Thursday, December 23, 2010

Skype went down, so what?

Skype failLast week it was Facebook; every now and then it's Twitter. Yesterday, the often-free Skype communications software suffered a global outage: what does it mean?

The Internet web on which much of life now depends is vulnerable to relatively minor disruptions at a 'central' location (even though Skype prides itself on being a relatively dispersed network). Near-instant globalized communications mean small disruptions scale fast.

Check the Terms of Service: We have no right to complain when the 'free lunch' we've become accustomed to is no longer there, but it doesn't stop us moaning. A better response is to learn:
  • Don't rely on a single service: for example, we run a website and a blog on separate servers; and complement both with Twitter feeds and other means of communication. Yes, we use Skype. But we also have regular phone services (land line and mobile). And one falls back to the other if a message doesn't get through.
  • Carry out a SWOT analysis of your operations, focusing mostly on the "W" and "T" elements. Try to turn "W" to "S" and "T" to "O" - but also spend ten minutes thinking through the risks you face. What's the Impact of each risk? What's the Probability? If the Impact is High, but the Probability really Low then you don't need to spend as much time worrying or preparing as for something that is a Medium or High Probability...
  • Yes, it's boring. But get get into the habit of making regular backups of your key information. And keep a copy away from your main home or office location.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why worry about tomorrow?

Why worry about tomorrow when today has enough trouble of its own?

Today's challenge came in the form of rustling noises which we assumed to be the folk next door. Then Cathy looked up in the hallway to see something moving in the hole where the heating pipes disappear up into the ceiling. I feared a rat.

Now the challenge: how do you get your daughter's hamster out of the gap under the floorboards into which it has escaped, without ripping up the floor or ceiling and causing more damage than the animal cost in the first place?

Answer, first make the hole in the ceiling bigger; then get a multi-talented and ever-patient wife to coax the creature out with a chocolate drop.

The hamster's called Coco (after Chanel, and about as attention-seeking). Expect trouble ahead for the 14-year old chief hamster keeper.

Unfamiliar business scuba

I was talking with a highly accomplished business operations director the other day. But he'd spent all his career in England and only been abroad for vacations. He asked what my 3+ years working and living in America had been like.

I described it as a bit like scuba diving: you're fully immersed with no easy or quick way back to familiar ground; and you can see the fish and touch the fish, but you're not a fish and can never become one, no matter how hard you try! At the same time, it's full of wonder and fascination and new learning.

And when you come back you see the old with new eyes and a fresh sense of appreciation for the familiar things previously taken for granted: it's great to breathe freely and not have to consider air levels in the tank and decompression stages, etc.!

We've made close friendships with an American family living in the Cotswolds for 3+ years to accompany the Dad's senior banking job. They immediately "get" the analogy and see we English as strange fish, too!

I looked it up: it was George Bernard Shaw who described England and America as two nations "divided by a common language!" True

But what an experience! My family and I learned so much, made such great friends, received outstanding and generous hospitality from such warm-hearted Mid-Westerners. We continue to be deeply grateful and humbled. Despite our hot tub trauma!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's the question?

Yesterday I got asked out of the blue, "How would you describe the sun to someone who's been blind from birth?"

What a great question! Something I'd never considered before.

It would have been easy to answer a different question, "Describe the sun to someone..." but that's not what I'd been asked!!

My questioner was wondering how good I am at conveying complex concepts to people unfamiliar with the complexity and subject matter. I described my approach, my strategy, which is to evaluate the situation and try to find some area of common understanding with which I could draw an analogy.

For example, the sun is not just a source of light (which the blind from birth have little concept of); but it's also a source of heat which they can have felt on a summer's day; of nurture, nourishment and so on. It could be said that the sun is the most important part of the mechanism to nurture and provide what's needed by planet earth in the way that a parent cares for a child...

Years ago I wrote a school essay on the difference between analogy and metaphor. Frankly, now I can't remember the distinction. I'm too immersed in the pragmatism of getting the job done instead of splitting hairs. But yesterday I got another sharp lesson in checking, on the fly, that I'm answering the right question and focusing on the right things, principles and processes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rise of Networked Enterprise

We are beginning to work through the implications of the latest research on the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on enterprises.

McKinsey have updated their useful interactive guide with the 2010 data concluding that companies using the Web intensively gain greater market share and higher margins.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Password perils

More than a third of people use the same password for more than one online service.

Just imagine: if that single password gets hacked then an individual's entire online life is up for grabs! And it's not that implausible a scenario: this week the email addresses and passwords of more than 1.3m people have been leaked on the Internet. (Details)
  • Use a different password for each service you sign up to
  • Never use a name or a dictionary word as your password
  • Choose a password that is more than eight characters long
  • Do not write your password down where it can be discovered by others - Storing a list as a draft email in Gmail means that Google knows all your passwords, for example!
Why use a different password for each service? You can't assume that the providers of the service you use will encrypt your password information, and keep the details secure enough that no one can hack in to discover them. If you use the same details for each service then a single exposure can lay your entire online life open to others.

Too hard to remember your passwords? Pick memorable sentences, one for each service, and make your password the first (or second) letter of each word from the sentence. Add in a % or * or similar character. And a number or two.

Just think: out of 1.3m people, more than a couple of thousand had either the word 'password' or the first letters of the top row of their keyboard, 'qwerty,' as their login information. And some of them had government email addresses. Chances are they used the same password for their work accounts. Crazy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nice comment - thanks, J

One of my former colleagues is an ex-Disney Imagineer and I thought he'd be interested to see the innovative combination of mind map graphics with video in my profile. He wrote some really nice things, "Mike is an excellent leader and innovator. He has the unique ability to take creative solutions and apply them to real world applications in a way that's logical, business-minded, and with a focus on efficiency. Mike works well with others and is great at making a team much better and stronger than they were before."

Of course, I really appreciate him saying that; but I can't help wondering if he's not just feeling guilty about pushing a pie in my face!

Expect increased cyber controls

Expect increased costs for ISPs, data centers and IT service companies; with added headaches for users:

Increased concern over cyber security has been expressed over the last month in western media. The #WikiLeaks controversy will raise the focus still further, causing governments naturally to review and tighten their security procedures. (US military is again attempting to ban physical media like USB drives; UK has another internal review...)
  • Expect further extensions to the provisions of American CALEA legislation that enables law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance, monitoring all telephone, broadband internet, and VoIP traffic in real-time. (More)

  • Expect the UK government to press ahead with plans buried in the 2010 Spending Review to revive the controversial 'Interception Modernisation Programme' which will mandate storage of details of all email, electronic communications and website visits for a minimum of one year. (More)
The US had already spent more than $39m by 2007 on their program; the UK plans are to cost £2bn over ten years. Expect direct and indirect costs to IT service companies to be a multiple of those figures.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Expect a wider net neutrality debate

Until the last few days, the debate over net neutrality in America and Britain has been over whether internet providers could/should be allowed to provide a faster and better class of service to those who pay. Highly controversial and any change would be a major shift of the basic design principles when Internet Protocol was first agreed. Oddly, we've seen UK government trying to argue support for both sides of the debate within hours.

Now, though, #WikiLeaks has raised a new set of concerns. Two articles in The Guardian in the past few hours point out some of the issues:
  1. John Naughton wrote yesterday evening that Western governments have a stark choice either to "learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they [must] shut down the internet."

    He said, "The attack of WikiLeaks also ought to be a wake-up call for anyone who has rosy fantasies about whose side cloud computing providers are on."

  2. Today Charles Arthur has built on that thought, commenting "The move to cloud computing is unstoppable – but WikiLeaks gives us pause: Putting data in to the 'cloud' suits companies but does not evade political pressures."
Don't be misled. Cloud computing is far from dead: also today, BBC is reporting the massive economic potential of this trend. It's data from a report by CEBR, commissioned by EMC - a cloud computing vendor which claims 2011 will be the year of the cloud.

Of course, they're all correct! There is massive potential in cloud computing to cut costs and increase revenue; and start new business models and revenue streams...

But in so many areas of life people fail to take out adequate insurance and don't see the benefits until faced with the costs of a loss. Even fewer understand the implications of new technologies that are brought all too rapidly to the market place. It's the same with cloud computing and smart businesses are exploring the options with the benefit of informed guidance and experienced advice.

Expect savvy users to become more aware of issues surrounding privacy and trust, not just the technicalities and economics of outsourcing what previously had been done in a computer room on site.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MindMap personal profile

A 4-minute intro to me, by video, using the fab iMindMap software from Tony Buzan: learn how to mind map, get the software ... either or both will change your life. Seriously!

Well, I've never tried this as an approach before. Does it work? I ran it past one colleague and his response was immediately to go and buy the iMindMap software for himself and say he was going to copy the idea!

I produced the following script to add to the video as 'Closed Captioning' and I've reproduced it in full here for those who'd rather speed-read:
My name’s Mike Schorah and I’m an entrepreneurial CEO, a bold leader who consistently innovates in the information technology arena so that the organizations with whom I work gain a strategic competitive advantage.

At my core lies inspirational leadership. For example, I worked with a software development team in America that as a result was delivering up to three new software releases each week and with zero bug fixes, which is just astounding.

I’ve been innovative and entrepreneurial in planning so that for example we were able to repurpose assets, to diversify markets and to generate additional sources of revenue after the financial collapse in 2008.

My focus is always on achieving key results and for example I’ve been able to rescue two businesses from loss to operating profit, simply out of cash flow. By holding down cost, increasing revenue, trebling the customer base, achieving a 97% customer retention rate.

And the organizations with whom I’ve worked have been able to cut their costs; and to increase their revenue; at the same time we’ve been able to lock in clients and lock out competitors, to strengthen the positioning of the business.

I have a strong focus on negotiation so that we both win and for example I turned what otherwise would have been a completely failed project into something that had a higher gross profit margin than the original and with a satisfied client as a result.

I’ve consistently held a client-oriented focus and that’s because I had a seven year career at IBM where I learned the mantra that the customer is king. And that IBM background has enabled me to consult at the highest levels on strategy, and change and project leadership; and I’m now advising companies on using IT for strategic advantage and developing additional revenue streams.

I have a very strong personal credibility which delivers solid relationships at the most senior levels of global for profit and not for profit as well as NGO sector organizations.

And a great personal integrity and drive. So that for example, I accomplish a considerable workload as I develop ideas into solid action plans.

And in my last post as a pastor or priest in the Church of England I was leading volunteers to pioneer new ways of achieving objectives. And there one of my colleagues identified me as a “strategic thinking diplomat.”

And yet despite that I’m not too proud to clean the loos or make the coffee or do whatever else needs to be done in order to get the job done right now.

In terms of my background, I have a degree from Oxford University and another one from Bristol University in England. And as well as more than three years experience running companies in America, I’ve spent time working in SE Asia as well as Europe where I’m now based.

I do hope that you’ll be able to visit my website where there’s more information and some contact information. And thank you so much for watching this brief presentation.

Expect cat and mouse arms races

The enormous controversy surrounding the Wikileaks* revelation of yet more documents, this time of US diplomatic cables, is understandable. It's not surprising that the organization has suffered "Distributed Denial of Service" attacks, the cancellation of its hosting arrangements with Amazon, and other difficulties.

What's interesting and important is that the organization is able to continue to find work arounds so that it continues to be available:

WikiLeaks moves to Switzerland
WIKILEAKS: Free speech has a number:

That's hugely frustrating, embarrassing and inconvenient to the US Government. But it's important in the light of dangerous attempts to introduce an "Internet kill switch" ... simply because the world has witnessed the dangers caused to individuals and societies when authorities stifle freedom of speech, whether in Stalinist Russia or post-Internet modern societies such as Iran.

How can global society maintain freedom of speech with what we'd agree is responsible use of that freedom? This is where technology meets politics, philosophy and values. And we don't all agree about those.

*Wikileaks is currently unavailable at its main site. See explanation and also here

Update since I wrote this post:
Utterly surreal: Pravda justifiably criticising US for trying to stifle a free press How times change.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Expect increased user privacy concerns

No surprise to IT professionals, but websites track browsing history.

The IT industry has long known and exploited a host of tricks, including cookies and link tracking, but reports in mainstream media will bring this to the attention of a wider, and increasingly paranoid, population of users.

On the one hand, people should realize that Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail and Facebook don't provide their services out of generosity and kindness: their 'free lunch' is paid for through advertising, targeted on the basis of what they know about their users.

On the other hand, as this realization dawns more completely, expect users increasingly to place a value on their privacy and ability to have control over their information. So far, users are resisting paid-for web services, but there's every indication that, in some markets, this will change.