November 30, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Technology directors around the nation were watching the weekend news very closely for events regarding online sales on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). No, I'm not referring to economic activity or potential impact on our nation's economy. After the troubles experienced by Walmart and others in 2008, many stores offered more doorbuster deals online.
The initial news was mixed, but bad for some portals. Here are a few related stories:
Yes, it's been a rough weekend for some of the leading retail web portals, and public sector infrastructure professionals, as well as other technology staff, should pay close attention. This issue absolutely impacts everyone who uses the Internet, whether in the public or private sector.
Beyond up or down status and overall slowness for major websites, more serious issues surfaced for some. Here's a comment regarding Staples online portal (from the article above).
"AJ says:November 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm
I ordered one of the BF $399 HP laptop from their website this morning. I got through checkout, completed the transaction (the credit card was processed), got an order # showing the HP laptop, and 3.5 hours later I got an Email saying that my order was canceled because they were out of stock.
Thank you for choosing Staples. We apologize for the inconvenience but the following product you were trying to order is sold out.
832349 HP DV6-1334US LAPTOP
This was part of our Thanksgiving Holiday 2009 Early Bird Specials and is subject to the following conditions:
* While Supplies Last.
* Unable to Back Order, as this product will not be re-stocked.
* Unable to provide comparable product at special pricing."
This same exact problem happened to me at the Staples website on Friday morning when I was ordering a product.
Why is this so significant? Because they actually took orders during the "doorbuster" hours, and they were unable to fulfill those orders - despite taking credit cards and sending confirmation emails. Customers who called with questions faced a long wait at call center help lines.
In "geek speak," they were taking order via batch processing without the real-time processing of those orders based upon inventory. Customers assumed that the laptop deals were being processed and shipped, only to receive disappointing emails later in the afternoon. Clearly, their infrastructure or end-to-end process couldn't handle the load.
The lessons here are numerous. I am sure that web "experts" tested these portal sites and associated software many times prior to Black Friday, and yet they failed. These errors will cost retailers significant dollars as well as hurt customer trust.
The closest thing to Black Friday in the public sector may be tax day on April 15. When I was the senior technology executive for the initial www.Michigan.gov launch back in 2001, we faced huge surges in web usuage on tax day.
And now, retailors (and government networks) face Cyber Monday. I expect that "door buster" deals will continue to create problems for web portals, as long as deals are limited by time or number of available items. Public sector technology officials need to take note as they offer online services.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Any Black Friday stories to share?
November 25, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
How do you give thanks at work?
One USA Today headline this morning read, "The spirit of the season: Be thankful, spend less."
I like these opening paragraphs:
"Sometime in the 1980s, when he was living on the street, the kid who later became the seminal rapper KRS-One stopped at the Bowery Mission for a sandwich. He doesn't recall what kind, only that it was served with respect.
On Thanksgiving Day, Lawrence Parker, now 44, plans to return to the mission, children and friends in tow, to cook, serve and rap for some of its guests. His message: 'This is where I started.'"
The article goes on to describe various themes surrounding the US recession at home and our country's wars abroad. Despite these trials, we head into the holiday season with hope. "Many Americans are refocusing by giving thanks for what they have, and by giving some of what they have to those with less."
As a technology executive, I can struggle to give thanks at work. Yes, I am grateful to God and my family for many things, including my career. I realize that I am truly blessed to be in a government job that I enjoy, but what are the best and most appropriate ways to express that to others? How can I genuinely impart my gratitude for all they do?
I sometimes fear that I am misunderstood when saying thank you. Are my actions seen as too public or too private, too personal or too impersonal? What if my comments seem self-serving? If I thank one person or group, might I neglect some other person or group that is more deserving? If I am too nice, will I be respected later?
I worry that my staff might think, "He's just saying that because he's the boss." Or, "He's just going through the motions because it's the holiday season." Hopefully, I am expressing thanks in sincere ways all year - but I'm sure I've neglected to appreciate how much others do to enable our organization's success.
Once I decide to "just say thank you," the method can even get in the way. Should I send an email? Communicate in private? Announce my thanks in public at a staff meeting? Send a card? Give a certificate? (Bonuses are out). Take someone to lunch?
Too often I get busy, and I end up doing nothing. Later, I regret my lack of thankfulness as I look back at projects and more.
So on this Thanksgiving Eve, what are technology professionals to do? Well, here's some relevant advice from President Theodore Roosevelt:
"Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds."
What am I thankful for at work right now?
I am very thankful for our technology infrastructure staff that do such a great job day in and day out. I know I'm a phone call away from real help 7x24x365. In fact, I usually don't even need to call and problems get resolved by themselves.
I am thankful for no major incidents on the day start call this morning. And...
Last week, when we had six major incidents on a Monday, our staff fixed all of the problems very quickly.
I am thankful for my colleagues who do such professional work with a customer-focused attitude. We have a great group of hard-working pros in Michigan government.
I am also thankful for my customers, without whom I would not have a job. They always teach me something, if I'm prepared to pay enough attention and listen.
I am thankful for Government Technology Magazine and Public CIO Magazine who allow me to share this blog and my articles with you.
And last, but certainly not least, I want thank each of you for reading my blogs.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends - wherever you go this Thanksgiving weekend.
November 20, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
The National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) has again polled state CIOs to determine what's hot and what's not as we head into 2010. Here's my take on their survey results.
Government Technology Magazine summarized the results into two categories. The top three in each category are:
A. Priority Strategies, Management Processes and Solutions
1. Budget and cost control: managing budget reduction , strategies for savings, reducing or avoiding costs, activity-based costing
2. Consolidation: centralizing, consolidating services, operations, resources, infrastructure, data centers
3. Shared services: business models, sharing resources, services, infrastructure, independent of organizational structure
B. Priority Technologies, Applications and Tools
1. Virtualization (storage, computing, data center, servers, applications)
2. Networking, voice and data communications, unified communications
3. Document/content/records/e-mail management (repository, archiving, digital preservation)
I am not surprised by budget issues leading the list. That almost goes without saying during these difficult economic times. Consolidation and shared services are also pretty obvious choices, with the cost control and efficiency being the major themes for CIOs right now. We need to work together to do more more with less, and partnering with others can certainly help.
What surprises me most from the "A" list is that security dropped to #6. Expect that to change next year. I fully expect security to rise back to the top three as Web 2.0 and cloud computing strategies try to battle with the inevitable threats that will surface from cost cutting.
The other surprise from list A is that infrastructure was #8. If you look at the top items on list B, they are infrastructure items like virtualization and networking. I can't quite figure that one out. List B also shows a drop for identity management from 2009, which will eventually need to be addressed in building more end-to-end trust and for moving forward with ambitious cloud computing plans.
The overall trend is "follow the money." Federal stimulus dollars are raising items like broadband to a new level of importance. Governments across the nation are looking at grant opportunities as well as making the most out of investments that they have already made.
In summary, I have a hard time arguing with any of the items on either list, based upon our economic realities. Michigan's list is similar, with a few exceptions like consolidation - which we've already tackled.
What are your thoughts? Do these priorities match your plans for 2010?
November 13, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Lockheed Martin and thirteen other leading technology providers announced the formation of a new cyber security technology alliance yesterday. The announcement took place in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The event coincided with the opening of the new Lockheed Martin NexGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Center.
According to Government Computer News, "the new NexGen facility will be able to tap into the defense center's data feeds, or simulate government agency computing environments, and test various approaches to mitigate cyberattacks.... The new center also features dedicated distributed cloud computing and virtualization capabilities. Those capabilities would permit an agency to simulate a network under attack and test various responses. For instance, analysts could replicate an operating network and freeze it on a second virtual location, in order to study the nature of the attack, while still supporting the primary network."
The companies participating in the Cyber Security Alliance include APC by Schneider Electric, CA, Cisco, Dell, EMC Corp. and its RSA security division, HP, Intel, Juniper Networks, McAfee, Microsoft, NetApp, Symantec and VMware.
According to the Lockheed Martin press release, this new center will help our nation deal with 21st century technology infrastructure challenges. "We face significant known and unknown threats to our critical infrastructure," said Charles Croom, Vice President, Cyber Security Solutions, Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services. "We not only need solid defenses but also the right technologies to predict and prevent future threats. Innovation and collaboration are key to ensuring mission resilience and securing cyberspace."
Why do I highlight this announcement? I believe that these types of technology alliances are essential to address our growing threats in cyberspace. The "bad guys" continue to get better, and state and local governments have few if any dollars to invest in testing and research to properly secure new virtualization and cloud computing security challenges. Governments need the private sector to step up and offer these types of testbeds.
As we move forward, issues around identity management, end-to-end trust and cloud security will need to be tested in complex scenarios that state and local government networks will simply not be able to simulate properly. This alliance is a great step towards offering integrated solutions that governments can buy off the shelf.
What are your thoughts?
November 1, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) released their list of best practices at their annual conference in Austin, Texas last week. I think the entire list of submissions deserves more attention by federal, state and local technology pros. The list of best practice recipients, as well as the other finalists in each category, can be found at the NASCIO award web site.
In my opinion, the list of thirty top submissions (three in each of the ten categories) should become required reading for government technology professionals nationwide. No, I'm not talking about the summaries, but the full (six page) write-ups. These projects offer the right mix of people, process and technology innovation which is essential to program success.
From enhanced drivers licenses to electronic disease surveillance systems to state portal widgets, the business return on investments are impressive. As I read these documents, I can't help being impressed by both the creativity and effectiveness of these IT teams. I urge you to take the time and at least look at the list and pass the write-ups along to the right staff within your organization.
What are your thoughts on these state best practices?
Building effective virtual government requires new ideas, innovative thinking and hard work. From federal stimulus projects to enterprise architectures to cloud computing, Dan Lohrmann will discuss what's hot and what's not in the world of technology infrastructure.