How the Mighty Fall

If I was a RIM shareholder, I'd be doing some serious thinking about the health of the organization. But then, as a stakeholder in any company or organization, I should continuously think about the health of my company.

Size doesn't matter if you are heading toward oblivion, it just gets you more press coverage as you slide down the slippery slope.

Is there hope for RIM? (and/or your organization?)

Yes!  (Unless you are at Stage 5 - but I'll explain)


Running Flat Out to Stand Still

Today's post is more reflective, and designed to help me regroup, refocus and regain perspective.  You are invited to come along for the ride.

I really love my job as CIO, but there are days when I get home, and I feel like a hamster in a wheel - lots of motion, but no progress.
Image: MS Office Online
In considering a career as a technology leader, you willingly enter into a dynamic, fast paced world with competing priorities, budgets, and resources.  You are expected to "keep the lights on" cost effectively while at the same time enable the organization to achieve its strategic goals and leverage technology to differentiate itself from its competitors.

Every day brings new announcements of products and services that promise to change the way you do things, and you are expected to be on top of them all.  In addition, you have a team to lead (one of your most important roles) and life events and personality conflicts continue to introduce diversions and distractions.

There is little time to breathe, or rest.

Many times, you will find yourself as the sole proponent of a new idea, and having to defend the continued investment in providing proper tools and infrastructure when the overwhelming tendency is to revert into cost containment and control.  You feel as if you are "outstanding in your field", all by yourself.

So what's the answer?

As I describe the challenges of the job, I realize that I derive great satisfaction and energy from actually accomplishing things and OVERCOMING these challenges.  It's when I get too myopic that these challenges start looking bigger than my tenacity to overcome them.

For me, a short retreat to a quiet place (i.e. sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario) gives me time to put things in perspective. Meditation, prayer, pondering, journaling, or just staying absolutely quiet for a moment. It's MAKING the time to get out of the fray, and breathe.

This adds the secret ingredient to your busy life - perspective.  Without it, your career can suck the energy out of you.

Thankfully, I had the time to sit by the lake last evening.

I'm much better now, thank you.

Now, back to slaying the dragons.


How to sell to CIO's - 5 easy steps.

Perhaps you've read my previous post - The CIO’s Declaration for Potential Partners and know how effective I feel cold calling actually is.  In a recent discussion on Focus.com, I posted the "declaration" and received a great question back from Craig Rosenberg who asked: "if cold-calling doesn't work -- how can sales people get the opportunity to help you solve your problems?"

For someone who is starting their career selling products or services, this is a very legitimate question. If repeatedly pounding the door doesn't work (for CIOs like me) then how do they get our attention?  How do they get through the door when it seems as impenetrable as a bank vault?


Getting your team over the 1st dysfunction...

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes a five tiered model for building high performance teams.  In his exceptional gift as a story teller, we follow the character Katherine Petersen as she takes over the reigns of a struggling technology company.  You will likely recognize the characters as you read this short book, and by the time you finish the story, you will have a much better appreciation of the five dysfunctions that cause teams, even the best ones, to struggle.

Even if you are not a "reader", invest the time in this book.  I have given away several copies to my Managers and Directors.  If you only read one book this year, make it this one!  Am I clear that I'm a big fan?

Hopefully you've ordered your copy of the book by now, and while you are waiting for it to arrive, here's a sneak preview of the first dysfunction to overcome: Lack of Trust.  This is fundamental to any relationship, and especially to high performance teams.


Want to buy the latest gadget/phone/device? Can you really trust reviews?

I drink my coffee black.  I didn't always take it this way. When I started, I was like many who would enjoy a Timmee's DD (This is a Canadian colloquialism, it has nothing to do with cup size), but then I dropped the sugar.  Then the cream.

When I first decided to drop the cream, (to preserve my lean, lithe, pantherlike figure) I hated the stuff in the cup.  This was not coffee, it was more like a mixture of motor oil and camel spit.  (Not that I was speaking from experience, but I do have a vivid imagination.)

It took weeks for me to start appreciating the rich aromatic flavour of a good cup of coffee.  It got to the point where coffee with cream tasted bland, and there is no way I would ever go back to cream in my coffee.

So what does this have to do with hardware reviews?

Do you have MTPD?

Oh great!  Another thing to worry about.

I've just got used to dealing with my ADOS disorder (Attention Deficit... Oh! SHINY!!!) and now I have another issue.

I'm talking about MTPD (Multiple Twitter Personality Disorder).  It's a new disorder, and you won't likely find it in any medical encyclopedia, but just this morning I realized how pervasive it really is.

It started with a connection request from LinkedIn.  I realized the person contacting me was already a connection... but the profile of the new connection highlighted a different facet of his professional career.  A quick search on some other profiles indicated the start of a trend... that people may be using social medial tools much like we had different versions of a resume.  John Doe the lawyer, John Doe the social activist, John Doe the non profit board member, John Doe the family guy.

Image: Wikipedia

I'm guilty of this in my Twitter life. Like the mythical hydra, I have multiple online faces.  I have @21stCentSchool for my academic related tweeting, @InvisiTech for technology leadership related tweeting, @Synectics for my personal tweets, and even @Polysemaniac (which is new) for puns and other higher forms of humour.

I use LinkedIn for my professional network, and this blog as a public platform to share my IT related thoughts and musings in a format longer than 140 characters.

For those who take the time to follow my tweets, I do not feel that everything I think is germane to all, and so I segment.  I prefer this to those who give the whole shebang (work, life, politics, faith, etc.) under one Twitter account.

How about you?  Do you have MTPD?  Feel free to comment.


How to never say no, but not be a doormat

In many organizations, IT is viewed as the roadblock, the naysayers, the control freaks, the wet blanket, or the obstacle to any progress in the organization.

Don't believe me?  Get out and talk to a number of people who DON'T work in IT and see what they say.  Don't do it too long, or your self esteem is likely to take a hit. I smugly stand in my opinion.

So.. how do we shed such a negative opinion?


Bus Drivers Hate IT People

..Or so it seems.

How often have we heard the warning "What if your key people get hit by a bus?" to talk about business continuance?

I've heard it so often that I have to wonder if there is a fleet of killer buses on the loose, just looking for network administrators, programmers, analysts, and all other kinds of IT people to run over. Why aren't the police doing anything about this? Why hasn't Peter Mansbridge made it headline story?

I'm going to let you in on two secrets... First, the killer bus doesn't exist (aside from some B-Grade Teen horror flick), and secondly, there are better ways to motivate your team into not running as islands of experts, where each person is intrinsically necessary to the running of the operation.  Remove one person, and the whole thing collapses.


Congratulations to the Blog Idol Winner!

If you are one of the two people who follow this blog, you'll know that I've also been blogging as part of a contest sponsored by Computerworld Canada.  Read all the posts here.

Last evening, over beer and pub food, the winners were announced.  Congratulations to Don Sheppard in winning the grand prize, Ron Van Holst for winning the Community Blogger award.  I was awarded the editorial excellence award (To my Grade 10 English Teacher...You learned me real gud!).

It was a fun night. Thanks to Dave Webb and the folks at the ITWorld Canada organization for organizing the contest and the party.  I'll certainly be participating next year.

This post is short.  Today, the graduating class at Appleby College receive their diplomas as we launch them into a globally connected, globally competitive world - so much different that the world I graduated into.  I wish them all the best with the tool set of skills and competencies we have provided them.  Blogging is fun, but days like this remind me of the real reason I get up and say "Yippee! I get to go to work!".


What Does the IT Department Really Do?

It is IT Planning season.  Today's exercise is to explain to those granting next year's budget dollar the services that are provided by my IT department, in a way that makes sense to the reader.  Let me share how I do it.


The Playbook Tablet - Rock Star or Wannabe? (BlogIdol Repost)

I play guitar.  It's about the only thing I've done longer than being (happily) married, and I've been married a long time.  If you look at my profile picture, you will soon conclude that in no way, shape, or form, do I resemble a rock star.  Ozzie has no worries about competition from me.

If I look at REAL rock stars; Clapton, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Jimmy Page, Jim Morrison, Les Paul, [add your list here], they are defined by the innovation they brought to their music, bending the rules to create a whole new experience that was soon copied by everyone else.

Rock and Roll defined a whole generation, and the artists collectively took popular culture to a whole new level.  Almost every 12 year old that asked for a guitar wasn't thinking about Uncle Bob's old nylon string classical that's been under the bed in the guest room for years.  They wanted a Strat, or a Telecaster, or a Les Paul, or a Flying Vee, and a really, really, big, amplifier.


Eating your own dog food.

Being a lifelong learner, sometimes it takes me a lifetime to learn some things.  This was one of them.

Every so often I say something that completely derails the conversation. All the momentum of the bright, brilliant dialogue comes to a screeching halt, and my conversation partner is sitting there with a puzzled look on their face.

After several uncomfortable occurrences, a pattern started to form. I have a habit of trying to compress a whole thought into one pithy, witty maxim (or a short blog) and will use phrases like "We NEED to eat our own dog food!"  In retrospect, it was clear why I was losing people when they had no context.

But enough of the communication lesson... We NEED to eat our own dog food!  And let me explain...


The Internet is run by the Coen Brothers, not Disney.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were invited to attend the premiere of the movie Burn after Reading at the Toronto film festival. We were thrilled to go, and my wife even came within a whisker of Brad Pitt when she was walking down a hallway (unlike the throngs of fans who were waiting outside).  It was an exciting event, but there was a small problem.

Burn after Reading was a movie by the Coen brothers.  If you are not familiar with their movies ( including Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit) you know that their movies have a dark side. Things don't usually end up well for their characters. It is not a "happily ever after" kind of place.


On the Internet, EVERYBODY Knows You're a Dog (Who Drinks Starbucks)

Published in The New Yorker July 5, 1993.
Image from The Cartoon Bank
In 1993, a now famous cartoon by Peter Steiner appeared in the New Yorker magazine. "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."  This cartoon went viral and was widely circulated at the time (ironically by fax machine and photocopy). It helped establish the mystique of the Internet, and led countless people into believing in the anonymity of the Internet.

According to a presentation I attended by the Massachusetts Department of Education's special task force on cyberbullying, this concept of anonymity has created the power differential (a common element in all bullying) and far more kids engage in cyberbullying than traditional bullying.  It is because the kids think they are invisible.

But this couldn't be farther from reality. On the Internet, not only do they know you are a dog, they know your browsing habits (used to serve you ads), your purchasing profile, and based on your geolocation, could likely tell which Starbucks you are sitting in enjoying your latte.

Not that this is all bad.  I lead a pretty benign life compared to someone in the public eye, and have no big secrets, so having my iPhone app know where I am so that it can point to the closest coffee shop is a good thing.

Having said that, there are some things in my life that are nobody's business. Why, oh why would I ever put them up on a social media page or a blog post?

The convenience of the Internet should never trump common sense.  Keep your privates private.


(Repost) What would you pay for bacon and eggs?

How much would you pay for this plate of bacon and eggs? (or substitute your favourite breakfast if you choose).  I've paid anywhere from $2.99 to $15.00 for a breakfast that looks pretty much the same as the picture above.  What made the $15.00 eggs worth that much?  It certainly couldn't be the eggs themselves, since for the most part, there is not much differentiation in eggs.  So what made the difference?  Why would I willingly pay $15.00 for something I can get for $2.99?

It was everything that came with the food... the ambiance (and the cost of keeping up the premises), the skill of the cooks, the location of the restaurant, the people I was eating breakfast with,  and most importantly, the service I received.  The eggs themselves were not the sole measurement of value, but rather the whole experience of the breakfast.  The total package was worth $15.00 to me.
If all I wanted were eggs, then I could head to the greasy spoon to get my $2.99 fix.


Thunderclouds - Not all Clouds are Light and Fluffy

This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.
One of the few things I remember from my primary education was the study of clouds. Perhaps it was because we got to go outside rather than sitting in a stuffy classroom.

We learned about cirrus and stratus clouds, those light, fluffy types of clouds usually depicted in pastoral scenes, presenting a view that the day was beautiful and all was well with the world. Coincidentally, these are the types of clouds often used as a graphic to support blog posts on cloud computing - sending the message that all is well with the (cloud) world.

But there is a dark side to this story. We also learned about cumulonimbus clouds. Those are the towering, dark, imposing clouds that are usually accompanied by rain, thunder and lightning. Pilots avoid these imposing pillars because they are dangerous.  In the cloud computing space, you could look at service outages (think Amazon), security breaches, loss of data through bad practices, etc. as the cumulonimbus of cloud computing.


Beware! Lest You Turn into a New Luddite.

Image from Wikipedia
First, a bit of a history lesson.

According to Wikipedia, the Luddites were "a social movement of British textile artisans in the nineteenth century who protested – often by destroying mechanized looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life."

Artisans were a special class of people. They were masters of their craft, and added great value to their creations. Their crafts were specialized, and took years of training. They were also available only to those of means, the common person could never aspire to owning such fine articles.

Then along came technology, in this case the loom, which could create a reasonable (or even good) quality product that could be utilized by the masses.  The specialized expertise of the artisans was no longer required, and people sacrificed quality over affordability and accessibility.

Do you see where I'm going here?

Read the comment section of the Computerworld article I referenced in a recent post about how some organizations are increasingly bypassing IT in implementing cloud computing solutions, and the vitriolic comments about "users not being customers", and the theme of IT needs to protect users from themselves is prevalent.

Cloud computing is coming.  Just like the technology in the Industrial Revolution.  History has redefined the term Luddite from "artisans protecting the quality and value of their trade" to "a group of people who is scared of the changes technology is bringing to the world, and begins to actively resist progress".

If you are leading an IT organization, you don't want to be in this camp.

Security, compliance, and access are all in your portfolio, but don't stand in the way of the Cloud Computing revolution.

You may think that Cloud Computing is a passing phase, but I would encourage you to learn from a previous generation of craftspeople.


You are no longer in control...

 Not that you ever were.

A recent article in ComputerWorld Canada magazine highlighted the increasing trend of IT departments being bypassed in the implementation of Cloud Computing.

That's right.  You are being bypassed.

As long as IT departments are seen as the gatekeepers or cost overhead, they will become increasingly bypassed as less essential. 

The IT department must transform itself to the role of integral service provider - shifting from the concept of "controlling machines" to "enabling people to work faster/better/innovatively using tools".

Get rid of the control mindset or you will become increasingly irrelevant.


In 5 Years, THEY will be Your Challenge.

They who?

The typical student in high school today.

In 5 years, the student graduating from high school today, will likely be done their college or university and be approaching you for work.

"So, why is that a problem?  I've been hiring people for years." you say.

"Because." I reply, "The typical student today is not the typical student you remember".


Are You a Data Hoarder?

If you ever want to cure yourself of the notion that you live a simple life, move.

We moved this week into a new home. We love the house, the yard, and the space. It's a little bigger than the last house, but not excessive and will provide a great place for the kids, grandchildren and friends to come and visit.

Based on how stiff I feel right now, I am convinced that I own too much stuff.

As I was getting ready to come to work this morning (Has anyone seen my black shoes?), I started thinking about how much electronic "stuff", like data, emails, and files that are collected and filed away.  I would say my collection of physical stuff that I lifted and toted these past few days pales in comparison to my electronic collection.

Storage is cheap now.  Futureshop is advertising a 2Tb drive for under $100. While this is a consumer product, commercial storage is getting less expensive all the time.  Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, AVG and others are giving away storage in the cloud.  From an enterprise perspective, having the availability of secure, scalable storage in the cloud is enticing.

The potential to collect electronic "stuff" is at an all time, affordable high.

As the old adage goes, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should".

Many organizations have developed (or are starting to develop) retention policies for electronic information. The paper based files usually have well documented policies and practices, but the practices and policies for electronic documents and data are just now coming into play.  If your organization has been on the wrong end of the eDiscovery process in a court case, you know how high the legal bills can grow when all electronic information can be subject to discovery.  Having solid policies and practices (the two go hand in hand) can represent a real savings.

If you are the Chief Information Officer of your organization, this responsibility falls directly in your purview. How much time have you devoted to this area of responsibility?

I'll be blogging more about this topic, and will dig up some great resources to start your journey, but now I'm going to go find some liniment for these stiff muscles.