Thursday, December 13, 2012

Being hijacked via the Metro – An Unwanted Windows 8 Journey

Recently, misfortune struck when a key system failed at a rather inopportune moment.  Fortunately, a replacement was quickly obtained, and I thought it would be up and running quickly.  My hope the matter would be resolved quickly faded when I turned on the machine.  To my disappointment, Windows 8 was pre-installed, and that is when the fun began.

My first reaction was one of minor annoyance, but I comforted myself thinking I would learn a few new things during the restoration process.  I certainly learned a lot, far more than I wanted or expected.  The key lesson for me: avoid Windows 8 unless you have a lot of time to invest.

The degree of change, particularly with the new interface, Metro (now called "modern UI style") is substantial.  Personally, I did not find the interface intuitive, and it seemed poorly structured.  This caused me to spend a lot of time searching online for guidance to accomplish even the most basic tasks.  Moreover, in an effort to unclutter the interface, Microsoft has removed features they deemed were infrequently used. I wish I could have reached through the internet and magically dope-slap the design team back in Redmond.

The simple task of configuring both wired and wireless network connections turned into a royal pain.  Generally this task takes me less than 10 minutes with Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Adding multiple locations is only a minor additional effort.   Using Windows 8, it took at least 3 times longer, and I am still having some issues.

Even with the experience gained during restoration, basic processes seen much more complex and less straightforward than before.  More than once during this experience I wondered how much harder it would be to “throw in the towel” and buy a Mac.  I still might; time will tell.

All this before I mention the new Start screen – the metro interface.  Where or where did the Start menu go (you can get it back with add-ons)? The new Start screen seems is missing in action.  One of objectives for Windows 8 is to provide a unified, touch enabled, interface across platforms.  A noble goal to be sure, but I suspect it might end up being substandard on all devices.  I am not ready to turn in my Apple iPad as of yet.

With experience, I became “functional” using Windows 8.  However, I still find it stressful.  There are some positive aspects of the interface, and I am sure more will follow.  The system is young and with Microsoft’s substantial backing it will mature quickly.

For Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and other key IT Leaders, adopting Windows 8 will be a major undertaking.  Beyond all the typical tasks associated with moving to another operating system (client or server), Windows 8 will present additional challenges for both users and IT staff alike.  Much of the accumulated knowledge, directions, procedures, and training material are obsolete.  Help desk personnel will require additional training and resources to support the system.  The change is far more significant that the Windows XP -> Vista -> Windows 7 migration path or combination thereof.

In today’s world of BYOD, Windows 8 is a reality organizations are being forced to deal with on an increasing basis.  Irrespective of BYOD policies, organizations will need to support and accommodate Windows 8.

Windows 8 does have some intrinsic features IT organizations will appreciate.  The concept of a “common” operating system across platforms has the potential to provide many benefits:  simplified administration, better security reduced training, and more.   Even noting these benefits, the cost of change will be significant.  It is going to be a difficult business case for most IT organizations to make, especially in the near term.

So what is a CIO to do?  My recommendation is to take steps to ensure their organizations are building Windows 8 skills and start thinking about migration planning.  The only given here is that change is inevitable.  Take some aspirin and hold-on, it will be an exciting ride via the Metro!  With planning, you should be able to direct the ride and arrive as planned.




Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Thoughts on e-books

The WSJ published an article today regarding a DOJ antitrust lawsuit over e-book pricing. The case alleges five of the largest publishers in the US conspired to limit competition for the pricing of e-books.

Apple appears to be at the center of this mess with an agreement they made with publishers. Apparently this was done prior to the launch of the first iPad. Some key points of the lawsuit surround allegations the publishers sought to limit competition in the retail arena while concurrently driving up the price of e-books. A win-win for Apple and the publishers; not a good outcome for everyone else. So much for the Internet securing better deals for shoppers.

This lawsuit is another example of why both individuals and organizations (e.g. their CIOs) need to follow and understand developments in this space. Beyond the basic economic considerations, the shifting sands around the terms and conditions associated with the sale of e-books may have important implications.

As noted in my previous blog entry on this subject, there is a big difference between physically taking possession of a published piece and using an e-book. Hold on tight, this is far from over; there is still a lot of change still to come in this evolving marketplace.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Using IT to Accelerate the Benefits of Outsourcing & Offshoring

In an effort to improve overall efficiency, it is not uncommon for organizations to consider embracing some form of outsourcing.  When properly conceived and executed, outsourcing models can provide significant value.  Sadly, these efforts often fall short or take far longer than expected to deliver sought after benefits. Many drivers contribute to this shortfall, but I suspect the most consistent is the implementation strategy.

An organization's outsourcing transformation typically evolves through a series of engagement models.  The initial phase often looks like a simple subcontracting engagement with a transaction company to supplier relationship model.  From this model, a more general outsourcing arrangement develops.  More expansive outsourcing is next and often an offshoring component might be added.  Also at this point, the relationship matures to the point that the service provider becomes a partner.  In this role, the outsourcing partner can offer value based on their own expertise and resources.  Eventually if they are persistent, true business process outsourcing is achieved.  It is only in the final steps that significant efficiencies can be unlocked.

The delay in recognizing benefits can be attributed to many factors, but a significant one deals with when the issues of duplicative human and capital resources are addressed.  During these evolving phases of outsourcing, organizations tend to be conservative and focused on the next phase; larger issues are often not recognized.

When an outsourcing arrangement is initiated, there is a testing phases where the model and vendor are proven.  More often than not, this phase continues far longer than necessary.  At the time duplicative resources are eventually addressed, conservative approaches are the norm.  From this inaction stems negative results due to perpetuated inefficiencies.  Stranded capital costs continue to burden the ledger and potential value is not delivered.

More significantly, the remaining people strain to demonstrate their value and necessity to the organization.  Inevitably, this effort reduces the outsourced partner's effectiveness.  The larger an organization, particularly global entities, the more significant this factor becomes.  Cumulatively, all these factors drive lower and slower value generation for both organizations.

Outsourcing is a complex undertaking, with many people, process, technology, and strategy issues requiring careful consideration.  Fundamentally, it is an effort involving people and therefore organizational change.  To bring these pieces together, a strong change management plan should be an essential component of the overall effort.

Perhaps the most important issue for the change program to address is the common perception that outsourcing equates to the loss of jobs.  Although, I suspect there is a significant correlation, it is not the only outcome.  Outsourcing programs are advised to establish a governing consensus with respect to impacted staff.

Smartly executed outsourcing programs can leverage displaced personnel into other areas of the organization.  Another approach is to make provisions for "re-badging" employees to the outsourced partners.  Creative thinking can lead to a range of alternatives.

To drive outsourcing initiatives, organizations need a variety of leaders with key functional, technical, and transformation skills.  In searching for these leaders, a proven source of experienced professionals can often be found within IT organizations.  Outsourcing has been a major driver in the IT field for close to 25 years.  IT leaders are often proven veterans of multiple engagements. Leveraging their experience and organizations can improve the effectiveness and accelerate the value delivery of outsourcing efforts.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thoughts on e-books & e-readers

I have been spending a lot of time recently reading material in the e-book format.  I must admit, I am a paper diehard in many ways.  For books, particularly technical books, I really prefer the printed hardbound editions.  Not only do I seem to “bond” with the book, but I also highlight sections, write notes on pages and on some occasions even flag a page.  For long e-mails, I tend to print them as well.  I seem to absorb the material I am dealing with more effectively that way.

Final editing is another occasion when paper is also a preferred medium for me.  Errors that seemed invisible on the printed screen just seem to jump out on a printed page.  I better cover myself here and say I did not print this posting before doing a final edit ;-)

J.H. Newman once said, “Growth is the only Evidence of Life,” an observation that I have found remarkable insightful on many levels over the years.  It is part of my motivation and passion for continuing to be a lifelong learner across a broad array of subjects.  In this case, it has motivated me to take another look at e-books and in turn, e-readers. 

A variety of drivers are fueling the rise of e-books including price, ease of access, and low cost e-book reader and the “green factor.  Sure paper is saved, storage space (which is a critical issue in my home – between all of us, there are way TOO MANY books), and possible energy savings.  However, I am always a bit suspicious that “green” numbers may not be correctly calculated on a true net-net basis.  Nevertheless, there are significant motivators beyond environmental considerations.

I have also used enough e-readers to understand their advantages, particularly with all the material we have to process through daily.  These e-readers generally let you perform text searches, place electronic bookmarks, and, in some cases, create your own notes.  These features can be powerful tools, thought it may take time to find what works well for your particular needs.

On a document basis, PDF is the most common form of electronic publication I suspect most people encounter in their life (I am considering web content in its own category).  PDFs are great for sharing documents and making large libraries of reference material available in a simple and consistent manner.  A number of e-book libraries are PDF based for this reason.  Depending on how the PDF was created, it may share most, if not all, of the features of an e-book.

Commercial e-readers and associated devices are designed to enable the purchase, storage, and viewing of material from a specific source(s).  These readers tend to use propriety formats and licensing terms. 

The market leader and strong innovator in this space is Amazon.  Their Kindle devices and tablets are the most significant force behind the proliferation of e-readers and the associated publishing market.  Amazon’s devices continue to flood the market with a stream of innovative enhancements.  On the backend, the library of material grows daily.

Amazon has also created a software-only version of the Kindle reader for other devices.  This software enables cross platform capabilities for the Kindle and is a shrewd move on their part.  In essence, Apple is making another reading platform for Amazon.  Amazon’s software enables users to access their “Kindle” on their PC, iOS device, or Android device with a good experience.  These devices use the cloud to sync so the experience and appear nearly seamless.

Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Sony’s reader are other popular examples.  I recall reading an article last year that listed 10 software e-readers of notable quality available for the iPhone alone.  There is a lot of activity in this area.

A lack of standards has created a nagging problem for end users.  In many cases, these readers are sourcing from propriety libraries which are not interchangeable.  For example, as of today, books bought on Amazon’s Kindle store cannot be read by Apple’s iBook reader and vice versa.

It gets worse.  While the Kindle reader makes provisions for a user to read their purchased content on more than one device, including saved “notes” and “bookmarks,” the iReader does not.  In fact, you cannot even buy a book from Apple except via that application.  There is not a provision, at this time, to read your books from a Mac or PC.

Content “ownership” is also an area of great confusion.  When I buy a book, I can take it home knowing it is mine.  Other than outright theft, it cannot disappear due to the actions of a third party.  I would like to understand, in simple terms, what is happening legally when I “purchase” an e-book.  Is it non-revocable?  What happens if the provider were to go out of business; does part of my library disappear overnight?  What about bookmarks and notes?  Are these protected and, if so, what are the service levels?  How will new editions of the books be handled?  The legal issues surrounding e-books is constantly evolving and the terms of each transaction seem unique to the provider involved; what applies to one case is unlikely to apply to others.

There have been cases, well covered in the news, where some publications have been pulled back from Kindle users.  In other cases, “corrected” versions of books were pushed onto devices, replacing existing versions.  I find it troubling these actions can occur without the user’s permission.  Clearly, in these cases, it is a far cry from having a book safely stored one's own shelves.

On the personal side, I confine my e-books purchases to a few sources.  I am hoping market forces and a standards push will enable interchangeability in the future. 

CIOs and their IT organizations need to work with their stakeholders and help their organizations map out clear strategies.  Legal needs to be closely involved as there could be important IP issues.  As an example, consider the possibility an employee’s electronic notes in a book might contain proprietary information.  Other important considerations include the "lending" of books between users and what happens when someone leaves the organization.

It is going to be an exciting ride for everyone.  I will post future updates based upon my personal and professional experiences in this space.  But in the meantime, it would be a good idea for organization to make sure they have plans in place to manage this important capability.



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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BYOD: CIOs Need to Fully Embrace Personal Devices

There has been a lot written about Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) along with both the challenges and opportunities they present for organizations.  Throughout all these discussions, one element is consistent: organizations need comprehensive and pragmatic strategies for embracing and managing these devices.

Based on recent conversations with people from organizations spanning multiple industries, it is clear to me that tablets (slates), as wells as other personal devices, are already well embedded into the organizations.  In some cases, this has been done in partnership with the IT organization.  However, in most it has been done under the radar by one or more groups.  These devices, personal or otherwise, may already provide critical capabilities to the organization.

A wise CIO, Rob Cohen, who I had the good fortune to work for, once told me “that in organizations, as in life, innovation generally occurs on the edges.”  Over the years, I have seen this observation validated time and time again, particularly in the case of the innovative application of new technology to a organization's challenges.

When the Apple Newton appeared in 1993, the pharmaceutical company I was working for became an earlier adopter.  The Newton became an important element in an effort to improve  the effectiveness of the field sales force.  With the addition of custom applications, the Newton had the capability to capture signatures “electronically” in a manner consistent with the tight regulations governing the industry.

Physicians would sign for drug samples and the Newton would "capture" their signature.  Unexpectedly, this act of signing via the Newton turned into a fantastic “access” tool.  Physicians who previously had been too busy to speak with a representative would linger and talk about the Newton.  This allowed for some spillover conversations regarding the pharmaceutical products.  Needless to say, it turned out to be a great investment.

The Newton became the first in a new generation of technologies which improved customer access based on an “enthrallment” factor.  The Newton, in many cases, precipitated and enhanced the quality of customer interaction.  With the rapid pace of technology development on the consumer side, enthrallment factors tend to be short lived.  Hence, ongoing investment is required to continue the flow of interesting and new offerings.

Over the years, I have seen this phenomena repeated many times, with different technology across multiple industries.  Other Newton like device, laptops with touchscreens, sophisticated presentation software, wireless capabilities, Smartphones, Video Conferencing, to name only a few.  In fact, it is happening right now with the iPad.  For example, Medtronic was on the leading edge with their announcement, in late 2010, of plans to purchase 4,500 iPads.  Initial plans focused their sales force using the iPads with product promotion: http://bit.ly/dESRlE Other uses included access to training material, corporate dashboards, and limited use laptop replacement for some users.  Since then, other organizations have followed including Boston Scientific.

Within organizations, employees and partners are using personal devices to enhance their own, and in turn, the organization’s effectives.  These tools include innovative applications to address a vast range of needs.

To my surprise, I still find CIOs holding off on incorporating  tablets and related portable device into their portfolios. Others have rejected the concept of BYOD and only support devices provided by the organization.   Reasons range form a desire for Apple and others to release “better” enterprise support tools to the question of security.  With respect to enterprise tools, concerns tend to be focused around provisioning of applications, particularly to external partners.  I find this all or nothing approach too inflexible in today’s world.

The security issues have been dealt with in many other places, so I will not expand further on that important point.  I will just say there are numerous and effective strategies for dealing with BYOD.  With respect to provisioning, I think that is manageable issue.

Apple does have some enterprise management tools and is striving to improve in this area.  Apple recently added to its growing collection of tools in this space, see http://bit.ly/GS5xko for details.  Check out http://bit.ly/GS2XFZ to see all their tools.  More importantly, there are alternatives to the iPad such as Samsung’s Flash enabled tablets.  Applications are plentiful via the Android Market (recently renamed “The Google Play Store”) which is growing rapidly.  Granted the store has some challenges, but it works.  For tablet users, take a look at “Tableside Market HD” application (http://bit.ly/GK2lII).  This app greatly increases the ease of shopping for tablet related applications.

Getting applications into the Google store is less complicated and restrictive than Apple’s store.  This is a strong point in favor of working with external partners.  And the support of Flash is something that should be carefully considered.

As for the distribution of applications in-house, there are tools to support IT departments.  I recommend taking a close look at: http://bit.ly/f2Tzqg in addition to the Apple Tools noted above.

Tablets, as well other portable devices, are here to stay.  In fact, a lot more of these devices are on the way.  CIOs need to make sure their IT departments are ahead of the power curve with respect to  tablets and other smart devices.  Selection needs to be carefully considered as the market has clearly demonstrate how quickly some devices can fail and wipe-out an organization's investment.  

Remember HP's TouchPad which was canceled last year?  Joining HP with their own massive failure is RIM; their PlayBook tablet went down in flames

Important issues including business continuity, disaster recovery, security, privacy, and regulatory compliance (e.g. SOX, FDA) may be at risk when ad-hoc devices are not fully considered.  It is critically important that CIOs proactively reach out to partners, internally as well as externally, to align plans. 

Time is running short and CIOs need to make sure they are ready to support the oncoming wave of new devices.



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