April 29, 2010

Needed: User-centric Enterprise Architecture Now!


Article from New York Times, 27 February 2010, called "We Have Met the Enemy and He is Powerpoint" should be titled "We Need User-centric Enterprise Architecture Now!"

"Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti. “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter."

As the article later points out, "No one is suggesting that PowerPoint is to blame," but rather the problem is in how we architect solutions and communicate information about this to our users.

No more spaghetti charts, please. No more convoluted, eyesores masquerading as useful information. No more blah, blah, blah, gobble-de-gook writing. No more architecture that go nowhere, but in circles.

We need to use common sense when we think, architect, and communicate or even the wisest of generals and his advisors will be laughing their heads off at what is fallaciously presented as information.


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Powerful Information Visualization Demo

This is not an endorsement of any vendor or product, but rather just sharing a great example of how robust visualization and enabling technology can help us comb through myriads of data and get meaningful information quickly to the people of the front line.

This is the type of architecture that pulls together end-user mission requirements, the vital information to perform, and the system to meet those needs in an eliquent end to end solution.


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April 25, 2010

Going From Peak to Peak

In life, no one has only peaks or valleys. Life is a continuous cycle, and we must traverse “The Wheel of Life” (an ancient belief of many cultures including Jews, Indians, and others) from happiness to loss, suffering, and then hope, and back to happiness again.

Why we go round and round as people and nations is an age-old question. While happiness all the time would certainly be more enjoyable and easier on us all around, it would defeat the purpose of life, which is to learn and grow. And unfortunately, there is profound wisdom in the adage, “no pain; no gain.”

No, that doesn’t mean we should become masochists, so that we learn and grow more! Rather, we learn and grow from difficult experiences and then we get to rest and restore ourselves to be able to apply those in lessons and take it to the next level in future circumstances.

So it was with interest that I recently read Peaks and Valleys, by Dr. Spencer Johnson (best-known for Who Moved My Cheese?).

The conventional wisdom is that if we’re not living at the top of the heap, then we’ve somehow failed. Johnson’s take is that both success and failure (what he calls “peaks and valleys”) have valuable lessons to teach us and are therefore important to experience. The book is about getting the most out of the peaks as well as the valleys of our lives.

Here are some thoughts that rung true—in my words and in Dr. Johnson’s:

#1 - How to handle the valleys:

  • Learn to manage adversity, which helps you to mature and reach your next stage in life: “Between peaks, there are always valleys. How you manage your valleys determines how soon you reach you next peak.”
  • Love and to give to others. “You get out of a valley sooner when you manage to get outside of yourself: at work by being of greater service, and in life by being more loving.”

#2 - Think strategically about where you’re going in life:

  • Envision where you want to be to advance your goals. “A great way to get to your next peak is to follow you sensible vision. Imagine yourself enjoying your better future in such specific believable detail that you soon enjoy doing what takes you there.”
  • Recognize the emotions that guide your actions (and that timing is key): “The most common reason you leave a peak too soon is arrogance masquerading as confidence. The most common reason you stay in a valley too long is fear masquerading as comfort.”

Overall, even though leaders may seem like they are always “above,” in fact everybody goes through regular peaks and valleys.

In addition, leaders have the added duty to find the way not only for themselves, but also to guide others through the “storms” of organizational life. This is a great privilege, but also a tremendous responsibility that necessitates that leaders lead with wisdom and integrity so that they help their organizations, and people, go capably from peak to peak.


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April 24, 2010

It’s The Journey, Not The Destination

There is a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt in a speech he gave called “The Man in the Arena” (1910). The quote is about not being deterred by criticism, and to keep “striving valiantly.”

Quote from “The Man in The Arena”

Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

To me, it is not the destination, but rather the journey that is of critical importance in learning, growing, and becoming more tomorrow than we were yesterday.

A colleague a work told me, whenever you make a decision, half the people will love you and half will hate you. I understand that it can be easy to get discouraged when people criticize your decisions and actions. Leadership means listening to the criticism, even when it is painful. You just have to sift the constructive elements from the pure mud slinging.

He went on saying that just by living life, you would be jostled by it. And maybe that is the point, it is the striving—along with the bumps we get along the way—that builds our character and makes us stronger to take on even greater feats in the future.

So not to despair when times are tough, this is the making of a (hu)man and the crafting of a leader.


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April 20, 2010

The Editable Society

If you’re using a book reader like the Kindle or iPad and are downloading books to read, they are just like real paper books, except that the written word is now dynamic and the text can be changed out.

Wired Magazine, May 2010, has an article by Steven Levy called “Every Day They Rewrite the Book.”

“When you are connected to an e-reading device, the seller does have the capability to mess with the content on your device, whether you ask it to or not.”

Mr. Levy tells how “people were shocked to discover this last summer when Amazon, realizing that it had mistakenly sold some bootlegged copies of George Orwell’s 1984, deleted all of them from customers’ Kindles.”

Since them, Amazon “notifies customers of an update to the book they purchased; if a buyer wants the changes made, the company will replace the old file with the new one. In other words, the edition you buy remains fixed unless you agree otherwise.”

Changes on the fly—with the owner’s consent—is a positive thing when for example, publishing mistakes get corrected and new developments are updated, as Levy points out.

I guess what is amazing to me is that things that we take for granted as always being there…like a book, a song, a document, a video, a photo are not static anymore. As bits and bytes on our computers, e-readers, iPods, smartphones, and so on, they are every bit as dynamic as the first day they were created—just go in and edit it, hit save, and voila!

Documents and books can be edited and replaced. Songs, videos, and photos can be cropped, spliced, touched up and so on. There is no single timeless reality anymore, because all the material things that is being digitized or virtualized are subject to editing—or even deletion.

On the one hand, it is exciting to know that we live in a dynamic high-tech society, where nothing is “written in stone” and we can change and adapt relatively easily, by just logging on and making changes.

On the other hand, living in such a malleable electronic wonderworld means that with some pretty unsophisticated and common tools these days, pictures can be doctored, books can revised, and history can be literally rewritten. For example, just think about how anyone can go on Wikipedia and make changes to entries; if others don’t cry foul and undo the revisions, they stick.

It seems to be that with the technology to quickly and easily make changes electronically, comes the responsibility to protect what is true and historically valuable. No one person should decide what is fact or fiction, a valid change or a distortion of reality—rather it is a mandate on all of us.

I think this is where the importance of democracy and things like crowdsourcing comes into play—where as a society we together direct the changes that affect us all.

It is a frightening world where files can erased or doctored, not just because your own work can be changed, deleted, or destroyed, but because everyone’s work can be—and nothing is long-lasting or stable anymore.

I may be particularly sensitive to this being the child of Holocaust survivors, where the notion of a world where holocaust deniers can just “edit” history and pretend that the holocaust never happened is a scary world indeed.

But also a world, where malevolent people like hackers and cyber terrorists or dangerous devices like e-bombs (electromagetic pulses or EMPs) can damage systems and storage devices, means that electronic files are not secure from change or erasure.

We’ve become a society where everything is temporary—our marriages, our jobs, our stock portfolios, our homes, and so on—everything is disposable, changeable, and editable. We have truly become an editable society.

We need to balance our ability to edit with the necessity to create order and stability, and like Amazon learned, not change out files at random (without notifying and getting permission).

In IT, this is the essence of good governance, where you plan a structure that can breathe and adapt as times change, but that is also stable and secure for the organization to perform its mission.


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April 17, 2010

City 2.0 Makes City Sense

They call it City 2.0—that is cities that are IT enabled with all sorts of sensors and smart technology.

  • Cameras monitor traffic flow.
  • Sensors test water quality and monitor sewage runoff.
  • Smart meters keep track of energy usage.
  • Acoustical systems monitor structural integrity of bridges and other infrastructure.
  • Building management systems control ventilation, lighting, power, fire, and security.
  • Environmental monitoring tracks weather, smog, and even potential natural disasters.

And I think this is all probably still just the beginning…

Governing Magazine, April 2010 has an article entitled “The Sentient City” by Zach Patton” that describes how systems are helping cities “send resources to the street corner where gangs are converging, manage traffic before it becomes congested, and respond to emergencies seamlessly—automatically—before they’re even reported.”

With technology, we are able to be not only more aware of our surroundings, but also be more proactive in managing them.

There are many critical technology elements that come into play for a sentient city:

  • Sensors—for awareness of what is going on
  • Networking—for linking together the sensors with the backend systems
  • Storage—for housing all the incoming city data
  • Business Intelligence—for making sense of it all
  • Alerting—for notifying authorities and citizens of important happenings

According to analyst Rob Enderle, with technologies for a sentient city, “you can run a city cheaper and have happier and safer citizens.” Further, according to the article, the city “becomes a more efficient place for people to live and work. It also means a government can do more with less.”

Obviously, there is significant investment that needs to be made in city infrastructure, systems, and people to make this next generation of city living a complete reality.

But with the investment will come rewards of more and better information for managing all the people, places, and things interacting with each other in the environs.

The flip side of a sentient city is a certain degree of risk to people’s privacy. For example, where cameras and other sensors abound, people’s comings, goings, and doings could become subject to invasive scrutiny.

In this case, a little information can become a dangerous thing without adequate safeguards as to what can be monitored, when, and with how much personally identifiable information. For example, this issue is currently being dealt with at airports full body technology scanners that are programmed to hide a person’s facial identity.

The benefits of sensing and monitoring our environment are great in terms of efficiencies, safety, and security of our citizens, and I believe that this capability will grow from discrete sensing systems into more holistic city management systems that monitors all the city’s functions and operations, feeds this information into dynamic knowledge centers, and provides real-time information for managing day-to-day city living more intelligently and proactively.

As our population grows and our major city centers continue to have to deal with the ever greater potential for overcrowding, traffic, dirt, crime, and other facets of close knit metropolitan life, our need for more and better information for managing these will become ever more critical to support the continued livability and likability of our cities that we call home.


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April 16, 2010

Breaking Down Organizational Bottlenecks

Improving organizational performance is often grounded in identifying bottlenecks (constraints) and fixing them, so that the firm runs better, faster, cheaper than before and at an advantage to it’s competitors.

Enterprise architecture helps us to locate the bottlenecks through an understanding of our business processes, information flows, and systems and then facilitates our reengineering these though business process improvement and the introduction of new technologies.

Harvard Business School (HBS) put out a working paper in February 2010 called “The Strategic Use of Architectural Knowledge by Entrepreneurial firms,” by Carliss Baldwin that describes how “an entrepreneurial firm can use architectural knowledge to unseat a larger incumbent.”

The premise is that knowledge is a firm’s most critical resource, “including knowledge about how to assemble resources to pursue an opportunity.”

We can architecturally disassemble and assemble our resources and processes whereby we—“isolate the bottlenecks” and then “alleviate the bottlenecks.”

This process is grounded in modularity theory, where we use architectural knowledge to modularize (or breakdown) a complex system into its functional components as well as address how these components are related (through their interfaces).

Once we decompose the firms business, data, and systems into its modular components, we can then “remodularize” (or assemble) them into strategically more effective systems for doing business.

Moreover, the paper suggests that the firm “insources bottleneck components and outsources non-bottleneck components,” so as to focus resources (and innovation) on the trouble spots—the areas that are potentially a source of competitive advantage.

Fixing bottlenecks can produce valuable differentiators for a company that we would not want shared with those outside the organization and made available to competitors.

In my opinion, bottleneck functions can also be outsourced, whereby we decide to “let the experts handle it,” when the functions are not strategic in nature. For example, many companies outsource things like payroll and basic call center functions, and it enable the organization to focus its energy and efforts on its core mission.

The notion that enterprise architecture itself is a strategic differentiator for organizations that know how to wield the architecture knowledge is critically important. Through decomposition and assembly of processes and enabling technologies, we can create stronger organizations that not only reduce bottlenecks, but also drive improved decision-making in terms of what to invest in and how to source those investments.

While many organizations treat architecture as a compliance only mechanism and reap little to no benefits from it, those that understand EA’s strategic significance can use the knowledge gained to their organization’s competitive advantage.


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April 13, 2010

We Can't Ignore or Fear Technology For Long

New Article by Andy Blumenthal in Architecture and Governance Magazine (April 2010)

http://tinyurl.com/y3xgrlb

__________________________________

When it comes to new technology, first comes ignorance, then comes fear, then comes the embrace and rush to the IT department to make it happen—now!

This scenario plays out again and again in organizations—there are three key phases to technology adoption.

Ignorance—people are unaware, misinformed, or just don’t understand the potential that a new technology holds. In some cases, it’s because they generally haven’t been exposed to the technology, in other cases, it is because they are going forward with eyes wide-shut (what they don’t know can’t harm them or so they think).

Fear—OMG. A new technology; I can’t deal with this. “I’m used to doing it X way.” “Why do we have to change.” “I can’t learn this new technology.” There is fear of something new, of change, of the unknown.

Embrace—The acknowledgement that a new technology is important to the organization; that it can’t be ignored; that it isn’t going away; that the competitors are already getting onboard. Oh uh. Get the CIO in here. We need this technology, now! Where are we going to find finding for it this year (or quarter, whatever). We need to reprioritize our IT projects, so this is at the top (or near it). Let’s get everyone right on this. Can we meet early this week?

I read an interesting article in Public CIO magazine (January 2010) called “A Mile Wide And An Inch Deep,” about how social media is becoming pervasive in government.

In the article it states: “Last year, a Public CIO reader survey found that social media didn’t make the list of the top 10 technology priorities for 2009. Today, it’s become the No. 1 topic among public CIOs.”

In between not making the top 10 technology list and becoming No. 1, social media was vilified as being something that would make the organization lose control of its message, that was a security risk, and that was a colossal waste of employees’ time and should be banned (or blocked and it was by 40% of organizations).

As the pace of technology innovation increases, the lifecycle of adoption has also rapidly advanced. For example, with social media, we went from ignorance to fear to the embrace in one year flat!

Chris Curran, chief technology officer for Diamond Management and Technology Consultants Inc., is quoted in the article as stating:

“If you rewind to 1995, the attitude back then was, “No Internet use at work.” Then it became, “No Internet shopping during work hours.” But over time, the issue just went away, because a majority of employees are good people, hardworking and productive. Some people are going to do stupid things whether they have access to social networking or not. But it doesn’t make sense to ignore a social trend that is bigger than your organization.”

You can’t ignore important new technologies or let fear get the better of you. At one time, people were saying oh no we can’t change from paper communications to email. We need everything hardcopy. And that changed. Now email is the norm or should I say was the norm, because social computing for the younger generation is becoming the new email.

The answer for IT leaders to advance organizational adoption of valuable new technologies is to:

· Create awareness and understanding of new technologies—the benefits and the risks (and how they will be mitigated).

· Establish sound planning and IT governance processes for capturing business requirements and aligning new technologies to best meet these.

· Provide new technologies coupled with ample communications and training to ensure that the technologies are not just more shelfware, but that they are readily adopted and fulfill their potential in the organization to advance the mission and productivity.

The phases of technology adoption: Ignorance, fear, and embrace are not abnormal or bad; they are human. And as people, we must have time to recognize and adjust to change. You can’t force technology down people’s throats (proverbially speaking) and you can’t command organizational readiness and poof, there it is. But rather, as IT leaders, we need to be sensitive to where people and organizations are at on the adoption lifecycle and help to identify those emerging technologies with genuine net benefits that can’t be ignored or feared—they must be embraced and the sooner the better for the organization, its people, and all its stakeholders.


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April 11, 2010

Balancing Planning and Action

There are two common problems where immature or dysfunctional governance results in poor performance. When good governance is lacking, either decision makers:
1) Over-think and underperform or
2) Under-think and underperform
In the first case, people are seemingly paralyzed (often in a state referred to as “analysis paralysis”) and are hesitant to make a decision and so the organization stagnates—in a state of perpetual inaction—and underperforms.
In the second case, people don’t think enough about what they are doing—they lack adequate mechanisms for planning, analysis, vetting, and general due diligence—and are too quick to just do something, anything—whether or not it’s the “right” thing—and again they end up underperforming.
Both situations have negative consequences on the organization: In one, people are over-thinking and therefore not doing enough and on the other hand, people are under-thinking and therefore end up doing the wrong things.
Instead what we need is a rational sequence of think, do, think do, think, do—where actions are regular, frequent, and driven by a reflection of what’s occurred, the entry of new inputs, an analysis of alternatives, a vetting process, and the point of decision-making.
This is the essence of good governance and the most basic balance of thoughts and deeds, where thinking leads to action and action feeds back to the further thinking and so on.
In it’s more expanded form, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality management, founded the Shewart cycle or PDCA (based on the scientific method)—where planning, doing, checking, and acting is a constant cycle of action and reaction:


Here we can see that good governance leads to continuous momentum from planning (thinking) and doing (performing) to a robust feedback mechanism that includes checking on results and acting to analyze and improve on those.
A recent article in MIT Sloan Management review, Spring 2010 called “Learning When To Stop Momentum,” by Barton and Sutcliffe, provides similar lessons from the perspective of overcoming dysfunctional momentum.
Dysfunctional momentum: “occurs when people continue to work towards an original goal without pausing to recalibrate or examine their processes, even in the face of cues that they should change course.”
Dysfunctional momentum fits into the category described above of under-thinking and underperforming. If we don’t “pause and recalibrate,” (i.e. think before further action) we are not going to perform very effectively.
The authors recommend that we do the following to cure dysfunctional momentum (under-thinking):
1) Be humble—“be confidant in your skills but humble about the situation. Even the most experienced experts cannot know how a dynamic situation will unfold.”
2) Encourage skepticism—“it is important that everyone’s voice be heard.”
3) Seek out bad news—“use the acquired information as an opportunity to learn.”
4) Be available—“interruptions force us to reconsider whether we really know what is going on and how well the present actions are working.”
5) Communicate frequently—“face to face is the richest medium for communication because…it conveys multiple cues that allow for a range of meaning, and it provides the opportunity for rapid feedback.”
To me, we can also cure dysfunctional paralysis (over-thinking) by tempering the prior recommendations with the following ones:
1) Be bold—be willing to understand the requirements, the options, vet them, and make a decision and move forward.
2) Encourage conviction—hear everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and ideas and then have conviction and take a stand.
3) Seek a decision—get the good news and the bad news, put it into a business case or other presentation for decision makers to act on.
4) Be discrete—manage time with discretion following the phrase from Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for everything”—a time for thinking and a time for doing.
5) Communicate with purpose—communication is critical and often the best communication is directed ultimately toward some decision or action to further some advancement on the subject in question.
The article summarizes both perspectives this way: Dysfunctional momentum occurs not necessarily because people are ignorant, risk-seeking or careless, but because they are human and have as much trouble in controlling momentum as they do in surmounting inertia.”
To address the issues of over- and under-thinking problems, we need to establish policy, processes, structures, and tools for good governance that support people in thinking through problems and making decisions on a sound course of action—leading us to a continuous and healthy cycle of thoughts and deeds, planning and action.

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April 10, 2010

Knowing Who Your Friends Are

You’re on the Internet doing your business, but who is at the other end and how do you know that you can trust them?

That is what so called Reputation Systems are all about—creating mechanisms to authenticate the identities of partners online and measure just how trustworthy they are or aren’t.

Some familiar examples of reputation systems include everything from scores for vendors on Amazon or eBay to activity statistics on Twitter to recommendation distinctions on LinkedIn to networks on Facebook.

The idea is that we measure people’s trustworthiness through the number of transaction they conduct, reviews and recommendations they receive, and associations they keep.

These are all instances of how we unmask the identities and intent of those we are dealing with online—we obtain 3rd party validation. For example, if a vendor has hundreds or thousands of transactions and a five star rating or 99% positive reviews or is a select member of a power seller” network or other select organization, we use that information of past performance to justify our current or future transactions or associations with them.

MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2010, has an article about reputation systems called “Online Reputation Systems: How to Design One That Does What You Need.”

According to the article, reputation systems are “the unsung heroes of the web,” because “they play a crucial role is building trust, promoting quality, improving collaboration and instilling loyalty.”

Without some way of knowing whom we are sending a credit card payment to, friending, or chatting with on the Internet, we would be violating the cardinal rule of safety that our parents and teachers taught us from the earliest time that we could understand that you “don’t talk to strangers.”

I remember a very good video for children produced by Service Corporation International (SCI) called “Escape School,” which taught just such lessons by Bob Stuber a former police officer and child safety expert.

Even as we grow up though the dangers from people criminals and predators still exist; hopefully we are a little older and wiser in recognizing it and dealing with it, but this is not always the case.

For example with online dating networks, people sometimes pretend that they are a rich brain surgeon or the proverbial “tall, dark, and handsome” physique to lure someone on a date, only to be exposed for who they really are upon the first date.

People are inherently driven to connect with others, and online we are able to connect easier then ever before—with people from all over the globe, virtually anytime of the day or night—and it is often tempting to let our heart lead and dismiss any concerns about who we are dealing with. Further, the veil of anonymity online seems to only heighten the opportunities for abuse.

The dangers of people pretending to be something they are not and the need for recognizing whom we are dealing with is an age old problem that society struggled with—from the snake oil salesman of time past to those occasional dishonest vendor on sites like eBay today.

The MIT article states “Small, tightly knit communities arguably do not need central reputation systems, since frequent interactions and gossip ensure that relevant information is known to all. [However,] the need for a central system increases with the size of the community and the lack of frequent interaction among members. In web-based communities with hundred or thousands of members, were most members typically know each other only virtually, some form of reputation system is always essential.”

Predators act out online everyday using social engineering to trick people into divulging personnel or organizational information, getting them to send money (like the fake emails from Nigeria or a lottery) or sending out malware when you click on the link that you know you shouldn’t be doing.

Another example with children is evident on NBC Dateline’s “To Catch A Predator” series where Chris Hansen stakes out the child predators who arrange meetings with kids in chat rooms on the Internet and then make their appearance at their homes or other meeting spots. Child predators prey on the fact that the children online don’t realize who they are dealing with and what their evil intentions are. Thank G-d, law enforcement and NBC has been able to turn the tables on some of these predators when law enforcement is pretending to be the vulnerable kids in order to catch the predators---who are fooled into thinking they are talking to children, only to be caught often literally “with the pants down.”

Whether we are socializing online, surfing the Net, or conducting some form of ecommerce, we must always pay attention to the identification and reputation on those we deal with. As the MIT article points out, with reputation systems, we can use ratings, ranking, and endorsements to build up information on ourselves and on others to build trust, promote quality, and sustain loyalty.

Of course, even with reputation systems, people try to manipulate and game “the system,” so we have to be ever vigilant to ensure that we are not duped by those hiding their true intentions or pretending to be somebody or something they are not.

As social creatures, optimists, and those of faith, we are tempted to just trust, but I prefer the motto of “trust and verify.”


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April 9, 2010

Apple’s Self-Sufficiency Model

Apple has an amazing self-sufficiency model, where they have only 6 desktop support analysts for 34,000 worldwide employees, 36 helpline agents for 52,000 computers, only 38% of their IT budget is for baseline operations and 62% for innovation, and their IT spend is just .6 of 1%. These are numbers that most CIOs dream of. And of course, that’s only the beginning of the Apple story…

There is no doubt about it Apple is firing on all cylinders. Apple has become a $50 billion a year company building and selling technology products that consumers are salivating for—whether it’s a MacBook, iPhone, or the new iPad—everyone wants one, and I mean one of each!

Apple’s slogan of “Think Different” is certainly true to form. It’s reflected in their incredibly designed products, innovation in everything they do, and the keen ability to view the world from their user’s perspective.

Here are some amazing stats on Apple (heard at the Apple Federal CIO Summit, 8 April 2010):

  • Apple as the highest gross revenue per square foot in retail at $6250.
  • Apple’s online store is the most visited PC store and is a top 10 retail website
  • iTunes has over 125 million user accounts and does 20,000 downloads a minute
  • The iPhone 3GS is ranked the #1 smartphone in customer satisfaction by JD Power Associates and has over 150,000 apps
  • Apple processes over 1.9 million credit card transactions per day
  • Apple’s MobileMe has over a million subscribers
  • Apple is ranked #1 in customer satisfaction by Consumer Reports, 10 years in a row.
  • Apple is ranked the most innovative company by both Fortune Magazine and Business Week.

Here are some of Apple’s self-proclaimed keys to success:

  • Steve Jobs—A leader who makes it all happen
  • Innovation—Rethink things; “If nothing existed, what would it make sense to do?”
  • Consumerism—Focus on the entire customer experience and make it excellent
  • Avoiding complexity—Simplify everything so that it completely intuitive to the users and be good at deciding what you are not going to do.
  • Attention to detail—This involves creating an immersive experience for the consumer that permeates the design process.
  • “The concept of 1”—Build consistency across products; standardize, simplify, and architect around commonalities.
  • Learnability—Users should be able to quickly learn their technology by watching others or by exploring
  • People—Smart, motivated employees and a special emphasis on their intern program

While the key factors to Apple’s success are not a recipe that can simply copied, they do offer great insight into their incredible accomplishments.

Next stop for Apple seems to be taking their success in the consumer market and making it work in the enterprise. This will go a long way to addressing users concerns about their technology at home being better than what they use at work.


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April 4, 2010

Advanced Biometrics for Law Enforcement

Homeland Security Today Magazine (March 2010) has an interesting article called “Biometrics on the Battlefield" about how the American military has had significant success in Afghanistan taking biometrics and in using it for “vetting, tracking, and identification.”

Here’s how it’s done:

The biometrics system uses HIIDE (Handheld Interagency Identity Detection System) devices, which is “similar in size to a large camera, [that] connects directly to the BATS [Biometrics Automated Tool Set] database and matches inputs against a biometrics watch list of 10,000 individuals.”

The database “BATS uses a combination of fingerprints, photographs and iris scans, in addition to an in-depth background examination” to “screen potential local employees, identify detainees, and differentiate friendly individuals from insurgents and terrorists.”

How successful has the use of biometrics been?

“The use of biometrics has clearly thwarted security breaches and helped prevent unwanted activities by the enemy. Additionally, in 2008 alone, hundreds of HVTs (high value targets) were identified through the use of this biometrics technology.”

The article suggests the application of this biometric system for domestic law enforcement use.

Currently, fingerprint cards or stationary scanners are common, but with the proposed military biometrics system, there is the technology potential to use mobile scanning devices quickly and easily in the field.

The article gives the example: “if an officer came into contact with an individual under suspect conditions, a simple scan of the iris would ascertain that person’s status as a convicted felon, convicted violent felon, convicted sex offender or someone on whom an alert has been placed.”

In this scenario, quicker and more accurate identification of suspects could not only aid in dealing with dangerous offenders and benefit the officers in terms of their personal safety, but also contribute to ensuring community safety and security through enhanced enforcement capabilities.

Of course, using such a system for law enforcement would have to pass legal muster including applicable privacy concerns, but as the author, Godfrey Garner, a retired special forces officer, states “hopefully, this valuable technology will be recognized and properly utilized to protect law enforcement officer in the United States. I know that I’ve seen it protect our sons and daughters on the battlefields of Afghanistan.”

We are living in an amazing time of technology advances, and the potential to save lives and increase public safety and security through lawful use of biometrics is a hopeful advancement for all.


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April 3, 2010

Reality Trumps Virtuality

What a crazy news story (reported through South Korean news media)—and true. This South Korean couple, addicted to a video game, ends up starving their 3-month old child to death.

The video game that the couple was addicted to happened to be about raising a virtual child—of all things.

The couple—a 41 year old father and 25 year old mother were both unemployed—and fed their child only once a day, while they spent 4-6 hours a day playing games at the Internet cafĂ©.

When the child died, the couple was playing video games all night long.

This is an unbelievably tragic story that defies logic, where troubled parents caught in the web of the virtual world, abrogate their responsibilities to themselves and their child in the real world.

So are these two parents just a bunch of whack jobs…an oddity that we shake our heads at disapproving or is this something more?

While the American Medical Association has so far declined to include Internet Addiction Disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, pending further study, we know that we as a society have become in a sense obsessed (although maybe not yet clinically) with everything online—getting information, communicating, networking, shopping, and gaming—and for the most part, we love it!

Some programs like Second Life even go so far as to create virtual worlds where people interact with each other through avatars. They meet, socialize, and participate in activities in a world of only composed of 3-D models—where reality is what programmers make of it—in a coding sense.

Social networks, like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and numerous specialized online communities—for all sorts of shared interests from books to music, dating to investing, and philanthropy to travel—are available to chose from and are widely popular destinations.

It seems truly that many people have become more comfortable living in the IP address on the World Wide Web than at their street address within their true day-to-day realities. Their chosen avatars, pseudo-names, and online profiles often far more exciting then the persons, occupations, and lifestyle they physically inhabit. The virtual world has become an escape for many, and a place many are all too happy to engross themselves in 2, 4, 6 or more hours a day.

What happens to the occupants of our real world, when we choose to retreat to virtual worlds?

Well at the extreme is the fate of the 3-month old baby who died of neglect and hunger. More common are spouses and children, and others—family, friends and associates—who are increasingly physically and emotionally distant.

Our connection to people in real life—around us—are traded in for long-distance, abstract, and virtual relationships with people we often hardly know on the Internet.

We routinely trade emails, instant messages, tweets, and blog comments, with people who we hardly know—often do not even know people’s real names and cannot pronounce their presumed cities of residence.

While the Internet is in many ways miraculous in its ability to bring us together—across time and space, in other ways it can potentially substitute the surreal for the real, the meaningless for the meaningful, and empty chatter with people we barely know and never really will for true giving with people we absolutely care about.

At the extreme, we cannot let real children die because we are hiding in cyberspace feeding our virtual addiction. In more common terms, we must not trade our most important real world relationships and activities for those that are phantom experiences in cyberspace.

It is great to extend our reach with the Internet, but it is not okay to do so at the expense of those that are truly at arms reach. We must find a balance between the two worlds we now live in—real and virtual!

While there is every reason to love the Internet—communication, connection, and convenience—it has also become a retreat from people’s very real world problems.

When Online, people are not hungry, not sick, not unemployed, not lonely, not judged—instead they are in a sense one with everybody else in a common pool of bite and bytes—where no one knows them or their situations. Online, they are anonymous, no ones and at the same time anyone they want to be.

The Internet is a great place to be—to escape to—sort of the like the Holodeck on the Star Trek. Choose your program—and you can be in any time and at any place—interacting with anybody. It is not real, but it feels real when you are there.

I remember when I used to watch Star Trek and be fascinated by the experiences the characters had when they went into the Holodeck’s alternate reality. At the same time (and I think this was the intention of the show), after awhile I found myself wanting the characters to get back to reality and deal with the issues that they truly had to face. Somehow watching them escape “too much” wasn’t very satisfying.

To me, real relationships, even with and maybe because of their inherent challenges and tests, is more satisfying than virtuality, because of the deeper impact of the actions and interactions. Cyberspace is a great augmented reality, but it cannot replace reality.

In the end, being online is a nice place to visit (and there are a lot of benefits to being there), but I wouldn’t want to live there all the time and miss the real fun.


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