July 27, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
A few times a year I feel the need to rant. This blog entry is one of those times, and the topic is dealing with the annoying emails, phone calls, and other contacts that regularly cross the paths of government technology professionals in 2009. Yes, we all know about bank phishing scams or Viagra spam, but these are from (supposedly) reputable technology companies that are trying to grow their business or from other professional organizations who are trying to impress us. They often come across like desperate rookies screaming for attention.
Allow me to start with a few actual email marketing examples. I'm just copying the subject lines here, but each of these emails contain attention-grabbing intro paragraphs, flashing media or impressive charts that are sure to entertain and prompt action - NOT. Note that these examples were able to make it through our excellent spam filter (which block more than 90% of incoming government email).
$5 Billion in Data Center Savings: Stake Your Claim Now
Following Up on Our Conversation at RSA Last Week -- (Note: I wasn't at RSA last week)
RE: Our phone call -- (Note: There was no original email or call)
Where were you yesterday? I can fix that problem -- (Note: what problem?)
How to Save 90% on IT Operations! -- (Note: I guess you want me to lay everyone off?)
Free IPOD: One out of Three Callers Win -- (Note: The giveaways seem endless)
One more Virtual Chance: Don't Miss the Technology Boat Again! -- (Note: Using shame - WOW)
ACTION: We need Your Unique Perspective -- (Note: the opposite, using ego)
Hi Old Friend -- (Note: I have no idea who this person is)
Why You Need to Talk To "My-Company" Now! -- (Note: I changed the name to protect the guilty)
Here's one of my favorites (with an excerpt from the full email). Note that "fun" destinations for conferences/seminars are out right now. In fact, many of us can't even travel to Orlando or in some cases leave our state, but along comes an opportunity to travel to an island that makes Hawaii seem close.
Subject: Free Luxury Seminar: Outsource Your Data Center to Mauritus
to CIOs, IT Directors and Data Centre Senior Management
Presenting new Opportunities for Hosting, Data Storage,
Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity in Mauritius
On behalf of the Board of Investment, Mauritius, we would like to invite you
to join a 2-day seminar designed to inform and advise IT enterprise decision
makers about the business benefits and opportunities the island presents.
Although renowned as a luxury destination, the island is also an outstanding
location for housing IT and offshoring data centre services. With connectivity
to 4 subsea pipes, an increasingly developed infrastructure, skilled work
force and many incentives for businesses to establish data centres on the
island, Mauritius is significantly well placed to cater for regional and
The phone calls we receive can be just as interesting. My executive assistant sometimes filters a dozen cold calls a week. People claim just about everything from being a friend or former colleague to even being a relative (sure way to not impress.) Some demand to speak with the CTO immediately, and others hang up when they hear an assistant's voice. It is especially hard when I return from a conference if I have handed out business cards. Lots of companies tell my assistant that they need a follow-up meeting, but far fewer promises were actually made. Others use deceptive but intriguing offers like, "We'd like Mr. Lohrmann to come to present at our company event/seminar." Later, we discover that this is just another sales technique.
So what's my point for technology companies or their marketing colleagues? These tricks and sneaky techniques usually backfire. I generally ignore or delete these types of emails or phone messages. Occasionally I get a good laugh as I think about the time and energy that was expended to develop these tempting offers. Rarely do I establish an ongoing partnership with related companies.
I can only remember two exceptions over the past decade. Once I developed an overly negative view of a company that was advertising with outlandish gimmicks. My perception changed after meeting several smart people who had real answers to hard questions and good product offerings. But in that case my negative perception only changed by old-fashioned expertise and quality relationship-building. The initial marketing was a barrier that needed to be overcome.
So here comes my traditional advice for young technology companies and marketing professionals:
1) Be honest with initial (and all) contacts. Misrepresenting your way into a VIP's office may lead to a new conversation with the right person, but what happens after that? Usually, not much, and you probably won't get a second chance.
2) Don't over-hype your product/solution to get attention by promising unachievable metrics or making incredible claims. It may work online to attract viral YouTube video traffic, but this type of marketing turns off most of the technology executives that I know.
3) Build relationships the old fashioned way - earn trust and a positive reputation. Yes, you can use LinkedIn, website contacts or the numerous other new media avenues to help get in the door. However, don't pretend to offer something you can't. Do your homework before blasting the Internet with "personalized spam." (I've even received emails that start by spelling my name wrong or calling me Ms. Lohrmann. Delete.)
Some readers are probably thinking: "Come on Dan, just deal with it. Read, delete, or get a better spam filter and move on."
Nevertheless, I want to point out that exaggerated claims by so many make it harder for everyone to discern the bad from the good and the good from the great. Where should we spend our time? No doubt, we are overlooking a few diamonds. Getting to the real answers takes time and energy, and most of us don't have a ton of extra hours in a day. True, we can rely on third party commentary from companies like Gartner and Forrester, but I often want to come to my own conclusion.
OK, enough ranting for a few months.
Got any good war stories about funny cold calls or entertaining emails? Please share them with us in the comments section (even if you need to be anonymous).
Or, what's your opinion? Am I overreacting?
July 20, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
After a revolt over cost, timelines and a host of other difficult issues, the original "Real ID" appears dead. Secretary Napolitano testified this past week on why changes were needed to create a new "PASS ID" which will be partially funded by the federal government. PASS ID stands for "Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act." Washingtontechnology.com described the differences in this plan.
Calling it " Real ID Version 2 ," new legislation was introduced into Congress which would modify the Real ID Act of 2005. Implementation details from the original Real ID were opposed by many Governors, the National Governor's Association and numerous privacy activists.
Here's an excerpt from a Govtech.com article describing the National Governor's Association (NGA) position on this topic:
The NGA said in a release that PASS ID Act recommendations supported by the NGA included:
But critics of PASS ID claim that this new "scaled back Real ID" won't solve many of our driver license fraud problems. The Washington Post reported:
"The new plan keeps elements of Real ID, such as requiring a digital photograph, signature and machine-readable features such as a bar code. States also will still need to verify applicants' identities and legal status by checking federal immigration, Social Security and State Department databases.
But it eliminates demands for new databases -- linked through a national data hub -- that would allow all states to store and cross-check such information, and a requirement that motor vehicle departments verify birth certificates with originating agencies, a bid to fight identity theft.
...'The new plan would still let people get licenses with fake documents,' said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who authored the 2005 legislation."
It remains to be seen if these modifications to Real ID become law. However, with state governments in difficult budget situations, there is no doubt that PASS ID, with federal funding, is a welcome sight for most cash-strapped states. The chances are very good that a similar new approach (with some modifications) will become the driver's license standard that is implemented across America.
What are your thoughts on PASS ID?
July 11, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
As our national and local economies continue to struggle, managing a technology budget is getting increasingly difficult. There are many unknowns as we head into fiscal year 2010, and state government budget problems are widespread.
For example, Governor Schwarzenegger recently said, "I'm proud of California, even though we have our crisis. No one can point fingers, because as you can see, there are 30 states right now that have their fiscal year starting today that also don't have a budget, so I mean let's not get carried away and just look at California as we are the only state that cannot manage the budget." The Associated Press story went on to name other states who are struggling.
Regardless of where your state or local government is at regarding an overall budget, technology leaders are being pressed to find hard savings now. In one sense, this may seem obvious. Isn't this just a central part of our job? Aren't we always on the lookout for ways to save money while being more innovative and tech savvy at the same time?
Yes and no. Hopefully, we can show a return on investment (ROI) on all of our technology projects. We consolidate datacenters and build partnerships and shared services to cut costs and become more efficient and effective. Nevertheless, our current economic situation is different in my opinion. This is not your traditional IT-budgeting 101. We need to go further.
Along with the fact that we have been consolidating technology and cutting costs in Michigan over the past five years, here are some of actions we are taking this summer to gain hard savings now within infrastructure - while still striving to improve customer service. Note that these activities are on top of other actions taken over the past twenty-four months such as a letter to vendors asking for a 10% reduction in costs. (Most vendors participated by the way.)
What are we doing?
1) Meeting with strategic vendors to examine every contract, maintenance agreement and platform. Asking questions like: how can we save hard dollars over the next fiscal year? Asking for options and a cost/benefit analysis for various options. Beware of short term increases in cost that will supposedly save money in the "out years." Everything should be on the table.
We've been pleasantly surprised by the creative alternatives that our partners have brought to the table. For example, we are working with EMC Corp to reduce the number of storage boxes, and thus maintenance costs, while still providing the same (or better) level of service.
2) Prioritizing existing projects to see what we must stop doing given existing resources. Many states are facing furlough days, cuts in overtime or even layoffs, so we need to be frugal.
This project prioritization process is hard, but it is worth the effort. Despite value that we anticipated achieving over 3-5 years for several process improvement initiatives, we stopped or modified three large projects that would have cost the state almost $10 million over the next three years.
I will discuss how we went through this prioritization process in a future blog, but needless to say, you need a good methodology to ensure that the most essential IT projects continue. None of us wants to mortgage our government's IT future. But just as we make tough decisions in our family budget when overall income drops, these same decisions need to be made by many government technology teams now.
3) Replaced overtime with flex schedules for many. We cut overtime by over 80%. Tougher standards were put in place to approve overtime for high-profile projects with tight schedules. Generally speaking, break/fix overtime continues for critical systems, but some non-critical systems must now wait longer to be fixed on off-hours, especially on furlough days.
No, this is not popular with staff. However, we emphasize the fact that we are saving precious dollars so that we can minimize any potential layoffs.
4) Continuing to examine options for contractor conversions. I discussed this topic in detail in a previous piece, so I'll just point you to that blog entry entitled: How Insourcing Jobs Can Save Dollars.
A few quick tips: some vendors will describe cost savings as "hard" when they really are "soft." For example, efficiencies that let you do more with less are nice, but you may need to layoff staff to actually save any money. Unless you actually plan to eliminate staff or contractors, the "productivity savings" are actually soft savings. (Note: it is also true that these staff can be moved to do other required functions, fill vacancies or start a new project. But again, watch the bottom line and make sure you've thought through the real savings.)
Vendors often encourage us to spend $1 million to (hopefully) save $2 or $3 million over three or four years. The problem is that we don't have the current dollars. Make sure you can pay for any short term costs, if you agree to taking on new cost-saving projects. Finally, take this opportunity to ensure that previous cost-saving initiatives are panning out as expected.
Bottom line, we expect to save millions of dollars in the next fiscal year that we will pass along to our agency customers in the form of lower rates. In addition to hard savings, we are also capturing millions in cost avoidance (soft dollars). I highly encourage an aggressive look at previous assumptions for usage levels across the board. Believe it or not, we may actually provide a better service when these efficiencies are put it place. I'm also learning a ton about our operational costs along the way.
What are your thoughts on saving IT dollars in tough times?
July 3, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
The race has begun. Across America, state and local governments, private sector infrastructure providers, libraries, universities, non-profit groups, school districts and more are all scrambling to forge new coalitions, attend broadband summits, arrange meetings, dial into web conference calls and basically do whatever it takes to gain an edge in the broadband stimulus scramble for dollars. We are all sweating now that the submission countdown has begun.
There are no shortage of articles on this subject. Starting with yesterday's Washington Post, we read Government Makes $4 Billion 'Down Payment' on Project to Expand Broadband. "Vice President Biden yesterday announced guidelines for $4 billion in stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet access across the nation, jump-starting a program that has been criticized for taking too long to get off the ground.... The Commerce and Agriculture departments said yesterday that they will accept applications from private firms, nonprofit groups, and state and local governments for the first allotment of $4 billion from July 14 through Aug. 14."
Government Technology ran this article earlier this week: Broadband Stimulus Fund Requirements Released by Feds. Indeed, the pages of just about every government magazine describe some different aspect of the stimulus dollars that are coming to a town near you.
Just google "broadband stimulus," and you'll get almost seven million page views.
What I find fascinating, as we watch this new frenzy unfold, are the new coalitions, partnerships and cross-boundary deals being formed, and not being formed, before our eyes. A fundamental question that will soon be answered is this: what new, lasting governance structures will emerge to enable more effective use of these broadband dollars? I suspect the answers will be different in every state. Many states may have multiple answers. This is an exciting time that I am confident will be written about for many years to come.
Take good notes. There is no doubt that there will be winners and losers and whiners. The lack of government dollars due to the economic recession has caused some very unique situations to unfold, and everyone is hungry for local winners. Like the beginning of the season for your favorite sports team, everyone is getting in shape and anxiously hoping for success.
The decisions made now are not only vital, they are the seeds of the future for governments working with together other governments and with the private sector on infrastructure. Beyond broadband networks, similar governance issues will also surface regarding health IT and other stimulus programs.
We are all being tested. We've know this was coming for a while. Some of us will do well, and some not so well. The stakes are huge. One thing is for sure, a large part of our success will depend upon the best cross-boundary teams coming together with the best plans that have maximum benefit and deliver real results. Governance, before and after grant awards, will be key. Let the grant writing begin.
What's your view on governance for stimulus and this entire grant and loan process?
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.