TAC Talk Episode 3: Reducing Baseline Costs through Better Demand Management

Recorded July 24, 2015
A conversation about Demand Management between TAC president Peter Schay and TAC expert Patrick Savard, who consults with Fortune 500 businesses to provide solutions which help companies optimize their IT spending and maximize the value of their IT investments.

TAC Talk Episode 1: Why Cloud business planning is more difficult than you think – and what to do about it.

A conversation with TAC President Peter Schay and guest Bruce Guptil, TAC expert and skilled speaker, media contributor, and author of hundreds of research notes, reports, blog posts, articles, and presentations on business IT change, strategy, tactics, planning, acquisition, and value, from cloud, mobile and social IT, to digital business transformation, to changing IT roles and value.

Recorded June 30, 2015
A conversation with TAC President Peter Schay and guest Bruce Guptill, TAC expert and skilled speaker, media contributor, and author of hundreds of research notes, reports, blog posts, articles, and presentations on business IT change, strategy, tactics, planning, acquisition, and value, from cloud, mobile and social IT, to digital business transformation, to changing IT roles and value.

The Anthem Hack: Sophisticated? Maybe, Maybe Not.

How could Home Depot and Neiman Marcus fall into the same trap that Target did months earlier? Could it be that this is not considered material enough to spend money on both the technology (to prevent & detect data losses) and the human behavioral changes needed to minimize incidents?

by Jim Noble, Director TAC International

The news on Wednesday that Anthem’s systems had been compromised ranks among the largest ever such breach. Simply on the basis of the number of people affected, it is double the size of the Target incident. But therein lies the complexity of this subject. Many companies suffer a breach, but it is not “material” in a business risk context, and so it attracts little publicity. The formula says Materiality = Threat x Vulnerability x Consequence.

While the Threat is widely acknowledged, there seems to be widespread denial of the Vulnerability. As in the case of Sony, it is tempting to pardon this sort of lapse as “inevitable and inescapable” because of the sharply focused and sophisticated nature of the attack. But that is a pathetic excuse, and deserves a robust challenge in a lawsuit on the basis of neglect of their fiduciary Duty of Care on behalf of their shareholders. Instead of taking the issue seriously and dealing with basic deficiencies, companies are throwing technology (hardware and software products) at the problem and installing more and more sophisticated equipment, which is often poorly configured and managed. If you look at the root causes of healthcare breaches on HHS.gov you will be amazed at how trivial most are. But companies always say they were the subject of a sophisticated attack. I guess this protects against negligence law suits. Healthcare breaches have continued to increase after HIPAA was implemented.That complacency also extends to Consequences. For companies handling credit card data such as Target, Home Depot & TJ Maxx, the consequences were fraudulent transactions on their customers’ accounts, which can be addressed by the card issuers, or credit watch companies like Equifax. For companies with sensitive intellectual property like Sony Pictures Entertainment, knowing what has been stolen helps them to take steps to mitigate the consequences. In the case of Anthem, the consequences could be much more serious, because the personal data could result in identity theft, which is a more complex situation to recover from.

So how is it that avoidable incidents keep happening? How could Home Depot and Neiman Marcus fall into the same trap that Target did months earlier? Could it be that this is not considered material enough to spend money on both the technology (to prevent & detect data losses) and the human behavioral changes needed to minimize incidents? Maybe it is just the cost of doing business, and we should just buy insurance to cover for the results of incompetence.

Why You Should Rethink Making That New Software Purchase

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

An investment in software always deserves a lot of thought. Even SaaS (Software as a Service – internet-based software accessed through a browser) software can be expensive for the enterprise, and comparatively more so for the small business. So how can a business determine if and when it’s time to commit to spending the money?

Look at the software you already have. You’d be surprised at the amount of functionality you have in the software you already own/lease that you’re not using (or not using properly). By some estimates, a full 75-80% of the functionality engineered into some software goes unused. The reason for this is that software is usually purchased to solve one immediate problem, and, once solved, the user goes no further in learning about other features/functionality of that software. As a business grows, other needs arise and, since the previous software wasn’t purchased to solve the current problem, little or no thought is given to investigating the unused features of that software. In addition, software is constantly updated, and the functionality you are looking for may have been added since you made the original purchase.

Is there freeware/shareware that will solve your problem? For the larger businesses, enterprise-class open source software is a very real option these days. Almost every type of business productivity tool is available for free online either for a trial period or for an unlimited time for a small group of users – usually with some limitations. Available on most platforms, this type of software is great for small groups looking to “kick the tires” on new functionality within the enterprise without any financial outlay for software acquisition. Cost usually enters in only when customization and support are needed from the software vendor.

Small businesses need to keep in mind that nothing on the internet is really free (you may not pay with cash but you pay with your eyeballs or data instead – banner ads on the screens you’re using, sharing personal and/or business data with the vendor). However, there is a wide range of productivity tools and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that you can use with no immediate financial outlay.  Software companies give free access to their software for individuals and small groups with the idea that as your business grows, you’ll pay to expand your use and the functions you need. Using freeware/shareware even for a limited time, gives you the opportunity to evaluate various options and to determine whether you really need to make the investment in time and money. Keep in mind any regulations, like HIPAA, when dealing with personally identifiable information and financial/health records.

Examine the business case and timing of the purchase. Will the purchase, training, and ultimately the use of the software increase sales and/or reduce cost? What are you currently spending (in person hours) to accomplish what the software will automate, and how much less time will it take after implementation? If this functionality is new to the business, what is the expected ROI (return on investment) and when will it be realized? Only once all of those questions have been answered to support the business case does timing come into play. Budget is usually the biggest factor for putting off a purchase, but one also needs to look to see if an imminent major release for this software is scheduled. If so, it may pay to wait until that new release comes out.

The Takeaway:

There are almost as many criteria for selecting software as there are software packages available for use. The key for the business is to leverage what you already have for the new needs of the business, and find adequate free or low-cost solutions online (again keeping in mind security concerns/regulations) that will serve the immediate need. This way you get what you really need without incurring additional cost. As your business continues to grow and you’re in a better financial position or have a bigger budget, you may feel the need to upgrade to pay versions of freeware or transition to software that meets the new needs of your bigger business. In the meantime, you’ll know that you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of the investments you’ve already made.

What existing unused features did you find in the software you already have, before you went out and purchased the same features from another vendor? do you use freeware/shareware? if so, what are you using and how? We’d like to hear it from you.

So You Want To Innovate? Embrace The Risk!

As with ideas, the same factors: need, broad knowledge base, environment, and timing all come into play. We can, In fact, start with the notion that an idea becomes an innovation when it fundamentally changes the way we do things. The more change a new idea makes, the more innovative it is.

Just about a year ago, I wrote a blog posting entitled “Daddy (or Mommy), where do ideas come from?  In it, I talk about what it takes to conceive an idea.  But what does it take to innovate?

Webster’s Dictionary defines innovate:

  • To effect a change in
  • Do something in a new way

As with ideas, the same factors: need, broad knowledge base, environment, and timing all come into play. We can, In fact, start with the notion that an idea becomes an innovation when it fundamentally changes the way we do things. The more change a new idea makes, the more innovative it is. As an example, being hungry and solving the problem by eating is hardly an innovative idea, but carrying too many devices and solving the problem by combining the phone, the mp3 player, and the internet connected computer into a single handheld device is.

Many excellent, potentially innovative ideas are not used widely enough to cause the greatest change. This is because promoting change, especially in large organizations, is avoided due to the risk and cost involved.

Executive officers are constantly told of the need for them to innovate. The call to ‘innovate or die’ is heard throughout the land, yet when these same leaders attempt to innovate, they are hamstrung by the boardroom’s resistance to change (inertia), and the shareholders’ mandate to keep risk and costs low and revenue high.

While innovation does not necessarily have to be expensive, the idea that innovation comes without risk is absurd; innovation is inherently risky. Examples are plentiful. Galileo’s heliocentric model of the solar system and Apple’s Lisa and Newton are just two of them. Galileo was met with personal harm for his innovation, and while the Lisa and Newton were both highly innovative products, they both failed miserably. Does that mean that Galileo was wrong to take the risk for the truth? Should Apple not have undertaken those risks? Certainly not.

In order to innovate, one must have the fresh, new idea, but equally important is the commitment to take on the risk. While everyone would like risk-free innovation, it just doesn’t work that way. In today’s economy, companies (and the people who run them) refuse to embrace risk, and therefore refuse to embrace the very same innovation they desire.

Issac Asimov, Hari Seldon, and the Invention of Big Data

Google, Amazon, Verizon, the NSA, and others are currently compiling an “Encyclopedia Galactica” of metadata for the same reason Seldon did in Asimov’s books… to influence decisions that people make. Having data about where people go, how long they stay there, who they call and how long they talk, and hundreds of other metrics, Big Data analysts seek patterns in previous behaviors to influence future behaviors of individuals.

In the process of packing books for a move, I came across some old science fiction by my one of my favorite writers, Issac Asimov. He was a brilliant thinker and scientist, an award winning science fiction and non-fiction writer, and, I have come to realize, the true inventor of Big Data and its use. Foundation, the first book written in a seven book sci-fi series (the book actually became the third book in the series, as subsequent prequel books were published)  was originally published in 1951, long before the technology that allows us to gather the vast amounts of electronic data we have today was even conceived of.

In his “Foundation” series, Asimov writes about a pivotal character, Hari Seldon, a brilliant scientist and statistician that developed the science of what he called “psychohistory” and what we call “Big Data Analysis” (he invented the word psychohistory, among others. The word is now used by the mental health industry, but has a different meaning). In the Foundation series, Seldon is able to make predictions on the behaviors of populations based on enormous pools of data, and manipulate these populations by influencing events at certain locations in space and time.  The agents of influence through which he works across the millennia are the writers of the “Encyclopedia Galactica”, the compilation of all the information in the known universe.

Google, Amazon, Verizon, the NSA, and others are currently compiling an “Encyclopedia Galactica” of metadata for the same reason Seldon did in Asimov’s books… to influence decisions that people make. Having data about where people go, how long they stay there, who they call and how long they talk, and hundreds of other metrics, Big Data analysts seek patterns in previous behaviors to  influence future behaviors of individuals. The difference was that Seldon’s vision was to “short-circuit” a galactic dark ages that would last for thirty thousand years and reduce it to a mere two thousand, whereas businesses are using the data to influence buying decisions, and the NSA uses it to stop terrorists (at least that what they tell us – a more noble purpose, to be sure).

One can only hope that, since the ‘Genie’ of Big Data has been let out of the bottle, that it can and will be used for more noble purposes than mere profit. If we are to be influenced in our decisions, perhaps we can be influenced to develop healthy habits, reduce our carbon footprint, slow and reverse population growth to sustainable levels, and a whole host of other behaviors that benefit humankind and the planet as a whole. Odds are, however it won’t be used that way, unless profit can be made… or maybe big data can find a way to influence that too.

Business After the Fiscal Cliff

While the Federal Government seems to want to act out the final scene from “Thelma and Louise” with our economy, we can’t wait for someone to hit the brakes. Regardless of what the government does (or does not do) in the next few days to avert the fiscal cliff, we do know that taxes will go up on those making at least $400,000, including small businesses.

While the Federal Government seems to want to act out the final scene from “Thelma and Louise” with our economy, we can’t wait for someone to hit the brakes. Regardless of what the government does (or does not do) in the next few days to avert the fiscal cliff, we do know that taxes will go up on those making at least $400,000, including small businesses. We know this because if the government takes us over the cliff (which, in actuality works well for both parties), the “Bush Era” tax cuts will expire, and they won’t all be coming back. We also know that there will likely be changes to the tax code in the coming months as part of the “fiscal cliff deal”, but there seems to be no consensus on what those changes will be.

So, assuming that is the case, business must still go on. Because of the continuing uncertainty, the likely scenario will be more belt-tightening, fewer hires, and maybe even a few layoffs, depending on how long the government allows this to go on. In the IT world, most organizations have already cut to the bone, and many are unable to keep up with demand as it is, and we all know that demand is likely to increase.

So what can an IT director or CIO do to ensure minimal impact on their organization?

  • Increase efficiency – collaboration and better use of time makes the need for overtime hours or more staff unnecessary.
  • Re-prioritize – look at what is important rather than merely urgent.
  • Find high-value/low-cost services that make it easier for you to make decisions, and faster for your team to get things done
  • Structure your financial model to be lower fixed-cost with more variable cost options.
  • Get more and better buy-in for projects from the business stakeholders.

As we move into the new year, IT needs to be able to plan for the unknown, be ready for changing demand, and become a more flexible and agile organization.

The Advisory Council can help.

Daddy (or Mommy), Where Do Ideas Come From?

Ideas are the result of the exposure to a certain piece or pieces of key information in an environment conducive to solving a perceived or subliminal problem at a critical moment in the thought process. In other words, ideas happen in much the same way babies “happen”; it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time doing the right things to produce them.

Those of you with kids over the age of 5 (I have two, now college age), have undoubtedly heard this question asked before, albeit slightly differently. Answering that “other question”, likely with some discomfort, required a firm grasp of human anatomy, patience, and the ability to distill a complex biological function down into something that a 5-year-old could understand.

Studies have been done using sophisticated medical equipment that tell us which parts of the brain are in use during the formation of an idea, or the process of “ideation”, but that still doesn’t give us the “how” or “why”, only the “where”. Computers lack the ability to ideate; that may change in the future, but for now they only do what we ask them to in the manner we tell them to do it.

So where is it that ideas do come from?

Ideas are the result of the exposure to a certain piece or pieces of key information in an environment conducive to solving a perceived or subliminal problem at a critical moment in the thought process. In other words, ideas happen in much the same way babies “happen”; it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time doing the right things to produce them.

So what are the critical factors to conception? And yes, we’re still talking about ideas:

1)      Access to information – In order to ideate, one must have unrestricted access to information. Since one never knows which piece of information may trigger an idea at that particular time, it is important that information flow freely.

2)      Collaboration – Access to people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases increases the amount of information available to ideate on. It also allows many people to throw fresh ideas back and forth to help them grow and become more full featured.

3)      Environment – A culture that allows people to present their ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere is vitally important, as it sustains the ideation process by encouraging team members to add to an already born idea, or to publicly give birth to their own without worrying how their idea will be accepted. This type of atmosphere is very difficult to promote as we know that, just like babies, we tend to favor our own.

Some ideas are born in group conversation, others by an individual thinking to him or herself. Some people need to be relaxed; others ideate best under the pressure of deadlines. Therefore, a combination of environments must be provided to allow people to ideate in a manner that suits them best.

4)      Time – Just like babies, the conception of an idea is unpredictable. All of the elements to form the idea must be there, but it’s all in the timing. Some ideas take seconds to be born, others take years. On the plus side, the more people you have, the more likely a viable idea is born.

Once the idea is born, it of course needs to be nurtured so that it can grow and mature. Nurturing an idea a great responsibility, and one that comes with having the idea in the first place.

But we can talk about that when you’re a little bit older.

Why I Would Short Facebook

Social media sites have flourished and withered on a regular basis (witness Myspace, for which News Corporation paid $580 million in 2005, and then sold in 2011 for $35 million). The younger crowd gets bored easily and have a herd mentality. They will follow the crowd to the next hot thing. You can already see this by the Facebook demographics. The average age of members is getting older by the day. The advertisers see this as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they move on as well.

by Alan Guibord Founder of TAC

How many times have we been enamored with trendy technologies only to get left behind while the rest of the world moves on? I believe that this is true with Facebook. These types of social media sites have flourished and withered on a regular basis (witness Myspace, for which News Corporation paid $580 million in 2005, and then sold in 2011 for $35 million). The younger crowd gets bored easily and have a herd mentality. They will follow the crowd to the next hot thing. You can already see this by the Facebook demographics. The average age of members is getting older by the day. The advertisers see this as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they move on as well. Without both, Facebook is just another Plaxo.

I am not saying that Facebook’s days are numbered, but that they do not have a sustainable model for growth.

It’s OK to use these technologies personally, but very risky to introduce them to the enterprise environment. In doing so, you might be thought of as cool for a short period, but, soon you will be considered behind the curve as new ones emerge, and they will on a regular basis. Make sure that you clearly understand the business problem you are trying to solve before moving forward, and don’t get caught up in the hype

I recently asked for feedback on this subject from a college student I know to get the his perspective. His name is Alan Schay and is entering his senior year at Clarkson University. His comments are below.

Facebook’s growth is limited by multiple flaws of their system. Most prominent flaw is the failure to deliver and capitalize on an effective mobile application. AdParlor recently found that the cost-per-click on mobile is 30% less than web based ($0.42 vs. $0.60), despite the click-through-rate on mobile being 13 times higher than on browser based. This is what most analysts point to when discussing why Facebook is overvalued. However, this is just why Facebook’s revenue projections are overblown.

There is also the issue of why their user growth projections are inaccurate. This more subjective, and pervasive problem is due to Facebook’s attempt to be the hub of all interaction in a user’s life. Sites targeted at specific forms of interaction are booming. Tumblr and Pinterest are where people are going to create and discover content. Twitter is used to interact about mundanities with wide audiences. This is not to say that Facebook has no appeal left, but it is not where people want to spend all of their time. (One study showed a year-to-year drop in visit duration of 21% among Australian users.)

For years now people have been suggesting that the popularity of Facebook shows that people want to share everything with everyone, but that simply is not true. Compartmentalization is a central part of human interaction, and it’s only now that multiple forms of social networking exist that people can let their online personas more closely reflect their real world interactions. The best way to describe it is that while I might connect with colleagues on Facebook or LinkedIn, I have little interest about what they might be saying on Twitter, and no interest in letting them know what artists I like on Tumblr. Like every other industry in the world, social media companies need to accept that there is no such thing as permanent and absolute market dominance, and that different people will use different services for different purposes. If that were not the case, then we’d all be driving Fords, and they’d all be black like Henry wanted.

This further substantiates my position. I hope you found it provocative. We continue to caution our clients to be very careful with social media selections for their companies.

EaaS 101: The Fundamentals of Expertise-as-a-Service

EaaS is an extension of the SaaS philosophy, allowing the procurement of information, expertise, performance management and measurement and other necessary IT services the same way. This way of thinking is not new to the enterprise; legal and finance departments have leveraged outside counsel and accounting firms for decades.

In today’s economic environment, IT departments are seeing higher demand without an increase in budget. In addition, CFOs are demanding more accountability and want to be able to measure return on their IT investment. Corporate boards want to see IT transform from cost center to profit generator. Smart CIOs have been able to reduce infrastructure and software costs by leveraging SaaS and IaaS, and now, with EaaS (Expertise-as-a-Service®), other IT costs be reduced or contained, while increasing the IT department’s flexibility to handle fluctuating demand.

In order to understand EaaS, one must first understand the fundamentals of SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service). These services reduce costs because they are:

  • On demand – rapid startup with no “installation” or maintenance
  • Ubiquitous – Instantly “there” and easy to use, with no additional infrastructure or personnel needed
  • Scalable – can quickly add/remove service as demand requires.
  • Cost effective – economies of scale and no additional hardware or personnel  keep costs low

As an example, since SaaS means that you no longer have to have software running on your own in-house servers and PCs, you save by reducing the size of or eliminating your data centers, reducing the number of full-time employees tasked with maintaining the software and the hardware it runs on, and in many cases, reducing the need for the company to provide computers, as more organizations have adopted BYOD (bring your own device) policies. Extending this trend, many companies are now implementing IaaS strategies, moving data storage and servers “to the cloud.” Again, this reduces the number of full-time employees necessary to maintain an in-house infrastructure, but allows growth instantly as it is needed.

EaaS is an extension of this philosophy, allowing the procurement of information, expertise, performance management and measurement and other necessary IT services the same way. This way of thinking is not new to the enterprise; legal and finance departments have leveraged outside counsel and accounting firms for decades. The IT department is one of the last of the major departments within the corporation to move to this low-fixed-cost model, relying on outside sources for as-needed expertise. Just like SaaS and IaaS, EaaS brings cost savings by enabling IT to reduce and reallocate resources while having “on demand” access to the needed expertise, information, and performance measurement to use whenever and however it is needed.

CIOs and IT executives are finally transitioning their IT departments to the lower fixed cost financial model that EaaS allows. With the budgeting cycle starting up again very soon, IT departments that embrace EaaS are finding that staying within a flat or shrinking budget, while dealing with increasing demand from the business, is less of a problem.