Archive for the ‘IT Business’ Category

Over the years I’ve spoken to hundreds of IT professionals and via research studies gained insight from thousands.  The following are some observations that I’ve made that seem somewhat consistent:


Change Management Often Means Don’t Change Anything.  On some level this makes sense because whenever we interject change into our environments there is a risk that problems will occur.  However, it is important not to create a culture that is anti-change.  One IT professional that I was working with claimed that he was a champion of implementing external storage virtualization but others in his group were opponents and squashed the project.  Another IT professional was combating their backup admin because the latter was dead set against implementing a disk-to-disk backup solution because he still clung onto his tape library.  Change must always be weighed in terms of risk and reward but a culture of no change can be destructive.  I do agree that “no” is a viable answer but it shouldn’t be the default.  


Innovation Often Causes Disruption.  There is actually a bit of a misperception that IT is typically ahead of the curve on implementing innovative solutions in the data center.  In reality it often takes years for innovation to permeate the masses.  We must also consider the fact that IT resources are limited and as such there is limited ability to actually evaluate and implement new systems.  


Incumbency Matters.  There is a legitimate reason why incumbency matters and that is because IT professionals invest a ton of time, money and resource in getting their infrastructure to work they way want it to.  And in the course of doing so they become experts on these systems.  To rip and replace with something completely new that they have little or no expertise can be counter-productive.  Having said that – it is still important to look at new solutions and it is critical that we don’t let incumbency trump excellence.  


We Often Over Engineer To Address Requirements.  We do this with storage, networks, servers, etc. – because the cost of risk is usually higher than the cost of capital.  However, in an economy as bad as the one we are facing – the cost of capital is arguably higher than the cost of risk.  The priorities have shifted with further and continued emphasis on optimization and utilization.  


Urgent and Important.  In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steve Covey presented the idea that we should focus on those things that are important but not urgent.  However, any IT professional will tell you this is not the world that they live in.  Putting out fires is necessary and unavoidable.  But consider his point.  Let’s say someone has a heart attack.  That is both important and urgent and obviously must be tended to immediately.  However, if that person had eaten right, exercised and went for annual check ups – all IMPORTANT things to do – then perhaps the heart attack would have been avoided.  


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    “Many IT departments are kicked around by the circumstances: fighting fires wherever they appear, dealing with botched-up, antiquated systems, heterogeneous infrastructures, incompatible interfaces, undocumented specifications and shattered, often overlapping applications. Between two breaths, business and IT people may find a few moments to discuss requirements, ideas, plans (speed-dating, really). Then it is back to the usual.”  


    The above quote was from Ron Tolido, CTO of Capgemini and a frequent IT industry blogger (I highly recommend his blog). It brings up an issue with the challenges of IT as being perceived as more tactical versus strategic to the business.  


     In many cases IT is seen as an operational function that provides services to the “business” people in their respective companies.   As such, they are considered a great asset having technical skills and knowledge that others in the organization lack.  However, even though they are skilled and respected they are often just seen as service providers and fundamentally a necessary overhead to the business.  However, when IT combines both right brain creative thinking with left brain logical thinking greater leaps in value are achieved.  I hate to go to the default of Google as a company as the best example of this – but fundamentally IT is their business and as such it informs nearly everything that they do.  


     IT needs to be invited to the business table not just to provide operational services – however valuable they are.  Additionally, IT should also be consulted on what new ways technology can increase market share, raise brand awareness, improve revenue, increase profitability and develop new products, services and markets.  


    That is a tall order but if it can be achieved great things can happen.  Asking IT professionals to be more creative in their day-to-day business isn’t crazy.  Most IT guys that I know have dozens of ideas and opinions on improving products and services.  They are constantly pushing their vendors for better features, they are often adopting new gadgets for personal use, they are up on the latest technologies and trends, and they love mixing it up with their peers.  The problem is that they aren’t often asked (or more to the point – listened to) to provide feedback for the companies they work for specific to the businesses they are in.  


    We are in a tough economy and it is at these times when we can instigate change.  Companies should look to IT for new ideas and should create a culture that includes them as a part of the business process.  CEOs need to overcome their intimidation of IT – which I think is one of the big reasons for the divide.  More CIOs need to become CEOs – which is not the typical trend.  Additionally, CIOs need to see themselves not just as service providers whose primary job is keeping the lights on – but also helping to make sure the light bill is paid by generating income for the company.  Essentially it is easier to just be overhead – and do your job well – then to go out and be responsible for revenue.  An old manager of mine told me once that there was nothing more strategic than revenue to a business.  If IT wants to become truly strategic to the business – beyond the necessary role of keeping the databases running and email working – then it must also generate revenue for the company.  

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I was an industry analysts for many years. I focused heavily on storage systems and was convinced that search and storage would eventually be like peanut butter and jelly. Although we have not seen the realization of this yet – I am still convinced that it needs to and will ultimately occur. However, like all things in the data center, it just takes time.

There are practical reasons why storage and search aren’t more bounded together. For one, search solutions haven’t been scalable or intelligent enough to provide the value that IT professionals are looking for. Second, most search solutions have been associated with specific storage systems and not the entire storage complex. That is very limiting. We need Enterprise search solutions that can access all storage within an organization. The third big issue is that storage adminstrators haven’t figured out why they need it. There are some applications and use cases that are a priority – such as eDiscovery. But storage admins have not found the killer app that gives them that “aha” moment where they just need to have it and are willing to invest time and money.

What is the killer app for search and storage? I believe one killer app is using a universal search application as a tool to give Enterprise end users greater access to the company’s data. We create so much content, using any number of applications, and instead of looking for data via the various application interfaces, having a single pane of glass, to get to any and all content in the Enterprise, would provide huge increases in productivity and efficiency.

This concept should not be a leap for most people , but since no one is complaining about it or demanding it, it isn’t a priorty. However, if you think about the power of being able to easily access content – data – information – we all know that mountains can be moved when this ability is provided. This is where storage admins have to transcend their nuts-and-bolts view of the world and think about the business and how they can apply technology to elevate the companies they work for. It is “right brain” thinking (creative) versus the typical “left brain” logical and rational thinking that is typically needed in the data center. Only by combining the creative and the logical can real leaps forward be made.

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Patternicity – defined by Michael Shermer – a writer for Scientific American – is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.  When I read this article on Pattnernicity I immediately related it to the challenges we face with information access. 

Patternicity deals with false positives and we have a compartive with search tools – too many responses that may or may not be what we are looking for.  Human Patternicity is meant to err on the side of caution because as Shermer points out – “the cost of believing that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is just the wind is relatively low compared with the opposite. Thus, there would have been a beneficial selection for believing that most patterns are real.”

Digital Patternicity is also meant to err on the side of caution because the cost of believing that the keyword matches your intentions is relatively low compared with returning a false negative.  Therefore returning a false positive is better than returning a false negative. 

The problem in both Human and Digital Patternicity is that the algorithms are limited and have stopped evolving because they don’t need to improve.   Human beings are very successful and don’t require more sophisticated methods for returning fewer false positives.  Likewise, search companies like Google are very successful and have built a huge business in spite of the number of false positives they return. 

However, increasingly within the world of business – where information equates to revenue, competitive advantage and market growth – there is a big price to pay with false positives and a shift in the evolution of Digital Patternicity must occur.  There will always be a place for acceptable false positives in the mass market – but when you get to specialization, when the stakes become too high, when survival is at risk – then evolution aggressively adapts.

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Alright we all know that we have a ton of data and its growing and growing.  And maybe you are sick of hearing about it.  But you should really listen.  I liken the growth of data in business to the growth of the human body taking on too much weight.  The result is that we may be able to function for a long time but eventually there will be serious ramifications if we don’t do the right things to become healthy. 

There is an interesting IDC report that was published in 2007 – a bit old but has some compelling information and insight.  Let’s break down some of it:

  •  In 2006, the amount of digital information created, captured, and replicated 161 exabytes or 161 billion gigabytes. This is about 3 million times the information in all the books ever written. Between 2006 and 2010, the information added annually to the digital universe will increase more than six fold from 161 exabytes to 988 exabytes. 

My observation:  This numbers illustrate the sheer volume of digital data that has being created and further – tells you that we ain’t seen nothing yet. 

  •  IDC predicts that by 2010, while nearly 70% of the digital universe will be created by individuals, organizations (businesses of all sizes, agencies, governments, associations, etc.) will be responsible for the security, privacy, reliability, and compliance of at least 85% of that same digital universe.

My observation:  The importance of this is that organizations will have to manage data created by their customers and employees – which will have a real business impact.  And IDC left a few things out – accessing the data and protecting it. 

  • The cost of not responding to the avalanche of information can add up, yet not be immediately visible to CEOs and CFOs.

My observation:  This goes back to my unhealthy body analogy – you may not know what vital organ or system is going to collapse – it may be more than one – and you won’t know until something bad happens. 

  • In surveys of U.S. companies, we have found that information workers spend 14.5 hours per week reading and answering email, 13.3 hours creating documents, 9.6 hours searching for information, and 9.5 hours analyzing information.
  • We estimate that an organization employing 1,000 knowledge workers loses $5.7 million annually just in time wasted having to reformat information as they move among applications.  Not finding information costs that same organization an additional $5.3 million a year.

IDC is saying that poor data management can cost you $11 million annually just based on your users wasting time.  That doesn’t take into account other costs – such as outside audits, e-Discovery, litigation, etc.  You’ve just been told you have a severe case of diabetes and need to do something about it.

We need greater levels of integration between applications, storage systems and data management tools to turn data into information and then to get us the right information when we need it.  Okay?  Go make it happen 😉

Certainly this is easier said than done.  But the ecosystem – customers and the various vendors – must all move towards this objective.  We already have better tools to accomplish these tasks but we have a long way to go before reaching information utopia.  The first step is to recognize that there is an issue – a problem – and make it a priority to research and begin to address the unhealthiness and the short and long term ramifications.

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I’m a senior consultant and founder for the INI Group and am working very closely with Digital Reef as a consultant, advisor and blogger. I’ve been in the high tech industry for over 23 years with a focus on the data management and storage arena and you can find out more about me at www.contemplatingIT.com. I believe Digital Reef has brought to the table an extremely impressive solution at a critical time when our unstructured data content is growing to massive levels.

In addition to being and advisor and consultant for Digital Reef – I’m going to be blogging for them on a regular basis discussing a wide range of topic areas from business issues, compelling technology, market dynamics and visions going forward.

Who and what is Digital Reef? They are a startup – an emerging vendor – that came to right conclusion that Enterprise search is woefully inadequate on multiple levels – the mechanics of making it work efficiently and intelligently in environments with massive amounts of content; and the ability to get relevant data to the user rapidly and without drowning them with irrelevant results.

I describe the Digital Reef solution as a data and content management platform leveraging intelligent and scalable search and indexing technologies. Digital Reef provides appliances with a grid architecture that ingests and indexes massive amounts of content spread across heterogeneous storage throughout the Enterprise creating a global federated index. Some of the biggest challenges with indexing include scalability, transparency and true global federation – and Digital Reef solves all three.

Once you have all of your unstructured data indexed – what are you going to do with it? Another big challenge with management of unstructured data is making order out of chaos. If you just use keyword searches there will be a large number of irrelevant returns that obscure what you really need.

The problem with keywords is that there is very little useful context. Digital Reef’s magic ingredient is its similarity engine – the ability to analyze content including documents, email threads and terms and return to you results based on a user defined similarity ratio. Digital Reef’s similarity engine is sophisticated technology that not only uses keywords but the associations of terms and the context in which they are used within unstructured data – providing relevant results.

Companies are frustrated because information is really three dimensional but we are using two dimensional tools to access and manage them. The first step is to implement solutions that provide us rapid access to relevant data for reactive purposes such as a discovery process, audits, research, customer support, projects, etc. However, think of the potential of really using information to also build revenue generating products and services leveraging existing intellectual property. The potential is compelling and landscape changing.

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