Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite News Stories - 2011

My favorite tech-related news stories of the year:

The year of nature web cams
This was the year that watching nature via web cam caught my attention.  My favorite story was of Violet and Bobby, the red-tail hawks at NYU.  Watching Violet continue to sit after all experts said that the egg wasn't viable was heart-touching.  And when Pip hatched on Mother's Day, it was a "wow" moment.  And there were others:  the wonderful Decorah, Iowa eagles next, a hummingbird in Hawaii, and the Roosevelt Arch camera from the Yellowstone Association.  I am so amazed that I can go to the computer and watch wildlife, live, up-close and in natural settings.

Young people and meaningful messages
Meaningful personal stories shared by young people using YouTube as the medium really touched me this year.  Zach Wahls and Ben Breedlove had a lot to say about life and living it well, with open hearts and open minds.

People and gadgets
This was the year that iPads really took off, and iPhones and Droid smart phones became pervasive around campus.  The willingness to carry a gadget everywhere you go surprises me.  The guru of understanding the connection of people and technology, Steve Jobs, passed this year.  The story of his life was like a walk down my own tech memory lane.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Break - Slowing Down

We started a tradition a few years ago that has become a part of our culture.  The last work day before the break is designated as "Cleaning Day."  We stop work on projects and we don't go to meetings.  We bring in coffee and snacks, and we provide pizza for lunch.  Staff are encouraged to dress casually.

We provide a variety of cleaning products and suggest that everyone pitch in and clean up.  This is physical as well as virtual.   The result is a winding down of activity to the break.  There's laughter as we find really old software diskettes or manuals.  There's a lot of "Why did we keep this?" talk.  And we leave the space really fresh for our return in the new year.

The list of suggested activities includes:

  • Update all assigned help and project tickets with current status and clearly described next steps.
  • Update any status reports.
  • Update the wiki or other documentation.
  • Clean up old email and reorganize your labels. 
  • Review and delete unneeded files from your desktop or laptop computer.
  • Delete and organize files on shares.
  • Reorganize your desk and drawers.
  • Backup your computer.
  • Clean out and drop in the shred bin paper files and documents from your desk.
  • Wipe the coffee and pop spills off your desk - we provide cleaning spray and paper towels.
  • Dust off the tops of cubes, window sills, window blinds.
  • Wipe off door knobs, your phone and your cell phone.
  • Join in the clean-up of common areas such book shelves, refrigerator, microwave, kitchen and such.
  • Note that the refrigerator and freezer will be emptied and anything left will be thrown in the trash.
  • Recycle old periodicals.
  • Clean up areas we'll identify, reorganize, put everything in its place.
  • Take time to review university emergency response materials here
  • Go through the short online training for Preventing Workplace Violence on campus:

  • If you have any departmental rituals for your organization, please share.

    Happy holidays!

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Forming Phase: IT meets HR

    Our senior IT directors and I have started regularly scheduled round-table meetings with key university Human Resource leaders.  Our first two meetings have been something like “clearing of the air” meetings, broad discussions about the challenges we face.  We’ve learned some things already.

    One of the first things we learned is that our IT leaders and HR leaders have  different perspectives on absence management.  IT leaders view high absenteeism as a disconnect that makes it difficult for an individual to keep up with changing technology and assigned projects.   We look at the outcomes.  Someone who is missing a lot of time misses out on how technology is changing and can’t keep their skills current.  We don’t typically reassign work unless we have a confirmed leave, so projects can get far behind schedule.  We were surprised to learn that our HR organization does not monitor for high absenteeism across the university, and we’ve learned this is something we have to do as directors.  That also means we have to define the level of absenteeism that is disruptive and above average for our organization. 

    Our HR department considers scheduled and unscheduled absenteeism a measure to track; when we asked about monitoring, they want us to monitor how often someone calls off at the last minute.  This surprised us, because with project work that spans months, it doesn’t matter if someone calls off at the last minute or if they schedule the time off.   It is the absence that is disruptive, not the type of absence reporting.  It seems that our HR looks at the last-minute disruption as important, because they thought work would need rescheduling.  We had a discussion about how we can’t reschedule the majority of our work given a last minute call-off, as the work is project-based.    And with online calendars, tracking last minute call-offs is problematic.  The result of this discussion is that we are re-thinking how we look at absenteeism in our department and how we want to approach conversations with the employee. 

    Another issue where our perspectives differ is employee retention.  I like this short description at BrightHub of an overall view on employee retention: 

    We work hard to hire the right people.  We know that potential employees who value balance between work and personal life often like working in the university central IT organization.  Our benefits for managed time-off (vacation, personal, sick) and flexible scheduling are strong recruiting tools.  Employees who value salary above managed time-off will not likely stay working with us over the long term, as our salaries are not competitive with area business.   

    We are often surprised when there’s occasional university talk about reducing benefits to be comparable with some  businesses in the area.  In terms of overall compensation, we are competitive, but the balance between salary and benefits is different in our university compared to area business.  If we reduce the benefits and don’t correspondingly increase the salary, we will not be able to attract the IT talent we need for the projects defined by university leadership.

    Our university HR discussed retaining solid employees, and particularly engaging in activities to support retention of employees with five years or more seniority.  However, from an IT perspective, five years is an eternity; that’s at least two technology change cycles.  We had churn in about half of our professional positions about a year ago.  We have 40 positions in central IT; of that 40, 20 have been with the university 5 years or less.  Of the remaining 20, 13 have changed responsibilities within the last 5 years.   Much of this churn happened after June 2010.  We agree we want to retain employees, but we'd like to see retention efforts  occur earlier and not five years into employment.

    In an earlier blog, I posted about the technology sea change we are observing and the need for technology skill development and retooling to keep current.  We are at a point of investing thousands of dollars into skill and professional development.  If we are going to see return on that investment, we need to keep technically talented staff longer that 3 years.  This can’t be an ad-hoc “lazy-loser” system, where the default retention keeps those too lazy to look for another job or those  too technically out-of-date to find another job.  Our reward mechanisms need to favor those who are enthusiastic about university technology initiatives, adopting and excelling in the technical skill areas that we really need to move university projects forward.  The retention strategy needs to align with supporting technical change.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Staffing and Technology Shift

    I'm giving a lot of thought to the change drivers that I've written about and the impact on staffing, organizational portfolio, and professional development.  We need to make sure that our staffs are ready, and our IT organizations are structured, to handle the technological changes and shifts that we are experiencing.

    The technological changes are affecting our organization in several different ways:

    • We analyzed the announced platform shift for Banner, the growth of apps, and the changing enterprise systems portfolio.  We need developer/integrators with strong Java skills, an understanding of REST-based services, and ready to learn things like Groovy and Grails.  PL/SQL skills seem to be fading in need.
    • We need network engineers who understand wireless density management, VLAN management and edge device management.  Our network engineers must add strong understanding of VOIP to their skill sets.
    • We need systems engineers who can handle the growing systems architecture around huge storage environments.  Systems engineers need to understand that storage may be a blend of in-sourced and outsourced solutions, and they need to work and manage growth in that environment.  The best systems and systems architecture engineers will understand end-to-end services:  where do data start, how are they moved, how are they edited, and how are they transmitted over the network.  It isn't enough to tell someone "Yes, you can store that 5 gig file here."  The best systems engineer will ask "How does that file get here?  Once it is stored, what do you intend to do with it? What are the bandwidth implications?  What are the security implications?"  We need to provide strong assistance on selecting appropriate storage locations.
    • We will see more of the BYOD environment.  On the services side, we need to be ready to react to consumer-driven decisions that we cannot control.  For example, we are trying to plan and implement changes now that will avoid network connectivity issues for Christmas-gift Kindle Fires when these come to campus in January.  
    • We also need to think about new services for this environment.  What about a new service such as "App Finder"?  You tell us what you need in an app, and our service operation will research options for you.  How about "Energy Advisor"?  We provide services around analyzing energy use, ranging from planning for charging stations to analyzing the power management for all aspects of IT.  How about "Mobile Security Specialist," so we can assist with all aspects of working securely in a mobile environment?
    These changes are pervasive throughout the IT organization.  How are you looking at this in terms of staff implications?  Our initial responses are:
    • Identified training plans for all professional staff members and developed a projected training budget.  We expect our training budget needs to increase by almost 50% this year.  We are reallocating funding originally targeted for technology upgrades to staff training and development.
    • Reallocating funding for consulting on specific projects involving new technologies to make sure we get started in the right direction.
    • We started a monthly meeting with our University Human Resources to discuss HR aspects of this changing environment.  This part is proving to be very challenging.  Part of this may be the very different focuses of HR and IT organizations, but we seem to have very different value structures.  
    Please do share any insights or great ideas as you explore these changes.  My next post will be more on the HR challenges.