Sunday, June 30, 2013

Silence is Golden?

I was doing some dishes and had some music playing. I had to leave the room for a minute and took my phone with me so the music stopped while the bluetooth went out of range. Arriving back in the kitchen I went back to the dishes and thought to myself, "I should really turn that back on." But I didn't. There was lots of silence. Birds in the distance. Cars went by. Silence. And I was ok with that.

As a young person (I guess I am still young by many peoples' standards) I couldn't be without music playing somewhere. Perpetual tunes. I had a beat up Sony Walkman that was a constant companion. That first CD player got used. A lot.

Now as I get a little older I'm finding myself listening to music less. Is music something less interesting to me now? I don't think that's the case. Are the music choices out there less to my liking? There seems to be plenty of items starred in my Spotify account.

Maybe with age silence is more precious. Probably more so as a parent. The part that frightened me a bit was that I don't miss the constant music. Am I becoming less musical? I don't think so. More focused, perhaps. I think 4'33" makes more sense to me these days.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Kids: Digital Natives

My wife turned on the TV and promptly our 3 year old began to pester her to put on a cartoon he wanted. This was broadcast so she was trying to describe how that works.

Her: "You can only watch what they show you. You can't choose whatever you want."

3yr old: "But I want cartoons! Can't We turn it on? "

Her: "It just doesn't work that way."

3yr old: "But it works on Netflix!"

Yup. And advertisements are just as confusing. They have a tough time telling them apart from the real content. Pretty fascinating to watch the them watching. I doubt they'll ever learn to play during the ads like we did.

Content producers and "broadcasters" need to learn that the paradigm has changed. Business as usual won't work.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Restricting Technology: Not a Substitute for Good Management

It ain't easy being a small or medium business. You're not big enough to woo vendors with big contracts but you're too big to do things by the seat of your pants. Once, you were small enough to be lax and agile like that but now you've put on some extra weight and those additional employees and obligations (and laws) sure slow you down. We sometimes joke about the old dinosaurs, the massively big corporations, that change slowly and are burdened with an endless bureaucracy; Layers of middle-managers keeping the noble hourly employee in check.

To me, it's been interesting to watch SMB and Enterprise diverge from their traditional MO on technology. Where SMB used to be so nimble and innovative there seems to be a trend toward restriction and outsourcing. Enterprise seems to be leaning more toward relaxing and "insourcing". Obviously, legal requirements put limits on what any business can allow and require a certain amount of accountability but outside of those requirements this is the trend I see. To a certain

This trend to implement big brother on the SMB level reflects two facts (as I see it) about business:

  1. Once products become cheap enough vendors have to create an "industry trend" to sell to lots of SMB to keep profits up.
  2. Managing employees is hard. Really hard. The coward's way out is to use technology tools to insulate you from that job so that you can "focus on your business again."

Number 2 is being exacerbated by number 1. There's a lot of great tools out there in the enterprise sector. They serve a purpose and can be useful. The thing is, enterprise payed for an army of consultants to come in and implement management tools properly. SMB rarely does this, particularly on the "S" end of SMB.

Enterprise seems to have figured out that the IT police-state isn't sustainable. It becomes a nightmare and IT loses a lot of its effectiveness. There's a happier middle ground and larger organizations seem to be actively working on finding it. IT is about providing solutions and working with information not operating a Chinese great firewall to restrict users.

Sadly, I don't see an end to this in the near term. Industry trends are like a runaway bus that take everyone along with them for the ride. SMB needs to stop trying to buy all the enterprise stuff that finally came down to their price point (If I read another forum post by an SMB ITer asking which SAN to get I'll lose my mind). Prepare for the future of your business today. Be strategic and remember that technology should be part of, or at least play a part in, your business plan. It's a tool. Use it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Who Are We To Decide?

It's rather unnerving to read fellow IT workers' comments about how their co-workers in other departments use technology tools. It makes me wonder if IT degree programs and certifications could benefit from some philosophy or anthropology courses. Apparently big picture is not a common IT way to think.

I was reading a forum posting about a business where users refused to give up their gigantic pst personal archives (a common lament that I've made as well). Many of the comments revolved around taking control and user smack-down. It just made me shake my head and move on to something else. Too bad. I was hoping to find some good information in that conversation.

Experience is a helpful thing to have. I've fought the email battle before: old server, no expansion possible, users constantly over their limits and using their inboxes as file storage. After I got done beating my head against that wall I learned something: Users will use the tools you give them to accomplish their tasks and it may not be in the way you envisioned. It might even be the "wrong" way. It's an evolutionary process and, just like evolution, there's no wrong way if it accomplishes the desired result (and complies with law, regulation, policy, etc, etc).

We IT hotshots come along in the middle of the evolutionary process and scream, "You're all doing it wrong!" But who are we to decide what's wrong? Who among us hasn't lamented the benighted user's decision to use a tool in the most asinine way? And yet those same users get their jobs done and the tool seems to help them.

Efficiency isn't the holy grail we think it is. Nor is conformity. Providing appropriate tools and enabling workers to do their job is far more important. The real purpose of IT is to make things work so the business value increases. Unless IT is the purpose of the business, we're here to do as we're told. We are *not* the enforcers.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Service Heritage

What's your "service heritage"?

A few things I've read lately made me think a little bit about my own perspective of customer service and IT service in general. Obviously, the way I approach service is flavored heavily by the experiences I've had both as a consumer but more strongly by the fact that I've been providing technical services to customers for over 16 years now. So why do I approach service in the way that I do?

All the different jobs, lessons my parents taught me, even my beliefs (religious and otherwise) all influence my approach to service. I've written about the good service template but you can follow that template to the letter and still screw up service. If you don't understand why you perform service and have a desire to  help then you're going to have a miserable time. There's certain elements of compassion, understanding, and drive that need to be present.

My Dad loved comic books and I remember him breaking out his version of the quote from Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility."

When I first saw that what I could do with technology was magic to most people I understood that I was also responsible for helping those same people use the tech. Until everyone is a digital native (and probably even long after that) there are those to whom technology is otherworldly magic. We who fix or bend technology to our will are superheros. It's our responsibility to use that power for good.

I believe strongly that as we do our work we have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to be a light in the darkness, as the saying goes. Good service can do that. We talk about value. We talk about metrics and business goals. That's part of working in a company and it gets really heartless if you focus on the business and money. In the end we're all human, and for those of us who are the service providers, the chance to make a difference can be really rewarding.

Think about your service heritage. Why do you work in service? Remember the why.