Treat Your Partners like…um, well…Partners

partner “Nothing works better than just improving your product.” — Joel Spolsky, Stack Overflow co-founder

In today’s business environment, it’s far too easy to get caught up in the new hype of the day.  That could be new methodology, new technology, new business models..whatever.  However, I absolutely love Joel Spolsky’s quote to cut through the crap and just lay it out there.  Many companies just aren’t honest enough with themselves to really improve their products (and this goes when their products are their services).  While most companies have their “core competencies”, they often have weak spots or areas that are less developed.  If a company is honest with itself, it will identify the areas to bring in a partner.  While many companies create “strategic partnerships”, they often don’t bring the kind of success that is desired.  Many are left wondering why the partnership didn’t work as well as everyone thought.  In my history over the last several years, I have seen a lack of TRUE partnership be at the heart of the problem.

In my past, I’ve seen the kind of partnership where one side of the equation believed to be superior in every way.  This causes animosity on one side because the “superiority” is evident in the attitudes and body-language during meetings and other discussions.  I’ve also seen the kind of partnership where one partner wasn’t as committed as the other.  Therefore, there wasn’t an equal amount of urgency or attention when issues came up.  There are many other dysfunctional types of arrangements that could be described ad-nauseam!

Partnerships comes to mind this week due to a very positive lesson learned recently.  So often, a “lesson learned” is born out of an incredibly painful situation or a straight-up failure.  While nursing your wounds, you want to find the silver-lining and making sure “that” never happens again…whatever “that” is.  Every once in a while, however, you get a lesson learned from a success.  This is what just happened to me.

The short story is that I did my due diligence and identified a firm that could be a partner.  Fortunately, someone at the partner firm also recognized the potential and we had talked about working together for a while.  Fast forward a few months and both companies clearly identified what they “brought to the table” and what the partner company brought to the table.  By making it very open and honest about each others’ strengths, it was easy to identify boundaries and expectations.  The result was a very good partnership that others could clearly see.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the partnership is 50/50.  It could be (as was in this case) lopsided.  However, the point is that each firm brought a key component that the other did not have.  Therefore, it was an easy conversation that one partner was to receive a bigger piece of the pie than the other.  In general, if you identify other companies that are willing to be real partners (and you are too), then it works very well and there are true…wait for it…synergies! (sorry for the coporate-ese…but I couldn’t help it).  So get out there and pass on various partners until you find one that has the same values and is willing to honestly work as a partner.

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Posted in Career, work habits

Retailers: Still Putting Our Identity At Risk

LabeledSmartCard As the year and the holiday shopping season comes to a close, I am shocked and dismayed at US retailers.  Earlier this week, I happened upon this news article detailing how few retailers are using the new EMV or chip cards.  The part that made me really angry is that many have new equipment but aren’t using the more secure chip feature. Apparently, they haven’t learned the lesson of Target, Home Depot and countless others regarding identity theft.

Even more infuriating with the survey that the article was based on.  If you can believe it, Toys-R-US has terminals with the chip card slot but has not begun using it chain-wide.  Now for the Christmas season, I would have thought that Toys-R-US – AT LEAST – would have been one of the chains that really wanted to use it.  I mean, Christmas is for buying toys…and you’d think that they are a fairly big target for “the bad guys” given that.

While some may whine about the challenges of swapping out the software to use the new chip feature, but I just don’t buy it.  While traveling just over the boarder to Vancouver BC earlier this year, I was met with a slightly condescending “oh, you have a swipe card?”.  So clearly every business in Canada is fully implemented.  Additionally, this isn’t something that just popped up on the radar recently.  I wrote about this topic back in May 2014 (nearly 18 months ago!).  So there has been plenty of time for businesses to get on-board.

My suspicion is that businesses regard this as “just another regulation that we must comply with” and therefore they drag their feet.  Instead, they should realize that this is a significant security measure (not a “silver bullet”, but a good security measure nonetheless).  I think this goes back to another article recently that highlighted that some CEO’s aren’t even briefed on security issues.  When will the US wake up and take security seriously?

Posted in Security

New Year’s Resolution: Update Your IT Infrastructure

wireless_stock_image As we see 2015 drawing to a close, it’s time to set those new year’s resolutions.  After going through my own “infrastructure reboot” of sorts this year, it reinforced to me the need for everyone – both personally and in their business to seriously look at re-working their IT infrastructure.

On the personal front, I finally made my home technology fully wireless.  Here’s what I mean: Back in the early 2000’s, I wired my home up with a whole house stereo (I’m a bit of a music nut, but that’s for another post).  I had a central amp connected to 3 sets of speakers I could turn on or off depending on where I was listening.  I even ripped all my CD’s to MP3 (on a higher bit rate so that they sound good) and connected a Roku device to the stereo so that I wouldn’t need a CD player anymore.  That worked well.  In 2015, it still worked well.  Except for one thing: I realized that me and my family hardly used it.  What happened is that we moved from listening to our own music collection to Pandora, Spotify and YouTube.  In fact, we weren’t even watching TV (except for the obscure show or two that my wife watches, but that’s a whole other post too!).

So earlier this year, I beefed up my internet bandwidth (and I have to say that AT&T does deliver even a slightly higher bandwidth than they promise in my plan).  Then I used a powerline adapter to send the network through my electrical wiring.  Next, I added extra wireless access points to provide solid and consistent wireless connections throughout my home (I have one of those 100 year-old homes that wireless really hate). I finished up with some Airplay speakers upstairs and down.  That way, I can play any music from my phone or computer and from any app.  The result of the whole thing is that we can watch/listen to whatever we want on any device, anywhere in the house: Amazon Prime movies on the Xbox, Spotify Chromecast to my home theater in the living room, Pandora to the wireless speakers upstairs…all at the same time!!

If you haven’t updated your home technology in a while, it’s high time to do it.  Our experience has simplified our lives and made things much easier.

I also think the home technology update is a great analogy for corporate IT infrastructure.  I know what you’re saying, “Oh, I can’t even think of doing anything different with our infrastructure…and besides we have a good deal at our data center…and our sys admins know what their doing”.  That is all true (I’m sure), but you can enable simplicity, cost savings and innovation by moving away from your traditional data center and into the cloud.  The nice thing is that you can do it a little at a time.  Try some non-critical apps, for starters.  You’ll find that it’s easier than you think.  And it’s more of a thing your peers are doing anyway.  This article describes this much better than I can.  Even those “behind the times” CIO’s of State Government are focusing on this…check out this article.  If it’s a priority for State CIO’s, it can be for your company! Happy 2016!!

Posted in Uncategorized

Help Your Local Government – They’re Trying To Keep You Safe

Indianapolis_citycountybuilding It’s often too easy to bemoan the state of government.  It’s an easy target for being too slow, out-dated…and in extreme cases, corrupt or wasteful.  That’s really a disservice to the countless men and women who go into work each day to make our communities better for us.  Sure there are really issues to tackle. However, rather than just complaining, try doing something about it. What can ordinary citizens do, you ask?  Alot…First, you’re not ordinary and you know it.  You can do great things.  Second, there are many examples (like these) that have been created by ordinary people just like you.

Sometimes local government can do something really brave and interesting.  Yesterday, four mayors from around my area launched a regional open data portal.  Honestly (hate to admit it), I wasn’t expecting this level of thoughtfulness and foresight.  Not only have these mayors championed more openness for their cities, they also agreed to contribute data to a regional repository so that analysis and creativity can expand beyond artificial political boundaries. They did this without knowing what will be found, what will be done and any future implications…pretty brave stuff if you believe the stereotypes of politicians.  This opens a big door for ordinary citizens to explore, create and help with our communities’ issues.  Even “out of the box”, the portal starts with some basic visualization tools, the ability to download the data and has API’s to connect to.  Immediately, citizens can start to work with the data in a very real and useful way.

So just being helpful and looking to solve problems is a great reason to be an engaged citizen.  However, the biggest reason is that – frankly – city governments need to focus on the basics.  The majority of resources in any city HAVE to be dedicated to public safety.  Look at Indianapolis budget for 2015.  Almost 60% of the entire budget is going for public safety and criminal justice.  Additionally, well-meaning city employees continue to be expected to do more with the the same level of resources (you’ll see for the last several years, the total budget is relatively unchanged).  Therefore, we have to re-think how to get more done without extra funding.  While it may be a small contribution initially, citizen-driven collaboration can be a powerful tool for local governments.  In conversations with some city employees, they welcome the collaboration and help (since they are really normal people, they hate the constraints too…go figure!).

So when I really stop to think about it, it’s amazing that much of anything gets done outside of the basics of keeping people safe and infrastructure working. Even then, they can’t stop all the horrible crimes like the one that recently happened in our area.  So I say, keep city officials focused on safety and crime…and lets gets some citizens to help with some slightly lower priority – but nonetheless important items.  Even in the 21st Century, citizens can help out their communities…and therefore, their neighbors.  Let’s get out there and do something…and let’s be safe out there!

 

Posted in Civic Tech, open data

Stop Complaining! Do Something!

dont-complain-about-things-youre-not-willing-to-change-quote-1 stopcomplainingI realize this is very preach-y, but still needs to be said periodically.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the two quotes above together in one…so my quote for this post is: “Don’t complain about things you’re not willing to help change…and then stop complaining and go help change those things you can and are willing to change…and THEN watch how your life changes.”  Ok, so that’s a bit more of a mouthful and doesn’t fit easily onto a tile for Pinterest or other social media.  However, it is the truth.

It is far too easy for everyone to complain about any number of things.  I fight this every day.  I’ve been around the block a couple of time (aka: I’m old) and have seen “the good”, “the bad” and “the ugly”.  So on any given day, I can be way too judgmental about anything: how someone creates (or doesn’t) a process…how someone designs a database…how someone codes an app…how the UX works or doesn’t.  It’s a dangerous thing to get into a habit of complaining about every flaw that you see…’cause there’s plenty of them!

I will say that every once in a while it is cathartic to vent about something…especially if you’ve been dealing with that something for a long time or is causing you specific pain.  But that should be held for just every once in a while…then you should be done with it.

Alternatively, I try to focus my mind on if and/or how I can personally use my experience to change something for the better.  If I can and want to invest the time, I will.  If I can’t, then I try to stifle my complaints.  For example, there’s nothing that you can do about the long lines and bad service you get at a certain mega-discount store.  So why complain about it…it won’t do any good.  The old saying about worrying is the same in this case, “…it’s like a rocking chair – you expend energy but you never get anywhere…”.  So it may be difficult, but you have to train your mind to avoiding simply complaining when you can’t do anything about the situation.  That goes for your work too.

The second part of the saying is the benefit that you WILL receive for doing this.  When you stop complaining and help out, your life will be better for it.  Now, in the short-term, it will take your time and energy (and may be frustrating).  However, you will see rewards beyond what you expect.  Try it and see what happens.  I think you’ll be surprised…both in your attitude and in what comes back to you! Stop complaining and DO something!

Posted in Career, work habits

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

how-to-find-your-strengths

Every so often, I’m reminded that I really need to live my own life and not someone else’s.  Last night, that hit me hard and square in the face.  I went on a craft beer brewery tour with some friends.  It was a classic “boys’ night out” and it was good to reconnect in a testosterone-filled setting of barley and hops.  I am blessed with both living in an area with a VERY robust craft beer culture AND great friends with great families.  I am also blessed to know some pretty incredible people, in general.  To that point, I was faced with the amazing things that my friends were doing: running marathons, participating in Iron Man races, coaching incredible athletes in Iron Man races, raising families of 4 kids, and tending to urban chickens and bees.  At one point, I was ready to say, “I am nothing, I do nothing, I am not worthy…”.  While I generally feel good about who I am and what I know, I can’t compete with someone who does all this!

Some would become defensive and annoyed at the ‘over achievers’, but it’s better to keep things in perspective and congratulate others’ success.  Yes, it’s difficult to do sometimes when you’re thinking, “dang, I wish I could do that”.  However, we need to keep in mind that we’re not living in each other’s shoes.  So while we may feel a little jealous, we also need to remember that everyone is different and we all have our strengths and weaknesses…especially the “over achievers” – they have their limits too.

So while I can’t complete an Iron Man race, I do have a better handle on data than most…and I can spin up an Amazon AWS environment when others cannot.  Also, I can think strategically while acting tactically in support of the strategy.  This allows me to be able to be effective in a number of levels of management: both higher and lower.  So I can implement the strategy that I know is correct.

Yes, I wish I could do more…and I continually strive to do and learn more.  However, we should also keep in mind that all of us can contribute even if we’re not the shining star.  Most often, it takes a team to make great things happen and I need solid team members to contribute their own, individual talents.  Then we can achieve much more than any one individual!

Posted in Career, work habits

TV and Traditional Databases – The Decline is Real

Cable-TV-subscriber-decline-2010-13 So have you heard of Smosh?  If you’re over the age of 30, it’s OK to say “No”. Smosh is a YouTube duo that has their first major movie release coming out this Friday, aptly titled Smosh: The Movie. Something tells me that it won’t be up for any Academy Awards this year.  However, that’s not the point.  The interesting fact is that a few on YouTube are now really becoming celebrities and making some good money.  Instead of saying something like, “…these darn kids…” or “…youtube is a fad…”, I say, “Good for you…get creative and make some money.”  In fact, there are signs that this thing is real and here to stay.  USA Today ran a story about a “marketing matchmaker” that pairs brands with YouTubers.  What that means is that there’s starting to be some real money floating around.  This isn’t just some kids posting Minecraft videos (although, some of those guys are making some serious cash too!).

Now, of course, all you nay-sayers (haters gotta hate, right?) are thinking that this YouTube phenomena is a niche thing and only appeals to a fraction of the people out there.  In fact, adweek recently ran a story reinforcing the idea that TV is THE MOST effective advertising medium. I’m sure that is still true and I won’t debate that.

However, the real thing to consider is the trend.  Where is it going?  I’ll do an analogy to the traditional relational database market (see, I did bring it back to IT and data!).  Check out this powerful graph showing various (250!) database platforms and where they rank in the marketplace.  As expected (just like TV), the 800-pound gorillas Oracle and SQL Server are still at the top and significantly above everyone else.  However, just like TV, the trend is in decline.  Yes, it will take time for other media to overtake traditional TV just like it will take time for other database platforms to overtake the biggies.  The real question that you have to ask yourself, though, is: when are you going to take a look around at the new and up-and-coming players?

In terms of DB platforms, there’s a good horse-race going on.  As you may expect, the upward trends are by platforms like MongoDB, Casandra and HBASE.  Personally, I see alot of promise with Redshift and DynamoDB.  What are the new DB platforms that you’re looking into?

Posted in Uncategorized