Are You Asking Questions?

October 7, 2010

A nice article titled; The electronic health record meets the iPad from IT World Canada.

The articles demonstrates how Mr. Dale Potter, chief information officer at the Ottawa Hospital improved IT services at the hospital exponentially.

There is one key quotation that I want to point out regarding Mr. Potter’s work;

….. asked physicians how much of the information they needed in their work was available …

Look at the very first word in that quotation.

Asked

Asking questions.

How often does your IT Leadership actually do that? Or do they try to be prescriptive without asking those questions first?

The SMB Takeaway

Ask questions and then truly listen. Only then can you begin thinking of solutions or alternatives. It won’t always be easy.

Ask Questions

Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr

Computer Speeds and Relativity

September 23, 2010

And yes! that is a deliberate play on Einsteins’ theory!

We are human, and when dealing with concepts that either we do not understand, or we have an inability to immediately visualize, we tend to try and make a mental comparison about that concept relative to a concept that we can understand or appreciate.

To illustrate, consider all of the press coverage of the massive Gulf oil spill after BP’s DeepWater Horizon exploded and started spewing oil into the Gulf.

If your press coverage was like mine, after numbing your brain with a massive amount of oil measured in tens of thousands of gallons (or Litres), there was usually a reference relating that massive number to; “the equivalent of X Olympic sized swimming pools”

Putting in this relative reference allows our brain to put a rough estimate, or mental framework around what would otherwise simply be a dizzying number.

It is not just gulf oil, how many times in your life have you heard relative comparisons similar to;

– the length of three football fields
– as high as two Empire State buildings

And Computer speeds?

I was asked to get pricing on a new computer workstation capable of very demanding, very heavy duty work. The tasks the machine would be doing included creating and editing of massive digital imagery, manipulating, editing and working with full screen quality video, and other compute intensive tasks.

I checked various machines and their specifications with corresponding prices, then supplied a recommendation.

It went over like a lead balloon

A week or so later, I was asked why a local Big Box computer retailer had computers with the same computer processor, the same amount of RAM (memory) but about one half the cost?

I had made a mistake.

I had forgotten this relativity.

In modern computers, the processor, or brain, of the computer is no longer the single key to how that machine will perform. Basically, a computers fitness for your purpose is driven by many other pieces of the machine.

So, how did I try and recover from my error?

First I told a story, then related that story to the specifications of the computer.

You don’t need to be a fan of auto racing to grasp the idea that taking the engine out of a racing car and sticking it into your minivan won’t let you win the Montreal Grand Prix. (or Brickyard if you prefer!)

Sure, the engine is a big part of a race car, but it has a stellar supporting cast in transmission, suspension, and brake components. And your minivan? well it does not have that all star supporting cast.

I then showed three computer specifications with exactly the same processor, and same memory. One machine was a consumer product, the second a mid range general purpose business machine, the third a high end engineering class workstation. I could then point out visually the differences in this supporting cast of components.

In our race car, the supporting cast includes the suspension and brakes, some of the computer related supported cast includes the electrical speed of the data bus (in MHz) that ferry’s data in and out of the processor. The speed and size of the layer 2 and 3 cache (that increases the predictive opportunity for the processor) The speed and architecture of the RAM chips.

These supporting pieces are what separates the race car computer from the minivan.

The SMB Takeaway

There is more to know than the type of processor and how much RAM is in a computer to determine if it is fit four your purpose.

If the workload is heavy and complex, look at the improved supporting cast. If not? you can get away with out it.

PS, did my recommendation get accepted?

Actually no! armed with that information an even higher powered machine was preferred- but hey – all is good.

Photo Credit Martin Pettit via flickr

On Designing Systems & Process

September 17, 2010

My thanks to Eric Brown, who graciously accepted a guest post of mine on his Technology, Strategy, People and Projects blog.

The post does a brief comparison of business processes with personal time management.

As individuals, things can fall through the cracks, ditto for business.

As individuals, rework and lost time can occur, again ditto for business.

Add Eric’s blog to your regular reading!

For many IT leaders in the SME space, thinking about technology is easy.

But thinking about how technology affects the goals and problems of other parts of the business, or external customers is harder.

Technologists tend to look only in the mirror. This type of business introversion is similar to the old adage; when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

To improve IT performance smash that mirror and start looking out the window. If you want to borrow another old adage; walk a mile in their shoes.Walk in their shoes

Can you describe the goals and problems facing your sales team? How about marketing? Now how about your customers?

If you can’t answer those questions, observe, research, and ask.

What if you can describe their problems and goals?

Congratulations on a great start, unfortunately that is the easy part.

Influencing and proposing methods to improve ‘the way we always do it around here‘ beast is the harder part.

But it is still the part that has to be done correctly.

Image credit ppphotographs via flickr

Unsecured Wireless

September 8, 2010

Like most office buildings, ours has a small custodial office located in a mechanical room off of the ground floor.

A few days ago I was having a brief chat with a building heating / ventilation contractor and commented that I have been seeing him here a lot – and that I hoped that there was nothing major that was wrong with the building!

His response?

He told me that the unsecured wireless network that someone in this building has was great for him to check his email.

The SMB Takeaway

If you have any wireless access points in your facility, and they are unsecured, it may not just be the HVAC repair guy that is accessing your network

Unsecured Wireless

Photo Credit verdammtescheissenochma via flickr

Windows 7 And The SMB

September 3, 2010

I have been going through the process of upgrading the PC Workstations of our Software Development, Multimedia, and Program Development teams.

As these teams do fairly compute intensive tasks we chose to replace the old machines with new 64 bit engineering class workstations, with Microsoft Windows 7 pre-installed.

Overall, 64 bit Windows 7 has impressed us, with a few little caveats.Windows 7

Manipulating large graphics and other types of rich media is significantly faster. By faster I mean seconds, rather than minutes. That has been the major benefit – worth the price of admission right there.

I had minimal issues with some older software we use such as Microsoft Office 2003, and Visual Studio, but found that versions of Adobe Acrobat earlier than version 9 are not compatible. So we were forced to upgrade a few version 7 and 8 licenses.

An upgrade of my backup software is also being required.

My largest frustration is that we have many remote workers accessing our network via a Cisco Systems VPN (Virtual Private Network) device, and for that, a small piece of software has to be installed on each machine.

The older 32 bit versions of that client  software had a feature that we relied on very heavily, which was the ability for the remote client computer to log in directly to our Microsoft Windows Domain. This allowed login scripts to provide access to resources, automatic user authentication to our Microsoft Exchange Server etc.

The 64 bit version of the VPN client has lost this functionality (at least as of this writing) which forces extra training for remote users on how to manually access resources, and training on how to properly authenticate (the name and password) for resources such as e-mail.

If you are a smaller business using some ancient piece of home built software built circa the mid 1990’s, you will most likely find that it will no longer work.

The SMB Takeaway

Overall, for compute intensive tasks, I believe you will find an immediate benefit to Windows 7. Testing all your older applications is a mandatory chore first.

Have you found major applications that gave you grief with Windows 7?

Chris Dancy of ServiceSphere (@servicesphere on Twitter) tweeted this excellent 10 page (PDF) Executive Overview of IT Service Management (ITSM) and ITIL.

The PDF contains a succinct, and brief overview of the benefits of improving IT Service Management, with some easy to understand demonstrations of visual signs of poor ITSM.

If you are an executive wondering what the fuss is about with ITIL and ITSM, this document is a great summary.

Note, if you have been following this blog for a while, you will note some terminology changes compared to what I have written. This is simply because my experience has been with Version 2 of the ITIL framework, and this document summarizes ITIL utilizing the newer process terminology contained within Version 3 of the framework.

If you are looking into ITIL, I highly recommend checking out ServiceSphere at the above link, on twitter too!