Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays To Everyone

This will be my last post for this year and it is intended to bring some joy and holiday spirit to all of you, my readers. Some of you live in the New York area and others have already or may one day visit this amazing city. For the rest of you, whether in near or far away places, I want to take you with me on a short tour of a place in mid-town Manhattan where we will see one of the most famous and well known symbols of this holiday season, the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Earlier this week, I went to Rockefeller Center with the intent of capturing some video for a live news report. Indeed, some of the footage will end up on the air but there was more and it struck me that I could share my visit with all of you. Think of it as my personal Christmas gift to all of you who followed me throughout the year.

When I arrived in the early afternoon, I found a quiet spot and took a short video of just the tree. I pan slowly in an effort to give you a sense of the height and girth of this magnificent Norway Spruce. It stands some 74 feet (23 meters) and is illuminated by over 30,000 LED lights connected by 5 miles (8 km) of wire and it has a 9.5 foot (2.9 meter) tall crystal star on top custom made by Swarovski. This 550 pound creation has adorned the tree top since 2004. There were hundreds of people continuously streaming through the entire area as you will see from this and the other videos.

Moving over to the rail overlooking the rink below, I captured the next video which shows skaters circling around and around. Early in the scene you will see the jolly old man in a red suit, Santa Claus himself, appear and skate over to the bottom of our view. Then he skates across the ice where he hangs around with people for a while, chatting, posing for pictures and carefully taking down gift requests, no doubt, from many young boys and girls - and perhaps a few adults, too..

Looking across the rink to the staircase on the other side you can see the line of people waiting for their turn to strap on the skates and float (or flop) around the ice. Beyond the stairs you can see the constant stream of people walking down Angel Ally, the entrance to the center from the Fifth Avenue side of the block.

As I move around to the opposite corner, the sun has gone lower in the sky and it is now dark. You can see the flags and decorative trees along the right side of the rink, the ice below being scraped and prepared for the next group of skaters, and the tree itself which is now fully illuminated. Note the famous bronze sculpture of Prometheus bringing fire to man at the edge of the rink below the tree.

Again, the slow pan should help give you a sense of the size of the statue and the tree. Also illuminated, you can now clearly see the magnificent crystal star high atop the tree.

From this point I turned and walked along Angel Ally, working my way through the mass of people arriving at what seemed an ever increasing rate. Dozens of people are taking photos and videos, and generally enjoying the experience of being here. The extremely mild weather helps, too. I have been here in past years when the temperatures were much lower, the winds were high and the snow was deep. None of that today!

Once I reached Fifth Avenue I turned around to take one more short video showing the large golden angels along the mall, the tree in all its colorful glory and the famous 30 Rockefeller building, home to the NBC network and inspiration for the popular sitcom "30 Rock." Although huge, the tree is dwarfed by comparison to the skyscraper. I've actually been to the top of the building for drinks and dinner in another famous New York landmark, the Rainbow Room.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour and many of the columns I have written this year. We'll return with more Views from the Bridge on Tuesday January 3, 2012.

Enjoy the holiday season. No matter what or how you celebrate, may it be a happy and healthy time in your life, and may the coming year bring you ever more joy and prosperity.

Merry Christmas !!  See you next year !! 

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let's Get Personal For A Moment

I've been into technology my whole professional life. In fact, I started to tinker with computers way back in high school, long before it was common to have access to computers in the classroom. So when the holiday greeting card list grew to be fairly large, I naturally turned to automation to ease the job of cranking them out.

Of course the list was contained in a spreadsheet which included all the names and addresses in the proper format to allow me to print labels. Moreover, this was an easy way to track who has been naughty and who is nice, and has to be added to the list this year because we received a card from them last year.

I went so far as to run the cards through the ink jet printer to add a personalized signature block with our names and a cute tag line such as ...Tee Jay and Cookie, too!  so people will know our cats also want them to have a nice holiday season.

About two years ago I had an epiphany. I was so caught up in optimizing the process I had completely lost sight of why we send cards in the first place. Perhaps, I though, I should be sending holiday greetings to the people I know and care about regardless of whether they are "on the list" or not. Maybe I should write a note in the card that says something personal about that particular recipient. Hope you are enjoying your first Christmas with the new baby, or hope we can wrangle a trip to England and visit with you again soon. The signature should be handwritten and not include the names of our pets.

This year I again spent a few moments to write inside each card. It took longer. However, it restored the joy and happiness of sending these seasons greetings. Was it tiresome or boring to write over and over again? Not at all since the messages were truly tied to the individual and came from the heart, not from a script. How could I deal with so many cards? The answer here is simple. You write to family and close friends. If you can't think of anything to say about the person, they are probably a social or business acquaintance and will like be using a spreadsheet or e-card service on you. Write to anyone you know will read and appreciate the note.

More importantly, this is the simple lesson I wanted to share. Automation in many forms can depersonalize personal interaction. We text or email when we should phone. We are excited by video chat and forget how it feels to shake hands and look in someone's eyes when you talk to them.

Technology can be wonderful. It scales, making large tasks easier to manage. It extends our reach literally around the globe and compresses time. Do yourself, your friends and family a huge favor. Sometime during this holiday season, find a time and a place to firmly grasp and shake hands or give them a great big hug.

Give technology a day off and just be human.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Feel The Power

Spending the entire day yesterday in New York City, especially at this time of year, was most enjoyable. I had a few meetings and some parties to attend. It was lovely to get out of the "office" for a change. It struck me that I was still able, thanks largely to Starbucks, to use my free time between appointments as effectively as if I was in my home office. It further hit me that I am as technology enabled today, although an independent consultant, as I was when I was truly captain of the ship, a CIO at a Fortune 500 company.

We have often heard or read that the best technology used to be found in the office where massive amounts of computing power and storage, access to networks and the latest software would be found. Companies, particularly the larger ones, would always have the latest in technology.

Somewhere along the line, people started to have better equipment at home. Desktops, notebooks, tablets and smart phones all became affordable and moved into the realm of consumer products. Old style modems gave way to cable and fiber optics in the home bringing the internet to your front door, often at higher bandwidths than you had at work, and certainly less restricted.

The latest incarnation of the consumerization of technology is the virtual plethora of programs available in the cloud. Microsoft, Google and Apple all provide for little to no cost, whole collections of solutions for all your computing needs.

I am every bit as empowered to communicate and conduct my personal and commercial business as I was a year ago with the resources of a  $5 billion dollar company at my disposal. I cannot think of anything I want or need to do that cannot be accomplished with the equipment, software and capabilities I have.

For the price of a vanilla latte, I can park in Starbucks (or find other free WiFi zones) and use a notebook, tablet or smartphone to read and reply to email, scroll through Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus, write or edit my blog or conduct research.  I can shop or do my banking.

At home the capabilities are even better with dedicated high speed internet and a printer. My desktop is set up with an HD camera and headphones for telephone and video conferencing. No matter where I am, my Google voice phone number can be made to ring anywhere including on my desktop, house phone or mobile devices.

Perhaps the only thing I miss about the company is having someone to crawl under my desk and plug in the cables. Now I have to do that myself.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What's All The Fuss About Google Plus

Recently, a few people have asked me why they should switch to Google Plus. Having been on the network since the very early days, I can share a few insights.

To begin, this is not an argument to switch from any other social network to Google Plus. As I have written before, it is not a question of which social network is the best but rather a question of purpose. As Stephen Covey teaches in his Seven Habits, start with the end in mind. What is it you are trying to do?

If you are visiting Google Plus just to experiment and kick the tires, it may tickle your fancy or seem flat. Think about deciding to visit New York City or Paris, stepping off the plane and asking yourself, what is so special about this place. With no purpose or direction, you will not find the museums, shops, theaters or restaurants to excite and delight you.

Your first impression will depend heavily on what you do and who you meet. The experience in Google Plus will depend, like life, on your circles of friends. Circles are how you group and keep track of the people in Google Plus. Importantly, circles can be shared. If you meet someone knowledgeable about this place and you share your interests, they can help you find the right places and others who share those interests.

Google Plus is what I call the professional social network with circles of people who are into art, media, science, music, programming or other disciplines. It is international and seems to have little regard for time of day. Depending on your interests, you should find and engage people who share them. Finding these people and making new friends is easy if you just watch the public stream for a while. You will catch a post or two that seems interesting. Simple add the people to a circle and begin to exchange thoughts with them. They will lead you to others who share the interest and you will be off and running.

The real secret sauce, however, is hangouts. These are video chats with up to ten people simultaneously see and hear each other. While other social platforms make it easy to interact with people in real time, Google Plus allows you to literally hang out together. Trying to describe the experience is beyond my abilities, except to say it is the highest form of electronic engagement bar none. Simply join one of the many public hangouts and experience it for yourself. Come armed with good questions or a purpose and you will, no doubt, get great answers and guidance. Any camera will do, but please wear ear buds or headphones.

An easy way to start is by putting me in your circle and joining any public hangout I am in. You can also reach out to Robert Redl and ask him to send you his shared circle of elite hangout people, any one of which would be delighted to assist you in learning about the platform. These are wonderful people who have much to share and are happy to share it with new people. You can find someone near you since they come from all over the world.

Keep in mind you will get out only what you put in. If you cannot find the right topics or people, perhaps this is not the right platform for you. My experience has been incredible as you know if you read any of my earlier columns.

While I continue to dabble with and monitor the other major networks, Google Plus has become the place where you will find me spending most of my time. Hey, want to hang out?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, December 19, 2011

Think Outside The Envelope

Here's a helpful tip for those of you who use the USPS to send letters. You can order postage stamps from the comfort and safety of your home by going online to USPS.COM and they will be delivered right to your door.

Most of my bills are paid online and virtually all of my correspondence is through electronic mail or social media. I rarely write checks, stuff them in an envelope and affix the required stamp any more. My bill paying service will send a physical check or transfer funds to a merchant on whatever date I schedule. Shopping online allows the use of credit cards or services like PayPal.

Posting to Facebook is a far easier, faster and more convenient way to stay in touch and share stories and pictures with family and friends. In fact, I confess that I often acknowledge a birthday using a wall post on Facebook or with another electronic form of message.

The electronic greeting card industry has exploded and who can argue with how clever or attractive these often animated cards can be. They include heartwarming sentiments, terrific graphics, catchy tunes and many times will make you laugh out loud. They are inexpensive, easy, fast and reliable. Many even offer choices of cards that are free.

But throughout the year and particularly during this holiday season, I prefer to send greeting cards and letters. Whether celebrating a birthday, wedding, birth of a child or the birth of Jesus, sending a greeting card is so much more personal and, in my mind, appropriate for the occasion.

Occasionally, it is necessary to mail a check or a set of documents, too.

For this reason I need a pile of stamps. This usually means a trip to the nearest post office with the envelopes in hand where I can purchase enough stamps to meet the postage requirements. International, over-sized or heavier envelopes may require more than a single first class stamp. Large envelopes and packages will, of course, demand greater postage.

A few years ago I discovered you could go to USPS.COM and by using a credit card you could purchase books or rolls of stamps. Spending most of my waking hours huddled over a keyboard I thought this was a great alternative. Sitting in the office or at the home computer, I can choose the traditional Liberty Bell or Holiday Baubles and order a book of 20 self-adhesive stamps. They are delivered right to my door within a couple of days.

Purchasing in bulk is not only convenient but can save you money as well. There is a large variety of styles to choose from and many of them are called "forever" stamps which are always good no matter what the first class postage rate may be. Stamps I have purchased over a year ago for 42 cents are still valid for first class postage even though the rate is now 44 cents and will be rising again shortly.

It's that time of year when I check my stash and decide to stock up. I'll be visiting the site today to choose and order a book or two of a couple of different styles. There is a $1 delivery fee but I would burn more than that in gas so I'm still ahead of the game.

Now, I realize many of my readers are outside of the United States and so this is not very useful for them. Perhaps, if you are one of those people you could add a comment indicating whether you can purchase postage online in your country and describe any experience you have had with the service.

It won't require any postage.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, December 16, 2011

Walking on Air

I have written a few times about Google Plus and Hangouts, in particular. These are live video chat sessions with up to ten participants at a time which are being used in a variety of new and creative ways. Beginning with pure social interaction, hangouts have evolved into a new kind of reality show where real people without scripts gather and share their thoughts. Communities have sprung up around art, cooking and many other topics. Friendships have been forged and people from around the world regularly get together to, well, hang out.

These sessions are private. But clever people with the necessary technical expertise have coupled broadcast abilities with vehicles like YouTube or used other means like U_Stream or LiveStream to broadcast hangouts with everything from live coverage at occupy Wall Street to a behind the scenes look at a karaoke show.

This week Google announced a new feature being slowly released to the Hangouts community. Eventually everyone will be able to stream their hangout to the public internet. This is huge.

Forward thinking people like Sarah Hill, news anchor at KOMU Columbia Missouri, not only saw the potential in hanging out with ordinary people during the live broadcast to collect opinions and feedback on her news stories, but had the vision to see how this technology would propel the citizen journalist into the limelight.

In fact, social media continues to invert the traditional news model where we sit around at six or eleven and wait for the talking heads on TV to tell us what is going on in the world. Sarah tapped into the social mesh to have it tell her what's happening everywhere and in real time. She had the power to channel all this content to her television viewing audience.

This lead to the creation of a whole new kind of television news show dedicated to pulling news and opinions from the community, both local and global, into the on air broadcast. The show both collects from and feeds into the growing array of social channels including Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Hangout participants are not only virtually in the studio during the broadcast but go on air and deliver their own content to the viewers. Again, the station had the means to make an on air personality of anyone.

KOMU was first in this game but local stations in other markets and the major networks are beginning to notice and experiment. People like Francois Picard (France 24), Matt Markovich (KOMO, Seattle), and Maria Quiban (Fox News, LA) are starting or joining hangouts to interact with people on and off the air. They too will figure out how to weave the variety of new sources of information into their shows.

But what will happen when the people in a hangout with breaking news or compelling content can open the hangout to be viewed by anyone? How will this change the news and entertainment landscape? What does it mean when my friend Robert Redl (Austria) can open an "on-air" hangout and invite Maria Quiban to be in his hangout? The model has truly been turned inside out.

Suddenly, the people running hangouts are the new channel and can enable everyone from the man on the street to the television personality to speak to the world.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's The Law, Stupid

There is a movement afoot to ban all forms of electronic communication while driving a car. Laws have been passed in many states requiring the use of hands free telephone equipment and, more recently, banning handheld phone activity such as texting. However, there are still way too many accidents causing serious injuries and even deaths as a result of people being distracted while they are driving.

Now, I am all in favor of stopping these and other equally dangerous practices. However, in my view you cannot legislate against bad behavior and expect it will stop. Unless and until people learn to act responsibly while driving, we will continue to suffer property damage, injuries and loss of life.

People are apparently unable to resist being lured into phone conversations and somehow feel compelled to send or answer a text message even though they are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. It is frightening to observe the number of people driving with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone to their ear.

Solutions providers and the auto industry have built cars with enough capability to allow a driver to use communications or entertainment systems safely. Technology has advanced to the point where you can interact with your vehicle by voice command, having it make calls, adjust the climate or find a style of music. There is no good reason to be physically handling a phone, fiddling with keys or buttons when you are in motion.

Like seat belts, you must be required to use this technology, or it won't solve the problem. But to encourage  seat belt use and discourage speeding or driving while impaired, education is absolutely key. Yes, we need big fines and strict enforcement if the law is to have any impact. However, it is far more important to teach people how dangerous it is to engage in these bad practices. Let's show them what can happen if you lose concentration while driving, even for a brief moment. Use the fines to fund a training program required as a part of the license renewal process.

We can ban all interactions with cell phones, even with hands free kits but this won't prevent drivers from being distracted by all sorts of other in car activities. Shall we also remove the CD player to prevent the temptation to fumble through a collection to load the in-dash unit? Shall we remove radios completely to avoid drivers tuning to a different station? Must we ban carrying any form of makeup or hair products in a moving vehicle? Yesterday a police officer ran his patrol car up a telephone pole because he dropped his pen on the floor and tried to retrieve it. That's it, no more pens, pencils or other writing implements allowed. Remember, prohibition failed. We will not be able to enact a ban on every conceivable source of driver distraction. Rather, we must find ways to make people take driving a motor vehicle more seriously.

Perhaps the only law we really need is the one that makes it a crime to be careless or irresponsible.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

iPhone 4S Impressions

As you all know I made the leap from Android to the iPhone recently. It was a bit of a shock as I was a long time advocate of the Blackberry until Android came on the scene which prompted a change in allegiance and a two year love affair with HTC brand devices and 4G network data speeds.

After several weeks of daily use I have a few observations about the iPhone, none of which will surprise you very much.

If you recall, there were two main reasons for making the change. One was to explore Siri, the much touted virtual assistant who will learn and attend to your every need. The other was to explore the integration with current models of BMW automobiles.

Siri has turned out to be a fun and occasionally useful feature. Sending a text to my wife and finding the nearest Satrbucks location are the two most frequent practical tasks Siri handles for me. Almost every other request has been a demonstration of how Siri works, some of which have been a bust yielding bad or no results. Frequently we are out of network service either because of location or capacity issues on the server side. Moreover, I find Siri cannot handle complex questions and often presents the results in the form of a web search. Clearly Watson has nothing to fear.

The experience with integration to my 328i is another story. This is a truly simple and seamless connection which enables you to perform all kinds of functions on the iPhone using the iDrive control (that fat joystick on the center console which has three motions; tilt, rotate and depress.)

Of course through blue tooth you have complete control over the phone. Moreover, the address book automatically and dynamically synchronizes to the directory in the car. You can choose to use the music library on you iPhone as a source, selecting by song, album and so on.

With the special software feature called BMW Apps, you can also call up your calendar, Facebook and Twitter -- while parked, of course. You can even have Facebook posts or Tweets read out loud to you.  A selection of predefined Tweets are available to be sent out. BMW Connect also enables you to tune in Internet radio stations from iDrive offering even more audio entertainment sources for the vehicle.

When disconnected the application retains certain information such as fuel, range and distance traveled. Last mile is an extension of the guidance system which allows you to find your ultimate destination on foot after leaving the car. It will also guide you back to the car.

The only complaint I have about BMW Connect is the need to manually start it after plugging the phone into the car. It's not clear to me why the iPhone cannot be made to recognize this connection and engage the application  automatically. Moreover, once engaged, the application owns the iPhone and precludes the execution of other applications without first disengaging. Again, one should not be playing Words with Friends while driving (or boarding a plane) so this point may be moot.

The iPhone has delivered a few other pleasant surprises. It actually handles multiple sources of email and calendar entries better than Android did. While Android clearly integrated extremely well with all of the Google applications, it did not do as good a job handing Microsoft mail or other services I used. So far I have not found an application that I had before or wanted that is not available on the iPhone.

All my favorites including Tweetdeck, Foursquare and Google Plus are there and work well. The camera takes wonderful pictures and video. I can pay for my grande vanilla latte and we even have the ability with Facetime to make video calls to other iPhones.

Battery life, despite reports to the contrary, has not been a problem and performance on the 3G network has been fine. Screen real estate is limited but acceptable.

Having the same interface, applications and performance with WiFi connectivity on a device with a bigger screen would be great. Guess I better get on to testing this iPad thing next.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Am The Luckiest

I've been attending an annual holiday get together almost as long as our hosts have been having this event. About ten years ago, a couple of senior managers from a major investment bank went out on their own and started a business consulting with start-ups and small companies in the tech sector.

The invitation only, exclusive party originated as a means of spreading the word and developing new customers, and has blossomed into an annual celebration of phenomenal success. It is perhaps one of the more interesting and beneficial opportunities for networking, particularly with people in the New York financial community. It is also a wonderful party with good food and drinks, door prizes contributed by the participating companies, and a parting gift of a bottle of wine adorned with a commemorative label.

I am fortunate to counted among their close friends and always enjoy the party. This year there was something special in the air and it turned out to be one of the luckiest days of my life.

To begin, the desk clerk waived my $10 parking fee at the train station and while the lot was clearly over capacity with cars parked along the curb in the aisles, there at the end of one aisle just across from the stairway to the station was an empty space. After slipping into this premium spot, I dashed up the stairs and down into the station where the ticket vending machine was located. I slipped my credit card in and punched all the right buttons to buy a round trip ticket.  Plunk .. plunk.  Plunk.  What should have been two coupons, a ticket and receipt, included a third coupon. It turned out to be a second ticket!

Hopping on the train, I was on my way to the City.  As we pulled into Grand Central, I realized I had caught the train before the one I planned to make and had over 30 minutes to spare before heading to the party.

Now, up to this point it had been a pretty lucky day. But after drinks and dinner, the fun really began with the door prizes. There were a couple of Kindle Fires, some iPads and other great gifts. I turned to my good friend Susan and said how much I would love to have one of those snappy iPad2 devices so I could understand what all the fuss is about and maybe even write a little about it.

Then I heard my name called. I was the first business card pulled from the bowl and my dream had come true. I came home with a 32GB  iPad2 and a smile on my face that hasn't faded in a week.

It's out of the box and charged up. I have even played with it a bit. Something tells me you may be reading more about it here in the not too distant future.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Are They Saying About Me

A lot has been written about the influence of social networks and mobile technology and their impact on business and society. We have seen the beginning of a dramatic impact on broadcast journalism. The average man on the street now has more technical ability to record or report live than many professionals had only a few years ago. Little escapes the ever vigilant public eye because so many people are now armed and ready with high quality, handheld video cameras that used to be just their cell phone.

But social networks are changing the world in other ways. Marketing has always been about getting the right message out, understanding or creating needs, listening and responding to your customers. Messaging has been done with print, radio and television, and more recently using web sites and on-line presence. Information has been gathered through a variety of channels including surveys, focus groups, questionnaires, internal and syndicated data sources. Customer service departments handle feedback from customers and try to resolve issues, diffuse problem situations and generally keep the peace.

Social media has introduced a variety of way to delver you message and, importantly, of knowing what your customers are saying about you. Never before has we had more ways of reaching our existing or potential customers. Beyond publishing on a web site, we have the opportunity to create a presence on well known sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, where people can opt to follow us and get messages from us on a regular basis - messages they will share with their friends and family. Moreover, we can engage them with content and even bait them with questions, concepts or proposals, encouraging them to respond and react almost in real time. We're no longer constrained by the size of the room. Our focus groups can have thousands of  participants, each constantly contributing from the comfort and safety of their own homes or offices.

Your customers are talking about you in these social networks and it is incumbent on you to listen to know what they are saying. Customers have a loud voice. They are continuously sharing facts and opinions among themselves. Remember the famous shampoo commercial where you tell two friends and they tell two friends  and you quickly see how the message will spread exponentially?  Well every person on Facebook shares with all their friends every day. One tweet can reach a hundred thousand ears, even before being retweeted.

The cell phone company had it right a few years back when they figured out how to leverage people's "friends and family" relationships to make their brand more attractive. You must plug into this same dynamic to know what is happening and to react accordingly. Find ways to become part of the conversation or, better still, to start one with your customers.

Any pricing strategy may be undermined when a customer can scan the bar code with a smart phone and find three other similar products at better price points or in other stores. Your claims will be called into question through tweets or posts. You may be the target of a satire in a YouTube video that is going viral. One Alec Baldwin incident can damage your brand faster than you can play a word game. If you doubt this, just ask American Airlines.

These exchanges will happen with or without you, so you better figure out how to become part of it all and fast. Discount coupons and clever advertising campaigns are just not enough any more.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, December 9, 2011

Big Data Is A Big Deal

When I began writing this column there were key trends in business and technology such as cloud computing, mobile devices and social media which provided a wealth of opportunities for discussion. Many of the columns over the last few months have included information, observations and my perspectives on these topics. Another major trend which has not occupied much space here on the bridge is so-called "big data."

This is a term, like the cloud, which can mean a lot of different things to different people. Let me see if I can shed some light on what we mean by big data and how it will, sooner or later, impact you and your business.

IT professionals have been collecting and finding ways of organizing data to help run companies since the dawn of data processing. Database technologies were devised and perfected through the years to capture ever more efficiently all of the transaction level data needed to adequately operate and control the business. Until fairly recently, the drive has always been to construct the "one truth" or central source for data which was collected from all parts of the company and rationalized, adjusted, corrected and published back for analysis and reporting.

When the central database became to large or unwieldy, the data mart was born. These extracts from the mother ship provided smaller, more focused data sets. Specific deprtments such as sales, marketing or finance would filter out only those data elements needed for a particular analysis or report. This also removed significant burden from underlying systems sensitive to the time needed to process transactions.

The advent of the internet, connected devices and social networking have lead to a data explosion. For a while, efforts were made to consolidate these external sources into the central database in the same manner as internal financial, production and other types of data. Faster database engines, new software and appliances have come along, but the data growth continues to outpace them.

The sheer amount of data can often be more than traditional database technologies can handle. For example, an oil rig may generate 25,000 operational  data points per minute. Trying to store and process this in conventional ways is nearly impossible.

Moreover, the preponderance of data extracted from social networks and other external sources is unstructured and, by its very nature, incapable of being handled by conventional database technologies.

Big data is the effort under way for companies to get their arms around these new sources of information and to try, using new technologies and innovative techniques, to derive some value from it.

We'll talk more about some specific examples of companies listening the the "voice of their customers" by monitoring social networks, and how they can shift from being reactive to proactive in the process.

Think about the new sources of data that may be important to your business and ask yourself are you ready to deal with it?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CIO Midmarket Summit - Final Hours

The final hours of the CIO Midmarket Summit were filled with great interactive sessions around two of the hottest topics; social media and business intelligence.

Jason Bedford and Gary Zuckerman, both from Blackboard, were like two folk singers on bar stools casually enlightening the group on the key principles of an effective communications strategy. Content, they told us, must be personal, real and relevant. Don't forget your employees are your biggest voice. This was the best non-vendor vendor talk with plenty of concepts, advice and interaction. A truly thought provoking session, brought to you without commercial interruption..

It was followed by Lincoln White from Seventh Generation discussing the strategy of their use of social media as an effective marketing tool. They post lifestyle content sprinkled with news and offers. Their advice; listen to your customers and be a part of the conversation. It will happen with or without you. The group responded well, contributing to the dialog with a number of fascinating war stories and running out the clock on this session.

After a break we were back in the room for the closing session (pictured here) on business intelligence. This was a large panel which at first seemed unwieldy. But Nick Eshkenazi was adept as moderator and kept the session moving while ensuring each panelist had an opportunity to contribute their knowledge.

For Gary Flowers, BI is driven by unanswered questions from the business while Geoffrey Stevens reported for him it was inward facing, mostly focusing on the preservation of company assets. There was a healthy debate over which side of the house should take the lead. Andre Gold maintains the business must push the demands and ultimately drives the technology needs. But others felt IT could lead by collecting, organizing and structuring data for the business to analyze. BI should move a company from reactive to proactive, says Gary. Alma Mendoza drives home the point that you have to view BI as a process, continuously improving. It is not, she says, a project or task at a single point in time. The entire group was truly engaged and the session seemed to be over in a flash.

Kudos to CDM for a fast-paced, interesting and inviting event. An awful lot of knowledge exchange and debate was packed into a few short days. Even if the weather had been a bit more inviting, no one would have ventured far from the action which was clearly inside the conference center.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

The Panelists from left to right:

  • Gary Flowers, Bisk Education
  • Michael Lehman, Batteries Plus
  • Andre Gold,
  • Alma Mendoza, Trinity Western University
  • Geoffrey Stevens, Otay Water District
  • Nick Eshkenazi, SanMar Corporation

CIO Midmarket Summit - Day 3

Yesterday was the third and final day of the CIO Midmarket Summit. Though only a half day agenda, it was still packed with some very good sessions including the Think Tank I had been asked to lead.

Following breakfast was an informative session on Box, presented by Lesley Young, Vice President of Inside Sales. Painting an interesting backdrop of the evolving new work environment enabled Lesley to highlight how Box fits into and helps the CIO provide real value, meet increasing demands and leverage investments in other systems without losing control.

While a few participants went to one-on-one meetings or dealt with local, home or work related issues, the vast majority of the group remained for my session on security in the cloud. As usual, I started with a couple of stories to drive home the point we have been dealing with the so called cloud for over 40 years. Certainly, there  are subtle differences and nuances, however, the fundamental issues associated with the selection and contracting of cloud services are virtually identical to any third party provider. Moreover, many of the operational concerns are the same as you have with your own internal data centers.

The session was a lively debate, not without skeptics. We managed in the short half hour time span to work up a list of top concerns for the contract with a cloud provider. In each case, it reinforced the notion that these contract provisions could and usually do apply to every agreement with outside vendors.

Many thanks to my scribe who diligently noted the following list of key provisions. This is by no means an exhaustive list but the items that were top of mind with this group:

  1. Service Levels : What is the cloud service providing (scope) and what are the guarantees around time to provision, add/delete resources, support (hours of operation, support) and key performance metrics (response time, up-time.)
  2. Privacy Issues: Is my data protected and do we meet any regulatory requirements (PCI, HIPPA)
  3. Ownership: Who owns/can use these data? Are there intellectual property issues or rights issues?
  4. Accessibility: Account, password, token. VPN, mobile, etc. 
  5. Term: How long am I committed? How fast can I get out? Can they end the agreement?
  6. Liability: Who is holding the bag? Indemnification. Insurance. 
  7. Exit Strategy: Am I prepared if I want to get out? If I am forced to get out? If they fail?
Given more time we could have easily doubled or tripled this list and we still wouldn't have gotten them all. Matthew Karlyn, partner at Foley & Lardner had an hour and over 100 slides at the C3 conference in November yet didn't get past the first few discussion points before he ran out of time. 

The fundamental lesson comes down to the recognition that we as IT professionals have been contracting for third party services for most of our professional lives. The Cloud is just another service that deserves our consideration for use from a technical or functional perspective. Just like other products and services, it may hold value and provide benefits to our companies. But we must treat the procurement of these services in the same manner as we treat any others by developing a clear understanding of the risks and rewards, costs and benefits, and ultimately documenting a clear and comprehensive agreement among all parties involved. Moreover, we have to consider the implementation, migration, operation and contingencies, and we must communicate these efficiently and effectively throughout the organization for the life of the project.

Please comment if you agree or take issue with the perspective. What are key provisions or concerns you have that we may not have covered here?

Tomorrow we will cover the balance of the last day of the conference in the final column on this wonderful event. 

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CIO Midmarket Summit - Day 2

If you followed me on twitter yesterday you already know the second day of the CDM Midmarket CIO Summit 2011 was packed with great information, insights and discussions. From the opening keynote by HP right through to the last CIO presentation before the evening reception and dinner, it was almost impossible to absorb all the information coming at you.

Every session was good, but three of them really stood out as exceptional.

Alma Barranco-Mendoza moved from a faculty position to become CIO at Trinity Western University. It was apparent that the IT function was highly distributed resulting in significant issues of overlap, redundancy and lack of coordination. Alma reconfigured the organization into a central IT function. Moreover, she instituted proper project management controls leading to better utilization of resources and the recognition by the administration when IT was underfunded or understaffed. Her case study was a clear illustration of the need for the proper organization and governance of limited IT resources.

In his presentation, Peter Forbes, EVP at WorldPay, covered the need for changes in the US credit card payment system. He made it very clear smart cards and mobile payment systems are coming and those of us responsible for the equipment and systems had better be prepared. The major players like Master Card and Visa will demand end to end data encryption and the ability to handle cards with chips. Moreover, the recent introduction of Google wallet is a watershed event suggesting mobile phone payment systems have come of age and we can expect to see more of these as well.

Lastly, Rick Arthur, SVP & CIO at The Brickman Group, presented his work in progress reorganizing the IT function at his company. Moving from the common technology based org chart to one more functionally in tune with the business, Rick is transforming IT and shifting their focus from servers and networks to a clear focus on the business, its key processes and how these are enabled and supported by the technology. In the six months he has been there, he has completely changed roles and responsibilities of the people in IT to make them more accountable for business outcomes. His guiding principles, IT supply value chain perspective and organizational strategies were among the more fascinating and valuable aspects of the session.

Of course there were other interesting sessions and plenty of time to schmooze with the other attendees during breaks and over lunch. In addition, I had two blocks of time for me to get the skinny from a couple of the sponsors. We'll discuss those another time.

At the end of the long and productive day, it was nice to relax with a glass of wine, have a few laughs and enjoy a nice meal.  This was all arranged with a reception, a comedian and dinner. I find  this usually guarantees a good night of sleep, and it did.

I needed it to make it through the third and final day (today) before heading home.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, December 5, 2011

Midmarket CIO Summit 2011

Good morning from the Montelucia Resort & Spa in Scottsdale Arizona. Now, I know what you are thinking but there are no bathing suits or golf clubs involved here (at least not for me.)  I am attending the 2011 Midmarket CIO Summit hosted by CDM Media.

This three day event is designed to enable senior business and technology professionals to interact, discuss and learn about key issues and developments across a variety of industries. While there are a few keynote speakers scheduled, the majority of the sessions will be smaller, intimate meetings including discussions with thought leaders, round tables and think tanks. There are also some scheduled one on one sessions with the sponsoring vendors.

I was invited to attend this event and asked to conduct one of the think tank sessions. My focus will be on the topic of cloud computing and, in particular, the security concerns and issues around its use. I was recommended by my good friend Larry Bonfonte, CIO at the US Tennis Association. Larry knows about my work with the Cloud Computing Consortium at Stevens and that I have written and presented on this topic several times. He suggested I do one here and the fine folks at CDM agreed. I am scheduled to conduct my session early Tuesday morning just after the morning speaker.

I arrived at the resort early enough to participate in the Executive CIO think tank conducted by Nick Eshkenazi, CIO of SanMar Corp. The moderator did a terrific job seeding the discussion with a few broad questions which led quickly to a litany of common concerns among the large group of people around the table. While we didn't solve many problems, the group did go deeper on a few topics including governance, demand management, and business intelligence.

The conference officially opened in the evening with a welcome reception and terrific dinner.

As always, throughout the conference, I try to capture anything of interest that can be conveyed in 140 characters or less. If possible, I will tweet during the session, starting with the topic and session leader so any comments will be in context. Since the groups are small it may not always be possible to contribute and tweet at the same time. Moreover, participants may object.

The event is sponsored by loads of hardware, software and service providers, some familiar and others new to me. If I encounter anything extraordinary there I will pass that along as well, although more likely in the form of a column and not a tweet. I really enjoy conversations with vendors in these more relaxed settings when they are in information exchange mode, and they are not trying to close a deal.

Naturally, the event is sprinkled with plenty of short breaks and networking sessions where some of the most interesting and unique exchanges usually take place. I won't be tweeting out what the folks are talking about in the halls between sessions. I tend keep most of those juicy tidbits to myself.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, December 2, 2011

Peek-A-Boo I CIQ

Security experts, privacy advocates and even the network news are going wild over the latest discovery in the world of high tech mobility. Carrier IQ is a program that sits quietly unobserved in the background of your Blackberry, Android or iPhone meticulously recording your every move. It is reported to be storing all of your key strokes, that is, every phone number you dial, every URL (web site name) you enter, text messages and, yes, even your tweets. It also knows where you are.

It was discovered by researchers and extensively reported in tweets, trade journals, newspaper stories and on-line articles. This recent YouTube video illustrates what it does in excruciating detail.

Apparently, not all of these data are transmitted to the carriers. Moreover, what is sent is stripped of identity making it a collection of anonymous data points. The carriers claim these data are aggregated and used to monitor and troubleshoot system performance. IT might be used, for example, to determine where and why calls are dropped, to help with capacity planning or to look at application issues and problems like battery life.

OMG, the carriers know all about me! Here we go again.

Let's be reasonable. The carriers already know every call you make. They connect you. They bill you. There is more information readily available in the databases that support their on-line billing systems than CIQ could ever retain. They facilitate the connections for all of your texts and the web sites you visited. Again, these are in the carrier transaction records and, by the way, are not anonymous in that context.

Granted, user account and password information stored on the device in unencrypted form makes me uncomfortable. But in my view, may be the only real flaw. The conspiracy theorists and privacy people are making quite a big deal of a small oversight that can easily be remedied.

In earlier columns I have recommended you enable PIN security on your smart phone. This is the personal identification number code you must enter to unlock the device each time you want to use it. If you are concerned about someone hacking your phone and absconding with the data stored by CIQ, don't be. There is way more to be worried about such as your contact list, e-mail, calendar, texts and other applications data which is readily available through those respective applications should your phone fall into the wrong hands. Without the PIN protection at the front door anyone can simply begin to use your applications with free access to all the information contained within.

So stop worrying about things you cannot control and use the simple yet very effective security mechanism you have at your disposal.

You don't want anyone paying for their Starbucks coffee on your account now, do you?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, December 1, 2011

PowerOne Will Power Many

In an earlier column, I wrote about the changing role of the CIO. Released from concerns about the day to day operations, the new focus is on the business and more strategic initiatives. How do we streamline processes, improve customer service, drive revenues up and costs down. Can we introduce new products or services and take the business to a new level.

This new found freedom comes from the ability to rely upon high quality products and services. Where it was once necessary to operate and maintain the entire computing environment, hosting centers and cloud computing can now deliver high performance, stable platforms at reasonable cost. Where key applications once ran in-house, complete applications are available in a software as a service (SaaS) form. Salesforce, Workday and other providers offer complete solutions for customer management, sales management, benefits managment and so on.

But there are some aspects of the job that are still inescapable. Having effective controls and procedures in place to ensure employees and customers have proper access to information resources can be even more complicated in this hybrid world of internal and external systems with a variety of operating systems.

The increased demands of regulation, particularly for public corporations, and reduced internal resources, force  the CIO has to find ways to do more with less without compromising the integrity of this function. This is why I found PowerOne from Weston Software be so interesting. PowerOne is a utility which allows your Windows System Administrator to use the same familiar tools used to administer the Windows environment to also manage Unix, Linux, MAC and other environments in your network or the cloud.

Windows is by far the most prevalent server platform in companies today. But there are plenty of Unix and Linux servers, as well as a collection of MACs to be found. It can be a chore to provision and control access to these different systems, usually requiring someone conversant in the user administration functions of each.

PowerOne allows your primary administrator through the Microsoft Management Console to manage all of them. Using only the capabilities of the MMC, a new user can be provisioned and privileged properly in one or more of these other environments. This not only speeds provisioning but ensures accuracy as well. Accounts and privileges will be properly aligned across systems offering the end user single sign on capability. It can even extend through various hypervisors into a public, private or hybrid cloud.

I had the opportunity to meet with the management at Weston Software learn more and actually see the product in action. Not only is it fast and easy, it installs and can be configured in minutes. Moreover, it is client-less, interacting immediately with all of the servers it will manage without adding any software to them.

"Apparently, the fact that we can access over 1 million records so quickly and without adding to the infrastructure is without precedent in the field of systems management," claims Hank Voight, CTO of the Westport based company.

I watched as an account was created for me on the main (Windows) server and immediately recognized on a couple of Linux servers without ever leaving the MMC. PowerOne produced some reports at the end to demonstrate the ability of the product to meet audit requirements, another frequent time consuming and error prone task.

Ed Samson, CEO said, "Our solution aggregates all the [necessary] information from all systems in minutes, ensuring data quality and integrity, and without additional manipulation needed. The auditing and reporting feature is powerful and possibly alone worth the cost of the whole system."

Weston Software Inc. are planning significant changes to the product which already links other systems back to Microsoft Active Directory, and offers drag and drop file movement across platforms. I know a winning solution when I see one and I can't wait to see what  these two innovative business leaders have in store for us next.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC