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.