Monday, November 20, 2006

Hugs & Kisses, Hurts & Curses

Norman Nie of Stanford University says, "You can't get a hug or a kiss over the Internet." (Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, p. 9).

Daniel Goleman, the author of the 1995 best-seller Emotional Intelligence, has authored a new book which I hope every IT Manager makes time to read, Social intelligence. The point of the book is that we are all "wired to connect", no matter how much technology is part of our everyday experience. In fact, in the beginning of the book, it is clear that Goleman believes recent technological developments are insulating most of us from that essential human connectivity for which we are biologically wired. From the car, to the cell phone, to the iPod, Goleman argues we are encasing ourselves in technology which isolates us from one another, leading to what he calls social autism.

Stephen Covey made a similar point in his book First Things First (1996) when he said, "You can be efficient with things, but you need to be effective with people, particularly on jugular issues." I've remembered that point over the years, but it bears repetition. With Goleman's new book, not only is the point repeated, it is reinforced with research from the the new discipline of social neuroscience. Our emotions and moods are all about human connectivity and the jugular issues of communication.

In the opening chapters, for instance, he talks metaphorically about the high road and the low road of communication. The high road is all about the frontal lobe of the brain, the location where reflection and rationality intercede, hopefully stopping us from saying something stupid. The low road, on the other hand, is all about the amygdala, almond-shaped groups of neurons buried deep within the temporal lobes of the brain where we sense one another's mood and emotions before we have had time to reflect or rationalize. The salient point is that the low road works far, far faster than the high road.

We experience this whenever we watch a movie or are engaged in a conversation with someone and intuit something going on. Whenever there is a hint of a smile on someone's face and we respond with our own smile or, even in a more subtle fashion, with a minor shift in mood which mirrors that of our conversationalist. All of this happens in an instant and before we are aware of what is going on consciously. This means, of course, that there is far too much information in one-on-one conversation to rely on e-mail, instant messaging, blogs, or other forms of communication which technophiles, like IT managers, use and promote everyday.

We may not hug or kiss one another in such conversations, but the point is still valid. The wiring we use for our technology cannot, and perhaps never will be, as effective in communicating with one another as the face-first conversation.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Spam, Botnets, Pump-and-Dump, and Armageddon

Spam has become such a common part of life with e-mail these days that even bringing up the topic in casual conversation has become boring. Boring, that is, unless the conversationalist brings something novel and interesting to the dialogue. If that's true for casual conversations, then it's absolutely true for blogs and other forms of monologue.

Maybe considering volume and percentages helps. I estimate that I receive about 120 spam e-mail messages daily on my personal e-mail account. Because my corporate account is pre-laundered by an external service before e-mail arrives in my Inbox, it's a little more difficult to discuss absolute numbers and percentages (we use Postini's Enterprise Email Protection Service). About 52% of our corporate e-mail is either blocked or quarantined for further review.

My experiences reflect the overall historical situation. In 1978, an e-mail spam was sent to 600 addresses. By 1994, the first large-scale e-mail spam was sent to 6000 bulletin boards and eventually reached millions of people. By June 2005, the volume of spam had reached 30 billion per day. By June of 2006, that number had risen to 55 billion spam e-mail messages per day. About 80-85% of all e-mail messages globally are now "abusive" e-mail (see e-mail spam on Wikipedia).

OK, so maybe even talking about absolute numbers and percentages aren't all that interesting. What I do find interesting, though, is that digging a little deeper into the phenomenon of spam demonstrates alarming changes that go well beyond simple numbers. I'm thinking here of botnets, so-called pump-and-dump, international e-mail crime gangs, and the advent of Armageddon.

Here's a recent example. In the past few weeks, there has been a surge of spam for penny stocks and penis enlargement pills. Evidently, the surge has been tracked back to a gang of Russian hackers who have cobbled together a botnet of 70,000 peer-to-peer computers is as many as 160 countries worldwide which uses the SpamThru Trojan to do the dirty work. Botnets are "broadband-enabled PCs, hijacked during virus and worm attacks and seeded with software that connects back to a server to receive communications from a remote attacker" (Is the Botnet Battle Already Lost?, 16-Oct-2006, eWeek). Computers controlled through botnet technology are generally called zombies. They provide the mechanism whereby spam is generated and delivered, bringing back billions of dollars in revenues to the gangsters.

How prevalent and dangerous is the threat? Since January 2005, Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool has removed at least one Trojan or bot from 3.5 million individual computers. When those computers were compromised by the hidden code, they exemplified the first of the 10 Immutable Laws of Security: Law #1: If a bad guy can persuade you to run his program on your computer, it's not your computer anymore.

How does the bot herder get you to run his program on your computer? Through either a vulnerability on your computer or through a weak password. As Jesper Johannson says, "The only thing that stands between attackers and the end of the world is a password." (see Assessing Network Security, p. 11).

It may be a little early to tell whether the good guys can fight back and delay the advent of Armageddon. But it is clearly the case that the sophistication of the bad guys is alarming. The SpamThru trojan, for example, is not only being used in a very effective spam campaign, it is also evidence of malware that is as complex and feature-rich as many commercial software programs. This trojan, for example, has its very own anti-virus scanner embedded within its code - a pirated version of the Kaspersky AntiVirus for WinGate. The AV scanner is used by the trojan to eliminate rival malware files that would get in the way of maximizing the volume of spam e-mail sent from the zombie computer. That is very clever and very disturbing.

The SpamThru trojan also uses templates downloaded to the zombie but which uses challenge-and-response authentication methods to prevent other malware software from stealing the templates it uses from the template server. Not only is that clever and disturbing, it might even be worthy of a conversation around the water cooler on Monday.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Multifactor Authentication - It's Coming Sooner Than We Think

It's hard to believe, but it's been 2 years since the Bush administration in the United States issued the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. The point of the directive was to enhance security through the reduction of identity fraud. One of the ways the HSPD-12 has affected information technology is by accelerating the adoption of smart cards. In fact, ActivIdentity predicts that between 50 and 100 million smart cards will be in circulation in the United Stated in as little as 10 years.

One of my colleagues just returned from training into FPA-SAFE, a program designed to help the food industry with its audit needs. He confirmed that identity security was an important part of the training materials and concerns. He even shared some humorous stories about the lack of appropriate standards for authentication in the food industry.

This occurred at the end of a meeting in which we discussed our own internal security procedures and standards. I had introduced staff to multifactor authentication, something I had been reading about in Jesper Johannsson and Steve Riley's book Protect Your Windows Network: From Perimeter To Data. The idea behind multifactor authentication is that we can enhance identity security in computer systems by utilizing 2 of 3 classes of authentication factors: something the user is, something the user has, or something the user knows. The first usually involves biometrics, the second something like a security token or smart card, and the third something like a password, pass phrase, or PIN. By using 2 of the 3 factors, we can dramatically improve the security of our systems while making life easier for our users.

Normally, I would have thought that multifactor authentication was simply too advanced and too rich for smaller companies like ours. But international standards organization and compliance regulations are spurring growth of the technology, reducing price points and increasing the likelihood that small- and medium-sized businesses will see the business benefits of the technology.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

IQMS User Group Meeting - Security

The final breakout session of the conference for me was security. The session was presented by Gustavo and Tina Jolicoeur of IQMS.

Without completing redesigning the module, there isn't a lot that can be done to add features. Nonetheless, users were quick to point out areas that needed improvement or than could be enhanced to ease management of users and security roles in Security Inspector.

IQMS has already enabled administrators to kill sessions. They have also added password policies and the ability to lock user accounts out of any IQMS module.

There was some more discussion on an issue which Randy Flamm had already indicated IQMS would not budge on, namely a single logon to the system using the authentication available to system administrators already in Windows Server 2003 through Active Directory and group policies. It is aggravating to our users to have to logon twice, once to the system, then on to EnterpriseIQ. Since we have implemented standard password and other security-related policies, there is nothing that IQMS can add that provides useful password protection that we haven't already implemented. If network administrators are following recommended standard policies, then this will be true universally. Unfortunately, many administrators continue to provide generic accounts to the operating system even though doing so compromises security. Not only that, but there are better ways to provide a mandatory profile and desktop to users than through generic accounts.

One feature that I advocated for, however, was the ability in Security Inspector to find-and-replace roles for individual users. The idea is that whenever we create custom roles to replace the IQMS canned roles, I don't want to have to find each individual user who has that role allocated to their IQMS user account and replace it with the custom-designed role. It would be far easier to find the existing accounts and replace them automatically.

There were a couple of new and old features of security that will help us. One is the ability to automatically log off users from their IQMS accounts whenever they have exceeded a session limit. That already exists, but I was unaware of the feature. A second pre-existing feature of which I was unfamiliar was that of resetting user passwords when they forget their password. Although we cannot do this through the IQMS-provided interface, I can do so through Oracle's Enterprise Manager Console.

The session was a useful way for me to come to the conclusion of this year's user group meeting. It was a very useful conference for all three of the Pano Cap Canada delegates.

IQMS User Group Meeting - Preventative Maintenance

The final day of sessions started with a breakfast meeting in the ballroom with CorVu demonstrating their line of business intelligence products. That was followed by various breakout sessions until lunch, when the conference ended.

The first breakout session for me was Preventative Maintenance with Bob Gee and Danielle Fresca of IQMS. I had already met with Bob the day before in the afternoon at the IQMS Help Desk to review issues related to preventative maintenance, but the session was useful to review what other users were doing with the module and issues they had about required enhancements.

The biggest enhancement noted by the presenters during the sessions was the addition (finally!) of user-defined classes. In all previous versions, the classes of preventative maintenance were hard-coded. Now we'll be able to add our own, thereby facilitating sorting and grouping of tasks and work orders.

On behalf of Pano Cap, my colleague and I reiterated our desire to be able to add miscellaneous costs at the activity level to preventative maintenance work orders. But the greatest amount of user discussion focused on the issue of automatically generating preventative maintenance work orders by the last bill of material tool configuration. Randy Flamm had just joined the discussion. He guaranteed that IQMS would do something along these lines in the next major release.

Friday, November 10, 2006

IQMS User Group Meeting - CRM

Pano Cap has had some success implementing the Customer Relationship Management module from IQMS already. But it was good to sit on this next breakout session and offer some suggestions for improvement. Our sales staff use the module to handle most customer-related issues - calls, tasks, support issues, and meetings. We have designed our own sample request forms and processes, but with recent improvements to the product, I foresee us abandoning those custom applications for the quoting module in CRM. In addition, with the requested changes to CRM, our IT department should be even more successful in adapting the software for its own needs as a help desk module.

IT uses CRM to document support-related issues. We also use the Project Manager module to document IT-related initiatives and strategic plans for a given period. With a few changes to CRM, we should in the future be able to link support activities directly to the project initiatives.

Other users were anxious to get IQMS to improve the Outlook-related features of the CRM module, including ActiveSync'ing with Pocket PCs and Smart Phones. With the 9/15 release we should also get web access through Apache server to the CRM module so that traveling sales people can access their to do lists and other CRM-related notes while using their smart phones or PDAs. In addition, when a call is received by a sales person or someone in IT, and that call is related to a problem with service, the new release promises to allow us to immediately drag-and-drop that call into the support issues queue.

CRM cannot, and may never, offer all the features of a product like Microsoft's Outlook, but the integration with the ERP system makes it a very compelling option, especially if the company can secure unlimited licenses. I don't know if Pano Cap is ready to make the investment in unlimited licenses, but it would be nice ;>)

IQMS User Group Meeting - WMS/RF

The next breakout session I attended was in the ballroom and had a large number of attendees, all eagerly anticipating news on the Warehouse Management System (WMS, RF for Radio Frequency). Diane Ramaglia was the presenter, but it is safe to say that Randy Flamm, the president and founder of IQMS, took the lead in fielding the Q&A session that followed Diane's PowerPoint presentation.

Diane flew through her slide deck, leaving little time to take notes, but suffice to say that the WMS product is designed to provide better accuracy in inventory, to provide a real-time view of that inventory, to reduce costs in managing inventory, to reduce returned product, and to support less time spent on physical inventory counts.

The anticipated next release of WMS will have new features in both the web-based version for PDAs and the text-based version for bar code scanners such we have at Pano Cap. In addition, Randy fielded a lot of suggestions and questions about enhancements.

From the Pano perspective, we were able to get most of our questions about best practices and implementation scenarios answered. The IQMS staff seemed a little nervous about our initiative in getting WMS/RF users together during the lunch session, possibly because they wanted to ensure that any useful suggestions about product enhancements were documented by IQMS staff and implemented in subsequent releases of their software. Even so, we met with other WMS/RF users during the lunch break and got a few more pointers about implementation lessons learned.

IQMS User Group Meeting - Crystal Reports

The morning sessions on Thursday, November 9th, 2006 started with a Microsoft presentation on FRx report writer. Although we use this report writer for financial statements and other financial reports at Pano Cap, the session didn't give us anything new to digest.

The next session was given by Tina Jolicoeur and Danielle Fresca of IQMS and was far more useful. This part year has been a tough one for both IQMS and users of IQMS software products insofar as printing of Crystal Reports is concerned. Incompatibilities with .NET printing, illegal 2-table links, and miscellaneous display problems all surfaced in September 2005 and took until December for IQMS support technicians to put to bed. Most of the problems were with Crystal 8.5 and 9.0, but were left with IQMS technicians to resolve.

Crystal XI had its own set of issues. .NET printing required a reinstallation of each client workstation. There were new parameter settings for LAN administrators to use both at the global and workstation levels in EnterpriseIQ. Crystal report designers were faced with a default setting which turned on smart linking, a ridiculous feature which broke all the carefully designed table links in existing reports. And many other things.

All were addressed in this session by the IQMS presenters.

Moving on to new features related to Crystal reports in the highly anticipated 9/15 release were things like cascading dynamic parameters, a new reports catalog accessible from the main menu and a reports execution log to track which reports have been run by individual users.

We at Pano will have to start planning our move to Crystal XI, since neither 8.5 nor 9.0 are supported any longer by Business Objects. Melissa Johnson of IQMS is designing all new reports using Crystal XI and the future of printing in the IQMS environment (if not everywhere in the enterprise) will involve .NET printing, so it's time to move on, even if that means retiring printers.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

IQMS User Group Meeting - Developments

Wow! I don't know how else to express how impressed I was with Wednesday morning's session with the President of IQMS, Randy Flamm! Randy took almost 2 hours to demonstrate IQMS's continuing passion for product development. In fact, Randy admitted that he is, at least in part, an analyst who works directly with the chief programmers in orchestrating how products are designed and created.

There are simply too many new and exciting product developments to share them all here in this blog post, so I'm going to highlight just a few.

The development of a wireless real-time manufacturing solution stands out for me as something that will reap immediate rewards for both IQMS and its customers. Pano Cap Canada has resisted marketing and sales types from IQMS wanting us to implement real-time before now. And I'm glad we resisted. Next year we will probably take the plunge, but now, instead of wiring our factory floor, machine by machine, we can go a far simpler route of adding small devices to each machine, some antennae, and possibly some light bars at each machine indicating the status of the current process running on that machine. There will be no access points and 2-way communication utilizing something called mesh networking. Way cool!

Another great improvement is the addition of report catalogs and report execution logs. These are a database administrator's dream tools. We will now have an easily-navigated tool to talk to users about each and every report in the sytstem as well as PDF files documenting everything about the report's design, intention, and location. Not only that, but we can use the same tool to document our custom reports. The report execution log allows administrators to see who uses which reports, how long the reports take to run, and where possible bottlenecks are in the operation of reports.

Finally, drag-and-drop email from whatever email client a user happens to be using promises to make life easier.

Randy indicated that over 2400 modifications, enhancements, and new features have been added to IQMS modules since the last user group meeting in April of 2005. That is truly impressive work. Keep it up IQMS!

IQMS User Group Meeting - Introductions

The Wednesday morning sessions started out extremely well, the first session being the obligatory introductions. Liz Alfen, Danielle Fresca, Glenn Nowak, and Diane Ramaglia all had a chance to address the 187 attendees at this year's conference at the Las Vegas Hilton.

There were some noteworthy mentions, one of which will truly help our training efforts at Pano Cap Canada; namely, the introduction in early 2007 of self-help audio/visual training materials. These will be available from the IQMS web site (or the FTP site) and can be located on the customer's network to help in training users. We got to see one of these - a navigational training guide which provided some excellent suggestions for using pick lists and propagating search scopes.

A new marketing campaign was illustrated by Danielle Fresca. Unfortunately, the print media focus on advertising doesn't seem to have been noticed by the attendees yet.

Personally, I think IQMS needs to be far more concerned with the Internet and with Web 2.0 social networking for marketing its products. Where are the corporate IQMS blogs? Where are users of IQMS products blogging about their experiences? Try out Technorati or Google Blog Search, enter IQMS, and you will find very little. This absence of a presence in the new web needs to be addressed - fast!

Sales always has good news to share. Glenn Nowak indicated that growth has been good with 100% growth in warehouse management systems, and 20% growth in CRM sales. In addition, with the introduction of a wireless real-time manufacturing solution, sales in that arena are expected to do very well. IQMS has also been nurturing vendor partnerships, notably with Dell, CorVu, and eSP (eBusiness Solution Pros, Inc.).

One comment which stood out for me in this session was the decision to go with a "single source, single database solution vs best of breed." This has been largely responsible for IQMS success in the marketplace, that plus the attention the company pays to its customers and to hiring the right people.

If the introductions are any indication, the conference will be a smash hit!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting There - Flight to IQMS User Group Meeting

It was a very early morning, especially by Vegas time - out of bed at 1:00 am. In fact everything was early. The shuttle from Kitchener to the Toronto airport was 20 minutes early. We arrived and got boarding passes and were through customs with 90 minutes before the flight left. And the flight itself arrived in sunny Las Vegas a good 25 minutes early. The flight was without incident, check in was easy, getting settled in our respective rooms for the next few days went without a hitch, and now we're about ready to go over to the Hilton where the IQMS user group meeting will be held from Wednesday to Friday.

My colleague invited IQMS users to respond to a user group email indicating an interest in meeting with the three of us from Pano Cap Canada at Thursday's lunch right after the session on the Warehouse Management System. We got a great response - 20 people plan to get together to review implementation basics and guidelines, hardware woes and commendations, training, and so on. At the next user group meeting in 18 months, we will have to see about scheduling a user-hosted meeting after the lunch on the last day of the conference.

I'm excited about this conference for a variety of reasons. It will be our second visit to the user group meeting representing our company. That means we are more experienced and will know more about both the structure and content of the presentations, the staff from IQMS involved, the users themselves, and how to make a case for the enhancements we want. In addition, we are familiar with the strip in Vegas and the hotels/casinos where we're staying. We have a good sense of where to get decent food and are no longer intimidated by the Vegas "culture". Everything here is extremely expensive, however. We'll have to watch our expense accounts!

Since we arrived so early, there was a good part of the day still available to us. We went to the Las Vegas Hilton to check out the site of the conference and to eat at the famous Benihana Japanese Restaurant, only to find that it wouldn't open till later in the day. So, to pass time, we decided to do some walking.

There's one thing about Vegas that all walkers need to know. Although everything looks close both on the map and visually, it ain't so! We decided to visit Circus Circus, one of the hotels/casinos we hadn't seen last year. The place was a disappointment, but walking there, down the strip a little further, and then back again to the Hilton took a long time.

We got back to Benihana's early, but had a great time over the open grill with another group of 5 people and the entertaining Japanese chef. Great food, good company, but thoroughly exhausted by the end of the meal. We checked back into our rooms at the Stratosphere and I called it a night. After all, tomorrow is the conference.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hot Swap, How Sweet

Inevitable, isn't it? The day before leaving on a 6-day business trip, one of the hard drives on one of our production servers degrades to the point of failure. In addition, just last week I was boasting to our company President how our servers never break down or need service.

But as we dug a little deeper, we discovered our server was still under warranty, that the vendor would courier a replacement hard drive by tomorrow, that our network consultant would be able to be on-site to install the drive, and that the drive was hot swappable. Now that is truly sweet. The defective drive gets removed and replaced without interrupting production at all. Nobody even knows that we were on thin ice!

It wasn't that long ago that the technology supporting this kind of feature was prohibitively expensive. Today it is virtually commonplace in most servers. So the potential IT nightmare becomes, in reality, a lullaby and sweet dreams.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tim Berners-Lee and the "dangers" of blogging

I regularly read Mark Evans' blog through an RSS feed. Yesterday, as I was reading one of his entries, I was intrigued to see two full sentences near the end of a paragraph crossed out. Evidently, Mark had read a Guardian article in which Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was quoted as decrying the danger to democracy and truth caused by the world of blogging.

According to the Guardian, Berners-Lee is most concerned with "the risks associated with inaccurate, defamatory and uncheckable information." Those who read blogs take what they read on trust, too much trust.

Immediately following the two crossed out sentences, Mark has a mea culpa section in which he apologizes for taking the Guardian article at face value. Berners-Lee's orginal blog post had a far more positive spin on the world of blogging than what the Guardian and the BBC reports.

Berners-Lee actually finds blogs very useful, primarily because of their "gently evolving network of pointers of interest." In fact, the blogosphere might even provide a model for a trust infrastructure, something of possible interest to his proposed Web Science Research Initiative.

I searched Technorati to see if Mark's mistake had been repeated. In fact, many of the blog entries on the subject repeated the same mistake. But what I found most ironic was that it wasn't the BBC or the Guardian or any other print media that corrected the problem. It was other bloggers (here's just one example from a former journalist turned blogger), including Mark Evans.

What do I think? Yes, blogging has the potential of propagating misinformation quickly. Yes, bloggers often fail miserably in providing appropriate links to support their claims. But, the point still remains that the speed with which misinformation spreads is equally matched by the speed with which it is corrected. Unlike print media, where corrections are almost impossible to find and usually far too late to have any impact, blogging's internal corrective mechanism is similar to the Wikipedia model.

It is important to remember that mistakes will be made. What is critical is how those mistakes are corrected and the speed with which the correction occurs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

IT Expenditures To Grow

Accenture has recently released an annual survey of IT expenditures in the United States. Over 300 general business and IT managers were asked about expected expenditures for 2007. Sixty percent anticipated increases averaging 5.5% per annum, 13% anticipated decreases. Most executives also thought that IT expenditures were less than they should be.

Growth initiatives seem to be behind the optimistic estimates. Emphasis on maintenance activities obviously means that expenditures should not grow much, if at all. Of those growth scenarios, most had to do with integration efforts related to company acquisition, regulatory compliance issues, and security requirements.

For small/medium-sized businesses not anticipating acquisitions or major growth initiatives, Accenture's survey of big business doesn't mean too much. In fact, although I have no specific studies to support this, I do not anticipate major increases in spending in Canadian SMBs in 2007. Instead, I expect to see more Canadian IT managers concerning themselves with business alignment issues, consolidation through technologies like virtualization, and a continuing effort to secure their IT assets.

eSP and IQMS Partnership

eBusiness Solution Pros (eSP) and IQMS have just today announced a new partnership allowing IQMS to offer Stay-Linked software with their ERP wireless solutions. At Pano Cap, we are currently training staff in the use of bar code hand-held scanners, Stay-Linked, and IQMS's Warehouse Management System.

From an IT perspective, the Stay-Linked software provides a thin-client solution for wireless session persistence, the software running not on the device, but on a host. What this means in practice is that even when someone notices a temporary disruption in device-to-host access, the user will be returned to the same screen and session moments later without any IT help-desk involvement.

In addition, Stay-Linked offers the functionality of transferring control of the host-based screen session to another device should the user's device become disabled.

All of this is good news, something we should hear more about in our sessions at the upcoming IQMS UGM (user-group meeting) next week in Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Maclean's Sucks?

"After 15 years and a trillion dollars of investment, just about everything we've been told about the Internet and what the information age would mean has come up short."
--- Steve Maich, "Pornography, gambling, lies, theft and terrorism: The Internet sucks", Maclean's Life article, 30-Oct-2006

If you're looking for balanced journalism in Canada's major news magazine, Maclean's, you won't find it in this piece of tripe. Sure, there are many reasons why the Internet currently can be a dangerous place. But to reduce all the benefits of world-wide connectivity to "The Internet sucks" is to be guilty of the same hyperbole that Maich so detests about those who promote the potential of the World Wide Web.

The Maclean's article is fundamentally flawed. But the problem is not so much the Maich is simply wrong. The problem is that his editorial isn't presented as such. Instead it appears as if it's the result of journalistic research. But anyone with a passing knowledge of recent history could have written this piece with a blindfold.

Comparisons with the fiasco, the recent Google purchase of YouTube, Napster's troubles, the almost-inevitable references to pornography and gambling, plus repetition of the most outrageous comments of nay-sayers of the past 10 to 15 years...well, you all could write this story without much more effort than say, preparing a blog entry ;>)

One example of journalistic imbalance is what Maich has to say about Wikipedia. His example is a minute-by-minute account of the encyclopedia entry about the death of Enron's CEO, Ken Lay on July 5th. The problems with Wikipedia's come-one-come-all approach to authoring on-line entries could have been summarized quite simply. If you were to read the edits to that entry between 10:00 am and 10:30 am on July 5th, you would have seen some mistakes propagated by the authors.

Still, one wonders what Maich thinks about the obvious comparisons between traditional encyclopedias and Wikipedia. To get recent information of substance is impossible with printed encyclopedias. If you're willing to wait for the next annual supplement, you just might find something there about Ken Lay in late 2007. But there would be no hyperlinking of information, no reference to key terms, no checks and balances implicit with the Wikipedia authorship model - one would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to appreciate the incredible benefits available to the entire world through Wikipedia. Maich instead latches on to a single miniscule problem without so much as a tip of the hat to the almost miraculous utility of the on-line encyclopedia phenomenon. Instead, he categorically calls the article "lies".

On a very personal level, Maich's complaints about the abundance of poor health information on the Internet is laughably narrow-sighted and narrow-minded. Over the past year, I have battled rectal cancer, enduring radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and a month-long hospital stay owing to post-operative complications. During that year, the Internet has provided my surest source of communications, research, and personal therapy, no small part due to the abundance of useful medical information.

The core message of the Maclean's article is really about the danger posed to elitist publishers by bloggers who provide news and opinion for free or what Maich calls the "echo chamber". Journalists are running scared and Maich proves it. Bloggers are the most symbolic problem with the Internet.

"For everything the Web has simplified, accelerated, and proliferated, there is at least as much that it has destroyed..." - that's all you really need to read from the Maclean's article. I hope Maich gets a chance to read the blogs and Internet articles his diatribe has unleashed.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Maybe Not So Virtual

OK. So this idea of virtual business combining with real business may be a bleeding edge phenomenon.

In 24 hours, the real cash spent on Second Life totaled $494,196!!! Those real dollars were spent on virtual goods and services that have no value whatsoever outside the virtual environment of Second Life!

Nissan has just purchased an online island for $1,250. The New York Times has recently created a permanent news bureau on Second Life. Anshe Chung makes over a 6-figure income buying and selling virtual land in that same virtual world. Toyota sells a virtual Scion. Reebok sells virtual shoes for your too-cool-to-be-shoeless avatar.

In fact, there are now over one million "residents" on Second Life who would argue feverishly with you about the reality of their virtual life.

So if this phenomenon is not bleeding edge and involves real cash incentives, not to mention that it may solve corporate training issues, where do we begin? Well...perhaps someone like Pano Cap's techie blogger should consider providing virtual caps for those virtual Ketchup bottles and peanut butter jars in those virtual kitchens and restaurants. I wonder how many Linden dollars I could make selling tamper evident closures to a virtual Tylenol?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virtual Business

A while back I wrote about digital natives, a phrase used to describe generation Y consumers flooding into today's business environment. They will inevitably disrupt the way IT is managed and administered by bringing demands for VoIP, blogs, podcasting, and video-on-demand into the corporate environment. But what I find most fascinating about such prophecies is the prediction that digital natives will promote the blurring of real and virtual, not just in their hours of relaxation in the evenings and on weekends, but right in the middle of the workplace. Design and marketing firms, fashion and media companies - they're all sitting up and taking notice. Even training organizations and software vendors looking for an edge are paying attention to virtual worlds such as Second Life as ways to foster more collaborative learning methods.

Imagine yourself as one of those 20-something keeners fresh out of university and facing the new challenge of the world of business. Instead of receiving training about the company's ERP system through Adobe Acrobat files or a Microsoft PowerPoint slide deck, you create an avatar and then enter a virtual world which looks remarkably like the factory floor of the manufacturing company you have just joined. You're invited to interact with a factory manager who shows you how product is manufactured in the facility. That manager then introduces you to the operations manager who takes you on a tour of the inventory management system. And so on...(for an example, see this blog entry by Robert Scoble about John Hartman).

When you're ready, you test your knowledge by engaging in a quest or possibly by designing a simulation to improve a business process.

Maybe, just maybe, a generation Y entrepreneur creates a virtual equivalent of your business, buying raw material, hiring other avatars, planning Christmas parties for staff with virtual entertainers, manufacturing products and then selling them for Linden dollars (300 of which are now the equivalent of a US dollar).

Far fetched? Maybe. But Sun Microsystems recently hosted a virtual press conference on Second Life. Sun's chief researcher and chief gaming office both appeared in avatar form at the virtual Sun Pavilion in Second Life to open the pavilion, a facility with an outdoor theatre, meeting spaces, and kiosks playing videos of Sun technology. Sun is banking on the assumption that blogs are just the tip of the iceberg for new ways to interact with potential clients. Virtual worlds like Second Life may well eclipse all the other recent developoments in the Web 2.0 universe.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

IQMS User Group Meeting - Preview & Schedule

This year's IQMS User Group Meeting is being held at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel from November 8th to 10th. Attendees from Pano Cap Canada will provide blog entry reviews for sessions attended. The schedule of sessions is as follows (links will be provided to the appropriate entry later):

Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Opening comments, introductions
New development, new products
General Session: Back office / Manufacturing (including RFQ/Quoting)
Breakout: Project Manager/Tooling
Breakout: HR Suite - Payroll
General Session: Back office / Manufacturing (including Planning & Scheduling)
Breakout: Fab Track & Fab Data
Breakout: HR Suite - Time & Attendance
Welcome reception

Thursday, November 9, 2006
Breakout: RealTime
Breakout: IQ Alert
Breakout: Crystal Reports
Breakout: Warehouse Management (WMS/RF)
Breakout: EDI / e-server
Breakout: Fixed Assets
General Session: Back office / Manufacturing (including RT labels and serialized inventory control)
Breakout: Quality Management System
Breakout: CRM
General Session: Back office / Manufacturing (including Production Reporting & PRA)
Breakout: PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and DHR (Device History Record)
Breakout: e-plant / Division / Warehouse / ICT

Friday, November 10, 2006
General Session: Front office / Accounting (including Costing, PIT)
Breakout: Extrusion
Breakout: Preventative Maintenance
General Session: Front office / Accounting (including GL Variances, Multi-currency)
Breakout: Security
Breakout: Forecast

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Regime of Competence

One of the most fascinating books I have read recently would appear to have very little to do with managing information technology. The national bestseller Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by iconoclast Steven Johnson is a guaranteed can't-put-it-down read.

Johnson presents the concept of the Sleeper Curve, the idea that popular entertainment media like television, video games, and the Internet have promoted a mass cognitive upgrade - in other words, people consuming those media are getting smarter.

Popular TV shows, video games, as well as the availability of information and social networking on the Internet, are becoming increasingly complex and stimulating. But more important than the thesis of the book and his compelling arguments to support that thesis is Johnson's deconstruction of the oft-repeated and actually-silly-when-analyzed claim that mass media is dulling our brains and creating violent criminals of our youth.

In addition to the thesis and deconstruction efforts of the book is the concept of regime of competence, something directly related to IT management and corporate training principles. Here, Johnson alludes to work by the cognitive scientist Andy diSessa who argues that a combination of frustration and pleasure is essential to training, something obvious to anyone who plays computer games. The core principle here is one that both schools and corporate training programs often fail to recognize; namely, that memorization and recitation of facts rarely achieves educational goals. Instead, video games, where the gamer is presented with a context where the achievement of goals (or missions) is clearly difficult, but just within the realm of possibility, is the key to lasting cognitive improvement and achievement. Learning is achieved by carefully balancing pleasure and frustration.

The challenge for IT management is this: our computing environment is becoming increasingly complex. In order to train corporate users about information technology (such as the use of bar code scanners to manipulate inventory) we should be investigating techniques to improve our users' regime of competence rather than rote learning. Ideally, we would be able to create and use video games to train employees. But since this may not be economically feasible, we should at least incorporate a lot of hands-on discovery and game-like training experiences. Powerpoint presentations alone won't work. We need to ramp up our training programs so that, at a bare minimum, we challenge and urge competition and/or cooperation in a game-like environment. Then, true and lasting learning will occur naturally. And, if Johnson is correct, our staff will also become smarter in the process.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Digital Natives

The annual Gartner Symposium and IT Expo (8-13 October 2006, Orlando, FL) predicts that the most significant wave in IT over the next few years will be consumer technology surfacing in the workplace because of "digital natives", employees raised with technologies they expect to find in the corporate sector as well.

These digital natives may prove to be a royal pain to IT managers. Why? They will come into the workplace with experience in blogging, podcasting, VoIP, video-on-demand, and having their own consumer products with faster processors, more bandwidth and greater storage capacity. How IT managers respond to these digital natives may determine how successful the IT manager is in the workplace.

When we have a workforce expecting to conduct interactions at any time or place, and can do so from their own homes, .... well, you can predict the impact on corporate culture. Still, IT managers and executives will need to concentrate on delivering business value throughout this period of growing expectations from the digital natives. And delivering business value will most likely be a matter of predicting and managing growth over many years rather than concentrating exclusively on cutting IT costs on an year-by-year basis.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Enterprise-Class Mobile Devices

This afternoon, IDC released yet another push on their IT Report abstract Attack of the BlackBerry Clones (the full document is 23 pages in length and costs, get this, $3500!), in which it suggested that despite RIM's tremendous success, the next few years will witness a new group of competitors challenge their market supremacy. Look out for Microsoft, Nokia, and Motorola (by using Google Blog Search, it became apparent that IDC generates buzz every month or so for it's expensive research reports - see another entry with almost precisely the same buzz from 28-Sep-2006).

IT World Canada also alluded to the IDC study but put the RIM success in financial terms. By the beginning of September, RIM's BlackBerry account holders had reached 6.2 million. With 72% of RIM's revenue coming from handhelds, any challenge is sure to merit scrutiny. Still, RIM expects a user base of 7 million by December 2nd of this year.

By the year 2010, handheld users should have risen to approximately 63 million. IDC predicts that Microsoft Windows-powered devices alone will have grabbed 32.3 % of market share by that time.

What once separated the BlackBerry from other devices, push e-mail technology, is now a standard feature available on any Windows Mobile 2005 device. But these devices offer far more computing power than the BlackBerry, offering a convergence of enterprise-class features that make them a compelling alternative.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Microsoft's Shield: Strider HoneyMonkey

I remember the first day I came back to Pano Cap Canada after surgery. My hope was that I could start back working part-time and then gradually increase my hours on-site or working remotely until I was back to full-time hours.

In the 18 months since we installed a new Windows Server 2003 network, we had encountered not a single virus or worm attack on our network. But that day I returned, I found our network consultant working on our servers to find and remove a worm. It was the first exploit that had cracked our system, despite a multi-layer defense and reasonably up-to-date patches on our server operating systems. Since then, we have had one other worm attack, likely a recurrence of the same worm.

Unfortunately, we were unable to isolate the source of the attack, but my suspicions were centred around malicious web sites visited by unsuspecting staff, perhaps even someone logged in as an administrator (I know, web surfing shouldn't be done under administrator privileges).

Recently eWeek magazine featured an article about initiatives Microsoft is taking to help LAN administrators like myself in protecting their companies against such threats. Microsoft Research's Cybersecurity and Systems Management group has a number of projects underway that may help. One such initiative is Strider HoneyMonkey (what a great moniker!).

The project is aimed at detecting and analyzing Web sites that host malicious code. The Strider HoneyMonkey Exploit Detection System detects attacks that use Web servers to exploit unpatched browser vulnerabilities and then install malware on PCs. Users typically have no idea that an exploit has occurred on their system.

The details of how the project detects malicious code is available online at Microsoft Research. There is no product associated withthe initiative, but Microsoft's Internet Safety Enforcement (ISE) Team has already used data generated from HoneyMonkey for enforcement purposes to help identify persons distributing spyware.

I'll review other Microsoft security initiatives in subsequent blog entries including the following:

  • Search Defender
  • GhostBuster
  • URL Tracer
  • BrowserShield

Cap This!

A report has just surfaced originating in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in which stadium vendors are being instructed to remove the caps from water bottles sold to fans. Why? Because somebody might get the idea to hurl a full bottle of water from upper decks and hurt someone below.


There is a hilarious editorial about the nonsense in today's Edmonton Sun. But perhaps cap manufacturers need to be careful. Isn't it just a matter of time before we will be forced to put warnings on plastic caps? "Warning! Bottles with intact caps can become dangerous projectiles. Please remove cap before throwing the container."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Google Apps for Your Domain

Microsoft and Google are on a collision course. Who benefits? All of us users benefit, that's who!

Just a few moments ago, Google announced a package of web-based productivity applications (called Google Apps for Your Domain) that appears to target Microsoft Office, although it's difficult right now to see how the apples and oranges really compare.

Right now, the productivity applications are for small business; enterprises will not find much here that they can use yet. The only existing edition is called the Standard Edition and consists of GMail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Page Creator. Writely and Google Spreadsheets - the word processing and spreadsheet Google apps - are not included at this time (nor is there any mention of something to compare with PowerPoint).

What's in this for IT? Hosted applications promise to reduce time IT staff spend supporting users with configuration and installation issues. IT won't have to maintain email, messaging, web sites, calendars, etc.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Blog Editors: Choose One

Finally, there's some excitement for PC users in selecting a blog editor.

If you've been reading my personal or corporate blogs, then you may have noticed a reference to Qumana at the bottom of many posts. Despite its shortcomings, I still use this editor for the majority of my posts. Prior to using Qumana, I tended to use Blogger for Word. Neither editor allowed me to upload images reliably to the host for my blogs,

But in the past week, there have been two new tools worth considering.

The first is courtesy of a browser called Flock, which I have recently made my default Internet browser. This browser is based on the popular Firefox, but has some features which make it an attractive alternative to both Firefox and Internet Explorer. One of those features in the built-in blog editor which can be accessed as easily as pressing Ctrl-B on the keyboard or selecting Tools | Blog.

The second is a recent entry from Microsoft called Microsoft Live Writer. It is more fully featured that the Flock entry, although Blogger's API doesn't download the template to the editor as I hoped it would. This is a Blogger issue, not a Live Writer issue.

Two features that will win some fans for Microsoft's entry are the add a map feature and the ability to add your own plugins.

My recommendation? Get started blogging by downloading Microsoft Live Writer.

CRM: A Flawed Model?

CIO claims that up to 70% of customer relationship management projects (CRM) fail.

So, why is it that I receive regular calls from vendors trying to get Pano Cap to consider investing in another CRM package? Those calls are fairly simple to field since we already have a CRM module which is well integrated with our ERP (enterprise resource planning) software from IQMS - Enterprise IQ.

One of the major reasons why companies fail with CRM projects is because they don't implement it correctly. As some of us have experienced in consulting other companies in the region, very often software projects do little more than automate broken or incomplete manual procedures .Obviously, if a company has not carefully reviewed its policies and procedures in regards to the customer experience, automating the process only means that the company can make the same mistakes faster than ever before.

The same business problems that drive companies to adopt a CRM project are the problems that must be resolved before a CRM project is conceived. Sure, CRM software has technology features that excite the imagination. But instead of letting technology features drive the process, companies need to concentrate on the business problems they face in the marketplace. Once the problems are identified, a corporate strategy must be formulated and implemented in the existing manual processes before considering automation.

Let me say it again, "CRM is not about technology. It is about business processes that promote positive customer relationships."

Ouch! IT Managers don't often have to confess that information technology is not about the technology; it's about business objectives and appropriate strategy.

Currently, CRM is a flawed model. CRM technology solutions are about building repositories of information about transactions with customers. But ask any of your sales persons and he/she will tell you that creating positive customer experiences isn't about how much information you have recorded about the customer and your interactions with that customer. Positive customer experiences are all about building trust, being dependable, keeping promises, admitting mistakes and immediately fixing them, and honest and regular communication. Personally, I don't know any software that can deliver those features.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

EnergizeIT: Windows Vista

I've experienced streaming media presentations from Microsoft before, but today's EnergizeIT event confirms the dedication of Microsoft to the IT Pro community. There are at least 100 of us doing the same. I doubt many of these are recovering cancer patients like me, but they each have their own reasons why a trip to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on a Saturday morning is out of the question

As I write, I am watching Barry Goff, a product manager from Microsoft at Redmond, and chief experience officer, Bruce Cowper, a member of the Canadian IT TechNet team, demonstrating how to become productive with Windows Vista. Specifically, they are showing Windows Meeting Space, a new collaboration tool for Vista that allows separate ad hoc networking independent of existing networks.

Not only do I greatly appreciate the real-time opportunity to be there without being there, I can go back in subsequent days to view archives of the presentation. In other words, these events provide me with free training available anywhere, anytime for any reason. Cool! Very cool!

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Bill Gates Makes a Transition

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer announced yesterday that Gates will be scaling back his responsibilities at Microsoft (he will remain Chairman indefinitely) over a 2-year period to assume a full-time role with the Gates Foundation and a part-time role with Microsoft. Ray Ozzie has already assumed the role of chief software architect at Microsoft and will work cooperatively with Bill Gates concerning technical product decisions during the transition period.

Channel 9 has a full interview with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates from yesterday. You can also access the news from Robert Scoble's blog. The latter is especially interesting in reading comments from Robert's readers.

There is also a news conference available for those who still prefer traditional media.
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Friday, March 24, 2006

I'll Be Back

In information technology, it seems that the projects pile on faster than one could ever hope to complete. That's the nature of the beast and, truthfully, one of the reasons I love my job so much. There is always something to learn, something to do, someone to help, some technology to implement.

This week, it was important to me and to my colleagues that I complete two projects. One was finding a solution to a long-term frustration with our VPN (virtual private network) tunnel with one of our major customers. After trying two different vendor products which combine a VPN device and a firewall, we finally settled on a SonicWall device. Our system integrator prepared the device (a TZ 170) before installation so that it only took 30 minutes for us to install, test, and get the tunnel working. Since then the VPN has worked flawlessly.

In addition, as we approach the end of our fiscal year, we need a project-based way of analyzing our expenditures. After consultation with our ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendor, IQMS, I was able to complete a report design which does a good job of showing project tasks, vendors and line items for "raw materials" expenditures of our projects.

One of the simplest weekly objectives was to get our online staff training modules working. As with so much else in IT, it is often the simple things that turn out to be the most recalcitrant. Nothing seemed to work the way we wanted it to work. Finally, by noon Friday, we found a way to get the self-teaching modules working sufficiently well to warrant rolling it out to other staff.

All this was a self-imposed requirement before I go on medical leave. As of today, I am off work (and will not be blogging for a while) to undergo surgery and then chemotherapy. My surgical oncologist anticipates that I will be off work for 5-10 weeks! I'm hoping he is underestimating my recuperative powers. Even after I am back, though, the chemotherapy will continue for up to 6 months.

But I will be back! Look for me.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview - Reviewed

It was released Monday, March 20th. The Windows Internet Explorer 7 beta 2 preview is now available.
It requires Windows XP Professional SP2. The download executable will install the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool and will then do a one-time set up (after rebooting your computer) which involves deciding whether or not to turn on the automatic Phishing Filter, choosing your region and language, and deciding whether or not to participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program .
First Impressions
The overwhelming reaction was one of frustration. Despite cool, new features like tabs, zoom, and an uncluttered browser surface with accessible but unobtrusive toolbar and iconbar, it is impossible to spend any quality time with the beta preview at this time.
  • It is too sluggish even for testing purposes.
  • It consumes the entire screen and doesn't appear to be resizeable.
  • It freezes, cannot be minimized, and consumes too many resources.

I will definitely wait for the production version and, even then, may decide to read reviews before re-installing.

Conclusion: Not ready for release, even as a preview!

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

VPNs, VoIP, Wireless - exciting times

Honeymoon in progress
It's the end of my first week of what I affectionately call my "honeymoon", the two weeks before my surgery that my oncologists predicted would be a time when I felt good. They were right. All the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy have dissipated and I feel absolutely fantastic. It's a good thing too because these final two weeks before I go on medical leave are extremely busy and exciting for IT and Pano Cap.

Wireless Upgrades
We have a number of IT projects underway that are progressing at a good pace. As of Friday, we have installed the wireless access points and antennas required for our wireless warehouse project. Before I left for the weekend, I was able to detect the wireless access points from my notebook computer. Next week, we'll complete our data network upgrades, installation of new routers and switches.

Exchange synchronizing
We don't have a lot of wireless computing devices in place yet, but there are a few notebook computers and Windows mobile devices. Once the wireless is ready, we'll be able to add a utility service to the Exchange server so that our wireless computing devices can synchronize their Outlook data anywhere in the facility. It might not sound like a big deal, but it means management of projects and their associated task lists, email, meeting arrangements, etc - all this can be coordinated and updated from anywhere those with mobile devices happen to be in the building.

In April, when I'm down and out, the voice over internet protocol (VoIP) project will be underway. I should be able to return to VoIP phones on desktops and testing almost complete. I'm not thrilled about telephony now being another IT management responsibility, but it will rationalize our resources and make phones just another managed service. All features of our phone system will then be available from an browser interface, making adding, removing, moving phones, redirecting calls and other assorted telephony tasks much simpler.

We've had a virtual private network tunnel set up for quite a while now with one of our major customers. Unfortunately, the connections keep getting dropped. This next week, we'll be spending considerable energy and time ensuring those dropped connections are diagnosed and fixed...crossing my fingers.

All in all, another good week with lots of good things to look forward to in IT!

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 4, Distributed Systems

Make that footer read as follows:
Session 4: Distributed Systems.

The Microsoft product associated with this session is Windows Server 2003 R2.

Before we go any further into the benefits and features for distributed systems that are built in to this release of the server operating system, we've got a major IT manager hurdle - cost. This is incredibly important, not only as a stumbling block for IT Managers, but as an problematic issue for dealing with C-level executives.

How does Microsoft justify charging for R2 for existing Windows Server 2003 customers? Actually, it is only those customers who have neither Software Assurance or Enterprise Agreements. I can see the benefits even to small businesses with Software Assurance, but nonetheless, it's not intuitive to IT Managers that they will have to pay in order to get an update release of an operating system for which they have already paid!

One of the most obvious benefits of R2 for SMBs is print management. Not a lot was demonstrated, but what was look useful. Anything to enhance print management is welcomed by me.

Another benefit with Longhorn in 2007 will be enhanced leverage of SharePoint services.

Another set of problems plagued Rick Claus's demos for this session while showing distributed file systems and enhancements to replication between sites. His troubles were fun to watch...lots of laughter from Bruce Cowper and the hundreds...yes, Rick, hundreds... of IT pros in the audience, not to mention the potentially thousands of times the video feed will be viewed online!

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TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 3, Monitoring

The session started with a sneak peak of Origami - UMPCs.

The primary tool to monitor the health of networks in Microsoft Operations Manager (with 3rd party service packs). If an IT Manager has multiple locations to manage, or even mobile workers, then MOM 2005 SP1 may be the tool of choice to do so.

At Pano Cap, we already use a 3rd-party proactive monitoring service with agents deployed on our various servers. This monitoring service typically sends me email alerts tied to triggers for various categories such as disk space, operating system patches and updates, antivirus updates, event logs on servers, firewall logs, security logs, backup status, printers offline, office worker playing Solitaire (just kidding), etc.

As Bruce Cowper said, "The biggest challenge in monitoring is determining what needs to be monitored and what is just noise."

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TechNet Build'06 Tour - Live Video Feed SUCCESS!

We've moved from beta testing of live video feeds for this Microsoft event to invitations to other IT types who can't be in Toronto, all in about 5 hours. See Damir Bersinic's blog from about 25 minutes ago for details about connecting to the live feed.
Not only does it work, it works extremely well. "Being there" has never been so easy! Thanks, Microsoft!
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TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 2, Managing Change

Assuming the IT Manager (for Microsoft Server systems) has done a good job of baselining the infrastructure using tools like System Management Server, Baseline Security Analyzer and the Security Configuration Wizard, the next step in the MOF (Microsoft Operations Framework) is change control.

Personally, this is one of the areas that a one-person IT team most fears, especially when users either do not appreciate or will not follow procedures. Deploying software for users needs to be controlled and managed, something users with 20 years of personal computing experience find frustrating and symptomatic of an anal-retentive personality on the part of the IT Manager. Well, that might be true, but not because software deployment is unnecessary.

Deployment of Internet Explorer is a perfect example of how security and ease-of-use sometimes conflict both from the user and management perspectives. Increasingly, we rely on a browser interface for internal and external applications that are critical to our daily functions, even in small/medium businesses like ours.

I like what I see of SMS, but at this point, I'm not sure it is a cost-effective deployment management solution for deploying software and platforms like Internet Explorer 7.0. But...there is so much there! Business Desktop Deployment looks very interesting. I'll need a baseline reference desktop computer for testing purposes. But this would all be possible by taking our existing test server, adding virtual server and then creating virtual servers and PCs. All I would need is more memory!

One of the things that made this session memorable was witnessing Rick Claus having demo glitches. Yes! Rick is human...given his demo perfection at most other events, it's good to know!

Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) is a free tool from Microsoft which helps SMBs deploy patches and updates throughout the network, a tool which Windows IT Pro Magazine readers ranked as the #1 patch management update product. This replacement tool for the previous Software Update Services (SUS) now includes support for Microsoft Office, SQL Server, Exchange Server and the operating systems.

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TechNet Build'06 Tour - Session 1, SWMI

It's underway. I'm listening to an excellent quality audio feed and watching a fairly grainy video feed (we'll check out the resolution quality at lunch). I've got the PowerPoint slides for the 1st presentation, following along with Rick Claus and Bruce Cowper. I have MSN interaction with Damir Bersinic and Barnaby Jeans. I have my coffee, my blog, my OneNote...I'm all set.

Now, on to SWMI - secure, well-managed infrastructure

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Ultra Mobile PCs & Origami

I know, you probably haven't had time to catch the buzz about Origami, but if you did you'd also have heard of UMPCs - Ultra Mobile Personal Computers.

Origami is the name Microsoft's Mobile Hardware and Application Development Team's Otto Berkes gave to a suite of software utilities designed for mobile professionals using devices loaded with Windows Vista and or Windows XP. The utilities depend on a touchscreen interface. TouchPack is a launcher application designed for touchscreens and DialKeys is a thumb-based text input "wheel" on either side of the screen. There are additional utilities, but you get the picture (from Engadget)

UMPCs use the touchscreen operating system. How do you use UMPCs? Check out the video on the new UMPCommunity site.

At Pano Cap, UMPCs would be perfect for sales staff. Imagine other mobile professionals like police, medical personnel, etc. too.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Build '06 Tour - The Video Feed Is On

I have to commend Barnaby Jeans of Microsoft. At last month's WWITPRO session, he stopped me to say that the TechNet team had responded to my and other IT Pro's requests for video feeds for TechNet events and would try to get things ready for Toronto's version of the BUILD '06 event on March 9th, 2006 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
I just received his email this afternoon with the URLs for the video feed and an IM address for MSN Messenger to provide live feedback on the quality of the feed.
This is a prime example of why Microsoft's currency keeps rising. It's an indication of why so many of us IT Pro's trust and respect the big boys.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AIMing at Toronto Bloggers

Last night, I attended a meet-and-greet at Shoeless Joe's restaurant at 401 King Street West in Toronto. The first person I met was Jeremy Wright, the author of Blog Marketing whose book I purchased on the weekend and just began reading on Sunday (see Sunday's post). I'll have to review his book at Amazon, since the only person to have done so thus far gave it 1 of 5 stars.
These events are tough for me. I have a very hard time focusing on conversations in noisy bars with music, video, people bumping into one another, dozens of conversations all occurring at the same time. But it was worthwhile despite my discomfort.
In addition to meeting Jeremy, I was able to spend a few minutes with Shel Israel, a co-author of Naked Conversations, who graciously signed my copy of the book. Good to have met you, Shel. I hope there will be many more opportunities in the future!
Others with whom I spent some time chatting about blogging, tools, experiences, methodologies, etc. included:

The event was sponsored by AIMS (The Association of Internet Marketing & Sales). Shel Israel is a speaker at an event AIM is sponsoring today called Social Marketing: Tapping into The Power of Connected Customers.

If it wasn't for the fact that I've already got a Toronto day-long event planned for Thursday (BUILD '06 Tour for Microsoft TechNet), I'd love to have been there. At the Thursday event we'll be covering Internet Explorer 7.0, Virtual Server 2005 R2, Systems Management Server, Microsoft Operations Manager, Server 2003 R2, and a Microsoft initiative called Dynamic Systems Initiative.
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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blogging is Disruptive & Value-Additive

I'm constantly amazed at how quickly conversations in the blogosphere add value.

One example was noted by Shel Israel's post yesterday on the "circle of touch" that linked Lance Armstrong, cancer, Foldera and an Amazon book review (by me). The simple point is that blogging conversations set off a causal chain that adds value to both the personal and the corporate dimensions.

Another example has just occurred for me. It is more conceptual, but still striking.

Mike Driehorst commented yesterday on a business blog entry I composed about blogging in the plastics industry (thanks, Mike). That led me, in turn, to Mike's blog from yesterday Die! Journalism! Die! Die!. Michael's post was part of a debate on the purpose and future of public relations (especially the press release) triggered by Tom Foremski's commentaries on SiliconValleyWatcher.

I can't pretend to add any value to a debate about press releases and the future of PR...hey, I'm just a humble IT guy. But I can perceive the value of linkages, the currency of the debate, and the establishing of relationships enabled simply by blogging, most obviously by its conversational nature.

Moving through another link in the chain, I found today's post by Tom Foremski. He alluded to Scoble's and Israel's keynote presentation at the New Communications Forum Friday (see Blogging is not disrupting mainstream media--it's disrupting...). In that keynote, Robert Scoble spoke about Foldera's 400,000 beta users enlisted in just over 14 days, the only promotional work they did being mentioned by a few A-list bloggers. The chain has circled back on itself.

That's interesting in itself, but part of the value-added was in the content itself...yes, the content. Evidently, Tom Foremski stood up at that keynote and made the following two points:
  • online marketing is disrupting mainstream media (specifically search engine marketing)
  • blogging isn't disruptive mainstream media; it's disrupting public relations
Now, being an IT guy, I don't know if he's wrong or right. What I do know is that Mike thinks he's wrong and that there is substantial controversy about the issue. Tom's example of the comparative value of Robert Scoble to Microsoft versus their PR firm (Waggoner Edstrom) is a striking one, however (Tom is convinced that Robert's blog has done far more in promoting Microsoft with its customers than anything Waggoner Edstrom can claim to have accomplished).

The value added in this content for me personally is simple. Now I know a little more about marketing than I knew yesterday. It should make reading of my next blog book (Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright) a little more compelling.

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