One of my favourite books on IT is Accidental Empires by Robert X Cringley. It was turned in to a TV series a while back and gives a great insight in to the birth of the PC industry and many of the characters including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. In particular there is a chapter called The Demo God which always made me smile as it talked about the pitfalls of demonstrating software that is often in beta and how you need to know what to demo and what not to demo. I've been there a few times :)
I also read a book a while back by Guy Kawasaki titled Rules for Revolutionaries which was different but not a bad read at all from the ex-Apple employee. I came across Kawasaki's blog recently though and it took me back with an entry titled "How to Be a Demo God". It's all pretty obvious stuff but there are some great points in there that made me stop and think about demos again. I particularly like “Do the last thing first” but rather than steal Guy's thunder, go take a look. It's fun and informative!
I've decided it's time to start writing more on my thoughts about IT and where it can (and should) help me have an easier life. I've been in the IT industry for over 10 years and I think it's time IT starting helping me more :)
Example 1: my car has a 3" LCD screen and a phone - that's all you need to give me better service. Not commonplace (yet) but when my car had a recall request last month why did I get a peice of paper from the dealer? Why didn't they send me an SMS to the car. Save some trees and ideally offer me some times that work for the dealership. With a little more thought, the dealer could ask for access to my calendar's free/busy time and suggest some times. In reality, this can be done right now and when someone does they'll hook their customers with revolutionary service.
Example 2: when I put a CD in to the car why can't it behave like Windows Media or iTunes and connect to the cloud and get the track details and download them to my in car hifi? With a phone in the car that's simple. What I'd really like though is Napster to Go in my car. I get an email from them every monday with the latest tracks available which I can download to my PC for the £15 a month I pay. My car is parked outside my house so with a cheap WiFi chip in the car I could sync and go to my motor from my home PC or schedule a download direct to the car. Taking the Gervais podcast on the road would be nice :)
I had the pleasure of presenting at EACS's Optimise IT event yesterday at a wet Rushden & Diamonds FC ground in Northampton. This annual event gathers around 300 customers of EACS to hear about a range of products, technologies and solutions from companies like Orange, SurfControl and Microsoft. I presented a new deck (aka Powerpoint slide set) on on Flexilble Working. Unlike my presentation last year on mobility, I focused much more on the business aspects of Flexible Working such as the ability to improve customer service through being more responsive and driving down costs by optimising exisitng (largely paper based) processes. Technology is a fantastic enabled but I argued that it's probably irrelevant unless the organisations supports and trusts their employees to work flexibly. It's no surprise that many of the organisations that rank highly in last weeks Sunday Times. WL Gore who came top for the second year running for example noted:
"Flexible working allows staff to balance responsibilities at home and work. Few feel they are taken advantage of; the 80% positive score here is the highest, as is the 91% score for health not suffering because of work"
What do you think though - does Flexible Working make you a more loyal empoyee? Does it concern you that it gives people the opportunity to do less work, or perhaps as an employee you're more concerned about being always contactable?
I did have one great questions from the audience that stumped me for a moment: as Microsoft may benefit from the reduced floor space needed by flexibly working staff, do they pay staff for use of their home floor space. The answer is no but for me that's more than balanced out by my free broadband WiFi at home and the trust bestowed to me to work where it makes sense. Besides, my home office is so small it would only cost about £2.50 a year if I did charge :)
Security is a hot topic in the IT world these days - both with the spate of viruses such as nimda and Blaster that have affected Microsoft systems and in a post 9/11 era it's no surprise. Still it surprises me how many organisations pay it lip service. "war driving" got a lot of publicity a few years back - basically the practice of driving around looking for open access wireless networks and riding on the back of them to get free Internet access. Not such a bad practice you may think but as businesses allow their employees more freedom to work from home what may look like simple neighbourly freeloading may be something much more sinister. It didn't really hit me until a few weeks ago but here's how:
My neighbour has recently bought a PSP and is quite pleased with it. He bumped in to me a few weeks ago and said "yep it's great - I've been happily surfing the net on it and think I may have been using your WiFi". Either my neighbour has a supercomputer in his basement to crack my WPA protection or he's riding on someone else network. Sure enough a week later he said "I assume your network is the one call X....the one that has proper security on it". I was pleased to confirm to him it was. However, even from my property and his there are at least 2 other open wireless access points that he could use any time night or day. Quite who owns those networks or what is being transmitted on them is anyone's guess but even for a basic IT sleuth it wouldn't take too much work to find out. Nor to find out what other devices are connected to them I imagine. I for one would be devastated if someone could get on to my home network and do any damage my precious backup of family photos etc. Makes you wonder eh? I suppose I should burn all the really vital stuff off to DVD or other media but who does?
Anyway, the PC World supplement I mentioned last week that came with The Sunday Times (sadly not on their supplements site) got me thinking about this. They had some pretty good advice about not broadcasting your SSID, using WPA2, using professionals to help you secure your network etc. All good advice that if you're investing in IT to help drive your business it's worthwhile thinking about. My only advice - your business IT no longer stops at the bricks and mortar that make up your office.
Here is what I'd really like though - a polite, non intrusive way to tell my local residents that their network is open and for the price of a good cup of coffee I'd be happy to help them secure it. Anyone seen some software that does something like that? The hardware approach (i.e. going door knocking just doesn't appeal!)