GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT Horizon

by / September 3, 2003 0
Taking Bull by the Horns

NEW YORK -- "We've had it with repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leverageable mindshare," said Brian Fugere, a partner at Deloitte Consulting. "Enough, already. If corporate America wants to restore public trust, we need to start speaking and writing more clearly. Less empty rhetoric about openness, honesty and accountability, and more straight talk."

Enter Bullfighter, a new program developed by Deloitte Consulting that searches documents for jargon and unnecessarily complex language. Once installed, the Bullfighter toolbar appears in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, and works much like the spell-check feature. The software scans documents for egregious bull, flogs the author for trying to use the words, suggests replacements and assigns a Bull Composite score.

Bullfighter can be downloaded for free at Web site.

Deloitte used the tool to examine a wide range of communications from companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), and found straight-talking companies outperform companies that use vague, unclear communications. Some other Bull findings:

-- Among the 30 DJIA companies analyzed, Home Depot earned the top spot for clarity in communications.

-- Computer hardware and software segments suffered the lowest readability scores and used the most jargon overall. Apple Computer is a notable exception, proving that even technical companies can speak clearly.

-- Consulting firms were slightly ahead of technology segments -- but earned no bragging rights when it came to clear communication.

-- Consumer goods companies, even those selling complex products, were very clear communicators.

The emergence of "bull" in corporate documents may provide an early warning sign of troubles. A review of Enron's communications during the last three years indicates that, when performance began to sink, its communications became increasingly laden with ambiguous words and sentences.

Deloitte's conclusion -- that straightforward communications can be linked to financial performance -- mirrors the findings of two accounting and finance professors, Malcolm Smith of the University of South Australia and Richard Taffler of England's Cranfield University. Their independent study concluded that clarity of communications can be an indicator of corporate performance.

"We're hoping Bullfighter will shatter the credibility of business jargon and make business communications safer for all of us," said Fugere. "We're just as guilty as the next consultant when it comes to using words like paradigm, bandwidth and leverage, but we're committed to straight talk as a way of doing business -- and Bullfighter is helping us get there." -- Deloitte Consulting


SAN FRANCISCO --San Francisco's effort to connect municipal buildings to E-Net -- a city-owned public-safety fiber-optic network -- is sinking to new depths: the sewer.

The city used conventional methods and conduit in public rights of way to deploy the first phase of E-Net, but encountered difficulties with some hard-to-connect city facilities. The project's second phase includes a pilot project that will run as much as two miles of fiber-optic cable through city sewer pipes to reach government facilities.

San Francisco's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) is working with CableRunner North America, a public-private business venture partly owned and operated by the Vienna, Austria, Water and Sewer Department on a pilot that started in June.

Half of the work will be performed in regular, man-accessible sewer pipes using a two-person mounting vehicle. The rest of the fiber will be strung in sewer pipes ranging from 12 to 24 inches in diameter by the company's "FiberCop" robots, which navigate pipes and perform "all-at-once" infrastructure installation.

The pilot project includes the installation of microducts, individual fiber tubes (IFT), and "flexible profiles." Microducts can house up to 19 IFTs, which hold up to 12 fiber strands. "Flexible profiles" -- long, thin enclosures that mount along the walls of sewer pipes -- contain microduct blowing tubes. Air is blown into an IFT to create a cushion, so the fiber strand bundle floats while being pushed through the IFT. The strands can be blown through anytime, anywhere along the network they are needed, according to CableRunner. The air cushion prevents friction between the fiber bundle and the inside of the tube.

Workplace E-Mail Issues

NEW YORK -- A new survey of 1,100 U.S. companies found that 14 percent of respondents have been ordered by a court or regulatory body to produce employee e-mail, up from 9 percent just two years ago.

E-mail is regularly used to bolster cases, embarrass organizations and damage reputations in high-profile discrimination, sexual harassment and antitrust claims, according to the 2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies and Practices Survey, from the American Management Association, the ePolicy Institute and Clearswift.

In spite of growing scrutiny from courts and regulators, most employers are doing a poor job of managing e-mail business records and preparing for the likelihood of e-mail discovery. Only 34 percent of employers have a written e-mail retention and deletion policy in place -- the same figure reported in 2001, one year before five Wall Street brokerages were fined a total of $8.3 million for failing to retain e-mail, the survey said.

Five percent of 2003 respondents reported business interruptions as the result of e-mail-related lawsuits.

Seventy-six percent of survey respondents said they lost time in the last year due to e-mail system problems, with 35 percent estimating half a day lost, and 24 percent reporting more than two days lost.

Eighty-six percent of survey respondents said e-mail makes them more efficient, even though spam issues persisted for many.

In addition, the survey found the average employee spends 25 percent of the workday on e-mail, with 8 percent of workers devoting more than 4 hours per day to e-mail. Though 90 percent of employers have installed software to monitor incoming and outgoing e-mail, only 19 percent use technology to monitor internal e-mail.

Use of technology to monitor e-mail and control message content increased since 2001, when 24 percent of respondents reported using software to conduct keyword or key phrase searches of e-mail and/or computer files. In 2003, more than 40 percent of employers report using software to control written e-mail content.

Arresting Domestic Violence

YORKSHIRE, England -- Following a number of domestic violence instances between "Megan" and David Evans, Megan complained to police that Evans had sexually assaulted her. Police arrested Evans, but he was released on bail.

While on bail, Evans broke into Megan's home. Armed with a knife, plastic ties and surgical gloves, he dragged Megan out of bed and ordered the eldest of their three sons to bring a tape recorder to record her final pleas.

Lancashire Constabulary previously had provided Megan with a Domestic Violence Positive Action Kit (DVPAK), which was being tested by Lancashire police. By pressing a remote trigger worn around her neck, Megan alerted the police before she was seriously harmed.

Evans was charged with making threats to kill and sentenced to five years in prison.

Following a string of successes in Lancashire, the DVPAK, manufactured by Tunstall, soon will be launched to police forces around England.

The DVPAK central lifeline home unit transmits details of the victim's history to police officers, so law enforcement agents already have information before they respond to the distress signal. The unit sends a silent, secure signal to either a police operations control center or to the Tunstall Alarm Receiving Centre (TARC). Individual units are identified by their particular signals, and when an operator at the police station or TARC receives a signal, computer software automatically pulls information from an online database.

The DVPAK also includes a personal trigger and a range of additional sensors, including fall and movement detectors, and "bogus caller buttons." These buttons are located on the lifeline unit, which is positioned by the doorway, and provide users with a means to alert police without using a phone when an unwanted visitor is trying to gain access to the home by posing as a legitimate caller such as a delivery person.

The fall and movement detectors are a series of passive infrared detectors positioned around the home, similar to the sensors used with burglar alarms. The detectors can be programmed to detect movement after a certain time and can also detect inactivity within a predetermined time period.

The sensors are registered to the central lifeline home unit, which picks up radio signals from the sensors and from the personal trigger worn on a user's body. The lifeline unit also contains a powerful speaker to allow hands-free communication with the police operators from anywhere in the home or garden, and can be programmed to record all conversations. The recordings can be used as evidence, if necessary. -- Tunstall
Shane Peterson Associate Editor