Why measure?

April 10, 2008 at 11:12 pm | Posted in Business | Leave a comment

At halftime of football games, coaches are handed a slew of statistics from the 1st half of play. I remember at one point i was looking at over 30, and I was just a high school coach — imagine the pros! During one game I noticed we were all huddled around admiring or bemoaning this or that statistic while the kids sat about 20 yards away. And sat. And sat. That weekend, we whittled our halftime review stats back to five.

Recently we hit the end of the first quarter. Not of a football game, but for 2008. Spreadsheets, databases, and BI tools are hard at work. Numbers, ratios, increases, decreases, graphs and charts whiz through our heads day and night. So much so that stats can become and end in themselves while the business sits. And sits. And sits. A good question I am asking myself these days is “why am I measuring that?” If I can’t apply it to a business action or consequence, I need to let it go. And, I also need to really fight the urge to torture the numbers to defend a point rather than exploring the numbers to discover a hidden gem.

“Why am I measuring that?” I don’t have a universal answer, but it’s just a good question to ask the next time I open excel.

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Earning a right to be heard

April 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment

I had a great conversation today with a colleague about this blog.  His thoughts were that my entries were too long to do a new reader much good — that they wouldn’t stick with it.  I countered with: what good is a blog with all sizzle but no meat?  (Not surprisingly, he is in marketing!)  But his point is valid.

It was a good reminder that we have to earn our right to be heard by a new audience.  He asked me if, as a coach, I would stand in front of a team for the first time and give a 30 min speech. The fact is I would.  But, that’s only because I have a captive audience!  Out here, and in life in general, it’s different.  We don’t have a captive audience in most cases — at least not in the early going.

So my lesson to myself for the day is to remember that it’s important to connect to those with whom you are trying to communicate, before you actually get into deep communication.  Perhaps nowhere is this more important than the realm of the blogosphere.

Another reminder was… ooops, there I go again.  We’ll save that for another entry.

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Dark Clouds and Real Virtual Problems

April 10, 2008 at 8:59 am | Posted in Technology Trends | 2 Comments

As usual in the world of technology, the media hype far outpaces the actual implementation and trust in the technology. So much so that Gartner put together something called a “Hype Cycle” that is actually one of the more useful tools that I have seen from an analyst firm. I think I like it so much because it captures the essence of how something goes from buzz to reality. Right now, there are two major technologies that definitely have the IT world all a buzz: Virtualization and Clouds.

Virtualization is the much older technology and has been implemented in nearly every IT shop in some form or fashion. It could be as basic as a developer team using a virtual image to do their testing, or as advanced as an entire data center consolidating production machines. But it’s there, and it’s growing.

The Cloud is relatively new and has everyone thinking that this could be a really game-changing initiative that could be the ultimate “hosting” solution. Right now, Amazon is the clear leader in this space with its EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloudand S3 (Simple Storage Service) offerings as components of their AWS (Amazon Web Services). If you really want to oversimplify how to think about the offerings, we could compare it to an old fashion system. You could view AWS as the interface the developers program in (like their language), S3 represents the disk drives (storage), and EC2 represents the motherboard (processors, memory, etc.) Just picture all that one web, essentially unlimited in size and power. You use what you pay for.

So everyone is talking about the hype, but what are some of the downsides? Turns out there are many, so we’ll just look at a few of them to get the idea.

First, we have decades of management software and human expertise built into our current solutions. So when you move to something different, it’s going to take a long while for the ecosystem to mature around it. And like any new technology, these are both very easy to implement small scale. They get implemented on a system or two, folks love it, a few more get implemented, they love it more, then suddenly there are hundreds of them out there with no way to manage them effectively. This is the kind of sprawl that keeps IT VP’s up all night.

Second, bad people are going to look for bad things to do with new technology. There was an interesting article in Forbes that talked about some of the recent attacks on Virtualized machines. They are scary and it will take a while for security to get ahead of these things. Get used to hearing ominous terms like “hyperjacking.” While we haven’t heard a lot about the same kind of attacks on the Cloud technologies, I think it’s only because it’s not mature enough yet. It will happen.

Third, reliability only comes through the test of time. Amazon’s Cloud has now gone down a couple of times. (Here’s one of them) Amazon’s response was something to the effect of: Systems fail all the time. Ugh. Not exactly what IT shops want to hear. This really opens the door for Google to step in as “the cloud done right” and they are already on that path.

Fourth, everyone has become very dependent upon detailed monitoring — the cousin of detailed management. How are you going to monitor a system that might reside on a virtualized machine with 10 other virtual machines (already an auditor’s nightmare) that then connects to a cloud storage back-end that is hosted who-knows-where right alongside who-knows-what, and it talks to the cloud via a bunch of web services residing somewhere next door or on Mars… you just don’t know. Now, monitor that to the granular level that you can put a Service Level Agreement on it. Good luck. That head of IT I talked about earlier losing sleep is now getting therapeutic counseling for stress overload.

It’s a brave new world, and these technologies are great. In fact, they are probably revolutionary. But be careful. Don’t get too enticed early on and suddenly find your data center out of control. Take it slow and watch the industry, and most importantly, watch the third-party vendors. I don’t just say that because I work for one. They are actually very good indicators as to when something is going mainstream. And in the early days of any technology, you generally need them until the vendors catch up (usually many years later) with tools of their own to do the job.

It will not be boring!

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