Two Excellent Resources from Consulting Colleagues

I wanted to point you to two great resources from some consulting colleagues of mine.

First, Wes Trochlil is publishing a series of podcast interviews with the CEOs of association management system vendors.

Second, Jeff Cobb is publishing a series of reports on survey results for association elearning trends.

Wes and Jeff are offering original material you won’t find anywhere else, check them out.

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In the 'Careful What You Measure, You Just Might Get It' Department

From the Wall Street Journal, a story about retailers using a combination of time/motion studies and software to squeeze efficiencies out of their staff. Stores Count Seconds to Trim Labor Costs:

Interviews with cashiers at 16 Meijer stores suggest that its system has spurred many to hurry up — and has dialed up stress levels along the way. Mr. Gunther, who is 22 years old, says he recently told a longtime customer that he couldn’t chat with her anymore during checkout because he was being timed. “I was told to get people in and out,” he says. Other cashiers say they avoid eye contact with shoppers and generally hurry along older or infirm customers who might take longer to unload carts and count money.

Efficiency has a lot of value but you have to be careful you aren’t undercutting your ability to deliver the same product or service at an equal or higher level of quality.

It reminds me a bit of Circuit City firing their highest-paid and most experienced sales people to cut costs and then watched their sales weaken just as they headed into our current economic mess. Genius!

Innovating on the Demand Side

Nick Carr makes a great point today about making sure you look at new outcomes you can achieve with new technology rather than simply getting more efficient at what you already do: The new economics of computing.

The title of this post comes from Peter Drucker who called innovations that enable new value for your customers as demand innovation. Supply innovation is all about creating efficiencies for value you already provide.

Twitter Misplaces Their Network

Twitter gets a well deserved rap for downtime and other hiccups related to their exponential growth. However, their most recent tribulation is really bad for a social networking service.

Yesterday they lost a bunch of the data in their system about who follows whom on the site. These connections are the core conduits for the value of the system. It’s as if your address book erased half your entries and your phone no longer accepts their calls to boot.

They are still trying to reclaim the lost data but it appears to be slow going. My connections are not back to what they were just yesterday.

And, yes, I’ve gone active on Twitter after a long hiatus and now with a new account. You can follow me @davidgammel.

S.F. officials locked out of computer network

I think a couple William Gibson novels start out this way: S.F. officials locked out of computer network

A disgruntled city computer engineer has virtually commandeered San Francisco’s new multimillion-dollar computer network, altering it to deny access to top administrators even as he sits in jail on $5 million bail, authorities said Monday.

This is likely the result of a failed management process rather than a technical vulnerability. In fact, the system must be pretty secure if they are still trying to get in!

With systems this large, you have to have audits and monitoring of everyone with significant access, including those doing the monitoring. Otherwise, stuff like this becomes possible.

Plus, this guy was a known problem for quite some time, apparently. Always make sure you’ve secured the network before trying to terminate the top system administrator.

(Via Deane at Gadgetopia.)

Any sufficiently advanced technology…

This week I needed to use Internet Explorer in order to access some systems for one of my clients. This is not as much of a challenge as it used to be for someone based on a Mac now that Apple uses Intel chips in their hardware.

I am using Windows XP on VMWare Fusion, which allows windows applications to run as if they were native to the Apple operating system.

The following scenario made me think of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I dragged a file from Apple’s Finder into a folder in Windows Explorer. The directory in Windows Explorer was actually on a remote server I had connected to via WebDAV in Windows Explorer. So this file went from my native Mac filesystem to a simulated Windows operating system which then transmitted it to a directory on Windows Server hundreds of miles away from me.

All via a single drag-and-drop of the file.

This may sound like Greek to many of you but, believe me, so many different things have to be solved for that kind of operation to be feasible that I was awed.

David Gammel's 2008 Summer Teleconference Series

I am conducting three teleconferences this summer on a variety of topics that have been in high demand with my consulting and speaking clients. I hope you’ll join us!

I will cover the following topics during the series:

  • Creating High-value Partnerships with Technology Providers
  • Using the Web for Customer-sourced Innovation
  • Global Web Site Strategy

The live calls are absolutely free to attend. You also have the option to purchase recordings of all the calls if you would prefer to listen to them at your own convenience. Anyone who purchases the recordings will also receive access to a bonus teleconference.

The first call is Friday June 20. Register today!

Developing Your Own Technical Talent

I hear from many clients that it is still quite hard to find experienced technical talent for IT or web development and administration work. What to do when you can’t afford to lure away an experienced technical employee? One alternative is to develop your own.

The key to success is to design your positions and professional development program to enable you to develop an entry level person and then promote them in place. This eventually develops the skill set you need while enhancing your chance of retaining the person after they have been trained.

Design an entry level technical position that you will fill. Also design a more senior position, based on the original job description, that includes higher-level responsibilities and the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities. As your entry level new hire is developed, promote them into the higher level position which you have created by design. It’s good to have two to three of these junior to senior path positions in place, if you can afford it, so that you can have new talent in the pipeline before a trained person does eventually leave.

This does a couple of things. It offers the realistic chance of relatively rapid promotion for the entry level person once they have learned how to do the more advanced job. They don’t have to wait for someone more senior to leave, they can simply be promoted in place. This will help to acknowledge the value of their new skills to the company and contribute to keeping them with you longer than they would have stayed for a dead-end entry level job. It also creates a senior position that you can fill directly if you happen to find that perfect candidate (it does happen now and then!).

Internet Disruptions and Global Web Audiences

Several undersea telecommunications cables were cut in the Middle East/South Asia region last week. Networks from Egypt to India were impacted, creating very slow to broken connections. Outsource operations in India were a big concern but the large players had alternate connections available as part of their disaster response.

There has been a lot of speculation as to how the cables were cut and no ships have been identified yet in the areas where the cables were severed. John Robb posted today about how cutting undersea cables is a viable strategy for small groups to execute in a system disruption campaign.

All of which made me think about organizations who address a global audience via their web sites. If Robb is right, this kind of disruption could be become more frequent. If you have a large audience for your site outside your own region, you should consider how to ameliorate this risk in advance.

What could you do? The main thing I can think of is to distribute the hosting of your web sites around the globe, either by maintaining mirrored sites or deploying localized sites in their target regions. Locally deployed sites in key regions would provide you with continued service to those audiences even if they are disconnected from the Internet as a whole for a period of time. This is a non-trivial effort but if serving global audiences is a key part of achieving your goals, it could be a good investment against future disruption and associated losses.

Why Business Intelligence is Often Stupid

Business intelligence (or BI) has been all the rage for the last couple of years. It is a central topic in ASAE’s Tech conference later this month, with many sessions focused on how to extract data from your systems and present them in shiny dashboard interfaces. There is a problem though:

Many business intelligence tools are plain stupid.

All the dials, speedometers, bar graphs, and status icons in the world won’t help you if you do not first ground your efforts in what data you need to make sound decision in pursuit of your business outcomes. A lot of vendors and consultants out there gloss over these critical issues in pursuit of the BI sale.

Take dashboards, for example. The concept is that a single screen will give you all the data you need to make quick decisions, just like you can with a car dashboard. The problem is, most businesses and organizations don’t have to make a decision in a split second like you do when driving an automobile. Auto dashboards are optimized to give the driver critical feedback in a glance lasting less than a second.

When is the last time you had to make a decision of major import to the organization from your desk in less than a second? It just doesn’t happen.

Yet, a lot of business intelligence dashboard tools look just like the dashboard of a car. It is a literal interpretation that ruins a somewhat valuable idea.

So, what to do?

You have to start with the objectives you are trying to achieve. What process are you putting into place to achieve an objective? What are the measurable steps within that process? What data sources do you need to tap into to generate those measures? How will you use that data to make decisions?

Once you have answered all those questions you should be able to identify what measures you should monitor and how often. If one or more of them matter on a daily basis, a dashboard interface might make a lot of sense for presentation of the data. If not, a simple report will probably meet your needs and save you the time, effort and expense of developing a dashboard you don’t need.

That is being intelligent about your business data.

By the way, I will be presenting a session with Wes Trochlil at the ASAE Technology Conference titled: “Getting Intelligent About Business Intelligence: Finding the Value Behind the Hype.” If you only go to one BI session, I suggest you make it ours.