Integrating IT

There is change in the air, and it’s not just spring time allergies.  Clients, prospects, and colleagues are all talking about technology again.  I have a theory about what is going on.

Post Nicholas Karr’s famous diatribe, “Does IT Matter?” (Answer: Not really) executives across the spectrum of company size relegated IT to “plumbing” and isolated it from any core business conversations.  It didn’t help that the majority of technologists historically find the role of “commodity keeper” quite acceptable. Some even welcomed the isolation.   After Karr came utopian dreams of “cloud-everything” to solve all technology problems. Technology wouldn’t be bothersome anymore. It would be all taken care of “out there.”  Unfortunately, and perhaps compounded by the difficult times of recent years, this was used as one more excuse to “forget IT.”

As might be predicted, the pendulum is on its way back.  The impersonal, remote, back-room IT has left everyone wanting.  Not to mention that many have discovered the Cloud is not a panacea, requires its own kind of management, and has security issues.

Most important: The need for personal interaction, personal support, and personal advice is starting to weigh heavier on the day-to-day business practice.  It’s no longer acceptable to reach call-center “Peggy” (remember Peggy?) and get the run-around when you need answers.  IT has never just been plumbing.  It’s about people using technology effectively, getting things done, exploring solutions together.

Why the shift?  What has happened recently?  I believe that people are realizing the difference between “Managing IT” and “IT Management.” To say “it’s just plumbing” does not do justice to the value of IT in a company.  The fact is running water keeps you alive.

IT Management is about marrying technology and your business.  It is about understanding how the constantly changing technology landscape fits with your vision, your goals, your people.  It is about recognizing that IT does matter because it will help you survive, thrive, and out-compete.  In short, it is about engagement between your technology team and your business team.

Technologists need to be aware of these shifting winds and take action.  We need to do more than ask “how can I help you?”  We need to be proactive, get out of the tech-cocoon and integrate technology skills with the business realities companies are facing.  Come up with ideas. Solve the problems that the management team doesn’t even know they have yet.

Technologists cannot afford to squander this moment of transition to be seen as more than plumbers.  Technologists need to rise to the challenge and respond as architects.

In person.




Isolation Technology!

According to my completely unscientific survey of clients and colleagues, things are not getting any better.  Not in the average business, anyway.  Stress, market pressure, staffing, revenues, expenses, insurance – you name it. Very few have a positive outlook.  Everyone is focused on survival.  Focus on what needs to be done, and nothing else.

Unfortunately for many companies, the “nothing else” also includes Information Technology, and their own information technologists.  Why?  Why not engage the one team in your business that holds the key to your competitive advantage?  Good question.

Several reasons are emerging on the top of the list.  Yes, I’ve written before about the inexcusable c-level technology ignorance (“It’s the Technology, Stupid!” and “Why Can’t I Get e-mail When e-mail is Down?”), as well as about the technologists themselves (“IT’s Worst Enemies”), but corporate issues with technology are getting deeper, and more pervasive.

I believe that on one hand we have gotten so comfortable with technology that IT has become “white noise.”  We no longer hear it.  We no longer see IT, either.  And, because we know little about it, we are naturally comfortable in relegating IT to the back room.  Out of sight is out of mind.

At the same time, technologists themselves have reacted to the current business environment with isolationism! From “They couldn’t tell a server from a router…” all the way to “They just don’t get what it takes to keep all this running!”  And, of course, there is the ever shifting technology landscape (pick the trend du jour: e.g. Cloud-everything), and career panic sets in.  The tech team  may try to distance the business from any IT change that is perceived as job threatening.  Forget what’s right.  What’s right is to stay employed!

How do we break out of this cycle? Admittedly, it’s a tall order. When you’re threatened, it’s very difficult to be open, inclusive, and engaging, especially with complex, “foreign” topics like technology.  And especially difficult in the sub-second transactional world we live in.  Not core business?  Move on.  For both parties.

In our practice, we have found one thing that does work. We ask the question: “Why leave money on the table?

It shakes people up.  Next thing you know, everyone pauses and inevitably asks “Why… what do you mean?”

On the business side, ignoring the “white noise” of technology means you’re missing opportunities.  New applications, new workflows, new connections, new thinking – all enabled by technology – everyday something new.

On the IT side, retreating into the tech-cave means missing an opportunity to advance, to show that your true value to the organization is not about blinking green lights, but about the ways of making life easier, innovating, more profitable, more secure.

Another important note: Companies that really profit when the business environment rebounds are the ones that have taken downturn downtime to prepare, think and innovate.  The ones that have kept their wit, stayed open, inclusive, and receptive.

Give up complaining, cuticle-biting and hiding!  There’s only thing business and tech people need to do:

Talk to one another!  (Crazy, I know!)

Our recommendation:  Lunch!  Once a month.

Pick a day – the first Monday of each month sounds good – and order lunch, sit down, and just talk.  Vent.  Like you are with your friends commiserating.  Because, you are!  You’re in the trenches fighting the same battles.  Time you started knowing each other – no?

You’ll be amazed how quickly isolation changes to support and support changes to profit.




Today is Day One

Thursday, November 1, 2012, a commentator on TV announced that “Today is Day One.”  Our city and our region, grappling with the worse disaster in memory, are inching forward.  Everyone is doing their part, government, businesses, NGOs, and individuals.

Here at tmg-emedia, we have been very lucky.  Our office on 42nd and Madison survived unscathed.  No loss of power or connectivity.  All our employees are safe and sharing the same inconveniences as everyone.  A few have lost property, one serious, the rest minor.

Throughout all this, our priorities have been clear:

Our first responsibility is to each other.  The safety and wellbeing of our families, employees and their families is paramount.

Our second responsibility is to you, our clients and extended network, who all who rely on us for services and information.  We have kept our communications open and frequent via Facebook, twitter, text messages, calls, and emails.  We coordinated and planned storm preparations well.  We have been in the field, visiting client site after client site since Tuesday at dawn.  We are delighted that no loss of facilities, equipment, or data has occurred across our client base.

A significant percentage of our lower Manhattan clients still have no power; a few have power but no connectivity.  We continue to work with Con Edison and the ISPs to make sure we are there as power and services get restored.  We are also thrilled that clients who implemented our Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery plans were able to return to productive work immediately.  Our Managed Cloud customers also enjoyed uninterrupted services.  All in all, for a disaster of this magnitude, these results make us proud.

Finally, we have an important responsibility to our community.  Words are not enough.  We need action, we need involvement by all.  To that end we have announced the tmg-emedia Red Cross fund drive.  We will donate $100 per employee and $100 per client to the Red Cross.  We will also match all our employee donations.  We urge you to get involved in the rebuilding of our region and help in the recovery.  The Red Cross needs your help, and we are confident that you can also find many other ways to help.  Please follow this link to Red Cross on-line.

We thank you for your support, your trust in us, your good wishes, and your patience as we all recover and rebuild.



Be afraid… Be very afraid!

Once again the popular media is abuzz with stories of hacking.  Most recently the dating site eHarmony was hacked probably by the same perpetrators that hacked LinkedIn, the “corporate” social network, exposing six million user passwords.

Six million!

A few months earlier, SONY, the one and only, was hacked twice.  The first incident, which they initially kept quiet, was heralded as the “largest identity theft in history” with hackers stealing credit card numbers, and e-mail address. Then, a few months later, it happened again.  At least, the second time SONY promptly responded with a blog entry alerting the users of the breach.

But, back to LinkedIn, and its six million password theft:  Embarrassing?  You bet.  Expensive?  You can’t imagine.  LinkedIn is getting sued over the incident, and the cost of defending the lawsuit alone is projected to run high. And, that’s excluding any inevitable settlement.  As Jeff John Roberts puts it in his June 19th article “The case is likely to turn on whether LinkedIn did enough to protect its user accounts and whether it did enough to notify users of the hacking incident. The breach was first reported by a Norwegian security firm and then publicized by numerous technology sites but LinkedIn appears to have dithered for more than twelve hours before telling users that data had been compromised.”

Dithered for twelve hours!  Now, there’s a long runway…

But wait! There is more! These days hackers (who incidentally tend to be extremely good at what they do, frequently brilliant programmers, and practically always a step ahead of the “white hats”) have devised yet another way to phish.  “Poisoned search results” is a technique that uses expertly built web sites that look and feel “real,” showing you meaningful results to your query in Google, Bing, etc.  They are nothing other than bait, and the fish is you.  The minute you enter your personal information, you’re done.  According to Blue Coat, an internet security firms, poisoned search engine results are the number-one malware threat on the web.  Worse, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, nearly 40% of the world’s computers are thought to be infected.

What does this mean to you?

As I have argued before, you ignore technology at your peril.  No matter what size company you work in, technology and cyber-security is not a “buy it and forget it” investment.  You need to be involved, ask the right questions to your IT team, and stay engaged with them.  There is no plausible deniability here.  There is no “The IT people are responsible for that stuff…” It is your neck on the line.

The first step is to educate yourself.  That will help you ask intelligent questions, and recognize evasive answers when you hear them.  On cyber-security, start with the easy-to-digest tips from the Department of Homeland Security.  Yes.  Your government at work!  Thankfully, the government is taking cyber-security very seriously, and despite fits-and-starts, there are many efforts across agencies to secure government data and to build the nation’s capacity for cyber-warfare.

The second step is to educate your firm.  Engage with your technologists.  Understand the risks.  Identify how and where your data (including client data) is stored and protected, and who, what, and how it is accessed.  Create a special section of your intranet dealing with cyber-security, and alert your employees to it.  Sponsor an in-house seminar or webinar addressing the issue.  Retain outside expertise, for it is unlikely that your own IT team can ever be on top of this matter, and have them audit the site, recommend tools, and train your people.

The one thing you cannot do is nothing.  You have twelve hours…

“Remember: Not all business is good business.”

With that, he shook my hand and walked out of my office. It was the first real piece of advice I received when I decided to start my own consulting firm, given to me twenty-four years ago in my office on the 52nd floor of the Pan Am building.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  He was the president of an IT company who was a vendor to my then employer.  We had developed a good professional relationship, me the Vice President of IT, he the vendor of our networking equipment.

Over the years I have had plenty of opportunity to remember his words.  But none more so than on January 2nd of this year.  Still on vacation, I received an e-mail from my partner outlining how the principal at our largest account had been verbally abusive to her and the rest of our staff.  We confronted him, pointing out that his behavior was unacceptable among professionals.  His response was more expletives.  We ended the relationship on the spot.

Of course it hurt loosing that big account.  And, as many have since counseled, these are not the days to be taking to high moral ground!  These days are days of crisis, days when one has to develop a thick skin and brush such insults off.  The prevailing wisdom honed from long years in recession: clients can behave in any manner,  insofar as they pay their bills.  We grit our teeth and mumble, “the client is always right” and we all move on.

But, where do you draw the line?  Perhaps, some will argue, you don’t draw a line at all!  You need to stay flexible, always evaluate your options, and always look to “what’s in it for you.”  Others will argue that, say, sexual harassment and physically abusive behavior is where to draw the line.  Once the behavior becomes criminal, it’s time to stop and call the police!  Anything less, well… it is ok!

I disagree.

We at tmg-emedia enter all professional relationships eagerly, in hopes of learning from each assignment and from other professionals. We are hungry to collaborate and solve the problem.  In our view, a consulting relationship is a partnering towards common goals.  And, although it is not a requirement to be friends with your partner, it is a requirement to respect them, communicate directly and openly, and treat them accordingly.  Anything less, we find, breaks the partnership, creates a negative work environment, and leads to failure.  Both client and consultant lose.

That is not for us.

We strive to create environments of success, spaces of collaboration, discovery, and innovation.  And like attracts like.

The ethos of the 2000s has been do what’s expedient, and profitable, with little regard for what is sustainable, whether in business or the planet. We have felonious bankers who don’t go to jail, and Supreme Court decisions that hand over democracy to corporate monied interests.

The global starts with the local: How we treat one another in personal and business relationships  matters.  Do so with an underlying value system based on mutual respect and sustainability.



The joy of being ignorant!

On March 12, Mr. Caleb Garling posted on WIRED an article titled “Study Says Most IT Guys Are Ignorant” followed by the opening line:  “Why can’t the IT guy fix your latest problem?  Odds are he’s ignorant.”  All this, according to Mr. Garling, based on CompTIA’s report of over 500 U.S. business and IT Managers.

Absolutely fascinating!  And, please, let me count the ways!

First, I find the choice of words by Mr. Garling particularly revealing.  To be clear, having read the report cover-to-cover a few times, there is nowhere in the report the word “Ignorant.”  Perhaps Mr. Garling is projecting a bit of his experience? Or is it vitriol?

Second, in both title and opening line Mr. Garling is emphatic:  It’s the “IT GUY” who’s “ignorant.”  Clearly, at Mr. Garling’s place of employment IT must be the exclusive dominon of male ignorant technologists!  How sad! I don’t even want to know how the editorial offices look like!

But, let’s skip past the blatant insults to a whole class of professionals and the blatant sexism and get to the crux of the issue, shall we?

What the study did quite correctly point out is that there is a significant skill gap among technologists across various segments of business.  The study also pointed out the primary reasons as to why.  The top two are:

  1. Ever-shifting technology landscape (46%).
  2. Lack of resources for IT skill development (43%)

Hmm… No “ignorant IT guys” listed.  Yet.  Moving right along…

The study further points out that “…80% (of) organizations indicate that their IT skills gap affects at least one business area such as staff productivity (41%), customer service/customer engagement (32%), and security (31%).”

Another interesting tidbit from the study is that there is an over 20% differential on staff productivity impact between “Very Tech Savvy Firms” and “Non Tech Savvy.”  That distinction alone is enough to raise alarms about the state of technology literacy in our corporations and to perhaps refrain from casting aspersions to IT guys and gals that continuously swim upstream, in an ever-changing river, while being beaten over the head by the ignorant natives in the canoes!  Like… you know…

There is another reason for the suffering skill sets, one that we have seen quite a lot:   More often than not, even in the best-intentioned organizations, the IT staff is overwhelmed and under-resourced with a dedicated focus on “being in touch with the business.”  That becomes the main focus of IT and a constant uphill climb to prove their value and integrate with the business.

Unfortunately, if your core business is not IT, then expecting your in-house IT people to “be one with the mother ship” and stay in touch with the even expanding technical universe is a fantasy – an expensive one at that!

Our core business is IT.  We breathe it, live it, and run it 24x7x365.  And, we have in place both training programs and rigorous certification requirements for all our professionals.  I have to be honest and tell you though, that even we, the most dedicated and passionate about IT people, have found ourselves hard-pressed to stay ahead of the curve.  We have succeeded in part because it is an actual corporate mandate and in part because that is our core business.

Is that the answer across all businesses?  Doubtful.  In an the new and permanent age of budget cuts and belt-tightening, training and education budgets are the first to go.

We believe that the answer lies in the right mix of training and outside skill augmentation.

How do I know?

I checked with my “IT Girl:” Maria Aksentyan, our Managing Partner, IT Services.


Think Globally, Act Locally

In an age where no one thinks twice about jumping on a plane and a few hours later doing business two continents over, you would think that we would have figured out a way to make cell phones to a) work any place on the planet, and b) how not to take out a second mortgage for the privilege.

The issue is – of course – complex.  Not only is there a pure technology matter (What’s the frequency, Kenneth?) but one of standards (CDMA, GSM, etc.).  And then, there is greed.

Yes. Pure and simple.  Greed at its best.  If there is an opportunity to fleece the consumer, then why not do it?  And in the cellular world opportunity abounds!  The minute you cross borders the local operator wants his cut, while the home operator still wants his.  The result?  Bring your wallet, and it best be thick.

Many have accepted this outrageous fleecing as “cost of doing business” and move on.  Of course it is just that.  It is cost of doing business, and that makes business overhead go up, which makes deals more expensive, which makes… you get the drift.  Market economics 101.  And, don’t even get me started on the lack of cross-operability between standards.  And, it is the same operators that are fleecing us that tell us how expensive and difficult it is to establish cross-operability.  Hogwash!

The European Union legislature is one of the bodies that has been looking at this, and there are several proposed laws to curb what boils down to abuse by the cellular providers (in Europe crossing borders is easier than crossing state lines in the U.S.)  If and when this legislation passes, it will still be a long way from solving a world-wide problem.  So, what’s a business person to do?

Think Globally, and Act Locally!  Get yourself an unlocked phone, and as soon as your feet touch the ground of your destination walk into a cellular store and buy a local SIM card with a local number, and all the features you want.  Sounds complicated?  Not if you can figure out the working end of a toothbrush.  Trust me!  The local store knows the best deals and they will be happy to help you.  In English!  And your card will work forever.  Visit, after visit, after visit.

Sure, you end up with half a dozen international numbers.  Letting your associates know the number is trivial.  Takes one e-mail.  You can even add the local number to your signature!  Personally, I have saved hundreds of dollars in fees by doing exactly this.  A small inconvenience for big savings.

Because, if you are expecting any of the cellular providers to “hear you now” about your complaints… You’ll get nothing but a busy signal.

Can You Hear Me Now?


Not a word!

As my colleague Marla used to say: “Crickets!”

That’s what we got from Verizon when on December 6th their 4G service went out.  As of this writing, December 7th, it is still out.  Possibly nation-wide.  Possibly across all 4G devices.  With no “fall-back” to 3G or Any-G!  Thousands, perhaps millions, of customers with no data.

And, no answers.

Calling support, one was given conflicting reports.  First, it was localized and on a few devices.  Then, it was nation-wide, across the board.  Bottom line:  No one really knew.  And, in the absence of the truth, in the absence of good communications, one is left to speculate:

“I know! Is it aliens?”
“How about a government conspiracy?”
“How about a foreign government/terrorist attack?”
“How about hackers stealing *our* private information and credit cards?”
“How about little Jimmy playing with his dad’s computer?”

Who knows?  Certainly Verizon isn’t telling!

Which brings us to something we’ve faced at different client sites:  More than once, when managers have to communicate bad news, they “sit” on them.  They hope the news will get better with time.  They hope the problem will go away.  It rarely does.

Our advice has always been the same:  Get in front of the issue, now!  Communicate as soon as possible, as clearly as possible, and keep doing that until the issue is resolved.  Otherwise the problem is multiplied – not only do you have the issue to begin with, but now you have no credibility and you’ve lost your cohorts’ faith in your ability to resolve it.

The blatant mishandling of this outage by Verizon is but one example.  I am sure you can think of many more… (Really? Let me get this straight: You thought if you ran for President, a 13-year-old-affair wouldn’t come out? Really?)

So, as we all wait for news on the solar flare that ate Verizon’s network, we can at least take this silent, data-free moment to reflect and to promise ourselves that we will not be as stupid!  We promise to be proactive, honest, and forthcoming in the new year.  How is that for a New Year’s Resolution?

Happy and healthy holidays to all, and a prosperous 2012!


Analyze This!

The conference room was modest but very functional – a rarity these days!  The two teams had amassed on either side, cordial, eager to complete the deal.  We were there representing the buyer.  The teams were divided into “operations,” “finance,” and “IT.”  Everyone had six weeks to complete all the analysis, and land gracefully into closing.

My team’s job was to evaluate IT and Interactive.  That meant a thorough analysis of everything in technology, starting with a Strategic Review, Hardware Assessment, Software assessment, Services assessment, and Interactive Review – everything from on-line strategies, social, mobile, and web presence to e-commerce, integration, and application development.  A lot of work, but work we’ve done many times.  Work we’re very good at.

Then, an executive from the seller’s side smiled and asked a very simple question:

“What makes for a good IT due diligence?”

For a moment I was taken aback!  Scrambling for time as I collected my thoughts to respond, it struck me!

“A good due diligence is like the X-Files,” I said.  “A combination of ‘I Want to Believe,’ ‘The Truth is Out There,’ and ‘Trust No One!’”

It was my turn to smile.  And hope that this due diligence will not be like an x-files episode, and that we wouldn’t uncover any monsters. I hate monsters…

Since then, I had a bit more time to think my answer through.  I’m sticking to it, but I do want to elaborate.

First – “I Want to Believe!”  This is a classic problem with acquisitions.  People fall in love with the deal.  They want it.  They must have it.  They believe it is a good deal – facts be damned!  Experienced and successful acquirers know how to temper this, but even they sometimes fall to the siren of the deal.  So, our job is to very carefully draw the curtain back. Let them see all that’s there.  It may still be a good deal, but it becomes better when your eyes are wide open.

Second – “The Truth is Out There!”  The one thing you need to do is listen.  Better yet, shut up and listen!  People will tell you the truth.  In subtle (and not so subtle ways) people ultimately need to heard.  A successful due diligence is less about detective work and more about listening, observing, and checking off all your questions from your list.  And always, always have a list.

Finally – “Trust No One!”  No matter how charming, how outwardly capable, how accommodating, etc., etc. always trust two things and two things only:  The facts, and your instincts.  Especially in technology due diligence where all too frequently byers get starry-eyed with such romantic words like “ecosystem,” “scalability,” “cloud,” “virtualization,” “social,” “mobile,” and of course “extensible!” A pig still smells like a pig no matter how much lipstick, mascara, and perfume they’ve poured on it!  Don’t get caught kissing it, and no matter what, don’t buy it!

Now you’re ready!  Polish your magnifying lens, double-check your list, and get to work!

IT’s worst enemies?

Sometimes, it’s the Technologists!

Here we are sitting around an impressive conference table at the plush headquarters of a multinational manufacturing company (names have been changed, of course, to protect the guilty) when their chief technology guy proclaims:

“I want to make clear one thing from the start.  Our mandate:  Zero Impact to the Business!

Dramatic pause.   A small bead of cold sweat was starting to form on my forehead.  He continued:

“Meet ‘Project Colossus.’  It is our world-wide enterprise IT initiative to standardize all our technologies into a common platform, a single technology stack, that we can grow on and singularly focus our support and development efforts.”

At this point it took a lot of discipline to a) Not run for the doors screaming, b) Call the authorities, c) Perform a citizen’s arrest, or d) Call CSI and look for drugs in the coffee or air vents.

Our firm has working with one of the verticals of this international behemoth, responsible for only a few hundred million dollars or so worth of revenue.  Peanuts!  Over a period of eleven years we had architected and developed a mission critical application that managed the business workflow from concept to delivery.  Not a trivial application, now on version twelve running on a LAMP stack.

“Our decision,” he continued, “is to move everything to .NET.  We’ll save millions in support costs alone, cross-leverage code and applications, and life will be good, and order will reign in the IT galactic empire.  Any questions?”

This was the first meeting with Enterprise IT from the mother ship.  For eleven years, no one had cared about this tiny one billion dollar division, floating out there in the outskirts.  Not really part of the core business.  But now… Now, we have “Project Colossus” and “cross-leveraging of code and applications?”  Really?

As much as our  .NET architect was salivating, we had to ask the obvious: “Have you considered the cost and time that it would take to re-platform a mature, working, mission-critical, LAMP application with several thousand lines of code over to .NET?”  At this point the division’s president was shaking like a leaf in the fall.  About the same color too…

No answer from the technologist or his team.  A glazed surprised look, and a couple of shrugs.  But, they did promise to get back to us.  God willing, it will be another eleven years for the next meeting.

Hence my point:  Here we have an IT initiative with a “mandate” of “zero impact to the business” and a unilateral decision to “standardize” to a single technology stack.  And this was sold to management?  And they bought it?

At a minimum I see two counts of criminal negligence:

First, as per my earlier post of “Why can’t I get e-mail when e-mail is down” management is criminally negligent in its lack of understanding of the technology universe, the various options, when it makes sense to have a unified standard, and when it makes sense to allow the vertical businesses to use what is appropriate to their needs.

Second, what power hungry, one-platform-to-rule-them-all, controlling technologist comes up with this…”idea?”  And then proceeds to first convince his IT troupers to support it, and then “sell it” to the aforementioned criminally ignorant managers that this “project” will save money and keep them safe from the horrors that lurk in the dark server rooms?

Where is integrated thinking? Where is “business first?” Where is unit enablement?  Where is business empowerment?  But, I digress.

Bottom line:  It always takes two to tango.

Just as managers are responsible and accountable for critical thinking, tech know-how,  and decision making, so are technologists.  They too are responsible and accountable to maintain a view outside of their ordered world of bits and bytes, apply solid management practices, and demonstrate business savvy.

My recommendation to both:  Think! You’ll find it surprisingly refreshing!

And, if anyone, ever, tells you that they’ll do something with “zero impact to the business” keep calm, smile, and discretely call for the padded wagon.