Time for a Friendectomy?

[NOTE TO READER: Every so often I feel compelled to rant. Today is one of those times. And since I was sitting down to write today's blog post, I felt it might be a very good time to let loose. So while this is lightly connected to my normal blogging style, I will feel much better after I get this off my chest. I hope you do too.]

Can you really have 500 friends? REALLY?

I'm not sure about you, but the last time I checked the number of people I would actually recognize if I met them on the street was nowhere near 500.

Then why do I think that I could possibly have 500 close contacts in my LinkedIn or Facebook account? Especially if I'm in the tech industry.

We come from an industry where people like Sheldon of Big Bang Theory can exist and pass for normal, in a strange kind of way. While bright and brilliant, we didn't get to be so good at programming, or troubleshooting networks, or building systems by being party animals. Let's face it. There were likely kids in school who were WAY more social than we were.

If you were like me, you had a close group of friends, that shared common interests, like standing with your back to the wall at the school dance (I'M JOKING!!!), but more likely was the group who knew about, and ran every bit of available technology at your high school.

So I find it interesting how Social Media has removed the barrier for those of us who kept close to a small group in school, are now suddenly compelled to link up with everyone who wants to be our friend on Facebook or LinkedIn? Are we secretly trying to make up for all those times that [insert rejection event here]?

Today's Social Media pundits would tell you that more is better. We are hoarding friends to the point of ridiculous. And we let this behaviour spill over into our professional lives.

Let's make a key differentiation here... There is a difference in having a great network of professional contacts - people you have done business with, and making connections with anyone and everyone. How in the world do you possibly keep up with the updates?

I say it's time for a Friendectomy. Go through your contact list in LinkedIn and Facebook and delete those who are only mere acquaintances. Keep those with whom you are in regular contact with, and who's updates will mean something to you.

You can't maintain a genuine relationship with 500 people. Don't accept invitations from anyone you don't know. Respectfully decline. There are other ways to connect with you.

If Social Media is about relationships, then make them genuine relationships.

When I see people on LinkedIn with over 500 connections, it usually means they will accept anybody's request for a connection, and thereby lose all the personal and professional value that Social Media can provide. It also sends a message to me that they are not really concerned with me, but rather that I am the means to increase their friend count.

You can still connect with acquaintances, but use more appropriate tools, like Twitter, or a blog.


I feel better.

You may not agree with me, but that's ok.

That's what the comment section is for.


10 Reasons why you should buy a RIM Playbook today.

For those of you who read my earlier post, you know where I stand on the issue. Hamsters give much better value and have a longer expected lifespan than any new technology. (Read the post to find out my real reason).

But that doesn't mean that I'm against the RIM Playbook, or any other technology (either the latest innovation, or the next "Me-Too!!!" tablet). I have enough gadgets to need a Batman utility belt when I go to meetings. We happen to have a lot of technology in my organization, and thanks to some visionary and creative people I get to work with and lead, we are well known in our sector as being leaders in the adoption of technology. So will we see a Playbook at Appleby College? Most likely.

Enough about me... let's talk about why you should buy a RIM playbook.

1. You NEED the latest and greatest technology. (I wish I had your bank account given how fast things change).

2. You are a Blackberry user, and this device will allow you to extend your capabilities (e.g. connecting to the web, videos, etc.) There's a special place in Heaven for people who are forced to browse the Internet on their BB.

3. You (or your team) supports a BES, or a BIS, and you need to keep your corporate email and BBM secure, so knowing how to do it would be a useful thing. If you have no idea what these acronyms are, you don't qualify for this point.

4. You've just dropped your iPad into a puddle, and are now looking for a replacement. Being an adventuresome sort, you are willing to try something new.

5. You Blog about technology, but weren't able to get one of the pre-release models.

6. Disclaimer: I was warned about mixing religion and technology, but here goes... You will buy whatever RIM says is important to buy because... just because. This behaviour is well known amongst other techno-faiths, and the BB following may be smaller, but is just as loyal.

7. You have a corporate BB and really want a tablet, but your IT department won't let anything else near their network.

8. You don't want to start wearing cargo pants to carry an iPad (some call them iPants). You much prefer tucking your tablet into your jacket pocket.

9. You are counter cultural and will buy one despite what all the reviewers have been saying. What do they know anyway?

10. You live in Waterloo.

So have fun today with your new tablet. Let me know how it goes.

How to harvest the best ideas from your team.

One of the challenges of working with a team of bright, creative people full of ideas, is that they are bright, creative, and full of ideas.

I learned long ago working in engineering that if you wanted to find out where the pain points of a process were, you would go straight to the people working on the front lines.  Each and every person knew one or two things that were simple, but would make the overall process much more efficient.  Many times they just weren't asked for their opinion, or in other cases there was no value or reward in sharing because of a lack of trust in the work environment (but that's for another posting).

Once your team has your trust and know you value their ideas, the problem becomes one of volume.  There are a lot of ideas, but not all of them are productive.

Some are just fun (e.g. buy Nerf guns for everyone) but aren't useable in the sense that they don't help your organization achieve something it couldn't do before, or save significant resources that could be applied to other areas (i.e. research and development) or differentiate your organization from your competitors.

Others sound good at first, but would derail critical projects, or (and this is the important part) take more effort to develop and implement than it would ultimately save.  If the value of the idea is not greater than the effort, thank them and move on.

In a former life I had a team of developers working for me, and they had lots of ideas.  For each and every time they came into my office with their idea, we would have the discussion of value over effort.  I finally wrote the following equation on my whiteboard:

V/E > 1
(Value / Effort must be greater than 1X the Effort)

What happened next was fascinating.  Programmers would come into the office, glance at the whiteboard, pause, then turn and leave without saying a word.  Other times they would come in and present their idea, which had great merit.

My team still had a voice, but inserting this filter into the conversation allowed for much better discussions.

How do you sort through the avalanche of ideas from your team?  You ARE soliciting your team for ideas, aren't you?

Kevin Pashuk is a long time technology executive working to Turn Technology Invisible - the way it should be in the 21st Century. 


Microsoft's purchase of Skype - A good thing.

The recent acquisition of Skype by Microsoft was no surprise. While legions of Skype users may bemoan that their low-cost alternative to international calling is being swallowed up by the behemoth, they shouldn't really fret. It may very well be what saves Skype.

As it turns out, Skype isn't really an independent company having been acquired by eBay, then more recently a larger group of investors including as it turns out, one of the organizations that manages funds for the Canada Pension Plan. It also has been a money loser recently.

Microsoft has always had the technology to compete with Skype, most recently with its Live Meeting product (free for peer to peer calling), and now Microsoft Lync, but they did not have the user base. Skype has had the user base, but not the deep pockets to take the service to the next level.

While much maligned in the press and fanboy opinion, over the past 8 years Microsoft has been able to double its sales and profits. If that were my company, I'd be satisfied with this metric (we won't talk about the pop culture/people's choice metric though). Of all the players to purchase Skype, I'd say this might likely be the best choice.

My crystal ball? Look for the full integration of the Skype we know now, and the collaborative toolkit of Lync.

Perhaps we could call it "SLyncee". No wait, that's been taken.

Are Cloud Computing and Tablets Over-Hyped?

You may not be familiar with the diagram above. Welcome to Gartner's 2o1o version of their Hype Cycle. For a number of years, Gartner has tracked 1,800 emerging technologies and plotted them along a curve representing the stage of maturity, as well as an estimate as to the number of years it may take for the technology to become mainstream.

While no one is perfect at predicting the future, I've personally found Gartner's identification of IT trends quite accurate over the years. It makes for fascinating perusal if you are into this kind of thing. If you are an IT leader, you should be into this kind of thing.

Most interesting is the labels that Gartner has put on the components of the curve. When a technology is at the top of the cycle, they call it "Inflated Expectations". At this point the marketers, media and bloggers are at their peak of frenzy. "There is little that this technology cannot do!" "This is the next big wave!"

What this really is, is a suggestion to take the hype about these technologies with a grain of salt, because one consumers or corporations realize the promises are unfulfilled, our human nature kicks in and we toss the technology aside like last week's newspaper. Perhaps it is because of the embarassment we feel over falling victim to the hype, or perhaps we are caught up in the next big thing. It is at this low point that Gartner has identified as the "Trough of Disillusionment".

Technologies can languish here for a while before they are "rediscovered" by some bring minds and are applied innovatively and appropriately and actually generate some significant, measurable productivity gains. Pen based tablet PCs have found their niche and provide great gains. We are avid users of over 950 of these devices at Appleby College.

Let's look at a couple of the technologies on the diagram.

Private Cloud Computing and Cloud Computing are both pretty high on the peak, with an expected time to mainstream of 2 to 5 years.

Media tablets haven't hit the peak of their hype. According to Steve Jobs (and Cisco today) we are in the "Post PC era". What does that even mean? Short aside - does anyone else see the irony in the iPad2 being the device that ushers in this era, when you need a computer to actually activate it?

Remember Second Life? Public virtual worlds are now in the trough, you see very little in the media now about them. Gartner's not saying their bad, they just haven't found their home. I've unpacked this idea a bit in a former post: Avatars – The new “Professional” you.

Using good research is a valuable tool for the IT leader. Gartner's prediction about the rise of consumer driven selection of IT had a marked impact on our mobile computing program when I was at Sheridan College. As a result, we got into Virtual Desktop Integration and Application Virtualization at the right point, and were ready when this trend hit with a vengence.

Now that you've met the Hype Cycle, do you think this will change your approach to planning your technology infrastructure and deployment?

Resources/Blogs on Gartner's Hype Cycle:


Gartner's 2010 Hype Cycle Special Report Evaluates Maturity of 1,800 Technologies http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1447613


There are lots of "I"s in "Team"

You've heard it a dozen times as a kid... usually at a low point in your life... like when the opposing team is crushing you and the coach is trying to motivate you, but his frustration shines through any encouragement.

"There's no I in TEAM"

As you advance in your career, and things are not going well, you could bet that someone drags out that "motivational" talk again.  At this point, some smarta** usually pipes up "But there is in WIN".

You advance some more, and you are now leading a team.  Things start to take a turn for the worse, and you hear that well worn phrase forming on your lips...

Give it up.  Banish this phrase from your vocabulary.

Teams need to work together. But teams are not composed of homogenous androgynous robotic people.

Marcus Buckingham, in his book "The One Thing You Need to Know" describes Leadership as the ability to motivate people around the things that are common to all, and Managing as working with individuals, and their unique blend of strengths and capabilities.

Your skill in recognizing and leveraging the core skills of your team will allow you to build a high performing group of individuals who work together to accomplish great things.

This book is full of great advice for IT leaders.  Highly Recommended.

T-Shirt Image from Zazzle.com


Ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools, say European leaders

Welcome to my world.

This post from The Telegraph arrived in my inbox recently. A Council of Europe committee has made a strong recommendation to ban mobile phones and wireless networks in schools. According to the article, this is despite contradicting research from the World Health Organisation and the UK Department of Health which states there is no risk. Ontario's Ministry of Health has recently put out a statement declaring that there is no health risk from the wireless signals.

My problem is this.

In education (and everywhere else in the world), wireless access to the Internet is not only useful, it adds a tremendous opportunities to deliver an exceptional educational experience. It is the essence of where we in IT are going.

I know that tomorrow, I will have more than one call regarding Appleby College's position on this.

As with all schools, we take the health and welfare of our students very seriously. We would never expose our kids to hazards knowingly (with the possible exception of rugby). The evidence and studies from reputable organizations have clearly stated that wireless networks pose little or no risk.

Mobile phones on the other hand are not recommended for young children up to and including teens. There is some research that would indicate placing the antenna in the proximity of their brains may cause changes in brain activity. I would ask you this... when was the last time you saw a person under 20 actually talking on their phone? I work in a school full of kids between 12 and 18 years of age, and the only time they typically make phone calls is when their parents call them, since their parents typically haven't figured out how to text yet. In 2010, according to Nielsen, the average teenager now sends 3,339 texts per month, or over 100 texts per day. The phone is nowhere near their brain (and I would suggest by the context of some of the texts I've seen, the brain isn't even engaged).

I would be more worried about the 8.5 hours of media exposure the average North American teen gets on a daily basis (and somehow squeezes an extra couple of hours of media exposure in by multi-tasking).

Are more studies needed? Probably.

Will we change our direction around wireless networking and the use of cellular phones in our school. Probably not.

Will we engage in dialog with our students and their parents to understand the concept of self moderating the use of technology? Absolutely.

There are far more proven sharp edges on the Internet for our students to be impacted by including cyberbullying, sexting (if you have a teenager and don't know what that is... I'm so sorry to be the one to make you aware of it... it may be time for a talk), stalking, exposure to inappropriate images, being distracted to the point of their academics suffering, addiction to online gaming, gambling and so on. We deal with this on a daily basis.

Our approach is not to take access to technology away, but to ensure that our students learn to safely navigate the Internet, and be a safe citizen. We teach them that they are not invisible on the Internet, that sites like Facebook and Google are not free (there is a cost), that not everyone is really your friend, that if you send someone a picture of you doing something stupid, it may show up in a future job interview.

We also teach them that technology is a means to achieving things you could barely imagine. They are global citizens. They have to be to survive and thrive in today's world. Access to technology is required to assist them in this journey.

So my advice to the members of the committee who want to ban mobile phones and wireless Internet. Be careful what you are asking for. From my perspective, you are framing the future of our kids based on your own experiences, from the world you grew up in, not the world of today.

As an old Hebrew Proverb says 'Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.'

Dear RIM, Change your Playbook advertising...

Sorry for ranting right after a great Victoria Day weekend, but just had to get this off my chest. Every time I see the adverts for the new Playbook I find myself commenting out loud to anyone who will listen. Usually it's the dog, and she knows how I feel about this.

The problem is this... I would NEVER buy my employees a Playbook if all they did were the things you show in your commercial. I don't buy them technology to play games (Flash or otherwise), watch movies or music videos, or surf the shopping pages on the web. If productivity is my goal, and reason to add technology to their arsenal, then you haven't convinced me that Playbook would help.

Just saying. (and I do feel much better now).


Social Media Services - If YOU build it, they may not come.

Years ago, Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon had Mike's boss stop by his desk saying "Mike. We need a web page!!".

"Why?", Mike asks.

"Because everybody else has one!" was the boss's reply. "OK, sure", says Mike.

In the next panel he is calling his teenage daughter asking "What's a web page?"

For some reason that cartoon has come back to my memory, only this time substitute "Social Media strategy" for "web page".

Aside from being this week's topic, an IT leader who isn't dealing with Social Media (SM) issues should really stop what they are doing and check out how the world has changed around them. In today's IT environment, you need to have a SM strategy. Your organizational survival depends on it.

CIO's and IT leaders have to approach SM from several directions.

The first is the growing presence of people using SM from their desks and company wide mobile devices and is usually dealt with by blocking this rogue traffic. SM is seen as a thief of productive time, and a huge waste of network resources. SM is seen as a nusiance which threatens control. If this is the environment you find yourself, you are missing out on some tremendous opportunities. (I'll save this conversation for a future post).

Secondly, as an IT leader, you need to be engaged in SM. Do you have a LinkedIN, Twitter account, or blog? Why not? I do a lot of research on IT trends and markets. I find that with a few well selected follows on Twitter, I have cut down my daily research time substantially since there is a host of bright people who are sharing their research. I often find out about things hours before the regular news feeds.

SM also lets me build and keep a professional network of colleagues, vendor partners, and friends. If I have a question, or need to find someone with experience in a particular area, I'll pose the question to this group first. I use LinkedIn for this.

Just for reference, here are my SM coordinates:

Click here for a link to my profile, or search for my name on Linkedin

www.twitter.com/InvisiTech - Technology related tweets
www.twitter.com/21stCentSchool - Technology in education related tweets
www.twitter.com/synectics - Personal and lifestyle tweets


I have to admit that although I have a Facebook account, it has little professional benefit, and as such, I may check it on a monthly basis. Do I really need to know who is going out drinking? Besides, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 50 something ladies, a demographic into which I do not fall.

The third is similar to our friend Mike Doonesbury. We are often called into the meeting because SM is still viewed as "technology" by many people, as opposed to a communications strategy. We are asked to determine how to leverage SM services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Skype, IM, Windows Live, etc. to build sales, connect with customers, communicate to employees, or my favorite - to differentiate our company from our competitors.

The fact that they are asking the IT group to look after this is a pretty good indication that management has no idea about SM. If they did, they would have the Marketing and Communications groups at the table because SM is about connecting, and informing, and building and keeping relationships. It's about building your brand and ensuring you keep your brand front and centre in the marketplace. It supports and extends your existing marketing. As CIO, you need to understand this, and be able to articulate how you can help rhe Marketing and Communications group succeed in implementing SM services.

If you simply build a Facebook page, or open a Twitter feed that is never updated, you join the millions of stagnant pages and accounts. Your boss will not be pleased.

So if you (as IT leader) are approached to implement a Social Media presence for your organization, you really need to do more than phone your kids to find out what it means.


It's 11 pm. Do you know where your power button is?

I blame this post on our dog. In her blissfully ignorant world, she doesn't care that yesterday was a long day and that today appears to be heading in the same direction. She isn't involved in preparing next year's budget that will require several presentations to the executive and board. She has no clue how busy and important I am.

She does however know that her food dish was empty at 6:00 this morning, and that if she had thumbs, she could probably have let herself out. But the only tool she has is a well practiced whimper that for some reason, I am the only one in our house who actually hears it.

So I had time to think this morning while waiting for the dog to do her business. "Why am I always so tired in the morning?" I found myself thinking. Technically, I have enough hours in bed, but am not rested. I then remembered some recent books and articles on why I need to build good sleep into my life if I want to achieve optimal performance as an IT leader. So yes, there is a link to this week's topic...on strategy.

A recent tweet pointed to a CNN Health article that states Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests. While the study was done over 10 years ago, the concept is worth considering. While you don't do the liquid lunches like Mad Men, you are potentially just as impaired in your thinking and judgement as if you were.

Supporting this is a most excellent book by Dr. John Medina - Brain Rules - 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Dr. Medina is a brain researcher, not a reporter, but somehow missed the class where they teach medical researchers to obfuscate their writing so that NOBODY understands them. His web site does way more than try to sell you books. On it you'll find great resources, including genuinely funny videos supporting the concepts in his book. If you think your brain shuts off at night while you sleep, you are dreaming (sorry, couldn't help myself). There are a number of restorative things your brain needs to do, and can only do that in the sleep cycle.

Support for getting a good night's sleep is coming from another unlikely source - Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post. She is the quintessential self made person, and has way more things going on than I ever would. Her efforts are paying off - AOL just bought out the Huffington Post for several million dollars. But in the midst of this, she advocates great sleep, taking naps, and getting your work and life into the proper perspective.

"OK!, so I get it!" I tell my sleepy brain while I turn on my phone to check messages. Then it clicked. (An idea, not the phone.) This little device, or the iPad, or the television news, or the [insert other device] is practically always on during my waking time, right up to the point where I set the alarm clock function to go to sleep. Sound familiar? I never get away from these things. I tell my team not to respond to emails I send off in the evening, but am guilty as hell of doing it myself. Some of the timestamps on my emails are long after 11pm.

One more article... LifeHacker website recently posted an article Ban Portable Electronics Before Bed for More Restful Sleep Here is some excerpts from the story:
But staring at the screen before bed could leave you lying awake. That's because direct exposure to such abnormal light sources inhibits the body's secretion of melatonin, say several sleep experts. [...]

Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and yep, the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert. Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with, say, a TV across the room or a bedside lamp, said Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica.
So... today's strategy post is all about getting a good night's sleep so that you are fully able to slay the dragons during the day. Turn off the technology at night! You'll be a better leader, a better employee, and a better person.

Now if I could just train the dog to read this article so she'll leave me alone tomorrow morning.

Note: This post appeared as one of my entries in BloggingIdol contest.


What could possibly go wrong (with Cloud Computing)?

We all know one... The eternal optimist who's absolutely determined that everthing is fine, that you worry too much, that you should just unknot your knickers and get on with life.

He constantly reminds you that things have a way of working out in the end, and that 80% of what we worry about never actually happens.

Actually, the world needs more people like this, just not in the role of CIO.

As IT leaders, we have a complex role in that we are constantly balancing passion, hope and building vision with anticipating anything and everything that might go wrong.

If I look at my job description, this is embedded right in between developing strategic direction and leading my team. The area I'm referring to is Business Continuance and Disaster Recovery. When things go wrong, IT is usually one of the first responders. Who gets to stay up all night so that work and production are not interrupted when things fail?

This is of course no secret, and IT folk take this responsibility very, very serious.

It's rarely the big things that we deal with. I mean, when was the last time you had a building blow up? You may have had a network switch or server fail, or a fire or flood. In my last few months my team has dealt with a major electrical short that took our whole campus offline for a few hours. But all of it was easily dealt with by our continuance plans. Pretty much everything we have had to deal with has been under our control. We had access to our data centre, our switch closets, our facilities, our backups, etc.

But cloud computing introduces some significant changes to our Business Continuance strategy.

We are told that cloud computing provides some significant benefits:
- Our infrastructure can be scalable as we need it. We only need to pay for what we need.
- "Patch Tuesday" is now a thing of the past. The servers are kept up to date by the cloud provider.
- Our data is safe, backed up and available anywhere there is an Internet connection.
- and so on... but this isn't a post about the benefits of cloud computing.

Does cloud computing really make my BC/DR strategy easier? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

What happens when the cloud goes away? Like the recent events with Amazon and Blogger?

In Amazon's case, several companies hosted on Amazon's servers were completely offline for more than a day. Blogger not only went offline, but lost 30 hours of postings.

Even offline storage from a large company can go away. Cisco has recently sent an email to its Flip camera users that online storage of Flip photos would only be available for 30 days. If users didn't copy the photos to a local drive, they would be deleted.

If you are like many CIO's, this would be enough reason to not put things into the cloud. How do you recover from these types of problems if you have no control over the environment? How can I recover from a server problem if I don`t have access to the Data Centre?

If you were planning on putting your whole computing infrastructure into the cloud you may have a valid concern.

Prudent planning for the cloud will encompass your business continuance strategy. At the recent Midsize Enterprise Summit I attended, Gartner`s analyst stated that cloud computing may take up to 10 years to fully realize the benefits, and the best strategy to approach this is to start with elements of your business that are not absolutely mission critical.

If you do commit mission critical applications to the cloud, then planning for potential issues is critical. When Amazon lost their data centre, Netflix stayed operational since it had spanned its application across more than one data centre. For those companies that only had their application hosted at the affected data centre, they ended up unavailable to their customers.

It's impossible to anticipate everything. Dwight D. Eisenhower said "I have found that in the midst of battle, plans are useless, but the planning was indispensible."

So, if you are moving to the cloud, my recommendation is that you abandon your inner optimist (for a moment), channel your inner Eeyore and anticipate the potential issues that may impact your ability to quickly recover from disaster. I`m not saying it will be easy, but it is very doable.

Once you have that documented, then resurrect your optimist (think Tigger) and start selling your organization on the benefits of the cloud.

This post was one of my entries in Computerworld Canada's 2011 Blog Idol contest.


The Most Important Post on Strategy You'll Ever Read

IT folks are busy people. Their typical workday doesn't fit in the 9-5 slot (equipment NEVER breaks down during the workday - 3am being the preferred time.)

Busy is good, right? There's so much to do!


A wise IT leader should never, ever, confuse motion with progress.

You can be busy, but busy doing the wrong things.

So, how do you know how to work on the right things? Glad you asked.