Friday, March 25, 2011

What's In A Name? (Short Take)

In the internet age having a common name is an advantage. It's apparently normal anymore for prospective employers, acquaintances and friends to Google first and not even bother to ask questions later depending on what they find. In my case that doesn't work very well. According to US census data in 2000 Miller was the 6th most common surname in the United States. (link). Michael is the 4th most popular first name in the US according to this site. What happens when both names are combined?
LogoThere are
people with my name in the U.S.A.
How many have your name?

It's not that I'm an especially private person, I've posted to BBS's, forums and BLOG's regularly since I was in my late teens. What I do like however is having choices about what can and can't be easily found and linked to me. I'm part of the first generation to come of age "on the web" and while I can't think of anything I've done over the years that I'd be particularly ashamed of, I am not the same person today I was when I was eighteen years old. It seems very unfair to me that there is the potential now for people to be judged and found wanting because of something they did years or even decades ago. It used to be the case that youthful indiscretions were stored only in the slowly fading memories of a small circle of our friends. Today they are potentially available and preserved in numerous places.

Privacy is increasingly rare so there is something to be said for the anonymity of a common name. Or at least there is until a bill collector shows up on your doorstep looking for somebody with the same name but a very different collection of DNA. 
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Technology, Copper & Fiber Optics

NHK World - Photography Mike-85-3-1
It's been a busy couple of weeks for me which explains in part why I haven't posted here recently. Watching events unfold in Japan has also played a part.

It would be impossible to imagine what happened and is happening there. The scale, scope and tragedy that has unfolded are beyond my comprehension and based on some of the footage I've seen well beyond anything that Hollywood could imagine either. Cracks opening and closing in the earth, walls of water rolling over everything in their path. Houses and businesses carried away. Total destruction. Likely tens of thousands of people dead. By way of contrast, Hurricane Katrina had a final death toll of under 2000.

Disasters of this magnitude have happened elsewhere and images of the aftermath have been available at least in limited quantities. I don't recall ever seeing so much footage of the actual event itself. A decade into the 21st century citizens of wealthy countries such as Japan have the ability to document and record events at a scale and level of detail that is amazing and more than a little disturbing when viewed in this case.

Japan's NHK world English language broadcast via the web is also providing more information and insight into the aftermath than I've ever seen before. I'm used to seeing world events through the filter of the US press, or occasionally the BBC. Being able to view something a lot closer to the source has a different impact. When we're viewing local media covering remote events I think it's harder to maintain emotional distance.

What's going on in Libya right now is a different sort of tragedy but again, we're getting much more raw on the ground perspective that we did even a few years ago.

We used to get news in a very structured and polished form. There were up sides to that approach, but it was also kind of sterile and limited. Vietnam was the first televised war, and the images that appeared on Americas TV's had a profound impact on peoples perceptions and the final outcome of that conflict.

We've moved a level or two beyond that now with Facebook, YouTube and other forms of online media providing forums and channels for people and groups all over the world to deliver raw footage and opinions on what is happening. We've already seen people using these new tools for positive change.

New technologies provide new tools that can be used for good or ill. As always the actual impact of a particular tool is going to be determined by individuals and societies. So far I've seen more positive than negative to the creation of the Internet and I very much hope that continues.

Image by Ryuugakusei via Flickr
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Repeatable Success

Enterprise Architecture drives organizational ...
One of the things I like to do is look at organizational structures and figure out what is working and what isn't. Once I've identified things I think could be better I mentally pull everything apart and put it back together until I find a model I like better. This process tends to be iterative, but intuitive which makes it difficult for me to express exactly why I think a particular way of structuring an organization makes sense.

Recently I've come up with a simple approach that brings some structure to the analysis portion of this exercise. I don't have a lot of mileage on this method but it seems worthwhile to talk about it.

This approach is currently aimed at functional areas. I believe it could be applied in a larger context but I haven't given that much thought yet.

The first step is to identify the required outputs for a particular function. Since Information Technology is my field I'll use it in my example. Lets imagine a high tech company that has two different types of internal customers. Administrative/Sales/Marketing/Operations/Etc. (ASMOE) & Engineering/Development. (ED) Both groups need IT services but their needs are going to be different. I'll discuss this more below.

There is a saying in project management that you can choose any two of "Cheap/Fast/Good". What if we apply this rule to satisfying our required outputs?

The ASMOE group needs reliable industry standard solutions that are cost effective. That need for reliability means that rolling out the latest and greatest update to a particular piece of software right after it comes out is  a bad idea. It also means that they likely have a lot of automated processes in place that are going to have to be tested and verified any time a change needs to be made. They usually don't want to know anything about the "man behind the curtain". Computers are just tools they use to get their jobs done. Throw in training and it is safe to say that for IT to effectively support this group Cheap & Good are the two best choices.

The ED group is in the business of solving cutting edge problems as quickly as possible. Time to market is often critical and having to wait six to nine months for a new piece of software or some other IT related task to be completed has the potential to cost the company a lot of money due to missed opportunities. IT Customers in this area are going to be highly sophisticated when it comes to technology and capable of solving many of their own problems. In regards to IT they will generally be looking for somebody who they can partner with to help solve complex problems. For this group Fast & Good are the two most important things. Cost should always be a factor of course but it is less important than getting good quality solutions in a short period of time.

Based on this brief analysis it's clear that the two groups listed have different needs. Trying to support both with one monolithic IT organization will inevitably lead to both being unhappy as the approach that needs to be taken to satisfy the needs of each is different. In the case of the ED group you need staff who keep up with the latest technologies and are able to move quickly. Rapid prototyping is a necessity in this space and too much process and planning is going to cause things to grind to a halt.

The ASMOE group on the other hand needs industry standard solutions that are applied in a consistent way so that the exchange of information within the company and with external partners and vendors can take place in a timely and efficient manner. To best serve the ASMOE customers you need employees who are disciplined and  skilled in gathering requirements and turning those requirements into services that are cost effective and sustainable. Time to deployment is a factor, but it is almost always less important than reliability, sustainability and cost. ITIL provides a framework for this kind of IT

We human beings love cookie cutter approaches. By that I mean we'll find some success doing things one way and then try to apply that approach elsewhere without fully understanding why the approach worked in the first place and how the initial situation differs from the current one. Bad things tend to happen when this is done. Taking a step back and doing some analysis isn't optional if you want to have any chance at success in business, or life for that matter. Making the Good/Fast/Cheap evaluation is just one possible approach. You could pick any two, three, four, etc factors that seem most applicable to a particular situation and do the same analysis.

Image via Wikipedia
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