Monday, January 26, 2009

IT Should Pay Less Attention To The Technology

A lot of IT folks consider themselves to be a far cry from the marketing and sales departments. I have news for them: Get over it.

Within the IT department the toughest problems, the ones that can really have an impact on the organization, are not about technology. Successful IT leader's recognize this and figure out how to connect the IT group with real business needs of the organization. I hit on this a little over a year ago in "Can Technology Geeks Be (Good) Managers?".

But it's not as simple as it may sound.

This is about marketing and sales, even if the IT group's customers are in-house end-users. The essence of marketing, which includes finding out what is really needed/desired by a constituency and then figuring how to give it to 'em, is the essence of the IT department's mission too.

But a lot of marketers fail. And even enlightened IT groups fail... and it's for much the same reason. Why? Because they forget about the "What's in it for me?" principle. Where "me" is your customer/end-user not you... if you're the marketer...or the IT group.

Jay Rollins, recently writing at, hit at this from a different angle that deserves to be pondered (below replace 'customers' with 'in-house end-users'):

The technology was the easy part. Pulling together a solution that the customers actually wanted was the tough part.

As with all technology implementations, the tough part is not necessarily the initial technology. The services and business processes that are typically not part of IT’s purview or area of expertise are usually what makes or breaks a successful technology implementation. Challenging long-held assumptions and having the intestinal fortitude to carry the ball across the goal line regardless of how tough it actually is separates the outstanding IT leader from the rest.
How are you making sure too much emphasis isn't being placed on the technology and the IT department itself?

A quick and dirty test:
  • How often do you question _IT_ best practices? (many don't make sense in a particular organization or at a particular time; similarly many so-called best practices are really conventional wisdom... and questionable tidbits at that)
  • How much do you argue over technical elegance versus pragmatic business aligned solutions?
  • How much do other groups grumble behind the IT groups back?
  • How cynical is the IT group about other groups?
  • Has the IT group done anything other than ask to be included in early strategic and tactical planning that has a technology component?
  • Have you explained your position not from the perspective of the burden it places on IT but from the perspective of the burden it places on the business? In marketing, those marketers who talk about themselves don't do as well. Those who talk about things from the perspective of the prospect, enjoy far more success. What is in it for your "customers" (end-users) not just you?
Each organization is different and IT can't work in a silo... nor can IT blame everyone else for its problems unless its willing to view the world with eyes wide open.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Pro Soccer Coming Back To SLO In 2 Weeks!

I just finished buying our tickets (for both games)... go get yours here. We went last year and it was lots of fun! It, ultimately, motivated us to go to a regular season San Jose Earthquakes games. But seeing them play in a much smaller - more intimate - stadium, locally to boot, beat that because you are so much closer to the action.

During the opening, they have a couple lucky local youth soccer teams walk the pro guys out (one kid per player), while they announce the starters. Last year one of the kids turned out to be one of my old client's offspring.

Cal Poly Athletics will host a pair of Major League Soccer exhibitions in the 2009 MLS Central Coast Showcase on February 13 and 15 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The San Jose Earthquakes will play exhibitions against expansion franchise Seattle Sounders FC on Friday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. and two-time MLS Cup champion Houston Dynamo on Sunday, Feb. 15 at 1 p.m.

“Cal Poly Athletics is incredibly excited to host the 2009 MLS Central Coast Showcase,” Cal Poly men’s soccer head coach Paul Holocher said. “To see world-class talent in your own backyard is just a fantastic opportunity. Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, this is an event to see.”

Last year, Cal Poly Athletics hosted San Jose as the Earthquakes played matches against the Columbus Crew and D.C. United. The Crew, 2-1 losers to the Earthquakes in San Luis Obispo, went on to win the 2008 MLS Cup.
Article continued here. Sitting chart for the stadium is here.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Root Of All IT Problems - Cost: Free

Simplification and perspective.

The lack of, that is.

I know how it is. We all get caught up in the day-to-day fire fighting. Business requirements change. Timeline warp. Scope creep.

The result is...

The endless, painful cycle of the treatment of symptoms. Not problems. Not root causes.

Ad hoc changes. Lots of 'em. Without any pro-active design. No big picture. High level thinking? Ha!

There's no time for any of that.

Then we either throw up our hands in frustration and run far far away. Or we hire an outside consultant that (we hope) will provide us with some much needed perspective (we know we need it we just don't know how else to get it). Consultants sell, when it comes down to it, hope and perspective -- and they are generally called in when we're fresh out of it.

Or we throw more bodies at the situation. But we're not used to letting people sit and "think" without any activity - we have fires to fight after all... we can't afford that luxury!

Or maybe we'll buy new gadgets to help us out. But they add more complexity, unknowns, and risks. Oh, and stuff for somebody to learn to apply appropriately. (Not to mention that we should have probably taken the time to make sure we understood what we were buying beforehand...)

I'm pretty lazy. That is, I don't like to do work I can avoid if at all possible. This includes having to tax my brain to work through complex problems.

It isn't that I'm not good at it. It's that I'd much rather apply my brain to other things... or at least make sure it's available for the next problem to come along...

For the longest time, this worried me. Until I realized an interesting habit it had ingrained in me as a result.... When I'm faced with a problem to solve, a new situation, or something else that smells of brain work -- I, without hesitating, click into "How can I make this situation as simple as possible because I sure as hell don't want keep thinking so hard about it if I can avoid it?". It's sort of like the situation where you know somebody who is known to "always be searching for the angle".

My angle is: "How in the heck can I simplify whatever the heck it is that I'm trying to do because I'm sure as well not interested in working that hard on it day after day?"

These days, with many of my consulting engagements, I'm called in to eliminate a specific problem... or make something possible. In the former, probably 9 times out of 10, there is a high probability that the "specific problem" is likely to be best solved by ignoring the known problem and tackling the underlying situation that resulted in it...

Which is usually where simplification comes in. And a healthy application of perspective - a clean approach - which is easier for me to apply than the prior folks since I have the benefit of hindsight -- but no less valuable to the client.

Simplify. MAKE the time. Make your IT infrastructure as simple as it can be. You do NOT really need an outsider to do this -- hopefully (but sometimes you do, and that's okay too).

Best of luck in your endeavors,


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Sign Your Start-Up Is Going To Fail

We used to have this sort of thing come up at my last company so often that we turned it into a sales approach (that is, we'd help the prospect, usually gently, gain some perspective). That is why this quote hit home with me. Jeff Biggs, CIO of Peak 10 Data Solutions, has established a rule of thumb over the years:

“Whenever I see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I run for cover,” says Biggs. “The four horsemen are ‘We’re going to have big Sun servers, Oracle databases, tons of bandwidth and a bunch of consultants.’ You need to start small and see if you can make it work. That way, you’re a customer for 10 years and not six months.”
It's just so dead one.

When we came across this, we admired the ambition and vision, but we tried to re-focus the clients energies back into their business in other ways. An incremental approach makes far more sense. Things can always be ramped up for the right reasons when the time comes but it's tough to get back money already spent when things don't ramp up quite at the rate expected.

I'm not saying you should be a pessimist versus an optimist. More like a pragmatist. Toss a bit (not all) of the cash saved towards beefing up your "Slashdot effect" plans (as in, how you're going to get that level of success and what you'll do when it happens not what you've already done) and you'll be better prepared in any case. Besides are you sure you'd know what to do if you outgrew even the big stuff?

When we weren't able to make a convincing case for pragmatism, it wasn't unusual to see them last a year or two as customers... than pretty much disappear. Now even some of the pragmatic ones disappeared too but at least it wasn't because they spent all their cash before they'd even had a chance to become a success in the marketplace.

Most of the time, capital is better spent making the product/service more inspiring and actually getting real paying customers for the new product/service, and whatnot. Don't buy the big infrastructure stuff just because your IT advisor wants to prove his worth or even because you want to prove your own level of seriousness about the venture (there are far better way to do by getting sufficient customers and cost structures in place to be a sustainable profitable enterprise that can afford to invest further in its infrastructure).

Commit your resources to the right things and the rest will come together as needed. Of course, I realize that is easier said than done but it's an important concept to strive for and keep in the back of your mind always nonetheless.

Are you involved in an IT (ad)venture like this? If so, I suggest refocusing the ambition to other aspects of the venture that could benefit from it, and talking the infrastructure over with an objective outsider before taking the leap. And, no, I didn't set out to make this post into a self-serving pitch... it just sort of worked out that way. :)

Best of luck in your (ad)ventures however big or small they may be or seem,


Sunday, January 18, 2009

How Non-Profits Might Raise Their Online Donations

Perhaps I'm unusual but I tend not to donate to non-profits that don't use Paypal or Google Checkout (or another large well known front-end processor) to accept payments. The reason is because non-profits are rarely large trusted brands, are usually underfunded and thus security isn't a high priority, and their web sites are often a hodgepodge of thrown together stuff hosted who-knows-where.

(It's not just non-profits I take this position with. I often click away from small no-name merchants if I can't be confident I'm bypassing their who-the-heck-knows-who-where-and-how web site to make the actual payment transaction).

I don't see justification for exposing my credit card so easily. With Paypal or Google Checkout, the credit card information is never exposed to the non-profits hosting provider. Plus, at least with Paypal, the person paying doesn't even have to have a Paypal account - any major CC with still do.

If you're a non-profit, give some consideration to how you might improve the trust level of your web site. Come at it with the mindset of a business doing e-commerce... someone may want to buy what you're selling but they also may click away because they are uncomfortable.

This is about more than having just an SSL certificate. Using https:// is meaningless if the server(s) behind it can't be trusted.

How can you give your customers (potential donors) the warm and fuzzy feeling when they hit your web site?


Are You A Buyer Or A Renter Of Your Stock Holdings?

There's a lot of good stuff in this wonderful post. If you have any interest at all in investing in publicly traded securities I suggest a read:

How can the mindset of chief capital allocator help you distinguish between value and price? If you were in charge of allocating capital around the world, you wouldn’t be able to rely on the market to bail you out of bad investments. The greater fool theory of someone buying your shares at a higher price breaks down if the buck stops with you. Successful investors believe their return will come from the investee company’s return on equity rather than from sales of stock. This mindset produces a very different process of estimating value than if you rely on the market to establish value and then try to gauge whether a company was likely to beat or miss consensus earnings estimates.


Investment professionalization has had unintended consequences, as the ultimate owners of capital (households and endowments) have become increasingly detached from security selection. Short term-oriented “security holders,” such as mutual funds and hedge funds, have displaced long-term “owners.” The results have been a greater tendency to choose portfolios that reduce occupational risk rather than investment risk, increased trading mentality, and less participation in company affairs. As Vanguard founder John Bogle points out, “The old own-a-stock industry could hardly afford to take for granted effective corporate governance in the interest of shareholders; the new rent-a-stock industry has little reason to care.”
On Buffett:
[...] Buying businesses cheaply has not generated his long-term returns -- it has merely accentuated them.

Buffett raised eyebrows in the investment community many years ago when he bought Coca-Cola at a mid teens multiple of earnings. Most value investors couldn't understand why Buffett considered it a bargain purchase. Of course, Buffett was allocating capital to a superior business at a fair price. He knew that Coca-Cola would compound the capital employed in the business at a high rate for a long time to come. Buffett did not need P/E multiple expansion to make the investment in Coca-Cola pay off.

It's not all theory... it pulls together a lot of practical stuff.