Category Archives: Coordination

Clutter

Friday morning and it’s time to spring clean the home office.  The thrill of finding a manual to phone that I sent back R Orange two years ago is like that of junking an odd sock not worn for just as long.  Into the paper recycling bin it is tossed, to be reborn as another never to be read manual.   De-cluttering is a joy.  My wife thinks it clears the mind and opens one up to new opportunity.  If I am be able to reach my desk contorting my body navigating piles of paper, that usually suffices for me.  But when I steel myself for the annual clutter purge, the reward is oddly satisfying.
A friend of mine has de-cluttered his life to an extreme. When I used to visit his house, his dining room had become a storage area, such was the extent of his clutter.  Boxes of what not and CD’s were everywhere, during a messy divorce.  He now lives on a small boat. There is no room for clutter.  He showers and does the necessary in the marina’s facility.  All his bills are centralized.  With good heating, excellent broadband, nearby shopping and several lovely cars, it is not quite a spartan life, but the degree to which he has de-cluttered is remarkable.  Importantly, he is now much happier.
The same, I believe, can be applied to organizations.  They can de-clutter their customer relationships, getting rid of high cost to service, low growth potential accounts. At Lotus we had one highly diversified, large multinational customer who was demanding to the extreme. Every year they acquired scores of businesses and divested just as many. Though the revenue they provided was attractive, they took up an inordinate share of management and back office attention. Just for that client, processes had to be customized. Several times it crossed my mind that we should abandon the customer to Microsoft and focus on more profitable accounts.  In the end Microsoft did acquire the customer, and I would bet they eventually rued that win.  Now with the lion’s share of the enterprising messaging market -as well as the desktop and OS – markets , Microsoft has much greater leverage over that account, but I can’t believe the customer has lost its belligerence towards suppliers.  Google, if you recognize the account, you might want to say thanks but no thanks.  You don’t need customers that clutter.

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Are we boring you?

One can never be sure what ball Life’s bowler is going to direct our way.

In 1971, the well known, erudite and gentile American talk show host, Dick Cavett, had on his show the 72 year old Jeremy Rodale one of the earliest advocates of organic farming.  He believed, as many now do, that healthy organic foods and natural remedies were the keys to longevity.  During his interview, Rodale said, “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way,” “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred,” and  “I never felt better in my life!”

Whilst interviewing another guest, the New York Post columnist Pete Hamill, Rodale made a snoring noise.  Hamill leaned over to Cavett and said, “This looks bad.” Though he later disputed it, Cavett was reputed to have said, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?”  Rodale had just died of a massive heart attack.  The show was never broadcast.

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Elastic Communications in a Crisis

In an earthquake, well designed buildings in Japan absorb shocks by separating the building from the base, by using deformable building materials or with internal counter balances.  Buildings are more elastic.  Communications in a crisis also need to be elastic, to absorb shockwaves. In a crisis, services, technology, people and resources you take for granted may not be available where they are needed.  Computer networks, email systems, phones and power – any of these may be degraded or lost through a crisis, or they may be the cause of a crisis.  Obtaining intelligent awareness of a situation, working collaboratively towards decisions, conveying instructions and obtaining feedback depend on timely, accurate and digestible communications.  A crisis that limits usual communications choices necessitates resourcefulness.  It demands elasticity in the way individuals, teams and organisations think and act.  It demands elasticity in our infrastructures, our processes and policies.  Elasticity buys time and rigidity spends it.

Elastic thinking is the ability to recognize new priorities quickly, to broaden peripheral vision, to make fast decisions and to act appropriately.  If appropriate, security gives way to expediency, best guess becomes good enough,  quick and dirty wins over detailed and thorough.   Elastic communications is the ability to switch media to minimize the loss of your normal media choices.  If your corporate email is down, can you easily switch to a public mail system such as Google Mail? If it is necessary to communicate two way rapidly with employees and their loved ones over public instant messaging or SMS, can that be easily done in a Starbucks? Do you even have those instant messaging addresses on your laptop?  Are they a facebook or LinkedIn group? If your continuity plans are held on internal servers, are they also on third party servers “in the cloud” or on usb sticks, or handhelds?  How would you use Twitter to broadly disseminate information and solicit rapid feedback in a crisis? 

Elasticity is the least expensive path to build resilience.  It is provides a higher return on investment than building infrastructure.  Bespoke infrastructure contingencies are expensive.  Using multiple, off the shelf, public services are cheaper.  Elasticity builds agility. An elastic organization is a more open one, one that listens to customers better, responds more quickly and works more collaboratively with suppliers.   The benefits of elasticity go far beyond those of organizational resilience and the ability to withstand large seismic shocks.

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Preparation

When Nasrudin’s donkey became sick, the Mullah wept in public. “Why are you crying, Nasrudin?” asked a friend, “Your animal is still alive!” “If he does die, I will have to bury him, buy a new one at auction and then spend many days training that donkey!” replied Nasrudin.  “There simply won’t be any time to grieve.”

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I found my horn on YouTube

A single spotlight illuminates a lone man, naked but for his jockey shorts, clutching in front of his privates, bell facing towards him, a French horn.   “I found my horn” best-selling book, now play begins, the true story of a mid-life crisis in which Jasper Rees, the author played by Jonathan Guy Lewis, ponders what becomes of youth’s passions. Would he die, not having achieved anything of substance, of bravery?  It was time for him to dig out the horn from the attic, where it had lain dormant for twenty-five years and prove he could achieve something of importance for himself, rather than for others.  On the journey, culminating in a performance in front of the British Horn Society a year later, he discovers a brotherhood of men who share the madness of knowing there will never be perfection, where there is honour, courage and foolish folly.  Hornplayers. The musicians of Elysium.

A French horn player is like a professional golfer.  There is no such thing as a perfect performance or a perfect round. There is always something that niggles, something that could be improved upon, a point where luck and fortune wobble.  And so it is with a Mozart Horn Concerto.  Listening yesterday to a live recording of Dennis Brain, a man who created aural ambrosia from brass plumbing, I heard the occasional stumble, a couple near misses and yet the overall package is sublime, better for flaws born out of bravura.

And so to my own romantic foolishness, an attempt, courtesy of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra virtual auditions, to create a decent rendition of one movement of Mozart’s earliest horn concerto – commonly known as the second.  It was maddening.  I discovered how to create semi-watchable video and passable audio, in my dining room.  And how to concentrate for five minutes, never an easy task.  My result is here for the world to pick over.  There I stand, naked but for my underwear.  You may see with your eyes a man relaxing in a comfy cricket jumper, but hear with your ears a man starkers.  If we survive this climate meltdown,  a grandchild make recover those bytes and perhaps wonder why Grandpa did something so silly as to expose his foibles so.

And now the battle commences.  The competition is trooping in. Bring on the tyros, the stars of the world’s conservatoires  and knock the old man off his precarious perch.  Let them try his fiddly bits, his extended phrases and surpass his ancient output.  This is my Rocky Balboa with a dash of X Factor.

In February, you get the chance to vote on the players. In March, the battle will shift to Google, the people who came up with this mad, fantastic idea.  Creating a virtual orchestra is a huge task. It is like trying to create a virtual basketball team.  Musicians rely on real time interaction to get in the groove. Breaking the team into component parts and expecting it to perform as a whole, no matter how cleverly spliced, is impossible. It misses a key point of music making and many other types of teams, which is that feeling you get when you face a challenge together, shoulder to shoulder and create something of beauty and goodness.  But Google understood that well, which is why those selected to become part of the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra will gather together in New York in April to make music rather than solo recordings.  Google’s didn’t just do no evil – they did good. Let’s wish everyone, Google, the youngsters, the romantics, the aspirants, the pros who put so much work into this, and me, luck.

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Virtual Teams in Music

Music is not often thought of as a field where one sees virtual teaming yet there are plenty of great examples. Studio musicians are very familiar with working in a virtual team. They often lay down tracks without the co-presence of other musicians.  Between 1985 and 1987, I had the privilege to be part of a live virtual music team.  When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical CATS was first staged, the design of the set in that theatre made it impossible to accommodate a pit orchestra in front and below the stage, so the musicians were housed offstage.  The conductor and the stage were kept in touch via video links. That had an added benefit. Those mixing the music could play with the balance of the sound because the band was piped into the auditorium.   When the show was mounted in Toronto, the band of seventeen was housed in a separate studio.  I was moonlighting at night there as a musician and played around 550 CATS shows.   You might ask why not just record the band and play that? In a live performance many things can and do vary, so it would be too easy for the musicians, dancers and singers to get out of synch.

Earlier this month, in partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra and YouTube, the “YouTube Symphony Orchestra” was announced.  By submitting YouTube videos, players audition for a chance to play in a live performance at Carnegie Hall on April 15th, 2009.   It bills itself as the “world’s first collaborative orchestra” which is a stretch since all musical groups are collaborative, but it is the first time that the internet has been used as the exclusive audition medium.  Prospects must submit two YouTube videos by January 28th, 2009, one being their part in a newly commissioned piece by Tan Dun, who composed the music for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Musicians get the benefit of watching the piece played on YouTube by the London Symphony Orchestra as well as master classes by that orchestra’s principal players.  Audition hopefuls play along with a silent YouTube video of the composer conducting his piece.  In addition, they must submit a couple of standard, out of copyright audition pieces.   In February, entrants are screened by a marketing agency, and top scoring entries are submitted to a panel of musicians.  They are hoping to whittle that down to 200 finalists who will be submitted to the YouTube audience for public voting between February 14th and February 22nd 2009. Some entrants may find themselves as soloists in the Live Event.  Final say of who will be invited to play will rest with the live event’s conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas.   Those participating get their travel costs paid for.

This is an exciting use of this medium to reach out to music hopefuls, and I am eagerly looking forward to how this turns out.  Could the same process be used to screen candidates in other fields?

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SharePoint and the Self Service Extranet

Joseph, one of your engineers, would like to share a set of draft design documents with a team of four external contractors with whom he has worked with in the past, when email was used to send revisions back and forth.  With email there was some confusion and delay as different versions of the document were referred to.  Each time someone made their change, everyone on the design team was emailed a copy. Now the documents live on your secure SharePoint intranet, but should you open that site to external parties? What is your next step?

This type of issue is faced by many different types of employees, anyone who collaborates on documents with others outside their organization, mainly lawyers, engineers, marketers, sales people, consultants, buyers, and accountants, people we generally term knowledge workers or information workers.

I came across this blog post by Mauro Cardarelli, a Boston-based consultant who writes about designing a SharePoint extranet:

“When I design an extranet with a new team, the first discussion session I lead is on defining a security model.  Here’s why:

Design Session Objective:

  •  Define the collection of unique user types (e.g. Client, Executive, Project Manager, Team Member)
  • Create a matrix of business functions and allowed participants (i.e. only Project Managers can update content)
  • Create a framework for the site taxonomy (i.e. each Client has a landing page and underlying project sites) and map defined user types to the respective security for each site type
  • Document any exceptions to the rules above

Design Session Outcomes:

  • Well-formed security model with a complete list of user types and associated permissions
  • Framework for overall extranet navigation
  • Framework for content associated with the various site types based on who can update specific content
  • List of exceptions

Design Session Next Steps:

  •   Validation of security rules and taxonomy with business users, sponsors and IT
  • Actionable plan for IT to start building the appropriate authentication model (e.g. AD users and groups; DMZ-based AD domain)
  • Follow-on discussions on the next design stages: Site Templates, Navigation, Working wih External Data Sources, Dealing with the Exceptions, Customization… and, ultimately, the creation of a design document and associated project plan.”

This is a sound, perfectly valid approach to building a SharePoint, or for that matter any platform, extranet.

Now let’s say instead of sending those documents, Joseph would like to have a conference call with the four external contractors where he will read the content of the same documents, they will discuss its contents for several hours and Joseph will use their input to create a new draft.  Would Mr Cardarelli recommend first a meeting with Joseph to define a security model with all of the above steps?   Why not?  Would Joseph’s IT department consider their telephone system to be any more secure than their intranet?  What about IT’s view towards the individuals who need to collaborate?  Do they think that Joseph and his contractors are more trustworthy on the phone than on their computers?  What about IT’s attitude towards the data? Just because the information is stored in documents and documents are data and data security is the realm of the IT department, are documents deemed to have more value? Do they merit a more stringent security policy than a telephone conversation that may impart more meaning than the written word?

As an employee, Joseph has the trust of the organization and no one department is the arbiter of who Joseph can or cannot trust.  The onus is on Joseph to ensure that whomever he collaborates with externally is trustworthy, irrespective of the collaborative medium.  Developing a security model just because documents need to be shared is akin to building a car when a journey needs to be taken.  There are Microsoft tools that Joseph can now use without having to build things from scratch.  The first is the External Collaboration Toolkit for SharePoint (ECTS) from Microsoft, and a second is Microsoft Office Groove 2007.  But there is also Google Docs (not terribly secure), Basecamp and now Microsoft’s  Live Mesh  which, for the moment, Microsoft seems to be pitching at a consumer market for synchronizing an individual’s files on multiple devices, yet it seems terribly useful for synchronizing files within teams.  Live Mesh should eclipse Office Live Workspace and, if it can offer presence, messaging and calendaring, would be a very interesting alternative to Groove.  Yesterday at Microsoft I saw how they are using SharePoint as the basis for managing their consulting engagements. Within their internal engagement site is a button that will spawn a Groove workspace to house the documents needed by those working on a project, then when the engagement is over, SharePoint shuts down the Groove workspace. 

This is how Microsoft positions its alternatives.  Live Mesh, still in early beta, is not included.

 

Office Live Workspace

Office Groove

Hosted SharePoint

SharePoint

SharePoint w/ECTS

Solution cost

 

Free

Per client license for each user

Varies by number of users

Fixed

Fixed

Infrastructure impact

No

No (optionally Yes)

None

Yes

Yes

Scalability

Limited number of documents

High (additional users add cost)

High
(additional users/storage add cost)

High

High

Data control

Low

Low

Low

High

High

Auditing

None

Varies

Varies

Yes

Yes

Automatic synchronization

No

Yes

No

No

No

Precise access controls

No

No

Varies

Yes

Yes

The terms “precise access controls” and “data control” must be explained.  Precise access controls and data control mean that the IT department has precise control or at least a view over who has access to what information and what is done with data.  That is not the same as precise security.  It puts the onus on the IT department to keep a handle on the trustworthiness of external individuals.  That centralization of responsibility is counter to how organizations work.   Joseph would not normally ask permission from the IT department to have a telephone conversation with an external vendor.   By IT shouldering most of the data security responsibility, an organization is vulnerable because data is concentrated and because there are communication delays and breakdowns where there is a human security “switchboard” maintaining a directory of individuals.   By devolving security responsibility to reflect the way employees need to work with external parties and by embedding always on security features into the tools, such as in Groove, an organization can gain higher control and security of information

 

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