Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld.com, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Tomorrow Is Here, Now

“Master the upcoming culture change” by Paul Glen (ComputerWorld, 23 August 2010). While on one hand this article was encouraging there are also some fundamental oversights.

1) What upcoming change? It’s already here. To believe that it’s coming is a recipe for missing it. Anticipate proactively and don’t just stand there flat footed waiting.

2) The purely technical has been a commodity for some time now. Again, realizing this is the first step to moving forward.

3) Business and technology have always been tightly integrated, or should have been. Business is and always will be an exercise in holistic understanding and approach. The sad irony here is this divide isn’t closing. Article after article, writer after writer all continue to say the same thing: The gap between the business and IT need to close. Yet, that doesn’t happen.

4) One of the smartest things IT (Information Technology) can do is change it’s name. Aside from being dated, it’s encourages a mindset that continues to leave IT out of sync with business. The bottom line, IT needs a serious re-branding.

5) While it’s not Paul’s fault this article could have been written 10, 20 or maybe even 30 years ago. What’s shocking, given the historic trends,  it will probably written again and again in the future. But let’s hope otherwise.

To finish on an upswing, this really isn’t only about IT. It’s about business, period. IT and Business must work together and circle up. All involved have to make an effort to prepare for the future. That responsibility can’t just sit on IT’s shoulders. IT needs to understand and embrace Marketing. And Marketing needs to understand and embrace Technology.

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

What is the sound of one man clapping?

Collaboration. Networking — Social or otherwise. Crowdsourcing. Team building. Etc. Etc. Etc. Sound familiar?

As it was once said:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 – 1631)

Here are three intriguing perspectives on technology, islands and life as we know it in 2010:

“Interview: Jaron Lanier – Why Crowdsourcing Isn’t Always Wise” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 25 March 2010)

Your book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, challenges the value of crowdsourcing. What’s wrong with the hive mind on the Internet?

It does work sometimes: A crowd of buyers sets a price in a marketplace. But it only works if you want output of a single result. Otherwise, you get design by committee. You get features added to services without anyone looking at the whole complex picture of what you’re trying to build.

“The Grill: Andrew McAfee” by Sharon Gaudin (ComputerWorld.com, 5 April 2010)

What are the best ways that businesses are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology?

They’re taking advantage of it in a few different ways. They’re using it to let people broadcast their expertise: I’m going to tell the organization what I’m doing, what I know and what I’m good at. I’m not filling out fields in a database. I’m doing this by blogging. That lets me narrate my work.

— “Build Up Your Influence” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 17 March 2010)

Cora Carmody, Jacobs Engineering, “Whether you want to influence your own team or an external partner, you must show them they are important to you.”

And what tools and approaches do you use to make you work life and your home life a better place?

Three to get ready (for next week and beyond)

You might not be an executive. You might not have users.  You might not be a CFO. However, if you’re looking for ideas, inspiration and strategies for staying on a path to success then this trio is for you:

“Escaping the Executive Bubble” by Kate O’Sullivan (CFO Magazine, 1 February 2010).

“There are a whole bunch of natural filters in an organization,” Roberto explains. “It’s not because people are necessarily hiding things, but as information moves through the hierarchy of a company, it gets packaged, streamlined, and analyzed.” As a result, the “news” that arrives at the CFO’s desk has usually been cleaned and polished. And distorted.

“Opinion: Love Your Users” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld, 22 March 2010).

Yes, users also burn up a lot of our time with password resets, downloaded malware and simple dumbness. We could cheerfully strangle them for things like that.

But some users, at least, have eyes, ears and brains that can be IT’s first line of defense against problems that we wouldn’t spot ourselves until it was too late.

“We Fail Fast, Learn, and Move On. An interview with Steven Neil, CFO of Diamond Foods Inc.” by David M. Katz (CFO Magazine, 1 April 1 2010).

We got our supply-chain folks involved, studied our approach, and identified what my kids call the “duh” factor. The way we had been loading the truck facilitated the operations of our warehouse rather than our customer’s warehouse. So we changed how we packed the truck to align with the layout of the customer’s warehouse.

Get it?

Opinion: Love your users

March 22, 2010 06:00 AM ET

How The West *will be* won

“How the 2010 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders were chosen” by Ellen Fanning and Mari Keefe (Computer World, 7 December 2009). Before you side step this article with, “But I’m not in IT” or “I’m not a CIO” — pause that thought for moment. Dismiss the “IT Leadership” bit and look at this grading scale from these four perspectives:

1) Consider these as leadership qualities that are universal, not just for IT.
2) You don’t have to be at the top of the org chart to be a leader. This is especially true if you want to get to the top of the org chart.
3) In many cases, these criteria also apply to brands, not just individuals. How well does your brand lead? Or not?
4) Finally, instead of “were chosen” substitute “will be chosen” and adjust your resolutions for the year ahead as you see fit.

Which of these dozen or so characteristics do you value most in a leader? What characteristics did Ms. Fanning and Ms. Keefe  miss? Who is your leadership hero?

Some things never go out of style

“Q&A: Jon Gordon – Career Watch: The benefits of hard work” (Computer World Magazine, 19 October 2009). There are many who would like to believe otherwise, success is not just about great ideas. There are plenty of people with countless great ideas. It’s not limited only to those with an Ivy League education. There are plenty of Princeton grads looking for work right now. Luck might have a little bit to do with it, but not nearly as much as most (lazy) people insist on believing.

So what is the magic bullet? The secret ingredient? The special sauce? Answer: hard work! A great idea and a great education are meaningless without the drive and determination to get the job done.

One, two, tweet

“Staying On Message” by Jaikumar Vijayan (Computer World Magazine, 19 October 2009). There’s certainly no shortage of ideas and examples on the business uses of social networks. None the less, this is a solid collection to get your week started on the right click.

In addition, there were two other soc-net focused articles from ComputerWorld.com that you should be of interest to you:

“Social Security – Public cloud vs. internal social networks” by Stacy Collett

“Scams & shams: The trouble with social networks” by Robert L. Mitchell

The smaller shape of bigger things to come

“Start Connecting With Customers’ Smartphones” by Mary Brandel (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Simply put, a thorough overview on the subject of mobile phones and web sites with some great insights as well. For some it looks like the time has come to seriously consider that mobile version of your web site you’ve been dreaming about for too long. For others it looks like you might not have a choice.

And in semi-related, if not geeky news, “Book review: What’s wrong with software development” by Mitch Betts (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Mitch reviews “Wrench in the System” by Harold Hambrose (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2009). The thing is, the value of great design and usability isn’t limited to software. Once you read this little bit, stop and ask yourself, “How can we use design to make our company more guest-centric?” Think. Create. Act. Try again.

Calculate your IIE (Investment In Expectations)

“What’s your Twitter ROI? How to measure social media payoff” by Mary K. Pratt (ComputerWorld.com, 21 September 2009). Ms. Pratt crafts a soft, user friendly overview of some of the ROI issues that are confronting organizations as they migrate their brand into the realities of Web 2.0 and beyond. If you’re in this camp then this article will let you know that you are not alone.That said, aren’t these the say type of questions we asked 10 years ago as the internet went mainstream? My stock tongue in cheek joke is — The internet, I hear it’s gonna be big.

Unfortunately, the article misses the mark on the point of social media, Web 2.0, etc. and the associated shift in the paradigm. The world as it now exists isn’t about the brands, it’s about the guests. I’m certainly not going to suggest that any effort be pursued at all costs. We are talking business after all. However, the old mind set of, is what I’m spending going to get my customers to do what I want them to, doesn’t really apply in a world where the guest has the power. The question guests now ask is, is brand such-n-such doing what I expect? Are they living up to MY expectations?

In short, you don’t really have a choice.

You’re going to have to surrender to the fact that some of the old measurements (of control) no longer apply. The approach needs to more holistic. There needs to be effort put into being part of the conversation (and stop focusing on leading and/or manipulating it). For example, the reality is, you don’t have to tweet. However, you do need to give people something to tweet about. It’s amazing what you can get for free if you know how to play your cards right. The fact is, in the history of business, no marketing tool has been more cost effective than word of mouth/Tweet/FB status.

Actually, you have two choices. One, figure it out now. Two, figure it out later. Either way, you will have to figure it out. These things — whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or their eventual cousins — aren’t going away anytime soon. If you wait to make the investment in understanding and using the tools then you will only be that much further behind the curve. This isn’t a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. So while you’re scratching your bum, focused on ROI, others are being guest-centric, putting their self-interests aside for the moment and pushing forward knowing that the return will come.

Because as we all agree, standing still isn’t the key to success.

Be there, do that

“The Grill: Shawn Broderick” by Sara Forrest (ComputerWorld Magazine, 7 September 2009). As is often the suggestion here, look past the niche specifics (i.e., tech) and find the more universal gems. The pearls here come in the last three Q&As. Here’s a teaser of each but to gain the full impact you’ll have commit 120 seconds to this quick and fulfilling read.

SF — What are a few common mistakes that people make when they get involved in creating a new high-tech venture?
SB — In my experience, the two most common mistakes that kill new ventures are what I refer to as “missing the pain” and “messing the team.”

SB — Many people probably have a million-dollar high-tech idea floating around in their mind. What is the single most important piece of advice you could give to all of them?
SB — Execute! Ninety-nine percent of the time, ideas aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on. Truly everybody is capable of having great ideas.

SF — Is there a certain mind-set that one must have in order to succeed with a start-up?
SB — The most important and valuable mind-set I see in entrepreneurs is drive. The path to high-tech entrepreneurial success is rarely easy or simple.

Your knowledge is your power

“6 ways to train your employees on the cheap” by Mary K. Pratt (Computer World, 10 August 2009). It’s official — common sense is finally back in style. The best stuff here might come from the sidebar (on the first page) titled “3 ways workers can get their own free training.” Let’s be honest, if you’re not going to make an effort to keep yourself sharp then it’s not really fair to complain when management is neglectful and your skills become dated or even obsolete. There is one person in charge of your career and that person is you.

On the plus it’s nice to know that there are some outfits who are trying to push forward in spite of the economy. There are however a handful of AU caveats:

— Why cheap? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on cost effective? Cheaper isn’t better if it yields third rate results. Regardless of economic conditions the focus should be on ROI.

— Fact: Nothing like this comes to life and stays alive without full and proper commitment from management. If management sees training and growth as not worth the investment then it’s not going to happen. If that’s the case either update your resume and move on or go into DIY mode, or both.

— The other side of the coin is that employees have to want to learn. If someone wants to coast then they should expect to be run down from behind. Don’t be that guy / gal. You shouldn’t ever assume that someone else knows what’s best for you and your career.

The bottom line… If things are slowing then use that time wisely to improve, because if you or your company doesn’t then someone else cetainly will.

Honesty is the best policy

“Opinion: When things go wrong, the truth shall set you free” by John D. Halamka (ComputerWorld Mag, 15 June 2009). It’s never easy when things collapse. What makes it even more difficult is that as emotions increase rational thoughts get shoved aside. In short, being human isn’t easy. Lucky for the rest of us Mr. Halamka isn’t ready to give up yet. Here he offers five steps to take out some of the sting. We recommend commiting these five to memory. They will come in handy no matter what your role / profession. The bonus is, they have value off the clock as well. If necessary, look in the mirror and practice them. Because as we all agree, practice makes perfect.

Talking tough is cheap. Get going!

“How to stay up in a down economy” by Julia King (Computer World Magazine, 25 May / 1 June 2009). Whether you’re unemployed, under-employed, or even over-employed, Ms. King has some pearls to share. One of the best is:

Don’t watch CNN. It just induces hysteria.
– Paul Glen
(ComputerWorld Columnist)

There is one suggestion we’d like to add, as well as one comment to supplement the article’s list.

Suggestion: Start a blog that speaks to your desired profession. One, it will give you an outlet. Two, it will keep you involved and engaged as well as serve as a real live diary that you didn’t waste your downtime watching Oprah. Three, anyone can fake a resume but over a series of weeks that’s not possible to fake a blog.

Supplement to Ms. King’s point 4: Contact a local non-profit(s) and offer them your pro bono talent. This is good for you (for all the reasons lists for a blog), as well as good for your community. NPOs can also be a good opportunity to develop new skills to break into a new field.

Welcome of Fantasy Island? – Follow up

This is a (shameless self-promoting) follow up to a post a couple weeks back on an article by Ms. Sharon Machlis (“Opinion: When head counts are low, take time to save time”, ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009). The AU blog post was also posted as a comment to Ms. Machlis’ article. In this week’s print version of Computer World the editors at CW decided to print that comment / post. It’s nice to be the needle that gets pulled out of the haystack, again.

Yesterday is not tomorrow

“Keeping pace with evolving technologies” by Mary K. Pratt (ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009). Let’s hope that these couple pull quotes inspire you to consume this one pager.

“I’ve had to change the way I think about what work means, because technology is changing us. Everything has to be instantaneous, and convenience is a big factor,” says Christopher R. Barber, senior vice president and CIO at Western Corporate Federal Credit Union.

“It used to be I just programmed in the functionality. Now we have to think almost psychologically about what the consumer wants and expects,” says Michael Carlson, vice president and CIO at Xcel Energy Inc. in Minneapolis.

The world is changing. The internet is here to stay. Embrace an AU state of mind or get left behind.

Welcome of Fantasy Island?

“Opinion: When head counts are low, take time to save time” by Sharon Machlis (ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009).

In theory Ms. Machlis is correct. It is true, there is always room for improvement.

Unfortunately, it is rare that management (in larger organizatios) incents such behavior – let alone rewards it. As the fear of loss of job increases the willingness to take chances (read: invest time in investigating / developing a more productive approaches) decreases.

What Ms. Machlis is advocating rarely takes place in the best of times. It doesn’t seem realistic that corporate-think (i.e., small minded, short sighted, territorial based behaviors, etc.) will change when the man/woman in the next cubical (or corner office) might be your replacement.

This isn’t a glass half empty opinion but an accepted and well established reality.

Love thy Big Brother?

“What Google knows about you” by Robert L. Mitchell (ComputerWorld, 11 May 2009)  One has to wonder if Google isn’t upset with Geiko for stealing their theme song. You know the one… “I always feel like somebody’s watching me…” If this article troubles you – and it should at least a bit – then also invest some time in this:

“6 ways to protect your privacy on Google” by Robert L. Mitchell (ComputerWorld, 11 May 2009)

So much for not doing evil, eh?

When looking for “work”, get words to work for you

“Six Ways To Ruin Your Resume” by Greg Schaffer (Computer World, 13 April 2009).

You may have already realized the AU state of mind often takes things from one box and furthers the use of those ideas by applying them to a situation in another box. In this instance, please shoehorn this article into the other box of copy writing – specifically copy writing for web sites. One of the highlights was actually a handful of words in the sidebar. Please reword to fit your particular situation.

Speak to your audience

Your résumé should be directed to a technology professional.

Yes, human resources may review the application as well, but ultimately the position’s supervisor (and most probably peers) will choose whom to interview. Your résumé should talk to them.

Remember that your goal is to get your foot in the door for a face-to-face interview. If you’re applying to be a network administrator, have a fellow network administrator or two review your application, and ask for their impressions from a peer perspective. Does it convey that you know networking? If the answer is yes, you’re well on your way to landing that job.

In short, job hunting is like sales, and sales is like job hunting. Aside from good copy both also require focus, persistence and most of all an understanding of the audience being targeted. Whether you’re selling a product, a service or yourself to a prospective employer, the tactict and strategy for success are essentially universal.

I geek therefore I am?

“25 highly anticipated open-source releases coming this year” by Esther Schindler (Computer World Magazine, 4 April 2009). This post might be far too geeky for some of you, but for those who might want to get a broad understanding of what’s on the open-source horizon, then read on.