Monday, June 30, 2008

Securing mobile devices

The most vulnerable part of any organization is its mobile devices, especially notebooks and laptops. I can't think of any scenario worse than getting a call from the CFO who, even while taking every reasonable precaution, ended up getting robbed of her laptop during an trip overseas. Contact lists, sensitive corporate data, and even resumes and personal information are all vulnerable to a hacker with no practical time constraints.

What's even more troubling is that over 12,000 laptops are estimated to be simply lost in airports every year! And most users, over 60%, take little or no steps to protect the data on their mobile devices.

There are some commercially available services, such as those provided by Absolute Software. Their service enables them to track a stolen or lost laptop and even delete data remotely. On Monday, Dell announced their partnership with this firm. But it does require that the thief put the stolen machine on the grid in some way, shape or form. I would suspect that by the time they did that, it would probably be too late.

Some additional, though clumsy, steps you can take to protect your sensitive data is to keep it off the device. If you really need a file while offline, then save it to a USB storage key that you keep separate from your machine -- like in your pocket. Also, be sure to delete temporary files often... emailed attachments that you open can live there for a long, long time. And finally, consider keeping all of your emails on the server, instead of on your local PC. This can be quite inconvenient, to be sure. Short of that, delete (and empty the trash) sensitive emails from your local machine (keeping the archived version on the server).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A reprieve of sorts

Microsoft has had their hand forced by the customer group with, by far, the most clout. Because many of their largest business customers are refusing to install the Vista operating system, choosing instead to wait until Windows 7 comes out (whenever that will be), Microsoft is going to extend support for WinXP until April of 1014. Typically, they stop supporting an OS 10 years after its release. But Vista has proven so problematic that they risk alienating their most consistent revenue source.

This appears to me to be a very aggressive, defensive move. They know that today's small and mid-sized firms are tomorrow's important customers. And today's big buyers will be quite cautious when asked to put their confidence in Windows 7. So Microsoft is hedging their bets. They know that they'll face an immediate and unpleasant reaction if they pull the plug on WinXP support. They also know that Windows 7 has to be really good. If not, then the mass movement from Windows to Linux & Mac will make the migration from main frame to desktop seem tranquil by comparison.

If it were me, I would be even more aggressive. I would ship every registered Vista customer an XP "downgrade" utility, discontinue Vista support, and redirect every available resource towards the Win7 release. It's a dramatic response, for sure. But they were good when they were bold, back in the day.

To read the InformationWeek article, click here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brittanica opens up ... sort of

One of the web's running soap operas is the ongoing contest between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I have heard Wikipedia derided as inaccurate and unreliable, even though independent research has determined that both claims are false. I have heard the demagogues bash Brittanica for isolating themselves in their ivory tower, refusing to allow anyone but their own designated experts contribute to the publication.

In defending their decision, Brittanica has made valid arguments. Yet, even they have come to terms with the realities of Web 2.0 capabilities. So they are launching a new web site, complete with an area for non-commissioned contributions and user feedback. It is not a perfect solution, but it does allow them to retain ownership of the intellectual property... and consequently protect the brand.

But how much is that brand worth in today's world? That's a question for another day. But if you want to read how they justified their decision, click here.

Fettered competition

Let's say you provide a service that is widely used across the country. There are only a few alternatives to your product, but those alternatives present the buyer with a real choice. Since buyers have to bear some transition cost when switching to a competing service, they will only change if they perceive a clear advantage to doing so. And you realize, that you are, in fact, losing customers to your competition. What do you do?

If you are in a traditional market, you work like you-know-what to improve your product, price it more competitively, and make your current customers feel good about their decision to stay with you. If you do it right, everybody wins... The customers get better pricing and service and, because of your improvements, you gain (or regain) a competitive advantage.

Last week, the FCC ruled that the Cable oligopoly has another alternative. They have barred Verizon from trying to retain their customer base. According to the Reuters article, Verizon is now not permitted to market their products to a customer who has informed them of their intent to switch to a cable phone service.

So let me get this straight. I decide, at some point, that Comcast's phone service is better than Verizon's, and decide to switch. Comcast notifies Verizon, who then makes me a competitive offer. Whoops. Scratch that last part. Now Verizon cannot make a better offer. The potential bidding war, that could benefit me and millions of other small businesses and consumers, has been called off. Someone might get hurt.

The unelected regulatory agencies continue to increase their influence over the marketplace. And we've seen where this leads. We really don't want to be like France, do we?

Reuters article as published on C-Net: FCC sides with cable in dispute with Verizon

Friday, June 20, 2008

Online CRM gets takes a step forward

One of the more significant obstacles to CRM adoption is the inability to handled unstructured data. In the pen and paper world of contact management, salespeople scribble important data on sticky notes, in the margins, and on the backs of business cards. And this data can be more than just important. It can be crucial information that, if they lose track of it, can make the difference between winning and losing the business. This information is the very definition of unstructured data. It's how the sales executive groups and categorizes his prospects (referral sources on the left, contracts up for bid on the right). It's how she remembers that the decision maker hates golf, but really appreciates a couple of tickets to the ballgame.

In the world of blogging, and other Web 2.0 applications, we call these tags or labels. The tags for this post are shown below: CRM & Marketing. I don't need to set up a drop-down list for these choices, or do any kind of advanced configuratin' (to paraphrase our president). I just type in how I would like to categorize this entry.

About a month ago, added this capability to their application... This is a very good thing. It allows the salesperson to work more naturally, with less reliance on the guys in the back updating and applying customizations. It reduces the firm's reliance on the individual memory of each sales rep. And it means that those important bits of information are far less likely to end up getting blown out of the passenger window on a nice day. By removing this obstacle to adoption, sales management can expect, and should demand, increased compliance and more complete reporting across their enterprise.

Link to story at CRM Daily: demos new features

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Still developing for XP

According to a recent survey by Evans Data, there is relatively little activity in the development community for Vista, as compared to activity related to XP. The findings were on Information Week, and they indicate that only 8% of developers are building applications for Vista. On the other hand, nearly half of the respondents say that they are developing applications for Windows XP. While the proportions are expected to become somewhat more equal over the next few years, this tells me that very few experts have any confidence in the long-term viability of Vista. I predict that Vista will meet the same fate of Win Me and Win98... as the butt of many jokes.

In my opinion, the only reason that Windows is still commanding any market share at all is because the Office suite won't run on Linux. This is hardly a revelation, but it does strengthen the argument for a legal remedy. I can't believe I just typed that. But the market just doesn't have the strength to make Microsoft split operating system development off from desktop application development.

The link to the InformationWeek article: Windows Vista Lags With Developers

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deeply entangled with MSFT

For all the fist waving and teeth gnashing that comes out of the EU, it's remarkable that they cannot seem to follow their own rules. Last year, the European Commission instituted a policy meant to promote the purchase of open-source software. In so doing, they were hoping to reduce their overall reliance on Microsoft products. But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Departments and ministries are still demanding documents in MS Word and spreadsheets in Excel.

Is there a market-based solution to this? I don't know that there is. Interoperability is a technological imperative. And early adopters are severely handicapped by the lack of compatibility between open source solutions and Microsoft. And even though open source solutions have been around for long enough that we don't have to call them "early adopters" anymore, the power of Microsoft's incumbency is huge. And therein lies the risk of moving a single organization to an open source platform. Unless some external agent forces a move, no single firm will take that risk.

Is that a bad thing? I don't know. As a society, we gain tremendous efficiencies as a result of having a de facto unified standard. The price we pay for these efficiencies can be seen in poor quality (Vista, IE7), monopoly pricing (Office Pro 2007) and inflexibility (MSN Messenger). Are those efficiencies worth these costs? What would a world without Microsoft look like? I'm not sure it would be all that wonderful, to be honest.

There is an amusing side note on the EU's problem with Microsoft... Apparently, a study indicated that the costs of moving to open source outweighed the benefits. So they believe it "may be time for a new study." (Christos Ellinides, director of corporate IT solutions and services for the European Commission). In other words, the empirical data doesn't fit the hypothesis, so we must find new data.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Out with the old, in with the bad

If you are one of the millions who realize just how rotten Windows Vista is, then June 30, 2008 may remembered as a dark day. That is the last day you will be able to purchase a PC pre-loaded with Windows XP from any of the large, mainstream PC manufacturers. Dell, from whom I've bought my last 4 machines, will not ship XP desktops or notebooks after this Wednesday, June 18.

Microsoft tacitly acknowledges that Vista has been a bust. They are actually selling "downgrade rights" which enables the user to pull his PC back from the jaws of Vista and into the arms of XP. The fact that people are willing to spend extra just to stay away from Vista should tell you everything you need to know about the operating system. Even with that kind of evidence and experience, Microsoft has not indicated any flexibility on the June 30 deadline. It's as if they have too much invested - probably more in pride than in dollars - to do the right thing and let Vista go.

So what now? Large companies with enterprise licensing agreements, along with enough resources to build & maintain their own images, will not be immediately affected by this. Eventually their agreements will expire and the Vista vs. XP question will have to be addressed. But for now, they can do business as usual under their current agreements. But smaller firms that buy computers individually will have a tougher time. They could end up with a mixed environment, along with a host of new problems.

To deal with this, start by understanding what your PC purchases will be over the next 12-18 months. How many will need to be replaced? How many will need to be added to your environment? With that information, we can start to consider alternative strategies. Of course, I'm available to help; just drop me a line.

Friday, June 13, 2008

PC Sales continue to rise

One of the nice things about planned obsolescence is that it helps you weather downturns. Today's case in point is current PC sales data, recently released by Gartner. For 2008, they are forecasting a 12.7% increase in PC sales over 2007, driven mostly by "mobile devices". Clearly, the emerging markets are getting automated, and the developed markets are keeping pace with technology advances.

I'd rate this development as moderately significant. Consumer-oriented business applications, such as shopping, account management, etc., won't see much impact from this, as the PC is only one link in a very long supply chain. Commercial-oriented applications, though, will have to account for a greater diversity of languages, in addition to the growing variety in platforms. Surely, not all of those 300 million or so units will be running Windows, right?

From another angle, one can take some comfort in this news that, once again, people are still succeeding and making money even in a relatively slow market. If companies can still buy PC's, that means they're paying their bills. And if they're doing that, they probably aren't laying off staff. After all, why buy a new computer for someone who you can't afford to pay?

Some of the highlights:
Gartner's 2008 forecast: 297 million units, +12.7% over 2007
IDC's 2008 forecast: 310 million units, +15.2% over 2007
IDC's 2008 revenue forecast: $286 billion, +9.6% over 2007

Source: Gartner Press Release at InformationWeek Online

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Riding the waves

Things are definitely getting choppy out there. The upward pressure on the overall pricing levels is starting to pinch a lot of folks, along with the businesses that sell to those folks. It doesn't appear that Congress is going to do the right thing on energy, like opening up the ANWR or allowing US companies to drill for oil off of the US shoreline. So don't expect much relief on your utility bill or at the gas pump. These will trickle ... or gush, actually ... out into pressure on profits in any number of places: general & administrative expenses, travel, and in the reduction in sales of non-essential consumer goods. This has got all of the markets rather jumpy. They latch on to any piece of good news as though it were the signal that the end is in sight. But a report of the next challenge pushes them back.

But I believe that someone is making money in every market. The energy companies ... really their shareholders and employees ... are doing all right. And, it turns out, so are the IT service firms. According to the most recent labor report: "IT services firms, tagged computer systems design and related services by the government, employed 1,402,000 people in May. That's 48,600 jobs, or 3.6 percent, higher than a year earlier." -- quoted from CIO Insight. This makes sense, after all, since these are most temp firms who will pick up the slack when the employment market gets unsettled. The news media will focus on the 1% increase in unemployment. It's not a trivial number, especially for those that find themselves on the short end of that number. But these are positive signs for the IT industry. And when the seas get choppy, we need to ride it out with the recognition that the optimist is almost always proven right.

Source: CIO Insight Article by Eric Chabrow

Monday, June 9, 2008

Changing their weighs

"First International Computer, a Taiwanese computer manufacturer and the parent company of U.S.-based Everex, announced two new mini-notebooks at Computex this week," according to a post from the annual trade show. This is a fully functional notebook weighing in at just over two pounds.

Two pounds.
That is less than what my first cell phone weighed (back when they were still called "car phones").

How many more places would you take your computer if it weighed less than a six-pack? Granted, the two serve wildly different purposes, but this is an important development. The mini-notebooks are still too expensive for all but the senior executive corps, and the jury will be out on durability and battery life for at least another year. But these are very temporary issues, especially when you think about all the places that pounds matter: airplanes, spacecraft, a soldier's backpack, cars, and anything else that moves. Consider the salesman who has the permanent leftward tilt to his spine from carrying around an eight-pounder for the past umpteen years.

Keep an eye out for an at-first small, but steadily growing, number of indirect applications spawned from this development. And watch out for Everex.

Credit where credit is due: CNet News Roundup post by Michelle Thatcher

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Your web site's relevance

When was the last time you looked critically at your web site? I must admit that I spent a substantial amount of time getting mine up, and haven't touched it since. Is it telling the story I want it to tell? Does it make it easy to do business with me?

If it's been more than nine months since you've done a thorough review, then it's time to schedule those meetings. Yes, nine months can seem like yesterday. But, we all know that by the time we fight through all the issues, get time on the right people's calendars and actually document the requirements, another 60 days will have gone by. That means the developers will only have a month to make your site relevant to what's happened in the past year. Hasn't your business changed in the past year? Shouldn't your web site account for that?

And oh, by the way, if it's been more than a year or two, call me right now. You have a lot of catching up to do!

Here are some questions that are worth asking when you start your review...
Does our web site accurately reflect the business we're in?
Will our target market be inspired to take action?
What action do we want our target audience to take?
How much business can we realistically expect to get from the web site?

These are critical questions, because they will drive your design strategy, your budget and your tolerance for risk.

Monday, June 2, 2008

When ROI doesn't matter

Over the years there's been lots of talk on whether IT investment has been effective or not. Invariably, the conversation comes back to -- in one form or another -- Return on Investment. A recent CIO Insight article (link below) addressed this from a post-project perspective. The article suggested that some CIOs don't measure post-project ROI because they are uncomfortable with what the results may reveal (can you say, "Fear Factor?"). However more evidence points the fact that CIOs simply are not measured on post-project ROI. As the article states: "Meanwhile, we found little evidence that ROI accountability was a consistently high priority among CEOs ... And while all the CIOs we spoke with said they needed to project ROI to receive funding, only [one] stressed that his CEO ... consistently held him accountable for achieving ROI."

I am not sure I completely agree with either position. I believe that, given time to think about the issue, most every CFO and CEO would love to know whether their IT spending is delivering on the promises laid out in the ROI justification. It's why that opportunity almost always scores high on executive surveys. At the same time, such questions are rarely a matter of urgency. In other words, the executive looks at the overwhelming pile of work laid at her feet. Somewhere in that pile is the post-project audit.... somewhere under last month's sales report, the competitive SWOT analysis, the contract review from legal, and the proposed agenda for next week's management team meeting. If she gets free for a half-hour, she might read it. On the other hand, she just want to get a cup of coffee.

Executives, including CIOs, focus on what is ahead of them, not on what is behind. If someone is really clamoring for an ROI analysis of the project completed 6 months ago, it's because that someone either believes the project failed, or because they suspect they've been hoodwinked into funding an IT gadget shopping spree. And at that point, the objective of the audit isn't to verify success, but to assign blame.

To read the CIO Insight article, click here: ROI: Why Don't More CIOs Measure ROI After a Project Is Up and Running?