Posts Tagged ‘servers’

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…

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.

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.

4 steps to effective Disaster Recovery planning

by Marc Watley on August 23, 2010

Question: A wildfire 10 miles away from your company headquarters is raging out of control. The fire captain just ordered everyone in your building to evacuate. All staff have safely evacuated premises, and now you are likewise heading out, taking one final look at your datacenter – still humming away, unsuspectingly. You have offsite data storage but no offsite server infrastructure, applications, etc.

What do you do?

I’m paraphrasing from a not-so-great movie here – Speed (Keanu may have been good in The Matrix but the predictable tête-à-tête between his and Dennis Hopper’s character in Speed still makes me chuckle) – but IT executives today are, in fact, increasingly faced with the threat of disasters – whether natural (such as a wildfire) or man-made (e.g. some ding-dong crashing a vehicle into your datacenter). I may be taking a bit of creative license here, but this could not be a more serious issue. (Recall those horrible wildfires in San Diego, California area a few years back? The example above was culled from situations experienced during that period.)

As organizations – and their customers – increasingly rely on database, server, and IP-connected applications and data sources, the importance and responsibility of maintaining continuity of the business infrastructure and limiting costly downtime in the event of a disaster, is paramount.

Though many an organization had active disaster recovery (DR) projects on the books a few years ago, the global financial crunch of the last 20 or so months has wreaked havoc on IT budgets everywhere; only now are many of these DR projects once again taking priority.

If you’re thinking that you can ‘wait it out’ and disaster won’t strike on your watch, think again. Apparently, some 93 percent of organizations have had to execute on their disaster recovery plans. Yep. This according to an annual DR survey from Symantec last year.  A few more points from this survey:

  • In general it takes companies [with active DR plans] on average three hours to achieve skeleton operations after an outage, and four hours to be up and running
  • The average annual budget for DR initiatives is $50MM (including backup, recovery, clustering, archiving, spare servers, replication, tape, services, DR plan development and offsite costs)
  • Virtualization has caused 64 percent of organizations worldwide to reevaluate their DR plans

Whether your organization is a small recently funded startup or well-entrenched in the Fortune 100, designing, implementing, and testing a DR plan is an endeavor that takes dedication, careful planning and time (the entire process can take weeks or even months). There are many excellent resources available which can provide knowledge and detail as to the individual steps of a DR planning initiative.  (Cisco’s DR Best Practices site or Disaster Recovery are great places to begin, by the way.)  What follows is a high-level, best-practices overview of the planning process:

Executive Sponsorship

This first step of a successful DR plan involves two key components: One is to secure plan sponsorship and engagement from senior company leadership – CEO, COO, CIO, etc. The other is to establish a planning team that is representative of all functional units of the organization – sales, operations, finance, IT, etc.  This step is the catalyst to a smooth planning initiative, and requires focus and patience.  (The ability to herd cats wouldn’t hurt, either.) It may also be helpful to reduce the impact on internal resources by leveraging outside help from a consulting firm well-versed in DR planning.

Information Gathering

This portion of the planning process – information gathering, due diligence and assessment – is the most involved and most time-consuming, and a true test of teamwork across the organization.

The first step in this part of a DR planning initiative is performing a Business Impact Analysis (BIA), which helps to assess the overall risk to normal business operations (and revenue flow) should disaster strike right this second. The BIA is typically comprised of identifying and ranking all critical business systems, analysis impact of interruption on critical systems, and most importantly, establishing the maximum length of time critical systems can remain unavailable without causing irreparable harm to the business. This length of time is also known as Maximum Tolerable Downtime (MTD).  Working backwards from the MTD will allow acceptable Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) to be reached.

With BIA in hand, the next steps are conducting a risk assessment and developing the recovery strategy.  The risk assessment will help to determine the probability of a critical system becoming severely disrupted, identifying vulnerabilities, and documenting the acceptability of these risks to the organization.  Engagement from the entire planning team is necessary in order to accurately review and record details for critical records, systems, processing requirements, support teams, vendors, etc. – all needed in order to develop the recovery strategy.

Also important in the recovery strategy is identifying the recovery infrastructure and outsourcing options – ideally alternate datacenter facilities from which critical systems and data can be recovered in the event of a serious interruption.  This, as they say, is the point at which the bacon hits the frying pan: Many organizations are leveraging the power and abundance of Cloud-based IT resources to lower infrastructure costs, and Cloud is particularly applicable for DR.  In fact, there are more than a few services who provide continuous data protection: typically accomplished via unobtrusive software agents residing on each server in a datacenter. These agents are then connected to a black box also residing in the datacenter, incrementally taking images of each server, de-duplicating the data, then replicating that data via secure WAN to a remote data store, ultimately providing on-demand (via secure web console) recovery from the remote location at any time. Companies such as nScaled, iland, and Simply Continuous offer such services and can even help build a business case to illustrate the ROI for this service.  Point is, do thy homework and explore if Cloud services such as these might make a sound fit into your organization’s DR plan.

Planning and Testing

Armed with a full impact analysis, risk assessment, recovery goals, and outsourced options, now the actual DR plan can be developed. The DR plan is a living document that identifies the criteria for invoking the plan, procedures for operating the business in contingency mode, steps to recovering lost data, and criteria and procedures for returning to normal business operations. Key activity in this step is to identify in the DR plan – a recovery team (which should consist of both primary and alternate personnel from each business unit) and to identify recovery processes and procedures at each business unit level.  Also important is to ensure the DR plan itself is available offsite – both via the web and in permanent media form (print, CD-ROM, etc.)

Equally important to having a DR plan is regular testing. This step includes designing disaster/disruption scenarios and the development and documentation of action plans for each scenario. Conducting regular testing with full operational participation is key to successful testing.

Ongoing Plan Evaluation

An effective DR plan is only a good plan if continually kept in lock-step with all changes within the organization.  Such changes include infrastructure, technology, and procedures – all of which must be kept under constant review, and the DR plan updated accordingly.  Also, DR plan testing should be evaluated on a regular basis, and any adjustments made (systems, applications, vendors, established procedures, etc.).

So there you have it – four key building blocks to tailoring a DR plan for your organization.  Of course, if the ‘disaster’ arrives in the form of a city-sized asteroid hurtling towards Earth, needless to say any plan will likely not make much difference. Anything short of such a global catastrophe, however, and a well-developed and maintained DR plan will keep employees and customers connected and business moving forward, with minimum downtime.

Again, this is by no means a complete recipe for designing and implementing a DR plan but instead is meant to serve as a high-level overview…offered as food for thought.  I encourage you to learn more, explore options, ask for help if needed – whatever it takes to thoroughly prepare your organization for the worst, should the worst ever occur. To loosely paraphrase our man Keanu once again from another of his, er, more questionable films from back in the day – Johnny Mnemonic – this is one topic where you absolutely, positively don’t want to “get caught in the 404″.