Friday, March 30, 2012

Mozart Mania

You have, no doubt, heard there was a new piece of classical music recently discovered. The Allegro Molto in C Major, allegedly written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was found stuffed in an old notebook. Though only a copy and not in his original hand, scholars attribute it to him and think he wrote it when he was 11 years old.

Music is one of the things I truly love. I can enjoy listening to performances from the modern artists of today to the classics of old including everything in between. I have an extremely eclectic collection of albums (yes, made of vinyl) and CDs. Of course the vinyl dates back to my earlier days while the CDs are more recent, although now I purchase everything on-line.

Growing up my house was always filled with music. My father played the saxophone and clarinet. He was an orchestra leader with a small group of regulars that played popular tunes from the 40's and 50's. My brother was a drummer in a rock band and my sister dabbled in piano. My son inherited the music genes, performing in musicals on stage in high school and later an a Capella group in college. Today he is managing editor for a popular indie rock web site. (That's where I get all my tips on who's going to be hot. )

My library contains music from original artists I've met in social networks and in person along with all the stars of today and yesteryear. Whether you prefer jazz, country, rock or opera, you can find something to suit your taste. I even have a rock-opera. When I tune in on services like Slacker or Spotify it's anybody's guess what you are going to hear. The same is true of my satellite radio presets in the car. You are just as likely to hear music from the top 40 as from 1840.

All other things being equal, when I am alone I tend to listen to classical music, including opera. In this genre, Mozart is my favorite hands down. A few years ago I bought the entire collection of his works. It is a box of well over 100 CDs that contain every piece of music the man wrote, except the Allegro Molto in C Major. So, you can imagine my delight when this new piece was posted all over the social networks. I've played it so many times I think I may wear out the bits.

But it also made me think what if this music genius had been born today? What if Mozart could write a piece of music, record it and immediately post it to iTunes or YouTube? This video of the first recording has been viewed over 54,000 times. In his day, there were no recordings, no radio or television. It would have taken months to reach an audience of this size.

I wonder if he would have been the Madonna, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber of the day? Would his records have gone platinum and his videos gone viral? Would his concerts have been a sell-out and would be have gone into television or hit the big screen?

Of course, it's equally likely the school systems would have stifled his creativity, texting might have ruined his manual dexterity and television bored him to distraction.

Maybe that's why we don't have any musical geniuses today.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Am I Doing?

There is an age old management axiom that goes, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Having more than just a feeling, subjective or anecdotal feedback is critical to knowing how performance is being perceived.

This is particularly important in places where you directly interface with your customers, internal or external. Of course when you are buying service you include in the provider agreement or contract certain performance guarantees. These service level agreements are targets your providers must achieve or suffer some financial penalty. For example, your data communications vendor must provide better than 99.5% availability or accrue credits equal to the cost of one day of service for every tenth of a point below.

If your business involves providing services to your customers, you may have SLAs that you must live up to or your customers will either penalize you or worse, vote with their feet. Satisfaction levels will be pretty evident and easy to detect. You are likely to invest in software monitors which will alarm when response times degrade or systems become unavailable.

The question is how to know if your internal customers are happy? They may be a captive audience and incur no direct costs for the infrastructure you provide. How do we tell if their level of satisfaction is increasing or falling out of bed.

One solution I would recommend is to periodically issue a survey. The absolute level of satisfaction at any one point is less important than knowing if things are improving or need attention. Continuous polling will provide the raw data you need for a proper analysis.

At one large company where I was in charge the help desk software was configured to automatically poll a person once their trouble ticket was closed. The survey would gather just a few facts such as whether the problem had been resolved in a timely manner or to their satisfaction. Were staff members helpful and courteous. Were multiple calls required or was it resolved on the first go around.

The surveys that were returned were aggregated and used to produce scores which were reviewed monthly. Ratings could be reviewed by type and frequency of problem. This allowed us to highlight areas where the software could be improved or training was needed. Surveys also provided a measure of productivity of the help desk staff. Consistently low scores and negative comments for usually researched and addressed accordingly.

The high level statistics were posted and shared with staff, management and the company. Everyone knew their feedback was important and that we were genuinely concerned with the level of service we provided to them.

Similar techniques may be used for business analysts, developers and training staff. If you take the time to ask people for feedback, collect and process this information, you will always know exactly where you stand.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Drinking From A Firehose

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by friends, colleagues and almost always during interviews is how do you keep up with all the changes and new developments in your industry.  There is no easy or short answer to this question.

Technology moves at the speed of light. New hardware, software and communication products are introduced every day. Products become services and services evolve into products. Software gets embedded in hardware while hardware becomes virtual. Just when you think you know everything about how data can move from here to there, someone introduces a faster, cheaper and more reliable method.

Certainly there is no shortage of information sources. Whether in print, audio or video format, there is a never-ending stream of news stories, opinions, vendor announcements and other content physically or electronically delivered to you. My preference is a healthy mix of tech and business publications. You have to scan a  Computerworld or Information Week, and read CIO Magazine. But you should also be reading Fortune or Forbes and top publications in your industry or vertical. For example, when I was in construction it was important to scan through ENR each week. If you are in finance you should be reading the Wall Street Journal.

The internet and aggregators make it relatively to assemble stories from multiple sources. Whether you employ your own rules using alerts, RSS or other tools to pull stories, or you rely on the judgement of others to highlight content of interest, you do not have to go to each original source. Web sites like Topsy show content that is trending while electronic newspapers collect links based on custom rules. Applications like Flipboard are very popular because they pull information from all your sources and present you with a personal magazine.

Additionally, social networks are a place where people know you and are happy to share links to content they think will be of interest to you. Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus all have streams of original content and links to published material. Twitter let's you choose the people or companies you consider interesting or well informed. By following your favorite thought leaders or industry pundits, you can have links to relevant content handed to you all day long. Companies now Tweet in addition to issuing a press release or other forms of announcement.

It does not end there. In fact, all of this is incidental and often random while other means of keeping up are more deliberate.

Attending conferences and seminars is important in order to hear and interact with presenters. But the real value at these events is the interaction with peers. This is where you hear what has been working and what to avoid from others who have had experience with various solutions. This is where you can run an idea up the flag pole and get the kind of open and honest feedback you need to avoid disaster.

These conferences, like the publications, should not be confined to technology. I will be the first to admit I hate to miss the annual Forrester meeting but I also want to attend general business or educational functions for my vertical as well.

Lastly, the people in your company are an invaluable source of information and you should be deeply immersed in frequent  information exchanges with people at all levels.

So, how can one possibly find the time for all of this, have a normal social life and also do your job? Well, I said right at the outset, there really is no easy answer.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Makes Something Go Viral

I happen to catch a post in my Google Plus stream by film and TV star Jeri Ryan. She was reminding everyone that her TV show Body of Proof had a two-part episode called "Going Viral" that would air tonight. It reminded me of the apparently unanswerable question; what makes something on the internet go viral?

Some months back, my friend Mike Downes happened to catch a video of an obnoxious person on the underground. For reasons neither of us could fathom, this video received millions of views within hours of it hitting YouTube.

We all know the hit song Friday Friday by Rebecca Black. This was a low budget video which somehow caught on and was shared and re-shared until it was viewed by over 10s of millions of people.

More recently the KONY 2012 video was smattered all over the internet and, in fact, was picked up by television, radio and print news media propelling it further into the public's eye.What made these videos stand out?

There are so many more examples of this phenomenon but few concrete explanations.

I had an uncanny experience as well. Beyond my column each day for months, I have posted a number of other interesting or amusing items. But none ever gained the kind of traction this post did the other day.

My son emailed me a graphic which I thought was worth sharing and so I posted it on Google Plus. Much to my surprise three days later people are still commenting or sharing it. It has been shared over 700 times, accumulated 1100 plus ones and almost 200 comments. Was this three by three matrix so novel or so controversial that it could stimulate this level of interaction?

This simple graphic somehow sparked an initial reaction that snowballed and drew more and more people into the fray. I don't know if we'll ever truly understand the underlying cause or if, in fact, it is just one of those random combinations of events that lead to this outcome.

I'll keep looking for content to evoke this kind of reaction again.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, March 26, 2012

How Do you Handle Stress

Whether you have a job or not, it is important to network with your peers to stay current,  informed and connected with your industry. People in the technology space often have to do double duty. By that I mean you have to be aware of trends in technology and also remain in tune with changes in your business vertical.

Health care, for example, is undergoing huge changes. New database technologies, imaging, video conferencing or tele-medicine, social networks and mobile computing have been driving development schedules for years. More recently, new legislation and even the pending Supreme Court decision will change all the rules and put even more pressure on the need to change. Later in the year, election results could change it all again.

Just keeping up can lead to high levels of stress on the job. But when you add the anxiety of seeking a new job it can become almost too much to bear.

At our last meeting , the Westport Group, one of the local network support organizations to which I belong, invited Frank Basler to conduct a workshop on managing stress. He introduced us to a short and simple exercise that allowed the participants to discover and share some of their own techniques. The members of this group are all senior managers currently between full time roles. In other words, unemployed.

We were each paired with another member and spent ten minutes or so listening to stories evoked by a carefully designed question. The goal was to talk about stressful situations you have been in and how they were overcome. The departure from the usual lecture or question and answer format was refreshing. It was genuinely nice to just chat with a colleague with whom, in my case, I have spent hours week after week in these meetings for months but never really got to know.

Apart from just discussing the findings of various stress management techniques, we were encouraged to seek other members and have more one on one sessions like this. It turns out leveraging relationships, such as the ones in this group, was high on the list.

Some of the other activities that surfaced included being well organized, taking long walks in the woods perhaps with a pet, working out, and just having patience and confidence in one's abilities. Using humor or doing volunteer work were also suggested. Frank added some other constructive outlets he encountered over the years. There is, of course, no right answer. It's best to do whatever works well for you.

One guy is apparently writing a daily blog. That sounds like a good approach to me.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, March 23, 2012

Get Out Of My Face-book

There has been a lot of discussion about some potential employers reportedly requesting Facebook credentials from prospective employees as a part of the interview process. I find this troubling if it's true or widespread.

I'm not a lawyer, nor am I a human resources professional. I am not in a position to cite court cases, precedents or decisions. We also will not wander into an explanation of protected classes or privacy concerns raised. We are not even going to mention the cautionary note Facebook themselves have now released to the public. It is a warning enumerating the liabilities a company might be exposed to by engaging in such a practice.

I am going to take a much more common sense approach.

As many of you may know, I have been looking for my next full time role for some months. During this time I have been on a number of interviews and have both studied and advised on the proper way to prepare yourself and how to behave. You also know (if you have been following me at all) that I am quite active on all of the most popular social networks.

Moreover, as a senior manager for the last twenty years or more I have frequently been on the other side of the desk conducting the interview and doing the candidate evaluations. My focus is always on how well one will fit the roll. The question is whether you have the necessary technical skills, the required interpersonal skills and are you sufficiently motivated. What you do evenings and weekends is your business. It is inconceivable to me that anyone would probe your behavior outside of the workplace.

Asking a candidate to surrender his or her password in my mind is akin to asking for the keys to their house so you can see how they live. Are there clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink or oil stains on the garage floor. This is like asking for their wallet so you can peruse the collection of credit cards, photos and check out their cash situation. In fact, let's take a walk to the parking lot so I can see what kind of car you drive. Does it have dents or rust, or is it clean and waxed? Let's open the glove box and pop the trunk so we can have a look around. Do you have unpaid parking tickets hidden in there?

Such requests are ludicrous. And so is asking an applicant for access to their social network account.

No HR professional or hiring manager would make requests like these. If they did most candidates would be outraged and flatly refuse. That is exactly how you should deal with this password request should it happen to you during an interview. The answer is more than a simple no. It should be, "How dare you."

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Simple Rule for Priorities - WIWFI

Occasionally I pull out an old axiom, dust it off and share it with colleagues or co-workers. This is one of those simple, yet very effective management techniques I wrote about in October of 1997. It worked then and it will work now. Here is the article exactly as it appeared back then.

I was surprised the other day by a phone call from a young man who was once on my staff. After the usual polite chit-chat we got down to business. He informed me that a year and a half after working for me, with no communication and a vast geographic distance between us, I still managed his time! Of course, I was mystified.

He went on to explain that while under my direction he had internalized my rule for establishing daily priorities. During the tune we worked together, there was always a variety of projects: boring, important, difficult and interesting ones. Like most people, we had the tendency to spend more time on the interesting or fun projects, while occasionally letting the more important items wait.

This is unfortunately a temptation in the fast-paced world of information technology, where new and exciting developments constantly capture our attention. Each day we are faced with a variety of golden opportunities. We could upgrade the network backbone to higher speeds, or trial a new videoconferencing system that supports the latest advancements. We could install the latest version of Microsoft Office on every desktop just to stay current.
In order to deal with this bombardment of different tasks, I suggest a technique I call WIWFI (pronounced “whiffy’”). As you look at each project on your schedule, ask yourself this simple question: “Who is waiting for it?” (i.e. WIWFI). You can also ask, “When it’s all done, who is going to notice?” and “Who is going to thank you?”
These are very easy questions that usually have very obvious answers. And based on those answers, you can generally set your own priorities.
Even after taking charge of his own shop, my former employee found himself applying the WIWFI test. At the beginning of each day, he looks over his “to-do” list and considers his options.
Envision the debate raging inside his head.
“I could fix that nagging payroll problem today. The whole company will notice. Paychecks and direct deposit receipts will contain the correct deduction for 401k, eliminating the need for the payroll department to calculate these by hand and providing accurate numbers to all participating employees.
“Or I could upgrade the e-mail system to the next release. Everyone will notice that as well. Only, in this case, it will be because the interface is a little different and some of the features no longer work the way they used to. But there are a number of very good reasons to move to the latest release. For example, it now supports a whole new protocol, POP3. Okay, hardly anyone knows what that is, but we really need to get to the next release.”
Using WIWFI, reason prevails, and the payroll system gets fixed. Lots of people were waiting for this and many individuals notice when it is made right.
On the other hand, if the WIWFI test had not been used, the decision may have been to upgrade e-mail. If everything went exactly according to plan and all users received instant, comprehensive training on changes in the new version, and all the “down time” occurred off-hours, then no one would notice the change. And I ask you, what are the odds on that happening?
One might argue there are changes which have to be made that no one will notice. I disagree. Think about it. If no one will ever notice, then how important could it have been?
Besides, it is far more likely that additional features in the new release will be overlooked, while the changes in the user interface will confuse people and generate lots of unexpected support calls. The system will become unavailable or unusable at times when it is really needed. When all the problems are finally sorted out, most people will use the new mail system exactly the same way as the old one. No one will thank you. Worse, people will still be waiting for the payroll system to be fixed!

It’s easy to ignore WIWFI and make judgments based purely on “professional expediency.” But think twice — for many IT executives faced with a choice between grumpy co-workers who don’t appreciate their work and an enterprise that gives IT a daily pat on the back, it’s a no-brainer.  

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's Simply Bad Form

Being a "systems" person, there are a number of things in life that often bug me. Last week  I covered poorly implemented IVR systems. This week my anger is directed to the endless array of forms which require you to enter the same information over and over again.

I can understand some paper based systems like the ones you encounter each time you visit a doctor or dentist. On each form, you have to sit down with a pen and fill out basic information. You write the date, your name, address, phone number and other personal data on each and every page in the stack. This is usually followed by a series of check boxes or other questions. They are a collection of standalone documents and individually serve a unique purpose. Therefore, each one must have your information on them.

However, I'm not sure why these are not designed as multi-part forms. They could be the kind where you press hard and your pen strokes are replicated on the pages below. Line up the fields and treat only the top half of the page in this way and the process could be made so much easier for the patients.

Better still, how about we use our smart phones and display a bar code, QR code or use NFC technology to electronically hand over these data to the office staff. They could then print personalized forms which would be easier for the patient to complete and the office to file. Use an OCR font and the completed forms could be scanned and stored! Changes from last time could be highlighted by the computer.

But this is a much harder process in the electronic world. Anyone who has been searching for a job will attest to the fact that you have to enter an enormous about of information from scratch every time you apply for a job. While some companies allow you to complete a profile and then use it repeatedly for job applications within the company, there is no cross company solution.

A number of companies allow you to scan your resume. It is parsed and their forms automatically populated with data gleaned from the document. However, it has been my experience that this is less than 100% accurate and requires meticulous edit and corrections which some systems facilitate better than others.

Everything you need to know is in my LinkedIn profile. When are we going to see the automated transfer of these data to job applications. Better still, why not include the data needed by reference instead of having to repeat it and store it locally.

Job applicants should only be asked to complete information or answer questions that are specific and unique to the company and the position being filled. Systems designed to support the HR hiring process should agree on a single, standard representation of the basic personal data and offer applicants simple and reliable import features from popular social networks where all these data reside.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wave Goodbye

First thing this morning  I found this email in my inbox. It came as no surprise. As the note indicates Google Wave has been on its way out for some time. It was an interesting but failed experiment in a new and quite novel way to interact. Launched in May 2009, with great fanfare, Google Wave was going to revolutionize collaboration.

Being a Google fan it was immediately of interest to me. I set about obtaining the much coveted invitation for a beta account.  I jumped into it as soon as the invite arrived. The interface was intuitive but a little confusing. At first I tried using it like email. Then thought we could develop documentation with it. Finally, I thought we could use this to manage and coordinate projects. Of course this would mean getting a handful of other people involved.

Dear Wavers,

More than a year ago we announced that Google Wave would no longer be developed as a separate product. Back in November 2011, we shared the specific dates for ending this maintenance period and shutting down Wave. Google Wave is now in read-only mode. This is reminder that the Wave service will be turned off on April 30, 2012. You will be able to continue exporting individual waves using the existing PDF export feature until the Google Wave service is turned off. We encourage you to export any important data before April 30, 2012.

If you would like to continue using Wave, there are a number of open source projects, including Apache Wave. There is also an open source project called Walkaround that includes an experimental feature that lets you import all your Waves from Google. This feature will also work until the Wave service is turned off on April 30, 2012.

For more details, please see our help center.
Yours sincerely,

The Wave Team

Working with a couple of other brave souls, we tried valiantly to figure out what the heck it was. A mash-up of instant messenger, email and shared documents with multiple threads like a discussion forum made it incredibly powerful, innovative and confusing. It was an exciting and elegant solution desperately in search of a problem to solve.We explored all the ideas I mentioned above.

After a few feeble attempts to interact using this platform, my colleagues and I decided it was too radical to adopt for any purpose and we gave up. Most people believe among the reasons for its failure was simply too much too soon. It was significantly ahead of its time and more than people could accept, digest and fully understand.

Perhaps some learning and a little bit of new technology was derived from this experiment. Not all ideas are going to be home runs. Some will roll in with a big splash, crash on the rocks and then quietly wash back out to sea.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, March 19, 2012

Q R You Kidding Me?

Months ago I wrote a column on the innovative use of QR codes. Those are the funny looking squares that visually encrypt information. You point your smart phone or tablet camera at them and use a QR code reader to decipher them. They will display some message or take you to a specific page (URL) on a web site where lots of information can be stored and kept fresh.

The example I included was the use of a QR code on a headstone in the cemetery. The code contained a link to a comprehensive obituary site which could support a mixture of text, graphics, photos and even video. By pointing and clicking, you could learn all about the deceased who was able to share their message and memories from beyond the grave.

Recently I heard two more stories about the use of QR codes. These were perhaps not as clever or well thought out.

The first involved a QR code printed on a poster in the subway. At first, this seemed like a perfectly good idea. There is a lot of foot traffic and most people have smart phones. Lots of people could take advantage of the instant availability of the additional information stored behind that QR block. Just point and click and there you go.

However, in the subway, underground, there is no cell signal. That eliminates the immediacy of access. Moreover, the particular story I heard reported the QR code was present on a poster that had been mounted on the wall on the other side of the tracks. In other words, the closest you could get to this poster would be 12 feet away. Unless you iPhone has the optional telephoto lens, you are not going to be able to gain any value from that QR code.

The other recent story was about the use of QR codes in a bar. It seems someone had the bright idea to print a QR code on the coasters in the bar. The QR code contained a list of taxis you could call if you needed a ride home because you had too much to drink.

An effort with good intentions, no doubt, but one doomed to fail. Imagine a highly intoxicated patron trying to operate their phone, snapping a photo of the code, choosing a taxi and successfully completing the phone call to arrange a pick up.  I'm guessing this didn't work out too well.

The moral of the story is a simple one. When deciding how and where to use technology, don't let the flash and dazzle or the coolness factor overwhelm common sense.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, March 16, 2012

HIRL Today, Gone Tomorrow (Part 4)

Weeks ago I wrote about the New York City HIRL event. This was an event where many people from all over the world who had previously only met in Google Plus hangouts decided to get together and engage in several joint activities in New York.

photo by Boris Gorelik
Fortunately for me I live in New York, so attending each day was easy, and I could sleep each night in my own bed. I have already described in Part 1, 2, and 3 all the events on the first day, Friday February 3rd and my thoughts and observations about them. Of course I could not be everywhere, so I only wrote about those activities in which I took part.

While the concerts and the final dinner were phenomenal, I know the photo walk was a high point for many people, especially those camera wielding, shutter happy photographers. All of them, from amateur to top professional, must have collectively taken thousands of pictures, not only during the walk but over the course of the entire event. So many great photos have been posted over the last several weeks and we have barely scratched the surface.

photo by: Eileen McAllister
I missed out on the photo walk because: one) I am not much of a photographer, and two) I grew up in Brooklyn and worked in South Manhattan for many years so the walking tour was kind of old news to me. Additionally, as a New Yorker, even ten years later, I still find it hard to view ground zero. What is to many an attraction is to me a painful sight to behold. However, I did miss the comradery and fun of hanging in real life with all these terrific people. My wife and I caught up with the group at the Palm Court of the World Financial Center. This is near ground zero, the site of the former World Trade Center towers, and was the end of the photo walk route. By this time the group had scattered and so there were only a handful of HIRLers wandering about still snapping photos, having lunch or coffee. Here I met a few more people I had not met the day before.
Before heading to dinner, we decided to jump in a taxi and visit my son in the East Village. While I had the chance to HIRL with him the night before, my wife had not seen him in a while. We invited my good friend Bruce Garber to come along and we all enjoyed some Dunkin coffee in my son's apartment. Then it was time for the big final dinner party at California Pizza Kitchen. There were over 70 people there sitting in booths, and at small and large tables. We took fully half the seats in the restaurant and I thought the manager was going to pass out when all of us assembled for some group photos. Here is the final observation I want to make. As I looked around at our group in the restaurant, sharing food, drink and stories, it struck me that none of these people had been together before. Eight months ago I knew none of them and most of them would not have known each other. Yet, the atmosphere at this dinner was one of a reunion of long time friends.

photo by: Anthony Quintano
The Google Plus hangouts had enabled perfect strangers, in every sense of the word, to come to know and, importantly, to trust one another. The visual combined with the audio interaction resulted in the formation of genuine relationships and solid friendships.

I wondered at the outset whether post HIRL the interactions would change in some way. As far as I can tell,  the only impact has been to increase the number of people with whom I can comfortably hang out.

Captain Joe
Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Now You See Them, Now You Don't

I have been impressed by telepresence demonstrations a couple of times in the last few years. It happened again at a conference I attended today.

Telepresence is very advanced video conferencing technology that creates the illusion multiple people in multiple locations are actually in the same space. The more conventional systems are usually room size. For example, one system has a large conference table with a curved wall on one side and chairs on the other. The remote participants, seated in a similar room elsewhere, are projected in life size on the wall. There is an illusion that you are sitting around the same physical table. Extremely high bandwidth is needed to support the video and audio, but the interaction during a meeting is very natural. After a while, you forget these people are not really on the other side of the table.

Then there are more advanced systems which use holographic projections to create a three dimensional image of the remote participants. A few years ago at a Forrester conference, John Chambers, Chairman & CEO of CISCO, was a featured speaker. Members of the CIO Group had an opportunity to see him during a small, private session apart from the main conference hall.

After he was introduced he stepped up on a small raised platform to speak with us about the latest developments at CISCO including, of course, their videoconferencing and telepresence systems. At one point he turned to the dark back of the stage and invited one of the product people to join him on stage to explain how telepresence works. Another person walked out from the back of the stage and began addressing the group. With John.standing next to him, they were able to interact easily and naturally with each other and the audience.

But this other person was actually in San Jose, clear across the country. What we saw was a holographic projection, so lifelike you thought he was actually there.

This evening, at the March monthly SIM Chapter meeting, a CISCO executive and very good friend, Norm Jacnis, presented a collection of current trends to help us prepare for the major changes occurring in the world. The future holds a lot of new and exciting developments, among them increased telecommuting and use of telepresence. He brought plenty of slides and some video. One in particular was very impressive. I found it on YouTube (where else) and included it below.

Check it out and pay particular attention to the end. Two of the four stars were not physically on the stage. They are holograms. Can you tell who was really there and who was being beamed in?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Press 1 To Be Totally Frustrated For A While

IVR is that technology that you encounter when you call customer service and a prerecorded voice provides instructions on how to proceed. You are told to enter a number for a particular service using the phone keypad or sometimes voice responses.

IVR stands for interactive voice response and, if done right, will improve customer service. To be honest, I have not encountered very many that have been done right. But I have run into many that were done badly.

Ideally, you select your function such as making an inquiry, a purchase, a payment, or requesting help. The system asks for certain information. You enter your account or phone number. Perhaps you have to enter a PIN to authenticate. You are presented with more choices and you merrily punch your way through the whole transaction. Sometimes you reach a dead end and, presto, a human appears on the phone. At this point the human has all the information needed and can satisfy your request or solve your problem. Right.

That is how it is supposed to go. I'm willing to bet, though, that has not been the majority of your experience and it certainly has not been mine.

The most common problem is the lack of integration. You dutifully punch in your 10 digit phone number and PIN or your 15 digit account number and move on to select the service needed. Press 1 for this and 2 for that and so on. What happens next is a person comes on the line and asks for your name. Then asks you to provide the very same information you punched in not one minute ago. Again you are asked to describe your issue. Invariably this results in a polite but unavoidable, "please hold on while I transfer you to the right department."

You enjoy someone else's favorite genre of music, punctuated by commercials suggesting you take advantage of additional services, upgrades or new products. With any luck, before the line goes dead, another person picks up. I say that because you will be transferred several times and invariably once or twice the call will simply drop. Then, like chutes and ladders, you slide back to the first interaction and start all over again.

The reason each person has to ask you to provide all the same information and validate your identity is due to a lack of connection among the systems used to provide customer service. As you are transferred around the organization from sales to customer service to billing and back to sales, the people at the other end of the phone line do not get the data collected by the person before them. So they have to ask again.

They also work from a script which leaves little room for independent or creative thinking. They have a series of questions to ask and depending on your answers they have an indicated next action. Since callers are unpredictable (and to be honest, unreliable) the conversation often goes off script. When this happens the default action is to hand it off to another person who might be the right one with the right script to bring the issue to closure. No one person has responsibility for your problem.

Finally, the metrics by which these people are judged usually involve the volume of calls they can handle and closure rates. Closure does not mean your problem is solved. It means they have done everything they can and you are no longer their issue. This motivates them to quickly dispatch every call. More calls means better performance and if I can shuffle you off to another person I get to close the call out and move on.

With poor systems design, lack of integration, tightly controlled customer interactions and the wrong performance metrics at play it is easy to see why these systems leave most people highly frustrated in the end.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

I have this sign the people in the LMB marketing department made for me a long, long time ago. It hangs today in my home office.The story behind it is contained in the column below. I wrote this in October of 1998 and it originally appeared as a guest column for an on-line community no longer around.. Here is a reprint of that column exactly as it appeared back then. The story may be old, but the moral holds true even today.

Hanging in my home office today
Prior to my current position I was a partner in a small consulting company. Corporate folklore at my previous company included a discussion between a programmer and his manager. The story goes something like this: Norman the manager asked Sam the programmer for a status report. Sam proudly announced he was done. Norman had been around long enough to know that programmers always think they’re done long before they've actually finished the job. So Norman inquired further. Sam again insisted he was, in fact, done. He had written the program. He had typed it into the computer, compiled it, linked it, loaded it and ran it to completion. Sam added that since the output was wrong, he couldn't turn it over yet; nonetheless, he had finished the program.

The moral of the story is pretty clear. There is a tendency in IT to underestimate or sometimes completely overlook the final step in a project - delivery to the end user.

As a manager, I frequently remind my staff of the importance of having users confirm that any assignment is complete. My rule, printed in large letters and posted on my office wall, reads “It’s up when the user says it's up.”

This philosophy was reinforced during an incident with Ralph, our assistant treasurer. This is the guy who sends time-critical information via modem to the bank each day. When the transmission failed one day, near panic set in. An IT technician was dispatched immediately and quickly determined the problem. Hardware parts were obtained and installed. The PC’s communications abilities were thoroughly tested, and the equipment was deemed healthy again in record time.

I knew this because the technician, grinning from ear to ear over his electronic triumph, proudly reported the news to me. “Everything is back to normal, operating better than ever,” he stated. Apparently, the modem card connector was snapped off when the computer was moved to retrieve a piece of paper that had fallen behind it. The broken card was easily replaced with a new one, restoring the computer to operating condition. “In fact,” he went on to explain “the new one was a brand new 56kb x2 model capable of much higher speed than the old 9600 baud model.” “Well, what did Ralph think?” I asked. “Oh, he was at lunch,” came the answer. “I see, then how did the new modem fare when you tested the banking application?”

At this point, the technician wished he hadn't been quite so quick to report to me directly. He had to admit he knew nothing about the banking application. But he had tried several online services and a few bulletin boards. “Boy, is that baby fast,” he said.

Before I could send him back downstairs to see Ralph, Ralph called me. He wanted to know when his PC was going to be fixed. You can guess what happened when the technician, still beaming from his favorable test results, met with Ralph - still waiting to send instructions to the bank. It wasn't a happy ending. The bank required a particular modem with very specific settings, a few details that the technician overlooked.

When we eventually obtained, installed, and tested the right equipment, I suggested the technician take heed of the sign on my wall. Come and tell me you are done after Ralph tells you everything is okay.

This problem occurs in software development as well. IT professionals are very creative people. They invent incredible solutions to very complex problems every day. They fix databases, repair old applications and provide new capabilities. But just before I cross any item off my list, I always ask how the users received the solution.

You don’t really know whether the data have been adjusted, the screen changed, the new function added or the process modified correctly unless the people who use it day to day confirm this.

Remember the rule. It’s up when the user says it up.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, March 12, 2012

Working On My Personal Image

Many years ago I decided to reduce the amount of paper in my home office. I had desk drawers and file cabinets filled with bank statements,vendor invoices, purchase records and other paper documents. These dated back at least seven years or more. The older ones were removed and stacked in boxes in the closet.

Everything from our tax returns to the bill of sale for a purchase of a major appliance was carefully filed. Of course, 98% of these documents were never again touched after they had been handled once and put away.  Yet, it was always a challenge to find that one particular page you really needed somewhere among the other 2%.

While I was CIO at an insurance company, a system for imaging documents was introduced and successfully implemented in the claims department. This had the effect of reducing mountains of paper and rows of file cabinets to digital images which were accessible by anyone from anywhere. No more lost files. No more outdated copies. No delays in obtaining information. It even allowed more than one person to have access to the same file at the same time. It also freed a lot of office space and removed desk top clutter.

With a strong desire to do the same at home, I took a look around and I found an affordable solution. For about $100 I purchased a single sheet scanner which came with a complete imaging package. It was rudimentary, only allowing you to scan one page at a time. You could create folders and organize your documents accordingly. I created an initial set that mirrored the folders in the drawers of my desk and file cabinet, and set about reducing my massive accumulation of papers.

It's been over 15 years and the system has served me well. Papers stack up for a while and then I have a scan-fest. But hard drive space is cheap and plentiful. Once scanned the originals are discarded. I have never had an issue finding or printing a copy of any document I needed.

There have been many updates along the way. New releases of the software were clearly worth the small investment. New features and improvements were introduced. I can nest folders and choose their colors. I can scan documents in full color including high quality images of photos.

The scanner itself has also been replaced twice, upgraded each time to a better, faster, higher resolution model. I am still limited to one page per scan but I plan for my next upgrade to include a sheet feeder.

Thanks to my wonderful  imaging system, I now have room in all those drawers for cables, connectors, old cell phones and a variety of other obsolete equipment.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, March 9, 2012

Ding Dong WiMax Is Dead

Last night I listened to a fascinating panel discussion, presented as part of the monthly dinner program hosted by the New Jersey Chapter of SIM. On the panel were three representatives of the vendor community and one practitioner.

  • Bob Egan - Vice President, Mobile Strategy, Mobiquity, Inc.
  • Vinod Kachroo - Senior Information Technology Executive
  • Chuck Sacco - President of Mobile Monday Mid-Atlantic, Vice President of Client Strategy at Movitas and Adjunct Faculty at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business.
  • Dean Guida - President and CEO - Infragistics
The panel was moderated by JP Finnell,  Head of Mobile Strategy, SAP America Services. Under his direction, they covered a lot of ground in the mobility space but one comment in particular really struck home with me.

Many months ago I wrote a brief piece about the impending death of WiMax, the first broadly available high speed cellular wireless system. Only a year or so before, I was thrilled to have obtained a so-called 4G Sprint phone that supported WiMax. This meant my smart phone would be several times faster when it sent or received data over the WiMax network. It had little to no impact on voice service, but email or any internet related activity would be considerably faster.

Service was only available in a handful of major cities at first. Traveling in these cities, my phone delivered fantastic performance. I couldn't wait until service was available in more cities and in my area. I remember the week I showed up to my office and saw the little 4G symbol light up. Super high speed internet to my phone while sitting in the office.

At fist, Sprint was way ahead, expanding WiMax into lots of new markets. Then, there was a deal with Clearwire Communications who were going to build out a huge WiMax infrastructure. Through a joint agreement, Sprint users would soon gain access to WiMax service across the nation.

The wheels came loose when Clearwire ran into some difficulties obtaining additional bandwidth due to concerns over interference with the GPS systems. But they came off altogether when the world converged on LTE, a competitor to WiMax. AT&T, Verizon and T_Mobile, the major payers in the US all adopted the LTE standard. Moreover, with its partner, Clearwater, having difficulties, even Sprint began introducing new devices with LTE in lieu of WiMax.

These signs lead me to believe, and subsequently write, that WiMax was on its way out.

Last night, the floor opened for questions and, being the quiet and shy individual that I am, my hand went up immediately. The panel had discussed the latest devices, user interface designs and applications. But we are still limited by coverage and bandwidth, I pointed out. How do we deal with that?

Most of the response had to do with disconnected or standalone processing, store and forward logic, and tight designs that minimize traffic and therefore limit bandwidth needed. But the first statement was made by John Egan, a well know and highly respected industry veteran. He simply said, "WiMax is dead."  It's what I had predicted months ago. Even if it was old news to some people in the room, for me it was confirmation.

That was a good enough response for me.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Armageddon Tired Of These Warnings

Last August I wrote one of my favorite columns. It was about solar flares and their potential impact on earth. Then, in November, I wrote another column about the asteroid YU55 that was heading towards earth. It was expected to come within 200,000 miles, passing closer to earth than the moon. These were big stories spelling out the potential disruption of power grids and possibly bringing civilization as we know it to an end.

Obviously, that hasn't happened.

But once again this week we are being warned of extraordinary sun spot activity. Additionally, we are under the threat of  a newly discovered asteroid spotted swooping down toward planet earth.

Beginning at 7AM eastern time this morning, the earth was being bombarded with highly charged solar energy particles. These originated from an unusually large storm on the surface of the sun which occurred on Tuesday. The particles traveled to the earth at millions of miles per hour and started glancing off our atmosphere today. No need to break out your aluminum foil hats or fire up the generator. Once again, there have been no widespread ill effects reported.

Earlier in the week, there was a story about a new asteroid called 2012 DA14 which is expected to make a fly by next year. This one will come so close it will be closer to the earth than many of the satellites we have in orbit. In February 2013, 2012 DA14 is projected to pass less than 17,000 miles of the surface of earth. The exact position and orbit are not known and so it may be further or might actually hit the earth. By the way, if it does miss us it will be back in 2056.

These reports make me wonder how many more times will we be threatened with this kind of celestial-based disruption or destruction? Will people continue to heed the warnings if, in fact, nothing ever happens? We all know the story of the little boy who cried wolf. Most people already shrug it off and go about their business.

So if a truly destructive magnetic storm does occur or a huge rock falls from the sky and hits the earth with the force of a nuclear bomb, my guess is we will be caught off guard.

Like cyber threats or the threat of nuclear destruction, none of this will be taken seriously by most people until the lights go out. By then, of course, it will be too late.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Not Another iPad3 Review

That's right. This is not another iPad3 review. Since everyone and their brother is busy covering the much anticipated releases of the iPad3 I thought I would avoid that topic and seek some other, more pleasant diversion. You see, I have an iPad2. For the longest time I lusted after one badly. I wanted it so that I could have the tablet experience just like everyone else.

Then, as you may recall, on the luckiest day last year I actually won one as a door prize. It has been terrific and it does everything I need it to do. Now, I am sure the iPad3 will have all kinds of sexy new capabilities including a bigger screen, better camera, more memory, faster connectivity (LTE) and so on.  But, frankly, I don't really need any of that. I'm happy to stick with my iPad2.

Fortuitously, a post about music, my other passion in life, just happened to come across my screen.  I took the opportunity  to try purchasing music using the new Google Play service. One of my fellow plussers, Frank Garufi Jr. shared Ryan Van Sickle's announcement that his album Ghosts Of The Brokenhearted was now available for purchase on Google Play. Having met and heard Ryan in person I knew this would be a set of tracks I would enjoy. So what better way to test this new service one day after its launch?

Click. Click. Click. Okay, I own the album. Couldn't be easier. My stored credit card was used. There was no delay, no shipping, loading or ripping needed. The entire album was instantly available to me on any of my devices. As an extra added bonus Google Play lets you "share" or announce that you have bought the album on the Google Plus stream. When you share, you give everyone who has circled you one free play of the album. Share public and even people who have not circled you are entitled to sample the songs.

Brilliant. Not only do I get a bargain and the ability to play this album or any track it contains, but I can allow all those people who follow me on Google Plus to listen to it as well. For any music buff, this is a great way to grow your following. Word gets around that you throw a free play of an entire album once in a while, people will be enticed to circle you.

From the artist's perspective, this is free publicity. Exposure of the best kind. Whether you sample one track or play the whole album you are one tiny click from buying it. We all know about impulse purchases.

There is a lot more to explore in Google Play and if I encounter any other extraordinary features I'll be sure to let you know. In the meanwhile, I'll be sitting back and listening to some hard driving tunes on my iPad2.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

May I See Your License, Please

Companies and individuals get into trouble all the time with issues of pirated software. Often, it is not intentional but rather a clear lack of understanding that software is not a physical product but rather sold in the form of a license to use. If you can grasp this one single concept you can prevent legal problems and avoid putting your company at risk of audit, fines and, worse, public embarrassment.

If this seems simple to you and you fully understand the issue you can stop reading now. Check back tomorrow for a column which may be of more interest. But you would be shocked at how many people still believe that software is (and should be) free, or that they have purchased "the disk" which entitles them to load this software to as many machines as they want. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pirated software is quite simply software that was acquired, installed and used without obtaining the proper license to use. Some software is "shareware" distributed free of charge. Often, though, the end user license agreement (EULA) stipulates to conditions under which the software may be used for free. Care must be exercised when dealing with these types of products.

Take the Malwarebytes anti-virus system, for instance. The basic product is free for "home" use but requires purchase of a license for use in a Corporate environment. There is nothing to prevent distribution and use throughout your organization. But should you be audited this would surface as a clear violation.

Some operating systems like Linux, Ubuntu and others are free. They can be loaded on any number of machines, receive updates and new releases. However, from some vendors a license is required for their specific version of Linux and you must purchase a support agreement if you want to be able to get bugs fixed, extensions or need assistance. That is their business model.

But most software will require you purchase a single license for each user. You may also be able to acquire a pool of licenses that may be shared or a corporate or enterprise license to blanket the whole company.

Finally, large scale applications may have license components making the governance issues even more complex. They may have specific "server" side pieces and associated end user counts. Still other are licensed by module.

The complexity of software licensing is often underestimated or not well understood. This can and often does lead to costly consequences, and could also put your job in jeopardy.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, March 5, 2012

How Long Could It Take?

Every once in a great while it becomes necessary to take off the tie, roll up your sleeves and get a little dirt under your fingernails. SMART, that automatic device monitor inside the PC, kept telling me one of my two internal disk drives was going to fail. "Back up your system immediately," it said, "and call tech support."

Of course, I back up regularly so there was no threat of data loss. But being a force of one, tech support is me!

Since the system is old but still functions well, I decided that I would replace one of the drives with a solid state drive or SSD. In addition to replacing the broken drive, this would deliver significant performance gains. An SSD looks and responds to the operating system just like a regular drive. However, it has no moving parts. It is simply a box of random access memory (RAM) with an interface that makes it behave just like a disk drive. While not as fast as the main memory of your PC, these solid state units are much faster than mechanical drives and just as easy to install.

It arrived Saturday morning so I set about the installation. True to form I first laid out all of the parts and carefully reviewed the instructions. Four screws and two cables to install. Seemed simple and straight forward enough. How long could it take? As a fail-safe approach, I decided to add the SSD as an additional (third) drive, leaving the other two in place. To achieve the maximum boost in performance the SSD would become the new "C" or system drive.

Anyone who has ever undertaken any project that even involves computers knows straight away the actual time to completion is always several times the initial estimate. The phrase two steps forward, then one step back comes to mind. This project was no exception.

Step 1: attach the drive to the mounting brackets. The screws were the wrong size. Fortunately I was able to find some that fit but then my screwdriver was too large. Attaching these two mounting rails, which by the way turned out to be unnecessary, burned the first hour of this 20 minute project.

Cracking the lid on the PC we went on a hunting expedition for connectors. It took a while (and an internet search for a diagram of the motherboard) before I clearly identified the SATA style connectors. Then I discovered there was no place to plug in for power.

A quick chat with my dear friend Frank Garufi Jr. solved the problem in a heartbeat. At his suggestion I simply stole the power connector from the second CD unit (rarely used in any case) and voila, we had the new drive up and running. Now we were practically done at only three and one-half hours into the project.

The drive comes with special "cloning" software. No, I couldn't make duplicates of me but I could magically copy, bit for bit, all the contents on the "C" drive to the SSD. The copy worked quickly and flawlessly. Now it was a simple matter of swapping some cables around so the SSD would be drive "0" which is the drive the PC uses to boot.

Not so fast. No matter how the cables were connected, the drive letter assignments remained constant. I could not make the SSD be the system drive. Another call to Frank confirmed you must use a utility to move drives around in Windows 7. I'm sure that would have worked but since my machine is a little older and is running Windows XP, this was not an option.

In the end, I simply used the SSD as the third ("F") drive, leaving both the original system and failing data drives in place. This was a perfectly acceptable alternative. Moreover, I was able to squeeze considerable performance gains by moving the page file to the SSD and setting the default for temporary files there as well. It may not be the most elegant solution, but it works.

The PC is back up and running better than ever. At some point I will yank the old data drive, returning the systems to its original configuration and restoring power to the second CD unit.

I put the tie back on and revised all future estimates of hardware upgrades by one order of magnitude. That way next time it will only take twice as long as I expect.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Friday, March 2, 2012

Economics, Politics and Parking

Early this morning Harvey Nash hosted a breakfast and presentation as a part of their Leadership Lecture Series. It was held at the The Plaza Hotel in New York City. I was fortunate enough to have been invited. Albert Ellis, Global President and CEO of Harvey Nash gave some opening remarks, and then introduced Senator John Kerry, the keynote speaker.

Before the session began, I ran into a couple of old friends and met a few new people. In the polite chit chat I said I had driven in and mentioned my discount parking deal.

Some of you may know that it is a challenge to drive in New York City. The roads are rough and the pedestrians bold and unyielding. There are buses, trucks and undisciplined taxi drivers. The streets are filled with construction activities, traffic lights and a seemingly endless array of other obstructions.

The only thing tougher than driving in Manhattan is finding an available, affordable, safe place to park.

Some years back I discovered an absolutely brilliant on-line service. is a site where you  can specify any location in New York and it will identify discount parking nearby. You can enter actual addresses, choose the neighborhood or named attractions.

Set the arrival date and time, select the length of stay and voila, a map of garages with the rates for each will appear. Some rates are guaranteed while others are best available information. You make your selection and print a coupon to be presented at the time of payment. As long as you stay within the time window you specified they must charge you the amount on the coupon and not a penny more.

Recently the service has been expanded to another 40 US and three Canadian cities. Of course it is available on the most popular mobile platforms iPhone, Android, Blackberry and ordinary cell phone.

Knowing I was heading to a high priced zone, I used the service to book a spot in a garage with a rate of $19 for the entire day. My colleague, unaware of this service had randomly parked in another facility close by, but his rate was nearly three times my cost.

By the way, if you follow me on twitter you know I tweeted during the session. Ellis made some very cogent points regarding the world economy and how certain countries are outdoing the US. Senator Kerry also made a number of interesting points, however, his talk was less about leadership and more about Republican bashing. Video clips of the session, photos and more will be available at Harvey Nash Leadership Lecture if you care to watch.

Far too political for my taste.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC