And There Came A New King Who Knew Not Joseph

Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “And There Came A New King Who Knew Not Joseph.”

As we commemorate Passover, we remember that:

In Egypt, the Jews rose to the highest ranks, with Joseph being second only to the Pharaoh, and “Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; they acquired property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Genesis 47:27) But then: “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) Similarly, in Europe, the Jews had risen to the highest ranks of society, they were free and prospered. They prospered and thrived religiously, and built synagogues and yeshivas to worship and learn in. Moreover, the Jews thought they were Germans (and other European nationalities), like everyone else, and that they were fundamentally safe. That is, until there arose a “new king,” Adolf Hitler (may his name be cursed forever), “who knew not Joseph.”

What will happen in America that we all love–will the pendulum swing once again to hate and anti-Semitism, where there comes a new king that does not know Joseph? 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Manage The Crisis and Don’t Exploit It

Crisis.jpeg

So I heard an interesting thought on crisis management:

“Never let a good crisis go to waste!”


Isn’t that frequently how politicians and lobbyists use the crisis, rather than deal with it. 


In certain cases, some have even been known to actually create the crisis for their ends!


Whether it’s some politicians calling for strict gun control when there is a mass shooting (perhaps infringing on other reasonable 2nd amendment rights) or it’s right to life advocates demanding an end to funding for planned parenthood when some bad people are caught selling fetal body parts and so on and so on.


Maybe these things are the right thing to do–in which case, a very bad event can end up being an impetus for much needed change and thus, can facilitate in transforming society and from that perspective, be a good thing!


But is the change really and necessarily the right thing to do…or is the crisis de jure just an excuse to get what some people wanted all  along.


– Use (exploit) the crisis.


– Maximize the momentum from the crisis.


– Leverage the emotions from the crisis.


– Promptly turn the tables on the issue.


– Leave all compromise and negotiation aside, and seize the moment.


The lesson here is not to just react, because a sudden and impulsive decision may end up being an overreaction and cause negative unintended consequences down the road.


The pendulum tends to shift and swing widely in both directions–neither extreme is good.


Instead well thought policy, use of common sense, maintaining reasonableness, looking at all sides, and a general middle of the road approach usually yields the best results for the most people.


Crisis management should be just that–managing the crisis; the policy should be fully reasoned both before and after. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Weakness Begets Terror

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A terror truck plows into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France killing at least 84–many of which are children!


How many terror attacks do we have to undergo before someone wakes up and does something?


I watched Judge Jeanine express outrage on Fox News video about what is going on with radical Islamist terrorism across the globe.


Moreover, there is spiraling inner-city violence here at home with presumed racial killings of black people and the murder of 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas and more warnings about a Day of Rage in 36 cities today. 


Things are out of control!


OMG, the list of terrorist attacks just this year alone in 2016 is so long that wikipedia had to break them up into separate lists by month.


Some still can’t get up the courage or leadership skills to identify the enemy.


Moreover, they vow not to put boots on the ground


Instead, they prefer platitudes and implications that Western civilization is at fault rather than the murdering terrorists. 


Choosing disengagement, withdrawal, and appeasement over defending our national security. 


Just this week again, Iranian attack boats swarmed a U.S. battleship in International Waters that had our 4 star general in charge of U.S. Central Command, and we do nothing but lift sanctions on them, release $100+ billion, and encourage the opening of finance and trade with them as they continue to chant “Death to America.”


Russia and China continue to buzz our planes and ships and extend their boundaries into Crimea and the South China Sea, respectively, while North Korea tests ballistic nuke missiles that may soon be able to reach our shores. 


Moreover, instead of making things better, we are continuing to make them worse, with our own military warning against the change in policy to a stated “no-first-use” weapons policy in an age of dangerous nuclear proliferation and resurgent and modernized adversaries. 


After 9/11, we overreacted with almost 10-years of war, lashing out at enemies real and imagined, and now for the last years, we have become disengaged and withdrawn–either too afraid, unwilling, or ridiculously “political correct” to defend our own national security. 


The pendulum has swung wild and reckless for too many years…it is time for a normal and balanced course of action to protect our people and country–can anyone say radical Islamists? 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

From Stability Comes Instability

Buddha 3

I remember hearing the phrase (not sure from where), “everything and the opposite.”


I think it refers to how within each thing in life are elements of the exact contrary and opposing force. 


Similar to the interactions of ying and yang, the world is an interplay of opposites–males and females, black and white, fire and water, ebb and flow, good and bad, optimism and pessimism, and so on. 


Everything has a point and it’s counterpoint.


It was interesting to me to see this concept expressed in terms of the financial markets (Wall Street Journal), where bull and bear contend in terms of our finances.


But what was even more fascinating was the notion from the economist, Hyman Minsky, who noted that the very dynamic between stability and instability was inherent within itself.


So for example, Minsky posits that a stable economic market leads to it’s very opposite, instability.


This happens because stability “leads to optimism, optimism leads to excessive risk-taking, and excessive risk-taking leads to instability” (and I imagine this works in reverse as well with instability-pessimism, retrenchment and limiting risk to stability once again).


Thus, success and hubris breeds failure, and similarly failure and repetitive trial and error/hard work results in success.


It is the interflow between ying and yang, the cycle of life, life and death (and rebirth), the seasons come and go, boom and bust, and ever other swinging of the pendulum being polar opposites that we experience. 


The article in the Journal is called “Don’t Fear The Bear Market,” I suppose because we can take comfort that what follows the bear is another bull. 


But the title sort of minimizes the corollary–Don’t (overly) rejoice in the bull–because you know what comes next.


Go cautiously and humbly through life’s swings.  😉


(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)

Economics, Pendulum Style

Economics, Pendulum Style

To combat the recession of 2007, the Federal Reserve initiated an aggressive policy of Quantitative Easing–purchasing federal debt en masse to flood demand for Treasuries and lower interest rates to near zero to stimulate the economy.

As of June 2013 the Feds balance sheet has swelled to over $3.4 trillion in assets of treasury debt. What happens when the Treasury has to repay those trillions?

Who is the Treasury going to borrow that money from and at what interest rate?

Just like raising demand for Treasuries lowered interest rates, increasing the supply of Treasury debt to pay back the Federal Reserve will make interest rates go way up the other way.

Rising interest rates makes borrowing more expensive–e.g. buying a car with an auto loan is more expensive, buying a home with a mortgage is more expensive–and inflation can skyrocket.

But what is worse is that despite the recent slowing of the growth of the national debt, many economists calculate the total US debt at a whopping $70 trillion when you include the host of unfunded liabilities including social entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as government loan guarantees (mortgage, student loan, etc,), deposit insurance (i.e. FDIC(, and the money owed to the Federal Reserve.

What is really sad about this is that the entire wealth of American families in this country is guess what–also $70 trillion–which means that we are essentially a bankrupt nation:

Family assets of $70 trillion – Family liabilities of $70 trillion = a big fat 0 in the kitty!

To pay back the $70 trillion, it is not realistic that we will simply “grow our way out” of this fiscal mess with a GDP growth rate over the last 20 years of a mere 2.6%. Also, we will likely not confiscate people’s assets to pay off the debt, rather we will print money–lots of it–so that we end up paying back the trillions of past debt in much devalued future money.

Heads we win, tails you lose!

The problem is that devaluing the dollar will mean that American family savings will become worth less as well–with the risk, at the extreme, of wiping out mass amounts of savings altogether.

Despite sequestration reducing the rate of our debt growth, the aging baby boomers with the resulting liabilities for their care will soon escalate the debt problem once again.

David Walker, a former U.S. Comptroller has warned about our national debt problem as well as many prominent economists.

Like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, the spendthrift ways of the past will by necessity lead to penny-pinching in the future, and inflation rates of near zero since 2007 will lead to hyperinflation after 2014.

It reminds me of the story of Joseph in the Bible, with the 7 lean years follow the 7 fat years (in Egypt that time)–this is not just providence, but common sense economics.

Good times will come again when there is a return to the mean and the pendulum hovers near center, but the swings until then can be wide and scary.

Of course, like taking your medicine, the earlier we start to course-correct our nation’s finances, the sooner we get healthy again. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to zzz zzz)

The Information Is On You

Green_wig

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times (17 June 2012) called: “A data giant is Mapping and Sharing the Consumer Genome.”

It is about a company called Acxion–with revenues of $1.13 billion–that develops marketing solutions for other companies based on their enormous data collection of everything about you!

Acxion has more than 23,000 servers “collecting, collating, and analyzing consumer data…[and] they have amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers.”

Their “surveillance engine” and database on you is so large that they:

– “Process more than 50 trillion data ‘transactions’ a year.”
– “Database contains information about 500 million active consumers.”
– “About 1,500 data points per person.”
– Have been collecting data for 40 years!

Acxion is the slayer of the consumer big data dragon–doing large-scale data mining and analytics using publicly available information and consumer surveys.

They collect data on demographics, socio-economics, lifestyle, and buying habits and they integrate all this data.

Acxion generates direct marketing solutions and predictive consumer behavior information.

They work with 47 of the Fortune 100 as well as the government after 9/11.

There are many concerns raised by both the size and scope of this activity.

Firstly, as to the information itself relative to its:

– Privacy
– Security

Secondly, regarding the consumer in terms of potential:

– Profiling
– Espionage
– Stalking
– Manipulation

Therefore, the challenge of big data is a double-edged sword:

– On one hand we have the desire for data intelligence to make sense of all the data out there and use it to maximum affect.
– On the other hand, we have serious concerns about privacy, security, and the potential abuse of power that the information enables.

How we harness the power of information to help society, but not hurt people is one of the biggest challenges of our time.

This will be an ongoing tug of war between the opposing camps until hopefully, the pendulum settles in the healthy middle, that is our collective information sweet spot.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Let’s Come Clean About The Cloud

Cost-savings

An article in Federal Times (16 April 2011) states that “Experts See Little Return For Agencies’ Cloud Investments.”

The question is were the savings really achievable to begin and how do you know whether we are getting to the target if we don’t have an accurate baseline to being with.

From an enterprise architecture perspective, we need to have a common criteria for where we are and where we are going.

The notion that cloud was going to save $5 billion a year as the former federal CIO stated seems to now be in doubt as the article states that “last year agencies reported their projected saving would be far less…”

Again in yet another article in the same issue of Federal Times, it states that the Army’s “original estimate of $100 million per year [savings in moving email to the DISA private cloud] was [also] ‘overstated.'”

If we don’t know where we are really trying to go, then as they say any road will get us there.

So are we moving to cloud computing today only to be moving back tomorrow because of potentially soft assumptions and the desire to believe so badly.

For example, what are our assumptions in determining our current in-house costs for email–are these costs distinctly broken out from other enterprise IT costs to begin? Is it too easy to claim savings when we are coming up with your own cost figures for the as-is?

If we do not mandate that proclaimed cost-savings are to be returned to the Treasury, how can we  ensure that we are not just caught up in the prevailing groupthink and rush to action.

This situation is reminiscent of the pendulum swinging between outsourcing and in-sourcing and the savings that each is claimed to yield depending on the policy at the time.

I think it is great that there is momentum for improved technology and cost-savings. However, if we don’t match that enthusiasm with the transparency and accuracy in reporting numbers, then we have exactly what happens with what the papers are reporting now and we undermine our own credibility.

While cloud computing or other such initiatives may indeed be the way go, we’ve got to keep sight of the process by which we make decisions and not get caught up in hype or speculation.

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Opensourceway)

>IT as a Surrogate Weapon

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There is a fascinating controversy going on now over the CIA plans to kill known al Qaeda terrorists. Should we “stoop to their level” and take them out or is this “assassination” style technique out of bounds for a free and democratic society?

Wow. I don’t think too many Americans the day after 9/11 would be asking that question.

We are quickly swayed by the events of the times and our emotions at play.

When 3,000 people—mostly civilians—were killed in a vicious surprise attack on our financial and military hubs in this country; when the Twin Towers were still burning and crashing down; when smoke was rising out of the Pentagon; and when a plane crashed in Pennsylvania—I think most of us would say, these terrorists need to be dealt a severe and deadly blow.

Who would’ve though that just a mere 8 years later, questions would abound on the righteousness of killing the terrorists who planned, executed, and supported these murderous attacks and still seek every day to do us incredible harm—quite likely with chemical, nuclear, biological, or radiological (CNBR) weapons—it they could pull it off in the future.

We are a society with a short-term memory. We are a reactive society. As some have rightly said, we plan to fight the wars of the past, rather than the wars of the future.

We are also a doubting society. We question ourselves, our beliefs, and our actions. And to some extent this is a good thing. It elevates our humanity, our desire to do what is right, and to improve ourselves. But it can also be destructive, because we lose heart, we lose commitment, we change our minds, we are swayed by political currents, and to some extent we swing back and forth like a pendulum—not knowing where the equilibrium really is.

What makes the current argument really fascinating to me from an IT perspective is that we are okay with drones targeting missiles at terrorist targets (and even with a certain degree of civilian “collateral damage”) from these attacks from miles in the sky, but we are critical and repugnant to the idea the CIA wanted to hunt down and put bullets in the heads of the terrorists who committed the atrocities and are unwavering in their desire to attack again and again.

Is there an overreliance on technology to do our dirty work and an abrogation of hands-on business process to do it with our own “boots on the ground” hands?

Why is it okay to pull the trigger on a missile coming from a drone, but it is immoral to do it with a gun?

Why is it unethical to fight a war that we did not choose and do not want, but are victims of?

Why are we afraid to carry out the mission to its rightful conclusion?

The CIA, interrogators, military personnel and so forth are demonized for fighting our fight. When they fight too cautiously—they have lost their will and edge in the fight, we suffer consequences to our nation’s safety, and we call them incompetent. When they fight too vigorously, they are immoral, legal violators, and should be prosecuted. We are putting “war” under a huge microscope—can anyone come out looking sharp?

The CIA is now warning that if these reputational attacks continue, morale will suffer, employees will become risk-averse, people will quit, and the nation will be at risk.

Do we want our last lines of defense to be gun-shy when the terrorists come hunting?

According to the Wall Street Journal, “one former CIA director, once told me that the ‘CIA should do intelligence collection and analysis, not covert actions. Covert actions almost never work and usually get the Agency in trouble.’”

The Journal asks “perhaps covert action should be done by someone else.” Who is this someone else?

Perhaps we need more technology, more drones to carry out the actions that we cannot bear to face?

I believe that we should not distinguish between pulling the trigger on a drone missile and doing the same on a sniper rifle. Moreover, a few hundred years ago the rifle was the new technology of the time, which made killing less brutal and dehumanized. Now we have substituted sophisticated drones with the latest communication, navigation and weapons technologies. Let’s be honest about what we are doing – and what we believe needs to be done.

(As always, my views are my own and do not represent those of any other entity.)

>A Call to IT Arms

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Recently, I heard a colleague say that we should view IT not as a cost center, but as a resource center—and I really liked that.

In fact, IT is a cost center and a resource center, but these days there is an overemphasis on it being a cost center.

On the negative side, people seem to like to criticize IT and point out the spectacular failures there have been, and in fact, according to Public CIO “a recent study by the Standish Group showed that 82% of all IT project were either failures or were considered challenged.”

This is the dark side of IT that many would like to dwell on.

However, I would argue that while we must constantly improve on IT project delivery, IT failures can be just a point in time on the way to tremendous success and there are many of these IT successes that we benefit from in big and small ways every day.

Moreover, it may take 1000 failures to achieve that one great breakthrough success. That is the nature of innovation and experimentation.

Of course, that does not mean we should do stupid or negligent things that results in failed IT projects—we must do our best to be responsible and professional stewards. But, we should not be afraid to experiment and fail as a healthy part of the creative process.

Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So why are we obsessed with IT failures these days?

Before the dot com bust, when technology was all the rave, and we enjoyed the bounty of new technologies like the computer, cell phones, handhelds, electronics galore, the Internet and all the email, productivity software and e-commerce and business applications you could ask for, the mindset was “technology is the engine that drives business.” And in fact, many companies were even changing their names to have “.com” in them to reflect this. The thinking was that if you didn’t realize the power and game-changing nature of technology, you could just as well plan to be out of business in the near future. The technologies that came out of those years were amazing and you and I rely on these every day.

Then after the dot-com burst, the pendulum swung the other way—big time! IT became an over zealous function, that was viewed as unstructured and rampant, with runaway costs that had to be contained. People were disappointed with the perceived broken promises and failed projects that IT caused, and IT people were pejoratively labeled geeks or techies and viewed as being outside the norm—sort of the societal flunkies who started businesses out of home garages. People found IT projects failures were everywhere. The corporate mindset changed to “business drives technology.”

Now, I agree that business drives technology in terms of requirements coming from the business and technology providing solutions to it and enabling it. But technology is also an engine for growth, a value creator, and a competitive advantage!

Further, while some would argue these days that IT is “just a tool”, I would counter that IT is a true strategic asset to those who understand its role in the enterprise. I love IT and I believe we all do and this is supported by the fact that we have become basically insatiable for IT. Forrester predicts U.S. IT budgets in 2009 will be in the vicinity of $750 billion. (http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/59200-it-market-us-decline-51-percent-2009-researchers.htm) Think about what you want for the holidays—does it have IT in it?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was about how the homeless are so tied to technology that many have a computer with Internet access, even when they don’t have three square meals a day or a proper home to live in.

Another sign of how critical IT has become is that we recently stood up a new Cyber Command to protect our defense IT establishment. We are reliant indeed on our information technology and we had better be prepared to protect and defend it.

The recent White House 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review states: “The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as “cyberspace” underpins almost every facet of modern society and provides critical support for the U.S. economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security.”

It’s time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction and to view IT as the true strategic asset that it is.