Oh To Be Young Again

Oh To Be Young Again

Me as a young adult.

My kids came across this photo in some of the old albums.

Yeah, we still have the paper kind with real pictures behind the clear plastic.

Anyway, I think they couldn’t believe firstly that pictures don’t (or didn’t) all get stored on the hard drive or in the cloud, and second that this was their dad many moons ago. 😉

(Source Photo: Who the hell remembers!)

Looking Forward, Backwards

Looking Forward, Backwards

Farhad Manjoo argues in today’s Wall Street Journal that “there’s plenty” of innovation going on, despite the grumblings that their isn’t.

His main argument is that “the smartphone and the tablet ‘are’ the next big things.”

Manjoo tells us to “grow up” and calls us “spoiled children,” because we are not satisfied with these and simple future enhancements of this.

He would have us accept that there won’t be “anything as groundbreaking in a generation.”

Well, looking back at past innovation and calling that as our current and future innovation is like looking back at our past successes and simply resting on our laurels as good enough.

Unfortunately, no business can rest on their past successes–they must constantly innovate to stay relevant in the marketplace and meet their growth targets for revenue, profit, market share, and customer satisfaction.

As they say in financial prospectuses, “past success is no guarantee of future success.”

Similarly, as individuals we do not just settle for past success, but we strive everyday to make a contribution, to learn, and to grow as long as we have the strength to try.

When we stop striving, we may as well be heading downhill in the cycle of life, because as we all know, “if you are not moving forward, then you are moving backwards.”

Life is not stagnant, and yesterdays innovations are not todays creative breakthroughs or tomorrows leaps forward.

The rate of innovation is no longer measured in generations in the 21st century–and for those who think it is, they would have us accept defeat in this highly global, competitive marketplace.

While we should not be greedy, why are we so ready to say good enough, instead of really critiquing ourselves (e.g. calling a dry spell, a dry spell) and continuing the tough journey into the future.

At least Manjoo cites incremental work in privacy, enterprise technologies such as cloud computing, and robotics as tech trends – so maybe there is still hope. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Don’t Send Parenting To The Cloud

Don't Send Parenting To The Cloud

So my youngest daughter is taking her SAT’s.

Where did the years go?

As a parent, what’s my role in helping her prepare?

With all the new technology out there, you’d think I was just a parental annoyance…yeah, in some ways I am.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “parents are too tired, too busy–or too mystified to help” with homework.

And now “digital tutors” are taking their place for about $24 to $45 per hour (and even prorated per minute).

For example, on Tutor.com you can get on-demand tutoring to text chat and do calculations on a shared screen with your kid.

Tutor.com has about 1,200 tutors, 95% from Bangalore, India staffed by “moonlighting or retired teachers, college professors, or [other] professionals.”

Other online resources include Khan Academy with educational videos, Chegg.com with answers to homework problems from 2,500+ textbooks, and StudyBlue.com for sharing “study guides, notes, and flashcards.”

While these online tutoring resources can be a huge help for students, I think that parents can still play an important role.

Recently, my daughter and I have carved out some time every night to sit down at the dining room table with books, scrap papers, and our own flash cards to study, together.

What I am finding is that this is a really special time for us to bond and sort of be in this SAT rite of passage together, where I can provide emotional support and some structure for the studying.

We also have signed her up for a more formal review class as well as some online resources, but I am glad to be a parent to my children and not rely only on canned cloud solutions.

While I don’t know most of the answers and she does–I take that as a good thing. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Cloud Kool-Aid

Cloud Cool Aid

We’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid and believe in using the cloud.

And with almost 1 million active apps alone in the Apple Store it is no wonder why.

The cloud can create amazing opportunities for shared services and cost efficiencies.

The problem is that many are using the cloud at the edge.

They are taking the cloud to mean that they in government are simply service brokers, rather than accountable service providers.

In the service broker model, CIOs and leaders look for the best, cost effective service to use.

However, in NOT recognizing that they are the ultimate service providers for their customers, they are trying to outsource accountability and effectiveness.

Take for example, the recent failures of Healthcare.gov, there were at least 55 major contractors involved, but no major end-to-end testing done by HHS.

We can’t outsource accountability–even though the cloud and outsourcing is tempting many to do just that.

Secretary Sebelius has said that the buck stops with her, but in the 3 1/2 years leading up to the rollout relied on the big technology cloud in the sky to provide the solution.

Moreover, while Sebelius as the business owner is talking responsibility for the mission failures of the site, isn’t it the CIO who should be addressing the technology issues as well?

IT contractors and cloud providers play a vital role in helping the government develop and maintain our technology, but at the end of the day, we in the government are responsible to our mission users.

The relationship is one of partners in problem solving and IT product and service provision, rather than service brokers moving data from one cloud provider to the next, where a buck can simply be saved regardless of whether mission results, stability and security are at risk.

In fact, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, outlines the 3 successful principles used in the creation of consumerfinance.gov by the new CFPB, and it includes: “Have in-house strategy, design, and tech”!

Some in government say we cannot attract good IT people.

Maybe true, if we continue to freeze salaries, cut benefits, furlough employees, and take away the zest and responsibility for technology solutions from our own very talented technologists.

Government must be a place where we can attract technology talent, so we can identify requirements with our customers, work with partners on solutions, and tailors COTS, GOTS, open source solutions and cloud services to our mission needs.

When Sebelius was asked on The Hill about whether Healthcare.gov crashed, she said it never crashed, which was technically incorrect as the site was down.

The cloud is great source for IT provision, but the pendulum is swinging too far and fast, and it will by necessity come back towards the center, where it belongs as an opportunity, not a compliance mandate.

Hopefully, this will happen before too many CIOs gut the technology know-how they do have and the accountability they should provide.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Healthcare.gov – Yes, Yes, and Yes

Yes, Yes, and Yes

Healthcare.gov was rolled out on October 1.

Since then there has been lots of bashing of the site and fingerpointing betweeen government overseers and contractors executing it.

Some have called for improvements down the line through further reform of government IT.

Others have called for retribution by asking for the resignation of the HHS Secretary Sebelius.

Publication after publication has pointed blame at everything from/to:

– A labyrinth government procurement process

– Not regularly using IT best practices like shared services, open source, cloud computing, and more

– An extremely large and complex system rollout with changing requirements

And the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

Government procurement is complex and a highly legislated functional area where government program managers are guided to hiring small, disadvantaged, or “best value” contract support through an often drawn-out process meant to invoke fairness and opportunity, while the private sector can hire the gold standard of who and what they want, when they want, period.

Government IT is really a partnership of public and private sector folks that I would image numbers well in the hundreds of thousands and includes brand name companies from the esteemed defense and aerospace industries to small innovators and entrepreneurs as well as a significant number of savvy government IT personnel. Having worked in both public and private sector, I can tell you this is true–and that the notion of the government worker with the feet up and snoozing is far from the masses of truth of hardworking people, who care about their important mission serving the public. That being said, best practices in IT and elsewhere are evolving and government is not always the quickest to adopt these. Typically, it is not bleeding edge when it comes to safety and security of the public, but more like followers–sometimes fast, but more often with some kicking and screaming as there is seemingly near-constant change, particularly with swirling political winds and shifting landscapes, agendas, lobbyists, and stakeholders wanting everything and the opposite.

Government rollout for Healthcare.gov was obviously large and complex–it “involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination,” and impacted systems from numerous federal agencies as well as 36 state governments using the services. While rollouts from private sector companies can also be significant and even global, there is often a surgical focus that goes on to get the job done. In other words, companies choose to be in one or another business (or multiple businesses) as they want or to spin off or otherwise dislodge from businesses they no longer deem profitable or strategic. In the government, we frequently add new mission requirements (such as the provision of universal healthcare in this case), but hardly ever take away or scale back on services. People want more from the government (entitlements, R&D, secure borders, national security, safe food and water, emergency response, and more), even if they may not want to pay for it and seek the proverbial “smaller government” through less interference and regulation.

Is government IT a walk in the park, believe me after having been in both the public and private sectors that it is not–and the bashing of “cushy,” federal jobs is a misnomer in so many ways. Are there people that take advantage of a “good, secure, government job” with benefits–of course there are some, but I think those in the private sector can look in the offices and cubes next to them and find quite a number of their colleagues that would fit that type of stereotype as well.

We can learn a lot from the private sector in terms of best practices, and it is great when people rotate from the private sector to government and vice versa to cross-pollinate ideas, processes, and practices, but the two sectors are quite different in mission, (often size and complexity), constituents, politics, and law–and not everything is a slam dunk from one to the other. However, there are very smart and competent people as well as those who can do better in both–and you fool yourself perhaps in your elitism if you think this is not the case.

Are mistakes made in government IT–definitely yes. Should there be accountability to go with the responsibility–absolutely yes. Will we learn from our mistakes and do better in the future–the answer must be yes. 😉

Flowchart Your Programming

Flowcharts have been used for quite some time for visualizing and organizing business processes and making them more efficient (e.g. business process reengineering).

Now flowcharts are being used to build and link reusable programming code.

NoFlo or Flow-Based Programming (FBP) simplifies application development by using libraries of pre-written code and then dragging and dropping them into your process flows.

This leverages objected-oriented programming (OOP) and uses modules of open-source code, which are linked together to create a full program that solves a business problem.

The flowchart helps to avoid spaghetti code by providing for a more organized, modular, object-based development environment.

These flowcharts can not only be a collaborative tool where developers can build or map code, but can also be part of the systems documentation that ensures a higher-level of understanding of the total programming solution.

NoFlo raised over $100K on Kickstarter in 45 days in order to advance this project from Javascript to iOS, Android, and Python platforms as well.

To me, this programming paradigm seems to have real legs:
– A process-based model for decomposing solutions
– Simple information visualization through a common flowcharting toolset, and
– Reusable object code from programming libraries in the cloud.

I’d say YesFLo–this makes a lot of programming sense. 😉

Remembering Every Moment

I saw a frightening movie a while back about a girl that had been drugged and brutally raped. 

In the movie, the girl is eerily warned, “You won’t remember, but you will never forget!”

That line leaves an indelible mark–that something can be so horrific, so scaring that you can’t recall it, and can’t forget it. 

Now there is a new device coming to market that helps you recall everything.

Memoto is a 5 megapixel tiny camera (36 x 36 millimeters) with an embedded GPS that is worn around the neck, like a necklace. 

When clipped on, it starts taking the phones and when put down or in a pocket it shuts off. 

The Memoto takes 2 photos a minutes (1 every 30 seconds or nearly 3,000 a day if worn all the time).

The photos are stored in an accessible cloud app that uses GPS to sort the photos on a timeline with a date and location stamp.

Photos are private by default, but can be shared using traditional social media, such as to Facebook or Twitter. 

The battery lasts about 2 days and is rechargeable by connecting to your computer at which time the photos are uploaded to Memoto’s servers. 

Wear, photograph, recharge/upload and repeat. 

Privacy issues abound with a device like this–imagine wearing this into the bathroom, locker room, bedroom, or even a private corporate meeting–lots of embarrassing and compromising no-no’s here!

At the same time, imagine all the precious or memorable moments in life that you can capture and enjoy–it’s the realization of the photographic memory you’ve never had, but always wanted. 

Also think of that rapist or other criminal approaching you–getting photographed, caught, and punished–so that the victim really does remember, and can forget with a new peace of mind. 😉

Innovation Infertility

The 7 Skinny Cows

Many of you may have probably the seen the movie, “Children of Men,”–it is themed around a time in the future when women are infertile (because of pathology, pollution, drugs, or whatever) and the world is in chaos–for what is life without children to carry on?

Fortunately, in the movie, after 18 years, one woman does get pregnant and bears a child and there is hope in the scientific community for a resurgence of humankind.

Unfortunately, we are now in a similar period of technology, where big innovation of yesterday has come grinding to a miserable saunter.

When the biggest news leaking out of superstar innovator, Apple is the potential for an iWatch–uh, not exactly earth shattering, we know we are in innovator’s hell!

And vendors from Apple to Samsung and Sony trying to come out with some sort of voice activated television–again, who doesn’t hate the TV clicker, but really this is not going to revolutionize our entertainment center days.

With hundreds of thousands of apps available for everything from social networking, eCommerce, gaming, and more, it seems like there are more copycat apps then anything else coming out these days–where’s the real wow factor?

Microsoft can’t find it’s way in a mobile world, the mighty Intel has been supplanted by ARM with mobile chips, Marissa Mayer is trying to figure out how to remake the jump for joy, Yahoo, relevant again, as are the Vanderhook brothers and Justin Timberlake trying to do for MySpace.

With the overemphasis on the form factor making bigger and smaller sizes and shapes for computing devices, we seesaw between iPod Classics and Nanos and between iPads and Minis. But where are the great functional enhancements? Yeah, ask Siri.

Similarly in computing architecture, we have latched unto cloud computing as the next great savior of IT-mankind, ignoring the repackaging again of the mainframe into a cool new computing model again, and relegating the prior go-to architecture of distributed computing as the evil twin. Sure, we can save some bucks until the pendulum swings back toward more decentralization and agility again.

In social computing, with Facebook what can you say–it’s got a billion users, but virtually not a single one would pay a dime to use it. If not for marketers scooping up our personal information online and advertisers annoying us with their flashing and protruding pop-ups, we continue to trade privacy for connectedness, until we lose too much of ourselves to identity thieves and snooping sources, and we fall back clamoring for more protection.

In security, we are getting clobbered by cyber intrusions, cyber espionage, and cyber attacks–everyday! We can’t seem to figure out the rules of cyberspace or how to protect ourselves in it. We can’t even find enough qualified people to fight the cyber fight.

I was surprised that even magazine, Fast Company, which prides itself on finding the next great innovation out there, states this month (April 2013), “Growing uncertainty in tech is creating chaos for startups, consumers, and investors…nobody has a non-obvious new social business model that can scale.”

As in the movie, Children of Men, we are suffering from an infertility of innovation–whether from burnout, a focus on short-term profit instead of long-term R&D investments, declining scores in STEM, or a lack of leadership–we are waiting for the next pregnancy so we can have hope again, but are disappointed that so many are false positives or overhyped prophets.

One of the things, I am most excited about is Google Glass and their concept of augmented reality, but the glasses are geeky and will need to be package in a lot more eloquent solution to really be practical in our futures.

The next great thing will come–life is a great cycle–but as in the Bible with 7 fat cows and 7 skinny cows, leading to the great famine in Egypt, we are now seeing lots of skinny cows walking around and it is darn scary. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Amazon Will Bury Walmart

Walmart_mess

I’ve never seen the great allure of Walmart. Actually before I moved from NYC to the DC area more than a decade ago, I had never even seen a Walmart–and that was just fine. 

But I had heard these amazing tales of how they were superstores with everything you could ever want and at low prices and the shopping experience was supposed to be, oh what a delight!

So I cannot tell you my utter disappointment the first time I went to Walmart–shabby storefronts, elderly door greeters handing out store circulars and stickers, messy aisles and shelves, with low price tags on a swirling everything, and sort of the image of crummy leftover merchanidse throughout, and top that off with pushing crowds trying to save a couple of bucks on the junk. 

Let’s just say, I’m not running back to Walmart, especially when we have online shopping experiences like Amazon–now that is much closer to nirvana. 

No drive, no crowds, no wait, no up and down the aisles looking for what you want, no shlepping, and no in your face “everyday low prices” image and we won’t let you forget it–instead easy to find, interesting, varied, and quality merchandise of all types, at reasonable prices, with an easy checkout process, home delivery, free shipping, and easy returns. 

And as opposed to Walmart which is stuck in costly and inconvenient large brick and mortar stores, Amazon is investing in infrastructure of the future with convenient warehouse and delivery centers throughout the country, and more recently with their purchase of Kiva Systems in March 2012 for implementing robotics in their fulfillment centers. 

On top of it, Walmart (with nearly 2.2 million employees worldwide) in its endeavor to keep prices low, have spun up their workforce with jobs–that are often part time and unpredictable, low wage, lacking proper benefits, unsafe working conditions, and with questionable advancement opportunties (especially for women). Throw on top of that bribery allegations for which they’ve hired a new complaince officer. Yet, Walmart has also somehow managed to keep their workforce from unionizing to improve things. 

So how should we say this: how about straight out–Amazon gets it and Walmart does not!

And while Walmart has their own .com site–which coincidentally looks very much like Amazon’s–Amazon is eating Walmart’s lunch online, with according to NBC News a 41% revenue increase for Amazon’s online sales versus just 3.4% for Walmart’s. Moreover, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (29 March 2012) reports that Walmart’s 2011 online sales amounted to less than 2% of their U.S. sales–they just can’t seem to make the digital transformation!

So While overall Amazon sales at $48 billion are still only about 1/9 of Walmart colossal $419 billion, Amazon with it’s high-tech approach (including their successful Kindle eReaders, cloud computing, and more) is anticipated to reach $100 billion in online sales by 2015

Like the other big box retailers of yore, Kmart, Sears, JC Penny, Circuit City, Best Buy, and more, Walmart will decline–it will just take a little longer and with a little more thrashing, because of the size of their checkbooks.  

Perhaps, as the New York Times implied years ago (17 July 2005) only stores like Costco (and throw in Nordstroms as well) with their tall aisles stocked neatly with quality goods, at low prices, and with better human capital ethos, will survive the big box retailer Armageddon.

My prediction is that within a generation Amazon will bury Walmart, if not literally so they are out of business, then figuratively with the best and most lucrative online shopping experience around–and as for the matchup betweent them, it won’t even be close.  😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Fuschia Foot)

Cloud $ Confusion

Grab_a_cookie

It seems like never before has a technology platform brought so much confusion as the Cloud.No, I am not talking about the definition of cloud (which dogged many for quite some time), but the cost-savings or the elusiveness of them related to cloud computing.

On one hand, we have the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, which estimated that 25% of the Federal IT Budget of $80 billion could move to the cloud and NextGov (Sept 2012) reported that the Federal CIO told a senate panel in May 2011 that with Cloud, the government would save a minimum of $5 billion annually.

Next we have bombastic estimates of cost savings from the likes of the MeriTalk Cloud Computing Exchange that estimates about $5.5 billion in savings so far annually (7% of the Federal IT budget) and that this could grow to $12 billion (or 15% of the IT budget) within 3 years, as quoted in an article in Forbes (April 2012) or as much as $16.6 billion annually as quoted in the NextGov article–more than triple the estimated savings that even OMB put out.

On the other hand, we have a raft of recent articles questioning the ability to get to these savings, federal managers and the private sector’s belief in them, and even the ability to accurately calculate and report on them.

Federal Computer Week (1 Feb 2012)–“Federal managers doubt cloud computing’s cost-savings claims” and that “most respondents were also not sold on the promises of cloud computing as a long-term money saver.”

Federal Times (8 October 2012)–“Is the cloud overhyped? predicted savings hard to verify” and a table included show projected cloud-saving goals of only about $16 million per year across 9 Federal agencies.

CIO Magazine (15 March 2012)–“Despite Predictions to the Contrary, Exchange Holds Off Gmail in D.C.” cites how with a pilot of 300 users, they found Gmail didn’t even pass the “as good or better” test.

ComputerWorld (7 September 2012)–“GM to hire 10,000 IT pros as it ‘insources’ work” so majority of work is done by GM employees and enables the business.

Aside from the cost-savings and mission satisfaction with cloud services, there is still the issue of security, where according to the article in Forbes from this year, still “A majority of IT managers, 85%, say they are worried about the security implications of moving to their operations to the cloud,” with most applications being moved being things like collaboration and conferencing tools, email, and administrative applications–this is not primarily the high value mission-driven systems of the organization.

Evidently, there continues to be a huge disconnect being the hype and the reality of cloud computing.

One thing is for sure–it’s time to stop making up cost-saving numbers to score points inside one’s agency or outside.

One way to promote more accurate reporting is to require documentation substantiating the cost-savings by showing the before and after costs, and oh yeah including the migration costs too and all the planning that goes into it.

Another more drastic way is to take the claimed savings back to the Treasury and the taxpayer.Only with accurate reporting and transparency can we make good business decisions about what the real cost-benefits are of moving to the cloud and therefore, what actually should be moved there.While there is an intuitiveness that we will reduce costs and achieve efficiencies by using shared services, leveraging service providers with core IT expertise, and by paying for only what we use, we still need to know the accurate numbers and risks to gauge the true net benefits of cloud.It’s either know what you are actually getting or just go with what sounds good and try to pull out a cookie–how would you proceed?(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)