I’m pretty sure this is how most business people feel about IT. We should feel their pain a bit more, then work with them to solve their problems.
I wonder what hidden cameras in non-IT meetings would show us about what they think of us, really. If you have time, go dig into the comments on this video, too.
I think about data encryption, physical access controls to servers and such on a regular basis. But there are all kinds of formats via which data gets stored or communicated. The Rhode Island Department of Labor recently had a data breach involving their call center. Customers were able to hear conversations on other calls. The department estimates fewer than 700 people were affected.
- Paper forms in which data is originally collected. Think membership forms, applications, feedback and suggestion forms. I remember seeing a binder full of membership forms being used to prop open a door on the sidewalk in front of a store. When I pointed out to the manager that this was a problem, he shrugged and said it wasn’t a problem because all the data had already been keyed in and therefore no longer had any value to them except when the systems were down.
- Video and photographs. The advent of video analytics and photo analysis means that we are collecting, storing, and putting at risk more data than ever before. I remember seeing a retailer’s security video tapes sitting all lined up on a counter at the back of a store. The only thing that made this somewhat safe is that most likely the security system was probably so poor it would be impossible to determine who was on those videos. But now video analytics allow retailers to determine when you visit their store, who you shop with and what products interest you.
- Conversations. Yes, all those "may be recorded for quality purposes" call center calls are most likely chock full of your personal information. I worry how well those data sets are being protected, too.
I believe our role as data professionals should go beyond protecting the data held in a traditional database. Because I’m not sure anyone else is even considering that data. And I’d bet the bad guys are betting that no data professional is involved in protecting it.
Love your data. Love your customers’ data, too.
Doug Laney, of Gartner, has penned a real piece of candy humour on his blog at http://blogs.gartner.com/doug-laney/gartner-shares-findings-from-north-pole-inc-big-data-assessment/. In this report on North Pole, Inc, he assesses their current technology environment, their leadership styles and some of their data weaknesses. I chuckled all the way through it.
Analytic Opportunities Beyond Just “Naughty or Nice”
From a business intelligence perspective, Gartner found that NPI is lagging others in the shipping and distribution industry. Its enterprise data warehouse , called “Chimneys”, is really a collection of stovepipe query and reporting systems, some still relying on first-generation BI tools like Red Brick. Gartner recommended evolving to a logical data warehouse architecture for most low-frequency queries to enable more insightful cross-functional, federated analytics.
Some predictive analytics is done to select appropriate toys based on NITS behavior modeling, demographics and prior-year presents. Gartner recommended that this system be enhanced to account for factors such as sibling response, damage/loss propensity, and social content analysis. NPI however is working on mobile-enabling Santa in the field during mall appearances so he can advise on toy availability and alternatives (as necessary) in real-time while a child is on his lap. This system is expected to be in place for the 2013 holiday season. Gartner analysts pointed out that this new capability would also require enhancing its “Tommy” toy order management system to capture full catalog and supply chain information from its suppliers. Today NPI only maintains this tracking data on actual orders.
Grab your candy cane mocha cinnamon double wet latte and read up. Your boss is online shopping for his wife on LastMinuteNotTooExpensiveGifts.com anyway. Read up.
If you work in a large organization, you probably have been through a number of reorganizations. You know how this works: your management chain changes, people get new titles, and maybe, if you are lucky a few people get laid off. A good example are DBAs–they are a regular choice for reorganization, as they are frequently moved from Infrastructure to Applications groups or vice versa.
So how does this happen? It’s usually a several phase process, which starts with a new high level executive (usually the CIO or perhaps in larger organizations a Senior Vice President). He or she brings in a team of overpaid consultants (no, not consultants that fix problems—these tend to be big 5 organizational consultants who haven’t actually worked in IT). And the new CIO, if your karma is really dented, will bring along a new team of direct reports to help him get his quarterly bonuses.
Then, the project gets a really cool, exciting sounding name.
So The Parabola Project usually starts in late summer, just after vacation season. You may notice strange requests for information from your manager, also you may hear undercurrents about the latest hot methodologies (Agile, ITIL, Scrum). Around Thanksgiving, the rumors will really kick into overdrive. “The whole IT org is getting outsourced to Moldovia”, or “The reason why Senior Director X left for BjgReallyCoolNewTech, Inc. is that he was going to lose his job in the reorg”, are some examples of the types of rumors you will hear. Then eventually in early December, just before everyone leaves for Christmas, a new organization will be announced, there will be grumblings, and your IT organization will continue to have the same problems it had before. Only now the problems will be even more complex due to the recent organizational changes and for two months people will be way less productive because they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing.
So why do we do this? Companies lose a ton of productivity and pay consulting firms into the millions of dollars for what amounts to rotating the tires on your car. I feel like it’s a twofold process that relates to poor management.
- Managers/Directors/VPs get bored in their day to day roles and want to make change happen
- The same group of middle managers doesn’t want to address people problems, so they try to solve them using process
- Calling something new (Special Knowledge Efficiency Workgroup will somehow make ineffective people, processes or technologies work better.
- Reorg activity can take the focus of poorly performing projects as well as provide a great project slippage justification
Technology, Process and People
IT is a three-legged stool consist technology, process and people. You can mitigate some technology problems with people, and technology can be used to replace people (computers are more consistent than humans). Where it gets challenging is when companies try to fix people problems with process. Once in a while a reorg can help foster collaboration within an organization. I’ve been through one such reorg where functions were split into a global/regional/local model, which was really effective in fostering process standardization and opening communication channels. However, when people who or can’t do their jobs, changing the reporting structure won’t turn them into superstars. Instead, the constant cycle of reorgs annoys and drives away your good employees. The mediocre employees who are happy just to have jobs, will stay since they have fewer options. So what can you do when the inevitable reorg happens?
- Have a really solid internal network—it will let you know if you are being impacted well ahead of the reorg, which leads to…
- Always have your resume/CV up to date, if the reorg puts you in a less favorable position, it may be time to move
- Having a strong external network is also critical in helping plan your next moves
As long as there are companies there will be reorgs—middle managers need to keep themselves occupied. The best way to deal with this as an employee is to keep yourself extremely employable—keep your skills and network up to date, and you will always have a lot of employment options. If you have career options, you won’t need to sweat a reorg, and if the reorg really sucks, vote with your feet.
I’ve recently taken over
director moderator duties for the monthly Big Challenges in Data Modeling webinar hosted by Dataversity.net. Former moderator, Graeme Simsion, has moved on to exciting things in the writing and film industry, so I’m stepping up to take on the role of agent provocateur in engaging the data community to chat and debate about industry and academic trends in the data world.
Big Challenges in Data Modeling #BCDModeling
In tomorrow’s panel, well be chatting about a soon to be released research paper based on a survey of data professionals. This paper covers:
- Role of Agile/SCRUM on data modeling projects
- Data Modeling tool features
- Data Architecture staffing
- Big Data trends
- ..and more.
Joining me will be a great
cast of characters team of experts in data management as we chat about the paper and how these things have changed over the years.
- Chris Bradley, IPL @inforacer
- Donna Burbank, CA Technologies, @donnaburbank
- David Dichmann, SAP (Sybase), @ddichmann
- Missy Whittmann, American Family Insurance … and real life data architect
We run a fun and engaging webinar where audience members can chat with each other and the panellists, so you get to be part of the insight and fun, too. So make sure you join a bit early so that we can pre-chat.
You need to register to attend.
We tech professionals usually cringe at Cousin Ed’s "I’m having a problem with my computer…" conversation. It’s not that we don’t want to help; it’s that helping is often difficult to do verbally and impossible to do for people who won’t take our advice.
So when someone asks me to fix their slow or broken computer while they are stuffing themselves with Grandma’s Green Salad Tuna Jell-O mould and oyster stuffing, I first start with my list 5 things they must agree to do before I’ll help. These conditions are mandatory; any hesitation and I point them to their NerdFixSquad at their local retailer. Let retailers make money off bad computing practices. It’s good for the economy.
Knowing how painful the fix and the conditions can be, I also require liquid refreshments to help me along. I thought I’d share my Fix + Pairings advice with you to help you through the holidays.
These are in no particular order; depending on Cousin Ed’s issues, you may want to focus on them based on 1) how messed up his computer is, 2) how thirsty you are or 3) how messed up you already are when he asks.
1. Install a dependable anti-virus/anti-malware application
There are plenty available, some free. Installing is not enough, though. It must be configured to download and run updates automatically. Sure, I don’t apply updates automatically on my work machines, but a a regular non-IT user isn’t going to have the type of background to judge when is the right time. Now is the right time for most.
I often find that the "anti-virus" they have installed is actually some malware they downloaded from a questionable website. Or Norton. Either way, that has to be replaced with something reliable.
When I visit the computer in the future to help again, if the antivirus has been disabled or is out of date, they need book an appointment with their local retailer.
Pairing: Since this is the first course, and we are with the family for a while, I’d normally recommend starting with heroin. Unfortunately the US has oppressive drug laws, so while you are downloading and cleaning, I recommend a very dry Martini to cleanse the palate. In my case, straight from the Grey Goose bottle.
If this step takes more than 5 hours to complete due to multiple infections, I recommend Gran Patrón Burdeos, a $650 bottle of tequila that does not taste like gasoline. By the way, "burdeos" means from Bordeaux. That’s doubly pretentious. This is mostly about the price, but why not feel a comfortably numb and like a high-priced consultant at the same time?
2. Uninstall all the applications they have no idea what they are or when they installed them
It’s likely these applications were installed as "helper" applications to some free and useless photo editing software that was recommend during a late night commercial or came free in a box of Breeze. If I’m lucky, they actually come with a functional uninstaller.
I have a 10 second rule: if Cousin Ed can’t tell me what the application is or when he last used it in 10 seconds, it needs to go. Application Hoarders may be the next TLC program, but not on this machine.
Pairing: This is a slow, painful negotiation and process. It deserves a great drink, but mostly just just needs alcohol. I hope the family is at least on Windows 7, but if they aren’t, this task will likely involve several hours of control panel and registry editing, followed by actual deletion of files. I recommend a German Riesling or a Moscato as the alcohol is low enough that you can drink the whole bottle and still be functional.
If Cousin Ed is still rocking Windows Me, I suggest Arrogant Bastard ale by Stone Breweries. Because that’s how you are going to feel doing this task.
3. Uninstall the multitude of toolbars, plugins and widgets they don’t use
Chances are Cousin Ed’s browsers (and he will have all of them installed, even if he only uses one to surf the Information Super Highway) will have so many toolbars and plugins installed that he only sees a fraction of the web as he surfs on by. These also have to go and I have no 10 second rule here. If he really needs one, he’ll find a way to install it again. Trust me.
Pairings: Since most browsers support just turning these off, this activity works well with Everclear Jell-O shots, one for each toolbar. By now you need a bit of sustenance to maintain your blood sugar and to ward of the pending coma from all the work yet to be done. If things have been going well, a nice session beer in the 3-5% range might work. However, if things are extra rough, I recommend the wonderful 9.5% Péché Mortel as the strong dark espresso flavour will help you feel like you are drinking for work.
If things are really terrible, go with a nice Pinot Noir. Buy it on the family credit card, and go to France to drink it.
4. Install and configure offsite, automatic backups.
The key to this is that the backup service must run with no intervention from the user. Even seasoned IT pros have been burnt by not having proper backups. Sure, they meant to run that script that copied their photos up to a cloud service, but they never did. Or they had it automated, and turned it off for testing something else. Another key is that the backup must be offsite. Yes, that wonderful 4TB NAS they bought at Costco for a real deal is wonderful. But it’s parked right next to their computer. Where a thief or blazing inferno can destroy all those bits in seconds. In one breath. I’m saddened to read on a regular basis about people losing their thesis, all their baby pictures or all their work because they failed to do proper backups.
I use Carbonite and Iron Mountain for these things. There are many such services, some for as little pennies a day. I use these in addition to syncing stuff to a local server and the cloud. And yet I still pay redundant services to store my important stuff someplace else, automatically. I do this because copying is not backing up. Also, I test restores from these services from time to time.
Remember, automatic and offsite are the keys. All the other stuff is nice-to-haves. Another drive or computer in your home is not a backup. Heck, another computer in your city may not be enough.
Pairings: Offsite backups take time, often days. If you make it this far, and one usually doesn’t, it’s time to go big. I suggest a glass of Laphroaig 25 Year Old scotch to be savoured as you watch the blinky lights on the modem count out the number of times you’ve told yourself you’d never ever do this type of family tech support again. At least the scotch will be peaty and pleasant. Cousin Ed’s keyboard will most likely be slightly peaty, too, so this pairing may complement your environmental conditions better.
5. Install Updates
Usually when I get to the machine in question, I find that there are 300+ operating system and application updates waiting to be downloaded and applied. I configure updates to automatically download, but not to automatically install. I’m not that uptight. But I make this a condition of my next visit that if I return and there are more than 10 days old updates to be applied, Eddie will have to head off to BestStapleMax to get his PC fixed.
Pairings: Since updates haven’t been run on this machine since Bill Gates worked at Microsoft, this will take a while. The end is near, though, so it’s time to celebrate — with vintage Champagne. If you are billing by the hour (and who are we kidding, Cousin Ed won’t even bother to thank you when you are done) choose Krug Vintage. If you are only doing this because Mom asked you to, ask her for some of her little helpers and a Milwaukee’s Best . It won’t matter at this point anyway. Oh, and if you are in Washington or Colorado, you might just see if Ed’s slacker kid Eddie Jr. can hook you up with something nice for dessert.
If you’ve made it this far without just walking 7 miles to Wal-Mart (remember, don’t fix+pair and drive) to just buy Cousin Ed a brand new $200 PC, you deserve a major award and another drink. Congratulations. And you might want to get some rest. Dad also needs help with his WiFi Router and the new printer he bought on Black Friday.
Courage and Happy Holidays.
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