Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting more value from IT

Most IT organization spend between 70 and 80% of their resources on keeping things running. Maintenance for servers, patching, network circuits, and solving problems fall under this. Unfortunately that means the amount of IT resources working on anything new is at best 30%. So out of every dollar you spend on IT you get 30% new value.

We have been able to reduce our IT operations costs to between 30 and 40%. I can't give you an exact number because, well, spending the time to accurately track every thing we do would change the numbers. Frankly figuring out if it is 33.8% of 37.4% isn't time well spend and too many departments measure too much and was resources on that instead of new value.

In fact that's my first tip. Stop measuring what doesn't matter. If at the end of the day you aren't going to do anything with the data, stop spending time measuring it.

The second tip is sort of related to the first one. If you can't remember or explain why you are doing something, stop doing it. This can be an outdated process, or a contract for a service that you have had for a long time. We used to have a contract with a data cleansing company. It was expensive, and when we asked, we realized no one used it. So we called in the vendor and asked why we should keep it.

The vendor went on to explain how clean data would save us money when we did postal mail campaigns. We never do mail campaigns and asked what other value they had. As it turned out, that was all they could come up with, so we cancelled the service. The only impact was we saved a few hundred thousand dollars of operating costs a year. No one said anything at all about the service going away because it was never used.

I know this goes against the outsourcing trend, but if it is a lot cheaper to do it yourself, hire someone really good, cross train someone else and bring it in house. A lot of companies buy all of their network services from one of the big telephone companies. The thought it, consolidating to one vendor gets you economies of scale and letting them manage it is one less headache.

While letting someone else deal with it is less headaches, we saved millions of dollars by switching from a managed network to one where we get the best local deals on Internet access we can and manage our own VPN network. We get great pricing, more flexibility, and slightly - very slightly - more headaches. If you hire the right people, the downside is minimal and the upside is huge.

Automate as much as you can. This may mean taking chances that the automation won't miss much. We used to run a management package that would let us deploy updates to our machines. We would test and test each one before we released it to the users to make sure there were no issues. We decided to stop doing that and trust the vendor that makes the software to test the fixes. It's been a year and we have had no issues and been able to refocus that time on other areas. There is a risk, but no guts no glory.

The last tip is that the safe bet isn't always the best bet. There used to be a saying "You don't get fired for buying IBM". Many CIO's still feel that way, though the company name may have changed. While that may be true, you also don't stand out being part of the crowd. If you want to be exceptional you need to take risks, which may mean not going with the same vendor everyone else goes with.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Five CIO tips

I just went to a CIO roundtable event in Boston. Every time I go to one of these I'm always reminded how similar our problems are. Some of these CIO's ran billion dollar companies, others were a few hundred people in a law office, but the problems are the same. Here are some of my tips to help my fellow CIO's and IT managers out.

1. Mingle.  I am a big fan in, gasp, eating lunch in the company cafeteria. Not because the food is that good, though luckily ours is, but because it gives people a chance to see you and get to know you. It's really hard to dislike someone you have had lunch with, well unless they really are a jerk, but hating "The man" seems pretty easy for most.

2. Do what's right for the company, not what's right for you. A lot of times I see CIO's protecting their turf, or pushing a pet project when it's good for them, even if it's nor the best thing for the company overall. Let's be honest, it's hard to say "You know maybe we can not replace that headcount, so we can spend more on marketing". We all get a little hung up on the size of our budgets or org charts, but as a senior executive your job is to do what's right for the company.

3. "Give credit, take blame". When your team does something great, as the leader, you automatically look good. If you then give credit to the team members, you almost get double the credit. The opposite is true with blame. If your team does something wrong, it reflects on you. By accepting the blame you do two things. You end the conversation and show the team that you have them covered. Now if someone does something truly wrong you do need to take action either through training or stronger action, but by not playing the blame game you help foster a culture that encourages people to try new things.

4. Sharing knowledge is key. It's important for senior members to share what they know, but many times people will try to hoard information to make sure that only they know something so they can't be fired. As a CIO you need to encourage people to share what they know so that the senior resources can be working on more senior tasks. Focus on highlighting this and make it part of your culture and your team will flourish

5. Information is power. 99% of the time if everyone has the same information we will come to the same conclusion. When we make mistakes is when not everyone has the same information. Perfect example, we had a remote office and the data circuit contract was up. Well there was a big price difference between 12 and 24 months, so I signed a 24 month contract. Unfortunately what I did not know was that the lease was up on the building in 6 months. Had I known that clearly I would not have signed a two year contract. Not knowing cost us money and frustration.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Attitude is key

I heard a story many years ago that I want to share...

A reporter was interviewing people to see what they though of their jobs. He interviewed one older man who was working as a bricklayer and asked about his work 

He said, "I have the best job ever. I get to build amazing buildings that have character. At the end of the day I get to step back and view my work and see the building make progress by my own hands. I love what I do"

Impressed the reporter walked around the corner and asked the other bricklayer about his job.

He replied "This job stinks. All I do is carry these heavy bricks, put some mortar between them and stick another one on top. It's the most boring job ever. When the day is over, all I have to look forward to is another day of stacking bricks. This is the worst job ever".

Now of course the interesting thing is, both of them had the exact same job. The only difference is their perspective and attitude about what they do.

I feel I have the best job ever, I get to manage the network for a company that makes networking products. I get to deploy the latest technology and work with great people who are redefining how networks run. More often than not, the days fly by and when I finally get around to looking at the clock it is because it is dark out my window and I realize I worked late again.

Of course I can see how someone else could say this is the worst job ever too. I mean there is always another upgrade planned and 200 engineers that all know networking better than me telling me how to do it. For some that would be horrible.

When you think about your job is it the best job or the worst job. Many times the only difference is your thoughts on it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Linking two google spreadsheets

I recently was looking for a way to get data from one Gdocs spreadsheet to another one. I had been puttering with it for a few minutes and was about to call it a night (it is 4AM after all) when I realized "Hey I should try searching for the answer".

Sure enough, a quick google search kicked up the magic command to do it.

It turns out there is an "ImportRange" command that does exactly that. In my case I wanted a particular cell, but obviously, it does ranges of cells too. 

=ImportRange("0AhaiWNG6sqLpdGkydGNyVDBKQUhCWmhWQklIdTB3ibm", "B72")

You will need the spreadsheet key, which you can get from the URL. The only other trick is the arguments needs to be in quotes, or you will get an error. You also need to have permission to view the spreadsheet.

The google docs help is really good. If you get stuck, give searching a shot. It shouldn't come as any surprise, it is google after all. Their search is pretty good. :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

IM nightmares

Is it just me or are there way too many instant message clients out there?

I mean we used to have Microsoft OCS (Office Communication Server). It integrated with outlook and would update my presence when I was in a meeting or hadn't touched my computer in a while. That was good. I rarely had to update my presence since it was integrated so well.

Then we migrated to Google and added Google Talk. It has the same sort of integrations, so again I rarely have to update my presence. Neither integrated with the PBX though so unless I remembered to say I was "On the phone" no one ever knew. Of course half the time I am on my phone it's my cell phone anyway which the PBX doesn't know about so even if it was integrated with the phone system half the time it would be wrong.

Then facebook added chat, and salesforce chatter has chat. Neither of these seem to be integrated with anything so if I want them updated I need to remember to do it. I never remember to do that.

Now we are upgrading our PBX to a Siemens Openscape Voice with Unified Communications and that has chat too. They do integrate with my Google calendar, and the phone which is really nice. I can even get a UC client for my cell phone, which should mean my status gets updated when I'm on my cell phone. Very nice.

But that still leaves me with 4 other IM clients that don't get updated. What I really want, I think, is a "Presence service" that integrates all of these and all my IM clients can query to see what it is I am doing. Ideally that would link location (and speed) so it could tell if I was driving, or at least in a vehicle, and update my status appropriately. I could use something like bzzy to respond to my tweets if I was driving, or in a meeting.

If I am in an active chat session in a different client, my presence would show that too. It could tell if I was busy playing "Angry Birds" and let you know that too. It would have security groups so I could restrict how much detail I share. I wouldn't, for example, want to accidentally tweet out "Rich is having a colonoscopy now and will respond when he is done".

I  guess I'm OK with, or at least resigned to, the issue of multiple IM clients, I just wish I didn't have to update my status so often in so many places. Pretty soon I'll need to add an "Updating statuses" status...