Cloud Computing for SMB: 2012 Update

Cloud Computing is still a hot topic in 2012. For the Small and Medium Business (SMB) community, it is a game changer. Unlike the days of past, cloud computing offers leverage previously only available to enterprise class companies. In essence, cloud computing levels the playing field for SMBs. I wrote about this back in June 2010:

Leveling the Playing Field for the Startup and SMB

http://timcrawford.org/2010/06/05/leveling-the-playing-field-for-the-startup-and-smb/

Roughly 18 months later, that article still holds true. The opportunities are numerous and within reach today. Many focus on the financial benefits first and foremost. Unfortunately, that is where most stop. What has changed in the past 18 months are the number of solutions available and the accessibility to those solutions.

Look for upcoming posts to address both the opportunities and challenges that cloud presents for SMB. Those are not the same for many corporate environments and need to be well understood.

What Can In-Flight Phone Service Teach Us About In-Flight Wi-Fi?

If you are like me, you spend quite a bit of time sitting on an airplane. Over the years, the amount of flight-time has increased too. At the same time our professional and personal lives are becoming “always on”. Meaning, that we have a growing need to stay connected…digitally. It could be to respond to email, check the latest updates from Facebook, follow a Twitter feed or surf the Internet. The direct solution appears to be in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity. Sure, in-flight phone service has existed for many years now. And, in the days of dialup Internet access, one could use the in-flight phone to connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and download email. However, the in-flight Wi-Fi service, and phone service to some degree, has hit a bit of turbulence along the way. Let me explain.

History

Airfone (air-to-ground phone service) was originally developed in the 1970’s. In the 1980’s, planes offered the service to paying customers. It was simple to use. Just swipe your credit card in the built-in reader on the handset and make the call. The service, however, was very expensive. Of late, calls could cost as much as $5.00 per minute!

In the 1990’s you would see people using the phones every once in a while. But it was not frequent. In the past decade, service declined even further. In the past few years, the service has been sold to a LiveTV, an affiliate of JetBlue. While several carriers still have handsets installed, US Airways and Delta have removed the phones from their planes.

Wi-Fi Enabled Planes

Fast forward to 2012. Communications moved from voice to data. People rely on email as much as they did voice calls. In response, in-flight Wi-Fi services made their entrance onto everyday flights. Over time, more and more flights are including Wi-Fi service in the air. That is, the ability to connect your smartphone, tablet or laptop to the Internet via the plane’s Wi-Fi connectivity. Even though many planes have added this functionality, Wi-Fi equipped planes are not ubiquitous. Airlines have committed to adding Wi-Fi capabilities to more planes over the coming years. The two main providers are Gogo (http://www.gogoair.com/) and Row 44 (http://www.row44.com/). Row 44 is equipping Southwest Airline’s planes while Gogo is the provider for many of the other carriers providing in-flight Wi-Fi service.

In an age where most major carriers have filed for bankruptcy, additional services bring potential revenue streams and additional expenses. It is a risky gamble for airlines where every nickel, dime and dollar is scrutinized for operational efficiencies. But is simply installing the service enough?

Service Costs

The expenses to equip planes are one thing. Recovering those costs from paying customers is another. Over the 30 years that in-flight phone service was available, the costs continued to increase. At the same time, demand for in-flight phone service decreased. Costs going up and demand going down is a sure recipe for failure.

Currently, costs to use in-flight Wi-Fi can range from $5-$15 per flight depending on distance, carrier and service. That may not seem like a lot if your company is willing to reimburse the expense. It may also make sense if you consider the productive time while connected. But it depends on “what” you are using the connectivity for. If you are only surfing the web, checking Facebook or Tweeting about each cloud and city you pass, the cost may not be warranted.

In-flight phone service was more of a novelty or critical use-case that warranted the use. Current data shows in-flight Wi-Fi may be taking a similar path. While many may not be swayed to pay the $5-15 per flight, it is enough to keep most at bay. There are monthly service plans for frequent flyers. In the past year, providers did offer a promotion for free service over the holidays. But again, is it worth it? And will it be enough to offset the costs to the carrier/ provider? Or are we reliving in-flight phone service all over again without learning from the lesson?

Usage Statistics

It begs the question: Just how many people are actually taking advantage of the service? Recent reports show that use is still relatively low. It is probable that “how” the service is used coupled with service costs contribute directly to the actual usage. If the costs (to the consumer) were lower,

If those reports are correct, will service providers turn a profit and keep the service intact? Below, is an infographic from Gogo based on research they conducted during the first half of 2011. It is one perspective on how people are using in-flight Wi-Fi and with which devices.

Related Items

It would be amiss not to mention the related issues with in-flight Wi-Fi. One of the key issues is power. Unless you’re using a tablet or laptop with long battery life (and a fully charged battery), you are going to run out of juice. Having a power outlet available is not just a handy item, but necessary for most to fully take advantage of in-flight Wi-Fi for the entire flight. Unfortunately, not all planes include power ports. The ones who do offer power ports typically only offer them in Business Class or First Class. Of those that offer power in Economy Class, it may be every other row, only certain sections of Economy Class or every other seat. In addition, the type of connection may vary between proprietary EmPower outlets, 12v cigarette lighter style plugs or regular 110v US plugs.

Bottom Line: In-flight Wi-Fi has not hit the “sweet-spot” for price point vs. service use vs. availability. Until it reaches closer to that point, it will fail to gain significant altitude.

For further reading:

USA Today: Wi-Fi Service Slow to Take Off

http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/story/2012-01-16/Wi-Fi-use-in-the-air-is-slow-to-take-off/52601856/1

Economist: Continued Unpopularity of In-Flight Wi-Fi

http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2011/12/flight-wi-fi

Verizon Cancelling In-Flight Phone Service

http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jun/27/business/fi-briefs27.3

JetBlue LiveTV to Buy Verizon’s Airfone Network

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/06/09/us-jetblue-verizon-idUSN0944090420080609

Motivation And Work Ethics: Passion Fuels the Engine

I have worked in many environments from very large global companies to small startups. During that time, I have seen my share of different work ethics. And motivation plays a closely related part. Think of it as the finely tuned engine in a car is the work ethic and the fuel is the motivation. Navigating the myriad of paths to success requires both a healthy dose of motivation and a strong work ethic. Can you get away with less of either? Sure. But the results are directly related.

Motivation

Finding what type of “fuel” you need is important. Not everyone is the same. As a manager it is important to determine what fuel your team needs…both as a team and each member individually. Not everyone is programmed the same and uses the same fuel. The same goes for you. What motivates you? What drives you and gets you going? What type of fuel do you need?

Inc.: 14 Easy Ways to Get Insanely Motivated

http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-motivate-yourself-14-easy-ways.html

I found the best motivation in finding what you are passionate about. For some, they spend their entire career not knowing or understanding what they are passionate about. For others, it is clear as day and serves as a clear beacon in an otherwise foggy career path. It is this passion that often leads to success. Passion is another topic I could write volumes about. But alas will leave for another post.

Work Ethic

Passion is often a heavy influencer of work ethic. Part of a good work ethic is in understanding your objectives. What are you working toward? What is your purpose and direction? And then there is one attribute that, in today’s life, can be hard to come by: Focus. Yes, focus. Recent discussions have suggested that multi-tasking is actually less productive than working on a single task at a time. For example, while writing this post, should I be checking email, listening to music, watching my Twitter feed? Or should I shut down the other information streams and just bang out a few lines of text. Personally, music motivates me. But the others can be distractions to many.

Beyond work environment, perspective plays a role too. How do you look at the job you do? Do you believe your job is more/ less important than your colleagues? How do you see your role with that of your team members? As a manager, I have felt it important to be “part of the team”. We all have a role to play from the most junior person to the most senior. But the bottom line is that we are all part of the same team. Jim Harbaugh (former Stanford University Football coach and current SF 49er NFL Football coach) gave a short pep talk that I believe highlights this point.

Jim Harbaugh on Work Ethics

http://youtu.be/3aenoEbKmQo

As the world evolves, the role of leaders changes too. Historically, the manager or leader of the company carried quite a bit of power and control. In today’s world, that leverage is subsiding to the power of the team. It is the team that ultimately leads to success.

Economist: The Shackled Boss

http://www.economist.com/node/21543117

Whether you are the President of the United States or the most junior manager, it does not matter. The role of a leader is much bigger than any one position. And the most junior person on the team is just as important as the most senior. Plus, do not forget that we were all the junior person on the team at one point. It was a leader that helped us grow and get to where we are today.

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Cloud Computing Trends: 2012 Update

In my various conversations and presentations last year, I was starting to hear a concerning theme. I’ll get to why it is concerning in a bit. The theme was around what I called “cloud fatigue”. That is, people were starting to get tired of talking about cloud computing. The reason was that the term had been over-hyped with little substance to the true value cloud computing would bring. In addition, people were having a hard time figuring out how to setup clouds.

This hype happened over the prior couple of years. One way to track the cycle is through Gartner’s annual cloud computing Hype Cycle. Here is the updated version from 2011:

To provide some empirical data to support my theory, I took a look at the search stats around the term “cloud computing”. Last year, I penned a blog entry with details on my findings.

http://timcrawford.org/2011/04/17/cloud-computing-search-trends-show-growth-and-plateau/

2012 Update

Today, I re-ran the reports to determine if the theory played out over 2011. Indeed it did. The subject, while discussed widely, has plateaued in search results. The global results show a marked flattening of the results.

International cities continue drive the top results with the United States falling from #7 in April 2011 to #10 in January 2012.

Within the United States, the results are similar to last year.

If interest in cloud computing was acutally decreasing, that would be a concern. Cloud computing presents a significant opportunity for most organizations both technically and organizationally. The business value it brings is not to be missed. While I don’t have empirical data to support my new theory, I suspect the change has more to do with depth of understanding. Today, many folks have heard about cloud computing and understand what it is (generally speaking). Now the conversation has moved into specific details of how to use it within a specific use case.

I would expect to see the general term of cloud computing continue to plateau and possibly decrease. This is natural and signifies a maturity of the term. In addition, new subjects will continue to fill in the cloud’s wake.

Do Executive Changes Signal a Change in the Economic Winds?

As the economy starts to improve, the movement of executives from one organization to another starts. This movement is not relegated to the upper ranks either. The lieutenants of a CIO and their rank-and-file are just as, if not more, prone to movement. Over the past few years, the volume of movement has waned…for good reason. Folks were happy to have a job and did not want to risk moving to a new role. In addition, the number of openings shrunk in relation to the economy.

IT Executive Movement

Now that the economy is improving, IT executives are willing to take risks and make changes. In the past few days alone, two articles from the St. Louis Business Journal and CIO Magazine touched on this issue (links below).

This is good news for a couple of reasons. First, it signals a change in economic conditions. Organizations and individuals are feeling more secure in taking risks. Second, it provides an opportunity for change for the new company, old company and individual. With the change in technology and business direction, changes in IT leadership are a welcome sight. With some regularity and planning, it is a good thing to mix up the gene pool.

However, as an IT executive, moving to a new company is risky. How do you know it is a good move? There are a number of factors that the individual and executive recruiter can assist with in this process. Several executive recruiters I know have very good processes to ensuring a good fit. The process goes way beyond responsibilities, objectives and corporate culture. Just like a company looking to acquire another company, the IT executive must do their own research on the role, the company, the leadership team and their staff. Even so, there is only so much due diligence you can do.

All that being said, change is a good thing and something that should be embraced. The IT function is evolving and the IT leadership needs to evolve to lead that effort.

IT Rank and File Movement

Change is not restricted to only IT executives. Probably more so than IT executives, the rank and file individual contributors have been a restless bunch. We can expect to see more movement within the individual contributors in the coming year. This is a good thing and will cross-pollinate methodologies and technologies. With newer methodologies like cloud computing and big data, this becomes increasing imperative.

It is equally important that individuals keep up with the trends. In the coming years, the rate of change will only increase. Falling behind can have serious negative repercussions to a career.

Compensation and Engagement

It is important to compensate employees fairly. If you take the approach of compensating employees poorly because of the economy, you can expect increased movement. I have often said that under-compensating an employee encourages them to stay long enough to find a different job where they are fairly compensated.

However, compensation is not everything. Sure, money is a strong factor for many people. But the nature of the work is just as important. It is important to ensure that employees are challenged and growing. Otherwise, it may cause further movement within the organization. Working with older technologies and systems is less interesting than the new and upcoming methodologies. That needs to be factored in when making strategic IT decisions.

Recent Articles:

CEO Turnover Is Good News For Economy

http://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/blog/2012/01/ceo-turnover-is-good-news-for-economy.html

Fortune 500 CIO Activity

http://blogs.cio.com/careers/16733/fortune-500-cio-activity

Bottom Line: Expect for more movement of employees as economic conditions improve. There is a direct relationship between the two.

What the CIO Needs to Know About BYOD

BYOD is a relatively new acronym. No, it does not mean Bring Your Own Drink. It stands for Bring Your Own Device. By device, it means smartphone, tablet or laptop. Conceptually, it means that the user is using their own personal device rather than one issued by the company they work for.

History

Historically, computing resources were expensive and not widely used by consumers outside of the companies they worked for. Over the past decade, the cost for these devices has dropped. In addition, the devices have become more functional. As such, employees are upgrading from traditional cell phones to smartphones. They are also starting to use tablet devices and laptops more than desktop systems. And workers entering the workforce today started life in the computing age. Therefore, gaining a greater comfort with computing devices in everyday life compared with those of us…ah-hem…that are older.

Consumerization

As “smart” devices becoming more prevalent, their use for everyday things from communication with friends to buying a latte increases accordingly. Users get accustomed to using certain devices. Those devices also gained the ability to interface with corporate environments. While a company could still issue a smartphone to an employee, it would duplicate the capabilities of their existing device. And the employee is more likely to have their personal smartphone with them wherever they go than a company-issued smartphone. Similarly, the cost of tablets and laptop computers is decreasing to a point where many consumers prefer the flexibility it provides rather than a bulky desktop computer. It is another device with duplicate capabilities of that company-issued model.

Company Issued Device vs. Stipend: Where Does Responsibility Go?

Companies are increasingly looking at novel ways to embrace this change. It does take much of the responsibility off the company and moves it to the employee. One option is to replace the company-issued device with a stipend to offset the cost to the employee. This then puts the responsibility for the device in the hands of the employee. Are employees ready for this responsibility? In many cases the answer is yes. They are already managing their personal device and ensuring that they have a computer, phone or other communication device anyway. The risk is relatively low to shift this responsibility to the employee. And the benefit to shed capital costs from the company is positive too.

Prevention, Control and Support

While this seems like a significant trend, can it be stopped or prevented? The short answer is: No. At the CES 2012 conference in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers announced several new laptops, tablets and phones. Even more phone announcements are expected at Mobile World Congress in February. And each new model of device adds to the functionality and usability. The best advice for corporations is to embrace the trend and support BYOD. That does not mean venturing into BYOD with your eyes closed. There are several decisions to make around the support and management of data related to the devices. Clear lines of responsible are needed. Organizations should expect that some level of support is still required on behalf of the company. However, it pales in comparison with complete support of company-issued devices.

Security and Data Management

There is one area that is more important than device support. It has to do with security and data management. In the case of company-issued devices, the company directly controls the data contained within the device. When the employee separates from the company, the device is returned…along with the data. In the case of BYOD, the data is stored on an employee-owned device. Companies need to take precautions to segregate corporate data from personal data. And in the case of separation, provide a means to adequately destroy corporate data located on the personal system or device. Today, there are tools that assist companies in managing these devices and the data contained within.

Policy Framework

In order to support BYOD, the company needs a clear policy around BYOD and a framework to adequately support the various platforms. Without a framework, the risks are great for the company. The framework needs to cover both device support and data management. There are responsibilities for both the company and the employee.

Cultural Shift

BYOD presents a significant cultural shift for the CIO and their organization. On one hand, it presents increased complexity to management of data. On the other hand, it improves flexibility, capital exposure and employee moral. Even with the challenges, there are tools available today to manage BYOD effectively. In addition, organizational culture changes are needed to understand and engage a BYOD model within the company. BYOD is just one of many significant shifts in the IT world today…with many more to come.

Bottom Line: Support BYOD, but create a framework to protect corporate data and provide adequate support for employees.

The Five Stages of Public Speaking

People often ask me how to become a public speaker. The first step is to hone your skills and comfort getting in front of a live audience. Second is to know your subject well. Speaking is about educating. The best speakers educate their audience. I could write an entire posting just on these first two items alone.

Once you are comfortable with the delivery and subject, there are five stages to public speaking. Each stage represents increasing levels of expertise, knowledge, respect, awareness and ultimately value to the audience.

Looking Toward 2012 And Beyond

Many have looked into their respective crystal balls at what the coming year brings. Personally, my horizon looks not just at the coming year, but the years to come too. As I gaze into my crystal ball for 2012 and beyond, I see a changing tide in the world of technology.

The changing of the tide is nothing new. We saw these evolutionary changes with the advent of distributed computing, the Internet and most recently cloud computing. Each wave brings both uncertainty and opportunity. There are naysayers and optimists. In hindsight, each wave brought enhanced capabilities and ultimately increased value.

The current wave of cloud computing started a few years back. We are still feeling the effects and trying to understand the ultimate value.

2012 will bring further clarification to how technology brings business value. In addition, IT organizations will start the evolutionary process of IT Transformation. And the businesses we serve will start to see the opportunities that IT can bring.

Now, this is not easy to do and will take time. It will take an open mind, persistence and passion to make the change. But the opportunities are too great to pass by. While 2009-2011 were great starts to the transition, 2012 will see a significant increase in change.

And 2012 is only the start. This truly is an exciting time to be in IT.