Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why Project Managers need to understand EBay's Rating Systems






Something new and exciting appears to be happening in the world of projects. It may just be the beginning of an entirely new kind of project bicycle; one that comes with many more wheels than we have been accustomed to see.

The perfect storm of über-specialization added to the potent mix of ubiquitous internet access - is creating a new era of Micro Projects.

How are these different from the projects as we have known them?

Micro Projects are to projects what the factory assembly line was to manufacturing. Each component or task of the project is broken down to a far greater extent – many more wheels; the tasks are individually outsourced in an open marketplace of freelancers; these tasks may be completed by a person who specializes in only that one task; who may be located in a faraway place and speaks in languages other than English, and is someone you are unlikely to ever meet.

In this paradigm, every component, becomes a project with its own scope, vetting of the vendor, contract, acquisition, management, etc. It becomes a complete project - a Micro Project.

Micro Projects may have some unique characteristics which we have not encountered - at least not in the traditional way we have thought of projects:

1.    First, the units of work are very small- are hence far greater in number- and each unit can be completed by a freelancer.
2.    Such tasks are bid out to attract qualified independent contractors or freelancers who are increasingly flocking to this new landscape.  
3.    The buyers and providers of such Micro Project services are meeting in internet portals and sites setup to facilitate precisely this need.
4.    On some sites, freelancers are evaluated on the basis of work they have already done. They have ratings like a contractor might have on Angie’s List or perhaps a more sophisticated system like the buyer-seller ratings on EBay.
5.    As a buyer you may have a rating of your own for the contractors to evaluate as well.
6.    Payment is often handled via an escrow system like that on EBay where funds from buyers are held and dispersed to providers only upon task completion.
7.    Some even provide an arbitration process to assist with disputes.

This development is a natural evolution for certain kinds of projects where redundancy, costs, efficiency, timelines etc. are all positively affected as projects are broken down into far smaller and independent segments.

Imagine, for example, if the make-or-break tasks in the project (the Critical Path) are farmed out to multiple freelancers for the same task? Would that ensure a higher percentage completion, or quality, or timeliness? Call it “Micro Project Insurance.” If a particular outsourced task is extremely critical, why not have a backup plan and get two vendors to complete it independently? The Micro Project’s size of components reduces the individual component cost, thus making redundancy more cost effective.

In this model, the role of Project Managers becomes more of a broker involved with sourcing, managing, and integrating a rich dispersed vendor channel who are completing ever smaller elements that together embody the totality of the project. The emphasis shifts to detailed scope and task requirements, the vetting of freelancers, and multitudes of contracts to manage and administer.



The marketplace of websites facilitating this type of project, is proliferating. And more of these sites are appearing every day. There is a strong possibility that this may lead to a specialization of such sites. You may go to one site for marketing and another for designing a web site, etc. (see a short list of sites at the end of this blog).

Micro Projects are currently penetrating and altering traditional projects dealing with IT services, software development, design, marketing, communication and even administration projects. Over time, there is no reason to believe that other industries will not embrace this new breed of project.

As Micro Projects become more commonplace, Project Managers best be paying attention to riding and steering this new kind of bicycle. With many more wheels spinning under you, maintaining a common direction and making sure you stay in your seat, will take some new skills and much more dexterity.



The list below is but a small subset of the rapidly growing number of sites catering to this new phenomenon.

https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome Yes, Amazon is already in this game. Their tag line is: “We give businesses and developers access to an on-demand, scalable workforce”. Mechanical Turk is for HIT or human intelligence tasks and over 558,000 such tasks are currently available for freelancers.

http://www.Guru.com is another site where you can find freelancers to do tasks in writing, translation, web, design, multi-media, software, IT and admin tasks.

https://www.mycrowd.com MyCrowd, a startup that helps companies find freelance talent for specific tasks through Google Docs, PowerPoint and other software applications, is raising $500,000 in a seed round from unnamed angel investors to add more connectors and expand beyond its existing base of around 10 million specialists.

http://www.freelancer.com is a site which matches requirements in mobile application development, design, analytics, web design etc.

http://www.projects4hire.com is a plain vanilla site but has a very long list of engineering, IT and other service categories.

http://www.codingcupboard.com/ matches businesses with the best student coders.
https://pickcrew.com/ has a different angle. They fully vet every designer and developer and focus on web and mobile projects.

http://www.iwebmanage.com/content/bidforprojects/ has a built in escrow function and enable freelancers to even video conference on projects with employers. They will even assist project sponsors with a business analysis service to make it easier for them.

http://www.joomlancers.com/ is another site allowing buyers and providers to find themselves.

https://www.elance.com is one of the oldest sites for this purpose and had been around since 1999. They are more expensive due to their 10% fee and thus attract higher budget projects.

http://www.odesk.com  has an online tracking system, which makes it stand out from the crowd. This system checks employees' work every ten minute so that their work is assured to be under progress.

http://www.scriptlance.com  has no fees: free registration and free monthly services. In general, this is a competitive marketplace with hundreds of projects posted every day and thousands of freelancers bidding.

http://www.ifreelancer.com  registered freelancers have to pay membership fees for the services. 

http://www.fiverr.com/ here services start at $5.

http://www.outsourcing-partners.com has published rates for some tasks and focuses on software and design development as well as marketing projects.

http://worknhire.com is also focused on IT services.

https://www.origondo.com/ matches projects in marketing, design, communication, administration etc.

http://www.wordpressfreelance.com/ is a marketplace for those wishing to create presence in the WordPress environment. 

http://www.bizreef.com launched in October 2007 and hence once of the oldest, has over 25,000 freelancers vying for your business. Bizreef also has an Escrow system that guarantees that freelancers will receive order services as well as protection of their rights



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Einstein might call Big Data “spooky”?



Human beings, and scientists in particular, are conditioned to look for causes. One of the most brilliant scientists of our time, Einstein, had his nemesis in what we call quantum mechanics (or quantum physics as it is also sometimes called). This is the study of the smallest particles known to man. Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum theory are – in many ways – contradictions, which have still not been satisfactorily reconciled into one cohesive theory.
For example, at the quantum level, one particle can potentially be at two places at the same time! It defies all logic and yet it is possible. If you look at a nanoparticle, it can change from a wave form to a point. This is observable in the lab. Other types of strange behavior of these smallest nanoparticles – which in turn make up all things big and small - has been known for a long time and can be replicated. There is little doubt that this strangeness actually occurs.
Einstein himself called quantum mechanics “spooky” because we could all see what was happening, but were unable to explain how it is happening. Today, these issues are still unresolved.
How does this relate to Big Data? To understand this, let’s consider:
Until recently we lived in the era of “Small Data” which was characterized by the premise of exactitude. Databases were built to very specific formats and rules, so that they could be relied upon to retrieve accurate results which perfectly matched the queries we applied against such data. If you used a spreadsheet to compute data, this is what you did. Data was smaller in size – because among other things, computing and storage costs were very high. This in turn meant that databases had to be precise in order to be useful. Databases tended to answer the causal question: What is happening and why? It took time to use data this way and actionable intelligence was, in some cases, delayed. But, that was the cost of using small data and applying data analytics to it.
Today, the costs of data storage have shrunk dramatically. Computing power is enormous and climbing. Enter the era of “Big Data”.
One of the earlier examples of Big Data was in healthcare (as Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier point out in their bestseller “Big Data”). Back in 2007, the CDC would go through precise collection of data points, aggregate them and then use that data to keep track of the spread of flu among the states. They had been doing the same thing for a while. All of this took time, data had to be collected from doctors’ offices and hospitals and by the time the CDC statistics were compiled and published, weeks went by and the data was sometimes already too old.

Around that time, Google was testing its algorithms and mathematical models to test search terms. They found that when users search for 45 terms in specific combinations – that became a predictor of the flu and was closely mapping the CDC data. Just like the CDC, Google too could now predict how flu was spreading nationwide, but unlike the CDC, their data was real-time! And Google did not have to go to doctors’ offices to get data, they extrapolated it from their users’ searches.
Google’s data model was not built on the concept of exactitude. Rather it was based on the use of patterns and correlations to tell us what was happening, not necessarily – how it was happening.
The Bureau of Labor is responsible for computing CPI or the Consumer Price Index. To do this, they employ thousands of people who report approximately 80,000 prices on everything from home rentals to the cost of airline tickets and everything in between. Many things are dependent on CPI including wages, social security amounts etc. CPI is very important. Again, by the time these numbers come out, they too are already old.
Then, two economists from MIT came up with a Big Data solution for CPI. They collected data on 500,000 products in the US – many more than the Bureau of Labor was collecting - and did so only using the web. Admittedly, their data was “messy” in that it was not exact – but it was possible to figure out a CPI equivalent much more quickly. And because they had much more data, any individual anomalies were less meaningful. This project is now a commercial venture and everyday thousands of financial institutions are making decisions based on this work.
In that sense, Big Data is the equivalent of quantum mechanics in this storyline. We can see what is happening, but don’t really know (or maybe even care) how it is exactly happening? The price of getting actionable intelligence in a timely way, is an absence of the precise causal questions and answers. Many are still uncomfortable with this lack of preciseness, and this is only the 2nd or 3rd inning of the Big Data story.  More discomfort is in store.
Today, a significant percentage of the trades on Wall Street are driven by computerized Big Data orders. Healthcare, retail, airlines, hotels – almost everything you can imagine – is being impacted by Big Data. We haven’t seen nothing yet.
In the era of Small Data, accuracy was preeminent because only small data sets were possible and had to be exact. But, as we delve deeper and deeper into this new world of Big Data, we are all making a tradeoff: the quality of the information becomes less important because the volume of the data evens things out. It is the speed of decision-making and the new insights we are learning which are becoming paramount, and all this is being revolutionized by Big Data driven by patterns and correlations.

Prof. Einstein would likely think Big Data too was “spooky” - because just like quantum mechanics - we know what it does, but don’t go looking for too many answers on exactly how and why it got there. You may be disappointed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The problem with a Cyber-Posse


By some estimates, some data on one out of every two Americans has now been breached. So what can do you about it? Can you - as an individual or even as a corporation - go after those that may have compromised your data? If you are hacked, should you not be able to hack back against those who have stolen things from you?
Not so fast.
One of the more interesting discussions on the first day of the RSA Security Conference was: Does the law allow you to be the Cyber-Posse going after those that have compromised your systems and stolen your data?
The answer might actually surprise you. As a matter of fact, the law does not allow you to become a cyber vigilante. In the USA, you are expressly forbidden from doing just that. Section 18 USC 1030 (a) specifically prohibits this kind of activity.
When it comes to cyber exploitation, there is no room for affirmative defense in the law.
If after determining who has stolen your data, you decide to go after those criminals - perhaps simply to recover or delete your own data from their systems - you may still be on shaky legal grounds.If you were in Europe, you would hardly be better of. They too limit this kind of activity.
So there is a conundrum.
If someone stole property from your home you can go to the police. You may even have some rights to give chase if you apprehended someone in the act. If, on the other hand, someone stole your companies data, you don't have many choices. You cannot really go to the police (most local police are not equipped to deal with such a problem anyway) and in most instances you would realize the theft after the fact. And the law forbids you from hacking the hacker.
There is a convoluted logic to this law. What if you retaliated against someone who you thought had been the perpetrator? There is strong evidence that the hacking community takes great care to make sure that the overt signs on being discovered, are that someone else did it. If you accessed the systems of the wrong organization/person, thinking they were the ones who attacked and stole from you - you are now the perpetrator. Quite a mess and not one you can easily get out of.
And because you cannot chase down the hackers easily, and do so within the law, the hacking community is aware of that and may be able to use the existing laws to shield themselves from those who they have compromised and who might be wanting some retribution.
Don't hold your breath. No one is willing to take this on any time soon.
The only silver lining is that most prosecutors are turning a blind eye to someone who rides out on a Cyber-Posse. Prosecutors have other things to do and they are not too keen to be part of a headline which might read:
Prosecutor nails lady who tried to delete her own stolen data from the hacker's systems!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The new wave of wearable technology



In many ways, this was inevitable. As devices got smaller and smarter, it was only a matter of time before smart technology snuck into what we wear.

In a current UnderArmour TV commercial, a lady puts on a black jogging suit. Then she steps outside and with the click of a button on her sleeve, magically transforms her suit into a multicolored outfit.



A new wave of devices which allow ubiquitous social networking on many form factors we wear, provide constant health data, have chameleon like abilities to change colors, and even take photos with a wink a la James Bond -  these and more - are no longer the stuff of fantasies from Hollywood. They are about to become our new reality.

Experts now believe that 2014 will be the year when wearable technology finally gets serious and consumers start to pay close attention.

So, what is Wearable Technology?


For the most part, wearable technology encompasses what you wear on your body – a strap, a shirt, glasses or even a band – things that have embedded electronics and are ‘smart’. 

Such devices may be customizable, and connect to the internet and/or to other devices via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or NFC (Near-Field-Communication). The technology which is built into them, has a myriad of new and proposed functionalities, and they can be upgraded and even enhanced - in some cases by third parties (like the application developers in iTunes or Google Play).

Wrist Technology:


Let’s face it. Watches have been boring for a long time. Other than the occasional forays into incorporating new gee whiz features of the day (remember the Casio with a calculator), they have steadfastly done just one thing – tell time.

With the arrival of Smartphones, watches have begun a precipitous decline. Few young people bother to buy a duplicative device which only tells the time; something they can already check on the screens of their smartphones.

2013 has brought on the dawn of the era of smartwatches.

Pebble, selling at $ 150, the biggest crowdsourcing success in Kickstarter history, has had a good Christmas season. And even though the Pebble has some shortfalls (principally the battery life and lack of touchscreen capability), it has succeeded in enabling interesting smart functionalities and even has limited integration with the phone. It has also attracted a small but growing number of developers using the open standard to create additional functionality for the device.


Omate is a far more sophisticated and expensive ($250+) Smartwatch on Kickstarter which should start shipping soon. Unlike the Pebble, Omate has a touchscreen, more power, and the functionality of a small smartphone on your wrist. It has the capability to add a micro-SIM card from T-Mobile or AT&T and function as a true phone. It is built on the Android system and is expected to have applications downloadable from Google Play. Omate is relatively simple to navigate and even has a virtual keyboard - though as you can imagine - space gets limited when one is typing on such a small form factor. Battery life remains a problem although this one charges wirelessly.



The Sony, Qualcomm Toq and Samsung Gear watches have also created a buzz. Most experts acknowledge that these Version 1 devices are a good start, but much more work needs to be done. Indeed, Samsung is rumored hard at work on a Version 2 watch which incorporates curved glass for a better design and fit. Synchronization of the Smartwatch with other smart devices - those of your choice – is also gaining traction as customers shy away from one-size-fits-all methodology.



And then, there are the rumored watches from Apple, Nokia and even Intel, which are likely to provide more functionality, better design, more battery life and access to many more applications. What will this new breed of watches look like? While most such designs are a closely guarded secret, there is no dearth of those who envision how they might look.


The competition for smartwatches is heating up, and watches which just tell time may not be in the majority for very much longer. The times they are a changing…..

Wearable tech has also infiltrated the health fitness craze. Many such gadgets are also worn on the wrists. Most are niche products like the FitBit, Nike Fuelband, and Jawbone – to list just a few. They are really more like a ‘wearable band’ with fitness related functionalities. Other similar devices monitor heart-rate and expand on the wearable health functions. 


You can expect to see intense competition in this niche and these devices are likely to drop in price.

Google Glass:



Google Glass is a very powerful new wearable technology form factor. Having used one for a few days, I can say firsthand the potential is exciting - and in many ways - is already a stunning achievement.

With a tap and a swipe to the side, Google Glass navigates you step by step. It does not have a keyboard, and uses the WiFi and Cellular data connections from your phone to connect to the internet. It incorporates the speech recognition technology which Google has been building into its devices for many years. This past Christmas (which was a Wednesday), I asked Google Glass “What day is it?" and was startled by the video response - the now viral commercial of a camel’s Hump Day office tour! Google Glass has a sense of humor.



Whether voice activated Google searches, taking pictures (a wink can take a picture, or videos - which you can then send to others), reading text into the built in earpiece (also available in stereo) and even instant translations from other languages – all of this already works surprisingly well. You can also listen to music with voice commands as Google Glass pulls the song from Google Play. In fact, if you are a subscriber to the Google’s Streaming Music service, you can jump the queue and get your Google Glasses for $ 1500 now.



The most common thing I hear when I show the Google Glass functionalities is “That is insane!” And yes, it already is.

Administration of Google Glass is via MyGlass, an application downloaded from Google Play on to your smartphone, and then used to install applications via Bluetooth to the Glass. You can use screencasting as a way to mirror what you see on Google Glass and show it directly on your smartphone’s screen. Google Glass will also be iOS compatible so that you can use it with your Apple devices.

The developers, who have created billions of mobile applications for smartphones and have made them so much more useful, are presently restrained by Google’s tightly controlled development phase. But once developers are let loose, one can see a plethora of new applications for all manner of useful functionality – way beyond anything which we have seen or can even contemplate thus far. The potential for Google Glass in telemedicine and learning - to name just a few things - is incredible.

Rochester Optical will begin selling prescription glasses for Google Glass shortly. Warby Parker is rumored to be working with Google on all manner of cool frames and a nice set of sunshades is already available (worked quite well on my Sunday drive).  It is still not clear when Google Glass will be commercially available and what it might cost. Rumors are for a general release sometime in 2014 with a price tag of about $500. Odds are Google Glass may become as common as the smartphone - and that, would be a huge market.

Other types of Retinal Displays


A Virtual Retina Display (VRD) is where one uses a micro-mirror array and an LED to project 3D images onto the retina.

There a many new wearable examples of VRD just around the corner.

Avegant Glyph will launch on Kickstarter in early January 2014. The headphones can be used in a “non-video” mode, or the headband pulls down over the eyes (as in the picture below) and it becomes the equivalent of a giant private screen with images projected directly onto the retina.


Oculus Rift is a new generation of virtual goggles which might change gaming and will also appear on Kickstarter in early 2014.


The Vuzix M100 is described by its manufacturer as “Smart Glasses”. It is built on the Android system and is essentially a wearable monocular display computer. Like Google Glass, its manufacturer heralds it as a device with utility in medical, retail and industrial applications, and leverages the Android App Store on Google Play allowing developers to create custom applications for the hardware.



Swimmers, speed skaters and skiers - to name a few - operate in sports where hundredths of seconds determine the margin of victory. Access to real time data could prove to be a considerable differentiator. Now, companies like Recon Instruments are creating just these kinds of devices with heads-up displays displaying the data athletes need and even integrates with social networking.



Wearable technology clothing


Heapsylon, a new entrant into the wearable technology niche, creates garments paired with other technology to provide health related data to patients and caregivers. Sensoria Fitness is a fully instrumented pair of socks which gathers data as you walk, run and exercise. The washable Sensoria Fitness Bra and T-Shirt­ can transmit heart rate data to your smartphone.



The GER Mood sweater by Sensoree interprets emotions and displays your mood instantly as an interactive light display. Sensors read the body’s excitement levels, and visualizes onto a high collar for instant biofeedback. Wearing your heart on your sleeve (or around your neck) is now a reality.



UnderArmour already has the E39 out which is a high tech band and monitors heart rates for athletes. But clearly they (and others) are working on a new generation of wearable garments with even more “smart” functionality built right into them!





OmSignal is a Canadian company also making bio sensor garments. Stephane Marceau, the founder, says that over time sensors will increasingly be embedded into the fibers of the garments and will transmit physiological data in real time.  


…and then this.


Sony has recently filed a patent for a “SmartWig”. The device would wirelessly communicate with other devices, and among its proposed uses, assist the blind with navigation - and the wigs look cool too.

 

Who is financing wearable tech?


Foxconn is a Taipei Chinese company where – by some estimates – 400,000 people work to create some of the smartest electronics we use including iPhones, iPads etc. It is the fourth largest technology company in the world by revenue. Bloomberg now reports that Foxconn has setup a seed fund of $ 6.8 million for trials in 2014 for a slate of new wearable technology products. They are also rumored to be working on the Apple’s iWatch.

Other companies in the wearable hardware market have raised close to $570M and include big names like Khosla Ventures run by Vinod Khosla, who among other ventures also founded Sun Microsystems.

Jawbone alone has obtained over $ 93 million in additional funding in 2013.

Crowdfunding on places like Kickstarter raises significant dollars for individual projects and many of them are substantially “oversubscribed” due to their popularity. There seems to be an insatiable amount of support for wearable technology from a core techie group of individuals.

The potential


A Harris Poll in November 2013 surveyed 2,250 adults on their familiarity with wearable technology. One in four Americans indicated they are not familiar with such devices, and another third reported never hearing the term previously.

Among those that do know about wearable technology, price remains a major hurdle. Not surprisingly a vast majority (83%) of Echo Boomers or Millennials are more likely to try wearable technology, and men are similarly more inclined than are women.

Analysts at Credit Suisse suggest the wearable tech market will grow from $1.4bn in annual sales this year to $50bn by 2018. In 2014, shows like CES and others will profile many new wearable technologies. Already media outlets are buzzing with the possibilities.

We can each envision the good, the bad, and even the ugly possibilities such offerings might conjure up; but a new haute tech couture of wearables is clearly upon us. The true test will be when we begin to wear technology and forget that we are in fact wearing it. It will have become second nature, much like the smartphone that most of us now carry, and barely give it a second thought.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What will IT do now?


2003: First, Back to the Future 

Back in May 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote a piece in the Harvard Business Review provocatively titled “IT Doesn’t Matter”. That triggered a firestorm, and legions came to defend the IT folks whom this article seemed to malign and marginalize. Of course, IT matters!” became the rallying cry and card-carrying members of the IT profession responded in droves.
Ten years after the first printing of that article, it is worthwhile to take a look back at Carr’s hypothesis and see where we are. Was he right?

Contrary to popular assumption and headlines, Carr actually wrote that “no one would dispute that information technology has become the backbone of commerce”. He was not trying to undermine the importance of the sector. But, he did add that, “By now, the core functions of IT—data storage, data processing, and data transport—have become available and affordable to all”. He hypothesized that IT is not a strategic advantage anymore - because scarcity - not ubiquity of a product is the differentiator, and IT’s core functions had already become ubiquitous. With the proliferation of technology and the reductions in cost, he surmised that IT had become just another commodity. Most now believe he got that right.

But the real gem, hidden away in that article, was this prediction:

More and more, companies will fulfill their IT requirements simply by purchasing fee-based “Web services” from third parties—similar to the way they currently buy electric power or telecommunications services.
Carr did not call it “Cloud Services” or IaaS, or SaaS, or even PaaS (or any of the daily new variants of the *-as-a-Service), but he might as well have. In my view, the vision to see that technology resources will become commoditized in that manner, and that infrastructure would transition to an off-premises environment - and organizations would be paying for the functional use of technology being hosted, supported, upgraded and maintained by others – that, was his unique insight. The concept had been in discussion before Carr (John McCarthy in the 1960s discussed “computation may someday be organized as a public utility”), but Carr may have been one of the first to articulate it so precisely. 
In retrospect, Carr clearly got this outsourcing revolution right; perhaps even more than he had imagined in 2003.

IT in 2013 and beyond

The changing landscape


In order to consider what IT will do, we need to understand the major disruptors which we face:

 1.      Cloud

·  The movement of data, applications and a variety of IT services to third parties, hosted and managed off-premises.

2.      Mobile Devices and applications

·  The “Consumerization” of technology defined by the influx of personal devices into the enterprise.

·  The coming revolution in mobile apps for the delivery of enterprise information.

·  The shift from devices to services.

·  Movement from Bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) to Bring-your-own-application (BYOA).

3.       Security and collaboration

·  Challenges of managing personal devices in the enterprise.

·  The impact of enterprise data in the ‘Personal cloud’.

·  Real time collaboration and the need for speed and rapid turnarounds.

·  Ubiquitous access on any device from anywhere.

4.     Big Data and mining

·  The consolidation of data into very large sets.

·  The analysis of this data using sophisticated Business Intelligence (BI) tools.

·   Cognitive computing and the movement of analytics from specialists to consumers of that data.

·   Use of ‘Search’ morphing into actionable analytics.


The Cloud:


Among the changes we are seeing, none is more disruptive than the Cloud. What was an aberration for most organizations, is now a hard reality with numerous choices and changes. The movement of technology assets to an off-premise environment, the challenges of that transition, and then managing this new environment – is a change comparable in magnitude to the advent of the first LANs.
The on-premises server environments were set up and created with expensive infrastructure costs. When you added the expenses for servers, racks, batteries, backup systems, HVAC etc., these server-rooms did not come cheap. And now, the servers are leaving the building….someone will have to calculate the cost of all these soon to be abandoned spaces.
In this new paradigm, as servers are finding new homes among the clouds, desktops are likely to follow suit (yes that is next). The major software application vendors are actively encouraging customers (organization and individuals alike) to move to a cloud model, or face increased costs.
The manner in which we are paying for these cloud services is a major financial change too. We don’t buy hardware and software anymore, we lease it. For the C-Suite, the movement of expenses from CapEx to OpEx is creating its own challenges. Depreciation of these assets may be a thing of the past.
So, in this environment, how is IT changing? The skills to manage these changes, necessarily requires some realignment too.
When I have asked Systems Engineers or Systems Administrators, who are currently responsible for racks of servers: What will you be doing a couple of years from now? – a troubling response is more the norm, rather than the exception. Most think that they will magically follow the servers to wherever these assets are headed. If only they fully registered how many people are actually running the datacenters for the Amazons, Google and Microsoft’s of the world – they would panic! The truth is there aren’t that many that are needed to run these enormous data repositories. 
The era of multitudes of Systems Engineers and Systems Administrators managing server rooms in every organization, is approaching an end. The horse carriage mechanics will need to find something else to do, because a different mode of transportation is already here
Those in denial also seem to hide behind two other common contentions:
“Don’t worry, it won’t happen here”.
“My management is worried about security in the cloud”.
The first seems to imply either that we have ‘special’ data which cannot be moved to the cloud; or, that the costs of moving are prohibitive and would never work for this organization.
The primary reason for movement to cloud alternatives is in fact cost. It is far cheaper to place assets in the cloud, than to host them internally, and the prices are falling! The ‘teaser’ prices which everyone thought would go through the roof once you have made the initial move to the cloud, are actually coming down even more.
Those concerned about security in the cloud need to consider two questions: 
Are you personally doing any online banking?  (Most of us now do)
Do you know that the CIA has signed a $ 650 million a year contract for their data with Amazon? 
And why is it that you are comfortable with your personal banking data in the cloud but not the enterprises? Besides the CIA, the FAA has data in the cloud, the FDA has data in the cloud and so do multitudes of government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Yes, there are some nuances between hybrid, private and public clouds – nothing is 100% secure (not even on-premises) -but most experts now believe that the movement of data out of the organizations is inevitable. Even the naysayers acknowledge that it is a matter of time.
We are all getting vested in cloud services, personally and professionally. Gartner, in its 2014 predictions, now rates the individual’s Private Cloud as a new disruptive technology trend. The Personal Consumerization of the Cloud is here.
In June 2013, IDC forecast that over the next three years, 14 million Cloud related jobs will be created globally (http://tinyurl.com/6ubr53g). 
If you are an IT person and looking for a sustainable and in-demand job, or if you are a current systems engineer, you should pay close attention. Cloud certifications and skills will be in great demand.

Mobile Devices and applications

 

As the Consumerization of IT takes hold, we must prepare for the tsunami of personal devices coming to invade our enterprises. People are doing more enterprise work on personal devices. Gartner estimates that for the first time, in 2013, more mobile device will be sold than desktops in the USA. A critical tipping point has been reached.
In this environment, who owns the devices, who manages it, who allows it access and even who has the authority to remove data from it – are all issues which IT will have to work through.
Several acronyms are the language of this new discussion. BYOD (Bring-your-own-device) is one of the more popular among them. Should the enterprise provide devices on which staff do their organizational work, or should staff bring their own?
A few years ago, we faced the same issue with phones. Initially, phones were handed out by the organization to those that needed them for work. Soon, phones became cheaper, more powerful and started coming in multitudes of flavors and operating systems. Users began demanding that they be allowed to use their “weapon of their choice”. Enterprises succumbed. And thus was born BYOP (bring your own phone). Today, using your own phone for email etc. is far more common than using enterprise supplied phones.
The same thing is happening with other devices. In fact, some among us have talked about the advent of a ‘cafeteria’ plan for technology, where the staff would be given a stipend to buy the technology of their choice on which to do their work. I can hear the question in your minds “Who will fix these hundreds if not thousands of devices, when something goes wrong with them?”
The simple answer is: The manufacturer of that device will fix it. In fact, none of these devices can be repaired by the IT staff even today. Or, at least they shouldn’t be. Do you want to void the warranty on an iPad by opening it, trying to “fix” it? Open an iPhone? Someone’s Smartwatch next? No, IT will not do this. In fact as BYOD takes hold, there will be less to fix, not more.
A whole new class of devices under the label of Internet of Things (IoT) is also headed our way. Mobile devices like smartphones and iPads are not the only things we will have to worry about (for more information on IoT read my blog at: http://tinyurl.com/lp5egb4)
This leads to the other change in IT skill sets. As less Brake-Fix (the colloquial term used in some IT departments to indicate the work done to fix technology) is required - going forward, IT departments will be doing less of this kind of support.
The Help Desk will look different when there is less to fix. Help Desk staff should pay heed.
Gartner also predicts that an average enterprise will be managing a median of 25 mobile applications. A new breed of mobile application developers and vendors is going to find new customers.
Gartner also alerts us to a BYOA (bring-your-own-application) era. In this environment, users will be allowed to use the application of their choice, an extension of being able to use the device of their choice. For example, can a user use any email client, as long as they can access the enterprise email system? Why not? And yes, there are some things around security which will need to be worked out here.
But there are already big changes in this area. These will require a recalibration of IT skills and even policies.

Security and Collaboration


Being able to secure data, regardless of where it resides and where it is being requested from, is a monumental challenge for the transformative IT.
Into this mix comes a new vocabulary driven by MDM (mobile device management), VDI (virtual desktops), VDA (Virtual desktop applications) and a security fabric which allows control and management of disparate end points.
The need for rapid turnarounds now requires the use of new tools for the new real-time collaboration environments. For the users, this is a big change. The skill sets to be able to assist in such transformations and move enterprises away from the traditional flat-file architectures to cloud options, will be in great demand. This will not be easy.
IT staff with security certifications will also be in demand. Security will become an even more important requirement at most levels of the new IT hierarchy. The enterprise data will have to be secured in a myriad of new places, some of which the IT department will not control, at least not in the way we always have.

Big Data and mining



Nothing gets attention these days like Big Data and Business Intelligence (BI). These are the new buzzwords and there are big dollars at stake. 
With the cheap storage options now available, petabytes of data are now stored in servers. What does all this data mean? What can we do with it? And, does it provide answers to make the enterprise a better, more efficient, productive and competitive undertaking?
That is the world of Big Data. Thus far, it has been the realm of ‘specialists’ and data miners using complex BI tools to extract the nectar of the data. BI tools are expensive and require a lot of expertise.
But this too is changing. ‘Cognitive computing’, says Gartner, is when ordinary users will be able to use common ways to be able to get access to analytics and thus make the outcomes from that data far more actionable. In fact, the time when you should be able to use common search methodologies to mine complex data – is also not far away.
In many ways this question of how we make use of data to become more efficient and productive, is the new frontier. It is the place where technology changes its stripes. 
Technology must help in advancing the mission and profitability of the organization and move from being a cost center to becoming a full partner in the revenues and solutions aspects of the business.

So, what will IT do?

There are several areas in which this transformed IT will need to participate.
a)   Increasingly, IT will need to be Strategists; to become the bridge between what is technically possible and what needs to be solved. They will need to become the interlocutors when users are stymied by “How do we ask for something we don’t know exists?”
b)  IT will need to be able to extract and analyze business processes, and identify those that could benefit from technology solutions. This is more of a systems analyst and business analyst role and such certifications will likely remain in high demand.
c)   IT will be a full partner in the revenue producing elements of the business. IT as a cost center is becoming less important. The cost elements which are generally infrastructural, will be transitioning to third parties. This in turn will allow IT to focus on revenue producing projects and similar initiatives of the enterprise. IT budgets may also start dissipating into departmental and project budgets where such initiatives are traditionally 'owned'.
d)  Big Data and data mining will make IT and the Marketing functions draw ever closer. Currently, marketing is the primary consumer of Big Data. Already, in some organizations the largest part of a technology budget is also targeted to the needs of the marketing department. New titles like CMIO (Chief Marketing Information Officer) are emerging.
e)   Program management to deliver solutions on time and on budget, are also gaining more traction. Foundational certifications like Project Management will be more in demand. IT staff, who have been perennially blamed for over budget and delayed projects, will have to deliver on time and on budget, like any other unit in an enterprise.
f)    Mobility solutions and applications will proliferate. Delivery of content is changing to a different form factor and mobile will dominate. Desktop and server management, on the other hand, will decline.
g)  Security concerns arising from personal devices and even the Internet-of-Things (IeT) will become more prevalent. Management of mobile applications and security of data on all things connected to the internet - will become a core IT function.
h)   Analytics will get embedded into the user GUI. Actionable intelligence driven by easy to use interfaces will become a differentiator, and IT will be under pressure to deliver such solutions.
i)     BYOD (Bring your own device) will get a lot of traction and the active “brake-fix” support of user devices, will fade as the consumerization of computing accelerates, and ownership transfers from organizations to users. Budgets will be impacted by this change.


One thing is clear. IT stands at a transformational cross roads. A major change in the manner in which we use technology is underway. In many ways, this is the maturation of the promise of the internet.
Unless IT is able to reinvent itself, the future will be a difficult one. In my conversations, I am finding that the same resistance to change which inflicts some of the user community - is now afflicting the IT folks too. Since we are the original change agents, we really have no excuse. We should be good at pivoting and accepting and embracing change, shouldn’t we?
IT now needs more folks who have the technology knowledge but also have a strong suit of business management skill sets, and the ability to bring the two elements together.  

The age of the Business Technologist is upon us.