When Information About a Virus Goes… um, Viral

Be very careful about the information you rely on from outside sources. Your sources should be subject matter experts, people with many years of experience in the field in which they are speaking about.

There has been a lot of media attention about Ebola of late, and it illustrates very well the problems associated with getting reliable information from the Internet.

First, let me state that I know that Ebola is a terrible, painful disease with no cure. I know how it is spread, what the symptoms are, the likelihood of survival, the incubation period, and many other facts about it. Almost everyone in the US has this information as well. The trouble sneaks in where different groups (or individuals) try to sensationalize the story to get ratings and clicks, and to subvert the information (or create misinformation) to push their own agendas.

Some examples:

  • A number of “leaders” in the US government tell us that Ebola is going to sneak into the US through a porous Mexican border. They neglect to tell us, however, that there has never been a reported case of Ebola in Mexico. This story has gone viral.
  • Numerous shares on social media that “the oral thermometers being used at the International arrivals terminals across the US are inaccurate and easily fooled by drinking a cold beverage.” Another story that is completely false (they’re using highly accurate infrared “no-touch” thermometers) and highly viral.
  • The “twitterverse” generates hundreds of tweets a minute about Ebola, many of them sensationalist.

With all the information out there, how do you know what is good information and what is not? Here are some suggestions:

  • The sniff test – If something smells fishy about the story or just doesn’t seem right or rational, trust your instinct. It probably isn’t right.
  • The level test – determine if the information seems slanted or biased in order to make a point or push a seemingly unrelated issue. If it’s biased, then reliability is questionable.
  • The source test – look at the source of the article. If the source is not usually an expert on the topic being discussed (e.g, the Centers for Disease Control vs. a political party discussing a life threatening disease) it is likely unreliable.

The examples above don’t just apply to Ebola, they apply to almost everything you’re looking for online. Product reviews have been known to be written by the very people who are selling the product; information (or misinformation) is posted to influence behavior, and stories (and headlines) are created to increase traffic to websites.

The takeaway

Be very careful about the information you rely on from outside sources. Your sources should be subject matter experts, people with many years of experience in the field in which they are speaking about. They should have no hidden (or unhidden) agendas. They should be unbiased, able to deliver the information in a manner which is best for you, not necessarily best for them.

Having a hypercritical eye when gathering important information on the Internet is the only real safe way to protect yourself from viral misinformation.

Tell us about your latest run-in with viral misinformation. We’d like to hear about it too

Do You Know the Difference Between an Analyst and an Expert?

Which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get.

A number of winters ago, my son decided that he wanted to try snowboarding. As an avid skier, I was pleased that he wanted to learn (so I thought) how to snowboard. I told him that I would set up a trip to a nearby ski resort, and since he had never been snowboarding before, I would arrange to get him lessons with one of the pros there. His response was completely unexpected. He refused the lessons saying, “I don’t need lessons, I’ve already read everything I could find about how to snowboard and watched probably a hundred videos about how to do it.”

We went to the mountain, where he refused lessons a second time, rented him the necessary equipment, and shuffled off to the ‘bunny slope’. As a skier, I could offer no instruction, as the two sports are considerably different when it comes to technique. Needless to say, with no real snowboarding experience, he had a miserable time, and I had a miserable time watching him be miserable. He was on the slope for an hour, more or less when he decided to call it quits. I asked him if he wanted lessons at that point, and he said he was too tired to take lessons, but he should have started with them. We spent the rest of the day watching other snowboarders and skiers from the comfort of the lodge.

We both learned lessons that day, although they weren’t the intended ones. His snowboarding experience strongly illustrated the difference between an analyst and an expert practitioner.

Analysts know a lot about a particular subject. They have researched and read about a particular subject, and may also have written on the topic. However, they may have no real experience in doing what they read and write about. All of their knowledge comes not from doing, but from looking at the past work of others. That is not to say that analysts don’t have value. They can tell you what is currently happening in a particular subject matter area and they can spot trends. Many even try to predict what will happen in the future, though, like a weatherman, their predictions are inaccurate at best.

Expert practitioners, on the other hand, actually work in a particular subject matter area. They not only know a lot about a particular subject, they learn by experience. They therefore have a more intimate knowledge of the subject matter. Because of their experience, they can provide better insights and advice that is contextual and actionable. They not only spot trends, but help to create them. Better than anyone, they can tell you the state-of-the-art in their area of expertise because they work with it on a daily basis.

So, which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get. If you are looking for trends and ‘forward looking statements’ (predictions), then maybe an analyst can give you what you want, but probably not in the context in which you want it. If you’re looking for a way to solve a problem, in-depth information about a particular subject in a particular context, a ‘reality check’, or actionable advice, go with the expert practitioner.

A Learning Curve for Windows 8? Much Ado About Nothing, but Stick With Windows 7 for the Enterprise

Windows 8 really doesn’t bring anything new to the table of advantage to the enterprise. From a productivity standpoint, why introduce change and a learning curve, steep or otherwise, that returns no net return on productivity? The new Metro “Apps” have no useful place in the enterprise and were designed primarily for the consumer market, and for administrators, locking down these apps looks daunting.

I try to be an early adopter, as long as the cost is low. So when I had the opportunity to upgrade my personal laptop to Windows 8 for $15 (I had recently purchased 2 laptops, and Microsoft offers the $15 upgrade to recent purchasers of machines running Window 7), I took the plunge. After reading about the increased security, I knew I should do it for that reason alone. And after reading all the reviews about a steep learning curve, new “Apps”, and how it would be so different running it on a laptop as opposed to a tablet or touch screen device, I decided to do the upgrade anyway.

The upgrade itself was no big deal. The installation was effortless (I created media from which to do the install, one of the options available) but took a long time, since I elected to keep all of my files and settings. Once the laptop rebooted, I took to conquering the so-called steep learning curve, how the new Metro interface would change things forever on the laptop.

For anyone using a tablet of any kind, the learning curve is minimal. For those that have never used a tablet, the learning curve could be steeper, but it really isn’t that daunting.

Microsoft has essentially set up an “invisible” start button in the lower left hand corner of the screen that, when clicked with a mouse, opens the start screen instead of a start menu. Microsoft also starts you on the start screen instead of your old desktop. When on the desktop, nothing at all changed for me. It looks the same as my windows 7 desktop, minus the start button. All of the old keyboard commands and shortcuts work as they used to, all of my applications are the same, the only two real changes were that there is no “Aero Glass” look to the windows, and all the rounded corners are gone.

I haven’t really come up against anything I don’t like about windows 8. Boot times are much faster, the start page is easy to navigate, and the opening screen, with clock and background apps, gives me a great first glance at the day ahead, without even unlocking my account.

That being said, I would stay with Windows 7 for new desktop and laptop upgrades for the enterprise. Here’s why:

Eye candy aside, Windows 8 really doesn’t bring anything new to the table of advantage to the enterprise. From a productivity standpoint, why introduce change and a learning curve, steep or otherwise, that returns no net return on productivity? The new Metro “Apps” have no useful place in the enterprise and were designed primarily for the consumer market, and for administrators, locking down these apps looks daunting. The new version of IE10, while pretty, also takes time to learn to use properly and effectively, another learning curve with no net gain.

So while I will use Windows 8 on my own personal laptop, Windows 7 remains the choice for the enterprise.

Underutilized Advisory Services Contracts: Big Dollar Issue with a “Short Money” Solution

Underutilization of current advisory services is a symptom of antiquated business and delivery models. Newer, faster, better, and less expensive are the guiding principles of our technological age. By using broader, scalable services, and “Internet fast” order and delivery methodologies and technologies, it is much easier to receive the needed value without overpaying.

The last time you looked at the utilization report from your advisory services provider(s) you probably found that:

  • Many of the seats you purchased are underutilized.
  • The cost of services continues to outpace the value received.
  • A good portion of services used came at extra cost (beyond base).
  • There are little to no productivity gains or savings in time.

Unfortunately, the business model that traditional advisory services vendors use — a business model more than three decades old — causes this underutilization. Traditional advisory services provide databases of research white papers, which, almost by definition, are dated, and use information available from other sources. White papers are supposed to be unbiased, but since the information gathered comes from sources with unknown agendas at best, and are completely biased at worst, the white paper’s bias is always suspected. White papers are also written for a broad audience, usually from the perspective of a Fortune 1000 company, which means that because of the context, the information may not be useful to you and your organization.

Back in the last century, before the advent of the Internet, information was generated and distributed at a much slower pace, and the encyclopedic research style of advisory services was the best possible solution to the problem of getting relevant information on new technologies and best practices. The “seat license” kept this information proprietary, and only seat-holders have access to the information, stifling collaboration. Access to analysts to ask a specific question always came at additional cost, and if there was no analyst for a particular topic, there was no way to get an answer.

This is no longer the case. With the Internet age has come huge volumes of information at a staggering pace, in many different forms and contexts. This information, made readily available through Internet publication, search, and aggregation sites, makes much of the white paper style of research obsolete. Information is “publicly traded” on the Internet through blogs, social media and other electronic publications. This publicly available content has become the media through which companies advertise and prove their value. Because most people are very familiar with navigating the Internet to obtain information on a daily basis from home, they eschew the paid advisory services for the newer, faster, fresher information, thereby causing the underutilization.

This overload of available information does, however, come at a cost — time. Both Accenture (2007)1 and Atos (2011)2 have studies that show that management wastes 25% of its time searching for information. This wasted time is a direct result of having to search through the Internet and advisory databases for the information they need, and convert it into a useable form.

The trend of high cost advisory service underutilization and time consuming search can be reversed by:

  1. Seeking services that use delivery models that leverage today’s technology and the expertise of front-line experts — Using current technology for requesting and receiving information from practicing professionals gives users the “bleeding edge” information required by today’s IT departments.
  2. Moving to a broader coverage model — Service models that license by the seat restrict the flow of information in an age that requires the free flow of that information. Seek service models that cover the enterprise and foster collaboration with free distribution of information within the enterprise.
  3. Realizing that lower cost does not mean lower quality — With the use of vetted expert networks, high quality subject-matter experts (SMEs) are available “on demand” without the antiquated idea of the user paying for the vendors’ “bench strength.” This significantly lowers cost to the user and therefore immediately increases value.
  4. Finding providers with rapid turnaround times — The longer it takes to get the information from a provider, the more likely the end user will seek information elsewhere.
  5. Getting information “straight from the horse’s mouth” — Use services whose primary deliverables include direct contact (teleconference and web conference) with the subject matter experts, ensuring in-context and actionable information. Speak with an SME instead of reading about what they did.
  6. Seeking out multipurpose vendors (Expertise-as-a-Service® [EaaS™]) – Vendors that can supply additional services (consulting, performance measurement, etc.) using the same request and delivery methods shorten learning curves, reduces proposal submission times, speed up consultant interviewing and on-boarding, and ensure quality and consistency. Leveraging EaaS providers also reduces the costs of these other services, as stated in (3) above.

Underutilization of current advisory services is a symptom of antiquated business and delivery models. Newer, faster, better, and less expensive are the guiding principles of our technological age. By using broader, scalable services, and “Internet fast” order and delivery methodologies and technologies, it is much easier to receive the needed value without overpaying.

References

1 “Managers Say the Majority of Information Obtained for Their Work Is Useless,” Accenture, January 4, 2007.
2
“Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy,” Susanna Kim, ABC News, November 29, 2011