Friday, October 24, 2014

Marketing Recipient ROI

I just got a marketing email from a company that wants me to attend this or that function to join a roundtable discussion about an issue facing the industry I'm in. It sounds interesting, and I'd love to have industry peers to talk with about it.

They also try to entice my participation by hosting the event at a big chain steak house in the Twin Cities metro. Hmmm, free food does tend to get my attention.

But then my inner nerd gets the calculator out and starts to do a cost/benefit calculation.

96 miles to the destination, so a 192 mile round-trip. My car gets around 28 mpg so this trip is going to take 6.86 gallons of gas and looking down the street gas is at $3.09/ga. This trip is going to cost me $21.20 in gas not to mention the over 4 hours I'll spend in the car. Assuming my time is worth a paltry $15/hr that's another $60.

So $81.20 for me to get a free steak and hear some people jaw.

The local steak joint (http://www.georgessteaks.biz/menu.htm) serves up a pretty tasty steak. My math says I can take my sweetheart out to get a couple of ginormous ribeyes and a bottle of wine AND still come in at under $80 before tip.

So now I guess if I don't go I'll need to arrange for a babysitter to take my sweetie out for a date. Let's see...where's that phone number for the sitter?

Monday, September 15, 2014

LG G3 Review

I recently updated to an LG G3 phone. It's good. It's a very nice smartphone. Like any device it's got pros and cons. I would say, for the most part, it is the nicest smartphone I've had to date.

Some points about the G3:

Battery

This is the first Android phone for me that has a good balance between performance and battery life. It's not quite Droid Maxx or iPhone level battery life but I consistently have 30% or more left on the battery by the end of the day.

Screen

Good grief this thing is huge. Beautiful screen and all that but, sheesh! Phablet indeed! It's just too big and I think Apple made a huge mistake following suit making a giant phone. If you need a smartphone this big I believe you need to re-evaluate your life. It's nuts.

Features

LG keeps it simple. Not a lot of useless customizations. I like that. Some things are nice additions like the knock on screen to turn it on. Since the power and volume rocker buttons are in the unusual position on the back of the device it's nice to have that feature. Simple = good.

Buttons

Yup. Power and volume buttons are on the back. Not a terrible thing but certainly requires some getting used to. Because of the size I kind of appreciate this redesign.

Camera

Good camera. I thought I might be disappointed after having the Samsung Galaxy S3 experience but it performs well. Can't say the laser focus system does anything special for me. One quirk I've found is that doing a scan to PDF in Google Drive doesn't play well with the laser focus. You hit the shutter button and nothing happens. My solution is to wave my hand between the camera and the paper to trigger the phone to refocus. The picture happens immediately after your hand is out of the frame. Besides that it works fine.

Size

Did I mention this thing is huge? It's hella huge. If that's what you like then you won't be disappointed. I'd rather go back to the Galaxy S3 size or better yet, about the size of my old HTC Touch. That was a good smartphone size!

Conclusion

The only thing that matters is battery life. The LG G3 has that. I rule that this is a fine phone (phablet - it's just way big.)

Complexity Kills (Enterprise Software)

A co-worker didn't get the response she was expecting from an application I support. In this support call I had to ask, "What kind of transaction did you do?" Her response was reasonable: "Why does that matter? I should still get a receipt." After embarking on a 30 second explanation of the different ways transactions go through the system and why some do and some do not generate a receipt it occurred to me why I'll never be able to decrease my support time on the product: It's too complex.


The system I'm dealing with is one that adds functionality to a legacy system that's actually a bandaid to an old system below that. The turtles go all the way down. The architecture also means the flowchart for how a transaction generates a receipt is wide and deep. We IT folks know all the nooks and crannies for the transaction-receipt workflow but why would a user care? Should they care? It really only comes into play when they don't get the expected results from their transactions. That's an exception case, right? 

Well, it is except when it isn't.

I tweeted this earlier and I firmly believe it: Too many enterprise systems require users to know something about how the system works. Non-IT people don't want to be bothered by those details. 

Having said that, I'll make the argument that they SHOULDN'T be bothered with those details. 

It's not about simplicity or elegance (though many IT types do). This is all about accomplishing the primary objective of the system: Get the work done.

If your system requires run-of-the-mill users to understand the inner workings of your enterprise system in order to successfully use the system there is an inherent fail. The thing that makes it feel like a betrayal is that the failure hits IT hard. Not only will you get the same questions over and over, there's not a whole lot to be done to mitigate the problem. Sure, you can educate users, post documentation, make videos, etc. The problem will always be the same. Users that want to get work done are frequently put in situations that require them to either be indoctrinated into the secret system society or spend time to search through documentation to find the solution. And neither of these 2 things are likely to happen. 

This means calls to IT. The same calls to IT. Over and over. 

As you design systems for your enterprise if you do not address the issue of complexity you are setting your project up for failure in the long-run. Any software solution that users to understand the complexity to operate is full of failure.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

It's Not School Money Madness

For those expecting an IT/tech post out of me, sorry. Today I'm here to discuss local school referendum issues. We'll resume regular programming later.

Through the social networks I've been reading various arguments against our local school district's campaign for a referendum. It's usually an impassioned discussion because, despite our area's relatively small population we support 2 private schools as well as a sizable public school.

My kids go to the public school so obviously that is my bias. I support students from the other schools as well and want them to have the best opportunities they can get too. However, some of the arguments against the referendum are starting to miss the point or are beginning to sound a little us-against-them. It's a touchy subject because taxes are involved, which affects everyone to some extent.

I read through a thoughtfully prepared blog post More School Money Madnes by Matthias Layrer, a fellow from Mankato I haven't had the pleasure of meeting. Please go ahead and read it since that is what the remainder of my post is based on.

He has obviously has put a lot of thought into the matter and is not opposed to looking bigger picture. I like that. However, I don't agree with him on many points so I'm going to go through and talk about some things that I've learned both as a parent involved with the public school and as a community member who's had conversations with people involved in these matters.

Location

I'll admit, I'm also disappointed no precise location for the new facility has been identified by the school board. It'd be nice to know what we're buying. The reality is that New Ulm's geography, coupled with the location of the airport, makes this a hard thing to nail down. Given the high price of farmland you can't just say "we're going to buy Farmer Smith's land for a new school". Speculation like that is irresponsible. They just can't enter negotiations or planning without voter approval first.

I also take issue with the idea that walkability and car-reduced living is reduced or impacted by building a high school outside of the center of town. Matthias does the right thing by getting MNDOT traffic maps and car counts. That doesn't tell the whole story, though, and at worst actually gives a false impression. Traffic in the public school area is actually far worse than the numbers indicate. When school starts up in the fall I'd love to take Matthias along with me as I drop off my kids at school and explain what's happening.

1) New Ulm is a workaday, hourly wage town. We live and die by the 8am-5pm work day. Nearly all employers expect employees promptly BEFORE 8am. With many parents needing to drop their kids off and get to work before 8:00 this means a lot of people rushing, usually at the expense of other peoples' safety, to get through the gauntlet.

2) I agree that two-lane road capacity is 10,000 cars by recommendation. Neither Garden nor Payne Streets qualify as a thoroughfare however. A residential street with 2000 cars daily is a very busy road. Also, don't forget that Payne street, with its traffic controls, probably sees wildly different traffic counts at different areas. It might even be busier near St. Paul's Elementary as public school parents drive by to get closer to drop off their kids before turning off well before 4th St to avoid the traffic controls and crossing guards. I'd like to see traffic decreased by St. Paul's as well.

3) Congestion is a real problem. The line of cars backed up on Garden St southbound can be as long as 3-5 blocks. It's a real problem for residents along that area. Vogel fieldhouse is also negatively impacted; The morning workout folks have to travel the long way around sometimes to avoid getting caught up in the wait. With poor line of sight, cars parked along the street, many vehicles, and lots people in a hurry to beat the clock to work it can be a pretty rotten situation.

4) Many of the 10-12 grade students drive to school. Even ones only a few blocks away. You may as well ignore them as part of the location argument. They don't care if the school is in on Payne Street or half way to Hanska. They wouldn't be caught dead biking to school.

Would any of those parents bike their kids to work? No. They're not driving to jobs downtown (where there aren't all that many jobs anyway). They're driving to Kraft, 3M, Windings, Medallion, SpecSys, Shelter Products. True, some major employers are near downtown, but that's still 10 blocks away - another 7-10 minutes of biking if you have no waits at any intersections. For my own trip to work it's another 18 blocks from the school. That's 8 minutes if I bike at a fast pace, don't have to wait at intersections, and arrive to work sweaty. To allow for a time cushion, I would need to bank on 15 minutes. That's almost earlier than the school wants kids arriving. If I worked at 3M that's another 9 blocks and I would have to bank on another 10 minutes. We're nearly up to 30 minutes and that is definitely earlier than the school wants kids to arrive.

My point is that the location of the school isn't as great as it seems. For most hourly wage parents they need to drive anyway to arrive at work early enough. This isn't a generational issue. I don't care how much a Millenial wants to bike, if you are required to be at your work by 8am, the current location of the school means you're going to be driving. Love it or hate it, that's the reality in New Ulm.

Sports

Matthias has good points here. Johnson is a great facility and it's fun to watch game there and it would be great to see it get continued use.

I know that the public school uses Vogel Fieldhouse for some things but there's cost involved there too. The school needs to pay to use those facilities (rather than paying for maintenance on owned facilities. I know, I know). But frankly, if the school increases their use of those facilities that decreases the opportunities for residents to use what is arguably a very nice and affordable recreational facility. If more people want to take advantage of Vogel, increased use by the school may create a capacity problem. I don't have numbers on it but the number of cars in the parking lot indicate increased use to me. I've been driving past every school-day morning for 2 years now and that's my unscientific observation.

Population

Now this part starts to get me riled up because the population numbers really do not tell the whole story. When the high school was built, it was intended to house 800 students (by 1960's standards) and held 607, grades 10-12. Today it houses 1030. While it is true that the city's population has been plateaued at about 13,000-13,500 residents, the people that make up that population changes over time. Our current trend is for more families moving into town. If the population isn't increasing that's because the new arrivals are replacing deaths and households without children. Class sizes have been increasing recently.

It's a mistake to look at stagnant population numbers and assume that the age spread is also stagnant. I've been watching many families move into town as jobs held by long-time employees open up due to retirement. People in their 30's and 40's are looking for better opportunities for their children and, despite the pay cut of moving out of the metro, the New Ulm area has a lot to offer. There's a brain gain happening under the radar.

http://www.startribune.com/local/158326255.html
http://www.extension.umn.edu/community/brain-gain/

Community

Another sore spot with me. This isn't about just community space. The fact of the matter is that the private schools, home-schooled, and families in other districts rely on ISD 88 to provide a lot of special needs services. This is only fair: everyone pays taxes so those services need to be there for all comers. I'm really proud of what our public school has done. There are families that send their kids to New Ulm simply because it has some of the best services around for special needs students.

If we are going to continue to be amazing in this area and provide these services to everyone we need to seriously consider the ramifications of turning down a referendum. Special needs services take a lot of room. That's space that cannot be used for mainstream programs. This isn't about being creative with the space we have. The district is already doing that as best it can.

I would contend that the New Ulm population isn't aging. I suggest that the population is actually getting younger. There is already great space for community ed in existing buildings and this referendum is not about that.

Culture

I agree that New Ulm has a great culture. We're also frugal (often to a fault) and probably too often value-conscious.

During the 2013-2014 Network New Ulm leadership program I had the opportunity to visit the local schools along with their administrators. For the long-time residents in the group who were alumni it was very obvious that the public school facilities are beyond their capacity. I highly encourage Matthias and anyone else who isn't familiar with the public school to reach out to the district. Take a walk through the hallways...you'll be amazed (as I was) at the state of the building and how over capacity they are. It's not just a group of people wanting something shiny and new. The problem is capacity, facilities, and limitations of the current location.

Taxes

This referendum is not the pet project of spendthrifts who just want a shiny new toy. It's unfortunate Minnesota's tax law (another gripe that we can discuss another time) means that there's a sizable impact on agricultural land. Matthias mentions a friend's farm paying an additional $2,000 a year in taxes or $25,000  over the life of the referendum. The problem is that farmland owners are the most vocal about the burden. As an ag land owner myself I can sympathize but the real burden falls on commercial property.

If we use Menards and Walmart as our examples, the referendum tax calculator estimates their respective yearly bills will increase by about $14,000 each. That's $350,000 over 25 years. If we assume the same value of homestead agricultural land (about 988 acres valued at $9,000/ac) the increase is less then half the increase that commercial land ($6,261 a year). Another industrial mainstay in the community, AMPI, will see a $125,000 increase over 25 years for example.

The increases fall on all of us.

Conclusion

I would caution those who are so quick to dismiss the referendum as unnecessary or extravagant. The idea that the district just needs to learn to live within its means and make do with what it has is just too dismissive of the realities. With increasing needs, limited building and real estate space, and aging facilities there's not a lot of options. A big problem with adding facilities on the current site is that a number of problems are not alleviated; namely traffic, congestion, and space. The current site also has other limitations such as city storm sewers that inhibit expansion.

I appreciate Matthias taking the time to do some research but his blog post doesn't address any of the actual issues the district has beside traffic. His points are mostly about location and money. I want to hear his actual solutions to all the other issues in front of the public school's officials. Voting a referendum down just because of location and money is dismissive at best, irresponsible at worst.

We might be able to consider merely renovating but my questions to those who oppose the referendum - How many students do you expect to be in a classroom? How do you propose to find space for state-mandated special needs programs (that all schools in the area use)? How do you propose to find performing arts space? How do you intend to help the district find the academic space it needs for increasing class sizes?

The referendum offers solutions to all these problems in a fiscally responsible way. By state law any building project must be bonded. If voters keep rejecting referendums today's problems will only compound and educational opportunities will continue to be adversely impacted.

Please vote YES August 12th.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

IT And The Business Are Indistinguishable

IT and the business are indistinguishable. Even the tractor a farmer uses is as much computer as machine. IT better start providing value because, now more than ever, it's NOT about keeping the lights on and the equipment running. Technology and computing is the basic way to get work done and business owners/management/executives expect to have the tools the business needs to do the job as soon as the payment's been made.

It's not "as a service" any more...just service. Doesn't matter to the business if you (IT) are providing it or a disinterested 3rd party.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Thriving or Dying by As-A-Service

As an IT influencer in a small business, I have to carefully toe the line between accepting "As-A-Service" and rejecting it. I tweeted today:
To add to this - Not only is it someone who only cares about your prompt payment, it is someone who also is beholden to their own shareholders/owners, not yours. They couldn't care less about your shareholders. The only thing about you they care about (if you're lucky) is that your business stays viable enough to continue to pay for the service. Naturally, their shareholders what to see growth so the service provider will strive to meet that expectation and eventually it becomes a matter of scale - Now you're part of a mass production arrangement where YOU are the product and some product loss is factored into the cost of doing business. Woe to those who find themselves swept up in the product loss side of the equation.

Contrast this with doing things in-house where you retain the control over the service. You control (at-will nonetheless) who works to provide the service. Anytime you're dissatisfied you can change it to how you like it. Of course you need to pay to implement, maintain, and sunset the solution. Naturally there could be staffing involved. The staff and solution might not be one-trick ponies dedicated to one service, however, so that should be factored in.

Now, being in small business like I mentioned, there's some pragmatism required. Should everyone run their own data center? Should everyone have a bunch of IT staff in-house? Of course not. But, every time you want to implement a new solution or a vendor comes a-knockin' we should be asking a few questions. 
  • If this service becomes mission-critical what level of service do I expect and will the host be able/willing/still in business to provide it?
  • If the service provider discontinues the service how will that impact my business?
  • How will I recover when the service provider discontinues the service without notice?
  • Is the cost of providing the service in-house be greater than the cost of the hosted service PLUS outages, poor performance, service problems, long support response times, botched upgrades, etc, etc?
And that just scratches the surface.

There are some services that a business cannot provide for itself. An organization's size can really limit the benefits to an in-house solution. I frequently hear email as one service that should be put "in the cloud" since it doesn't make sense for small businesses to do that for themselves. However, if Office365 has a 9-hour outage during the day was the trade-off really worth it? How much business could've been lost in that period? Could that realtor have missed a sale that day and thus a commission? Did that tool and die manufacturer miss out on a contract during that outage? These may be recoverable losses but for a small business it can have a significant impact both on reputation and the bottom line.

The bottom line is: Don't be so quick to rule out in-house. 

IT needs to step up and be flexible to be able to provide services the organization needs too. Management likes hosted because the solution is built out already and they can get the "New Shiny" as soon as the contract is signed. Everyone needs to look at the facts together and take the emotion out of the decision. Bottom line - does it make business sense to provide the service in-house or pay a disinterested 3rd party to provide it for you. It's a business decision...make it about the business.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

IT Needs to Prove Its Value

A required IT class ought to be "How to Measure and Demonstrate Organizational Value - 101". Either that or IT departments need to take whatever training lawyers get on billing. We constantly hear that IT is too expensive, slow, restrictive, so on and so forth. As a result businesses decide to toss everything in the cloud and rely on 3rd party vendors because they get sold on the idea it's cheaper and more flexible. Shadow IT.

Truth is, IT is just really, really bad at demonstrating its value. In some businesses IT has worked hard at it using service catalogs or billing back to other departments. When real money changes hands it seems to get peoples' attention. Problem is that much of the value of IT is intangible. As stewards of the data (every business' most valuable asset) and one of the departments with a unique view of the entire organization to support it is hard to communicate what that value is.

Find your value, measure it, preach it. If you don't, the value assumed will be zero. Game over.

Monday, May 5, 2014

We Could All Use a Journalism Class

I was going to retweet a respected source's tweet about a controversial topic because I really agreed with this person's comment. But then I stopped - What if the information wasn't right? I thought to myself - "Am I spreading misinformation or is this legit? I don't want to be 'that guy'." After a little thought and the realization that I didn't have the time to verify the source of the information so I did not retweet.

Many times the most frustrating thing I see in social media is the echo chamber effect where one person (wittingly or otherwise) puts out misinformation followed by untold thousands blindly repeating it because it "sounds good" or seems legit on first blush. Few people approach word of mouth with a skeptical mindset and even fewer approach information with a curious mind and make the effort to understand the source and what the information means. As a result there is nothing but echos of rotten information rippling across the surface of the social pond (cesspool depending on your viewpoint I guess).

In college I spent a lot of time studying with my wonderful partner as she pursued her communications degree in journalism. It was an enlightening look into how a very old industry with its own spotty history approaches the integrity of data and the values of brand, profit, legality, and trust. A journalist gathers news but also must be able to vouch for that data and take into account how that impacts the community, their own career, and most importantly in some viewpoints, the branding and profitability of their employer. No journalist in their right mind would blindly repeat information without first verifying their source. This is Journalism 101 for freshman. 

When you take a look at repeating information from the perspective of an employee or business this skepticism makes sense to most people. Place those same people in the social media realm and much of that sensibility goes out the window. Everyone has their own printing press and no editor as long as they don't violate a TOS. Besides, who wants to verify everything they post? It's so much work and a trusted source is a trusted source, right? Your personal brand is on the line every time you post something. Your own credibility is at stake with every re-share. You have no control if your post becomes the next viral thing. Worst case scenario your content goes viral because of ridicule. Not a position anyone wants to be in. 

We're all journalists now. You may not consider the impact your online presence has on your real-world life but in the business world you'll be Googled every time you make a new contact. You will be judged on the content you produce. No matter how much you try to separate your business from your personal content, as time goes on the lines become blurrier and you cannot avoid people associating you with the work you do. It's not that YOU can't keep them separate - it's that everyone else doesn't care about the separation. 

Check your sources. Verify information. Your stature is judged by the value of the content you share and produce. Before you click send, always ask, "What does this do for my personal brand? What will happen if this isn't true?"

Note: Besides the journalism analogies, this is all stuff others greater than I have blogged, tweeted, posted, and talked about before. I only bring it up because I went though the thought process just this morning. It's a good reminder, however. If personal brand is a new concept to you please reach out...there's some stuff you're going to want to read.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Go the Extra Mile - Not Quite What You Thought

During Roman times a soldier could force a peasant to carry his gear for him. It was a heavy load that could be nearly 100 lbs. As time went on this privilege was abused and peasants could find themselves a day away from their intended destination. This, of course, was problematic and a law called the angeria was made that limited the distance a soldier could force a peasant to carry gear up to one mile. A soldier who forced a peasant to go further than that would be in violation of military law.

This puts some interesting context to the Christian idea from the sermon on the mount of going the second mile if someone forces you to go a mile. It isn't necessarily instruction to roll over and passively let someone take advantage of you. It also isn't instruction to just do nice things to people who make demands of you. Instead, perhaps it's a guide for loving resistance. If you carry a soldier's gear the extra mile they get your labor but at the cost of a fine or military punishment. And the Romans were pretty good at punishment.

Think about all the ads, mission statements, and cultures that say a business goes "the extra mile" for their customers. The ancient context changes the meaning quite a lot. Instead of it just being about service there's a sense of resistance as well, perhaps even combativeness. It's sadly appropriate considering how it feels many organizations view their customers. To me, at least, it feels like the planed trajectory for quite a few business ventures goes something like this, especially in the tech sector:

1. Start small, live lean, find ways to survive
2. Growth. Grow big enough to catch the eye of the giants
3. Cash out. Get your billions by selling to Google, Facebook, or whatever. Not really fussy about who it is.

Where is the customer in all this? Why would you go the extra mile? To build your customer base! The customer pays the penalty for using your service when the rug gets pulled out from under them at acquisition. It's modern angeria in a sense as long as we tolerate the 3-step business trajectory rather than businesses standing on their own for the purpose of lasting generations. There's a group of businesses in Europe that are called the Mittelstand that measures growth over a very long period rather than year over year. Leigh Buchanan wrote a great profile of this group for Inc.com and the philosophy of these businesses is something that really speaks to me as a customer.

Among the Mittelstand, 95% of the companies are family owned. They stick to their core competence and prefer to be boring. As one of the people quoted in the article put it:
"A factory that is 'dramatic,' a factory in which the epic of industry is unfolded before the visitor's eyes, is poorly managed," wrote Drucker. "A well-managed factory is boring."
 For the owners of these businesses turning a profit and a big payday at retirement is not the purpose of the organization. Stability, sustainability, and quality are the purpose. Customers are partners rather than sheep to be shorn again and again until it is time to slaughter. Instead of one big harvest for the owners by selling the company the family has many small harvests year over year through the generations. Just like farming there's periods where there is no harvest and in some periods harvests are bigger. The goal is maintaining the investment for the future generations, for the employees, and for the customers.

Do businesses like this go the extra mile? No, in my opinion, they enlisted and are sharing the load running the mule teams behind the troops. Business is about profits and returns on investments; It's about making money. The philosophy of maximizing the investment by sending customers to slaughter is not a sustainable one. If you slaughter your whole herd you have no way to rebuild the herd unless you go out and purchase more animals. That's a risky proposition which requires a great deal of investment (In the old sense of birth to finishing. This isn't necessarily the case for modern herdsmanship of course). As a customer I much prefer the shearing over the slaughtering and I can be much more productive to the vendor over a longer period of time.

Looking long term both as a customer and as a vendor is difficult. Everyone is impatient but stability and sustainability along with a partnership rather than the angeria is very valuable. Don't go the extra mile. I prefer vendors who enlist and share the load.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Mid-sized Quandary

Being a medium sized business is a little like being an adolescent: You're old enough not to be a kid any more but you're still not old enough to drive. And driving really is the measure of adulthood isn't it (at least in the car culture we have here in the US)? For a business this size really presents a problem. You're big enough to have some enterprise needs, small enough to still be agile, but you're not big enough to bend vendors to your will.

I was reading an interesting article shared by +Bob Martens about Kiwibank choosing to move their core banking to the cloud with the SAP behemoth and I felt like I was looking into a mirror. Between the debates of "to cloud or not to cloud" and how should we handle our core systems and even more scary, how do we handle legacy systems that we rely on for day-to-day operations? The burden of legacy core systems is even heavier now with "The Cloud". Not too long ago the legacy system was tolerated long beyond its useful lifespan because of the expense to create a new system to replace it was just too much to stomach. Now there's vendors falling all over themselves to offer small to medium sized businesses a cloud solution to replace these legacy systems.

The siren song is all too familiar: "Tired of all the cost?", "Want to get rid of those expensive employees who maintain your legacy?", "What happens if it goes down? Who's left to save you anymore?", and so on.

Worse yet are the vendors who put lipstick on the pig and retrofitted their legacy systems into the cloud and slapped a web interface on it and offer it as a side step into cost savings and reliability without the need to ditch your current legacy. There you are, still stuck with the same limitations that the old RPG system running on an ancient release version of OS/400 because that's what it still is behind the scenes.

The problem is that cloud all to often delivers the one-size-fits-all design. It's the new mass production. Start small, grow huge, sell off to another dreadnought-class conglomerate, lather, rinse, repeat. Its very effective at raising money for investors but terrible for the business customers that rely on the cloud services. And that lack of flexibility to meet the individual needs of a particular business or even business sector doesn't help the organizations that need the flexibility most of all.

Mr. Wiggs is maybe overly optimistic about the do-it-yourself approach. If you asked a local team of developers to create a new bespoke core system for a bank you will almost certainly experience failure in its most pure and epic form. Double that failure level if that team has no experience in banking or financial cores. Some specialty systems can be a trouble to develop no matter who does the work. The point I like most about his perspective is that you shouldn't rule out the locally sourced talent, do-it-yourself approach.

Not too long ago (late 90's early 2000's) small local dev teams made a huge splash in the world writing software for companies in need of solutions. Those were still the pioneering days of computer systems but despite the complexities of modern technology and regulation there's no reason we can't have more of that today. Perhaps the patent landscape is too filled with perils to allow that to happen today? I don't know but if we want to grow small and medium businesses, one-size-fits-all does not.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Culture You Never Forget

Effective culture is the kind that affects you deeply, and lasts a lifetime.

During a meeting today a co-worker brought up an occasion where they were in a discount retail store (yes, that gigantic discount retailer) early one morning and happened to encounter a group of employees in the middle of a staff meeting. He was very impressed how passionate an employee was as they described to the group the work she had done to increase pencil sales over 150%. Pencils.

I'll admit that I spent a summer working at a different store location for this same discount retail store so I'd been through what my co-worker described. This particular retailer, at the time, gave employees a chance to find products to feature on end-caps to find ways to drive up sales and move inventory. It's a good system and it got run-of-the-mill employees a chance to make a difference and get excited about their involvement. There were things I didn't like about the experience I had working there, but the culture of that retailer left a mark on me. Some good things, some not as good.

The cultures you experience leave an indelible mark on you. If you've worked in an organization with a distinct culture you never forget that the rest of your life. Just like travelling or living abroad - your life is flavored by that culture forever.

How does your organization transfer it's culture on to employees? Is it a good culture? Will it positively impact people for the rest of their life? Very good questions to ask.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Culture Change: You May As Well Start a New Company

I wrote a document lately that was seen by a bunch of people and it got the idea of a culture change started. As author it's assumed that I should be part of the team that leads that charge. That's a little daunting to me - This isn't a technical project. I like to start projects with use cases and technical documentation. That's probably not how this one is going to happen.

Knowing there's a push for a culture change got me to thinking: How does a person or a team change the culture of an organization? Like they say about large ships, you have to slow down first before you can turn. I suspect that may be the case with an organization's culture. You certainly can't dictate it. Flip the switch and, voilĂ !

This definitely means I need to move outside of the IT comfort zone.

It's easy to propose a culture change, quite an other thing to implement it. Now that I've had some time to reflect on it, it seems like it would be easier to start an entirely new organization from scratch than to change what we already have. That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater and it definitely doesn't give credit to the many, many things that are going well and shine within the organization. There's qualities that make the current culture very good. It's served the organization very well for 78 years so far! Better to try to change direction now to prepare for the even larger changes yet to come.

I've read a lot of people's thoughts about changing IT culture. It will be interesting to try to apply a little bit of IT culture to a broader organization. Standard+Case has some interesting relevance when you think about how the broader corporation supplies services. Gonna be an interesting time.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Evernote Notebook Review

Giving away an Evernote notebook for Christmas really cemented my want for one myself. I'd been on the fence about it for a while - I've become an avid note taker as I take on more projects both at work and in my personal life. When you take a lot of notes you realize the difference good paper and good pens make. Why suffer the indignity of rotten quality when good equipment is only a slightly larger investment? I'd been using a slightly generic log book that was a good fit for carrying around yet taking more lengthy notes.


The paper is of good quality. Not premium but certainly not cheap. The book is extremely sturdy and despite its paper cover has worn quite well. I was most of the way through the notebook when the Evernote bug hit me and I pulled the trigger.


The Evernote notebook is a nice Moleskine product. Like all Moleskine notebooks you get a pliable binding, good paper and overall a nicely finished product. I like the ribbon bookmark but could probably do without the elastic band to hold it shut.

What makes this an "Evernote" Moleskine though is the inclusion of 3 months of premium Evernote subscription and some stickers you can place on your pages. The stickers are supposed to work with the Evernote app's page camera to automatically file your digitally captured pages away in the assigned Evernote notebooks and add the appropriate tags. The stickers are stored in a pocket in the back of the notebook. In theory this is a nice idea but in practice it doesn't seem that reliable. I'll need to work with it some more to verify whether it's user error or design fault.



The 3 months of premium Evernote subscription is what makes this notebook a good value. If you consider that a month of Evernote is $5, then you can essentially subtract $15 off the price of the notebook. After taking that into account I'm basically paying the same price I paid for the GSA style notebook for a fancy Moleskine. That's a nice deal.

I'll keep using it. I might even buy another one if I can keep re-upping my premium Evernote account that way. I like the Moleskine quality and it feels nice when I'm writing in it.

I won't, however, get any hipster cred for the Evernote Moleskine like I did with the plain, beat up GSA log book.