Archive for the ‘Commentary FWIW’ Category

5 Enterprise Tech Trends to Watch in 2016

mainframe computerAlso posted to Sonian Blog.

Sonian’s archive, search and analytics platform exists at the intersection of cloud, big data and machine learning. Over the past 8 years we have pioneered many initiatives in order to harness the cloud to solve a hard problem: fast and reliable full-text search and analytics for tens of billions of emails and attachments.

Our greater mission is to help enterprise IT migrate their on-premises systems to the cloud, and we know that archiving and information governance workloads are the first to “move on up to the top.”

We have a knack for identifying enterprise tech trends that are at the beginning of the adoption curve and want to share five trends were monitoring in 2016.

1. IT Becomes the Department of “Yes”

IT’s influence has waned in many organizations because IT, by their own volition, became the “department of no.” Which is ironic since IT previously was the group that brought innovation to their respective businesses. Innovation that gave a competitive advantage. But even IT couldn’t keep up with the pace of innovation in the cloud era and fell victim to legacy thinking and line of business managers found IT obstructing progress. That’s why Salesforce.com, Workday, Hubspot, Intacct, etc. took off. In fact there are over 1,400 enterprise SaaS apps that can be procured without IT involvement. Business managers “pushed ” IT aside and implemented their own solutions. But IT is poised to come roaring back to being relevant.

This situation is about to change. IT will reinvent itself in 2016 and become the department of yes.

In fact, the CIO role will be redefined dramatically. CIO historically means Chief Information Officer, but in 2016 that will shift to Chief Innovation Officer. And a new role is emerging called Chief Data Officer. CIO and CDO responsibilities will merge together as part of ITs’ resurgence.

IT departments will be smaller and more efficient. They will focus on the more value-add services and let the “cloud” manage the undifferentiated heavy lifting. No longer is managing a on-premises Microsoft Exchange server a value add. The cloud can deliver commodity-priced email cheaper than self-managed. This means fewer people are needed and their skills need to be upgraded to focus more on the business needs and less on the mundane technical tasks.

It’s the end of “average IT.”

Read more…

The Story about Amazon’s “Bruising” Workplace and Young Goodman Brown

Through-The-Looking-GlassThoughts on the NYTimes story about Amazon’s alleged “bruising” workplace.

Do you know the story of Young Goodman Brown?

Nathaniel Hawthorne tells us the story of Young Goodman Brown in this fable set in 17th century Puritan New England.

“Young Goodman Brown journeys into the forest one evening to find his town folk cavorting with the devil. He wakes up the next morning and doesn’t know if he had a dream or a real life experience.

He can’t look at his family or friends the same ever again, suspecting good Christians of duplicitous behavior. And he dies a gloomy man.”

My take: Once you have witnessed an alternate reality, it is hard to look at someone the same again. That’s how I feel after learning of the issues at Amazon.com.

It’s soul-crushing to read a negative story about one of my “heroes”. Maybe “hero” is too strong of a word since I’m referring to web giant Amazon, but nonetheless, I felt deflated after reading the NYTimes article describing the “horrible bosses” environment over at “Day 1” central.

My Sunday morning check-Twitter, drink-espresso ritual got me mired in the original article. My network was buzzing about the story. Wow, NYTimes front page coverage. What’s going on?

“Could this really be true?”

I delved deeper, reading follow-up blog posts from current and former employees who verified the articles’ core truths and then counterpoints that refuted with a pro-Amazon point of view. Many commenters to the original article declared they would abandon Amazon because of this reveal. That seemed drastic. But what is the truth, and does it really matter?

From my exploration, the reality is there were probably examples of bad stuff happening, but I think that’s the exception and not the rule. It’s a company with nearly 100,000 people and operating at breakneck speed.

Amazon and AWS play big parts in my life. My company came to existence alongside AWS’ stellar growth. I wouldn’t be doing “this” if AWS never happened. My life has Amazon woven into almost every aspect: entertainment (most of my TV budget is either Prime Video or Netflix), shopping (Amazon is my “mall”) and now my household helper (Echo: “Alexa… remind me to buy milk.”)

I know many people at AWS who have been there for years and seem to thrive. But I also saw a revolving door of people cycle through various roles, only to leave for another gig “pretty quick.” But I never thought the environment was toxic. I still don’t think it is, but once an allegation is made, even baseless, it’s hard not to think “what if?”

This is an example of an increasingly common occurrence these days. The “masses” learn about the messiness behind the curtain when a popular brand with great luster is tarnished by a big negative reveal, and all is not as it seemed (or we had hoped.) Apple had a PR problem with stories about iPhone factories and horrible working conditions. The public scrutiny seems to have helped the workers in the factories. iPhone prices didn’t skyrocket, and we assume workers are treated better. Another example is Lance Armstrong, a “brand” built on the themes of strength and perseverance. Now we know the real truth and it

Consumers want quality and innovation AND low prices. But we don’t want to know all the inconvenient details about how low prices are achieved.

 

 

 

The Best Books I Read in 2014

It’s that time of the year to “nominate” last year’s education and entertainment reading standouts.

I reviewed my 2014 reading (and listening) library and found these terrific books I still think about months later.

the-martianBest Fiction: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian is Andy Weir’s first novel and a fantastic story about an astronaut’s survival on Mars after a sand storm surprises him and his fellow explorers. It’s science fiction and drama, believable for today, while seeming to take place in the near future when Mars exploration becomes an eventual destiny for mankind. The technical detail is mesmerizing and very thoughtful. How would someone stranded on Mars figure out a way to survive with the supplies at hand? Communicate with Earth? The Martian is great storytelling.

 

 

Runner-up: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Donna Tartt treats us to a visually rich and engrossing story  about Theo, a teenager growing into manhood, and an intricate, riveting plot that carries him from New York City around the world in self-exploratory odyssey.

 

hard-thingsBest Business Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

I have read The Hard Thing About Hard Things three times. The book is so appealing to me because I have started 3 software companies since 1995,  and the startup challenges Ben Horowitz describes are real-world scenarios about succeeding, failing, pivoting, and enduring the emotional roller coaster that is a startup. Ben has been at the origin of great companies and their impact on the modern Internet era. Starting with Netscape and Loudcloud, to Opsware and the influential Andreessen Horowitz venture firm, Ben offers practical, relatable advice on how to grow a company.

 

 

Runner-up: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt

I’m always curious how (my perception of) innovative organizations like Google work. Last year I read The Everything Store and got my Amazon fix. This year was Google. This is not a “tell all” type of book, but rather a collection of best practices presented in anecdotal narrative format on how Google works as a company and a thriving organization. Topics range from best practices on product management, innovation, hiring and firing, running team meetings and in general being a company that wants to do good.

 

benjamin -franklinBest Biography: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Shame on me for not knowing the strategic role Benjamin Franklin played in the founding of America. I had a cursory understanding of Mr. Franklin’s importance as a founding father, but after reading Walter Isaacson’s detailed accounting of his life, I now see Franklin’s hand in shaping the America we know today. Franklin believed a nation of thrifty, hard-working, “merchant” class people was the best formula for long-term success.

We all know the stories of discovering electricity with lightning rods and quotes such as “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” but what I did not know was the significant role Franklin played crafting the founding principles of America, negotiating treaties with France to aid the colonies against the British, and the intricacies of his unconventional hybrid-family structures.

 

 

10-happierBest Self-improvement: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier changed my life. I discovered the positive benefits of meditation. This book opened my eyes to mindfulness and gave me a way to approach daily meditation that I know is reducing stress and increasing my personal happiness.

 

When to Pay Attention to Competitors

Startups get conflicting advice about how to deal with competitors. Well known advisors recommend “use your competitor’s products every day” and others mandate “define your point of view, chart your course, and ignore the competition.” The best approach is a balanced implementation of both schools of thought. The key is to know when to shift from the first strategy to the second.

As a startup founder I know all too well the “push / pull” competition tracking can have on staying to true to a vision, versus realizing that another team might have figured something out before your team did. And all the distraction that ensues reacting to every competitor’s market moves. I realized I was falling into the trap of paying too much attention to what the competition is doing and losing focus on our core ethos.

hypecycle-competitorsAn “easy” rule of thumb is to correlate competition tracking efforts to the stage of the business. The Gartner Hype Cycle is a visual way to correlate when to track competition as your project matures from the “Innovation Trigger” to the “Plateau of Productivity.”

Read more…

Meditation Experiment 30/30 – 30 mins for 30 days

meditation-zenLast week I completed a goal to meditate 30 minutes for 30 days. My interest in meditation began after reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier. The book opened my eyes to meditation and mindful thinking and presented simple meditation practices that seemed approachable and easy to adopt.

My “30/30” introduction was a trial to figure out if I could sustain a daily cadence. The process of adopting a mediation regimen is similar to easing into daily exercise or diet changes. Start gradual, make a personal pact to follow through for 30 days, and gradually embed into a daily (positive) habit.

With my 30/30 mediation success I have now increased to one hour a day. Going for 60 minutes for 60 days. So far so good. Finding an hour in a busy schedule has challenges, and I’m also not letting exercise slip. For this next phase I am scheduling the meditation hour and blocking the time on the calendar.

I do not have a specific time of day for meditation, but I seem to gravitate toward mid-morning or late afternoon time slots. Increasing to an hour will cause this to fluctuate. I tried mediating right after waking up, but had trouble “getting into the zone.” Same thing at the end of the day; I didn’t feel as good meditating right before bedtime. Meditating earlier in the day has a “pay it forward” quality the same way exercising early in the day burns calories more efficiently for the rest of the day. The meditation mental “bump” is noticeable and desirable.

30/30 Meditation Results – 30 Minutes for 30 Days

I jotted down a few notes from the previous 30 days.

  • Meditating makes me cognizant of my thoughts and how they affect mood and body. In the past I would gnash on a subject without realizing I was spiraling into a negative mood or inducing a stomach ache. Meditation is rewiring my brain to be more calm.
  • Meditating clears my mind of background chatter, allowing great ideas to come forth.
  • Meditating gives me an internal “pause” ability to respond instead of reacting in stressful situations. Responding is thoughtful and measured, reacting is knee jerk and not productive.

 

5 Benefits of Adopting a Daily Meditation Practice

meditation

A 5 minute read.

I recently read Dan Harris’ new book 10% Happier and came away with a new understanding how adopting a daily meditation practice doesn’t have to be hard, nor the pastime of only monks, buddhas and New Age-y hippies, and can help improve health (mental and physical) and overall well being. A daily meditation practice became very accessible to me after reading his own experience.

Dan is an ABC News reporter and he shares his personal journey to realizing the positive benefits of regular meditation and “mindful” thinking. The backdrop is his return to New York after covering the Iraq War and dealing with post traumatic stress situations while pursuing a high-pressure network television career. My backstory isn’t as stress challenged or interesting as a war correspondent, but I found inspiration in his writing.

In the high-tech startup world in which I and my colleagues are immersed in, email, texts, tweets, and blog posts blare at us across all our devices. We’re overloading our brains with a constant stream of sensory input and the problem of disconnecting is becoming epidemic. True epiphanies only emerge when we disconnect and clear our minds. And the world needs more epiphanies.

It used to be that a six hour cross country flight without WiFi was agony, but now I kinda enjoy the opportunity for deep thinking when WiFi isn’t available and I’m not tempted to “check in.” Being connected and available to the team is a problem of our own making. So the collective “we” needs to find a happy medium between always being available and purposeful disconnection. For me mediation is a way to achieve healthy balance.

I approached mediation the same way I integrated a regular exercise routine over the past years. Started with simple goals, didn’t beat myself up if I missed a day, and just gradually eased into a cadence.

Here are my five benefits of daily 30 minute meditation:

Read more…

Battlestar Galactica is Great SciFi – “So say we all!”

I just finished watching Battlestar Galactica Season 2 on Amazon Prime. I have been enjoying this re-imagined series while exercising, propping the iPad on the elliptical machine’s media shelf. It’s an entertaining way to sweat for 45 minutes. Battlestar Galactica aired on the SciFi channel from 2004 thru 2009. Total 4 seasons and the show’s wiki page helped guide which episodes to watch in the correct order to avoid spoilers. There are a few mini-series compilations and spinoffs as well. Eventually I’ll get through all the content in the original airing order.

I remember the original late 1970′s Battlestar Galactica starring Lorne Greene but didn’t pay much attention to the “new” 2004 era series except that it starred well know actors, including Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos. My re-introduction happened literally by stumbling across the 2003 pilot on Amazon Prime. The quality special effects, great writing, and intricate parallel plots hooked me. The references to topic-du-jour themes of intersection between science, religion & race are very entertaining and thoughtful. The acting across the board is fantastic. It’s amazing what the producers created even though not financed by a major TV network or movie production house.

If, like me, you originally scoffed at this show’s premise, now almost 10 years old since the first season, take another look.

Please post a comment if you know of other military-style SciFi video programs. I would like to find more of this genre.

 

 

Abundant Innovation @Sonian: June 2013

Abundant Innovation, Sonian Style – June 2013

I was honored to witness the creativity of the @sonian product development team at our June 2013 All-Team Meet-up. Our tradition the past five years is to hold a 24-hour Codefest where teams self-organize to work on a project they feel passionate about. Nearly all of these passion pursuits benefit Sonian in some way. I’m a lucky CTO / Founder!

For this meet-up 31 people across 9 teams created projects that will help Sonian save money or wow customers with new features. Awards were issued in two categories; Sizzle and Steak. Sizzle for a new customer-facing feature and Steak for an improvement in the behind-the-scenes platform. Each project is highlighted below in their presentation order.

 

Team: Big Brother (Winner: Sizzle Category)
Project: All your IM are Belongs to us

Vikram, Joel and Arnaud teamed up on a project demonstrating the capability to capture IM conversations using a proxy between the IM client and the server. Their implementation captures all conversations, encrypted or not, for compliance and data mining purposes. This is an important requirement for organizations subjected to regulatory information retention obligations.

The data collection is invisible to the end user because there is no software to install. A few issues still need to be resolved such as SSL certificate management and how to capture mobile device IM conversations. Archiving and analyzing IM data is especially important for the financial sector and other regulated industries.

 

Team: House of Targaryen
Project: Making Developers Happy

Alan, Josh, Scott and Ubiratan worked on a project to show how Continuous Integration (CI) techniques can improve quality by finding defects faster. This project demonstrated running tests as code is checked into source control. CI automated processes identify problems before the QA team begins their work, alerting the developer quickly before too much time passes.

This project can be rolled into production with just a few more days of work.

 

Team: Facts and Fun,
Project: Data Analysis for Fun and Profit (and Fun)

David, Raj, Steve and Robert demonstrated a new data management technology with a specialty to manage information that slowly changes over time. This is especially important for new features Sonian plans to roll out later this year.

The practical application is useful for snapshotting corporate directory, email folder coordination and many other use cases. This is also a general support system for data visualizations, meta data, etc. and compliments the use of ElasticSearch. An added bonus is lower operating costs for cloud infrastructure expenses.

Read more…

The Most TV Excitement Since “Brought to you in Living Color”?

Are we witnessing the most TV excitement since the phrase “the following program brought to you living color” meant something special? Maybe? I’m not a huge consumer of lots of television shows, but I do enjoy fine crafted comedies and dramas on my own schedule. (oh… and I’ll admit, the occasional reality TV show… looking at you Bravo!). I was there for the birth of Tivo and ReplayTV, which ushered in the now taken-for-granted DVR era. I’ve played around with early Internet TV streaming, only to back off when the friction to find shows exceeded my patience. I cheer the cord cutting movement, but have yet to cancel my own cable connection and live a “streamed life.”

So why is there so much excitement in television these days? Because of all the simultaneous experimentation occurring before our eyes. Experimentation in creating quality entertainment and experimentation in delivering shows directly on the Internet, bypassing the cable monopolies.

I’ve read books and seen documentaries about the fledgling 1950’s television industry. There was palpable excitement “in the air” about what TV could do… and whether it was Lucille Ball or Walter Cronkite, technology, news and entertainment were all pushing boundaries farther and farther than what was possible with radio or newspapers. This was an era of simultaneous experimentation in content and technology, vacuum tube style.

So what’s happening now? I did three things this rainy holiday weekend…

1. Connected a Roku3 and AppleTV to the home media large screen TV to augment the cable DVR box and BluRay player
2. Signed up for an Aereo Boston account so I can stream live local HD TV via the iPad, through the AppleTV, to the big screen
3. Resumed my Netflix streaming account so I can watch the new Arrested Development and House of Cards

Read more…

Why are Mutual Taxonomies so Important?

The last few business development and planning meetings between my team and external third parties exposed an aggravating trend: The lack of a mutual understanding of taxonomies wasted time and both parties ended up talking over and thru over each other just trying to figure out what each other was really intending with their word choice. Seemingly basic words such as “provisioning”, “application”, “management console” and “entitlement” meant different things to each group.

Reminds me of this now famous quote: “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is…”

This is because many organizations develop an internal vocabulary and slang for how they communicate with each other about their respective product/service. Externalizing this “internal” vocabulary is difficult.

In a typical two hour meeting with multiple people from each party a good one-quarter of the time is wasted because there was no mutually understood taxonomy. Usually the meeting is well underway before it becomes obvious that “we’re confusing each other with dual-meaning words”… “let’s start over and first focus on the definitions for [...each term].”

Maybe this is a natural process that has to happen, or maybe there is a better way. With foresight and homework meeting planners can anticipate the common words that might have dual meanings and establish the vocabulary up-front. I’m going to try this tact for my next external meeting.