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Worker Mobility – Kids, dogs, and other distractions



(Part 2 of a 3 part series on Worker Mobility)

In part 1 of this series, I talked about new business challenges driving us to think about user computing services and support in different ways. In this post, let’s take a look at IT and non-IT challenges facing a virtual workforce.

On a day when I am not seeing clients or pitching new business, I work from my house. My attire is typically sweats and I work from many different rooms as the day progresses. Let me describe one day, a few weeks ago, and see if this sounds familiar.

The day started, as it usually does, with a videoconference with my business partner, Gary. We start every morning this way, as it helps provide us focus. On this day, Gary reminded me we had a video conference with a company wanting to partner with us on a consulting gig, we were also spending time completing a proposal for a client, and we had an audio conference with our web designer. As I started the videoconference with the other company, I looked at the video of myself and realized I had forgotten to change out of my sweats. Even though I made fun of myself and got through the call, I was thoroughly embarrassed. Later that day, while working on the client proposal with Gary, my dog, Milo (the cutest 6-month old beagle you ever saw) jumped on my lap creating a static shock causing my laptop to freeze. I lost no work, but I did lose 20 minutes waiting for my system to reboot. Finally, during our call with our web designer Milo decided to start howling from another part of the house. If you have never heard a beagle howl, it is a sound that penetrates all closed doors. Our web designer thought it was cute, but it became a distraction and we rescheduled the call.

While not a typical day, it helped me see beyond the technical aspects of working from home, and envision a more holistic approach to provide a consistent, reliable and productive user experience, no matter where you are located. In short, it defined Worker Mobility.

Worker Mobility is a framework for delivering computing services anytime, anywhere and with the same level of user productivity as found in corporate offices. It applies technologies to supplement or offset user behaviors in different geographic locations or at different times of the day. It identifies real world obstacles (pets, airports, hotels, children, etc.) and helps people navigate their work and home life when both are located in the same place. It sets performance standards for computing services not based on best case scenarios (i.e., corporate offices), but uses the worst case as the benchmark to beat. It considers the emotional strain of being always available to those you work with.

In the final part of this series, I will share ways to improve productivity when not in the office.


Worker Mobility – The Virtual Workforce

(Part 1 of a 3 part series on Worker Mobility)

You arrive at work, turn on your computer, open your email, and find a message from the VP of Human Resources announcing the company’s new employee telecommuting program. You think to yourself, this might not be a bad idea. Wake up in the morning, put on my sweats, grab a cup of coffee and work from home. You imagine you will finally have a work-life balance, and get to spend more time with your family, something you have been meaning to improve for a while. The number of daily meetings will be cut in half, and you will finally get some uninterrupted time to complete some opportunistic work projects. Ah, this is going to be sweet.

Many companies are converting brick and mortar employees to a virtual workforce as a means of reducing real estate costs. Outsourcing and globalization have taught us we can manage people from any location, but do we really understand how to make people comfortable and productive in their new environment.

As IT professionals we worry about the VPN, laptops, BlackBerry’s, security, and viruses. We seldom think about what makes people productive in an office environment and how technology has improved their quality of office life. When it comes to Worker Mobility, we focus on support issues. How do we do a better job of fixing a laptop, diagnosing connectivity problems, counting the number of Help Desk tickets responded to in an hour, and providing more availability to applications and other in-house computing resources. From a data center point-of-view, we focus on the servers, storage, and networks that support the desktops and laptops. We never really take a holistic view of the “user experience.”

And then, one day, the Help Desk gets a call from a senior executive informing us she is on the road and everything is slow. The entire infrastructure organization drops everything they are doing and works to diagnose a problem that probably can’t be diagnosed. We look at it from every angle, break out our real-time performance metrics and, in the end, just say “the problem is with the network.”

Why don’t we take the time to understand what “slow” really means? How do we measure “slow?” What do we measure? Is slow for one user, fast for another? Does it make a difference?

As business realities drive us to a more virtual workplace, maybe we need to take the time to analyze and design a new model for providing services and supporting a truly mobile workforce. We can provide a common user experience (look and feel, performance, support) whether in the office, on the road, or at home and, by being proactive, help transform traditional business environments and processes into ones that are highly productive and dynamic. First, we must overcome some unusual obstacles.

In part 2 of this series, I will identify some common, non-technical, pitfalls.


Where are Businesses with DR and Business Continuity?

I recently refinanced my house for a lower interest rate. The final days leading to the closing give insight to the business continuity and DR improvements companies can strive to achieve.

My refinance was with the mortgage holder. This US bank, one of the big four and the recent benefactor of bailout funds, was more than happy to accept my refinance application.

As a bill-paying-never-in-arrears-with-my-mortgage customer, the approval process was lengthy. (“If only you’d missed some payments we could make this happen quickly” Argh.) Once finally approved, I wanted to move quickly to the closing to immediately begin reaping the benefits of the lower rate.

The closing was scheduled with great expectation for 8AM on a Wednesday.

This is when the company flaws became pronounced.

At 2:00PM the day before the closing the bank called, “We’re sorry, we don’t have the final closing numbers because our computers are down.”

“So a big name bank with billings of dollars (and bonuses to match) can’t access my closing account information. OK, interesting… banks should have generally available systems, outages are really unacceptable. Oh well, I’m sure it is temporary,” I thought.

Wrong…the next day, around 9:00AM, we rescheduled to 2PM.

And then we rescheduled to 4:30PM.

At this point, I asked for a manager. The manager sheepishly acknowledged, “We’ve now got the final numbers, but the Title Company we use has staff ‘working from home’ due to heavy snow in Maryland. They not able to work effectively from home.”

So this bank subcontracts certain key elements of the closing process to other firms…and obviously the business continuity plans are ineffective. When was the last time these plans were exercised? If Maryland is getting hammered with snow, why not redirect the work to the west coast? Why isn’t the bank asking these questions of the firm they use?

Another day goes by, and I’m still paying the old, higher rate on the mortgage. Somehow, this doesn’t seem right. And what reasonable recourse do I have? I am paying the bank for a service, and they hired the other companies. The DR and continuity plans are clearly inadequate. How do I get reimbursed for the extra day at the old interest rate? How do we address the poor service issue?

As a customer, there’s little we can do beyond being vocal, especially at the end of a long road. The companies providing the weak service get paid no matter what, and are not held accountable.

Ironically, if a gas pump at a local gas station doesn’t work, you either use a different pump or go to a different station. There is a direct impact on the sales and profitability of the station. It’s a simple model.

How does a bank get held accountable by their customers? Go to a different bank…easily said, and harder to do at the end of a process. I don’t envy Department of the Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner trying to sort the bank accountability issue!

Did I eventually close? Yes. I did discover this bank has an active social media monitoring effort. To their credit, they picked up on some tweets in the waning moments of the process and tried assisting.

The closing attorney and I did have a bit of a disagreement; I insisted the computer generated forms use my name and not someone else. We’ll talk data quality in another post!


Let’s Replace Employee Surveys

Companies spend large sums of money on employee surveys. What do they really learn from them?

Human Resources’ (HR) types frequently argue anonymous surveys give the timid a voice. While it’s important for everyone to have a voice, my sense is the process is fundamentally flawed. Please note upfront lifelong learning and improvement is something we value deeply, it’s the tool we are questioning.

HR spends time pulling together the reporting relationships and making sure there are ‘enough’ staff to assure anonymity. Often, newly minted front line supervisors, where often the most learning can take place, aren’t measured as they have too small a staff. To see the impact of the survey and subsequent improvement planning, surveys take place over a number of years. Since few organizations are static, managers/staff change roles making year over year comparisons difficult.

In my experience, year one establishes a baseline. Clearly everyone has improvement opportunities. Managers getting feedback is an imperative part of the process. And admittedly, it does force discussions. One very senior manager I know was stunned to find all her staff gave her low scores on recognition. Where it was a uniform rating, the veil of anonymity was pierced. The subsequent discussion was valuable, and indeed the manager evolved the behavior. Was a survey needed for this gold nugget?

Generally, the second year tends to have declining overall scores. While there are many hypotheses for this, one resonating for me is an improvement expectation is established with the staff by simply doing the survey. The second year exposes a gap between the improvement potential and the expectation. Managers are often dismayed when the rating hasn’t improved in year two.

Then the staff gets more work. While managers do improvement planning in year one, it tends to be a minimally engaged effort as many managers do the minimum needed. When the improvement isn’t as substantive as the manager expects, the staff must be engaged in an overall improvement process. HR submits this is a good thing…the discussion continues. Many staff members, however, feel they are asked to do additional work on the manager’s behalf, yielding an unintended boomerang effect.

Year three tends to have an improvement over years one and two. HR types suggest this indicates a valid and valuable process, and managers feel they are vindicated. Many staff members submit it is easier to give improved scores than have to do all the planning work. Have things fundamentally improved?

Having experience with two household name firms providing survey vehicles, they each have questions (in the same space) generating a great deal of debate. One asks a question along the lines of, “Do you have a best friend at work?” The controversy tends to come from the word,”best,” staunchly defended by the survey company. Many people look at a “best” friend as someone where long term deep relationships are established with an unwavering support structure. I can still like working at an organization and really like the people I work with…and frankly I’m “ok” if my best friend doesn’t work there.

Another firm uses a question we like better, “Would you recommend your firm to a friend as a place to work?” Both questions get to an affinity of the staff to the company as a whole. We like the work reference question better because it nets out ALL the inputs (the company/department culture, benefits, the cafeteria, parking, managers) to a single litmus test. The answer to this question is key.

Do employee surveys lead to improvement? Of course. Any vehicle giving managers feedback for improvement must provide some value. Do they provide the best return on investment?

While there are many alternatives, well orchestrated 360 feedback can often provide some valuable highly leveragable feedback. The manager selects staff and peers where feedback is valued. We don’t get to choose our managers in most cases. The feedback tends to be unvarnished, and discussions can take place in a more private setting.

Caution: “Analytic-type” managers often take the numbers too literally. They can get obsessed with the standard deviation of every response. A third-party coach can help interpret and focus on the improvement opportunities.

Real-time surveying is another tool. (Think GE-Workout in the digital age.) This requires a large group of people. You pose a question. People “vote”. The aggregate results are shown to all. The manager either responds to the group, or seeks clarity from the group. The group really feels like the manager is listening and engaged. It also shows initiative on the part of the manager, rather than the manager just doing the survey because their manager (or HR) instructed them to do it.

One of my favorite observations comes from working with a new HR generalist. The HR generalist was seen as part of the IT organization, attending all team meetings, etc. We’d have regular 1:1s, often in my office as we were in an area removed from HR and the generalist wanted to be seen. Whenever she left our 1:1, she’d head back to her work area. Inevitably, she would be stopped by staff repeatedly to talk about family, training needs, weekend plans, their latest project, etc. HR was seen as someone genuinely interested in people’s growth and development. While this is a part of the manager’s job, having a non-managerial resource for trusted conversation is invaluable. What a shame many companies have relegated this to an 800 number!

The other managerial vehicle often overlooked is the 1:1. 1:1s are supposed to be about the people, not about the projects. Staff should be greeted with the same question for each 1:1, and should learn the 1:1 is about them. Once trust is established in the 1:1, everyone’s voice can be heard.

There are many manager tools available in this space. Managers should use these types of tools to keep their managerial skills current.

To be clear, we don’t think employee surveys damage an organization. Something is better than nothing. Ongoing conversation in a non-punitive, growth oriented manner is where we believe the biggest impacts can be realized.

Let’s work on the values of honesty, highest ethics, open candid discussion, leadership…


The Insanity Must Stop

“The insanity must stop,” the newly minted IT director shouted in shear frustration.
After numerous outages caused by people making mistakes combined with some equipment malfunctions, the IT team was just beaten down. .

Too many long days, combined with long nighttime problem resolution conference calls, prompted a vocalization capturing what everyone was thinking. Saying it out loud informally made it OK to discuss the situation and even chuckle about it.

“Being lucky” often means covering the contingencies so when things go awry the organizational and computerized systems can recover gracefully. When you find yourself in a “bad patch,” don’t invocate “Murphy’s Law” as the culprit. The culprit is…you.

You are positioned and expected to lay out the processes and procedures to enable stability. A “Production Stabilization Program” is often indicated when the organization has grown very quickly and/or implemented more change than the organization/systems can tolerate.

Understanding what is going on in a “bad patch” is critical. Analyze logs and incident reports identifying common themes and root cause. Talk to your staff about what they are feeling and seeing, and what solutions they may offer.

It is often useful to categorize the situation using a cause and effect diagram (Fishbone / Ishikawa ) or borrowing from a SWOT analysis (SWOT is as an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, categorized by internal vs. external factors.) Such a categorization allows you to visually identify the opportunity areas for the organization. On this, the tool selection is far secondary to the capturing and categorization.

With the knowledge of the impacting factors, plans can be put in place to address. Some of the fixes may be quick (i.e.: we need to reprovision some storage to address the failures) and others may become longer term, strategic initiatives (i.e.: we need to implement a disaster recovery strategy we can use “daily” mitigating outages). In this case, having a plan and implementing becomes a very sensitive issue, and one teams can rally behind.

We often hear it’s hard to be responding on a daily basis to issues and working what’s essentially a separate project to identify impacts and develop plans to address. Managers need to be sensitive when the long hours are taking a toll…when staff becomes “snappy” or “grumpy”, it’s not the best time to add work. Often a fresh set of eyes and external perspective is invaluable.

Anyone being brought to bear on Production Stabilization Programs needs to have the professional maturity and sensitivity to be perceived as not out to “shoot the messenger” or solve all the problems of the world. They are working through a separate process, and their role is about process. If the staff misunderstands this, morale will suffer substantially!

The root cause identification and articulation (at a high, process level) and subsequent planning effort can be best put together by a team external to the issues, clearly with input from the affected team, with a review and vetting by the team for management consumption.

So when you are tempted to enlist Murphy’s Law as the cause, remember what Abe Lincoln said, “when you’re being run out of town on a rail, get in front of the crowd and make it look like you’re leading the parade.” Take the bull by the horns and lead the team to stability!


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!


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!



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!


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.


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.