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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

By Lou Washington

Now we have BYOD to worry about. As a writer, BYOD is especially irritating because my spell checker keeps turning it into BOYD. I don’t know BOYD, don’t really care to know BOYD and I promise I won’t write about BOYD.

Bring Your Own Device seems to be a big area of concern. IT departments must now develop and publish BYOD policies and procedures. Companies must decide if they are going to be BYOD friendly. BYOD teams will need to be formed and BYOD vision statements will need to be crafted.

For something that didn’t even merit a Wikipedia page until January of 2012, BYOD seems to be gathering steam as the new goto issue for people who can’t find anything else to write about.

I don’t deny that user owned devices represent a challenge for IT directors everywhere. I don’t quite get the notion that this is suddenly a problem.

People are finding amazingly inventive ways to turn this into an issue. I read a Computer World piece about a week ago that suggested this was a kind of generational issue brought to us by millennials entering the workplace. What rot that is.

I’m not trying to take anything away from my millennial co-workers, but they are not the first generation of people to adopt technology more readily than their older cohorts. Happily our newest workers are tech savvy, are open to improving the status quo and are willing to invest in their own success by putting their own bucks into new technology that bridges home and work.

But the fact is that user owned technology entering the IT domain is nothing new at all. New tech has always been greeted by skepticism and mistrust. I knew a fellow that many years ago made his living selling early versions of electronic calculators. These were meant to replace the enormous mechanical calculators of the early twentieth century.

His biggest challenge was getting people to “trust’ the calculator. They simply could not grasp the concept of arithmetic functions executed at the speed of light. His demo would solve some huge multiplication or division problem and his prospect would want to know how they could be sure the answer was correct.

Being a creative sales type, his solution was to sell them a second machine to check the results of the first.

As prices came down, these devices made their way into homes and ultimately into common use in the workplace.

The Personal Computer went through a similar evolution. The big iron companies knew from the beginning that PCs had the potential of replacing the “mainframe in the basement” IT paradigm. They would demean PCs as being toys for geeky individuals to play with for hours on end in lieu of having a social life.

My first computer was a Commodore SX-64 which I purchased from a big box appliance store. Within a month or two I had picked-up a copy of Microsoft Multiplan (purchased from my local Children’s Palace) and I was doing implementation job estimates for my conversion operation at Tab Products Co.

The IT director at Tab would have never had the time or inclination to build an application for me to handle that kind of work.

Over the next few years PCs slowly made their way into the IT infrastructure of larger corporations. But, I would submit most of them, like mine, came from home first.

The internet itself had a similar history. Initially, anyone could and would build a website for their company or department. There was little coordination, no consistency, no corporate over-site.

But, once again, it was tech savvy end users who first brought it into the corporate world.

While BYOD does represent a challenge for IT directors and CIOs, I think that challenge is more related to budget and resources. I don’t see this issue being tied to some innate lack of technical prowess or willingness to change on the part of IT directors.

By Lou Washington

First off, I’ll admit it right up front. I have an iPad and I plan on taking it with me to the grave. By the time I die, I’m sure there will be an app for that.

I’m sure no one who reads this will be shocked to learn that I love technology. I love all gadgetry and all the shiny stuff that beeps and boops and flashes little lights off and on. I love it when one of my toys works perfectly for me in some new way that no one else had thought of.

To me that is really the fun part of using new technology. I was never one of those folks who “put the tool back where you found when your done”. My dad was meticulous about this but I just never saw the point.

So, because of that I long ago learned that a Floresheim wing tip makes a dandy hammer, a butter knife will easily do the job others would reserve for a flat head screwdriver and duct tape will do almost everything else.

As my technological sophistication increased, I applied the same strategies to some of the more common technical marvels of our age. Most companies have some level of support for their employees, like me, who bring their little techno-toys to work. It is nice to work for such a company, one that I can rely on to bail me out when my creativity exceeds common sense or the performance specification of one of my devices.

I know I am not alone in this. Most folks who work in technology, like technology. At that point, it simply becomes a matter of keeping up.

Seriously there are things to be learned in this and this week our group learned one such lesson. It wasn’t that the experience was particularly profound or even ended up causing a major problem. In this case, it was a simple oversight that provided the instruction.

Our marketing group recently completed the production of several video product demonstrations. These are short, less than three-minute, presentations that can be viewed on You Tube or attached to an email or linked to on our website. They are very nicely done and we are quite proud of the folks who provided the creative effort in making them.

A couple of our sales folks were headed out to Cleveland to attend a trade show this week. It only seemed natural that they should be able to exploit the power of these videos during their trip. We were not displaying, but rather talking to people who did display at the show. Since we did not have a booth, it would be necessary for our folks to carry collateral and sales material with them.

And then, a stroke of genius. Why not put it on an iPad? At least the videos that is. That would be very cool indeed! People would actually be able to see the product in action. See what makes it special.

When you sell enterprise software systems, this is better than beer in a can. Being able to show it to your prospect is a powerful tool.

So, with that wonderful vision in mind, we headed down to the old IT department. Yes, they had a loaner iPad, Yes, they would help us load the video files. Perfect!

Today the road warriors returned. The trip was a big success, lot’s of contacts made, new relationships set up and many opportunities for future business were found. But I could tell, almost right away that some thing wasn’t quite right.

How did the tablet demo work I enquired? This was answered with some hemming and hawing, some shuffling and so forth. Then, being sales folks, they spoke right up.

It seems the trade show floor was noisy. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve been to trade shows, thousands of people milling around talking, demos involving machines that click and clack, booth guys hawking their wares and maybe a PA system making announcements. Yep, trade shows are NOISY.

In fact, trade show floors are noisy enough to make hearing the audio portion of a demo video impossible. Even when you crank it up, the iPad is just not going to cut through the ambient roar.

So, lesson learned; for trade show video segments on tablet devices (or net books, laptops or anything else portable) think in terms of making your message very visual with limited audio. Or, perhaps take several hundred sets of ear buds with you.

Now there’s an idea, ear buds with our corporate logo . . .

By Lou Washington

Lou Washington

Some companies approach technology as a sort of grand corporate excursion through a Disneyesque Technology Land. All the wonderful and exotic new toys are just waiting to be brought online to amuse and entertain. They look at new technology as a sort of yardstick of coolness with which they measure themselves in relation to all other companies.

That really is not an entirely bad approach to take, but it does leave the door open for a lot of wasted effort. It also has the simultaneous effect of delaying the application of effort to more rewarding investments on the part of the enterprise.

The adoption of new technology must be accomplished through deliberate effort. This is best done by keeping the overall mission, strategy and enterprise value add in mind during the evaluation of any new technology.

A better way of articulating this would be to say that for any strategy, be it enterprise wide or at the departmental level, there should be an evaluation of technologies needed to drive that strategic initiative. The simple rule would be, Strategy First, Technology Second.

I was reading an article by Sam Barnes on the Think Vitamin site related to technology and competitiveness. While he was mainly speaking of HTML5 and CSS3, his points were quite portable across any technology consideration. He said that as seductive as new technology might seem, the need to stay commercially competitive must remain the prime directive.

In the case he is discussing, the question of how these two technologies will affect the end-user is critical. It makes no difference what snazzy things the upgraded website can do, if the end-user is running a browser that doesn’t exploit those aspects of HTML5 and CSS3.

His piece advocates several specific considerations.

  • Impact on the user experience – In the world of software (this is where I live) it’s all about the user experience.
  • Impact on the target audience. Will more people or fewer people receive benefit once it is implemented? He is talking about browser demographics, but conceptually this applies to anything you are doing. Will the change in technology make you more exclusionary or will it increase the footprint of your appeal or benefit.
  • Strategic impact. He cites both internal as well as external strategies. Will the technology serve to enable the strategy or does it work against the strategy.

The central message is still about making the deliberate plan or the careful evaluation of technology to strategy a center piece of your efforts.

Microsoft accomplishes this by evaluating technology on multiple levels. I ran across a brief white paper on their internal adoption strategy and it is really very instructive.

Spending or Monetary Impact

Here any candidate technology is evaluated on two fronts. Strategic importance versus benefits offered. This is simply a matter of spending your money where it is most useful. They map these two ranges into a grid, the upper right quadrant being the area of high importance and high functionality. These upper right quad projects would drive the highest spend.

In order to do this effectively, you must have a solid understanding of the features delivered with the technology and the potential benefits associated with those features.

What does it cost – What’s in it for us?

Specific costs must be determined. With software this might include license fees, hardware upgrades and training on the cost side. Benefits can be a little more elusive to nail down, but think in terms of reduced overhead from changes in hardware, headcount reductions and increased opportunity through potential increases in market share.

Nailing these numbers down in advance will give you the information you need to better evaluate the risk associated with the proposed change.

Microsoft has a ton of information available to help IT folks. Just visit technet.microsoft.com.  They have a number of tools available to help you evaluate technology, manage the adoption process and measure the effect of deployment.

By Lou Washington

Lou Washington

Many years ago, back when we all still wore animal skins, carried around large clubs and measured hard disk memory in megabytes, there was an ad on television promoting the wonders of a web-based enterprise.

The ad featured a CIO sitting at a desk listening to two competing pitches for upgrading the company’s website. In one pitch, the developer is proudly pushing the idea of spinning the company logo on its vertical axis and as a final triumphant feature, the logo is crowned with flames.

The fellow then looks the CIO in the eye and tells him that only he can give them a flaming logo!

So it was in the early days of commercializing the ‘net. Everybody liked the ‘net and almost everybody thought they should be doing something with it. Very few companies had a clue as to how they might exploit the thing in a monetized, business process kind of way.

It’s really too bad some one hasn’t developed a museum of web site history. A place where people could browse through pages from some of those early adopter websites. It would almost be like thumbing through a high school year book from the distant past. I can almost hear people exclaiming, “why did they do that?” or perhaps more aptly, “what were they thinking?

The earliest websites I can remember almost always had several things in common.

  • Picture of a big building – typically the corporate HQ or a building they wish was the corporate HQ – Optionally, the entire corporate staff would standing in front of the big building
  • A long wordy “welcome to our world” message that conveyed nothing of substance but containing a lot of words about how good the company was and how swell it was that the reader had found them on the web.
  • Message from the president – this was mainly aimed at congratulating the IT team on getting the company on the web and hoping that the reader would come back often.
  • Contact information – this always listed things like the physical address of the company, a phone number and fax number. It took a while for folks to think about putting a general info@xyz.com address in this space.
  • Very occasionally, you might have some reference to the actual business the company was engaged in.

There simply was no understanding of how this technology could be used to actually conduct business. It was essentially an electronic billboard. Actually I’ve seen better bill boards in terms of engaging the reader in a conversation.

Before we laugh too hard at the early eBusiness world, consider how new technology is adopted today.

Many companies are still jumping in too early, waiting loo long or simply allowing things to take their own course. There is no strategy, no evaluation or business process in place to guide the whole technology adoption activity within the enterprise.

Companies still run mission critical systems built around ancient releases of proprietary software running on hardware platforms that are only available from eBay. Conversely, you also read about companies that are forced to abandon implementation of new enterprise systems because they made the move to a new system without doing the upfront work in terms of evaluation of need, possible solutions and deployment processes.

Both of these scenarios are quite common and both can be devastating in terms of consequences. Both can potentially result in the failure and ultimate destruction of the enterprise itself.

More and more, end users are equipping themselves with new technology and not waiting on IT to do the job for them. We saw this first with PCs, then cell phones, the web itself and now with the rapidly expanding use of mobile devices such as tablets, net books and associated software.

Does your company have a technology policy? A strategy? Do you have teams in place to guide your enterprise through the bewildering, complex and not always ethical world of new technology?

May be it’s time to start giving some thought to how your company incorporates new technology into the everyday operation of the enterprise.

There is a train load of help available to you in this area. Technology as a strategy is how we all must think. Next week I’ll follow-up this post with a discussion of how the enterprise can climb on the back of the technology tiger without fear of being eaten!

By Lou Washington

Following this year’s CES show there have been any number of pronouncements about the death of the desktop PC. I guess the first question I would ask is, what happened to all the desks?

Oh, we still have desks? I see, then we still have desktop PCs.

The whole question is rather silly. But the environment does not entirely drive the technology. The tasks to be performed are the critical factor in the selection of preferred platform architecture.

Which do you choose?

Does the task have a mobility requirement or user preference? Does the task not require mobility? Does the task have certain attributes or requirements that lend themselves to a fixed venue or other things associated with a desktop machine?

These are the questions we should be asking when deciding between ultra-book portability and desktop fixed location.

I’m not talking about what the device will look like, if it will have a big plastic box lurking under the work surface or if it weighs 40 pounds or 4 ounces. I’m talking about portable versus stationary. Mobile versus fixed location.

Once we get those questions answered, then perhaps we can talk more sensibly about requirements for our computing hardware.

Here’s is what you should ask yourself.

Am I mobile?

Seriously, how mobile are you? Do you travel as a part of your work? Do you have need of some functionality away from your desktop? How much of your mobility requirement could be handled by a smart phone? If you’re just concerned about staying in touch, phones do a great job with email, messaging and even voice communications.

Are my apps mobile?

If you run applications that are extremely visually oriented, you probably like a nice big monitor. Perhaps you spend a lot of time editing and touching up photography, maybe your thing is multitrack sound or video editing or perhaps you work with engineering drawings, floor plans or other oversized type imagery. Again, you’re not going to be happy with a 9 inch screen if you’re running apps of this type.

What would happen if my PC was stolen or lost?

If you’re walking around with your entire identity housed on a mobile device, especially if you are not disciplined about passwords and other security oriented activities, you don’t want to experience the loss of your device. Your life will be a living hell. If you’re talking about company data, your liability may be even more than you realize. This is particularly true when your work life and home life are blended together.

This is a serious consideration. Obviously, aspects of this also apply to the desktop world, but when the entire machine fits in a pocket and can be picked up while you’re busy sneezing, the danger of loss increases right along side the increase in portability.

How keyboard intensive are my needs?

Okay, I’ll admit it, I love touch screens. I like to be able to “turn the page” on my kindle and my iPad. But, right now I’m sitting in front of a full size keyboard. People who write a lot like real keyboards. Touchscreen keyboards are fine, laptop keyboards are okay, but neither of them will do the job for me when I blog or when I author white papers or even writing longer emails, I like a “real” keyboard.

So, for me I hope the desk top option remains available for many years. I don’t care if the big plastic box disappears, but I want my big screen, my keyboard, the security of knowing that I won’t leave my PC in an unlocked car. I want all the benefit that comes with a “big iron boat anchor” device.

I also want my smart phone, my tablet, my e-reader and I imagine I’ll be wanting an ultra book before too long as well. After all, I am a gadget freak and I love toys!

  By Lou Washington

In her excellent article, “The new rules for enterprise apps” (Computerworld, 23 January 2012) Minda Zetlin sets forth three specific things software developers need to keep in mind when designing and writing new enterprise level application software. She makes a compelling case and developers would do well to follow her advice when building apps for this market.

I won’t go into a lot of detail reiterating what she has quite eloquently stated in her piece, but to briefly summarize, she is offering the following three rules.

  • Make it appealing – The more appealing the easier it is to learn. This impacts implementation and training expenses and certainly impacts user acceptance.
  • Make it transparent – Transparency in this case means the app will deliver information that is current, correct and easily understood. So many apps seem to involve cryptic formats and symbology in lieu of just laying out the data in a recognizable form.
  • Update it often – The world is changing at an accelerating rate. Even users who hate periodic updates hate apps that are no longer relevant even more so. Keep the app functional within the platform and within the domain in which it functions.

I’m sure everyone would agree that this is wise advice indeed. However, as a software guy of more than a few years experience, I would suggest we could expand the list a bit.

Here are my rules to be added to the list . . . or perhaps ignored if you feel so disposed.

  • Include some marketing input early in the design/pre-development phase. Marketing folks are totally different from engineering types and we typically don’t know squat about coding. But, we do know one or two things about what people want. We can help you decide what’s really important to your end user and what’s just a nifty technical device.
  • Exploit current of existing architecture in the User Experience. Microsoft has a tremendous advantage with their products because they all tend to have the same look and feel. If you know Word, you’ll have an easier time learning Excel or Project. This holds true for any learning requirement. Anything you can reuse will make the whole learning process less onerous. It will get your app functioning faster and at less cost than redesigning everything from the ground up.
  • Build for the future. By this, I mean build your app in a way that anticipates change. Something as simple as expanding the size of an alpha/numeric field in a widely deployed legacy app can cost millions of dollars. Remember how your mom would buy big clothes for you to grow into? That works with software too.
  • Make it customizable without touching the code. Some platforms lend themselves to this better than others obviously. Think in terms of mass customization. Your end users will likely have widely varying needs and usage requirements. Build your app so Bob doesn’t have to learn Betty’s job in order to get to the functionality and data required for his job. Also, build it so when Bob and Betty get promoted their app can be expanded to include functionality in line with their new positions.
  • Include end user input whenever possible. You would be surprised how invested in success people will feel when they have been consulted about the app you are building. Aside from building a better application, you will help assure the end user community embraces the new app and that will make you look very smart indeed!

Finally I will add one last recommended rule. Read Dilbert regularly, There is more wisdom to be gained in any three panels of that cartoon then can be found at any three day Silicon Valley developer conference.

Happy Coding!

 

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