Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Lesson of the Holiday Roast

Have you ever heard the story of the holiday roast? Little six-year old Mary is watching Alison, her mom, carefully preparing the big holiday meal. There are appetizers, salads and all sorts of side dishes. But the centerpiece is always the wonderful holiday roast.

After spending time at the market to choose just the right one, Alison is now in her kitchen, ready to begin cooking it. It is unwrapped, placed in a huge roasting pan, seasoned, coated and finally, most importantly, carefully cut exactly in half. As she gently placed each half face down in the sauce little Mary asked why she had cut this beautiful roast in half. Alison had lots more to do and shrugged off the question.

After exactly two hours, Alison opened the oven, pulled the pan out, turned it around and put it back in. Little Mary, curious again, wanted to know why the roast had been cut in half, and why the pan had to be rotated. "Why?" Alison snapped back. "Well that is the way my mother, your grandmother, taught me to do it," she explained.

Still curious, the little girl asked her mother if they could call grandma and ask her these questions. When they got grandma on the phone, she said the same thing. It was just what she had been taught. Maybe cutting it open makes it juicier inside, and rotating the pan makes it cook more evenly, but I never really asked my mother. Fortunately, great grandma was still around in a nursing home. Little Mary's curiosity still unsatisfied, grandma thought perhaps great grandma could reveal the secret.

As IT professionals, we will often try to uncover the origin of a particular business process. Like little Mary, when we see how things are done, and it is not obvious why, we ask. Called upon to add, change or remove some element of a process, it goes beyond mere curiosity. It is important to know the real reason behind each step being taken, and to put this process into the context of the larger picture. While this can be irritating to the person making a seemingly simple request, this story illustrates why the relentless inquires are often justified.

You see, they got great grandma on the phone and little Mary suggested cutting the roast made it soak up the juice better or would somehow preserve tenderness. Great Granny laughed and explained that in her day the ovens were small and if you didn't cut the roast and lay it flat it wouldn't fit! The wood fueled oven was much hotter in the back than the front and so you had to rotate the pan to cook both halves the same. Of course, neither of these conditions existed today and the tradition was pointless.

And so often it turns out that a business process was invented to meet a need which was outside of the capabilities of systems in place at that time. The reporting oven could only bake so much data at one time leading to a need to slice the data in half. Clever people invent clever ways to achieve their goal by whatever means they know and it then becomes routine. As time passes and people hand off responsibilities, the approach becomes institutionalized and the rationale behind the design of the process is lost. It becomes tradition or, as we often hear, simply "the way we have always done it."

We all know the speed and capacity of systems today are far greater. The data "ovens" are larger and "heat" evenly all the way around. Moreover, software capabilities have expanded beyond our wildest imagination. If together we focus on the ultimate goal, deconstruct the current process and perhaps even trace its origin we are likely to find we can eliminate unnecessary steps and take advantage of newer, faster approaches. With less effort we quickly and consistently deliver the best holiday roasts.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Third Golden Rule

Anyone who has ever been a member of my staff will tell you to get along with me you only need to adhere to my two golden rules.  These are very simple, straightforward and quite reasonable. Nothing too complicated to remember or follow, and they have served me well for many years.

First, when something, anything goes wrong I always want to be the first to know. Phone me, text me, send a telegram or message on a carrier pigeon. There is nothing worse for me than to hear about a systems related issue from someone outside of my department. I ask my staff to advise me as soon as they know something has gone awry. They have no fear or reprisal, even if they inadvertently did something to cause the problem. My focus is always on understanding what happened, fixing it and then devising a means of ensuring it can never happen again. The only fatal mistake you can make is trying to hide a problem from me.

Second, don't get in the way of the business. Often we can lose sight of the fact that while technology is important to the business, it should rarely be considered a higher priority. We can easily get caught up in the need to reboot a server or upgrade a piece of software and overlook the impact it will have on the business -- and its ability to generate the revenue that pays all of our salaries. So whatever we are doing, no matter how "critical" we think it may be, we should always be certain it will not somehow adversely affect the operations of the company. Usually this is just a matter of careful testing, coordination and scheduling.

Recently, I decided to add a third golden rule. Your opinion matters. It struck me that I embrace the concept that the entire department is a team working together towards common goals. No one works for me. Everyone works with me. I may be the senior manager and head of the department, but I don't want to be surrounded by lemmings who will follow me happily as I lead them over the cliff. As the saying goes, the buck stops here, and, yes, I will likely have the final say. But that should never inhibit anyone from expressing their view. Any sound, fact-based argument can and should be put forth respectfully, and I assure you I will listen.

These rules have always been key to my success as a manager. Follow them and we will be golden.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Who Are You Going To Call

Leveraging technology to make a company run more efficiently, reduce cost or improve quality is simply not enough. A resume in which you offer to replicate this for any new company is going to be passed over by most. Today the head of technology is expected to be a full member of the
management team contributing to the development of new product and services, expanding the customer base, and opening new markets of all kinds.  The good news is we are empowered to do this with the affordable computing power, connectivity and data available.  Moreover, the world is finally in a state of readiness to accept these new ideas. The classic examples include Airbnb, Uber and the new similar application where people share boats.  The new norm is technology turning an industry completely inside-out.

We are now an on demand, variable supply, value-based micro-company society where every individual can be an entrepreneur, running an entire business, often without having to leave home. Business opportunities exist on both sides of this model. Traditional companies  leverage just-in-time supply of expertise, consuming just enough to meet their needs without incurring additional overhead or associated costs. Individuals can apply their deep knowledge and experience to a wide variety of issues across many clients, constantly learning and improving while delivering efficient and effective solutions. Instead of one individual with a little experience in several areas being on staff, engage six experts as needed for portions of the project achieving superior results with lower long term cost.  

What I envision is different from the classic consulting model where companies engage teams from well know firms like Accenture, Oracle or Mercer, and instead turn to vehicle such as e-lance to solicit bids for specific resources or solutions from individuals.  As the boomers age out of the work force they become increasing rare and valuable resources with exactly the right knowledge and skills to meet these demands. Orchestrating the match of needs to resources represents, in my mind, one of the most interesting and potentially rewarding business opportunities today and the near future.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mind My Own Business

People often react to my use of social networks to "check in" at a location,  regularly posting my adventures in travel, food or special events. Those of you who may follow me on Facebook pretty much know where I am or where I am headed, what I am eating, drinking or cooking, and sometimes the people who are with me. "Why do you want everyone to know where you are and what you are doing?" I am asked, "Don't you want some privacy in your life?"

Allow me to explain.

First, I segregate my network activity into social and business, and while there may be occasional crossover, these social posts are purely for fun. My social posts are done using Swarm (successor to Foursquare), Facebook and a personal Twitter account. More recently I started posting via Instagram in an effort to keep up with current trends. The accounts are connected so, for example, a Swarm check-in automatically posts to Facebook and tweets. Similarly, my Instagrams also post to Facebook and Twitter.

My friends, family and I all derive a certain pleasure in sharing. I know this from the "likes" and comments garnered over the years. With people segregated in both time and space, this turns out to be a great way to keep everyone apprised of events, however important or mundane, in my life. Whether its a simply an extraordinary meal at a local restaurant or family wedding photos, what better way to 'broadcast' this small chapter of your life to those who care? Followers can choose to view, react or ignore each however they please.

So, what about privacy? Well the most effective means of keeping something truly private is to not tell anyone. So where I want privacy you are not likely to see any posts.  It's that simple.  Most of the time I have nothing to hide and no reason to be secretive. In fact, there have been a couple of instances where posting my whereabouts has lead to an unexpected and pleasant chance meeting with a friend or family member. Unless you are ducking bill collectors or the mob, why not let people know you are around?

Posting on LinkedIn, Google+ and my business Twitter persona are whole different kettle of fish. There the main purpose, as it says on this blog, is to educate, inform and sometimes entertain in a professional way. On these networks I share my blog posts, business knowledge, experience and even pieces of useful information gleaned at seminars, conferences, events and publications. It is important to remain informed, connected, active and visible in today's business world.

That's how I leverage social nets to keep friends and family informed, share life experiences and to remain ever present among my colleagues and peers in business.

How does that differ from what you routinely do?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thoughts on Immortality

This morning I read yet another article declaring how some current piece of technology will soon be dead and gone. This time it was that conventional, spinning storage medium we call disk. Solid state devices are getting cheaper and faster and more efficient and so naturally all those floor space mongering, power hungry, heat generating mechanical antiques are going to simply vanish.

I disagree.

The truth is none of this stuff ever really dies. Of course you don't encounter many 3.5 inch floppy disks any more. But we can cite an almost endless list of technologies that the prognosticators have assured us are destined for the the grave, most of which are still around.

For instance there are still as many or more lines of COBOL code in production today as there are in any other computer programming language. Mainframe computers abound. Even the RIM Blackberry is still with us despite Apple and Android, and the company's own missteps. Pagers and PDAs still sell well years after the advent of the ubiquitous and all powerful mobile device. The list goes on and on.

In fact, outside the computer realm, people continue to read books and magazines, VCRs are still around and so are CDs. According to the CEA, digital cameras, e-readers and MP3 players are among the top gift holiday items. Even vinyl records have enjoyed renewed popularity and are staging a comeback. Heck, I own a hand cranked phonograph and a collection of 78s.

Okay, the phonograph is an antique and, though it works, I don't actually use it to listen to music. But the point is many of these things are very much in daily use many years after the prediction of their demise. If you expand your view outside of the US there are even more so-called obsolete devices very much alive and kicking.

Perhaps they aren't written about as much or advertised as heavily and so they slip quietly into the background of our minds. They are no longer the newest, hottest or sexiest thing on the market. But news of their death, as one famous author is reputed to have said, has been greatly exaggerated.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC