John’s Recon

December 25, 2008

Buying a New Line is Risky

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:10 pm

Many people think that IT’s job is to supply the people they support with the latest and greatest software but they are just a little slow at doing it. IT’s job is to keep the people they support in the business the company is in while using the least amount of people, at the least cost, and with minimum disruption. As you can see, only rarely do they have the same objectives.

IT is not old and stodgy but rather seasoned and cautious. New anything, especially software, usually means mistakes/bugs and mistakes mean more people to support and more disruptions. So IT stays away from new software as a rule … let others try it for awhile and ring out the bugs … wait for version X.2. This isn’t particular to IT. My dad told me to avoid a new line when buying a car. I promptly went out and bought the new Celica that Toyota introduced in 1972. It was sleek and sexy and not like those other old-fashioned stodgy reliable Toyotas. My sleek and sexy was in the shop 8 times the first year. Sure enough the the later years were much more reliable and became a fine line. I remember repeating this procedure once more in a car, twice in electronics, and some other places.

Just remember us Seasoned and Cautious weren’t always. So when it positively has to work with the least amount of support, older less flashy bells and whistles software is the choice.

So who gets that new latest and greatest software to help the company business experiment with new methods? In a big company with a large IT staff, there are Business IT departments to do this while the Central IT departments do the old reliable. In a small company with small IT staff, there are members in the company business that try their hand in IT.

When a vendor’s software sales wants to sell me some new lines of software I usually ask to speak to their own IT people. When I do, it usually turns out that they don’t use it internally themselves … because it is too new. However, Seasoned Software Salespeople don’t come to me … they know the mantra of IT … they go sell it to the business people instead.

December 24, 2008

Thanks, but no thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 1:16 pm

A couple of days ago we were picking up some stocking stuffers at the great store, Restoration Hardware, in the Stone Briar Mall in Frisco, Tx. They had a box of business cards that just said, “Thanks, but no thanks!”. I thought they could be useful but I couldn’t think of anything to use them for at the moment.

About 5 minutes later I thought of a use. You see like many malls, Stone Briar has a bunch of freestanding kiosks in the center of each walkway. Normally these kiosks are just a novelty that I don’t take notice of … but during Christmas these become the Carni-Booths of a circus with “barkers” at each one. These barkers can be harmless as they just look at you longingly when you pass by … but on Christmas they become aggressive with words (Hey You), deeds (flying a baby helicopter at you), or worse (spraying you with their stinky perfumes).  They are so disparate to get your notice and compete with each other for your business that you feel sorry for them. I’m always saying sorry but I can’t …

How about those cards. When they approach you you look at them in earnest shaking their hand, staring them right in the eye, saying “I’m a little rushed right now, but here is my card. Call me”, and pass the card as part of the handshake.

Of course that is kind of expensive. Maybe just a Mike Myer’s Judo-Chop! and run.

I hope you have some time off and are enjoying it. I am. Merry Christmas!

December 18, 2008

Buffalo Chicken

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 1:34 pm

I was looking at the big menu on the wall of Scotty P’s (a local burger place) today and noticed Buffalo Chicken. Wow! Buffalo has to have the biggest chicken population in the world. What’s more is that most of them don’t have wings since I see Buffalo Wings advertised everywhere I go. This Chicago chicken says to the wingless Buffalo chicken, “Hey! What happened to you?”. The Buffalo chicken answers, “Don’t even think about visiting any relatives in Buffalo if you don’t want to look like me!”.

December 16, 2008

Misplaced Trust in an Online Business

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:55 pm

You trust a Brick ‘n’ Mortar business … trust that the product you buy won’t fall apart instantly when you get it home or that it isn’t misrepresented. In an Online Business, I think that trust should be even more important because you can’t touch/feel the merchandise … you have to trust that the product isn’t misrepresented and that the vendor will get it to you.

I once had a class on “Achieving Trust” that said you needed 12 new acts of trust to rebuild a relationship after a breach of trust. This suggests that if your local grocer gave you the wrong change that it would be 12 more visits to the store before you would be comfortable with him giving you change. If there is competition, then you are not even going to give him 12 opportunities to build up trust. This also suggests that if you are rolling out some IT project and something goes terribly wrong so that people don’t trust you, you would need 12 opportunities with each one of those people to make it right. You know that isn’t going to happen.

I was also told by a colleague in marketing that a person that has a good experience tells 3 other people but a person that has a bad experience tells 11 other people. Wow! Not only is it hard to build and maintain trust but it spreads like wildfire when you don’t.

So I would like to do my part and tell 11 other people about my experience with Steinhausen Overnight (not to be confused with Steinhausen Online — a great watch company that I have bought watches from before). I ordered a watch for my birthday from Steinhausen Overnight. I waited just under two weeks and then emailed the company to see why it wasn’t here yet when they charged me immediately via PayPal. They emailed back that the watch was discontinued. I emailed to say that you could still buy the watch on their website … why is that? … and why did I have to contact you instead of you contacting me when it was discontinued?  Then I emailed to say send me a refund here are my PayPal particulars. They email to say did you pay with credit card or PayPal. This is when I suspected they were stalling. A little more than another week for all of this to happen. I use PayPal resolution to initiate a claim. I also notice that PayPal is great with this kind of thing for purchases through eBay but not as “guarantee-strong” when used other places.

Now even though I have written these average “facts of trust”, I personally don’t believe that my trust would be repaired even with 12 additional purchases that went flawlessly … would yours? PayPal was able to get a refund for a non-delivered watch in about a week and a half. BUT I now have a little less trust in PayPal since I read their particulars carefully. I researched this Steinhausen Overnight on the web and found other incidents. So now I might not be considering another watch from Steinhausen even though Steinhausen Online had nothing to do with this just because Steinhausen continues to let this guy warehouse and front watches for them.

Trust is a fragile thing. It is like a test tube of  Nitroglycerin … it takes incredibly careful handling and when broken can explode all over the place.

December 15, 2008

What is a Solutions Architect?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:46 pm

Someone emailed me, what is a solutions architect? Although not everyone practices this, it means to me that we seek the overall solution. If someone said to me, “We want to put in Instant Messenger to communicate better”.  I am going to ask them a series of questions to establish what they hope to improve and what they mean by better. I am going to get them to realistic expectations and then I am going to hold this as a goal of the project. Typically this means carrying a torch for both the software tool side and the business use side. You don’t have a solution until the users use the tool to get value. I know this sounds simple but somewhere in the complexity of bringing a tool in, testing it, deploying it, and just the natural division of responsibilities this simple concept gets lost … people get wrapped around the tool and what it can do instead of continuously stepping back and focusing on what the users and business are trying to achieve.

I started a wiki in my company to allow a much better definition for abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon. I put the entry in for solutions architect.

SA Solution(s) Architect describes the highest level of architect in a software solution. The SA is typically the umbrella that covers a complete solution from user and use case to backend infrastructure, infrastructure providers, and software services. Because most of IT currently buys instead of builds solutions today, the SA in IT is more a logistics specialist that knows vendors, internal infrastructure providers, internal standards, internal security policies, program management processes, deployment dynamics, business readiness, and business users. Although there are other hardware and software architects that are more closely associated with project details, the SA is at a higher level with less detail.

These are two references on the internet that describe the SA where more actual software development is done.
Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Solution Architect
What does the Solutions Architect career path look like?

December 12, 2008

The Natural Progression of Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 4:34 pm

After 30 years of observation, it seems to me that in big companies, the technical (domain knowledge) staff that make up the support groups (finance, facilities, IT, etc) stay longer. I don’t know if it is the predisposition of people who take these jobs, the company customization of these jobs that make transition to a different company too hard, or that domain specific knowledge to a company takes a while to accumulate and get good at or what. They just stay longer with a given company.

The natural progression of things is that you are moving up while you are there. So you get more responsibility, higher pay and higher job grades. Even if you wanted to slow down there are the management task masters cracking the whip over your heads to move up and be all that you can be. Thus over a period of time with no one leaving, you have a log jam pressed up against the glass ceiling like shoppers pressed up against department-store glass at Christmas time.

When you put on the corporate scrutiny glasses and compare the personnel directly responsible for revenue to the support personnel it appears you have a problem. It may be the natural progression of things but you have support personnel with heavy concentrations in senior job grades commanding large salaries and outnumbering the job grade/salaries of the revenue generating personnel. Wow! How can one rationalize this. If you have corporate scrutiny glasses on you can’t.

So during the business lulls like we have in the US today, it is time for internal reflection and self-evaluation … it is time to re-balance our internals … and you can guess what this means.

December 8, 2008

Light Punk needs Hip-Hop

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:59 pm

I went to a new Mexican Restaurant (on Beltline in Addison) on the advice of my daughter, Cyclone Anaya’s. Good food and good margaritas. Can’t say the same for the XM radio channel that they pumped in … somewhere between light punk and rock. What was killing me though was how they seem to sing the same phrase over and over and over through an entire song and it wasn’t even the refrain. Guess they didn’t have enough vocabulary to write more words.Seems to me that these guys should start hanging out with some hip-hop guys since they have too many words for their songs. That way we could get some balance.

December 5, 2008

Can you see the design intention of the applications you use?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 4:58 pm

I’m the kind of guy (geek) that thinks up measuring criteria before I actually look at a product. Before I had a computer at my disposal I had reference books. When I searched for a new reference book (like Radar references) at a library or a store, I always had a set of things to look up before I went. When I got to the store I would sit down on the floor and have several books open to compare their answers to my search criteria. It was rare when I found a keeper but that was OK because I kept them for many years to amortize their outrageous costs. My eating buddies may have noticed that I always try the cheese enchiladas, chips and salsa at new Mexican restaurant introductions. If you cannot make them to my tastes then I have no business with you.

At the book store I always drew a crowd who asked what I was doing. I even got some to participate. The biggest crowd I got was at CompUSA quite a few years back when I was looking for a decent monitor. I went early on a Sunday so that there were fewer people, less logistics. I asked the person keeping the simultaneous display of synchronized monitors if I could show something else besides the pictures of roses they had going. He said yes so I brought up notepad and started typing “now is the time for all good men …”. I replicated this a few dozen times to fill the screens and then shrunk the text down to 9 pt font. By this time I had about 12 people standing intently trying to understand what I was doing. I said to give a monitor its hardest test … small text. In seconds, they had all narrowed it down to two monitors in two dozen (a cheap one and an expensive one). Fortunately, as they were grabbing the boxes off the shelf, I was able to grab the last cheap box. Some thanked me because they said that they had been there before and could not decide.

This brings me to what I was going to talk about … choosing software. I have never really had a good criteria for selecting software except hidden in my gut. I have a voracious appetite for trying new ones, but it seems that I uninstall and delete 99.9% of what I try. It is not because they are bad programs but because they just don’t feel right and they are not the way I would do it if I designed it. Not that I was a great software designer but rather I think about problems certain ways and I don’t need my software derailing my thoughts. I think I may have discovered something about myself by reading this wonderful blog post, Dumbing Down the Cloud by Michael Lopps who writes Rands In Repos. He wrote, “Trust begins when I can see the design intention of an application”. What a great statement! I think this is me too. I think my criteria is trust. If I can’t mentally predict how a software is going to behave with a given stimulus then it is “Outta Here”. That’s it in a nutshell.

*** included a little more of Michael Lopps writing below … very entertaining

It’s these types of design decisions where trust begins.

Trust begins when I can see the design intention of an application. What in NetNewsWire, for example, is the end result of endless fretting over every design angle regarding reading feeds. What I expect is that when I’m stumped, its author, Brent Simmons, has not only thought about why I’m stumped, he’s already provided the right feature configured in precisely the right manner to circumvent my stumpedness.

When I use Microsoft Word, I see corporate intent. I see how different warring internal groups tugged the UI to and fro for a decade. I see the intern who did that one feature four years ago. I see a land of misfit toys in the features that haven’t been touched in years.

When I’m using Word, I keeping seeing Word, and I don’t see what I should be seeing, which is what I am writing. When I’m using Dropbox, I don’t even know that I’m using it because it is designed be transparent.

December 2, 2008

When you go into wagon train mode, you still need scouts

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 12:29 pm

A standard mind set in the utility part of IT is go for minimum cost and least disruption. This is even more true in the current business environment. This usually is interpreted as stay the course, don’t change anything and don’t add anything new.  So why continue to have strategy meetings?

I thought of an analogy for this, a wagon train. To be most efficient a wagon train needs to keep moving, don’t change anything, and don’t pick up anyone new. This is true but like anything else, the scenery and the environments change forcing new decisions. To help feed these new decisions with good “intel”, they need scouts. In IT, we still need scouts. We still need IT people looking at strategies and having strategy meetings, to feed good “intel” to the decision makers to make sure we have no disruption and are rolling along at low cost. If you didn’t have scouts, sooner or later you will arrive at a stream with no ford and there will be significant disruption to travel up/downstream to continue.

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