Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Lesson of the Holiday Roast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Third Golden Rule

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Who Are You Going To Call

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

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

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

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mind My Own Business

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

Allow me to explain.

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

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

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

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

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

How does that differ from what you routinely do?

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thoughts on Immortality

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

I disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Danger Within

Security is surely on everyone's mind these days.  One merely has to pick up a newspaper, magazine or visit news sites on-line to read about the latest incident involving the release of personal data, confidential corporate files or government secrets. As a direct result of the rash of these high profile incidents, articles and presentations abound on the need for better means of protecting our information.

Some of the focus is on better educating the person at the keyboard, since they are most often the initial crack in the armor. I have even advocated for this in previous columns.

We are inundated with demands for better, more complex passwords, two-factor, three factor or biometric and other means of authentication. We must have improved edge security, faster intrusion detection, the latest anti-virus and web filtering systems. Network equipment vendors try to outdo one another with increasingly sophisticated methods of preventing unwanted visitors, while the security related software companies race to stay ahead of the nefarious individuals exploiting holes in the code by spotting the latest attack vectors.

What we do not hear enough about is an effort to ensure there are no holes in the code to exploit. In my recent work with the NAiC investor group I had an opportunity to learn about several companies with tools that automatically read and evaluate software code. These tools can be used to find logic flaws and identify opportunities to improve code efficiency. But importantly, they can also highlight potential security issues allowing these dangerous holes to be plugged before the code is ever released for use.

Major corporations, particularly software houses, routinely have a QA group perform reviews. But the priorities of the company and demands of the marketplace often push the code release ahead of a complete review. Moreover, the QA department is often the poor, red-headed step-child with little power to truly complete the mission. They are only there to make sure the code doesn't crash the system or fail to perform in line
with some option on the menu.

Until we make the quality and especially security of applications as important as meeting the date we promised our customers new features, we will always run the risk that some employee will unwittingly allow malware to evade all the perimeter defenses and take advantage of flaws, infecting systems, stealing data or taking control.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Static Role of the CIO

Frankly, I am growing tired of hearing about the changing role of the CIO. It's the same tired story being told over and over again. It is no different than the heralding of all of the other dramatic changes in technology, each supposedly changing all the rules and creating new challenges and opportunities for business.

Why do we single out these particular senior leaders and judge them by standards different from the other members of the C-Suite?  Surely the tools and techniques, problems and issues the CFO deals with have evolved over time as they have for the head of Marketing, Sales and business leaders in general.  Yet, the people who occupy these senior roles have not been repeatedly threatened with extinction.

Could it be because the members of the C-Suite are not focused on the tools of their trade but rather bring their knowledge, experience and discipline to bear on those most critical aspects of running the business and meeting their specific criteria for success? Sales, quality, customer satisfaction and, yes, even profitability are some of the key concerns of these top managers. They strive to please their customers, shareholders and employees.

As a member of the C-Suite this is what a true Chief Information Officer focused on 20 years ago and what CIOs will focus on 20 years from now.

Whether your data center is in the basement or the cloud is not the issue. Is it operating efficiently, with speed and agility? Waterfall, agile, extreme or whatever may come next is not the question but rather, are the developers delivering the capability to run the business? Buy or build is not the question. Are we investing our limited capital in the manner which generates the best overall return.

I would argue simply, if your focus has been on managing technology and not managing the business, you never were a CIO.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All Clouds Are Not Created Equal

Every CIO is constantly challenged by management's demand to control operating costs, maintain a high quality of service and yet support the ever growing needs of the business. Add to that the new pressures of transforming the company to compete effectively in the new digital economy.

We are all familiar with the triangle of price, quality and schedule. The conventional wisdom is you can have any two out of three -- but rarely can you achieve all three. If you want it fast and cheap, it isn't going to be very good. Add a strong desire for quality into the equation and keep the time frame short, and costs are likely to soar.

Enter the "Cloud." This is a latter day timesharing, service bureau or remote computing model (for those of us who have been around a while) with a bit of a twist. The platforms, tools and software systems available today truly enable computing power to be delivered as a utility to anyone, anywhere and at any time.

The cloud presents an opportunity to push routine or commodity services out the door, reducing the burden on internal resources, increasing agility, flexibility and predictability of costs. The cloud makes it easy to scale up and scale down as needed, and can free limited internal resources to focus on higher value projects.

But with these benefits come new concerns. The top of the list is always security. How can we be assured our data will be safe from theft or misuse when we put it in the hands of some outside data center operators? Clearing that hurdle brings us to other make or break decisions. Does the provider offer the platforms, API or software tools that are needed to run our applications and support the business? Can I meet all of my regulatory obligations?

Assuming we can identify a player or players that meet these and other necessary criteria we eventually turn our attention to cost.

Here is where it becomes really interesting because costs are not always that predictable. For Software as a Service (SaaS) we can apply the rates per user per month and have a reasonable estimate of the cost. However, this is not as simple in other types of cloud services such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) where costs will depend heavily on the actual resources consumed by our application.

We can estimate resource consumption and, using published rate charts, try to predict the cost. But it turns out this may not be a fair basis for comparison. Research shows not all clouds are created equal. A series of benchmarks run by Krystallize Technologies demonstrated the same workload run on identical machines provisioned at different cloud service providers will yield different performance levels. This would suggest we will can expect different levels of performance for our application depending on its characteristics and the provider we choose.

That was not too surprising given different providers will have different equipment, architectures and design. What was very surprising was the performance varied within provider. The representative work load executed on several identically provisioned machines at the same provider also yielded different performance levels.  Moreover, these performance levels varied significantly over time. Keep in mind these cloud service providers operate data centers that are in a constant state of change.

While there are plenty of tools to simulate workloads, monitor the performance of an application or the network, and monitor costs, Krystallize CloudQoS™ provides the kind of visibility into the cloud that no other monitor delivers. You will be able to detect when the "sand" under the platform has shifted.

Whether you are first choosing a cloud service provider, managing an existing provider or just trying to maintain a quality of service, having the ability to measure the true performance of the platform supporting your application will be essential.

With the proper visibility, you may be able to rest easy knowing your cloud service will remain as fast and cost effective, and will continue to provide the same high quality service throughout the life of your application.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Where Did We Meet?

I have always been a fan of LinkedIn. For professional networking it is unsurpassed, outdone only by live events where you can shake hands, make eye contact and exchange business cards.

I am not exactly sure when this feature was added but I would love to shake the hand of the person who enhanced the "relationship" tab to allow for notes and other information about each contact that only you can see. One of these special fields is "how you met."

I attend a lot of conferences, business meetings and social events which means I collect a lot of business cards. I have always been pretty diligent about keeping this contact information in my personal address book, but often the 'connection' is made on-line in LinkedIn as well. I also connect frequently with people who I meet by phone, video-conference, through publications or even by referral.

Of all the things I have the most trouble tracking it is how and where I first met someone. Being not just able, but prompted to include this tidbit of information when adding a new connection is pure gold. Now, when looking back at people, particularly people with whom there has been little contact for a long time, one can easily be aware of the source of the connection.

By the way, the section allows you to add multiple notes about the individual such as personal information or other background material you may have, activities or communications with the person. You can set up reminders to prompt you to call, write or take some other action. The contact can also be "tagged" or assigned to a group. 

By using these features, which are included in the free version of the product, you can have  pretty robust contact tracking system.

Recently, I started to go back through my contacts, reconnecting with people and carefully adding notes. Not only has it been working well, but I even get a laugh when some of them can't recall where we met either.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Swimming with the Sharks

When you see a ship in port it not only means the end of one voyage, but the beginning of another. And so it is that my ship has come into port again, ending an almost three year journey. This was the fourth voyage where I filled the role of captain, pulling a crew together from different parts of the ship and taking the systems of the vessel up a couple of notches.

The role of the CIO is changing in many ways and like an old sea captain it becomes more and more difficult to find a ship where people are comfortable with you and believe you will function well on the bridge. Some think you lack the energy while others might feel you haven't kept up with the latest advances in the engine room or navigation systems. In fact, many think technology has advanced so much the ship can practically run itself.

Well I may find myself on the bridge of another ship one day, but in the meanwhile I have embarked on a completely new journey. Toward the end of last year I joined the crew of a pirate ship. Well, not really, but I'm not sure there is a good nautical analogy for an investors group. I suppose we're more like a independent fleet of fishing boats, casting our nets and hoping for a big haul.

I am now a partner in the North Andover Investors Collaborative II. Week after week we evaluate different early tech based start-up companies to choose the ones we think are going to be winners. What sets this group apart from most is the collective brain-trust with a diverse cross section of disciplines and experience.  To select the investments we draw from over thirty seasoned professionals with backgrounds in law, finance, technology, and a variety of verticals.  I've only been a part of it for a few months but I can already see where this breadth of knowledge has quickly segregated the high potential candidates from the glitzy flash in the pan ideas.

Playing Shark Tank has been exciting, fun and a real learning experience. I am seeing some incredible innovations, new software, services and technology. There will certainly be no lack of material to write about.

This new journey may be more uncertain, with less clear direction and a much higher risk of return. But I am enjoying the wind and the waves, and the camaraderie. This role turned out to be quite a catch!

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC