August 30, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
In a recent interview with Government Computer News (GCN), Federal CIO Vivek Kundra revealed some very interesting perspectives regarding the need to upgrade technology infrastructure, enterprise IT architectures, better procurement, and keys to building partnerships between governments and contractors. The GCN interview offers a mixture of policy directions as well as pragmatic advice for technology leaders. I urge readers to pay attention.
Here are some highlights:
1) On infrastructure - "...Why not look at some of these game-changing technologies, like cloud computing? ... What about a migration into a shared-services model? ... Do we really need to spend billions of dollars in data centers across the federal government? Do we really need to use up all this energy when we can do it in a lighter-weight way?..."
2) On government / contractor relationships - "I believe that the partnerships will actually move to higher-value work. What I mean by that is that if you look at a lot of spending right now, we're not addressing some of the tough issues -- issues around re-engineering how these agencies work, rather than just going out and spending money on servers, routers and switches, and configuring them and upgrading them two years later...."
3) On enterprise architectures - "It's meaningless to have architecture filed away in cabinets. You could have the best document that is just sitting somewhere, yet everyone else is moving forward and implementing a completely different model."
4) On better procurement - "...I think we need to simplify. The [GSA] storefront is one model. I don't necessarily think that we need wholesale transformation right away, though we should evolve toward that...."
Other interesting points included an emphasis on reengineering business processes. He rightly described true business transformation as requiring a new way of thinking and not the approaches followed 30-50 years ago.
I think the interview provides an excellent set of objectives and goals for the next few years within governments nationwide. His comment regarding enterprise architectures that are shelf-ware and not really followed shows some pragmatic insight into how things are sometimes done within government. That is, the implementers and the planners are working off of two different game plans and/or are not working together well.
Overall, I believe that this was a very good interview. What are your thoughts?
August 24, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
The State Alliance for e-Health, which is sponsored by the National Governor's Association (NGA), has released new guidance which urges states to start planning now to foster health information exchanges and adoption of electronic health records. The guidance is entitled: Preparing to Implement HITECH: A State Guide for Health Information Exchange.
The report stated that this effort is a national priority, and the outline contains eight recommended actions:
"Action 1: Prepare or Update the State Plan for HIE Adoption
Action 2: Engage Stakeholders
Action 3: Establish a State Leadership Office
Action 4: Prepare State Agencies to Participate
Action 5: Implement Privacy and Security Strategies and Reforms
Action 6: Determine the HIE Operational and Business Model
Action 7: Create a Communications Strategy
Action 8: Establish Opportunities for Health IT Training and Education"
Several online publications, such as Federal Computer Week (FCW), highlighted the importance of the document. "The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act contained in the economic stimulus law provides at least $2 billion for health information exchanges and up to $45 billion in incentive payments to doctors and hospitals for digitizing their patient records. The law sets a goal of 2014 to dramatically increase the number of providers who are using electronic patient records and participating in health exchanges."
The State Alliance for e-Health document is an easy read, and I urge government technology leaders to take the time and work through it. The document also encourages states to consider broadband availability in HIEs.
August 17, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Do you ever struggle with balancing work and family time? I certainly do. Turning off a Blackberry can be hard - even on vacation. No doubt, there's plenty of advice available that tends to go to one of the two extremes - totally unplug or stay connected 24 x 7 .
So what's possibly wrong with unplugging for a week or two? The benefits seem obvious, and experts encourage leaders to unplug so that others can to . A vacation should be a time to recharge and get away to de-stress, and many bloggers ( such as this one ) chastise people for reading emails on vacation. One argument goes further and says that your team needs to feel empowered and know that you trust them. Reading emails on vacation can even send the wrong message to your team.
However, not reading emails at all for 7-10 days can also cause issues. For one, you return to well over a thousand emails (at least in my case), and getting through them can require substantial time and energy once you return. In addition, what about hot questions or emergency issues sent requiring a quick reply? Yes, you can use "out of office" replies directing senders to others, but I have avoided dozens of major problems and challenges by providing a quick reply to customers or external partners on important projects.
On the other extreme, there is little doubt that you can ruin the vacation for your entire family if you trot around Disney World looking at you Blackberry all day. You are probably sending unwanted messages to your loved ones, and your mind may be focused elsewhere. That is not a vacation. I have seen Blackberry addicts at little league baseball games, in lines at amusement parks, and even in the lobby of a church right before a wedding. In each case, the user looked as if the "other activity" was secondary to sending their "essential" message.
So what do I do? Over the years, I've developed some guidelines that seem to work well for my entire family. I certainly "over-text or email" sometimes, and I make mistakes. But allow me to illustrate a middle-of-the road approach.
This past week my family of six enjoyed a wonderful week next to a beautiful lake in Northern Michigan. I knew that our rented house had no Internet access, and I was told that cell coverage was spotty at best. Yes, there was a landline phone in the house, but at ten cents a minute, I wasn't biting on that hook. My initial plan was to check into the office and catch-up on (only the most important) email two or three times during the week as part of planned visits to Mackinaw City and Mackinaw Island.
After we arrived, unpacked the car, divided out the bedrooms and ran out onto the dock with the kids to explore, my Blackberry started to vibrate. "I guess it does work up here. This will require discipline. Back to the guidelines," I thought to myself. I stuck to the guidelines, and in this case they worked well and provided plenty of needed rest.
So what are the guidelines? Every person and situation is different, but I try and follow a "one-hour rule." Here's what that includes:
I know. I'm supposed to have this perfected by now, since I wrote a book called Virtual Integrity and a PCIO article on the Seven Habits of Online Integrity . (Habit #5 is balancing online and offline life.) But this is still a constant battle requiring regular adjustments. The key is aligning your real priorities with your actual activities. I also recommend getting input from your family and friends as to how you are actually doing.
I doubt if my one hour rule will work when I travel with my daughter to South Africa in September (on vacation) to speak at GovTech 2009 in Durban . I doubt if my Blackberry will even connect, but I'll update you on how that turns out in a later blog.
Meanwhile, what's your approach to disconnecting? How do you deal with "family time?" Does your Blackberry, iPhone or web-enabled phone travel with you on vacation? Any tips to share?
I'd love to hear what works for you and what doesn't.
August 3, 2009 By Dan Lohrmann
Every few weeks I visit a few of the federal government technology websites like Government Computer News or Federal Computer Week to see what's hot in the federal government. Occasionally, the trends seem to be contradictory - like this past week.
Take the popular topic of using social networks (like Facebook and Twitter) in government. One recent article was entitled: Security Issues May Lead DoD to ban use of social media.
The next article seemed to offer another view: (Department of) State puts social networking to diplomatic use. Here's a quote from that one:
"Want to know where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is right now? A section of the State Department's Web site has details about where she is in the world (not surprisingly, she's often out of the country), where she has been recently and where she's off to next -- all highlighted on a Google map for easy viewing. At the time of this writing, she was traveling in India and Thailand, having just gotten back from Canada, Egypt and Iraq."
Here we go again. Is this a movie rerun? This seems like a repeat of the debate from two years ago. Remember this article: DOD asked to reevaluate social networking sites ban.
So why do I highlight this debate now? I certainly won't end the opposing views - and both sides have excellent arguments for and against the use of social networking in government. (I wrote a piece on this topic eighteen months ago at CSO Magazine - if you'd like to read more.)
No, I see another trend developing with social media. I started thinking about this much more after a lunch discussion session at SecureWorld Houston in February. I am seeing companies and governments doing large (120 or even 180-degree) swings on this topic. I can't name names, but many of the execs I have been talking with used to be wide open to social networking and now ban the use. Others banned Facebook and other social media sites or even engaging "non-work-related friends," but they are now wide open and encourage this use. Each side has war stories as to why they changed. The good, bad and ugly justifications are actually pretty simplistic. Over time, I expect to see this situation level off, but it hasn't happened yet.
So what am I predicting? We will continue to be deluged by positive and negative stories regarding social networking at work. There will be some very embarrassing situations revealed, as well as some excellent case studies showing why we need to expand the use of Facebook and Twitter at work.
Who is right? You tell me.
What are your thoughts?
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?
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.