Posts in ‘Technologies’

Corporate Communication: Shoot in all Directions

by Matthew Carmen on August 29, 2011

Any company – whether it’s two people or 200,000 – must have a coherent internal communications system in place, enabling it to thrive on every level within the organization.  As with many things, it all begins with a plan. A good communications plan will include processes that allow all employees to both hear the message and be heard as well.  Succeeding with that communications plan also means the senior management team must fully comprehend and embrace the ‘message’ related to corporate policy and new strategic initiatives to all employees in a way that they will understand.

Corporate communications can take many forms: email, memos, website announcements, manager conversations and town hall meetings, and the like.

Let’s look at an example: A company needing to implement a revised strategy for growth.  The first method of communications will likely be in the form of senior management explaining the new plan to their direct reports – the VP and director-level management staff – in a management town hall-type format. Other useful first methods might be an offsite management retreat, or a memo explaining the new strategy and what the responsibilities of certain corporate functions will be. This first communication must be followed by other reinforcing communications, such as the ones that were mentioned above , if the new strategy is to become successful.

The key to a successful corporate communications plan is that all employees must: a) receive the message, b) understand the message, c) understand how the message will affect their way of doing their job, and d) know that they can communicate back up the chain of command when needed.  This last point is very important in order for a new strategy or other initiative to be successful.  Employees who are actually doing required work are closest to the actual processes involved with that work, and thus tend to know – better than those in leadership – what does and what doesn’t work well.  Therefore, a successful corporate communications program allows employees to communicate their issues and ideas up the chain of command and allow for more successful implementations or provide more timely knowledge that can change a failing program.

So whether we’re talking implementation of a broad-reaching corporate strategy, or a successful personal relationship, communications is the name of any successful game.  Either way, in order for everyone involved to be on the same page and work towards the same goals, communications needs smart planning and must go in all. Ready…aim…

Matthew Carmen launched Datacenter Trust along with Marc Watley in February, 2010 and serves as Co-Founder & COO as well as Managing Partner of their Financial Intelligence practice. Datacenter Trust is a recently-launched consulting and services delivery firm, providing outsourced server hosting, bandwidth, cloud services, and IT financial intelligence and analysis services to growing businesses. Follow Datacenter Trust on Twitter @datacentertrust
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Last night a datacenter saved my life, er… , app!

by Marc Watley on August 15, 2011

Alright, so you’ve toiled and slaved and spent countless sleepless nights (and probably countless ducats as well) to launch your shiny new mobile-local-social app that’s turned into the next big thing. Congrats and all. No really..no small feat, this; good work! Though before you pop open that magnum of La Grande Dame, allow me to ask: happy with your disaster recovery plan?

You. Do. Have. A. Disaster. Recovery. Plan. Right??

No? Step into my office. A Disaster Recovery plan is not the sort of thing you consider briefly, only to shove in the corner for a rainy day. All that’s needed is a cut of some errant fiber line, or some natural disaster to come along and your über-popular app could be down. As for you: that’d be time to dust off the ole resume once again. (I’m hearing the faintest sound of a teeny tiny violin playing.)

Let’s avoid this sad-sack scenario then, shall we? The good news is that although DR planning is a serious undertaking which should be performed by – ahem! – professionals, there are a few easy steps you can take right now to help appropriately prepare you for the unthinkable:

  • Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? No, seriously. If that volcano erupts and hot liquid magma melts the datacenter where your servers live, it’s trouble. (Volcanoes do erupt, you know.) You’ll first need to determine how many hours or days your app can be down before your business is irreversibly affected. This is known as Maximum Tolerable Downtime, or MTD.
  • Research, research, research. Now that you know how quickly you’ll need to be up and running post-blackout, time to start looking into backup options. If your app is running on, say, Rackspace Cloud, you might want to start by learning about their load balancers-as-a-service, and reach out to your account manager for additional detail and customization. Similarly, if you’re running Amazon AWS, their Elastic Load Balancing offering is where I’d start. (With Amazon, you’ll almost certainly want to work with a company who has experience with tailoring  failover using AWS) Spend your time wisely and dig (and Digg) appropriately. Be super conservative as well – underestimate your MTD by perhaps 30% and ensure the solution you’ve picked can meet this. In writing.
  • Go time. Once you’ve selected your backup and recovery solution, time to implement and test. A weekend maintenance window is a good time to test and ensure that your DR system works. Make any adjustments and test again right away. Repeat this processed until perfect.

Keep in mind that his is the quick-and-dirty version of DR planning, but hopefully will give you a rough idea and perhaps serve as a primer regarding how you might approach this very important part of your infrastructure.

So if you’re still asking yourself, should I…?

The answer is simple: you bet your sweet little app!

Written by Marc Watley, Co-Founder & CEO of Datacenter Trust and CMO at Reppify. Datacenter Trust is an IT consulting and services delivery firm, helping growing businesses make smart decisions from sound financial analysis and business intelligence. Reppify is a leading-edge technology company pioneering the use of social media data to drive better business decisions. Follow on Twitter: Datacenter Trust @datacentertrust and Reppify @reppify
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The role of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the organization is to provide internal and external clients with actionable metrics in easily accessible, customizable formats they can use to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. What differentiates KPIs from the wealth of metrics that can be generated from any business is that they are key leading and lagging indicators that can be used to reflect the strategic performance of the organization.

In selecting your KPIs it is important not to be tempted to label as KPIs the “top 40” metrics but rather generally at the top level you should limit yourself to the top 1-3 KPIs per strategic objective. These should only include those metrics that are essential to the success of the organization. In addition, each department will have their own contributing KPIs. The departmental KPIs should be selected so that they can be rolled up in support of the overall strategic goals.

The effectiveness of KPIs can be directly related to the care with which they are defined and implemented. Critical questions to consider when developing your KPIs include:

  1. How does this measure contribute to the strategic goals?
  2. Is it quantifiable?
  3. Is the data currently available?
  4. Can current performance, benchmarks, and target values be defined?
  5. How will it be used as a management tool?
  6. What is the high level plan for the establishment of reporting?
  7. Is there an outline for how continuous improvement activities will be implemented?
  8. Has a cascading plan to all levels of the organization been developed?

A brief discussion of the detailed considerations for each of the above questions is included to assist with the process of initiating a KPI program.

  •  How does this measure contribute to strategic goals? –  The success of using KPIs will be dependent on how effective they are at contributing to a better understanding of what drives the success of the organization. Keep in mind that KPIs will differ based on the type of organization and its goals. For example, a non-profit organization such as a school or a hospital will have different fiscal KPIs than a publically traded company. Each KPI should reflect the mission and goals of the organization.
  • Is it quantifiable? – A common mistake in developing KPIs is to take too general a statement such as “Improve customer service” as a KPI. To be effective it needs to be specific and measurable so “improve customer service satisfaction scores or increase customer repeat order rates” would be more appropriate measures.
  • Is the data currently available? – Another factor to be considered is whether the data to be used for each potential KPI is currently available. The expense of gathering additional data including system changes should be weighed against the value that the measure will provide.
  • Can current performance, benchmarks, and target values be defined? – To be effective a KPI must define a clear target so success can be determined. Industry benchmarks can often be useful in setting these targets. For example, an IT department may have as a target 99.999% availability of key systems. Meeting this target in turn will enhance customer satisfaction, ordering functions, etc. and support the other strategic objectives.
  • How will it be used as a management tool? – A clear understanding of how this KPI will be used, how improvement opportunities will be developed, and consequences for deteriorating performance should all be clearly mapped out before implementation.
  • What is the high level plan for reporting? – Publishing and reporting of KPIs is critical to monitoring progress. Formats for reports should be customized by role and function so that executives will see a summary view while department heads would have a much richer set of detailed metrics. Consideration should be given to the mix between dashboards, scorecards, detailed reports, and self-service tools for ad hoc analysis.
  • Is there an outline for continuous improvement activities? – A process improvement process allows the KPI values to be used to identify where focus should be placed to enhance performance.
  • Has a cascading plan been developed? – Each level of the organization needs to understand how their operations support the overall strategic goals. Cascading the KPIs clearly delineates their contributions and their opportunities for improvement.

Implementing a well thought out and comprehensive set of KPIs is the first step to a more proactively performance- based operation. This program will provide all levels of the organization clear targets and objectives with the ultimate goal of materially contributing to the success of the organization.

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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Does your company’s leadership think that having a robust Business Intelligence function is only viable for large corporations? Think again. In today’s global world, with information shared in the blink of an eye it is imperative that all companies know their numbers and manage by them. The information that a Business Intelligence (BI) function can provide can mean the difference between growth and competitive decline. Utilizing BI has been proven to result in significant competitive advantages both for small companies as well as large corporations.

Business Intelligence Planning

Initiating a Business Intelligence function in your company does not need to be excessively expensive but does require careful planning. There are five key steps in developing a plan for a BI function that, if followed, increase your chance for success. The level of complexity required for these steps is dependent on the size and complexity of your organization. Small companies can rapidly design a BI program to accelerate the process with the help of a consultant with BI experience.

The five steps are:

  1. Evaluate the company’s  strategic objectives for critical success factors;
  2. Design the Performance Measurement Blueprint;
  3. Perform a Gap Analysis;
  4. Develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs); and
  5. Develop the high level plan for Reporting – Scorecards, Dashboards, Reports

It is important to involve top management early in this process. Their support will be critical to getting funding for the BI program once the analysis has been done.  Depending on the company culture however a draft of a proposal detailing the potential costs and benefits early on may be beneficial. A clear demonstration of the need for a BI program can facilitate its approval and funding.

It is always best to start the planning process with an evaluation of the company’s strategic objectives. To maximize the probability of success, any BI program should be aligned to the mission, vision, and the strategic objectives of the organization. Another critical success factor is documenting the benefits of a BI program up front in order to garner the support of top management or ownership.

Once you have determined how to align to the strategic objectives take a look at what are the expected levels of performance in order to meet or exceed these objectives. Determine any dependencies between objectives in this review. This will help you determine where you can expect cost savings and cost avoidances. An initial draft of non-tangible benefits should be developed at this time. Common benefits include improving quality, improving customer retention, gaining market share, reducing costs, meeting regulatory requirements, and fostering continuous improvement and innovation.

The next two steps are to identify the high level requirements for data collection and to perform a gap analysis. The gap analysis will identify any gaps in current capabilities to measure, analyze, and present the elements of the performance plan.  From there you can start to develop the KPIs that are needed to track performance. The last step of the planning process is to determine the high level plan for what reporting components will be needed. Generally scorecards and reports will be needed for managers and staff while dashboards will be needed for management.

Before you can complete the proposal for establishing a BI program you will need to determine the expected costs and benefits for presentation to management. This involves determining how the program will be designed. There are several options to consider in developing your capabilities for initiating a BI function. Each option will have different costs, timelines, and pros and cons associated with it.

The most popular options for launching a BI program are:

  1. Outsourcing a portion or the entire function;
  2. Purchasing a package through one of the many BI vendors; or
  3. Starting small with an in-house team.

The costs and the benefits for each of these options should be included in the BI program proposal. For a small company the third option is often the best initial choice due to the lower cost. However the cost of outsourcing and vendor packages can often be competitive and can decrease the time to adoption.

With all aspects of the BI plan identified the last step is to put them together in a proposal that clearly shows the associated costs and the benefits of having a BI program. The most compelling benefit in today’s increasingly competitive environment is to gain the advantages that an analytically focused strategy can give to your company’s success regardless of its size.

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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Budget Season! Time to Start Thinking about 2012

by Matthew Carmen on May 23, 2011

Well here we are in May. 2011 seems to be flying by – the year is almost half over, and in the corporate world you know what that means:

Time to start planning for 2012.

This is that time of the year everyone dislikes. For operations and the overall business, it is essentially time away from what they want to focus on, and for the finance teams, it is that time when they find themselves refereeing battles between operations and business for the finite amount of dollars.  All in all, this time of the year is where the challenges of the year ahead are discussed, strategized around, and hopefully addressed.

The three distinct groups – business, operations, and finance teams, each play a role in ensuring a successful budgeting and planning season.  In the case of the business, each area – whether a business unit, product line or service; needs to have its strategy fully developed by the executive team and communicated to all levels of the business.  By doing this, each person – from the lowest level all the way up – will know:

  • What the corporate strategy is, going forward,
  • How their work will help move the company towards the goal, and
  • It will provide management teams the direction in which to plan programs and projects.

By establishing a clear direction across the board, the business will be able to have conversations with the operational areas (such as IT) to make sure that the needs of the business are top priority for everyone.

No Personal Agendas

In my experiences, which have taken place in each of the three distinct areas, one thing has always been paramount to success, “Don’t come to the negotiations with a personal agenda”.  The more emotion that is brought to the table, the longer and more drawn out the negotiations become, and feelings are hurt at the end of the process.  Many times these feelings carry forward and the working relationships between people, groups and departments can be irreparably harmed.  This definitely does not help the long-term growth of a company.

The IT Operations View

In the case of the IT operations groups, this time of year is typically focused on two major things;

  1. The planning of programs and projects that benefit the business, and
  2. The planning of the IT organization.

In the case of the second point, IT has to weigh the benefits to the business versus the needs of the IT organization.  This means that with a finite amount of budget dollars available, the IT department needs to find the right mix of dollars for the benefit of the business while having enough budget to make sure the IT department is able to do the things it needs to do to ensure the business survives long term.  This internal IT spend will likely include: disaster recovery, continued infrastructure modernization, replacement systems for facilities, server and storage growth and refresh, etc.  These areas of spend need to be voiced to the business and discussions need to take place at this time of year, at times, the business seems to forget that ongoing operations need to be sustained and this costs money. May and June are critical communication months in the budgeting and planning season.  Communicating now means that once the finance team is ready to open the budgeting tool, usually right after the July 4th holiday, the whole budgeting project goes more smoothly.

The Finance Team View

The finance team always hopes for a smooth budget season.  Depending on the work they do in these early stages of the process, this smooth season is possible.  At this time of the year, the finance team needs to make sure that its message is communicated as well.  The finance team needs to make sure that all of the business and operational groups know and understand the process by which the budget will happen, what the key dates are, what the budgeting system will include and what business and operations will need to add to it.  These are all very important, the more the business and operational groups understand about what they are responsible to do at this point and throughout the whole budgeting process, the easier it becomes for everyone.

Another area that the finance team needs to be working on at this point is the final testing for its budgeting system.  Changes to the system from previous years may have been done due to upgraded equipment and upgrades in software functionality.  If a completely new system has been implemented (Hyperion and Cognos-TM1 are the two largest systems currently in use by midsized and large companies), the work becomes even more challenging.  Lastly, on the finance side of the budgeting triangle, training the usage of the system must be planned for.  All planning sessions need to be calendared, and anyone who will use the system including: cost center managers, department managers, executives and financial representation should be included in the training. (Either a complete training on a new system, or in the case of the use of the same system, a refresher course will be needed as well as complete training for new users.)

Plan Ahead for Success

Just like most endeavors, the more work that is put into the early phases of the annual planning exercise, the easier it become to achieve success.  The easier the complete budgeting process is, the less evasive to all areas involved it is.  Remember, for most people involved, the budget process is an addition to their “regular” job.  Remember, throughout the whole process, nothing is personal, it is all about moving the business forward…the right way.  Lastly, there are professionals, like myself, that can help with anything from questions to process and system integration.  We are here to help and make your business grow.

Matthew Carmen launched Datacenter Trust along with Marc Watley in February, 2010 and serves as Co-Founder & COO as well as Managing Partner of their Financial Intelligence practice. Datacenter Trust is a recently-launched consulting and services delivery firm, providing outsourced server hosting, bandwidth, cloud services, and IT financial intelligence and analysis services to growing businesses. Follow Datacenter Trust on Twitter @datacentertrust
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The Amazon Outage: 3 ways to avoid disaster

by Marc Watley on May 9, 2011

Even if your business doesn’t run on Amazon’s infamous on-demand IT services, you’ve no doubt heard about the recent failure in their Virginia datacenter. As I originally began writing this post – 48 hours after the outage occurred – scores of widely-used social media services like Foursquare and Quora were still down in addition to many other businesses. Exactly. No fun. (My music-tinged brain immediately conjured up images of red-faced, smoking-headed CIOs, syncopated to Adam Freeland’s “We Want Your Soul“, “…No simcard. No disco. No photo. Not here.”) Imagine being responsible for IT at one of these companies during the outage? Yeesh. Hats off to you guys for getting back online so quickly.

Now then, nearly two weeks post ze outage, the question remains on many a CIOs mind: what to do to prevent being affected by future outages? Are Amazon’s and other on-demand services going away? Of course not – their services are simply too valuable for today’s business. Spare-room-based startups and established shops alike use (and will continue to use) these services. The Economist reported in a recent article: “…the global market for cloud services could grow from $41 billion last year to $241 billion by 2020.” That said, options do exist to prevent exploding noggins and grey hairs during an outage. Perhaps not necessarily drag-and-drop simple, but not insurmountable either.  A few suggestions to ponder:

Amazon. Now with fewer calories.

One option to consider would be to migrate your core web services from Amazon EBS (their storage service around which the outage occurred) and diversify to other Amazon services – or to alternative services providers, perhaps keeping some services active at Amazon. Michael Krigsman wrote an excellent article for ZDNet about the outage, offering insight from a CIO perspective and sharing how some Amazon customers escaped calamity by employing diversification strategies.

Move. If you wanna.

You may love the low prices, but I’m sure it wasn’t just me who was reminded of the tried-and-true adage “you get what you pay for” when the outage occurred. (Though in fairness to Amazon, and as has been noted in numerous articles regarding the outage, these types of incidents are actually quite rare.) A rather obvious option would be to consider making a move away from Amazon altogether. This may be something you’ve been thinking about anyhow, and if so, be sure to spend the time and investigate your options. (BTW, if your concerns are specifically around storage strategy and exploring alternatives to Amazon EBS, I’d invite you to chat with my good mates over at P1 Technologies.)

Disaster Recovery

Needless to say, this is the option folks know but don’t really want to hear (and I know you knew I’d be going here). Why? Disaster recovery (DR) is neither a quick or simple initiative, as you likely know. It takes many many hours of planning and asking tough questions – principal among which is, naturally, how long can I afford to be down? The answer to this question – understanding your Maximum Tolerable Downtime or MTD – is an important one: if you’re running, say, a social media, gaming, or music service and using on-demand datacenter services, uptime is more than critical – it’s everything. Even a brief outage would mean disaster…hours of downtime might mean irreversible business failure. No users. No ads. No traffic. Not here. If you haven’t yet gone down the DR road, now would be a fantastic time to begin. And by now I mean right now.

The moral of the story here is that datacenter outages – while very infrequent with trusted players like Amazon, Verizon’s Terremark, Rackspace, and others – do and will occur. The key is to be prepared well in advance so that the effect on your business is minimal to none; have a sound strategy and diversify your core datacenter services. Spend time investigating options. Plan, plan, and plan some more, and be sure to have DR initiatives in place. And as I always say, don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from professionals who can walk you down the road to smart recovery.

What..still here? Daylight’s a-burnin’ my friends!

Written by Marc Watley, Co-Founder & CEO of Datacenter Trust and CMO at Reppify. Datacenter Trust is an IT consulting and services delivery firm, helping growing businesses make smart decisions from sound financial analysis and business intelligence. Reppify is a leading-edge technology company pioneering the use of social media data to drive better business decisions. Follow on Twitter: Datacenter Trust @datacentertrust and Reppify @reppify
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3 Keys to Successful Integration Projects

by Matthew Carmen on April 11, 2011

Integration Projects

When a company goes through a merger, acquisition, purchase of a business unit, a strategic partnership, etc, there are activities that need to take place to make multiple entities into one cohesive unit.  These activities include: reaching the stated financial goals of the combined new business through operational and departmental combination, the selection of ongoing IT systems, and cost cutting initiatives.  All of these tasks, that create the new company, are integration projects within the larger program.

According to research done by the consulting company NGTO, over 50% of mergers are considered failures and 60-70% of these failures are due to significant misses regarding financial goals tied to the merger.  For public companies – and these are the mergers that people hear and read about – the financial goals are the key.  The true goal of a company is to grow shareholder value, be those shareholders stockholders in a public company or partners in a private entity.  If shareholder value is not improved by acquisition or merger, then what truly was the point?

Further research done by my own firm Datacenter Trust shows that when failure occurs, it is most often due to the stoppage of the integration process after reaching a portion of the total goal; say the merger of business units or reaching the financial goal set by the companies upon announcement of a deal.  By stopping the integration process, the new entity never reaches the strategic state that it set out to accomplish through merger.  Without reaching this state, optimal shareholder value is either not attained (as happens in most cases) or takes much longer and is more costly than was originally estimated.

Mitigating Integration Failure

As a financial professional with nearly two decades of integration experience, I would love to tell you that all the keys to success are based on dollars saved vs. dollars spent, but this sadly would be a lie. If I said all integration projects are successful, this too would be untrue. What I can tell you is that communication is the largest factor in a successful integration project.  Communication is followed closely by understanding – meaning that the people who will be doing the work must understand what the future state of the new organization is meant to look like.  Finally, there is program management – empowering the community that will perform the integration projects while having clear leadership and participation from the executive suite to ensure the program is aligned with the overall strategic vision. Now, lets look at these 3 a bit more closely:

Communication

I cannot stress enough that communication is the largest factor in the mitigation of integration failure.  The executive leadership of the company must ensure that the execution team understands the goal and the look and feel of the future state organization.  Leadership also must make it clear that they are willing and active participants in the program being developed.  Leadership must serve as the sounding board and approvers of each project so as to ensure the entire integration program stays aligned with the evolving strategic vision.  Without communication, there is zero chance of successfully integrating the new organization as advertised to stockholders, employees and the public at large.

Understanding

Understanding is an offshoot of communication.  I would argue that if the execution team as a whole does not completely understand the job at hand, then the notion of communication was unsuccessful.  Also, there cannot be any weak links in the execution team; everyone from the project managers to the network and database administrators must fully understand how their role will ultimately lead to success.  Without understanding, members of the execution team will invoke their own decision rules (e.g. loudest demands, squeakiest wheel, bosses whim, least risk to job, easiest activity, etc.)  Allowing this type of behavior is asking for trouble.  Integration initiatives have a finite amount of time to be completed and must be with the utmost skill and timeliness.

Program Management

Finally we come to program management; the company needs to get the best program and project managers available for integration.  This might even mean going outside the company to contract with consultants specializing in these types of integration projects.  As stated above, the project needs to be completed on time, on budget, and most importantly it must succeed in meeting the goals.  Setting up a ‘program office’ to manage integration properly is an imperative.  The program office manages expectations both up the corporate ladder to the executive suite and down to all areas of the execution team.  Management of the individual project managers is an important area of the program office as well.  With a limited amount of resources, each member of the execution team needs to manage his/her time down to the minute (remember, these team members have regular jobs as well) as the ongoing operations of the company need to take place on a continuing basis.

Countless other activities will help an integration initiative to succeed, but those I’ve covered here are the main three.  In the end, there are many intangibles that come up on a minute-by-minute basis during the project engagement.  The real key is to keep in mind that great people always lead to better results:  Empower the execution team while managing the alignment of integration and the new corporate strategy, ask for external help if needed, ensure leadership is fully engaged, and you’ll be on the path to success.

Matthew Carmen launched Datacenter Trust along with Marc Watley in February, 2010 and serves as Co-Founder & COO as well as Managing Partner of their Financial Intelligence practice. Datacenter Trust is a recently-launched consulting and services delivery firm, providing outsourced server hosting, bandwidth, cloud services, and IT financial intelligence and analysis services to growing businesses. Follow Datacenter Trust on Twitter @datacentertrust
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Business Intelligence in a Wiki World!

by Linda Williams on March 28, 2011

The role of the Business Intelligence (BI) function within the organization has become critical to thriving in today’s evolving business environment.   The ultimate purpose of Business Intelligence is to provide management with analytical insights that can be used to improve business performance and competitive position. Analytics provided by the BI department while intended to focus the organization on their core operations and progress toward aligning to their strategic objectives, increasingly can be the impetus for transformational change.

A review of top companies in their industries clearly shows that they all mange their performance using some sort of BI techniques.   The standard tools of BI are based upon gathering actionable metrics that can be used to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations. This data is analyzed and compiled into reports including dashboards, scorecards, and predictive models. As an added service in  more evolved companies, the BI team generally provides consulting on metrics to propose ways to help make better decisions about operations and suggest improvement initiatives.

Often the development of these insights is closely guarded within the company to ensure at least a temporary advantage in the marketplace. The intent is that analytical capabilities will provide them the edge of a first mover as they develop new markets or approaches for their business.

The Problem

This advantage does not last for long in today’s connected world.

The basic analytical tools of BI however are well known in the public domain. Implementing basic BI has become not a luxury but a standard cost of doing business. Books such as Competing on Analytics give many examples of the types of analytics that can be collected and analyzed. There is also a tremendous amount of open information on BI and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on the web. Companies can use this information to identify enhancements to their current analysis through their own review of wikis and blogs and even competitors websites.

The Dilemma

The dilemma of what to hold close and what to open up is increasingly becoming a key decision point in a BI project’s lifecycle. The discussions weigh the pros and cons of when it is best to foster creativity through opening up their research to collaboration and when Intellectual Property (IP) should be preserved.  Often the decisions are not clear cut and there may be lively discussions between the BI team and the executive team around what is the best approach for this situation. At the heart of these discussions is whether competitive advantage would be better served by keeping their intent secret, for the short term, or whether in the interest of speed and expertise it would be better to tap into the wiki community.

Wikis

The overall purpose of Wikis is to provide a place to share content, ideas, links, and collaborate on information, technical documentation, or the development of new ideas. The Wiki world in contrast to the traditional BI world thrives on openness and transparency. Some of the key advantages of the wiki approach are:

  1. The potential to leverage the talents within the wider community;
  2. A reduction in the time to innovation; and
  3. The ability to incorporate social purposes that may go beyond the core competency of the company. An example is using external assistance in developing approaches to help the organization move into to being “green”.

Clearly there are compelling advantages to be gained by developing analytic dimensions with the help of the larger wiki community. Precedents for using this approach are also becoming more common. Some well-known examples of advances made by opening up IP include: the development of Linux; Netflix’s contest to develop an algorithm for customer preferences; and Google’s opening up application development for the Android. In each case the advantages of using the wiki world to enhance what may have been considered to be IP was outweighed by the benefits of collaboration.

Final Thoughts…

Secrecy in all areas of analytical review is no longer possible or even preferable in a world that is increasingly transparent with the pervasive use of social media by today’s employees who are mobile, connected, and less likely than previous generations to remain in one job for long periods. There are significant advantages to a business in tapping into the networked intelligence to speed up problem solving or make breakthroughs. These benefits may in some cases outweigh the potential risk of the competition using the same information or approach. The final decision however cannot be rote but must rest with the complexity of the use and the expertise of internal resources to meet that need.

Written by Linda Williams who is partnered with Datacenter Trust and also has a Business Intelligence consulting practice where she provides businesses with assistance in performance measurement, process improvement, and cost reduction.
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Week In Review: Mar 13 – Mar 19, 2011

by Magesh Tarala on March 20, 2011

Why the iPad2 and a good datacenter might be all you’ll need!

by Marc Watley, Mar 14, 2011

The time of the tablet has clearly arrived as evidenced by Marc’s informal survey of his flight form New York to San Francisco. You can be as productive with an iPad (and soon iPad2), if not more. Lugging a heavy laptop from meeting to meeting is not necessary anymore. But before you run off to buy a tablet, you need to understand some caveats. more…

Project Reality Check #13: Embracing the Project Fog

by Gary Monti, Mar 15, 2011

No project plan is perfect. It’s usually what the team thinks will work based on certain assumptions and drawn from a large universe of possible solutions. As the project starts, “things happen” and the fog begins to roll in. You can dispel the fog by embracing it. The solution is the fog’s equal in terms of appearance and a countermanding positive performance. It is the team’s wisdom focused into a new or modified deliverable and/or process commonly called the workaroundmore…

Social Media and Tribes #31: Social Media comes through during Japan crisis

by Deepika Bajaj, Mar 16, 2011

In the recent Japan quake, most infrastructure was knocked out, but interestingly Internet availability remains relatively unaffected. And what is most compelling is that Japan turned to social media for connecting with their loved ones. Less than an hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute. Facebook again helped in not only connecting friends and family but also became a broadcast channel for people to share their updates and checkin with their friends. Youtube and blogs became instrumental in giving people eyes into the disaster ridden areas with the help of citizen journalism. more…

Flexible Focus #45: My Cup Runneth Over

by William Reed, Mar 17, 2011

In our pursuit of prosperity, we tend to take for granted the blessings that we already have in abundance. The Mandala Chart looks at wealth as part of a larger mosaic, and abundance as the experience of blessings in 8 areas of life: health, business, finances, home, society, character, learning, and leisure. The real appreciation of what we already have begins with gratitude. And gratitude grows into giving, and is a principle seen everywhere in nature. The quality of abundance is not something to experience in solitude. It starts with the appreciation that your cup runneth over even now, and that it gets even better when you share your blessings with others. more…

Leader driven Harmony #16: Rely on the most reliable person – YOU!

by Mack McKinney, Mar 18, 2011

With the horror of the Japanese tsunami catastrophe still unfolding, ask yourself this.  If there was a 9.0 scale earthquake in the city whereyou live and you managed to survive it, what would you do then? Well, it is time for you to go back to the basics and learn some fundamental survival skills. You don’t need to move into a cabin in the wild and become a fully self-contained homesteader.  But adding a few basic skills will improve your self-confidence and your sense of self-reliance.. more…

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Not that one would be able to tell the difference, but I’m writing this article while flying back to San Francisco from a great week of meetings in New York, and I’m absolutely convinced of two things:

  1. Lugging a laptop around from meeting to meeting is overrated; and
  2. The iPad makes it ridiculously easy to be just as productive on the road. (Oh and 3, as if it weren’t blatantly obvious to anyone who’s flown them: Virgin America = love.) By the time this article publishes, the iPad2 will be shipping, which will present a faster, lighter, longer-lasting experience.

Informal survey time: This flight is just about full, and looks like half of my fellow passengers are using some type of mobile device: iSomethings, Androids, and iPads. (Sorry Motorola, love the Xoom but none spotted around this nightclub-in-the-sky.) I counted maybe four or five laptops, and about 8 iPads.

The time of the tablet has clearly arrived.

Now anyone who has or does carry a laptop with them, you are with me on this, right? Seriously, it’s 2011 and the average laptop is still heavy (6lbs!). The exception might be the MacBook Air 1.86Mhz – a slick machine for sure, but make a move in that direction and $1,600 will need to make a move from your wallet. For less than half this cost you can have a fairly nicely-loaded iPad2 3G.

Now before you drop this post like a hot skillet and rush off to the Apple Store, you need to know a few things. The iPad is indeed quite cool, but a full-fledged laptop it isn’t, so some sacrifice is definitely necessary. Making the iPad your primary road machine requires having some proverbial ducks lined up first:

  1. Email.  The good news here is that the native Mail app works nicely for just about all email needs. The only drawback is that if you’re a Salesforce user, you’re out of luck for a mail-to-Salesforce sync with the iPad.
  2. Documents & spreadsheets. There is currently no MS Office for iPad. Sad, I know. However there are workarounds for working with documents and sheets: Google Docs works pretty well with iPad, and Safari’s use of HTML5 caches your work in case of a connection interruption. Also, apps like Citrix Receiver (for Xen users) and LogMeIn Ignition will connect you to your laptop or other machine back at the office.  I understand that Apple’s own iWork for iPad app is pretty good, though apparently has limitations if you need to convert to MS Office formats.
  3. Presentations. Keynote for iPad allows you to create all the decks you need, or better yet edit existing PowerPoint files. Since most meetings tend to be between two or three people, presenting from the iPad itself is a great, intimate way to talk someone through your deck. For formal presentations, just use the A/V dongle and you’re all set. Need to drop some Photoshopped goodness into your deck? There’s an app for that.
  4. Backoffice apps. Of course while on the road you’ll need to stay connected; your business juice running back in your datacenter.  Salesforce and most other CRM apps are web-based, so you’re already covered here. Connecting to your company’s systems is possible using the native Cisco and other supported VPN protocols. Datacenter providers are themselves releasing server management apps for the iPad. Rackspace, for example, just released an updated version of their feature-packed admin app for iPad, and I’d expect Terremark and the other major players to follow suit.
  5. File management. Storage space is key here, and since there (still) is no support for SD cards with the iPad2, I’d recommend getting the 64GB version. Given almost ubiquitous WiFi or 3G, both Dropbox and Google Docs are two smart ways to manage and backup files from the iPad.

If you happen not to be an Apple or iPad fan, I’d still recommend considering a tablet versus a laptop as your ‘road dog’. (Motorola Xoom is the best of this bunch at the moment, IMHO.) The light weight, size, decent-sized screen, and connectivity to your datacenter and business applications presents a compelling case for replacing that heavy old laptop. Your shoulders will thank you, too!

Written by Marc Watley, Co-Founder & CEO of Datacenter Trust and CMO at Reppify. Datacenter Trust is an IT consulting and services delivery firm, helping growing businesses make smart decisions from sound financial analysis and business intelligence. Reppify is a leading-edge technology company pioneering the use of social media data to drive better business decisions. Follow on Twitter: Datacenter Trust @datacentertrust and Reppify @reppify
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