Googlenet Redux

An earlier post referenced the rumor that Google was potentially entering the wireless market. The original story on Business 2.0 speculated that if Google could track the geographical location of a wireless user, they could target advertising more precisely.

Whether that’s true or not is still a matter of speculation. What is true is that this rumor has legs. Seven days after the fact the IT related web news sources are still reporting on it. What probably produced the original rumor is this page on Google’s web site. It is instructions to users in a test market in San Francisco. Is this intended for a broader audience? I don’t know – but it is fun (evidently) to speculate.

GoogleNet

An interesting article from Business 2.0 where they are speculating that Google is bent on providing wireless access for free to the masses. It’s an interesting article on a variety of levels:

  1. What if it’s true? Wouldn’t it be great if you could be wirelessly connected everywhere you went?
  2. That people are speculating about this stuff can’t be a good thing for internet service providers. Imagine a world in which your primary source of income is removed. Speculating about it is painful much less seeing the reality. Most of us are not faced with the hard reality that the world is changing so fast that entire markets can be created and eliminated inside of a three year period of time.
  3. What fun it must be to be Google. They are in the position now of being able to generate earth shaking rumors with trivial efforts. The ability of Google to generate buzz is pretty much unmatched.
  4. How anxious are you to have Google track your every movement across the globe? Big Brother where are you?

Outsourcing

I recently read Advice Line by Bob Lewis in which he provided some advice to the recently outsourced. It led me review my own experiences in that arena. I have never personally been outsourced – but I’ve lived through two separate efforts.

Although more then a decade separated both outsourcing initiatives, the experience was eerily similar. I’ve grown older, more introspective and don’t take things as personally as I used to. The first outsourcing event occured at the request of the CEO. It was done without the involvement of the IT management organization and we were all very upset. I was not in management at the time but I felt those who were – were wronged. In hindsight it’s clear IT management was not inspiring confidence. That’s business and a lesson to all of us.

If you can’t lead your function and instill confidence in your executive team, all of your objections amount to little more then waiving your arms. The outsourcing firm (names removed to protect the innocent – or not so) arranged it so that revenue opportunities were promised if the function was outsourced. At the end of the ordeal (and yes it was an ordeal) only a portion of the function was outsourced. The outsourcing firm’s promises of revenue were only that.

Those of us in the IT function were full of righteous indignation. Ignorant executives had sold a core competence of the function and received little in return. Service levels were a challenge to maintain as those outsourced were either let go or transitioned in to other roles.

A second more recent outsourcing effort has been handled much better. It is the result of the IT function’s objectives. Service levels have been impacted but for the most part everyone has tried hard to make it work. Our company is a fairly cynical one in some regards so it’s not surprising that some stories about the outsourcing take on a life of their own as they are retold by business managers.

As dissimilar as the outsourcing efforts were, the common thread in both was that if you were someone who looks for challenges and could accept change then outsourcing was a profitable experience. If you needed to stay with your current experiences and skills and spent your time resenting the decisions of others then the experience was a painful one.

The parable of “Who Moved My Cheese” applies to all of us and is almost universally good advice. If you are the IT associate outsourced it is carries the most important advice.

You have been here

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of the dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looked at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looked at his peacefully-grazing flock and calmly answered, “Sure.”

The yuppie parked his car, whipped out his lap top and connected it to a cell phone, then he surfed to a NASA page on the internet where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system, scanned the area, and then opened up a database and an Excel spreadsheet with complex formulas. He sent an e-mail on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, received a response.

Finally, he prints out a 150 page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized printer then turns to the Shepherd and says, “You have exactly 1,586 sheep.”

“That is correct; take one of the sheep,” says the shepherd, and watches the young man select one of the animals and bundle it into his car.

Then the Shepherd says: “If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?”

“OK, why not.” answered the young man.

“Clearly, you are a consultant.” says the shepherd.

“That’s correct,” says the yuppie, “but how did you guess that?”

“No guessing required,” answers the shepherd .”You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you don’t know crap about my business.”

“Now give me back my dog.”

Identity

A recent article on O’Reilly by Phil Windley entitled Identity Management Architectures and Digital Identity provides a good overview of identity management.

The metaphor used by Mr. Windley is a familiar one to those of working in the information management industry. City planning as a model for governance topics has been used successfully in other information management arenas. Here it is referenced as a starting point for managing corporate and personal identities. The author has provided a link to his personal web site where tempate information is provided.

More interesting to me personally are the resources referenced in the article. As a recent victim of identity theft, I value the idea of protecting my personal identify. The Identity Commons, the commercial 2idi initiative have personal relevance.

Self Policing Synthetic Biologists

Concerned that “biohackers” would wreck havoc, researchers are looking for ways to police the bio engineering field. The idea quoted in this MSNBC article entitled “Researchers creating life from scratch” by Paul Elias(AP) is to have the industry police itself.

One solution could be to require the few companies that sell genetic material to register with some official entity and report biologists who order DNA strains with weapons potential.

Now I am all in favor of the government staying out of many industries. I believe the government’s presence in many industries is so pervasive that it warps competition. Well, this is one industry where I would rather see a heavy hand then a light one. You can screw up in the accounting industry and not wipe out the human race. Mess up here and you don’t get a second chance.

For those of you interested in digging deeper, I would start with the Biohacker web site. This is really a fascinating field – I’m just concerned that we are counting on everyone involved being a fully functioning human being with a solid understanding of the consequences of his or her own actions. Derya and Vineet indicate

By mid-90s we realized that the biological systems were following an exponential advance similar to computer systems, which double in power approximately every 18 months termed the Moore’s law. It was then not difficult to extrapolated the exponential pace of biological technologies to near future where whole genomes could be sequenced or synthesized in single days, hours and eventually in seconds. This amazing technological advance meant that future biohackers could manipulate the biocode as hackers today write, decode and tinker with computer code.

A most fascinating subject but very troubling.

SOX Cynics

Companies, mine included, use Sarbanes-Oxley to provide political coverage to implement what would otherwise be very unpopular decisions. Ultimately, it is cynical for companies to attach decisions to the Sarbanes-Oxley act which are not driven by the act. It undermines the (albeit small number of) positive benefits associated with the act. Ironically, the intention of the act is to hold companies to a higher standard then was evident at Enron. If change is required then the decision should stand on its own merits. The responsibility of leadership is to lead in a principled manner. Contriving a relationship between unpopular decisions and the Sarbanes-Oxley act of 2002 diminishes the act’s strength.

Recently, Computerworld published a very short article entitled “Sarbanes-Oxley Trumps IM at Some Firms”. In that article, Thomas Hoffman discusses companies which have removed Instant Messaging due to Sarbanes-Oxley concerns. Section 302 of the act is referenced as the cause for this change.

Section 302 of Sarbanes-Oxley requires CEOs and chief financial officers to certify that their companies have established internal controls and are regularly evaluating the effectiveness of the control measures.

Mr. Hoffman’s perspective is evident in the article: this is an overreaction to the act. In large part I agree with the author. There are though some nuances which should be considered.

The argument that IM is equivalent to a phone conversation ignores how the legal system works.

“You can’t control a phone call, so I don’t see what the difference is between IM and a phone call,” said Diana McKenzie, chairwoman of the IT group at Chicago-based law firm Neal Gerber Eisenberg LLP. “To me, it’s not logical.”

The transcript of an IM session would have a great deal more relevance than an individual’s recollection of a phone conversation. Imagine yourself in a scenario where each of your phone conversations was transcribed real time. Now imagine that transcribed conversation is illicitly sent to the public. It’s not pretty.

My company only supports IM within the firewall. The tool is available for use between associates but not as a tool with customers. That’s a pity but probably not a show stopper for a B2B. I don’t know how much longer you can avoid it if you are serving consumers. Many consumers expect this form of customer support. This is clearly one case where government regulations are hampering company’s ability to provide customer service.

17,641,000 and Counting

We have a long way to go in the United States before we can crow about the level of participation in the sport of soccer. The article on the US Soccer Players web site sounds like good news – and it is mostly – but it’s not good enough.

Basketball can boast of 36,583,000 players in the United States. When you consider that most basketball teams field ten or fewer players and most soccer teams field at least 14 you can see that the number of teams in organized play skews the numbers even more strongly towards basketball. The number of Basketball teams is roughly 36,583,000/10 while the number of soccer teams in the United States is roughly 17,641,000/14.

So kids, your homework assignment is to figure out how much larger basketball is then soccer in the United States. And of course, where am I going with this perverse logic? We need to reduce the number of players on the field (and hence the number of players per team) at the younger age. Make it more interesting for the players by increasing the number of touches. Increase each players influence by putting fewer players on the field.

Delusional?

At some point all of us have to make a decision regarding how we will spend our time. At least at this level everyone is truly created equal – each of us gets the same 24 hours in a day.

Some people have a hard time with this lesson. We fill our time with low value tasks. We squander our time with pointless activities. We indulge ourselves as if that was the point of our existence. Others attempt to solve world hunger and (because it is impossible to do so) become frustrated with the fact that we each only get that 24 hours.

Kids have a different set of challenges. Kids should be allowed to be kids. They should have fun and enjoy each other’s company. Adults who had fun as children are more productive adults. Most children though do not make these decisions for themselves.

The problem is, from day one, we enroll our children in a marathon. They have to succeed at as many things as possible so they can succeed as adults. Success as a child = Success as an adult.

This is a reality for many of us as club soccer coaches. At some point you realize that the once dominant midfielder lacks the drive and energy to succeed in the role you had placed her. You’re watching her play and she simple is not enjoying the moment. It’s work for her – and she’s only 13. It’s one of the saddest things imaginable when you reflect that what was once a joyous activity has now become drudgery.

So how does this happen? It happens for a variety of reasons but in my experience the most prevalent cause is the loss of perspective – a child’s perspective. The simplest question to pose a player in this situation is – why are you playing? But don’t take the easy answer because every player you’re likely to ask this question of has already had the answer conditioned in to them. “I’m here to have fun” expressed with a forced smile.

In our part of the country, there are always at least three sports activities available for kids. It is physically impossible to participate at a competitive level in all three sports. The parent that enrolls a child in three competitive sports in the same season needs to be reported to Children’s Services. At some point the same can be said for the parent that enrolls there child in two competitive sports.

So ask the question but understand that it is only the first question. “Why are you here?” should be followed closely by:

“How many other sports are you currently playing?”

“Describe an average day?”

“How do you feel when you lose? and how long do you feel that way?”

As a club coach you can’t fix the issues held by a family. Parents who overbook their child’s day may not recognize your concerns. Understanding why a player participates without energy is better then simply addressing the symptom. A lack of enthusiasm and energy are only occasionally addressed through discipline.

If a player feels they are not rewarded for a higher level of performance then shame on the coach. Do not tolerate mediocrity – performance should be rewarded.

If a player feels their effort does not matter because as a single player they can not improve the team’s performance then shame on the coach. Do not tolerate cynics. Eleven players who feel they can make a difference create a team that can. A single player who feels they can’t make a difference creates a team that can’t.

If a player shows up exhausted from their other activities, you have one less player. They may not be able to make the decision explicitly but they have made one. The best player, exhausted on the field before the game starts is no better then a cynical player. They have decided they won’t make a difference. Do not allow the behavior. Explain your position to the player and parents and force them to make a decision. The child who shows up to practice exhausted is no different then the child who does not show up. The discipline should be equivalent.

A Virus

I have a good relationship with a local coaching colleague. He and I get together everyone now and then and share stories. I coach for a smaller club and he coaches for a nearby (much) larger club. He lives in a different world then I do.

My club serves the local community – a community based club. He coaches in a club which serves a metropolitan area. He cuts players, lots. He can afford to be picky. He can take hard stands. He shared a story with me the other day and if you’re in a similar position I’d recommend it for you as well.

He heard from an angry parent that he had some other parents on the sideline ‘bitching and moaning’ about the way the team was being run. In his words, “We’ve been in three tournaments, have won two and have only lost two games in that period and they are complaining.”

Now, that’s not my experience. My team does well, but not quite that well. What’s preposterous about it is that despite the team’s success his parents were complaining. We live in a free country. People can say what they want – and will. Understand the consequences though.

My colleague did the right thing. He called a parents meeting the next day and addressed the malcontents directly. In his words,

“If you don’t stop complaining, your child will sit the bench until she quits. I can’t/won’t drop her off the team so this is the only way I have of addressing your behavior. I’m certain you have passed along this advice to your child so I hope you will not be hearing it for the first time from me – If you have nothing nice to say then please say nothing at all”

What he shared with me, and what I believe is absolutely true, is that if you fail to deal with this behavior directly you will get nothing less then more of it. It will grow until you have to deal with it. Parents socialize together and share their opinions. That much is a reality. Putting the behavior in the spotlight defeats the behavior. It thrives in darkness and dies when the other parents recognize it. My first and best advice to club coaches is to address the virus directly. Don’t let the sore fester.