Two years ago, reps at AMF Bowling Products had good reason to shudder at the very mention of sales-force automation (SFA). It is notoriously hard to get right, and the company's first attempt failed miserably.
AMF reps sell everything from shoe spray to the back-office software that runs a bowling center. They need a way to track their customers -- owners and managers of some 6000 U.S. bowling centers -- and the equipment they already own. Knowing which customers have ancient ball return machines or out-of-date automatic scoring systems helps them zero in on the best sales targets. The company's first major SFA effort -- a series of homegrown Lotus Software Group Notes databases of customer information -- didn't take long to earn the sales reps' ire. Reps couldn't take their laptop into bowling centers and enter customer data without looking like spies to the alley owners with whom they were trying to establish trusting relationships. So instead, they'd scribble notes on paper. But after schlepping through four to six bowling centers, the last thing reps wanted to do when they got to their hotel at night was fire up their laptop and spend up to an hour logging their sales calls into one database and entering data on what kind of equipment each center had into another. Because it usually took another 30 to 45 minutes and sometimes as much as two hours to replicate their notes, most reps gave up in frustration.
Two years ago, reps at AMF Bowling Products had good reason to shudder at the very mention of sales-force automation (SFA). It is notoriously hard to get right, and the company's first attempt failed miserably.
FRAMINGHAM (09/05/2002) - With dozens of charities offering support to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, figuring out what aid is available and how to apply it has been more hassle than help to would-be recipients. Each entity has its own criteria, paperwork and deadlines. It's so confusing, some survivors have opted to apply for no aid at all.
But in a tiny office on 51st Street in New York City, Richard Flynn has been making things a bit easier for those affected by the attacks. As CTO of the 9/11 United Services Group (USG), Flynn works with a consortium of 13 private human services organizations formed last December. He has led the IT effort to coordinate help being provided by member organizations to create a streamlined system for facilitating benefits.
Web services has sold the technology industry a promise: the potential to redefine the way software is written, delivered, managed and sold. For those who recall the epic battle between DCOM and Corba a decade ago, the arguments will sound familiar. Yet it's still unclear if the Web services model will actually become the promised industry revolution, or simply serve as a feature set for tomorrow's products from today's well-established players. It makes me think of a sage comment from the great Yogi Berra: "It's like déjà vu all over again."
Web services is an amorphous blob of business apps, and different players define it differently. Ultimately it can be described as any application delivered over the Internet and accessed by almost any device, from PCs to mobile phones. What Web services can offer is a set of shared protocols and standards that permit systems to share data and services without requiring humans to broker the conversation. The result promises to be "on-the-fly" links between the online processes of different companies.
Most biological viruses have a nasty reputation. But scientist Angela Belcher believes that some viruses can be guided into performing a useful task: building high-tech materials.
Alastair Hutchens has plenty to be upbeat about as general manager of Loyalty New Zealand, the Wellington-based company that manages the Fly Buys programme. Not only has Fly Buys just achieved the highest household penetration of any loyalty programme in the world, but the leader of its 50-seat Auckland call centre has been named call centre manager of the year.
BUSINESS Polytechnic Universal College of Learning (UCOL) has purchased JD Edwards’ OneWorld Xe enterprise software in a deal that will see a new financial system up and running in less than four months.
Set to go live in November, OneWorld Xe Financials and Procurement will replace a financial system called Real Time and will be accessed by up to 25 concurrent users across UCOL’s four lower North Island campuses.
UCOL financial controller Darryl Purdy says OneWorld Xe will provide UCOL with a single window into its enterprise information, by consolidating disparate accounting functions and providing better integration with its Progress-based student management system, Promis.
“We are running a number of finance functions outside the student management system and want to bring these functions — particularly programme costing, contribution analysis and purchase ordering, which is tightly controlled and linked to our forecasting — inside the system. We will now work faster, reduce double handling and seamlessly transition our commitments into financials.”
UCOL has grown on average 12% annually for the past five years and this year incorporated Wanganui Polytechnic, boosting its student enrolments to more than 13,000 and staff to 650.
READING The technique of visualising the future, say, 10 years out, and then working out how to get there is hardly new. But what Nick Marsh, Mike McAllum and Dominique Purcell offer in Strategic Foresight: The Power Of Standing In The Future is a practical process guide on how to undertake what their case studies suggest is an increasingly important methodology for organisations to succeed in the post-industrial era.
McAllum, a New Zealander, is managing director and founder of Global Foresight Network. Marsh, who spent 20 years working in New Zealand, is the global network director of international consultancy Next Corporation. They have linked with Purcell, who is the director of Visioware, which facilitates foresight and innovation outcomes, to produce a lucidly written, up-to-date — the excesses of Enron are reviewed, for example — review of the foresight process.
McAllum and Marsh worked together in the 1990s at the Foresight Institute of New Zealand and had much to do with the government’s 1997-2000 Foresight Project, which focused on a major policy review of expenditure on all publicly funded research.
The book is designed to assist CEOs, policy and strategy managers, HR and training managers, change consultants and those who want to learn about managing foresightful change in their organisations.
Foresight is about integrating strategic planning, future studies and organisational development in the Knowledge Age. Of necessity, it encompasses rapidly changing societal mores: ageing populations, the dramatically different role of women, increasing focus on a “green” world.
The latter point is illustrated by the adoption of triple bottom-line (TBL) accounting methods by several multinationals. TBL accounts for environmental effects of economic policies and social development. It will probably become mainstream, the authors suggest.
They note also the performance of the Dow Jones Sustainability Global Index, launched in 1999 to create a global investment fund which includes only the top 10% of performers in sustainable value creation — companies analytically assessed to be managing their assets sustainably. Research shows that non-financial performance accounts for 35% of institutional investors’ valuation. That’s food for thought.
The authors have delivered a worthwhile addition to the plethora of management books, one that has applicability on a broader stage, given its down-to-earth approach. In 300 pages, the word “paradigm” appears only twice.
Strategic foresight: The power of standing in the future, by Nick Marsh, Mike McAllum, Dominique Purcell. Published by Crown Content. $39.50.
In reality, Datamail has been part of the e-business world for some time, as both an ASP and outsourcing bureau. It just hadn’t thought of itself that way. For Bone, the task was to get the management team to see the organisation as an e-business and to recognise that the internet is just another transport medium — but with special security issues surrounding it. Work is already being kept in electronic form for distribution and other information is archived for electronic access by outside organisations.
“We are already doing things like hosting archived repositories for large financial institutions and supplying the data back on demand via a private network to their helpdesk,” says Bone. “It was just a matter of expanding our thinking, saying this is what the internet is about. It’s got a whole bunch of new dimensions that we needed to manage because of the security exposure we now have.”
DEVELOPMENT If you think setting up IT strategy in your organisation is difficult, imagine doing it for a developing nation, where even basic electrical infrastructure may be scarce.
Twelve technologically and economically disadvantaged countries are working to construct their own development strategies. They have solicited the assistance of the Global Digital Opportunity Initiative (GDOI), a partnership established in February between the United Nations Development Programme and the Markle Foundation, a New York City-based non-profit organisation that focuses on IT policy issues. The initiative’s mission is to help developing countries identify ways to use information and communications technologies to reduce poverty, improve health care and education and establish democratic processes.
Frederick Tipson, a director at the Markle Foundation, says that GDOI workers feel it is urgent to reduce the disparity in wealth and technology between developed and underdeveloped nations. “The problem with the digital divide is that it’s getting worse even as we’re all working at it,” he says.
Technology companies such as AOL Time Warner, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems are providing personnel and equipment for the project. Consultants from those companies and the GDOI help government administrators include information and communications technologies in their development strategies. For example, if a country wants to set up distance-learning facilities to bring health-care education to remote villages, it must first determine the infrastructure and applications needed to support e-learning, the cost of that infrastructure and a way to fund it over time. That sounds like a job for Superman, or at least a super CIO.
Bone says Datamail does not have a clear demarcation of IT responsibility. His role is an infrastructure one and an aspect of strategy, plus the production side of IT. “That is where it blurs with my production colleagues and we both influence the outcomes there.”
This arrangement can occasionally lead to tensions but by and large it works. For Bone, the arrangement means he has the latitude to work in strategic special projects involving mergers, acquisitions and offshore business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.