a commitment to a project request to development, who then makes a valiant attempt to release something to production only to get pushback from Operations on why something is being “slammed” into production.

When commitments are shared across the organization, success is often more readily attained.

Another example is around procurement. Procurement may be within the IT organization, or external in an administrative area. How does IT interface to procurement? If by providing simple requisitions yielding a purchase order, the contribution of procurement is minimized. When procurement is involved throughout the process, breakthrough performance (total lowest cost) can take place.

You may be thinking here’s another bigot for a matrixed organization, and I’m not. In my experience people often get confused when in a fully matrixed organization as to who is calling the shot.

I believe organizing around the process is the key. Yes, the traditional model can stay in place; the components are rewarded based on successful delivery. Everyone is pulling on the same rope regardless of the functional area. There is ALIGNMENT across the organization.

With alignment, great things can happen!

Monday
Jan042010

Role Clarity in a Crisis  

“Let Barbara do her job,” was the text message received from the CIO.


We were in the middle of a major crisis. The network had a glitch of some kind, and while the old fashioned host connected machines were fine, the Chairman wasn’t able to retrieve his email.
The conference call had been running for hours. Barbara headed (voice and data) communications, and with a deep voice background was somewhat new to data.

Since the call had run for a lengthy period, frustrations were bleeding on to the conference call. It seemed everyone was now a data communications expert, especially the desktop support people responsible for the non-disconnected clients.

So while Barbara had been leading the call, Barbara’s manager felt compelled to “help” and began directing the call, hence the text message from the CIO lurking on the conference bridge.

This brings up a couple key points in Crisis Management.

Having clarity around leadership is key. Barbara is a very competent leader, and while new to data communications was more than capable of following a process to resolution. Barbara was trying to lead her team in a structured approach AND deal with the conference call of interested parties. A more effective approach would be to have two conference calls…a technical call and a management call. Barbara should have been leading the technical call, with someone else leading the management call.

Barbara’s manager should have coordinated with Barbara were a change needed in bridge leadership. Basically taking over the bridge on strength of personality cut Barbara off at the knees. Everyone saw this (Barbara, Barbara’s staff, and the support organizations. It was not a smooth handoff, it was grandstanding unnecessary during a crisis.

Knowing who is on the call is important as well. In this case, the CIO was silently lurking on the call. It was his organization, and he was on the hook to update management. While there was no reason to exclude him, obviously it was unknown he had joined. What if the company was publicly traded and the “lurking CIO” was a member of the media? One approach some companies use is to have each conference call established with unique calling IDs (although you need to be sure ex-staff aren’t still getting the text pages).

Another uses a gate keeper to answer a call in number, confirm identity, and then join the caller with the conference call already in process. While more overhead, it also gives a chance to update callers before they join a call (as often the first question is “what is going on”, inevitably disrupting the conference call flow.

Role clarity is key in any crisis, lest a free for all develop. Clarity around leadership, management updates, protocols are all important.

We are struck by the Christmas 2009 bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines flight 253 and whether Janet Napolitano would have benefited from these lessons as she uttered, “One thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked.” The system worked after the incident, arguably there were issues before. Ms. Napolitano’s words created a separate large preventable firestorm.

Monday
Dec282009

Oh What a Tangled Web we Weave

I know what you are thinking. “Here’s yet another article on the World Wide Web.” Wrong.

This is an article about the NETWORK.

You see, the full quote is ”Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” by Sir Walter Scott. It means if you tell lies you’d better have a really good memory or you’ll end up in a tangle of lies, half-truths and truths.

The same is true of the Network.

In 1984, John Gage of Sun Microsystems, used “The Network is the Computer” describing the emerging world of distributed computing. How true is this perspective?

25 years later most computers are fairly resilient, with a great deal of redundancy and fault tolerance built in. Sure, personal computers fail regularly (since most organizations won’t fund high availability desktops.) When was the last time you had a current generation server fully fail due to hardware? Generally speaking, servers are pretty solid and rarely incur an outage with proper configuration.

What about the network? If someone says a server is failing, I tend not to get too excited. If someone says, “something’s wrong with the network,” I really get concerned.

Because with the exception of possibly a power outage, nothing can bring a company to its knees faster than a network “glitch.”

Networks are complex beasts. Consider the possible dimensions…every server, every PC, internet connections, wireless connections, etc. Even smartphones can hop on the network. What about video, voice, and other newer generation technologies.

What brings fear to the heart of CIOs in financial services? Market data network issues. CIOs for retailers? Credit authorization outages.

The issue is when it comes to a server, one vendor or supplier has done the integration work to generally ensure the whole package works as a whole. With deference to the Ciscos and Junipers of the world, they only own a piece of the network. They don’t own all the interconnections, carrier (AT&T, Verizon, BT, Paetec, etc.) facilities, cable plants, NIC cards, etc., or the higher level networking functions like DNS (not a requirement admittedly but certainly a practical necessity.

The ladies and gents of “networking” organizations everywhere oversee an array of technologies vital to keep the “network computer” up and running.

The networking teams must do the integration themselves, making sure the entire “thing” hangs together as one.

This means it’s critical for CIOs and Network Managers to support standardization (not of vendors, but of approaches), and as appropriate fund redundancies in the network. If a location is critical, it will require duplicate (or more) facilities. This increases the needs for monitoring and decent network management tools and designs (or else outages from spanning tree failures or circuit flapping will inevitably occur.)

Process is key as well. The network analysis and planning, implementation, active management, etc. all require solid processes. Back in the 70s, a single outage could take out a mainframe system. Today, networks are susceptible to the same issues if not properly deployed.

Frankly, I prefer to think of the network as a critical facilitating technology rather than the network as the computer. A critical facilitating technology best describes the significant role networks play.

Thursday
Dec102009

Vendor Communications Bill of Rights

Most of my telephonic career has been spent receiving phone calls from vendors, with an additional 25% of vendor communications over email. Now I’m a vendor, and am astonished with the communications norms of companies.

Suppliers don’t understand what it is like to be on the firing line. Suppliers don’t get paged when something breaks in the middle of the night, and it’s expected you’ll be in late after entertaining a client. Add in performance reviews, 1:1s, budgets, etc and the day easily slips away to “wall to wall” meetings. Asking you to meet at 7AM (or 7PM) isn’t meant to be a negotiation technique; it’s a survival tool.

Companies don’t understand suppliers are trying to hone their message to meet their needs. As a generality, reputable vendors are focused on addressing an issue focusing on the remuneration second (of course it’s expected if the solution is good.)

In discussing this with some other supplier friends, they had a similar reaction, and offered the more senior the person the more likely a return conversation. So this post isn’t for the top of the house, it’s for the mid to emerging talent, written from the perspective of the company having suppliers calling on them.

Vendor Communications Bill of Rights

  • Cold Calls, direct mail, and broadcast emails – We reserve the right to delete these in the fastest way we can. Vendors cannot possibly expect calls back as we receive many of these daily.
  • 15 minute follow ons – If you have a solution we may be interested in, we will have a short follow on meeting. This allows us to quickly determine if more time with a broader audience makes sense.

    Suppliers are taught to let us talk.
    In our first session, we want to know what you have to offer. Use this time wisely; using 15 minutes to talk about the history of the supplier company makes little sense.
  • Follow ups – we will get back to you either:
    • When we commit to get back to you. If we say one week, we will reach back in a week. We know our calendar and other commitments
    • Within 24 hours – since we are in meetings for great periods of the day, we’ll get back to you when we can. In many cases, we can only reach back before or after the traditional workday. Please do not take it personally if we are not responding immediately.
  • Saying NO – we will be clear when NO means “no” and when it means “GAME OVER.” We understand the selling starts at “no”, and understand you’ll come back. When it’s “game over”, please respect our decision. We will advise you of our decision within the decorum of sound vendor relations
  • Doo Dads, etc. – We have shirts, pen and pencil sets, coffee mugs, thermometers, desktop tool kits, golf balls, etc. Please don’t cheapen our relationship by giving them to us. And in some companies, we can’t accept gifts and it puts US in a bad position. Leave the merchandise in the car.

    Dinners fall into the same category. Given our overburdened schedule, it’s hard to make time in the evening for a dinner. If we have a lunch meeting, let’s do it in the office and bring some nice sandwich wraps.

    We know this puts you in a bit of a bind because you are supposed to spend time with us developing a relationship. We’d rather focus on the business challenges together in developing relationships.
  • RFIs, RFQs, and RFPs – we are issuing “request for” documents to get additional items of information on an effort. We know suppliers abhor these documents unless they wrote them. Please recognize your response is important and take the time to put together a nice package. We know when suppliers are simply going through the motions.
  • End Runs – Suppliers are adept at working relationships at all levels. We understand this. When we tell you “GAME OVER” and you escalate around us, you do so at your own peril.

Sunday
Nov292009

Provision a Data Center in 30 days

This is not some cleverly named cloud computing article. This was a real requirement.
(I will leave the details around how this company got in the situation of needing a data center in 30 days….clients find themselves in situations from time to time, either due to growth, capacity, or outages.)

The key to performing data center miracles rests with the network. If the network is near the facility, you’re golden.

This company had two main wide area network vendors (household name companies), and two major ancillary metropolitan area network providers. We felt we would have no issue finding a co-location site within the geographic boundaries some of the technologies required.

In this particular case, we needed a modest “cage” in a larger facility. We came up with our short list fairly quickly, and promptly went out and toured facilities. One facility percolated quickly to the top of our list; two of our network providers were there, the facility was in walking distance of another one of the company data centers, and we discovered the facilities manager was a alumni of a past employer.

This started a massive parallel effort.

The staff was fully brought into the decision, the business need, and helped plan the transition. Circuits, servers, storage arrays, etc. were all ordered immediately as the contract with the co-lo facility was worked out. Hardware vendors are used to performing miracles; they often install a large amount of equipment leading up to their quarter end.

While all vendors began responding, one communications vendor balked. They had a process, and as a part of that process had timeframes, and those timeframes were incontrovertible. We met with the vendor, and you could almost see the “A crisis on your part does not create a crisis for me” sign on their foreheads.

We went to the other communications vendors not in the building and made our case. One company, a scrappy start up charged with selling communications along utility rights of way, acknowledged have services “in the street,” but would have to get approvals from the City. (Full disclosure. This was Boston during the Big Dig. Every street was torn up on a tightly coordinated plan. The issue wouldn’t be getting the approvals, it would be getting Big Dig approvals.)

One thing scrappy start ups often have going for them is they are nimble. This supplier had the street open within a week (at night, no less), and brought new facilities into the colo site. It was good for us, and over time they certainly got additional business.)

Following the same process and using vendors used before allowed us to accelerate the delivery. The electricians “knew” what we wanted (once we gave them requirements,) the cable plant was put in by the usual suspects, the security department deployed full badge readers and security cameras, etc.

By following the same processes, our team was able to deploy on a predictable basis. Certainly some long nights were required, and this was a sacrifice made by the staff. Since they understood the business need and Information Technology imperative, they responded with aplomb.

And the facility was up and running on time.

Processes and engagement allowed the IT area to meet the business need. Processes run amok had one communications vendor wondering what happened.

By focusing on repeatable and timely process, this excellent team delivered!

Friday
Nov272009

When Technologists Inhibit Technology – a VoIP Case Study

I am a Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) bigot. It works, it is cost effective, and it allows fast deployments of advanced capabilities. I have installed in numerous US cities, as well as Japan, China (Beijing and HK), Singapore, Australia, and the UK.

With a solid network (and this is key) you can hear a pin drop.

Yet some are still buying (new) installs of TDM phones (Time Division Multiplexing A technology transmitting multiple signals simultaneously over a single transmission path.) I can understand expansions of existing systems, but am struggling with why a new implementation wouldn’t be solely VoIP.

Let’s look at what you can do.

VoIP uses your dial-up, broadband connection or corporate network to make telephone calls over the internet or your corporate network.

Some people argue it’s not reduced to practice.

Let’s look at some business cases. This post is being written in late November, 2009. At this writing, there are 18, 224,622 users online with Skype. By comparison, EBay claims 88 Million active users. Active vs total isn’t a good comparison, suffice to say Skype has mass. Full disclosure, EBay just sold Skype for a deal valuing the business $2.75 billion. Around the same time, Avaya announced it was selected to acquire Nortel Enterprise Solutions for US $900 million.

During the third quarter of 2004, VoIP surpassed TDM phones 1.796 million VoIP lines were shipped compared to 1.793 million TDM lines. Somebody is using this stuff, and it must be successfully used or people wouldn’t still be using it.

In a corporate environment, a well designed network allows for calls to be routed to a local point of presence, saving on long distance toll charges.

With VoIP, “soft phones” are easily used. A soft phone is software running on a PC. In my business, we use an outsourced Asterisk PBX, with Polycom phones. My PC has CounterPath’s Bria softphone. Whenever I have a network connection wherever I am in the world, calls can be made and received on the PC. As a road warrior this functionality is invaluable.

VoIP systems generally all allow more advanced features, such as meet-me teleconferencing, and simultaneous ringing of multiple devices.

So what is the hesitation of some technologists to use VoIP?

I was at a car dealer today who had recently installed a newer generation Avaya TDM system. When asked why he didn’t buy a VoIP system, the dealer owner said he went with the recommendation of his technology vendor.

Hence the issue.

Some technologists are holding back on new technologies preferring to ‘go with what they know’ rather than getting into newer technologies. Yes, VoIP requires a solid network, and preferably one with Quality of Service (QoS) enabled (a networking technology prioritizing network traffic so ‘voice’ calls are not interrupted by general purpose network traffic.) Without a solid network environment, VoIP can be troublesome. I’m sure the car dealer rarely has phone issues with an older style TDM system, however they are paying more than needed.

When someone calls the “phone company” with a small business need, the data and voice sides of the house are often different. So compensation plans work against implementing an overall best in class service.

So technologists must think in terms of what they know, what they can support, and what’s best for their client. To be clear, I am not suggesting blanket installation of bleeding edge technologies. To the contrary, we need to provide solid technologies. Back at the car dealer, a simultaneous ring of the desk and cell phone is a win:win for the sales team (who might be out on the lot) and the customer (who probably doesn’t prefer voice mail.)

In the case of VoIP, leading companies are now working on unified communications strategy. Unified communications (UC) is the integration of communication services such as instant messaging, presence information, VoIP, video conferencing, call control and speech recognition with communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax).

Technologists need to consider where technology is going, and make sure the building blocks being implemented are beneficial to their clients.

Thursday
Nov192009

Why IT is Failing

I just returned from the Interop New York show. Let’s declare we are interoperable, and still failing.

The Interop show seemed small and rather dull overall. To highlight interoperability, there was a “Network Operations Center” (NOC) containing 8 racks of vendor equipment used to run the show tucked away in a back area. The NOC also has a NASA-Houston-like area for onsite support from all the vendors (who looked typically bored). It’s an interoperability show, so all the vendors were playing nice-nice with each other.

The only vendor I saw even comparing products in a display was Xirrus comparing their Wireless Access Point (one large Frisbee-looking device) to an Aruba array of devices. Neither product set will win aesthetic awards from picky office designers, but I digress.

The only vendor having a visible “issue” on the floor when I was there was Microsoft; their “Surface” table appeared “down”. Things break, Microsoft’s biggest failure was not anticipating an outage and running a canned “video” on the large display screen in the “Surface” demonstration area. If you ever do a trade show, have contingency plans for the technology!

So why are we failing? The issues in IT today are the same as 20 years ago…we haven’t figured out how to effectively integrate systems.

Today’s media darlings Cloud Computing and/or Software as a Service have their roots in approaches dating back to timesharing in the 70s. There are lots of firms being engaged to integrated disparate systems, whether in the cloud or in the enterprise.

Let’s take a simple example. IT comes out with “Business Intelligence” systems, which are really little more than expensive attempts at report writing. They often fail because the mere mortal still needs to understand the (meta) data. So these expensive systems end up being used by a few “super users” who probably would have done just as well learning how to use a less costly report writer.

XML was a noble attempt to address this by embedding meaning with the data….but our USERS (or clients) are not seeing the benefit.

Take the garylkelley.com blog. We’re using all industry leading freeware with plugins and widgets to make it work…and yet we still need to do some “coding” to make it hang together so your experience (and ours) is useful.

My sense is Apple comes closest to having a seamless experience. They’ve worked hard at it, and it shows. As an IT-type, let’s architect so systems integrate seamlessly and let us provide breakthrough business process improvements. As a user, please stop inflicting painful upgrades on me… my recent Windows 7 upgrade took Dell (paid) support 7 hours to troubleshoot audio issues after a 2 hour upgrade. Argh.

We’ve largely figured out interoperability. When are we going to address the integration conundrum?

Thursday
Nov122009

Information Technology Crisis Management

“I don’t believe in Disaster Recovery.”

What a pretty bold statement in an initial interview. The interviewer/hiring manager was a former executive of a major “hot site” company, who played a pivotal role for many clients during the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. He had a fiery reputation, and visibly stiffened at the comment.

My second sentence put him at ease, reinforced our value set, made us friends for life, and most importantly got me the job!

“Preparing for the ‘big one’ solely can leave you ill prepared for the myriad of daily events nipping at us every day. Prepare for the daily events, and use the same process for initiating processes for the ‘big’ events.”

While firms spend millions on high availability, redundancies, balancing, geographic diversity, N+1, etc., inevitably “perfect storms” lead to user impacting outages. How IT staffs respond in a crisis can differentiate companies and impact the bottom line.

The key is having everyone understand their goals, roles and responsibilities in a crisis. And during a crisis, there may be a change in an individual’s role as needs warrant.

For example, once an issue escalates to a crisis it’s useful to have at minimum two communications outlets. There needs to be management discussions focusing on impacts, alternatives, communication (to users, clients, regulators) while the technicians focus on eliminating impacts and understanding root cause.

Who is involved in each grouping is best determined in the calmness of an outage free period.

Management groupings will often include the CIO, Human Resources, Security, Public Relations, Business Continuity and the impacted business area. Technical groupings will include representatives of all the major functions, with one area tracking all the activity and logging for subsequent analysis. Frequently, the techies establish their own information communications using instant messaging or Twitter (used in a publish-subscribe manner.)

When a crisis is apparent, the notification and escalation processes have to be well honed. We often see organizations operating on predetermined voice “bridges”, with notification via text, email, phone call (in many organizations this is via an automated notification system).

There needs to be a protocol for entering the bridge, doing roll call, and general etiquette around bridge participation.

These processes are best developed in advance of need and rehearsed with staff in table top exercises.

When Information Technology leads the way in developing low overhead crisis response, and orchestrates rehearsals reducing the processes to practice, preparedness for managing the “big one” is well underway.