Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Governance--how much is too much?

My company has developed an operating manual for us to use to maximize our resources and take full advantage of opportunities. The Operating Manual includes several frameworks, including an IT framework.

One of the key elements of the IT framework is governance. As we are in process of fully realizing the IT framework, it seems appropriate that we all agree on what governance is, and how to make it work.

Gartner defines IT governance as follows:

IT governance specifies the decision-making authority and accountability to encourage desirable behaviors in the use of IT. IT governance provides a framework in which the decisions made about IT issues are aligned with the overall business strategy and culture of the enterprise. Governance is about decision making per se — not about how the actions resulting from decisions are executed. Governance is concerned with setting directions, establishing standards and principles, and prioritizing investments; management is concerned with execution. In this IT Management Spotlight, we explore a variety of issues that our clients confront when trying to implement effective governance processes. Decisions can include:
  • Policies and principles for IT usage by the business
  • Defining vision and mission
  • Integration of business and IT strategies
  • Information architecture and technology directions
  • Business applications (investment and support, IT infrastructure), investments and services
  • IT security and risk management, and procurement and asset management
  • IT shared services, service levels and performance metrics
  • Cost allocation and chargeback
  • Achieving business value from IT
  • Oversight council and steering committee roles
  • Assignment of ownership, accountability and custodians
  • Post-implementation reviews
  • Compliance with policies

(Source: Gartner “Find the 'Sweet Spot' for IT Governance, Strategy and Value”, John P. Roberts)

The challenge with a lot of IT governance models are that they do not provide agility and they slow down time to market since governance often involves management by committee. Agendas are many and committees take a long time to achieve consensus.

My thoughts:

  1. We need to implement governance to set direction, establish standards and principles and prioritize investments.
  2. All we need beyond this is to ensure that we have the right people in place, empower them to make the right decisions, and hold them accountable for decisions made.
  3. Execution is the responsibility of management!

Monday, August 29, 2005

A good question or a sign of a distressed partnership?

Business leaders do not ask themselves "Does IT matter?" until there is a big disconnect between IT and business. The value of IT is usually brought to into question due to our behaviors and the lack of internal IT marketing and communication.

Instead of asking "does IT Matter?" I'd like to suggest other questions which should be on the minds of business leaders as they ponder their relationship with IT:

  • How can I capture more market share?
  • How can I increase sales?
  • What are my customers' behaviors?
  • What is my strategy?
  • What does my competition do?
  • What are my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats?
  • Etc.

Gartner agrees that business leaders should take a different approach to understanding the value of IT: “What is on the minds of the business leaders?”

As IT leaders, our challenge is to use IT to help answer these questions while enabling the business to execute. On Gartner.com, I came across this list of guidelines for to help us ensure that we focus on the right business problem and avoid the question “Does IT matter?”

  • Don't talk about IT, talk about what IT enables. IT by itself does nothing. What matters is what IT enables the business to do differently or better.
  • Don't ignore change management. Your business must be able to absorb the change in technology, processes and people. Developing a competency in adapting to change will differentiate one business from another.
  • Focus. There are two major components to your IT budget: expenditures that are necessary simply to keep the "IT lights on" and discretionary investments where you actually have an opportunity to improve your business. The problem is that just keeping the lights on consumes, on average, 80 percent of our budget. Don't let it consume 80 percent of your time. Focus on that precious 20 percent of IT investments that can transform your business.
  • Be proactive. Don't be a victim of a business strategy that someone else defined. IT should be represented at the table when the strategy for the business is defined. Proactively bring ideas of what IT can enable to the discussion.
  • Become a business process expert. The processes of your business are where the realization of your business strategy meets infrastructure constraints. Understand the top 10 expense and revenue-generating processes of your business and proactively bring ideas to the table on how IT could improve these.
  • Make IT an enabler, not an inhibitor, to changes in the business.
  • Speak in their language not yours. MIPS and MHz carry no weight. Customer retention rates and reductions in inventory shrinkage do.

(Source: Neil MacDonald, Group V.P. and Director of Research, GartnerG2)

If we do these things as IT leaders, we stand a good chance of better connecting with our business partners so we can all focus on the real opportunities. And if we achieve that goal, then nobody needs to ask "Does IT matter?”

Information, Communication, and Collaboration

We spend a lot of time in business talking about communication. Yet, very few of us are formally trained in an activity which can take up the majority of our working day. I've been thinking about the nature of communication, and I've come to the conclusion that most of communication is not what we think it is, and that the real objective in communication is something other than we generally assume it is.

Most of what people assume is communication is typically one of three things: 1) Information, 2) Communication, or 3) Collaboration.

Information is the primary ingredient in most of our business-related communication. We provide information. We communicate news. We analyze data. And so on. Information in and of itself isn't communication.

Instead, communication is the mechanism by which we help information move from one place to another. We talk. We meet. We discuss. That's communication, and it's a good thing when done in moderation.

But while this moving of information via communication is good, it is not--nor should it be--the ultimate objective. No--more and more, I am starting to realize that information and communication shouldn't be goals unto themselves. The real goal of any good leader is to use information and communication to fuel collaboration. Collaboration is the place where we ge things done. It is that heady mix of info and people working together that really sets my pulse a pounding, and it's one of those things that you just know is a good thing when you see it happening.

I will continue to discuss this topic in future posts. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Blogging while driving – when will this be safe?

I think it is safe to say that we all have daydreamed about having our "smart" car taking over the driving during rush hour. Well, it sounds like this is closer to reality than I thought. GM just announced that it will offer this feature in the 2008 Opel Vectra. The Vectra will use a camera, laser beams, and heavy-duty computer algorithms to control the car at up to 60 mph in traffic. Needless to say, I already put my name on the waiting list for one of these bad boys so I can blog while driving in 2008. Read more by clicking here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

First a burger and then BRUG (Business Rules User Group)

This afternoon I grabbed a quick burger and headed off to BRUG (Business Rules User Group). The BRUG provides a setting for business and technical staff to share ideas and learn more about business rule and inference engine technologies, projects, and initiatives. It is also a great environment for getting to know one another and sharing our passion for business rules and related matters.

Today, Michael Krouze, CTO for Artemis Alliance, kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the basics of BREs (Business Rules Engines). The presentation was entitled "Demystifying Business Rules Engines: A Non-Technical Explanation of how BREs Work and Why They’re So Cool." It was a high-level presentation covering the basics. He discussed terms like backward chaining, forward chaining, RETE, etc. and I will share some of his insights in upcoming posts.

After Krouze's presentation, Equifax, a leading information services provider, discussed its implementation of ILOG (a project called InterConnect). The presentation included a testimonial from Fingerhut executives who spoke about the strategic benefits of an enterprise decisioning platform based on a business rules-based foundation.

The BRE (Business Rule Engine) is one of the platforms Enabling Technologies (my team) is responsible for providing to our business. Business rules management systems help our organization track and enforce the rules that make our business run--while keeping us on the right side of the law (and at the same time helping us sell our products and services). More on BREs to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Group or Team?

This Friday, I am off to Wisconsin with my peers to go fishing, have some fun, and strengthen relationships. Over the past year, we have experienced what I would consider substantial organizational change. As a result, some members are gone while others have have joined the group; some areas and projects have been integrated into the group and some have been eliminated. Clearly it is time for us to work on developing new relationships, earning each other's trust, and figuring out ways to work together to make us successful as a team. I believe fishing will be the mortar which binds all those building blocks together.

In preparation for the trip, I have been reflecting on what it will take us to be a more effective group, and to transition from being a group into a team. During a largely sleepless night (I was thinking about cleaning fish), I spent some time online looking at attributes of great teams. I found these at George Mason University's Center for Service and Leadership web site and I'd like to share them with you (I added a few attributes of my own):
  • Mutual Trust--I can state my views and differences openly without fear of ridicule or retaliation and permit others to do the same. No one on the team will "cut the other guy's throat."
  • Mutual Support--I can get help from others on the team and give help to them without being concerned about secret agendas.
  • Communication--I don't have to be guarded and cautious about my communication. Because of mutual trust and support, I can say what I feel. When I communicate, I know the rest of the team is listening and will work hard to understand me. I also listen to and try to understand other team members.
  • Team Objectives--Objectives will not be assumed by the team until the objectives are clearly understood by all members.
  • Conflict Resolution--We accept conflicts as necessary and desirable. We don't suppress them nor pretend they don't exist. We work through conflicts as a team.
  • Utilization of Member Resources--Our individual abilities, knowledge, and experience are fully utilized by the team. We accept and give advice, counsel, and support to each other while recognizing individual accountability and specialization.
  • Control Methods--I accept the responsibility for keeping discussions relevant and for the integrity of the team operation. Each member accepts the same responsibility. We don't need a chairperson or other devices to control us.
  • Organizational Environment--We respect individual differences. We don't push each other to conform to central ideas or ways of thinking. We work hard at keeping our "team climate" free, open, and supportive of each other.
  • Clear understanding of the risk and rewards.
  • Have Fun--should be obvious, but sometimes isn't.

The difference between a group and a team is that a team is a group of people working together towards a common goal. Team building is the process of enabling the group to reach our goals. I am looking forward to our team building this weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why I don't golf

I like to golf, but I rarely play. If I had a bag with an LCD screen and wi-fi, then it would be a different story. But until that day comes, I'll just try to sneak out a few saturdays each summer to keep my swing from getting too rusty.

As a lad, I golfed a lot. In northern Europe, you can play almost all night thanks to the perpetual summer sun. I can remember my dad hauling the whole family out for some golf around midnight one time--an experience I'd like to recreate with my family on our next trip to the motherland.

Anyhow, as much as I like golf, my play at a recent outing to the TPC course in Blaine was humbling. And it reminds me--as so many of my rounds do lately--that I better stick to code.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Browsing for a standard

“In today’s multi-platform environment, locking your end-users into using Internet Explorer is an issue.”

This challenge came from one of our users earlier today. Last year, we decided we were not going to be everything to everybody and we were only going to certify our applications on Internet Explorer (IE). Thanks to the aforementioned challenge to my decidedly conventional thinking about IE, I figured maybe it was time to take another look at the trends within the browser market space to see if the decision needed to be reconsidered.

Here are my findings: IE continues to dominate the browser space. XP is the most popular operating system--and most users are displaying greater than 800x600 pixels with a color depth of greater than 65k colors.

According to the W3 consortium, the major browsers in use today are:

  • Internet Explorer (IE)
  • Firefox
  • Mozilla
  • Opera
  • Netscape
  • America Online

The stats are as follows (Source: W3 consortium):

What is interesting is to see the strong growth of FireFox until April of '05--followed by a decline from April to June. Should we conclude that the growth of FireFox is complete, or at least slowing down? I think so, although there could be a variety of factors behind this decline--not the least of which is the inevitable backlash within corporate IT departments against having to certify and support two or more browsers. I know this certainly impacted ForeFox use in our organization.

Also, it is important to look at the continued growth of IE. This is a browser showing little willingness to give up market share. FireFox has generated a lot of excitement and a respectable market share, but its slice of the pie is still is less than 10% and seems to be stagnating. And Netscape is dying a slow death and Opera is still pretty irrelevant.

Again, the reasons for IE's growth are unclear, given the general backlash against Micrsoft's somewhat draconian "selling" of IE to a sometimes-unwilling market. Nevertheless, the numbers don't lie; IE is becoming even more dominant over the other browser platforms in 2005.

My conclusion, based on these findings, is that IE is a standard platform that we should continue to focus upon. I think the cross-browser challenge is still there, but IE--and it’s growing market share--continue to make this to less and less of an issue. (FireFox has shown that there is still interest in the market for alternative browser solutions, but not enough to take share away from the “big gorilla.")

I think the market share numbers for IE among our customer base may in fact be much higher. I don't have data to support that, but my gut tells me the institutional bankers, lenders and brokers are not a hotbed of FireFox installations.

So given all that, we will continue to watch the browser space and be prepared to adjust as needed. But for now our decision to focus on IE will stand!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

User Stories

During our meeting with David Hussman last Friday, the team asked "what is in a user story?" Simply put, "user stories" represent the behavior of the system from the point of view of the user of the system. Some things to keep in mind:

  • A user story is very similar to a scenario
  • A user story is best when written as a scenario from the actor's perspective using the system. The customer writes the stories in her own words--user stories are not written by the PM, analysts, or development. (At RFC, this is were we will have some challenges. Our system will have multiple levels of customers: end users, developers--this is a platform that will be used by developers--and implementers). We did have some discussion around how we should deal with this. More to come on this topic.
  • Can be written similar to the traditional “the system shall…”
  • Doesn’t need all the detail; it’s as much a promise to discuss a feature as a description of it.
  • Writer can attach supporting material (report, UI story-board,…etc.)
  • The collected user stories represent the requirements for the project

Litmus test for a user story:

  • The story must be testable
  • Since the customer is the one writing the acceptance test, this means you must know how to test it.

I found this old example of a user story and I think it is a good one:

Story: Add New Contact

[Allow the Salesperson to add a new contact and associate the contact with a customer. The Salesperson will enter general information for the contact such as name, address, and phone number. The contact name is the only required field. The system will validate the required field entry has been provided, and warn the salesperson if it is not.]

The game plan

On Friday, we had our first meeting with a potential coach for our Olympus project. David Hussman of SGF Software came in and spent an hour with the team. The majority of the discussion was around the approach we should take to apply Agile software development methods for this initiative.

In eXtreme Programing (XP), one of the key elements is planning. Planning involves both discovering what the customer wants and estimating how long this will take to do. Since ours is a major initiative, encapsulating several projects and multiple teams, we discussed the multiple stages of the planning game:
  1. The charter planning game – This is where we lay out the initiative at a high level and stories are developed with broad strokes. User stories are written by the customers in terms of things that the system needs to do for them. The stories are developed with a delivery time up extending out as long as several months. (You can think of this as high-level requirements of what the initiative needs to achieve.)
  2. The project planning game – This is where we plan what is in each project. The stories are developed with a delivery time of one-to-three weeks of effort. The customer writes the stories, the development team estimates the work, and the customer plans the overall release to maximize business value.
  3. The iteration planning game – We use this to plan each iteration. An iteration spans two-to-four weeks and the efforts are measured in days. The customer chooses stories for the next iteration, and development brainstorms tasks, accepts responsibility, and estimates the tasks for the corresponding stories.

    a. Customer determines value – During iteration planning, the customer presents the features desired for the next two to four weeks.

    b. Development determines cost – The development team breaks the features down into engineering tasks and estimates their cost (at a finer level of detail than in Release Planning). Based on the amount of work accomplished in the previous iteration, the team signs up for what will be undertaken in the current iteration.

We still have to ensure that we have the charter stories for the Olympus program. Hopefully, David will come in and help us develop a strategy to execute the program using Agile methods.

Sort of fun

Check out this site. It will show you how different some of the sorting algorithms are. It visualizes and compares the performance of the following sorts: “Generic” Sorting, BozoSort, PermSort, StoogeSort,QMSort, BubbleSort, SelectionSort, CocktailSort, InsertionSort, ShakerSort, ShakerSort 2, ShellSort, QSort, HeapSort, JSort
and MergeSort.

This is a great demo visualizing sorting algorithms!

Gas is cheap!

I just got off the phone with my sister in Norway. We had a great conversation with topics ranging from world hunger to technology. During the conversation, for whatever reason, we ended up talking about the price of gas. My sister told me that the price for a gallon of gas in Norway is a whopping $6.27. That means; if you take your average SUV to Oslo, Norway, filled up your 50-gallon tank, you would have to fork out a small fortune of 313 dollars. Yes, you did read this correctly; three hundred and thirteen dollars! Do you think this is a driving factor in the market share of Hummers in Norway?

The only place I found that is more expensive than Oslo, Norway; is Amsterdam, Netherlands with a price of $6.48 per gallon. The cheapest price I found was in Venezuela where you only have to pay 12 cents per gallon. This would let you fill up your 50-gallon SUV tank for miserly 6 dollars. The main factor in price disparities between countries is government policy. Use your gasbuddy to find the best price in your area, and remember; “Gas is cheap!”

Now it is time to deliver!

Over the last four moths or so, we have actively worked on getting support and funding for a new initiative (Olympus). Last week, we finally got the payoff for all the evangelizing and technical marketing we have done: we got funding and strong senior executive support!

This project represents a long, hard road ahead; the first step only gives us the “ticket” to play the game. Now it is time for us to stop selling and begin writing software, and deliver business value. This is a multi-million-dollar initiative with several projects along a 18-month timeline. Over the next few months, I will be posting our progress as we climb the hill (maybe mountain is a more accurate description).

We are assembling the team and have decided to utilize agile methods for the delivery. Here are some of the current challenges we face:

  • This is a big initiative and requires us to have several delivery teams working simultaneously. We will need to introduce “scrum of scrums” and this is something we have not done before. Now you may ask yourself, what is he talking about? Well, the project teams we are looking for are from three-to-seven members. The delivery of this initiative will require a larger effort than what a small team can deliver. Therefore, we will divide this project into several delivery teams. This “Scrum of Scrums” is is an Agile term (see some of my other posts about Agile software development methods) and is a way to scale Scrum to work with large teams. With this approach, each team proceeds as normal but each team also contributes one person who attends Scrum of Scrum meetings to coordinate the work of the multiple Scrum teams. (These meetings are analogous to the daily standup or the Scrum meetings, but will happen weekly rather than daily.)
  • The team is new to the technology and to the agile approach. They are excited about the challenge and opportunity this initiative represents. While this team is both senior and experienced, it is not entirely familiar with the methodology or the technology. We are looking at adding a coach to help with the delivery approach and adding contracting staff and services from the company delivering the technology.
  • The expectations for the project are huge and the need for us to deliver is acute. As we worked through the process of getting support from the senior management team, we told them how this initiative can help them deliver the future business needs and this is the resulting expectation. This is all a good thing, and I know that this team will be successful! The challenge for us is to keep communicating the status of the project, ensure that the current excitement persists, and show value as we climb the mountain (enjoy the view on the way to the peak).
  • As this is a new approach and technology, we do have several naysayers within the company and we need to continue to win them over--or at least ensure that they will not slow us down. I do not think we will get everyone on board until we are completely successful.

I am looking forward to the great journey and the future success of this initiative. On the way, I will let you in on the challenges, opportunities, and successes. I will also share information about other projects within our department. I am fortunate to work with a great team!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bill's new car?

A colleague is shopping for a vehicle to replace his 2000 Dodge Intrepid R/T. The R/T is a nice car--lots of power, plenty of space, very nice overall driving characteristics--and it seems like it has a lot of life left in it. But he's got car fever, which means he's a lost cause. It's only a matter of time before he writes a check, if you know what I'm saying.

My friend says he's on a mission ("mission" is car fever code word for "vision quest") to find a vehicle that has all of the performance attributes of the R/T (250hp, great handling, etc.) in a slightly different form factor.

He says the two immediate front-runners are the recently facelifted 2006 Saturn Vue (good to keep things in the GM family) and the new Mazda 5 (the do-everything vehicle built on the well-reviewed Mazda 3 platform).

As of yesterday, he's leaning toward the Vue--being a loyal GM employee and all. Plus, Bill is a power thirsty driver--he absolutely loves that sweet-revving 250hp Honda engine they stick in the Vue (it's the same engine found in the Honda Pilot and the Acura MDX). He's also enamored of the facelift on the '06 models, which was intended to fancy-up the exterior and make the interior look slightly more refined than say, a 1985 Ford Escort. (Frankly, the interior of the previous Vue models was dreadful--plasticky and cheap).

But as much as he likes the Vue, he didn't write a check yet. See, he likes the Mazda 5 a lot. He says it has an "incredible fun factor" and is as flexible as any vehicle he's driven. He also likes the $18,500 price.

Right now, Bill seems tormented by the decision--which is sort of fun to watch. I'll keep you posted on his agonizing decision and, if I decide to start car shopping too--it's only a matter of time--I'll post some of my own surely uncomfortable decisions as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


If an army marches on its stomach, then an IT organization marches on information. (We're not called information technology for nothing.). But information for its own sake is noise, and it takes a fairly well run communications effort to ensure that all the members of a given team are marching in lockstep in the right direction.

At my company, communication is a mixed bag. I've often said that I have never worked in an organization which takes such pains to commnicate its well being to the average working Joe. But at the same time, there are pockets within the organization that I call "black holes" into which information passes but never comes out again.

As an IT leader, I have a hard time understanding why that is. I believe strongly in communication, and lots of it. People want information in order to do their jobs effectively, and its my job (and the job of my managers--and heck, everybody on the team) to share info so that we are all, well, informed.

That sort of sounded like a pun, but I don't intend it to be. Over the next several weeks, I will be discussing my approach to organizational communication and I will show some examples of things that I think my team does exceptionally well. Come back soon for more...ahem...information.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This one does not only suck

Christmas is coming and we are all starting to shop for our loved ones...well, in my case, maybe it will be more like December 23rd or so. Anyhow, I think I have found the perfect gift for my eight year old: an iRobot Scooba. This bad boy (the Scooba, not my son) brushes dirt up and then it washes the floor with fresh liquid cleaner. iRobot Scooba is the next generation floor cleaning device; it will be available in November (just in time for Christmas--hint, hint), and will sell for $399. This is cheap for technology that not only sucks, but also cleans floors. See you in the shopping lines in late December!

[By the way, I will be making my annual after-Thanksgiving pilgammage to the malls and stores this year. I will get a laptop for $99, a TV for $19, and a full set of wine glasses for 99 cents. If you want to join me on my annual "death march" send me an e-mail.]

Collecting watches and reflecting on time

Timepieces are not just a product of human ingenuity, they are the intricate feats of engineering as well as breathtaking works of art. People around the world are collecting them, enjoying them, and hoping that someday they will be the owner of something truly unique.

Not too long ago, a 1933 Patek Philippe pocket watch sold for over $11m (still looking for one in my collection). Ever since I was a young, skinny lad growing up in northern Europe, I had a great fascination for timepieces and timekeeping--and still do to this day. I collect wristwatches, pocket watches, and wall clocks.

Whatever the object, desire is at the heart of collecting. My collection includes a Rolex, a Cartier and many other makes...but my favorite is my father’s 1965 Omega wristwatch. When I wear the watch it makes me feel that he is part of my day. Every time I look at this watch, it brings back memories of a great childhood. I hope that I someday will have objects like this to pass on to my children and to have them enjoy the memories of their great childhoods.

My father, who passed away 2 years ago, set a high bar as a parent for me to live up to. Thank you dad, for teaching me strong values, letting me be a part of your life, and giving me all these wonderful memories!

Oh, how I love/hate car shopping

I love car shopping, but I hate shopping for cars. Does that make sense?

Here's the deal: I like being on a car dealer's lot, looking at window stickers, taking test drives, and kibbitzing with salespeople. But I hate the mechanics of buying a car: detailing my trade in (see photo at left), making a final decision on model and color, and all the paperwork that goes with this sort of purchase.

Still, as much as I admire the Saturn model--which promotes a no-haggle, customer-friendly experience--I really do enjoy negotiating a deal. (And I would feel cheated somehow if that part of the process was removed and all I had to do was write a check and drive off the lot. It just wouldn't seem right.)

So I am beginning to look at cars again, after a long hiatus. I work for a division of GM, and I would dearly like to buy a GM vehicle. But the "everybody gets the employee price" deal is actually a worse deal for employees than you might think. When they started this "sale" they cut back most of the rebates on GM vehicles. That means that I actually end up paying more for a GM vehicle now--as an employee, anyway--than I would have before the sale. So I might end up waiting until the sale ends on September 5 and hope they reinstate the rebates and other promotions. Stay tuned to see how this turns out.

The Agile Business Circle

I'm excited because the group I am forming with several like-minded IT and business leaders is about to get its debut. It's called the Agile Business Circle, and our logo is shown at left (thank to Bill Balcziak for designing a very cool logo!).

Currently, I am working on fine-tuning the charter for this group. In a nutshell, it will be a relaxed coalition of people from the Twin Cities-area IT and business community who share a common interest in and passion about Agile software development methods.

Every few weeks, we'll get together to talk about new developments in this field, and strategize about ways we can increase the organizational acceptance and effectiveness of Agile.

It promises to be a very dynamic, apporachable group. Feel free to e-mail me for more information--and come back here to get more details as they are posted.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Apple iPod is making Microsoft dance to the music

Apple is obviously having great success with its iPod line. The product sold a whopping 18 million units last year (with an overall sales figure of 21 million units since iPod's introduction). So what could possibly spoil this amazing success? Well...maybe Apple putting $$$ into Microsoft's pocket for each unit sold. Sky News is reporting that Microsoft will be getting a cut from each iPod sale (about $10), as royalty payments for Microsoft patents used in the iPod. How ironic is this?

Just in from the bad world of Worms and Viruses

Trend Micro, a Japanese antivirus company, just announced a new worm. This worm is shutting down computers running Microsoft Windows 2000. The worm, to-be-named, comes in three variations and exploits a hole in the plug and play feature of Windows 2000. Last Week Microsoft offered a fix as part of its monthly patching cycle.

Update: Zotob is the name of this ugly worm. This worm exploits security holes in not only Microsoft's Windows 2000, but also 95, 98, ME, NE and XP platforms. It can give computer attackers remote access to affected systems. Protect yourself so you can stay safe!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Call me in the morning

I have a hard time passing by anything shiny and new without taking some time to play with it. Gadgets--they're an addiction and I've got a problem! Cell phones definitely fall in the shiny toy category. I search and search and cannot find the right utility for my need. I now sport three cell phones (I should get a backpack for them all): a Blackberry 7750, a Motorola MPX200, and my newest hope for the future, the Samsung I730.

The Blackberry 7750 is great for e-mail, but it's one of the worst phones I've used. I feel like I am talking on a brick, and the features and usability are limited. As a result, it hangs on my belt to get the “important” e-mails, and it allows me to respond in a timely manner. But I stay away from any use of the phone function!

The Motorola MPX200 is a fine phone, but it is no good for e-mails. Typing is…well...impossible! In addition, with the change of AT&T to Cingular, the service and coverage went from good to bad. The two companies are trying to operating as one, but it feels like one company (the mothership, Cingular) has no interest in other company's customers (AT&T). With service and coverage like this, we do not have to be concerned about the multiplicity services and offerings for much longer. The market and customers will not put up with it and move to other vendors. My coverage is so bad that I have a recurring dream of throwing this phone in the Mississippi. This day is coming soooooon to a river near you.

Now let us talk about the hope for the future. I have a Samsung I730. Is it a phone or a PDA? Or an MP3 Player? Or what? For e-mail, it is not as good as the Blackberry; the keyboard is smaller and you have to request sync with the server. [This is something Microsoft is working on in the next release of Exchange. The solution they have developed communicates any change to the Exchange store via SMS to the phone trigger synchronization. Long live low-tech!]

Anyhow, this phone has a small slide-down thumb keyboard. The keys are smaller than the Blackberry, but are still usable. The i730 has a built-in EVDO/1xRTT capable mobile phone as well as integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. (All mobile devices should have these capabilities!)

I have found that the battery life is suboptimal, especially using any of the wireless features, and requires the use of the second battery. Samsung must have experienced this challenge also and provided a USB desk cradle that folds up to easily fit in your pocket and has room to charge an extra battery. The device is based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition software for the Pocket PC Phone Edition and includes “Pocket” versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and Windows Media Player 10. The performance of the unit is excellent (it runs on an Intel PXA272 processor at 520 MHz with 64 MB of RAM). The color touchscreen (LCD) has 65,000 colors and a resolution of 240 x 320.

I intend to trade my other phones off for this one--back to one device! There are some features that are “not so good”: 1) no support for modem use with a laptop, 2) wi-fi and phone cannot work simultaneously, 3) wi-fi is a battery hog, and 4) no camera is included in the this release. They left a space for the expansion of the camera, but unfortunately, not a feature in this release. Maybe they are leaving just a little room for the hobby hackers. All in all, I like this phone! I think we can not put too many features and functions into one device. This one would not make it to Valhalla, but with a few more features and functions could make it there.

I hope that Microsoft and cell phone manufacturers keep the features and functions coming. Whether useful or not, people like me are constantly searching for features and functions. I am looking forward to a cell phone platform that will rub my feet and take out the garbage.

For more review of cell phones, check out the top 10 cell products on CNET.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Blogging – A bad fad or a market influencer?

A weblog, or "blog," is a personal journal on the Web. Weblogs cover as many different topics--and express as many opinions--as there are people writing them. Some blogs are highly influential and have enormous readership, while others are mainly intended for a close circle of family and friends. There are many different types of blogs on the web, from personal to political, from news to entertainment, from text to photos...and so on.

As leaders, we often are asked if blogging is important to our company and/or the market space. The answer is definitely YES. Here are some of the reasons why:
  • Blogging allows millions of people to easily publish their ideas and millions more to read and comment on them. Publishers and subscribers of blogs are quickly growing and, as a result, we are seeing a great impact. A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows 25% of internet users are blog readers. By my count (well, not exactly my count), that's more than 50 million people in the U.S.
  • Blogging provides a fluid, dynamic medium, more akin to a "conversation" than to a library of information.
  • The usage of the web is shifting in a fundamental way with the help of blogging. We are quickly moving from a place where the web provided static information to a place where information is dynamic and all are active participants.
  • Blogging allows everyone to have a voice. Whether or not we want to embrace this as a new communication vehicle, it is here to stay. We may not have deployed technology to provide this within our enterprises, but services like blogspot enables users to easily post views on the company and the market. GM has mandated that all their executives blog by the end of '05 (you can read more on http://fastlane.gmblogs.com). Times are changing and we all need to ensure that we do not fall off the bus.

So again, blogging is here to stay. We as leaders within our organizations only have two choices: 1) get with the program and start blogging, or 2) let the world pass by without our influence. I have chosen to embrace the change and am actively communicating my views and opinions to the world. Maybe I will influence the market or at least entertain you, the readers.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Outsourcing – Is it a blessing or a curse?

I am a member of a CTO Roundtable here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today we had a meeting and the topic was outsourcing. Over the last few years, several companies have elected to completely outsource their IT needs. An example is Best Buy, which outsourced their IT to Accenture last year.

During our discussion, some members said they were impacted by a business decision like this several times over the past few years. We talked about what we as technologists can do to guide our business partners to a better outcome than completely outsourcing our functions.

Here are some of my thoughts:
  • We have to earn a place at the table with our business partners. What I mean by this is that we need to be at the table to discuss solutions to business problems.
  • We need to learn to utilize outsourcing as an enabler to deliver business solutions. Outsourcing is here to stay and we need to make this a tool in our toolbox.
  • “All models are wrong, some are useful.” This is certainly true for outsourcing; it is no silver bullet. The art is in taking the best of all models to be able to answer to the market request of “more with less.”
  • Many pure outsourcing engagements are executed on a “design and throw it over the wall” approach. This approach will not be successful whether using outsourcing, in-sourcing or co-sourcing.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Agile Executives?

I lunched recently with David Hussman of SGF Software in Minneapolis and we both agree that there is a big gap between the promise of Agile development methods and those who have the power to implement them--namely, IT executives.

During the course of our discussion (and lunch at the always reliable Macaroni Grill), we covered a lot of ground, but a few things became clear as a result of the chat:
  • Agile is good (we are both big fans of Agile--and its XP variant)
  • There is a large chasm between the value of Agile and the typical IT executive's understanding of it
  • There is a screaming need for more dialogue about the subject among the members of the Twin Cities IT community
  • David and I share a desire to create a forum for that dialogue.

So we have resolved to create the Twin Cities IT Executive Agile Fourm, a loosely organized group of local IT leaders who are looking for more information on the subject of Agile, but don't know where to find it. And since Agile is not always the easiest methodology to adopt (and adapt to at the enterprise level), we believe this will be an ongoing effort.

I am working on a charter for the group. Stay tuned for more details.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Another milestone in my life!

Today is the first day of the rest of my blogging life. As a technologist, I am very exited about having the opportunity to share my views and thoughts with the rest of the world. Over the last few months, I have been thinking about starting a blog and finally have made the commitment to “the sport”.

Please come back and follow my blog as time goes on.