Learning the Spirit of Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) this Christmas

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There are two stories around the Northern Lights this Christmas. The first an Algonquin Native people’s story of Nanahbozho, creator of the Earth, when he had finished his task of the creation, he traveled to the north, where he built large fires, of which the northern lights are the reflections. The lights are to remind his people that he still thinks of them.

The second story occurs in the small town of Wawa, Canada today. On October 25th 2012 a freak storm with a massive downpour caused local rivers and creeks to flood. The proprietors of the Northern Lights Motel, John Parker and Maureen Hutchinson – Parker, literally had their lives washed away in the flood; their home, their business destroyed as the instant river sliced through the Trans-Canada highway and closed it.

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The flood may have washed the buildings away but certainly did not succeed doing the same to their fighting entrepreneurial spirit. The Northern Lights Motel Christmas message says it so much better than I could.

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This is the second time I have written about Mo & John as part of my blog on Consulting Excellence. The first was about the importance of keeping your sense of humor. This post is about something else they do we should all try to emulate if we can. It’s the ability to see that things will get better with persistent action towards a goal. Mo & John are likely asking Santa this year for 900 truck loads of clean fill.

I have been hosted by Mo & John a number of times as my snowmobile adventure tour company stopped frequently at the Northern Lights Motel. You can either look up in the sky or look at the people of Wawa to find inspiration this Christmas. Both work.

Merry Christmas

Ian

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Ambient Social Networks will change everything… EVERYTHING

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ASN’s are in their infancy today,  but when they mature they will have wholesale impacts on both consumers and the businesses that serve the consumer.

Let’s talk about what an Ambient Social Network is and what it isn’t. In its most basic form it assumes you carry an active smart-phone or tablet device and that device does two things:

  • it proactively identifies you to a level of disclosure you are comfortable with (Name, Picture,  Contact information being the primary demographic data)
  • it tells the network where you are via GPS (satellite), GPS-A (Telco) or Wi-Fi coordinates.

Now let’s look at a simple commercial scenario. You are a member of an ASN, you are travelling to Toronto and have a reservation at the Fairmont Royal York. The Royal York has ASN software linked with their reservation system and shows you on a screen with your distance from the hotel.  The Doorman sees your face on the screen approaching in the hotel in 3,2, 1 minutes and “Hello Mr. Hunter Welcome to the Royal York, Here’s your room card sir, may I help you with your bags? You are in room 1407.” You walk across the street to Bardi’s for dinner with your colleague for a 7 pm reservation.  They have not yet arrived. You check your phone, you see via the ASN they are South bound on the Don Valley parkway, 10 kilometers away, you have time to order a pre-dinner drink. You look again at your smartphone screen and you notice that a former colleague is also at Bardi’s, you haven’t seen them in years but do have them in your Linkedin group. You take a quick walk through the restaurant and there she is. You shake hands and  confirm a post-dinner chat at the hotel bar.

The Ambient Social Network will change just about everything in the way we as humans interact. We will decide to whom we will disclose information, how much we will disclose and then let the system manufacture opportunities we would not have had except for serendipity.

In the example above;

  • The traveller is on an ASN network (this may very well be Facebook in the near future). 
  • They have given permission to Fairmont Hotels to see
    • their location if in the city of the hotel and where there is a preexisting reservation
    • their first name and  last name
    • a standard Head-shot picture for Visual Identification

With this information, the traveller is greeted by name, with the room card in hand immediately upon arrival.

  • The traveller’s colleague also is on an ASN and provided the permission for their colleague to have access to their location when an appointment appears in their calendars for +/- 2 hours on each side of the appointment.

With this information, the colleague knows that they are in-transit and will be quite a few minutes late for dinner.

  • The traveller’s former colleague is also on an ASN and has set their profile to allow anyone on their Linkedin list to see their current location if the other person is also within 1 Kilometer of them.

With  this information , the traveller renews an old connection by finding their colleague at a table in the restaurant.

ASN’s only work when the rules about disclosing information are robust enough to protect privacy and ensure confidentiality of personal information.

Let’s look at an example with more disclosure. You are attending a conference. You set your ASN to disclose to any conference member your name, location, specialty areas, company, contact information and scheduled presentations when you are present at the conference only.

Now conference attendees can search for experts with specific specialty areas, find your name and location, know where you are speaking or attending and either arrange to meet you explicitly or simply go to your location to be introduced informally.

The initial prerequisite technologies are in place today. Most everyone owns a smart-phone with multi-band location services (sat, telco, wi-fi) and if they don’t they will soon as the standard cell phone disappears from the market.  The basic ASN software is starting to appear on some devices and with hosted network support (iPhone Highlight)

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What has not yet matured is the all important permissions model, where you at an extremely fine grained control level you can decide specifically what you will or won’t disclose, when and to whom nor is there yet a holistic approach to devices and integration with the major social networks (Facebook, MSN/Live, Yahoo,  Linkedin etc. ) but that will happen for sure in the next few years.

Imagine you are an owner of an Italian restaurant. You have software that shows you everyone within a 10 block radius that likes Italian food and it’s dinner time. You send a message out to every one who has disclosed in their public profile (the same as they would on Facebook) that they like Italian food and invite them for dinner at a 15% discount when your reservations are light. The ones who allowed notifications can click on it , set a reservation time and their name and face is added to the reservation list so you  and the server can greet and talk to them by their first name.

It will change everything and create an entirely new IT business. in the process.

What an ASN is not, is a perpetual broadcast of your information and location. Uncontrolled broadcast is simply not workable but a fine grained, permissions controlled environment will enable our world to make personal and business connections and communicate in ways never before imagined.

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Windows 8 Critics – The assumption that all things worthwhile are trivial.

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If you are a golfer you may have experienced the swing change. Your game gets to a certain point and then you just don’t get any better after that. So you see a golf pro. They analyze your swing and then tell you some pointers to make it better. You try them and initially it feels a bit weird. That first game out, you suck and your score is worse. Next game you improve, the game after that you improve again and the game after that you are now beating your pre-pro lessons score substantially. The change in your swing really worked, you are much better now than you were before.

I am amazed at some the commentary on Windows 8. Yes the interface suggests that you change your swing. You can of course just push the desktop button and go back to 95% of windows 7 if you wish. There is no question the interface is optimized for touch screens. Get one.

The point of Windows 8 is that it can make everything faster and easier on touch. If you are using it with just a mouse, you missed the point. It’s about changing the way you interact with your computer in a faster, more efficient and yes easier way. To benefit from this you must be willing to change your swing.

I am a power user. I make my living writing and communicating on a PC. Let’s look at a very standard scenario

Pour yourself a hot cup of coffee or tea and I will do the same. Log onto your windows 7 computer with a mouse and I will log into my Windows 8 touch computer.

  • Open Outlook
  • Read an email
  • Search for and find a word doc, find content 40 pages in cut and paste into your email
  • Check a favorite web site for content to include in the email
  • Find an excel spreadsheet from 6 months ago, review it
  • Find a picture you stored mid last year and paste it into Excel
  • Send both in an email to the sender or post it to SkyDrive and send the link
  • Call the email sender via LYNC voice and tell them what you found, what you sent
  • Lock your computer

While I now take the first sip of my piping hot coffee, a number of minutes from now you may join me but your drink will be cold. Windows 8 touch is THAT good.

When I first tried Windows 8 (and I got it way before you did!) it was like changing my golf swing. I was looking for the start button, and did not know why I could not close the applications with the familiar X. Now I realize after using Windows 8, that both of those activities (which I likely did hundreds of times each day) where completely superfluous. They were activities that WINDOWS wanted me to do, not activities that actually added value to my work process. Now they are gone. Is it a little weird for the few hours while you unlearn all those things that Microsoft made you do? Yes. I can guarantee you though that once you have used Windows 8 touch for a month, you would never, ever consider going back to non-touch Windows 7 platform. It would be like adding back 10 points to your golf handicap.

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Are you in my new book?

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So what do you get when you put 30 years of Global IT consulting experience and $3 Billion in projects into a guide for IT professionals and IT consultants? You get Infinite Shades of Grey – Advanced Consulting. Once destined to be a tome that would likely strain your bookshelf, I have trimmed the book down to “flight-size” and published it on Amazon. It is intended to help IT pro’s with good technical skills really excel in their consulting engagement or in their workplace. The book provides some real-life project stories, some of which many of you on my LinkedIn list have been a part of and may find entertaining. It also provides a Reader’s Digest version of the most critical consulting techniques, tips and skills that I have found to genuinely work; all proven out with real clients. Whether you are an IT Pro, Consultant or perhaps even someone who hires consultants; I believe you will find great value in Infinite Shades of Grey – Advanced Consulting. It is available in paperback or for download on Amazon to your Surface, iPad, PC, Android Gizmo, Mac or Kindle. All proceeds go to the Canadian Cancer Society.

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Human Resources – Misleading on the True Cost of Terminations?

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When a manager approaches HR about terminating an employee (I’ve done this myself more than once) there is a discussion about cost impact charged to your labor budget.  In most companies the calculation is something like this for a 10 year employee.

  • @$104,000 (Salary)
    • Severance payments (2 to 4 weeks per years of service) = $40,000 to $80,000
    • Benefits adjustment (pension plan top ups etc.) = $50,000
    • Outplacement = $35,000
    • Recruiting Replacement (15%) = $15,600
    • Total Budget Cost = $180,600

It is however not the true cost. There are 2 far greater potential costs that HR is ill-equipped to assess.

  • Competitive Risk
  • Loss of  Asset

If you are an IT company or consulting firm, fierce competition is at the core of your business. How much will this person cost you when they take a position with a competitor?

When an employee walks out the door for the last time they left their PC behind but took with them something that is orders of magnitude more important; their ability to contribute to the benefit of your company. You as the current manager and HR may take a very narrow view of the employees value. Do they provide sufficient value in the position they are in today? The question that is not asked is: what is their potential value to this organization?

To answer that question two things must be true.

  • you must actually have an understanding of the current and envisioned roles within the entire enterprise
  • you must be able to assess from their skills, performance history and character attributes  and determine whether they are a viable candidate for those roles and what they could bring to that role that an external recruit could not. (both the positives and the negatives)

This is where most HR organizations massively fail their enterprises. It is ironic that the term HR Recruiting is so appropriate. Recruit is a military term (from the French recrue, from the verb recroître ‘to grow again’, i.e. replenish the ranks) that  is about replacing those resources that have been killed in battle. It is clearly the enterprise itself these days that is mostly responsible for the deaths, simply because they couldn’t figure out if their leader of the diminishing (to quote President Obama) “Fewer Horses and Bayonets” platoon, may also be a highly effective leader of a platoon now armed with M4 Carbines. In today’s enterprise, they just shoot him or her and consequently lose all of that battle experience and knowledge.

Business is dynamic and it is fact of life that strategies and roles will change. I strongly believe the enterprises that will be most successful will be the ones that develop the ability to assess the potential business value of a human resource within their complete business strategy and take steps to ensure they retain the ones that can make stunning contributions in alternate roles.

When I joined Microsoft in 2001 they sent me off to “Boot Camp” where a Senior Executive came in to address the troops. He raised his laptop in the air and asked “Is this a Corporate Asset?”. The group responded affirmatively and he dropped the laptop on the ground, shattering it. “No it is not”, he replied. “Smart people are our only assets, you build the software, sell it and support our customers. It’s all we have…It’s all we have”. There was at least one executive that got it.

The key is for the Senior Leadership in the enterprise to make it a pervasive management performance objective that high performance resources are retained within the Enterprise, even if they are not retained in a current role. If the manager does not exhaust every avenue for retention within the enterprise, then their annual performance review should go very poorly for them.

Perhaps you in a management or leadership role need to apply some of the energy and technology put into recruiting and apply it to “DEcruiting”. When that Asset is gone, it’s gone and for a consulting practice, that’s fatal.

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Should you go to work in the morning?

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No. For many of us who are “office” workers , work is not where you should go in the morning. Work is something that you should do. Don’t take the subway or a bus to work. Don’t go at all.

It is time. We have waited for years for the technology for working from home (WFH) to mature to the level where we can achieve at least a 75%  WFH work-style. Today, not only does the technology exist to support it, it is ubiquitous and inexpensive. Want to improve cost efficiency(lower facility costs), improve productivity and save the planet (lower carbon footprint). Just stop going to work everyday.

The average office worker spend 48-60 minutes a day commuting to and from work in Urban areas. The longest commute time in Canada is in Toronto, where commuters average 79 minutes for a round trip, or roughly the equivalent of 8 work-weeks annually just getting to and from work. When I worked in Toronto and lived in the suburbs, I regularly had single direction commutes in the 2-3 hour range and a one time record-setting 11 hour commute.

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  • Average Commuter Journey is 8 miles
  • bus trips emit 0.107kgs CO2 per passenger mile
  • subway trains emit 0.163 kgs CO2 per passenger mile
  • 40 MPG cars emit 0.239 kgs CO2 per mile

Let’s review my work-from-home experience or perhaps more accurately, my “i’m-not-going-to-work” experience because I am a consultant and I do work on-site with clients at regular intervals.  I work from many different places including my home.

My Tools

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Windows Laptop with:

  • Microsoft Office suite – Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, OneNote
  • LYNC – Instant Message, Presence and Full Desktop Audio/Video conferencing
  • Wireless and 3G LTE
  • DirectAccess – I can connect to my Corporate domain and applications without VPN
  • SkyDrive Pro – Virtual Data Storage and Sync for Corporate files
  • SkyDrive – Virtual Data Storage for Personal or Non-Confidential files
  • High Quality & comfortable Microsoft LifeChat headset.
  • BitLocker – to securely store locally synchronized data for off-line use (in-the-air travel)

Windows Phone with:

  • Fully synchronized Outlook email
  • LYNC mobile where I can click on a meeting in Outlook and be immediately added to the Meeting from my phone
  • SkyDrive
  • Microsoft Office mobile where I can view presentations, or short documents for a quick review.
  • Internet Explorer browser with 3G LTE Internet access
  • Internet Sharing Hub
  • Bluetooth Headset & In-Car Bluetooth connection

Microsoft Surface with:

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  • Microsoft Office suite – Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
  • LYNC – IM, Full Audio/Video conferencing
  • Wireless and auto-connect to my phone for 3G LTE internet sharing access
  • SkyDrive – Virtual Data Storage for Personal or Non-Confidential files
  • Fully synchronized  email
  • Internet Explorer browser with Internet access
  • Internet Sharing Hub
  • Tablet or Tablet + Keyboard mode
  • SKYPE
  • 1 click Remote Desktop to my Corporate PC

(oh yeah and a home PC with a connected printer/scanner with Media Center PVR and a 54mbps wireless router with all devices connected through a Homegroup)

So today what does my WFH world  work and not work for?

    • person to person communication  – Yes
    • group communication -Yes
    • group decisions and interactions – Yes
    • client presentations (normal) – Yes
    • client presentations (high risk) – No
    • client workshops – No
    • internal workshops (formal agenda) – Yes
    • internal workshops (informal agenda) – No
    • whiteboard session – No
    • work production (analysis, architecture, writing, review, etc. ) – Yes
    • meetings where Body Language interpretation required – No
    • meetings where proxemics matter – No
    • meetings where Culture demands your presence – specifically if you are subordinate – No
    • meetings with Buyer Interaction – also a subordinate role  – No
    • team building – No

Today 90% of my internal calls are LYNC VOIP on my PC or Surface. My company is federated LYNC into some of my clients so about 25% of the client calls are also PC based, the others all come to my Unified Messaging system forwarded normally to my cell phone. In an average month I go into my office perhaps 3 to 5  times per month now (15%-25%)  and those are generally for team meetings or if I happen to be the neighbourhood with a client meeting.

Beyond the technology and the type of  personal interactions required, there is still your Boss to think of. Implicit in the choice of WFH one of the two must be mandatory:

  1. Your work can still be supervised or
  2. You consistently demonstrate productivity and self-discipline to work unsupervised or minimally supervised.

We can safely assume that either of these can easily be true about remote work today. The time has come to not go into work in the morning. Let’s all do the planet a big favour and just stay home.

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Microsoft Surface any concerns?

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It has been less than 24 hours since I received my pre-ordered Surface via UPS delivery. The delivery occurred when I was working from home on a presentation with my work laptop.  Taking a break, I took the Surface from the box, powered it on and it prompted me for my LiveID (@hotmail.com) and WEP security code for my home wireless.  About 10 minutes later, it asked me to sign in. I swiped my finger across the screen to the PowerPoint tile and pushed it. It opened to the “recent” sidebar showing the document I was working on 20 minutes ago on my work laptop. I selected it and presentation loaded into PowerPoint on my Surface.

You will notice something different immediately about the Surface:

  • Unlike other tablet devices, it’s intended for real work
    • The touch keyboard really works for data entry. I am a very proficient typist, I write documents, program code and use applications with a high degree of efficiency. The touch keyboard is almost as productive as a full size keyboard and light-years better than an on-screen keyboard. It is unbelievably light and thin and while it looks toy’ish; it is not. It works very , very well.
    • Surface has all the Office 2013 Applications. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Even better, they are all cloud connected. No more transferring or emailing files from machine to machine. My files are immediately accessible from SkyDrive in the applications regardless of the computer I am working on.
    • Surface immediately saw all my other computers on the home network, it took me 30 seconds to configure a Remote Desktop Connection to my work PC and put the tile for it on the main screen. What it means is that my fully secure Enterprise PC functions are now extended to my Surface.  I don’t have to join a Domain, worry about VPN’s or tangle with certificates. I just attach the Surface to the screen of the work PC. It’s fast, the resolution is good and very usable.
    • In about five minutes I configured my work Exchange email (@microsoft.com) to be available through the Surface mail app and another three minutes to load LYNC (Enterprise IM, Voice/Video conferencing) to link into my corporate Unified Communications system.

In the next two hours, I got back to work but continued working now on my Surface; working on my PowerPoint presentation, answering four emails, writing two more and taking a LYNC voice call.  The transition from my work PC was transparent and productive.  It was in effect, a lighter, more mobile and easier to use version of my work PC or perhaps better stated, a mobile extension of my Enterprise PC work environment.

When Microsoft originally announced the Surface one of the descriptions provided to us was that it was not just a “consumer” device, it was a “producer” device.  I didn’t get it.  A consumer device allows people to  watch videos, look at web sites, read emails etc. Consumer devices generally have limited capabilities for efficiently producing content or collaboration. They are limited by screen form factor, poor on-screen keyboards and substandard office productivity software etc.  The Surface on the other hand was designed for productivity. Bigger high-res screen, fantastic keyboard, seamless Cloud integration for document/data storage and an updated version of the full Office software suite. After using the Surface for a number of hours, I now understand what they meant.

The Surface still has the “consumer” abilities. You can download the Netflix and Kindle apps, you can add Skype (which it will convert to your LIVEID by the way). It is auto-integrated with Facebook and Twitter. It has a very nice Photo viewing app and a front & back camera for web-cam grade pictures and videos.  Finally…. Microsoft has gotten rid of the less than friendly Zune Music software and replaced it with a very cool,  very intuitive Surface music application. The Windows RT touch interface takes about an hour to get comfortable with it, but after that you quickly realize you can do things much faster than you could with a mouse in Windows 7.

So did the first 24 hours surface any concerns? No, not at all. Everything I tried with my Surface worked, worked well and in some cases surprised me by just how good it really is.

This blog post of course, written on my Surface.

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