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How's Your Rain Dancing? Thu 30 Aug 07

Chippfolk_rain_dancers_myrddrr This past week I saw an interesting quote on corporate strategic planning.  It is spot on in it's description of the typical approach to corporate strategic planning.

"A good deal of the corporate planning I have observed is like a ritual rain dance; it has no effect on the weather that follows, but those who engage in it think it does. " - J. Brian Quinn

As much as I liked that quote it was the second sentence that really hit home.

"Moreover, it seems to me that much of the advice and instruction related to corporate planning is directed at improving the dancing, not the weather."

After thinking about this a little more I did a little inward looking and was shocked that it wasn't just the corporate strategic planning process that focuses more on the dancing than on the weather.  We in IT are just as guilty.

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Taking A Break Sun 26 Aug 07

Ah_vacation_jasonrowlandorg_3 I'll be gone for a few days so there only be one new posts this week (on Thursday). 

"Ah. . .Vacation" photo by Jason Rowland

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An IT Question: Are Some People Special? Wed 22 Aug 07

Help_cobber99_3It's Friday afternoon and your already thinking of the weekend when your Help Desk lead comes walks briskly into your office.  "We have to talk", he demands.  He goes on to excitedly explain that he just got off of the phone with one of the VPs.  It seems the Veep wants his more storage space for his email inbox.  "Doesn't he know our standard is to set everyone up with the same amount" the tech  blurts out in an ever loudening voice as his face gets redder.  "And what about those engineers, they claim they need more than the allowed amount of network storage for their precious test data" he says as the veins begin to show in his forehead.  "Last week it was the HR folks claiming they need personal printers because of all the "confidential" work they do.  I bet they are just trying to get around our standard of having everyone on network printers."  Earlier in the day it was the graphic arts department wanting to get Macs because someone told them it would they fit their needs better.  "My gawd, don't they know we're a PC only shop!", he exclaims.  With arms flailing and spittle flying he lets out one last desperate cry - "What do these people think they are -- Special?" and then collapses to the floor. 

It seems that in all the excitement he has forgotten to inhale and has collapsed from a lack of oxygen.  Fortunately, being a well-prepared IT leader you have a staff of paramedics on call in the office next to yours for just such emergencies.  While the paramedics bring the tech back to consciousness you stop to think, you know as soon as he starts breathing he's going to want your response.

So, how do you respond?  Are some people special and deserve special treatment?  If so, how do you determine who is special?  How do you answer people when they ask, "Aren't I special too?"

"Help" photo by Cobber99

Got a question you'd like me to post for future discussion?  Email it to me using the "Email Mike" link in the left hand column.

If this topic was of interest, you might also like the other posts in the IT Question category.

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Rebate Technology Mon 20 Aug 07

Rebateaugust_14_2007_lazy_lightni_2As is often the case I bought a few things this past week.  And as is also often the case some of the purchase came with rebates.  I don't like rebates.  Don't get me wrong I like saving money which is part of rebates.  I just don't like the concept of rebates.  When you're shopping they quote the price as if you get the rebate which of course you don't cases unless you remember to cut out all the necessary tags, circle the price, mail it all in and wait a couple of months.  What a pain!  Somehow it seems a little be unethical to quote a price "after rebate" knowing full well many people won't get a rebate.

Rebate programs cost companies money to run.  Advertising are rebate processing and significant costs and you would think that companies would find it less expensive to just lower the price.  However, the dirty little secret of rebates is that people will buy based on the low "after rebate" quoted price but end up paying the full price in some cases.  Some people will lose the tags/receipts, some will fill out the paperwork incorrectly and some will simply forget.  And that is what the companies are counting on.

This week I experienced 3 forms of a rebate program, one of which was new to me:

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Should We Stick To What We Know? Wed 15 Aug 07

Hctralogo The Harris Country Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) operates the toll roads where I live (near Houston, TX) and they do a pretty good job of it.  They upgrade the roads quickly and construction is done relatively quickly.

Since I drive on the toll roads almost daily one of the great things that I like is the EZ Tag system.  This is a RFID tag that scans my account number automatically as I go through the toll booth and charges my account without having to stop at the mainline toll booths.  As a result I zip through at traffic speed (which in Houston varies from 2 mph to 70 mph).  There are a number of toll roads across the country that use this and if you drive with any frequency on them you know what a great advantage they are.

Recently HCTRA expanded the use of EZ Tags to allow me to pay for parking at IAH - Bush Intercontinental Airport.  There is no charge for this.  I just pull up to the entrance and instead of getting a ticket, a scanner reads my EZ Tag and opens the gate.  When I leave I go through another EZ Tag scanner and exit while the system automatically calculates the parking fee and adds it to my account.  At least that's the theory.  Unfortunately reality is much different.

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Return of the Hanging Chad? Mon 13 Aug 07

Cast_vote_travelin_librarian The other day while driving to work I heard an interesting report, Voting Officials Wary About Electronic Ballot,  on NPR (National Public Radio).  The report talked about the potential problems with electronic voting machines.  Like a number of other reports such as a recent New York Times article or Bruce Schneier's excellent analysis from November,2004 on "The Problem with Electronic Voting Machines" the NPR report talked about some of the issues of electronic voting.

The problems associated with electronic voting machines are well-known and Schneier does an excellent job of expanding on them:

  • Hacking - someone hacking into the system to commit voting fraud
  • Programming errors - software errors causing unintended widespread consequences
  • Accuracy - under-counting, double counting etc.

In looking at this I found two thing rather interesting.  The first thing is that we are still seeing technical issues with electronic voting.  We do our banking, manage our 401Ks, buy stock, arrange mortgages and more electronically without these issues (well, OK, hacking will always be a concern).  So why can't we solve the issue around electronic voting?  It just seems rather strange that we haven't been able to address all of these issues yet.

The second and most interesting thing (at least for me) was the reaction of some politicians and journalists to the issues.

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What's Your Niche of Inconvenience? Wed 08 Aug 07

Checkout_at_mbolo_shopping_center_fThe other day I stopped by the Lowe's home improvement store to take a look at some new faucets for the kitchen.  I don't normally shop at Lowe's but wanted to see if they had a better selection than the store I where I normally shop.  While I was there I remembered that there were a few things I needed and rather then go somewhere else I figured I might as well get them there.  And that's when it happened.  I got caught in Lowe's niche of inconvenience.  I was caught by what Lowe's is very good at being bad at.  What was it?  Simply the check out process.  It took 15 minutes to buy a bottle of drain cleaner and that is only because a helpful clerk directed me to an open register.  That's also when I remembered why I stopped shopping at Lowe's and went to Home Depot instead.

Home Depot basically sells the same things as Lowe's and their prices are similar.  The Home Depot checkout process is okay,  nothing spectacular, just okay.  What makes Home Depot attractive is nothing they do right but what Lowe's does poorly.  It isn't that Home Depot has a competitive advantage it is more like Lowe's has created their on competitive disadvantage.

With all that time in the checkout line my mind began to wander and it struck me that the Lowe's / Home Depot situation wasn't all that different than our customers face with corporate IT and shadow IT.   Many times our customer choose shadow IT not because they are so good but rather they are simply better than corporate IT.  You don't always have to excel at every aspect.  Sometime just being better than the other guy is sufficient.  Fortunately there is something we might be able to learn from this.

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Debugging Your Information Technology Career Mon 06 Aug 07


Update 8/23/07: The author has notified me of the following:

"Last we communicated, I told you that my Under Construction site had an expected "go live" date of August 24th. Because of a problem with my developer, I have chosen a new developer to finish the site.  Although I'm optimistic that my site will be functional next week,  I've changed the "go live" date to September 7th to give me some  leeway in case there are unforeseen issues. As soon as the site is  operational, I will let you know."

Update 8/6/07: The author has notified me that the site to purchase the book is currently under construction but should be available by August 24th if not sooner.  My apologies for any confusion. --- Mike

Janice Weinberg recently sent me a copy of her new book "Debugging Your Information Technology Career" (293 pages, available at www.elegantfixpress.com ).  The book's subtitle "A Compass to New and Rewarding Fields That Value Computer Knowledge" is your first clue that this isn't the run of the mill career / job search book.

The premise of the book is that you may want to leave the IT field and try a new career but don't want to start from scratch.  You've spent all this time making a career in IT why let that experience go to waste?  As Weinberg demonstrates you really can make the switch to fields where your previous experience in IT is an asset.

But IT is so much fun why would you ever want to leave?  As Weinberg points out, outsourcing and off-shoring are the new realities in IT.  As such there is the very real possibility that at some point in your career you may be affected by this.  I'd like to suggest another reason - to broaden your experience and get some real business experience.  Experience outside of IT is becoming a more valuable asset that hiring managers look for in Business Analysts and IT managers.  You may not always get the opportunity for career changes with your existing company and this book and help you make it on your own.

Weinberg gives 20 examples of careers where you can leverage your IT experience.  As part of each example she includes information on:

Continue reading "Debugging Your Information Technology Career" »

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Life on the Help Desk; Some Things Never Change Fri 03 Aug 07

Being a tech support person on the Help Desk is not always an easy job.  Dealing with anxious users some of which are clueless can be very frustrating.  Now we have "scientific proof" that while technology may have changed life on the Help Desk is pretty much the same as it has always been.

Just a little something to start you on your weekend.

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An IT Question: Blocking Non-Business Internet Sites Wed 01 Aug 07

Help_cobber99_3One of the company Vice Presidents stops by your office and expresses concern that some of their people may be spending too much time on the Internet and wants to know if there is any thing you can do about it.  You mention that you do have a filtering program but it is set only to filter objectionable sites such as gambling, porn, etc.  You explain to that filtering non-offensive but seemingly non-business related sites may be counter-productive as it is often difficult for IT to determine which sites truly have no business application.  You go on to cite examples of the need to view sports, restaurant, job boards, real estate and other sites was business related.  The VP is not impressed and insists that you block all sites that are not obviously and directly related to your company's business.  You know other VPs do not have this concern.

How do you respond to this request to block Internet access to "non-business" sites?

"Help" photo by Cobber99

Got a question you'd like me to post for future discussion?  Email it to me using the "Email Mike" link in the left hand column.

If this topic was of interest, you might also like the other posts in the IT Question category.

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