February 2009


By Mike Scheuerman @ CIO Update

The future of IT is not in building and maintaining technology, but in the application of technology in solving business problems. This new IT organization should not be focused on maintaining a technology infrastructure, but in using IT as a value-added tool to enhance the operation of the business.

Making the switch to concentrating on the “information” in Information Technology will be challenging for many of today’s IT managers. They have always worried about the “speeds and feeds” and less about how the equipment under their control provides good support and value to the people who use that equipment to do their jobs. Infrastructure management is necessary but not sufficient to provide business users and managers with the information that they need to make critical business decisions each and every day.

A better approach is to organize the IT department to emphasize the information and downplay the technology. To that end, the new face of IT becomes the business analyst and project manager. The role of infrastructure management falls to outside vendors and someone(s) in IT will have the role of vendor relationship management. Managing SLAs becomes the primary goal for this group.

Within the business analysis function, there are three major components: project management, business unit expertise, and business intelligence. Project management provides the methodology for getting things done in a timely, cost effective way. Business unit expertise is used to provide knowledgeable individuals who know the business processes within a particular department. This expertise allows them to provide sound advice on how technology can be used within that business unit. Since this group falls within the overall business analysis function, they can also provide the cross-functional view that is missing so many times in projects. Helping to avoid the unintended consequences of system changes is a side benefit of this cross-function view of the world.

The third component of business analysis is that of business intelligence. This group is focused on the information that is needed to make timely and well-informed decisions by business management. This group is the keeper of the key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs make up the dashboard every manager uses daily to determine if the business is running the way they expect. Business intelligence provides the controls that keep the ship of business afloat and on an even keel.

The challenge to implementing this model is developing a true cost model of the current IT services so a reasonable comparison of costs and goals can be achieved. Today, the cost of IT is calculated largely on personnel and capital costs. In truth, the opportunity costs of not providing more effective utilization of people in the business is unaccounted for. The cost of not being able to determine the state of the business in a more timely way is also left out of the equation. And the cost of decisions being made with incomplete information is missed. Putting real dollar figures to many of these missing items is difficult, but the risk to the business is too high to not make an educated estimate.

Most business managers never think about the technology they use every day and how lost they would be without that technology. They also are concerned about the cost of the technology and how it is not providing them with what they need to run the business.

These are real concerns. If management can step back and think about IT as a utility they will begin to see that trying to keep the IT infrastructure running is like buying and maintaining your own power plant. You wouldn’t do that because you can’t justify the cost. You use the power to run your business and focus on the things that make your business successful. You don’t worry about buying coal to keep the power plant running. IT should be viewed the same way. It is an information utility. The real value comes from the information that is generated by the plant, not in the electricity flowing through the wires.

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BY Kit Eaton @ Fast Company


While there’s a lot of work to push nanotechnology as the future of computer chips, good old-fashioned semiconductors still have a lot of life in them yet: and they’ve recently been given a boost with a radical new type of circuit element that incorporates both semiconductor and nanotechnology.

Its called the memristor, and if you haven’t heard of it that’s not much of surprise–they were only manufactured for the first time last year. Memristors are tiny electronic devices that change their electrical resistance proportionally to the current running through them–in contrast transistors “turn on” current when a small input voltage is applied. Unlike transistors, memristors don’t forget their state when they’re turned off, making them useful as non-volatile memory for example.

Now a team from Hewlett-Packard labs in Palo-Alto has demonstrated a hybrid transistor-memristor circuit for the first time, using a nanowire grid and titanium dioxide as a semiconductor. The resulting device had memristors at the nanowire junctions and was surrounded by transistors.

Why should you get excited about this? For one reason–a transistor/memristor paired assembly can be programmed to either behave like a traditional logic circuit, route signals across it or behave as a memory storage unit. And these are all tasks that require specially-engineered circuitry in existing chips. In other words, a memristor-chip could pack in much more processing power in the same area–and that’s the trend that our increasingly-powerful chips have been following for decades.

Yet more interestingly, since the memristor “remembers” what state its in, by doing a calculation with a group of the circuits and feeding back the output of a calculation to the same memristors, the device could effectively “self-program.” As HP spokesman Tim Williams puts it: “self-programming is a form of learning. Thus, circuits with memristors may have the capacity to learn how to perform a task, rather than have to be programmed to do it.”

And that’s one long-predicted goal of computing technology that may even enable synaptic-like responses. Your computer in ten years time may do some of your thinking for you.

BY Noah Robischon @ FastCompany


socialemail

Of all the demos at TechFest 2009, the one I’d pick to include in a future Microsoft product is the Social Views of E-Mail application. It looks like a basic e-mail tool, but it organizes and clusters messages based on social groupings instead of just time and importance. This video with Andrzej Turski gives you a quick overview of all the features.

Say you’re part of a jogging club with a colleague at work, the social inbox would group different messages into your jogging club folder and your work folder based on the other names cc’d on the e-mail. That’s just one simple example of how this app uses your friend network to organize information.

The creators of this social inbox have also re-worked the basic display and user interface for mail. Along with showing profile photos, when you open and read a message it gets displayed in columns similar to a newspaper or magazine layout. And you can reply to a message from directly underneath the original message, much like you do in Web-based comments or forums.

There are already a few tools that enhance other devices or software, like Fonebook, which syncs your Facebook contacts with Outlook. But most of your social information is still hidden from the other aspects of your daily routine. The next stage of social media’s evolution will come when it scales the walled garden of existing social network destinations and becomes integrated with the rest of the devices and applications in your daily life.

By request, I have posted the direct Google Docs link to this presentation I did for everyone’s viewing and printing pleasure. If you are to use this file for your own personal or business use I ask that you please do not change the content or format. Please “CLICK HERE” to view the presentation in full. Please note, this is the first in my series, and has a strong focus on how to leverage social sites (primarily LinkedIn) to work for you in the your job search. The next in my series will focus on Twitter, so stay tuned….

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Good Luck!

Aaron Friedman

BY Noah Robischon @ Fast Company

Windows Azure and “Red Dog” Cloud Computing Project One over-arching theme that will underly many of the projects on display today is the upcoming Windows Azure cloud-computing push. This is Microsoft’s attempt to move its operating off the desktop and into the cloud. Although it was officially unveiled several months ago, Microsoft is only now getting specific about the kinds of tools it will deliver in Azure.

SecondLight Surface Computing UI Based on the description I’m reading, it sounds like Microsoft is ready to move its touch-screen UI off of the tabletop and into the “mid-air above the display” where it will recognize Minority Report-style gestural navigation.

Color-Structured Image Search color pattern image search has been around since at least 2005. Microsoft seems to have made some advances here, allowing for more consistency, speed and a semantic structure that could be applied to other search types.

Social Desktop, Social E-Mail, and Location-Based Social Networking Never one to let another software company own a lucrative market (ahem, Facebook), Microsoft has several projects on tap that will utilize your social networks in novel ways. Among them: e-mail integrated social networking tools and GeoLife 2.0, which sounds a lot like Google Latitude.

Opinion Search Several companies are moving into search engine algorithms that incorporate opinion or emotion data into the results. Microsoft’s Opinion Search will also filter results based on positive or negative polarity–again, not entirely new, but fascinating nevertheless.

Image-Centric and User-Interactions Advertising Platform Perhaps the first project on this list that could lead to real revenue, these two projects aim to replace today’s keyword-driven ad model with ones based on the content of recently searched images and a more integrated presentation of the resulting ads.

Tool Kit for Visualizing Large-Scale Data Silverlight and Ajax controls to help navigate large volumes of structured data from multiple source may not sound sexy. But if done well, it’s groundbreaking.

Augmented Reality 2009 buzzword alert! I’m not sure why everyone is tossing this old concept around so much lately, but Microsoft has at least two projects here that blend reality with computer interfaces. One is centered on 3D portable and virtual sticky notes.

Do these projects represent true innovation, or just more me-too computing? I aim to find out. Drop a note into the comments here if you’d like me to focus on anything in particular from the list above, or that you’ve heard about elsewhere.

Please click for PowerPoint Presentation on Leveraging Social Networking (Focus – LinkedIn)

Listen Learn Adapt

BY Beth Kanter @ Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media

Listening

Listening is knowing what is being said online about your organization and your field.  Listening is the first step, but you do it before, during, and after the project.  In other words, you never take your listening ears off.  It becomes part of your organization’s culture.

It can be hard to retool an organization’s culture to do listening as a daily part of the work flow, particularly if it isn’t valued or there are concerns about negatives.

The Red Cross has overcome these hurdles.   They use social media to achieve goals of increased transparency and increased donations of blood, time, and money.  In that order.   Listening is an important piece of the strategy.  This was over two years ago.

As Wendy Harman, Red Cross Social Media Manager, observes, “When Katrina hit, we knew people are talking but we’re not listening to conversation. First, it felt like we were going to do battle.  But now, the process of listening has changed concerns into strong interest about what people have to say.”

The first project was to listen to what was being said on blogs about the Red Cross.  As the chief listener for the organization, Wendy honed her listening literacy skills using free tools like google alerts, technorati, RSS reader, and delicious.  She would listen, aggregate, analyze, and distribute to key subject matter experts within the organization on a consistent basis.

Listening leads to engagement.  Wendy documented many different stories and shared these internally. The examples would show how engaging with people changed them from complainers to fans.  Here’s but one example from a blogger:

“I took an American Red Cross class I thought was less than satisfactory. […] Someone found my blog post and told the local chapter director. He called me to talk about it honestly. […] They care about me and they’re willing to go the extra mile. […] This gives the American Red Cross HUGE points. I am now significantly more likely to take another class than I was before.”

They’ve had months and months to hone their work flow and the Red Cross Social Media Team has it down to a science.  They determine what comments need action, whether to say thank you and build a relationship, repair a customer service issue, or ignore.   They spend time reading other posts by the blogger to help make this decision.  They now use this approach with other channels, like Twitter, for example.

Because of the volume and using free tools, Wendy had to do a lot of heavy cut and paste to analyze, summarize, and distribute the information. With a better understanding on the value that continuous listening provides the organization, they are now investing in professional tools, like Radian 6.

Key points:

  • Relationship building lays groundwork for future campaigns to raise time, money, and blood
  • Identifies influencers
  • Documentation creates internal value
  • Listening skills and tools upgraded
  • What works used for future campaigns

Learning

“If you don’t launch, you don’t learn.”   David Armano

Learning is using experiments with metrics and the right questions at the right point to understand what works, what doesn’t.  This is where the pavement hits the road.  You won’t be able to reap the full potential of social media unless you begin and get past any social media stalemate.

What does learning actually mean?  You have to think like a scientist, documenting your experiments at the beginning, middle, and end.  You also need to observe like a primatologist, like Jane Goodall. Perhaps that a bad analogy – certainly your donors aren’t primates.  Armano describes this as digital anthropologists sifting through qualitative data and metrics to reap insights.

I’ll share my process and I understand that I’m probably a crazy person.  I also know there is some resistance to document while you’re doing, but I think it is essential to learning – especially at the practitioner level.    Here’s what I do:

1.  Document on the fly

I don’t wait until the end of the project.  I grab a little something everyday.   It could be as simple as opening up a google document and dropping in a few bullet points or cutting and pasting a comment.  The point is – you need to steal five or ten minutes from the doing to reflect in action.  Since I’m a visual person, I also use flickr as a documentation tool – I do a lot of screen shots with snagit and annotate. I also bookmark posts that reference the project using a unique project tag.  If I’m working with a team versus solo, I’ll also share some summaries of the most important learnings.  I also tweaking as I go – mostly messaging and mostly clarifying.

2. Pick the right hard data points

I know from experience what the most important metrics are to track for different types of projects.  They are different depending on the audience and goals.   Here is where more is less is really important.

3.  Harvest your insights

At the end of the project, I do a wrap up with all the bites and pieces I’ve collected.  I do a “by the numbers” summary,  I look patterns and trends in the comments or visuals, and look at what other nonprofits are doing in the space.  The important piece is to ask questions, not just look at numbers.

4.  Hit the Pause Button

I usually write something up that anwers the question – “If I were to do this again next step, what would I do differently?”   I don’t wait until the day before I’m going to do something similar again.   You best insights come right after you’ve completed the project and had a day or two of distance.   Then you have captured those thoughts and when you begin planning for the next iteration – you have not lost those valuable insights.


A few points about social media metrics. While some of the measurement concepts for social media remain the same as traditional Web analytics, there are some new ideas to embrace.  Steve Rubel wrote about this in a post called “Page Views Are Officially Dead” two years ago.  Page views may not be dead, but you need to use engagement metrics. I’ve written about this as it relates to blogging quite a bit.  Again, it isn’t the numbers in isolation.  It is the time that you spend looking at metrics in the context of your strategy and asking questions.

Yesterday, I interviewed Jake Brewer who is the Internet Manager at the Energy Action Coalition about how they use metrics to generate insights about their YouTube Channel.

“We don’t really care about views as much as we care about comments.  If we get 1,000 video views that is good.   The comments are a focus group with our influencers.  If they like it, they’ll spread it and that helps get to our objectives.”


Rachel Happe has a great list of social media metrics and it is a good starting point.   If you’re a metrics geek and want to go deeper, visit my personal learning space for Social Media Metrics.  But do me a favor, please.  Please don’t get so obsessed with metrics that you loose site of how you’re going to use them!  And remember,

  • Objective, audience, strategy and link to your metric
  • Pick the right ones!
  • Numbers alone are meaningless
  • Combine with other measures and qualitative data
  • Harvest insights


Adapt

The definition of adapt is using insights to make corrections to improve results the next time around.  You have to be nimble and that can be hard.

I’ve watched the Carrie Lewis at the Humane Society do a fantastic job of adapting the organization’s social media projects.   In 2007, the Human Society implemented its first photo petition campaign to protest Wendy’s treatment of animals . They tracked the number of photo submissions they got, but they also listened carefully to the responses they got from participants.

As Carrie Lewis mentions in the comments in the blog post , “Since this was our first run at a photo petition, it was difficult to get across exactly what we wanted people to do without writing a book. So every person that wrote in and needed help was answered personally. This gave us a good idea of how to more clearly explain ourselves next time.” This particular photo campaign had many technical glitches and ultimately the number of submissions was less than impressive. Did HSUS proclaim that photo competitions were a waste of time?

No.

The next iteration of a photo contest, LOL Seals , made it as easy as possible for people to participate. That’s what they had learned from the first campaign. The first contest, they asked people to upload their photos and tag it themselves, which meant they had to create a Flickr account and know what “tagging” was. The second contest, they used the Flickr API which made everything automatic — from tagging and uploading without the user having to even touch Flickr. They had about 3,000 submissions and captured about 2,000 new email addresses.

They’ve recently implemented an online photo contest that combines wisdom of the crowds with person to person fundraising.  There is a web and Facebook version.   It looks, from the outside, like a great success so far and this would not have happened with out these earlier versions.

It’s much easier to adapt your social media project than to change other things in your organization that social media might shine a light on – customer service, programs, and services.   And to make changes on those areas, it may require thinking staffing, work flow, and of course, involving leadership and others in your organization.

Armano has a some excellent organizational culture questions:

  • Are you launching initiatives that can be easily updated? Are you enabling a “culture of rapid response?”
  • Are you building a culture in which “failure” is acceptable?
  • Are you allowing your teams to create “pilots” prior to scrutinizing them through traditional ROI exercises?
  • Are you planning initiatives that will help your organization learn prior to backing major marketing campaigns?

Conclusion

  • Don’t take off your listening ears
  • Think like a scientist, observe like primatologist
  • Evolution is a good thing

Listening Literacy Skills by Beth Kanter
How Listening Returns Value for Nonprofits by Beth Kanter
Nonprofits Need Different I and R Words by Beth Kanter
How o harvest insights by Beth Kanter

Now, it’s your turn.  What are some of your organization’s social media adaption stories?


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Enclosures:

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