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Going nowhere in the comfort zone

It used to be that children wanted to grow up to be a fireman, train driver or nurse. Today it is lawyers and doctors that top the job popularity poll. Tomorrow our children will dream of being entrepreneurs or innovators creating and developing their own new business. Statistics show that, even today, most of our current IT students will start in jobs that are yet to be created. The pace of change is both exciting and frightening. It is going to take not only a different skill-set but also a different mind-set to equip our workers for the future.
This was brought home to me at a recent open day for industry representatives and soon-to-be technology graduates. More than 50% were Asian, a large percentage of them foreign students. Why is it that these students will travel from places like China to learn about IT yet it remains hugely unappealing to New Zealanders?

Written by John Blackham31 Aug. 02 22:00

Applying the sprinkler theory

ANTIVIRUS “The antivirus industry has done a poor job of protecting large business.” Hold it right there: the person who is speaking is none other than Chris Poulos, managing director of Trend Micro Australia.
“The reason I say that is because 96% of corporations have engaged in some level of antivirus protection in their environment. Yet, every time there is an outbreak, they all get hit to some degree or another.”
It’s a great line, coming from the head of an antivirus business, but he has a point. Security against intruders continues to be a huge problem, if only because businesses are not good at policing themselves. Poulos names two reasons for poor antivirus performance. One is that corporations do a poor job of initiating their AV software. Another is that the nature of antivirus attacks is changing. Take the infamous Nimda virus — that was a three-pronged attack that completely threw most corporations.
“We re-evaluated the game after Nimda. We talked to 1000 corporate customers and looked at the way they performed their duties when a virus outbreak occurred. What happened was that they would immediately pull every wire out of the wall when a virus outbreak came. That was a form of protection because obviously electrons could get through the walls to the computers. Then they would research the threat, find out what is going on.”
In fact, what most people do is adopt a seven-step process for responding to new security threats. For example, they will notify personnel of a new security threat via telephone, fax or email. They will individually configure gateway-level antivirus software settings to deter a specific threat, and consult with management and security specialists to determine the most effective course of action.
The trouble was that taking appropriate action took time — something few businesses can afford when faced with a critical threat. It could take a minimum of 45 minutes and sometimes at least a day for everything to be put in place. Way, way too long.
Poulos says that what Trend Micro’s CEO did was look at a fire sprinkler and say, “That’s a good idea”. If a fire starts, the sprinkler goes off to stem the intensity of the fire before the fire brigade arrives.
And so the organisation applied the sprinkler idea to its AV systems. What Trend Micro did was design its software from the ground up to be an antivirus engine, as well as a content filtering engine. The research and intermediate measures taken by security officers has now been largely taken over by the antivirus software and the result is a much faster automated response time: 15 minutes.
Poulos sees new virus challenges on the horizon. “The mobile world is concerning us,” he says. “And we look for viruses in other everyday technology areas such as Jpeg (compressed) pictures.”
Let’s not forget that the biggest weakness in the battle against viruses is you, the CIO or your security officer. Be staunch. Fight the good fight.

Written by Don Hill31 Aug. 02 22:00

Portable plastic power

TECHNOLOGY PDAs, laptops and pocket calculators are essential for any CIO on the go. But when batteries run low, these tools become little more than excess baggage.
But what if you could power portable electronics anywhere you could access solar energy? That’s the scenario Paul Alivisatos and Janke Dittmer imagined. The two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have developed a new generation of solar cells that combine nanotechnology with plastic electronics. Alivisatos and Dittmer say these semiconductor-polymer photovoltaic cells can be painted on just about any surface, allowing them to be made in an infinite variety of shapes. “If you have a pocket PC, it could have a small, flexible solar cell painted on the back of it,” says Dittmer. “When the batteries run low, you’d simply put it in the sun upside down to recharge it.”
The hybrid solar cells consist of tiny nanorods (composed of a material similar to that used in computer chips) suspended in plastic. The mixture is sandwiched between two electrodes, one composed of transparent plastic and the other of flexible aluminum.
Combining the flexibility of plastics with the electronic properties of inorganic semiconductors resulted in a cell with myriad potential uses. For example, while traditional silicon-based solar cells can be easily broken, the plastic-based cells can withstand much more abuse. “You could design a pocket calculator with a flexible solar cell, and it could take any shape — even round — and would be fully flexible,” Dittmer says.
The new cells also open up possibilities for wearable computing devices. “Because of their flexibility, it would be possible to put solar cells on clothing to power small computer processors,” says Dittmer.
The hybrid solar cells can be produced in a laboratory beaker without clean rooms or vacuum chambers, which means that they’ll eventually be cheaper and easier to make than traditional solar cells. However, they may still be several years away. Dittmer says their efficiency will have to be improved prior to being placed in a commercial product.

Written by Justine Brown31 Aug. 02 22:00

Deadlines? Arrghh!

STRESS Feeling stressed out by project deadlines? You’re not alone. Two recent US surveys of business executives and senior managers have outlined and evaluated the top 20 causes of work-related stress. Two groups of 300 CIOs, CEOs and other executives surveyed by the Net Future Institute in January said deadlines were the number-one cause of personal and interpersonal office anxiety. Other big stress inducers include budget constraints, co-worker conflicts and job security (or lack thereof).
“Deadlines are ubiquitous,” explains Chuck Martin, chairman and CEO of the institute, a New Hampshire-based think tank that identifies and analyses business management and IT trends. “Nearly every executive at every level of every organisation deals with them.”
According to Martin, some survey participants say a certain level of stress in the office can be a positive motivating factor, as it keeps people alert. On the other hand, too much stress can be debilitating.
Respondents also listed email overload, performance expectations, poor organisational communication, political stress and the impact of layoffs as some of the other factors that raise their stress level. Bad lighting and other environmental issues, as well as pressure from direct reports, caused the least amount of workplace anxiety.
For more information on the survey’s results, see www.netfutureinstitute.com.

Written by News31 Aug. 02 22:00

Rolling out the electoral rolls

Datamail’s handling of the electoral rolls involved scanning a potential two-and-a-half million images in seven days. The process was designed to increase efficiency surrounding the checking of apparent duplicate votes and to provide valuable information to the chief electoral office about where people prefer to vote.
The innovation replaces a traditional process that employed more manual labour than leading edge technology and was predisposed to delays, prolonged uncertainty and negative publicity.

Written by Don Hill31 Aug. 02 22:00

Lockdown

An important part of the ROI effort has been the introduction of what Bone describes as a lockdown environment. What this means is that desktop applications are locked in place and maintained via scripting developed by Sytec. If a user messes up an application, it is automatically healed during log-on and log-off. As Bone says, if for any reason you rogered one of your DLLs, it would reinstall from the script.
The transition to the lockdown environment also involved rationalising use of the 160-plus applications that were being used throughout Datamail. Control of this area would obviously save considerably on licensing and support. The idea was to reduce the number of applications down to around 100 and identify them through Sytec’s scripting.

Written by Don Hill31 Aug. 02 22:00

Antivirus remedies

Halfway through the first year of the three-year contract with Sytec, Bone got a wake-up call over the Love Bug virus. He already had the McAfee antivirus application in place, but he was told its current status within Datamail meant it would not be able to protect the organisation at the time the Love Bug first made itself known. Sytec phoned Bone at 7am with the bad news that the Love Bug had reached Australia. What was he going to do about it?
“By 10am we had sat down and squared off what had to be done,” says Bone. Sytec’s remedy was to install Trend Micro antivirus software, which had a Love Bug remedy in place. “This has been a real asset to us because other worm attacks have been going on since that time,” says Bone. “The beauty for us is that we pay on a seat basis for the antivirus licence and that service basically costs me the same as what my earlier licence used to cost me. And it is maintained 24x7.”

Written by Don Hill31 Aug. 02 22:00

Don't forget the people

CHANGE MANAGEMENT Mergers and major integration projects all involve change, and few things are scarier than change. To smooth the way and simplify the merger process, effective change management leadership needs to focus on basic human principles. The co-operation and participation of those most deeply affected by change can make or break the effort.
Accenture has devised a leadership model for change management through mergers called its Journey Framework. The framework divides the management issues and essential tasks relating to mergers and major integration initiatives into four quadrants or categories. The categories are divided along two thematic axes. The supply and demand axis encompasses programmes that generate change from the outside and programmes that create a desire or need for change in the workforce. The macro and micro axis covers the large scale from enterprisewide programmes down to those that affect each individual.
Toward the macro and supply side of the quadrant, planning and navigating change are the main priorities. Change should be managed so that it is a gradual process of sequential steps, rather than one sweeping event. Also, in the macro view but on the demand side of the chain, IT leadership must provide and support strong sponsorship for specific projects and overall initiatives.
At the micro view on the supply side, key tasks centre around supporting staff with the right content, training and performance. If the manner in which they do their job is changing, they must have senior management support. On the demand side, helping staff own the changes through constant communication gives them greater confidence in corporate goals.

Written by News31 Aug. 02 22:00

Doing it with meaning

Early in 2001, Michael Dreiling faced a stomach-churning problem. The vice president of technology for Quadrem U.S., a Dallas-based global electronic marketplace serving the mining, minerals and metals industries, needed to find a way to seamlessly integrate data from more than 1,000 companies.
Traditional middleware products could take care of the nuts-and-bolts job of converting files spewed out in EDI, legacy data formats and various flavors of XML. What they couldn't do was discern the meanings contained within the files. To cure his data integration indigestion, Dreiling looked into a new type of middleware: semantics-based integration tools.

Written by John Edwards25 Aug. 02 22:00

Cellular processing

The latest computer to come out of the University of Southern California isn't newsworthy for its small size or computational power. It's notable because it is made from DNA, the microscopic acids that reside in every cell and are responsible for all life.

Written by Ben Worthen12 July 02 12:47

Christchurch catch-up

Through a carefully considered blend of conservative savvy and stylish dash, Christchurch City Council (CCC), is sometimes considered the best run of all New Zealand municipalities. It provides local governance and service to the metropolitan area of Christchurch, serving a resident population of 316,000 and 137,000 rating assessments.
CCC has 1600 full-time-equivalent employees and manages community assets valued at $3.6 billion. Annual operating expenditure is around $260 million.

Written by Peter Isaac30 June 02 22:00

IBM says yes to Linux investment

Has IBM recouped its heavy investment in Linux? The answer from Karen Smith, IBM’s vice-president for Linux strategy and market development, is an unqualified yes. And is IBM continuing to invest in Linux? Once again the answer is yes.
Smith was speaking to me during IBM’s Developerworks Live! Conference in San Francisco, where Linux, Java, open standards and integration were the primary focus of speakers.

Written by Mark Evans30 June 02 22:00

Linux with a difference

Caldera has always positioned itself as the “Linux for business” company and unlike many Linux vendors has never taken the approach of simply bundling a whole bunch of Open Source applications along with the Linux operating system and selling it as a “distribution”.
At the same time Caldera has never positioned itself as only making money from services and training (although it offers both), but from licensing software in much same way that Microsoft does, albeit it at a much lower price and still in keeping with the Open Source philosophy, wherein the source code usually ships with the compiled binaries.

Written by Doug Casement31 May 02 22:00

All in one for small business

It’s funny how perspective can change the meaning of words — take the word ”small” for example — it means something that’s not big, right? Well according to IBM it’s an organisation of 100 or fewer people, if the blurb on its Small Business Suite for Linux box is to be believed.
In New Zealand, an organisation with 100 staff is a healthy, medium-sized business or a well-stocked branch office, but perspective aside, I’d have to say that however you slice-and-dice it, the IBM Small Business Suite for Linux is a lot of bang for your buck.

Written by Doug Casement31 May 02 22:00

A wolf in Linux clothing

Hands up those who find the notion of cheap desktop operating systems appealing from a cost-saving perspective — not to mention freedom of choice? Okay, I won’t bore you with details about the Linux revolution — on account of the revolution is already happening and you probably know all about it.
To suggest that it’s simply a question of swapping a desktop OS over is ludicrous, of course. Custom applications, user training and the initial deployment cost in terms of time all have to be factored into the equation.

Written by Doug Casement31 May 02 22:00

Pizza Hut serves up voice recognition solution

Pizza Hut, a division of Tricon Restaurants Australia, will implement a voice recognition solution in its call centres in Sydney and Brisbane.

Written by Siobhan Chapman24 Jan. 02 08:13

Add to your shopping cart?

"Litigating in IT is like putting the gun to your own head and pulling the trigger," says Garry Collings, general manager IT development, Tranzrail, when asked why his organisation has not taken out IT insurance.
But in a business environment in which hacking, denial of service attacks and credit card fraud present serious risks to networked companies and e-businesses, insurance premiums may soon form an essential cost line in IT budgets.

Written by Divina Paredes30 June 01 22:00

Field of dreams

On a 150-acre patch of land on the edge of San Jose, California, there's little more than dandelions, wild mustard and a cluster of greenhouses. It's a strong reminder of the area's agricultural past. But a different kind of farm is a year away: a massive server farm where a complex of buildings humming with networking equipment and powered by a dedicated energy plant will spread across the property in an experiment of grand proportions.

Written by Elinor Abreu08 March 01 15:00

Out with the Old

The most common affliction among media executives, even more common than insufficient sleep and attention deficit disorder, is hubris. Over the past year or so, when old-media execs made their high-profile, well-funded new-media moves, the idea they tried to convey was that you can stop worrying, the grown-ups have arrived: Internet-based entertainment is now legitimate, we know what we're doing.

Written by Jimmy Guterman20 Sept. 00 12:01

All for One, One for All

"If you can get an organization to move faster by creating a separate [Web development] group, then you should do it," says Brian Farrar, chief operating officer at the Chicago consultancy Xpedior Inc.

Written by Richard Pastore16 Sept. 00 12:01