Talk Like a CIO

August 1, 2011

Talk Like a CIO[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]The Chief Information Officer (CIO), sometimes called Chief Technology Officer (CTO), coined in the early 1980s is a rather recent addition to the corporate governance structure. It makes sense that the position coincided with the technology explosion as companies implemented IT to gain competitive advantage. Arguably, what was once IT competitive advantage is now essential for daily operations. Even so someone has to evaluate IT investment to be sure that it serves the organization by providing benefits at an affordable cost. Without that oversight, technology projects would be rapidly become science projects that few, other than the IT department, could understand.

No disrespect to IT folks. As an engineer, I have seen this phenomenon many times. A concept to make the organization more efficient, a product more user-friendly or automate manual tasks spirals into the depths of a techno-black hole with little hope of escape. As an engineering manager, I always put two engineers on a project as a way to get a product suitable for the end-user. Often one engineer working alone would come up with solutions too complicated for the casual user. Technical elegance usually trumps corporate benefit in the technology mind. For the company to realize a return-on-investment from any technology project, someone has to watch the ROI and that’s where the CIO is essential.

The CIO doesn’t have to be a technology expert. In fact, many of today’s top CIOs don’t have a computer science, engineering or programming background, they have a business background and leadership skills. They have learned how to apply technology to solve business problems, foster change and manage the bottom line.

Although definitions will vary, here is a short list of common terms so that you can – Ay oh whey oh, Talk like a CIO.

ROI – Return on Investment is not a uniquely CIO phrase, it is spoken freely by all C-levels and is specific to the investment efficiency required by an organization. Every company defines its payback period and specifics for an acceptable ROI. Often a technology project does not generate revenue so the ROI can be tricky to quantify. Here is where the CIO can be creative and use avoided costs or cost savings to frame the ROI discussion.

Payback Period – The amount of time that it takes to make up or payback the cost of the project. Usually used for revenue projects, but the same rules as in ROI can apply.

Technology Proposal – Whether you are developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to bid the job or completing the job in-house, you need a proposal that has a statement of need and cost-benefit justification. The CIO is critical in ensuring that the proposal meets the organizational needs and obtains budget approval.

Cost Benefit Analysis – Exactly what the name implies, to determine if the project is worth funding. In any economic analysis, do nothing is always a choice.

Bleeding Edge Technology – Technology so new that the risk and expense is high.

State of the Art, Leading Edge (or Cutting Edge) Technology – Technology that is at the pinnacle of available solutions. It may or may not provide competitive advantage. This term can be synonymous with Bleeding Edge Technology.

Buy In – The commitment of stakeholders to support the decision.

Send me your terms and definitions that help you “Talk like a CIO.”

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A Giant Leap for Quantum Computing

July 24, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Today’s computers are the product of a digital revolution.  When we talk about computing, we talk about an environment of ones and zeroes that add up to all the programs, graphics and communications that we use. Often we tease, it’s just ones and zeroes but that small concept has enormous and far-reaching implications. 

In the early days of computers, there was a competition between analog and digital computing for a practical, supportable, calculating machine.  Actually, analog computers go back to ancient times and were used to calculate the position of stars and planets.  Probably the most familiar example of an analog computer is a slide rule. But as analog slide rules were replaced by digital calculators so were analog computers replaced by its digital competitor. Analog computers are powerful because they have multiple states and are not constrained by just ones and zeroes.  They can solve very complex equations. But in that power is a complicated framework not easy to mass produce.  Transistors and later solid state and integrated circuit technology made the digital computer ubiquitous.

The digital computer has a new competitor in the quantum computer. Quantum computing is not really new, the concept has been around since the 1970s, but it is a complicated structure based on quantum mechanics. Most of the work in quantum computing has been theoretical because the technology was not available to take the idea from a dream to reality. 

The recent announcement that Lockheed Martin will purchase a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems is a giant leap for this emerging technology.  Experts are already speculating on the quantum gains in computing speed as exponential and tens of thousands of times as fast as the fastest digital computer.  It is an exciting time to be a technology aficionado. It is a time when anything is possible and the universe has no limits.

It’s a jungle out there – be smart online

June 29, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Recently, I posted a job on craigslist for a senior systems and network engineer.  Although craigslist is a popular site, I have never used it and had some concerns about posting on a site that has received so much bad press. After researching, I decided to post our job and have been very happy with the response. But it’s a jungle out there and I knew to expect some scam artists to use the ad to try an attack.

Then today, I received an email from updates-craigslist: Updates!New Terms – Accept: June 29, 2011 with the following message:

———————————————————————-

craigslist

———————————————————————-
Dear Customer,

We need your help resolving an issue with your account. To give us time to work together on this, we’ve temporarily limited what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

We noticed some unusual activity . 

How you can help?

You must reverify your account and take the time to accept and read our terms: log in here  

It’s usually pretty easy to take care of things like this.

Ad: # 318-277-551-175

We understand it may be frustrating not to have full access to your account. We want to work with you to get your account back to normal as quickly as possible.

Thanks,

———————————————————————-

Copyright ©2011  Inc. All rights reserved. CL #73445897433\

It’s a scam and has all the characteristics (without typos) of a phishing attempt.  It tries to get you to login with their fake link and get you to input your account information.  Once your username/password was obtained, the phishers would take over your account and get as much information as they could about you.  They can’t do much on craigslist except make some inappropriate postings under your name, but they could use the username/password to break into other accounts like Twitter, Facebook or bank accounts.

So as a reminder, don’t fall for email scams.  When in doubt – don’t click, reply or forward.  Use strong passwords and make sure you have a good spam filter and malware protection.

Why does China want your gmail account?

June 2, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Google is certain that the latest hacking attempt comes from Jinan, China as a phishing scam to obtain gmail passwords. This type of attack happens all the time, but since senior level US government officials, military personnel and political activists were targeted the intent seems much more sinister. The attacks were common phishing schemes that are not very sophisticated opening speculation that this was testing the water and that the information may be used for broader attacks.

If someone has your username and password, they can hijack your account.  Not only will they have access to your email, but they can change account settings, forward email and send email as you.  If you are unaware that your account has been compromised, the hacker can play havoc with your information and identity.

Certainly, you have heard these warnings: create a strong password, don’t divulge username and password information especially from email requests, use a good anti-virus, have malware protection and keep a good backup. This cannot be stressed enough – create a strong password for your important accounts.  Next, use a two-step verification or authentication whenever possible.  This is another way to prove it is you.  Google uses a strategy where they will send a unique code to your phone that is required to sign in. The problem with this security measure is that it is not convenient as it takes another step and more time. Often users choose convenience over security.

When you use more than one email address and if you send to a mobile device, be sure that you use security measures that adequately protect your information.  The more valuable the information, the more protection is needed. and just like physical security, use barriers as deterrents.  In the digital and virtual world, barriers are passwords, tokens, PINs and other information that only you will know.

To learn more about the Google 2-step verification, go to http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=175197

Social Media Tactics: Part 2

May 6, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By Katie Sewell, TAG and Mary Hester, LAN Systems

social_media_tacticsThe second part of our tactics for social media includes LinkedIn and blogging.  LinkedIn is widely used by business professionals to promote their business and to job search.  It’s easy to set up  a personal and/or business LinkedIn page and you can keep it current using built in tools that won’t take too much of your time.

Upon creation of your LinkedIn profile, be sure to craft a flattering position summary for your company to promote.

Deciding how you will accept connections is important, as well. LION (LinkedIn Open Network) members connect to almost anyone that requests whether they know them or not. More conservative members only link to people they personally know. This is your choice and you can adjust your settings to share or hide your connections. There are many security settings that control how much or how little of your information is shared. If you are concerned about sharing information, start with very secure settings and adjust as needed.

On to business promotion:

  1. Create a company page with your logo, overview, specialties and statistics. Make sure current employees link to the page and that you have included your website.
  2. Look for groups to join that are of interest to your customers. There are many groups on LinkedIn that you can easily reach the 50 limit set by LinkedIn. Of course, you can join groups that are of personal interest, but if you are promoting your company the best groups will be those of interest to your customers.
  3. Create a group based on your subject matter expertise and promote to your contacts. It is best to approve new members rather than have an open access.
  4. Start group discussions and keep the conversation going. Some groups will be very active and others will need prodding. Be sure to monitor messages for appropriate content and spam. You can remove abusers.
  5. Look at the open Q&A discussions. Even if you choose not to participate, take a glance at the types of questions and answers that are being posted. You may want to experiment in this open forum before starting your own group. If you are (or want to be) a subject matter expert for your company, search this forum for questions to answer.

Blogging  – Choose the type of blog and your voice.  Try to be consistent in your post frequency and blog personality.  Remember what’s said on the Internet stays on the Internet!

  1. If you’re not ready to start your own blog, contribute to others.  This is an easy way to get started and test if you really want to be a blogger.
  2. Pick a schedule and try to stick with it.  If you have lots of demands on your time that are not blog-related, you may want to start with a monthly or weekly blog.  Entries can be informal or traditional depending upon your style and your business.
  3. Use your blog to point readers to your web site, Facebook or Twitter account.
  4. Try to engage your readers in a dialogue by encouraging comments and feedback. Respond to comments and questions quickly.  Many readers will not post comments, but will correspond with you privately.  If it starts as a private conversation, keep it that way unless both parties want to go public.

Hope that you have enjoyed our short series on Social Media. Please share your experiences, ideas and comments!

Social Media Tactics: Part 1

March 31, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By Katie Sewell, TAG and Mary Hester, LAN Systems

social_media_tacticsBy now you have heard that Social Media is a revolution.  A big change is coming in the way businesses market and communicate their message.  To understand Social Media you have to spend time studying the concept, method and strategy.  Don’t worry if it seems complicated and time consuming at first.  We have a few proven strategies that we personally use to give your social media campaign a boost. We’ll start with Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter – Twitter is a social networking site which enables news sharing and connectivity among people and businesses through short updates. It’s hard for some to understand the Twitter sensation.  Why would anyone tweet their lunch menu or location? There is a great deal of self-indulgence on Twitter and you should always be conscious of your personal safety. Try these few tips to propel you to the top.

1)      Be interactive – reply to and retweet items of interest.  Post articles about you and your company.  Give information of interest to your community.  Minimize the sales pitch.

2)      Use and create hash tags for topics and events.  TAG promoted the 2011 Technology Summit with #GTS2011 on Twitter.  You can use the hash tag term to search and it may “trend” on Twitter which is similar to going viral on YouTube.

3)      Keep it real and meaningful – don’t tweet just for the sake of tweeting.  Automated tweets and pre-canned quotes and messages are obvious. Twitter is a conversation that you have in your own voice.  The voice can be business or personal, but be genuine.

Facebook – If you are going to use Facebook for business, be sure to keep it separate from your personal account.  Being on the Internet is like being in a magnified fishbowl where every imprudent act is available to all and kept forever.  Even with the risks, Facebook can be a fabulous business tool if used wisely.

1)      Create a company Facebook page where you can write about your company values, events and people. Post tasteful pictures and items of interest.

2)      Invite Facebook users to “like” your page.  Remember, it’s about quality here, not quantity. While it’s important to have a high number of “likes” on your company’s page, it’s more important to keep the content fresh and updated.

3)       An important goal to have for your organization’s social media sites, especially Facebook, is to encourage interactive behavior from your users. A good way of accomplishing this is to have contests where a prize is given. When you want feedback and user interactivity, offer a reward or prize that makes it worthwhile for the user to participate. LAN Systems is having a contest for a copy of Microsoft Office Pro 2010 for liking its Facebook page. We’ll let everyone know how it turns out on our page.

4)      Share links and Tag others in your posts and status updates. This creates exposure from both sides. Be polite and considerate when sharing.

5)      Like and or comment on photos, articles and posts. Depending upon your online persona, you may want to avoid controversial topics.  In any case, always review your posts before submitting for content, spelling and grammar.  A typo isn’t the end of the world, but it can be embarrassing.

Once you create your Twitter and Facebook page, it’s important to check on a regular basis. Your company needs to appear to be responsive to the users. Answer messages and keep the conversation going!

Next time, tips for LinkedIn and Blogging.  Until then, please send us a comment or leave a message.

Get In Touch With Your Creative Side Using Microsoft Office

February 23, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Not that long ago, the only way to get high-quality, professional materials was through a graphic designer.  Printing was a complicated, expensive process that was left to the print shops.  Each project required assembling pictures, graphics and content that was camera-ready. 

Today, we have access to everything needed to make agency-quality marketing materials with full-color and amazing graphics. Brochures, mailers and newsletters can be printed on-demand or in the perfect quantity to reducing waste and keep the offering fresh.  To save more and reach the online audience, electronic files are brilliant and easy to distribute.  If you have an idea, a good eye and the right tools, you can make magic. 

Microsoft Office offers the right tools with its Office 2010 Suite of Applications.  Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Publisher provide improved and enhanced features for creating and publishing. Many of the features are cross-platform so you can learn a skill in one application and use it in another.  There are a host of classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced users that can be taken in a classroom environment or online depending on your best learning method.  Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and others offer free, online classes that are perfect for the self-learner.

Word is the standard for creating and formatting documents of all types from simple letters to documents with a table of contents, index and glossary. It makes the task of creating and editing documents easy.  Tools like spell check and thesaurus make us look smart and polished. New and improved photo-editing tools let you transform pictures right in Word 2010 – no extra software needed. Change color saturation, temperature, brightness, and contrast to turn a simple Word document into a work of art.  Turn text into visual effects with enhanced text effects and SmartArt graphics. Change basic bullet-points into compelling visuals and add text effects like shadow, glow, reflection, and 3-D in just a few clicks.  With co-authoring, you can edit at the same time as others, even if you’re working from different locations, and keep versions in sync with version control. This is a great way to eliminate typos (ever used a there for their or your for you’re?) by having others review your work for content and correctness.

PowerPoint is not just for presentations, it also makes a great coordinating tri-fold or handout.  Use the same theme for marketing materials that you can leave with the prospect to reinforce your message and offering. Creating your presentation in PowerPoint allows you to gather all your thoughts and ideas in one tool.  You have many slide choices and can move, cut, paste and organize to create a coherent flow of information without leaving the program.  Adding graphics, diagrams, video and sound is easier than ever. 

Excel graphs, charts and sparklines explain trends and comparisons with strong visuals.  Whenever numbers are involved, visuals are powerful tools to simplify the message and give at-a-glance significance. Use sparklines to graphically display data in a single cell.  You can display data in line, column or win/loss format to highlight trends.

Publisher helps you create eye-catching brochures, newsletters, postcards, greeting cards and email messages.  With the built-in and online templates, you can find a style for any publication. The prebuilt building blocks give an assortment of page parts like sidebars, stories and columns for creating professional newsletters and case studies. Add calendars, borders and advertisement blocks for community or school newsletters. Stunning graphics and images are easily added and use OpenType typography for expert typesetting effects.

Get your creative juices flowing! Experiment with different looks and practice with different styles.  Start with a concept and use Microsoft Office 2010 to create brilliant, flawless materials for your home, school or business.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

How to Protect Your Computer Against Malware

February 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Each year the damages from computer malware cost US businesses billions of dollars. These costs are not only in lost productivity, but permanent loss of critical business data. Arguably, most if not all infections are preventable with the proper understanding, training and protection. Don’t be the next victim, take the steps now to ensure protection and recovery if the worst should happen.

First, let’s understand computer malware. Often the term virus is used to describe all malware. Technically speaking, there are viruses, rootkits, Trojan horses, worms and spyware. The attack method may differ but they are all malicious.

A virus is a program that runs itself and replicates itself. It can affect files or the boot sector and can delete all your data. The “Melissa” and “I Love You” viruses gained global attention.

A rootkit or Trojan horse allows access to your system without your knowledge. Often they look like a useful piece of software but in fact they are back or trap doors.

A computer worm is a self-replicating computer program. It uses a network to send copies of itself to other nodes. Once on the system, worms do not need to attach to another program and can run themselves. Worms cause a denial of service attack making the network unusable. In general, worms target the network and viruses attack files.

Spyware is computer software that is installed on a personal computer to intercept or take control of the PC. Spyware can hijack a computer and cause serious problems by gathering and transmitting personal data, loading undesirable software or redirecting browsers to malicious sites.

Protecting yourself –

  1. Have a good backup, just in case you need to restore
  2. Use a firewall
  3. Keep your system updated with the latest security patches
  4. Install and update anti-virus and anti-spyware software (see below for choices)
  5. Do not open email from anonymous, unknown or suspicious sources
  6. Do not download files or software from anonymous, unknown or suspicious sources
  7. Do not navigate to suspicious or promiscuous websites
  8. Regularly scan your system for malware (see below for choices)
  9. Worth repeating – be sure that you have a good backup so that you can restore your full system if needed
  10. If you think you have been attacked, act quickly to isolate the infected computer and remove the malware.

You can purchase anti-virus and malware protection or there are many free versions for home users. For anti-virus, AVG, Avast and others have free versions. For corporate anti-virus, we use Symantec Endpoint. For malware, we like Malwarebytes (personal or corporate edition) and Advanced System Care. With so many choices if you like one better, use it. The important point is that you have to have malware/virus protection.

Use a three prong approach to keep your system safe: educate, protect, monitor. Try to understand the types of threats to your computer. The more educated and informed, the better you can protect your system. Monitor for threats and scan your system often. If it looks suspicious, don’t open the email, go to the site or download the file or software.

Please be watchful of the sites you visit, the software you download and the email you open as the threats to your system change daily.

Clouds in an Azure Sky

January 30, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Clouds are made of increased bandwidth and storage blended with the advances in virtualization and remote access. Today’s technology allows us to compute anywhere, anytime. The sky is clear blue for cloud computing, but it hasn’t always been that way. 

Cloud computing grew out of the centralized or mainframe model. For those who remember mainframes, it was the only way to compute. We had remote access, but it was cumbersome, slow and expensive. Programmers got in the habit of coding all night long when rates were the cheapest. Then those long, sleepless nights were replaced by distributed computing, a computer for everyone, but somehow programmers still program all night. 

The distributed computing model was embraced rapidly. With amazing graphics and Internet availability, the computer became a household appliance.  But distributed computing had its drawbacks, it was hard to interface disparate systems and collaborate in real-time. Recently, 100% availability and remote connections at LAN speeds have resurrected the centralized computing model with a new name. You could say that computing has come full circle back to a centralized computing model that we call Cloud Computing.  It is provocative, exciting and revolutionary. 

New technology holds a dilemma as most computer users don’t really care about the technology; they just want it to work easily and reliability.  And business owners are only slightly interested in the merits of a distributed or centralized computer model. They want computer systems that are economical, productive and work without needing a staff of IT gurus. 

The cloud or hosted computer solution (called ASP, SaaS, Cloud Services) has been around for years, but has enjoyed only limited success.  Most of the early adopters had sophisticated IT experience and the trained staff to develop and manage cloud solutions. Today, even popular hosted applications have reduced features online or make it difficult to migrate out of the cloud. Microsoft has addressed these issues with Azure.  It is powerful enough to host your world-class enterprise datacenter with the reliability, efficiency and agility you demand, yet provides simple, scalable, portable services. 

Microsoft Azure supports three roles: Web role, Worker role and a Virtual Machine (VM) role.  Enhancements are planned for the Web and Worker roles that have been used by many companies for programming and development. The new VM role will provide a generic environment that can be used for test or production.  It will also compete with Google and Amazon offerings. Learn more about Microsoft Azure and Cloud Power.

Azure SQL provides high-availability, fault tolerant relational database services in the cloud. You can serve local or cloud-based applications and only pay for what you use. Administration is simplified. You don’t have to install, setup, patch or manage software. Built on SQL Server you can leverage the same development and management tools used locally. Learn more with SQL Azure videos.

Azure has great appeal to programmers and developers as is evidenced in the keynote and sessions at PDC10, but for users the cloud is still a confusing concept. Perhaps the average user will never really understand or be awed by the technology that fuels cloud computing, but it will be widely used because of its economy and availability. 

Cloud computing will enjoy widespread use until the next technology revolution replaces it with another better, faster and less expensive solution. Who knows what that might be, but it might look a little like distributed computing.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Managing Rows and Columns in Excel

January 27, 2011

Excel[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest author David H. Ringstrom, CPA, www.accountingadvisors.com

Users often hide rows or columns in a spreadsheet to conceal private data, or perhaps just to keep a large spreadsheet manageable. This is a helpful feature in Excel, but many users often go about managing rows the hard way:

Excel 2007 or later: In the Cells section of the Home tab choose Format, Hide & Hide, and then make a selection as to what to hide or unhide.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Row or Column and then Hide or Unhide, respectively. 

Hiding rows is fairly straight forward, as you can select the rows or columns, and then carry out the aforementioned menu command. To unhide rows or columns, you must select rows above and below the hidden section, or columns to the left and right of the hidden section, and then carry out the menu command.

Constantly navigating the menus to hide and unhide rows or columns can put unnecessary wear-and-tear on your wrists, but there are some easier alternatives. For instance, these keyboard shortcuts work in all versions of Excel:

  • Press Ctrl-9 to hide a row or , as oppoCtrl-Shift-9 to unhide a row.
  • Press Ctrl-0 (zero) and Ctrl-Shift-0 (zero) to  hide or unhide columns.

In both cases, make sure to use the numbers at the top of your keyboardsed to the number pad at the right of your keyboard.

Many users are particularly bedeviled when they need to unhide selected rows or columns within a hidden area of a worksheet. Typically they unhide all rows and columns in the affected section, and then rehide what they don’t need. Consider this surgical approach in all versions of Excel instead:

  1. Press F5 to display the Go To dialog box.
  2. Enter the address of the cell or cells that you want to unhide, such as A1 if you want to unhide a single row or column, D1:G1 if you want to unhide several columns, or A5:A10 if you want to unhide several rows, and then click OK.
  3. Use the keyboard shortcuts or menu commands I mentioned above to unhide the desired portion of your worksheet.

If you need to frequently hide and unhide sections of a spreadsheet, try the Group and Outline feature instead. First, select one or more rows or columns, and then carry out these steps:

Excel 2007 and later: On the Data tab of the ribbon, choose Group in the Outline section.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Data, Group and Outline, and then Group.

Once you do so, a button with a minus sign will appear outside the worksheet frame. Click this button to collapse (or hide) the rows or columns. The minus sign will change to a plus that allows you to expand that section. Or use the 1 and 2 buttons at the top left-hand corner of the screen to expand or collapse all grouped columns or rows in the spreadsheet. To remove the outlining, select the grouped rows or columns, and then choose the Ungroup command on the aforementioned menus.

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based spreadsheet and database consulting and training firm. Contact David at david@accountingadvisors.com or visit www.accountingadvisors.com.