Thursday, November 29, 2007

Collaborative Content Culture: Part 2 - Users Will Find a Way

This is a continuation from this post.

Recent changes in governance and oversight engendered corporate cultures that place a premium on the ability to audit and manage resources. The policies inherent can appear arbitrary and confusing to business users as IT resources struggle to work within newer workflows designed to support these requirements. Often there is a disconnect between functionality that users can enjoy in their private lives and what they must accept at work. Tools that are easily downloaded and customized to empower families and friends to share and collaborate via real time voice chat, digital photo albums or whiteboard utilities may not be sanctioned corporately giving rise to frustration when a user’s parents or her husband can appear to be less technically savvy and yet share images cross-continent so that mere minutes after Mom has taken pics of Little Johnny, the child’s grandparents can order prints from the local Wal-Mart or Costco and yet the workplace IT staff appear incapable of understanding or caring that tools exist that would enhance users’ ability to share data and functionality.

Part of the problem is education. Business users have spent years building intellectual property and to the degree that they can be educated about the dangers of digitalized data and the need to properly vet new technologies and tools from numerous angles and with varied skillsets, they will probably be more amenable and accepting of delays or outright refusal to allow them to install tools like Twitter or frequent social sites such as with corporate resources.

Another part of the problem is IT's focus. Perhaps IT staffers are people who enjoy less personal interaction and derive some amount of satisfaction from wielding control such as how we can control computers via programs or control networks with routing tables. For many programmers interfacing with business users can be complicated, frustrating and confusing. Who doesn't have some story about how obfuscated business processes become and how difficult it is to codify what it is that the business users want? If it's the reader's experience that IT personnel like to exert control then the leap may not be so illogical to understand that as corporate standards shifted from "figure out what the users need and make it" to "protect our digital assets and here's Microsoft's latest security tools to help you", we may have dropped the ball with focusing on creating workflows and audit trails and authority domains without making giving consideration to how negatively these changes could impact our users' collective experience with technology. Anyone that reads blogs can see that Project Management and Business Process Modeling are buzzwords and have been but in this author's experience, as restrictions are applied to help protect assets often its to the detriment of serving business users' empowerment and support as teams who come to wield power over access or who implement new security protocols may make good efforts to educate or delineate those processes but sometimes those communications fall short of their intended audience and the ones that suffer are the business users who have to accept ever longer delays in problem resolution or approval and installment of newer, enabling technologies.

I understand some changes are "in the corporate interest" and while there can be no doubt that the corporation, its officers and the IT staff as the keepers of the data and "maintain the borders" bear a responsibility to protect corporate assets this post is focused on employees “finding a way” and, as Jeff Mann pointed out, in numerous organizations users already have found ways to defeat corporate policies whether illicitly or through ignorance.

Considering the dichotomy of empowerment for which technology is praised and the culture of technological restriction that has only recently seen strong growth in the corporate, Microsoft world it’s no wonder that business users may feel entitled to use whatever they can regardless of corporate standards. Perhaps users think “if I can install it and it runs then it must be allowed” or “I’ll use it ‘til they tell me to turn it off” (this author has never used either maixm).

While corporate IT staffs must respond to potential threats to the company’s intellectual property, we have invested years in fostering the attitude that technology is designed to enable users and now we should devote attention to tools that help us protect our companies but those tools must make allowances for collaborative content for if we don’t we’ll find that users may overwhelm our resources with untested ‘Net-enabled applications out of a genuine desire to enhance the value of their collaborative work. Disregarding the shift away from the empowerment and enabling facets of technology to the more moderate position of validating users prior to empowering them would be a disservice to our users. We need to:

  • Acknowledge this difference in IT focus
  • Educate the users to what we're changing in our processes and why
  • Enhancing their functionality and collaboration
  • Apply validating security that protects our digital assets

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Collaborative Content Culture: Part 1 - Resistance

I attended a recent webcast with Jeff Mann of Gartner Group and Cheryl McKinnon of Open Text. The topic was enterprise functionality in terms of content and collaboration.

Jeff is a superb speaker with obvious ease in this topic domain; he spoke with an ease based on a depth of expertise.

Several facets of content and collaboration were touched on during the hour-long webcast so it should be obvious that none of these topics were drilled into with any depth but they become a great outline for future posts.

  1. How Collaboration and Community-Building May Give Rise to Insecurity and Resistance
  2. Users Will Find a Way
  3. Social Networking: What's Valuable in the Fortune 500 Corporation?

1. Insecurity & Resistance to Collaboration

Today in the US Technology business it is imperative that IT individuals and the teams they comprise cooperate across responsibility boundaries. Coordinating with business goals has always been a burden with which IT labored but in the era that begun in earnest five years ago or so it became increasingly important that IT teams become segmented in their responsibilities and capabilities. With the passing of Sarbanes-Oxley security, audit, governance and oversight became watchwords that only intensified with off-shoring of IT assets. To maintain previous levels of efficiency IT professionals started finding that rights they had taken for granted were progressively removed to enable corporate officers who would be held responsible able to track resource access and validly state that they maintained strict control over corporate governance. A decade ago, if a developer needed a development version of a database, he would copy the Production data and put it on his laptop or a shared development server. This placed the responsibility on the developer but allowed him to be very responsive to the business owners of the project he was working on. In today's corporate environment, a developer must submit a request to someone with the requisite rights to servers to have a development server/database assigned to him and in some cases submit a subsequent ticket to have the production data retrieved, scrubbed and put onto the development database. Each request usually requires numerous sign-offs and approvals before it can be completed. The governance controls established in this environment means that IT resources must become much more efficient and proactive to continue to be as responsive to their business partners.

It doesn't take much creativity to see that as these types of controls are overlaid across the whole enterprise business users and IT resources alike must raise the level of their professionalism, efficiency and proactivity to keep similar historical project timelines.

Using technology that is already corporate-sanctioned such as e-mail or internal company instant messaging is one way that collaboration is enabled but often times business and IT resources that find themselves under deadlines may feel greater pressure to utilize untested collaboration methodologies due to the overhead of getting corporate approval and buy-in on newer technologies. Sometimes the obstacle to adoption of new methods (citing Jeff here) is a manager's personal insecurity that could stem from fearts that if his direct reports build a higher level of community with their business resources he may either be marginalized, may not have information required by business owners and project drivers or he may find himself held accountable for decisions made that are not in compliance with corporate standards. It was to this level of personal insecurity and resistance that Jeff directed his comments when he stated that:

"workplace failure in the last few years has moved from technical issues to
failure of teams to incorporate or utilize recently enabled functionality
because it may seem to threaten someone's or some team's territory."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

MSDN content

Sometimes I forget how nice it is to have an MSDN account provided to me; then comes a weekend like this one. As I re-engage my tech career and work on rounding out my skills and exploring more Content Management Systems (CMS), prepare for my certification and drive deeper into the whole Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), I downloaded something 30 Gb of MS servers, tools and training. I've burned numerous CD's & DVD's and build a few virtual PC's today.

MS does make integration ridiculously easy and having access to all levels of these tools & servers (Standard to Professional to Enterprise, etc) makes creating multiple versions and customizations handy.

Friday, November 02, 2007


Virtualization is either a buzzword you use at work or its about to be (link to another article). At the end of the last century a small company, VMWare, started producing a software package, also named VMWare, that allowed you to use a single server to act like multiple servers. This may seem like a ridiculous concept because if you are used to how slowly your computer runs it seems counterintuitive that you'd gain anything from making your computer work for two, three or four people all at the same time. The catch, however, is that with servers the full processing cycles are not in constant use. Server computers tend to have a higher caliber processor and sometimes they have multiple processors, more robust internal structure and faster drives. Being able to divide all the processing power of those machines between multiple programs or teams simply means a more full usage of those resources as well as less administrative overhead to support the same number of teams (four development teams using a single piece of hardware as oppossed to each having their own hardware). When considering servers you can often hear terms such as load, load-balancing, fail-over, utilization. These terms refer to how much a server is used and how it can pass along some of its work to other servers if it gets too busy.

Virtualizing multiple instances of the OS on a server means better resource utilization (as long as the server can handle the load). Companies like VMWare (purchased by EMC2), Microsoft (producers of Virtual PC) and SWsoft (makers of Virtuozzo) make software that allow users to create virtual servers that are hosted on a single server.

This technology is relatively young but still tried and a solid performer for businesses. Virtualizing servers has a positive payback for most implementations.

Newer on the scene, however, is the concept of storage virtualization. This concept seems so recent that there is little evidence that it resolves as many issues as it introduces. Some of the benefits are freedom from resource management at the user level; users don't have to remember that the H: drive has 120Gb and the J: drive only has 4Mb available. With storage virtualization a wrapper overlays the storage layer and makes it addressable to the client as a single entity. Users theoretically just connect to the virtual storage repository and their data is stored for them by the wrapper. Another benefit of storage virtualization is that files gain some resiliency to hardware failure and hardware appears to be hot-swappable beneath the virtualized wrapper.

Virtualized storage is different from SANs, NAS and, although it shares some characteristics with CAS, it is a different creature from CAS as well.

Network World "Vendor claims about storage virtualization flawed"
Enterprise Systems "Next-Generation Storage: Think Virtual (2005)"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Predictive Analytics and Content

Content management incorporates many prinicples into a paradigm. Any implementation of these principles may be more or less cohesive depending on how well the business processes are understood and how well the underlying functionalities are customized to support and extend these business processes.

A relatively recent benefit of content management is predictive analysis. Predictive analysis is an example of impelementing business intelligence into an information lifecycle. This particular BI hinges on correlating seeming disconnected pieces of data using heuristics to produce a probability matrix of knowledge entities from a vast respository where those entities are most likely to fit some criteria. An example is that Infinity Property and Casualty, an automobile insurance company, recently selected SPSS, Inc's Predictive Claims (tm) software to streamline their claims process (link). In this instance the company suggests that predictive analysis will allow them to better assign claims to adjusters best-suited to handle each particular claim with a side benefit of helping their company detect fraud more efficiently.

I believe that most people probably don't tend to think of their insurers as penny-pinching fat cats who eschew handing out a dime but if you are one of the minority that fits into that description here's something that might help. Handling claims costs money and while there are some instances of egregious behavior through the insurance universe, there are also myriads of stories of claims reps in any insurance industry that make heartfelt, sincere efforts to help their claimants throughout the claims process and get the insured customers' funds out to the customers in a timely manner. Unfortunately, just like there may sometimes be a person or process or unspoken policy that hampers even the best-intentioned claims rep, sometimes there are unscrupulous individuals who might fake an injury or have an estimate given by a "friend" to defraud the insurance provider. Predictive analytics is a hedge for the insurance industry against just such fraud. This helps you and me (assuming you're not one of the people perpetrating fraud). Believe it or not, in the same manner that an actuarial can often accurately predict who is most likely to have a wreck or get injured (which is how insurance companies determine what your rates are for your insurance), predictive analytics can very accurately narrow the pool of potential fraud perpetrators so that the limited investigative teams of insurance adjusters can spend their limited time checking out the other guy who claimed his late-model Lamborghini got a scratch at the mini-mart so that our car insurance carrier doesn't waste too much time having an adjuster come out to your house to see how your truck got totaled by the dude rushing to get to work last week.

Sometimes it can be annoying to think that anyone has this much information and the ability to use it to predict things but its important to keep two things in mind about predictive analytics:
1. The only cases I've heard of are where predictive analytics is used to create a matrix of people for someone to check into; no one is ever convicted based on predictive analytics. These tools are used to better assign resources.
2. Just because the probability that you will do X is higher than the probability that I'll do X does not translate into the fact that you'll do X before I will. People have a capacity for creativity and while how someone operates based on their upbringing, environment and heredity is for another discussion, it is eminently clear that content systems do not contain all possible permutations of events that might contribute to a decision that you make so a million computers running predictive analytics could analyze volumes of data about you and they could all reach the same conclusion that you're going to be in a car wreck next Tuesday and yet, through the sheer carpricious nature of chance you might not be in a wreck. Just because something is predicted, even based on these impressive predictive tools, does not mean that it has to happen.

Hope this gives you some insight into predictive analytics and content management from the 20,000 foot view.

For a more educated view of predictive analysis, see the 24-page White Paper produced by that AICPCU/IIU - link.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Enterprise Content Management

Enterprise Content Management or ECM is a concept that I'm working on now. I expect this to be a learning process where things I think I know now are challenged both by the more data I gather and changes to current information paradigms and governance.

Background: my experience has been with Open Text's LiveLink eDocs system (I started back before they purchased Hummingbird when the product was PC Docs). I have several years of experience in this product and am fluent in extending and administrating its management for multiple users across multiple locations.

While I plan to share content on my experiences with the principles of ECM, document management (DM), business process management (BPM) and information lifecycle management (ILM), I will refrain from discussing particular situations that might tend to compromise the value and security of companies that have trusted me to implement, extend or administrate their IP via these tools and concepts.

WARNING: I am verbose and while I have to limit my communication and check my content while working, this outlet is an opportunity for me to express myself and explain whatever it is I'm presenting so don't expect me to limit things too much.

Monday, October 22, 2007


We reached a plateau recently with an implementation that took about 24 months. The last 6 of which had me working a lot (not as much as some, more than others).

I got re-energized while attending a class shortly after the implementation and finding that my knowledge and skillset for this particular product was considered very strong by the instructor and other attendees. Following the positive feedback I got from these people I've started putting more time into my career-building and networking. I'm working on certification, joined several groups, started digging into white papers and instructional material again and created a new web presence for a potential business.

I've enjoyed learning and coding more around the topics lately than I have in awhile.

Hopefully I'll have more to add over the coming months regarding this refocusing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Salvation of children

In a recent conversation a friend stated his dislike for young "conversion" experiences which I understood to be based on his concern that the child wouldn't understand the facts necessary to have a conversion experience. My position was (and remains) that if someone has the capacity to understand that (1) God is good (Holy to use one of His terms) and that (2) they are not and that (3) the only way they can ever be made God's friend again is through the bloody, death sacrifice of Jesus then they have all the parts necessary for salvation regardless of their physical age or mental capacity to understand concepts such as time, redemption, reconciliation, Heaven or Hell.

At some point in our short discussion something was mentioned about the "age of accountability" that people seem to mention often in reference to children. I thought I'd look up the verses associated with this non-Canonical belief and put them out here for others.

I happen to like this belief but, as someone who is trying to present a fair assessment I have to first point out that the belief of an "age of accountability" is very similar to the belief in a triune God (trinity). Neither concept is stated in clear, didactic teaching for believers but both have verses may be used to infer the concept; thus, I would categorize both beliefs as available for a believer to believe but not based on any strong textual affirmation.

Arguments against an "age of accountability":
Romans 3:10

"as it is written 'There is none righteous, not even one;'"

Romans 3:23
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"

Psalm 51:5
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."

These verses tend to be interpreted by literalists as applying to all people and they don't seem to make any allowances for anyone including children.

Arguments for an "age of accountability":

2 Samual 12:16 - 23
David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay
all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in
order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat
food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died.
And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for
they said, "Behold, while the child was alive, we spoke to him and he
did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead,
since he might do harm!" But when David saw that his
servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so
David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" And they said, "He is
dead." So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself,
and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped.
Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him
and he ate. Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that
you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the
child died, you arose and ate food." He said, "While the child was
{still} alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be
gracious to me, that the child may live.' "But now he has died; why
should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not
return to me

At this point, it could be that what David meant is that (a) I can do nothing further for the child and (b) I will eventually join him in death (rather than Heaven or Abraham's bosom). The Bible is silent on the issue of infant salvation and an "age of accountability" other than the passages that decry the spiritual condition of all people.
Based on the principles of the Bible ("Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matt 18:3-4), I like to believe that there is some period of time in which God bestows grace on those who are either too young or too simple in their mental faculties to understand the Holiness of God, their own sinful nature and accept God's gift of reconciliation through the blood sacrifice of Jesus but based on Scripture this is a very hard position to hold with any authority. The ones that we love and who depend on us the most truly need us to direct them towards God and provide them opportunities to engage Him on His terms because the long-and-short of it is that everyone needs God's forgiveness and grace.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bible study

We've been studying 2 Cor in Sunday school lately. Its been so long since I've done any organized Bible study that for the last few months I forgot to take anytime to do any decent background study; I simply read the lesson and the verses (plus local context) and felt prepared to engage the class about the topics. This week, however, I decided to put some more time so I sat down yesterday morning and read 2 Cor again (sometimes I forget how fast a read some of the books are). I'd already started a lexical study of this week's verses (2 Cor 5:18-6:2) but going all the way back to 2 Cor 2:1 and reading the whole book (sans introduction) gave me a much better feel for this letter from Paul. I took time out to read Jensen's overview of 2 Cor from Simply Understanding the Bible.

A gem from this week's lesson (something Ray Stedman brings out in his treatment of the passage) is how in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries American's tend to view God, the Father, as being the disciplinarian of the trinity. God is the Holy One and Jesus is the Lover & BrideGroom while the Holy Spirit is the one that gets dragged around with us. In 2 Cor 5:18 & 19, however, Paul expressly targets God, the Father as the One who wants to bring people back to Himself:

Now all {these} things are from God, who reconciled
us to Himself through
. . . .

. . . God was in Christ reconciling the world to
. . . .

These two passages demonstrate God's desire and His action to bring humans back into a right relationship with Him. He made the way possible for sinful, flawed creatures to be engaged with a Holy entity through the blood sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Job Changes

I was promoted several months ago from being a developer to being a system analyst. I expected some changes to my routine but some things have kind of snuck up on me. Over the last few months I've spent a fairly large amount of time and effort in understanding systems and then helping people to see a bigger picture than just what they're working on. During this time I've done more testing of others' statements and methods than ever previously. I've helped others in their testing methods or, in some cases, refered vendors to their own documentation to refute directions they provided to us. I no longer write as much code and test it for bugs; my work now consists more of processes and reviewing larger systems than just my own. Its a nice divergence from what I've done for years but it caused me a bit of frustration feeling that others could be more responsible for themselves until I finally took the time to look back over what we've accomplished and realize the part I had to play was different and I feel that its part of the changed job responsibilities.

Just doing my stuff right isnt' the name of the game; seeing more of the big picture and helping others to see it, too, is what I'm working through now.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Long time no post

I spent most of 2006 either working on IT projects for my career or working on photography projects for my business. Neither of these is a great outlet for creativity and expression since both dictate operating for others' satisfaction.

I've learned more about a particular document management program than I ever wanted to know but I've enjoyed writing some little apps along the way.

Several families engaged us for their weddings, children and family portraits and I can say that if I have another year like my last one at work I'll probably let the photography business go except for a few friends; its just too labor intensive when coupled with my IT profession.

I look forward to taking some time and shooting some material that I enjoy (mostly working with teens who are fun and enjoy sessions or more mature people who are willing to work for the image I have in mind).

We have another baby on the way who'll make an appearance in a few weeks so I have to paint and furnish another room in the house in short order.