The explosive growth of social media is changing how companies interact with customers.  Those that understand social media know that what is being said about them online can have a huge impact on their bottom line.

There are a number of ways to monitor a brand online. Some free services will monitor search engines for mention of specific keywords and other medium-specific tools can be used to monitor media like Twitter. But when I asked the pros what they use, the name Radian6 came up — over and over again.

Radian6, founded in 2007, is based in Fredericton, New Brunswick and has 45 full-time employees.  Amber Naslund, the firms’s Director of Community, explained,

“Radian6 provides the social media monitoring platform for marketing, communications and customer support professionals. The company’s flexible dashboard enables monitoring all forms of social media with results appearing in real-time as discovered. Various analysis widgets give users the ability to uncover the top influencers as well as which conversations are having an impact online.

Radian6 gathers real-time-as-discovered information from across the social web, including blogs, video sharing sites, boards and forums including LinkedIn Answers, and emerging media such as FriendFeed and Twitter.”

After a brief online training session that Radian6 provides to all new customers, I logged in to their slick web application and began to enter some keywords I wanted to track.  And that’s where the similarity with free tools ended.  Radian6 provides powerful tools to drill down in results and analyze them. For example, I could quickly sort hits based upon the level of engagement (measured by comments) or inbound links.

While savvy companies will obviously want to read everything written about their products, it is often necessary to prioritize.  Radian6 not only finds relevant information and conversations, but they also provide the tools needed to analyze and prioritize.

While monitoring their brand is an obvious priority for Radian6’s 300+ customers, I can imagine many other uses.  For example, by choosing the right keywords and leveraging Radian6’s powerful widgets, I was able identify and begin to track key influencers on specific subjects.  A similar approach could also be used to track competitors, business partners or a key industry.

It didn’t take long to understand why PR pros pointed me to Radian6. Behind their advanced software is a team that not only understand and embrace social media, but they also ‘get’ customer service. When I needed help, one Tweet and Amber had me sorted out in a matter of minutes.  It doesn’t get better than that.

Last week I ran into a project manager from Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu — one of the most popular Linux distributions for desktop and notebook computers.  In conversation I mentioned that I’m a huge Ubuntu fan, but I run Windows Vista on my notebook because I can’t live without Microsoft Office and Adobe Lightroom. We had a pleasant chat.

Now before your scream ‘oversimplification’, keep in mind I said “can’t live without” and I’m talking about my notebook.  There are a lot of Windows applications I love and most of them are on my fast desktop machine with dual monitors. That’s where I do stuff like photo and video editing.

And just to be clear, I’m a huge fan of open source, but when it comes to choosing software, I’m a pragmatist. I like the collaborative nature of open source.  I like the fact that source code is available if I get the urge to tinker.  And I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I like the price.  I like the idea of installing Ubuntu and OpenOffice for free and not having to deal with pesky software activations if I change my hardware.  I want as much performance as I can crank out of my hardware and in that respect Ubuntu Linux beats Vista hands down.  But I’m not willing to give up interoperability or convenience.  I’m not willing to use medocre applications. And I can’t afford to look like a moron when I send someone a “PowerPoint” file and they can’t open it – or worse – it looks like it was formatted by my 3-year-old daughter.

I’m also not one of those annoying people who will use open source software just because it’s open source. I have Windows-less friends, and I respect their choices. All things being equal, I’ll choose open source.

But if the application is poorly designed or doesn’t do what I need, it’s gone.  If the application has unresolved year-old bugs, it’s gone. And for applications that are important to me, I vote with my wallet. I reject the assertion that ‘open source’ necessarily means better software. I compare open source applications head-to-head with commercial closed-source software.  Availability of source code and price are simply points of comparison.

I’m also passionate about my photo editing software and for that I make no apologies. I use Adobe Lightroom for 95% of my photo work because it is by far the best application I’ve found.  And if you’ll excuse a brief soapbox, I get annoyed when open source enthusiasts tell me that I could use one of countless mediocre open source photo editing applications.  Of course I could. And if I wanted to use inferior software, I would.  Perhaps I view the world differently, but my primary applications dictate the operating system and hardware, not the other way around. Have something better, I’m dying to see it.  But tell me to compromise in my creative persuits and the conversation ends there. If only Adobe did Linux…

For mail, writing and presentations, I use Microsoft Office. I regularly collaborate with others and interoperability is not a desire – it’s a hard requirement.  I must be able to work with Office 2003 and 2007 files. Like it or not, in today’s business environment Microsoft Office is the defacto standard.  If what I see on my screen isn’t the same as what a peer or client sees, and I’m using another product, it’s my fault.

A few years ago, I tried OpenOffice and concluded that it didn’t meet my interoperability requirements. It worked just fine and it provided the basic functionality that I needed – but that wasn’t enough.  For example, I had ran into issues with tracked changes, and that in itself was a show-stopper. And opening a complex PowerPoint presentation took forever.

But my new acquaintance suggested I try OpenOffice 3.0.  When I mentioned my previous experience with it, he explained that, among others, their legal department used it and routinely exchanged complicated Word documents with tracked changes. So this past weekend I downloaded and installed.

I have a lot more testing to do, but so far I’m impressed.  I loaded complex Word documents and they looked just fine.  I opened a 100+ page PowerPoint presentation and it seemed to take only a bit longer than PowerPoint 2007.  And OpenOffice 3.0 supports the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats.

So perhaps the time has come – time for another look at OpenOffice.

Recently, I received an announcement regarding a symposium for mid-career professionals on “Moving Up the Ladder.” Priced at $2,500, the three-day course was sponsored by a nationally respected business school. Then just the other day we attended an IDC (1st rate market research firm) conference and career planning became crystal clear.

Since money is little tight right now and you don’t really want to tie up three days, here’s a 15-minute short course.

Someone Stole the Ladder

Today’s organizations are struggling to survive in fiercely competitive global markets. They’re restructuring, outsourcing, re-engineering, downsizing, subcontracting and forming alliances with friends and enemies.

The plugged-in, turned-on Internet-driven marketplace has issued new mandates to every organization to make dramatic, even drastic, changes. Successful firms find they need to be lean, agile and quick to respond. The result has been a leveling of the corporate structure. Middle management layoffs don’t even make the news anymore. The thousands who find themselves suddenly without jobs wonder what the *&%$# happened.

Companies Struggle to Survive

What happened was that we changed the way we do business, and firms must adapt to survive. Companies around the globe are eliminating excess baggage — abandoning bureaucratic practices — dramatically reducing the amount of time it takes to get things done. Organizations that don’t or won’t accelerate their change will disappear. Many already have.

Organizations and the people who run/support them are operating in the dark, in uncharted terrain.

The same is true for business professionals at every level who work in this Information Age. The competent, confident professionals have to sharpen their senses, sharpen their focus to help their firms become economic change agents while assisting business partners and customers in becoming stable and sustainable.

In this type of reactive and stressful environment, forget about moving up the corporate ladder. Focus on making you your career. Increase your tunnel vision on developing and delivering customer solutions. The truth is, no one owes you or guarantees pay increases, promotions, a job or even a career future.

In 2000, one in five American employees had been with their employer less than a year. Two out of three, less than five years. Gone are the nine-to-five jobs, lifetime employment, predictable hierarchical relationships, corporate security blankets and even the conventional workplace.

Since 1990, the temporary, self-employed, part-time and consultant segment of the U.S. workforce has grown more than 75 percent. Five years ago, less than 50 percent of the industrial world’s workforce was holding conventional full-time jobs. Today the full-time numbers have shrunk even more.

A Quick Look Back

To understand the reasons for the changing workplace, you have to examine the past. Do it quickly or you’ll get run over by the future.

In the ’60s, half of the workers in the industrial world made or helped make something. By 2000, only about one-eighth of the workforce in developed countries was making and moving goods. Statistics on the current U.S. working population show that half are in the service sector. The percentages are very similar in other industrial countries.

Knowledge is now our most important product. Today’s businesses are in a constant state of flux.

Rather than being bogged down with chain of command decision-making, project teams are made up of suppliers, customers, contractors and even competitors. There’s a constant stream of new co-workers, new bosses and new challenges. A person’s ability to become a quick-change artist–and be comfortable in dealing with uncertainty–enhances his or her reputation and career.

You Control Your Career

In this new environment, people have to take 100 percent control of their own lives, their own careers and their own futures. People have to come to grips with the hard fact that there are limits on how loyal an employer can or will be.

Firms can no longer throw money and people at problems. They have to find better solutions faster and with less. Individuals who struggle to maintain the past or status quo, who cling to old assumptions like the corporate ladder and job security and who resist the inevitability of change are – unfortunately — left behind. Those who catch on and invest in finding and seizing change’s opportunities, earn the rewards.

The Japanese call it kaizen–the relentless quest for a better way, for higher-quality craftsmanship–the daily pursuit of perfection. The passionate pursuit of kaizen improves your competence level and your worth to yourself and others. It also protects your career, even if your company or job disappears tomorrow.

While perfection is important, so is a strong sense of urgency. You can’t be bogged down in endless preparation, fact-finding and planning before you make your move. You can’t wait for a firm directive.

Quality is important, but it must be done expeditiously. It means having the ability to fail fast, fix it and move on. Remember you’re moving in dark, uncharted territory and your goal has to be the ethical sustainability of your organization. Dramatic breakthroughs in science and technology don’t come in quantum leaps–they’re the result of hard-won incremental improvements.

Empower Yourself

In today’s flattened organizations, uncertain business climate and reduced hierarchies, management doesn’t want people who wait for someone to “empower” them. You have to empower yourself.

If you empower yourself, you don’t wait for someone to call the shots, to supervise you, to hold your hand or to be accountable for the problems and results of your efforts. That’s your job.

To be successful, you can’t afford the luxury of a three-day symposium focusing on how to move up the ladder. You have to think of yourself as self-employed; in business for yourself.

Whether you’re inside or outside the organization, focus on bottom-line results and profits for the company. Don’t waste time, energy and resources on activities that don’t provide a strong payoff for your employer or client.

Dilbertism

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, says he told his PacTel bosses (and by his accounts, there was a constant stream of them) that when he cost the company more than he contributed, he expected to be fired. Confident in himself, and perhaps bolstered by an increasingly lucrative creative career, he felt his job security was based more on providing added value to PacTel rather than his tenure, company loyalty or activity level.

People who simply stay busy, without adding any real value, are building their careers on fantasy. The better you serve … the more you take control of projects and their outcome … the more you add value … the better you perform … the more you enhance your career.

It doesn’t guarantee job security, raises or promotions. However, by practicing kaizen in today’s boundaryless organization–even when there are a few loose ends or ragged edges to your decisions and actions — helps high-velocity firms survive and stay ahead. In today’s environment…that’s important!

This may actually be the best period for people who see things differently, who can track the differences and anticipate change before it arrives. Now may actually be the best time to take those risks and help your company make its way across the uncharted, darkened terrain.

Attractive Candidate

It gives you more energy, more self-confidence and more job satisfaction. It also makes you a more attractive job candidate–inside and outside of your company.

Your three-day symposium is complete.

Let’s split the cost of the original course. Just send a check for $1,250 and we can both move on to the work at hand: Helping our organizations handle today and be well positioned for tomorrow.

[This article originally appeared in MONiTOR Magazine]

Protecting sensitive information gets more difficult every day, and it shows. We hear about major security breaches on a weekly – sometimes even daily – basis. There are several reasons:

  • Corporate perimeters are disappearing due to information sharing requirements and an increasingly mobile workforce;
  • To remain competitive, applications are often rushed to the market without adequate security design and testing;
  • More data is in motion, both inside and outside corporations, on a variety of mediums; and,
  • Employees often receive little security awareness and training.

Every company should be conducting risk assessments, vulnerability assessments and security awareness training. But a significant contribution to the problem is that most of the security controls we have traditionally used focus on protecting networks and computers instead of data.

The assumption, of course, is that by protecting the server, you protect the data on it, and that remains an important concept in a layered security architecture. But what about protecting the information asset more directly?

Corporate and government information is subject to all sorts of threats. And while we tend to focus on espionage and the theft of financial information, a lot of information leakage is unintentional. For example, employees often email confidential information because it’s convenient, without realizing that it is highly vulnerable to interception while in transit. It’s also easy to accidentally send email to the wrong person, as many of us have embarrassingly found out. Sometimes issues results from what I call the “intentional unintentional”. For example, and employee who can’t send a .zip file attachment due to corporate rules might log into a webmail account and send it from there. While the employee knew that they were breaking corporate policy, their intent was just to get their job done, not create a security incident.

Some organizations have reacted to the data leakage risk by implementing draconian ‘security’ measures like physically disabling USB ports and using web filtering technologies to prevent employees from accessing webmail accounts, social media sites, and other resources deemed “not employment related”. While these measures can sometimes help, overkill is not without cost, including impact on employee morale and retention. Perhaps I’m a security rebel, but I suggest that my clients consider encouraging employees to use webmail accounts for personal email and reserve their corporate email account for company business. This reduces risks such as embarrassment due to employees writing controversial emails, makes it clear when the employee is speaking for the organization and when they are not, and reduces the amount of personal information on company servers and in archives.

But enough on the problem. What’s the solution?

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is the next big thing in information security. DLP is a discipline to reduce information leakage by discovering, monitoring and protecting sensitive information assets. DLP products are both content and context sensitive — a new level of sophistication for security products.

DLP products use different terminology, but it’s easiest to understand them by thinking of a toolbox rather than a single tool. Most vendors offer a central point of administration, and those who don’t are in the process of integration. The other tools have specific purposes. Discovery modules scan file shares, databases, web servers and other repositories for information that shouldn’t be there. Based upon the policy configuration, they may generate alerts, reports or automatically move information to a secured location, leaving behind a ‘breadcrumb’ to tell users what has been done.

Monitoring modules work at the host or network level. A sniffer approach is often used to monitor network traffic at the organizational perimeter to detect sensitive information leaving the organization. Endpoint agents (installed on user laptops and workstations) can also provide passive monitoring. It’s important to note that this is very different from the “spyware” type of monitoring that I’ll be discussing next month. The purpose of these modules is to detect and monitor the movement of sensitive information assets, not the user’s overall activity on the system.

Last, but not least, are modules that provide active protection. In some cases, such as the endpoint, the difference between monitoring and protection may simply be a matter of configuration. In network applications, protection agents are placed inline. For example, outbound email can be inspected and automatically routed to an encryption gateway or bounced as dictated by policy.

But there is much more to the discipline of DLP. Successfully using DLP tools in the corporate environment requires vision, strategic implementation and integration with other security program fundamentals. To begin, one has to be able to define sensitive information in order to detect it. If the organization already has a good classification policy in place it may need to be refined. If not, that’s a good starting point.

DLP tools can then be used to identify areas of concern. For example, a data loss assessment at the corporate perimeter can be used to quantify the organization’s leakage onto the Internet. Scanners can rapidly detect credit card numbers in documents on file shares. And endpoint agents can be used to monitor sensitive parts of the organization.

Once the magnitude and location of the data leakage problems are identified, an appropriate business case can be developed and DLP tools deployed where a sufficient business justification exists. I usually recommend a period of passive monitoring to fine-tune rules prior to implementing active protection. This reduces the likelihood of business interruption due to false positives. In addition to rules, some DLP products can also fingerprint both structured and unstructured data known to be sensitive so that it can be recognized in the future. Using these features requires careful planning so that the DLP deployment itself does not create vulnerability.

I’ve often said that security awareness is the best security investment an organization can make, and it’s noteworthy that DLP vendors seem to understand the value of education as well as the need to minimize operational overhead. Products on the market today have feature sets that facilitate automated remediation and user education. For example, we can write DLP rules to automatically notify the user if they have breached (or are attempting to breach) the organization’s policy.

For example, when a user attempts to email a file containing personal information, a DLP endpoint agent could pop up a box to warn the user and ask why they are trying to send the file. This not only educates the user, the also gathers important information for DLP administrators. At the network perimeter, a DLP sensor could detected that a user has included one social insurance number in an email, bounce it back to the user with an explanation, notify the user’s manager and close the incident. On the other hand, if the email included an attachment with many social insurance numbers, the email could be quarantined and an incident opened with the information security team.

The DLP discipline offers us new tools to directly address serious issues that corporations and governments face today. By combining them with other sound security fundaments, we can significantly reduce risks related to data leakage.

The TECHLife Post is closed today in observance of the statutory holiday.  We’ll resume our regular publishing schedule on Monday. Have a great long weekend!

I remember watching the web go mainstream back in the mid 90’s.  Web servers and the Internet had existed for a few years, but URLs began appearing on billboards and product packaging literally overnight as a critical mass was reached.

Today we’re approaching another critical mass.  Blogs and social networking sites have been around for years, and many consider them mainstream.  Over the past few years some leading businesses have adopted blogs as a tool to communicate with customers.  People from all walks of life converse on Twitter, and businesses are starting to take note.  Major corporations, small businesses and individuals alike have recognized and are leveraging the power of social media to market their products, services and selves.

To gain insight into this phenomenon I did what any journalist would do in 2009: I posted to a site used by media and PR professionals indicating that I wanted to speak to an expert on social media marketing. I had about a hundred responses within two hours.

One of those experts is Jeremy Epstein, a Washington-based guru with one of the best elevator speeches I have ever heard, “I help clients build and ignite their customer communities to create outrageously effective word-of-mouth marketing programs.” Jeremy changed the way I thought about social marketing with a great analogy. Social media, he explained, is like going to a dinner party where you don’t know people. You sit down, shut up and listen. Then add relevant comments. If people are interested, they’ll ask. Epstein’s approach to “community driven marketing” involves creating and identifying raving fans, building relationships with them, and then having them market you to others. (There’s much more on Jeremy’s blog, ignitingtherevolution.com)

Brian Reich, Principal at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based EchoDitto Inc. and author of Media Rules! graciously took the time to explain the underlying principles. He explained that participation in social media is based upon of our natural desire to learn more and be connected to others. The technology simply removes barriers like geography and allows people to seek out those with shared interests. With media like Twitter, one can drop in and out of conversations as they desire, and “marketers have an unprecedented opportunity to be in conversation with their audience.” However, he pointed out that audiences have very high expectations that many marketers are failing to understand. His advice is to understand one’s audience and their expectations – to talk to them and listen.

Dallas Lawrence, VP of Digital Media at Levick Stategic Communications and author of bulletproofblog.com contributed a different perspective. His firm is a leader in crisis communications and he explained that digital media provides the power of immediacy and the ability to engage in conversations going on about your brand. And while he advocates direct engagement with bloggers, Dallas cautions that communication must be accountable and transparent. He pointed out that social media provides the most effective early warning system of issues involving a brand, and that an issue raised on one blog can quickly propagate throughout the blogsphere, YouTube, Twitter, social bookmarketing sites like Digg, and quickly find its way onto CNN in about 12 hours. In an interesting twist, bloggers now often drive traditional media and hold it accountable. Dallas advises his clients to know which bloggers are influential in their industries, listen to what they say and proactively reach out to them during a crisis.

Shelly Milam, Social Media Program Lead at Page One PR in San Francisco began by talking about the importance of metrics. Lots of people are doing social marketing, she explained, but that they’re not measuring its impact. For example, she could tell me that the use of social media had increased web site traffic 3500% for a major product launch. Shelly’s firm originally focused on open source clients and helping them to build communities. Today they also have clients like Cisco and Wine.com, who want to know the return on investment of their marketing activities. At the risk of oversimplifying, Shelly’s approach is to help clients define their message, determine how to measure it, and choose the best channel. (According to Shelly the top three are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.) Her advice to those new to social marketing is to start small, pick one tool based upon the audience you want to reach, identify the key influencers and engage them in conversation.

My sincere thanks to the pros that took the time to speak with me, as well as the hundred or so others that responded to my query. I would have liked to speak to each and every one of you. And perhaps, through the power of social media, I may be able to do exactly that.

[Zoe Brain is on assignment this week, but don’t worry, she’ll be back!]

As a child, I remember watching Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura with her wireless earpiece.  Today I use a similar peice of “science fiction” in my car so that I can keep both hands on the wheel.  In a generation we’ve gone from rotary dial telephones to mobile phones with wireless headsets.  From landlines to VoIP.  From dollars to pennies per minute to call other continents.  From hurried calls home to videoconferencing with the kids using Skype.

The telephone has become universal across most of the world and in many places wireless services are slowly but steadily displacing Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines.  It’s easy to understand why a young person moving out on their own may simply not feel the need for a land-line.  After all, their friends all just call (or text) their mobile.

I’m wondering what’s next.  Will the land-line survive?  For how long?

According to my tea leaves, we’re one generation away from the death of the residential telephone service because only a few things keep them alive:

  • Mobile phones are too expensive in many areas.  While some US carriers are offering “all you can eat” plans, Canadian carriers aren’t there quite yet;
  • Most residential alarm systems rely on POTS lines; and,
  • Us ‘old’ people who are used to having them.

Over time, all these conditions will change.  I’ll be sure to save a touch-tone wall phone for the grandchildren — because they’ll probably never own one.

While royalty is born to his or her station in life, the rest of us have to work to achieve a position of power. It is difficult for a lot of people who finally arrive to suddenly discover that the strength of their power (or influence) rests in the hands of others – usually the people they manage.

Middle and upper managers who were trained in yesterday’s command and control management school “know” that collaboration is important in today’s rapidly changing business environment. But they often provide lip-service to the subject. They sponsor staff training sessions on collaboration. But they still find it disconcerting, difficult and even impossible to give up their imperial role. What’s the fun of being boss if you can’t boss?

Legislators, law enforcement, the workforce and investing public have watched the tsarist activities of senior executives with their financial mismanagement and financial greed. Individuals and organizations have begun to seriously question the disturbing trend of the cook eating before the rest of the family and guests…and gorging themselves with wild abandon!

There is a paradigm shift taking place that says the provincial bureaucratic corporate pyramid has outlived its usefulness. Micro-management is no longer feasible or desirable.

New Environment Forces Change

Today we operate in a knowledge economy. In this environment, you can’t simply order people to work harder, smarter, or faster and to ignore the information that surrounds them. Knowledge workers get their information from all sides, not just from the top down.

If they were properly hired and trained, they know more about their work than their bosses and supervisors. Monopolistic managing doesn’t work. People need to be free, encouraged and constantly reminded to adapt and innovate. Effective, empowered individuals and teams will drive the success of their organizations, functions and activities. If their collaborative efforts aren’t encouraged the organization’s future is in jeopardy.

But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Senior management must insist that it is carried out and practiced at every level. They must also lead by example. The dirty little secret is that many leaders are uncomfortable with such structures. They cling to imperial roles because, as Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be king!”

Sharing power and sharing information doesn’t enhance the alpha-male’s/female’s well being. It simply makes the people who do the work feel better, do better. So why is true collaboration – talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk — in the best interest of your organization and your senior management?

In today’s fast-moving, struggling, constantly changing economy firms have to realize that the real power, market position and strategic/tactical advantage are in the hands of knowledge workers. Not owners, not managers. The prime imperative for today’s leaders and senior management is to meet the needs of these workers.

Why? Even with staff reductions, knowledge workers — the best — have choices as to where they work and the terms of their employment. Since 1995, 25 percent of the American workforce has been laid off at least once. The bond between the organization, its management and knowledge workers is tenuous at best.

These people want meaning and direction. They want a sense of significance and self-satisfaction. They expect trust in and from their leaders. They are inspired by a sense of hope and optimism. They demand results.

If the organization isn’t open to collaborative workflow that will take advantage of and nurture the firm’s intellectual capital, the company’s most valuable asset will find a position elsewhere. One that is more aligned with their personal and professional goals.

When that happens, some portion of the organization’s intellectual capital is lost. Even in the most dispersed, most automated operations that represent the loss of some of the firm’s future competitive advantage. Our best risk-taking, results-oriented leaders are catalysts. They expect to achieve a lot. They also know that they there is little they can do without the efforts, support and commitment of others.

Take a hard look at the achievements of Intel’s Andy Grove and Charlie Barrett, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, GE’s Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt, IBM’s Lou Gestner and Sam Palmisano and Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett. Each in their own fashion brought to their jobs the zeal, resourcefulness, risk-tolerance and discipline of an entrepreneur. Nothing less breaks through the noise, clutter, and competitive pressure of today’s marketplace.But the common thread of achievement was their ability to recognize, employ and focus the men and women of their firms to tap into their need for self achievement and self worth. Without this they would have been simply decent CEOs and good stewards of the investors’ company.

 

Intellectual Capital

They were actually able to generate intellectual capital for their firms. Capital that isn’t shown on a balance sheet. Capital that is vital to the firm’s growth and long-term prosperity. They understood the key to their success was: selecting the right people, allocating capital resources and spreading ideas quickly.

Helping your knowledge workers is more difficult since to truly excel, senior management must make difficult decisions in short time frames with imperfect data. They have to be able to think in the abstract and connect the dots when the lines are fuzzy at best.

As hockey’s Wayne Gretzky noted, “it ain’t’ where the puck is. It’s where the puck will be.” Or as a Fortune 500 CEO once said: “if you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” Inconsistency is the one constant. Indecision is never an option!

The best managers encourage the sharing of information. They encourage people to speak out on important issues. They share decisions. They share credit for successes. They accept failure as progress.

In baseball, a great player is one who bats 300. That means he strikes out 7 of 10 times. Or as Gretzky reminds us, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Successful Managers

Successful managers know that with imperfect information they are not going to be right 100% of the time. They know that ultimately they must take their best shot. At the same time they have to create a climate that tolerates strikeouts and missed shots.

The option is indecision. A firm where control exists only at the top. A company that can easily be surpassed. A company that is slowly, painfully dying. It is an organization where the best knowledge workers have limited options:

  • Depart for greener pastures,
  • Bide their time until new, better management arrives or
  • Accept and be satisfied with mediocrity and indecision/nondecision.

None of the options seem appealing. Aggressive collaboration must be a priority with every CEO and manager in today’s knowledge-based, unstable business environment. Today’s businesses must generate intellectual capital. Management must encourage and nurture it. They must create added value.

It’s difficult to admit after all of your years of hard work that being a king isn’t all it is cracked up to be. But it is important to remember that kings only remain kings as long as the kingdom thrives. Today’s business kingdoms only thrive in a collaborative environment.

Security is a hot topic today, at least partially thanks to the Internet.  It’s not that the Internet is good or bad – it’s neither – but rather because of the connectivity that the Internet provides.  Just as the car made it possible for criminals to seek out targets farther away than horses could carry them, the Internet enables criminals to seek out victims around the globe at the speed of light.

Over the past 15 years we’ve all had to learn about new methods of crime and how to protect ourselves.  That takes time.  And whether you live in an upscale urban neighbourhood, out in the country, or in a dangerous inner-city neighbourhood, to Internet fraud artists you’re just another potential victim.  That fact helps make security a hot topic.

Unfortunately security is also being used as an excuse, and I cringe whenever I hear the phrase, “It’s not secure.”  The problem is that we seldom talk about what security really means and we often misuse the word.  For example, we install a certificate on a web server and call it a “secure” server.  But is it?  An endless stream of vendors tell us that their products are “secure”.  Are they?

Part of the problem is that we’re not asking the right question: “Is it secure enough?”  There is no such thing as a secure building, a secure server or a secure application.  However, there are buildings, hardware, and software that provide high levels of security against specific threats. They are, in effect, secure enough for a specific purpose.

In some cases when you’re told at work that something “is not secure”, what the person means is, “that’s not secure enough” or “that doesn’t meet our security requirements.”  But it might also mean, “we just don’t want to do it,” and unfortunately there’s a lot of that going on. 

Security is a risk management discipline.  The goal of a security organization should be to help the business manage risk while embracing whatever technology the business needs to advance, compete, and thrive. We’re long past the day when simply saying “no” is an acceptable answer.

So next time you’re told that something “is not secure”, do us all a favour and ask questions.  What are the specific risks?  What can be done about them?  And next time a vendor tells you that their product is “secure”, “completely secure”, “absolutely secure” or other nonsense like that, call them on it.

Next week I’ll look at the topic of risk assessment and how we can determine risk levels and what to do about them.

I grew up in a world where waiters and waitresses received a gratuity for good service.  Provide good service and you’d usually get ten or fifteen percent as a show of appreciation.  Provide poor service and you were lucky to get anything.  Display some attitude and you’d soon figure out that the penny is so you know that the customer didn’t just forget.

Today we don’t have waiters and waitresses.  We have ‘servers’.  We don’t have professional, trained staff that take pride in their jobs, we have students.  Gratuities are now a ‘tip’, and ‘servers’ apparently believe they are entitled to a fifteen percent minimum no matter what level of service they provide.

When I first heard this I figured the guy was just yanking my chain.  Trying to crank me up, so to speak.  So I asked a young lady at a local restaurant and her answer was incredulous.  The entitlement generation indeed expect fifteen percent – minimum — no matter what.  And they expect more if the service was good.

What a crock!

To use words kids understand, it’s time for a come to jesus meetin’. A gratuity, or ‘tip’ if you must, is a gift.  You’re not entitled to it, even if you provide absolutely wonderful service.  If you’re slow, rude, inattentive or too damn busy talking with your buddies to notice that my coffee is empty, you can kiss your tip goodbye.  And don’t even think of sitting down beside me to take my order.  You’re the server and I’m there for service.  If I want a friend I’ll bring my own.

I like dining out because somebody else gets to cook, serve and clean. Save the “it’s the kitchen’s fault” excuses for somebody who cares.  You take my order, you bring my food, and if there’s a problem with any of the process in-between, you sort it out.  If you want a fifteen percent tip you’re going to have to earn it.

Speaking of which, my coffee is just about empty…

Google, in partnership with some of the world’s major music labels, has launched a new free music download service in China.

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The advertising-supported service is designed to lure Chinese music lovers away from the pirate music download culture that currently rules that market.

The deal makes available almost the entire catalogues of both western and Chinese music Warner music Group, EMI Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music and 14 independent labels — a total of over 1.1 million tracks.

The site is set up to sniff a visitor’s home Internet protocol (IP) address allowing access only to visitors from mainland china.

Chinese pirate download sites have reportedly dominated the market for Chinese language music in spite of ongoing attempts to shut them down, ranging from lawsuits to government crackdowns.

Some prominent Chinese recording artists say they’ve given up recording because not enough people actually buy their songs anymore.

Oh, and remember when we said almost all of the music in the partner labels’ catalogues will be available to Chinese downloaders? The exception will be those tunes the Chinese government has already banned for political, social or cultural reasons.

It is with some regret and — I’ll admit it — some relief, that I announce my immediate departure from TECHLife Post.

I was there last October, when TLP started, and have seen the publication through some interesting times.

But the publisher and I have diverged, in our views, on some important issues and it’s time for me to move on.

I hope, with all my heart — because TLP truly has been a labour of love for me — that it goes on to flourish and to attract the wide and faithful following it deserves.

I will miss the excitement of the daily newsgathering routine, my confabs with the columnists and the feeling that I was helping to create something worthwhile that was appreciated by our readers. I feel I succeeded, in overseeing the creation of a quality product.

Thanks to all involved — readers and contributors alike — for your support.

~ Maggie James