Friday, February 28, 2014

Leading to retention

Maintaining a productive work environment is certainly important. You cannot be an effective leader or manager if your team is not doing its job. But it's equally important to maintain your staff, to keep them engaged and energized, for your team to do its best. And when leaders fail to do that, their staff leave them. There's an old saying that people don't quit jobs, they quit managers. Don't let this happen to you.

Along those lines, Ragan.com posted a "top 10" list of reasons top talent leave organizations for greener fields. To be more positive, I've changed the list into a set of ten do's that you should follow to ensure your best people stay with you:

  1. Use coaching and mentoring for new team members to make on-boarding more engaging.
  2. Know what is working and what to change; try using a SWOT exercise to see how to improve.
  3. Develop an employee retention strategy; who are the key players you can't lose?
  4. Exercise delegation, including appropriate ownership of tasks your staff take on.
  5. Keep your people informed.
  6. Recognize the importance of play, even at the office.
  7. Take time to recognize outstanding performance and contributions.
  8. Review your policies to ensure outdated rules aren't getting in the way.
  9. Seek ways your staff can step up their game.
  10. Treat everyone fairly.

After reading this list, reflect on your leadership style and your office environment, and find ways to change your approach. Everyone wants to do what they love, but it's important your team also loves what they do. By tweaking your style, you may improve your retention.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why personal relationships matter

We all know that relationships are important; they often provide us an advantage when we need to get something done. Maybe you know someone who could help you out? Or maybe someone they know could lend a hand? Relationships are currency, and you can use them when you need help or advice. As you climb the career ladder, this interpersonal skill becomes increasingly significant. Making friends and building relationships is an important facet of leadership, but it is often a very difficult skill. Building relationships and knowing how to leverage them are key skills in professional life.

In a different context, an article from the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality & Healing suggests these relationships are a vital component of health and wellbeing. From the article, having these strong interconnected relationships can help you in several ways:

Live longer
A review of 148 studies found that people with strong social relationships are 50% less likely to die prematurely. 
Deal with stress
The support offered by a caring friend can provide a buffer against the effects of stress.
Be healthier
According to research by psychologist Sheldon Cohen, college students who reported having strong relationships were half as likely to catch a common cold when exposed to the virus.
Feel richer
A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 5,000 people found that doubling your group of friends has the same effect on your wellbeing as a 50% increase in income!
Take this opportunity to refresh your personal networks. The more people you know, the better you can navigate your organization and get things done. But don't let your relationships grow stale; seek new opportunities to renew existing friendships. If you call from someone in your relationship network, take a few moments to catch up before getting down to the task at hand. Or simply call or visit that other person, just to say hi and see what's up. These short moments help to build up your relationship currency.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Five IT Questions Presidents Should Ask Their CIOs

I recently uncovered this article from EDUCAUSE about engaging university leadership with IT leadership. Marty Ringle is President of the NorthWest Academic Computing Consortium and Chief Information Officer of Reed College, and Michael Roy is Dean of Library and Information Services and Chief Information Officer of Middlebury College. Ringle and Roy propose 5 questions that university presidents should ask their CIOs:

  1. Do we have the right approach for IT decision-making?
  2. Are we paying sufficient attention to technology risk?
  3. Are we being strategic in our use of technology?
  4. How do we know we are using our technology effectively?
  5. How can we best support the teaching and research needs of our faculty?

It's hard to pick a "favorite" question from that list (and there's no need to) but I am particularly drawn to the third and fourth questions: "Are we being strategic in our use of technology?" and "How do we know we are using our technology effectively?" I see these are continuing problems in higher-ed, and it's good to see a university president like Ringle asking this question of IT leadership.

Higher-ed often becomes complacent in "how things are" and rarely takes the necessary step back to look at circumstances with a fresh perspective. Decisions made 5 to 10 years ago (or even 1 to 2 years ago) should be re-evaluated. Are they delivering value to the institution? Is this the right direction to take?

If that timeframe seems too short to you, then I challenge your perspective. 10 years ago was 2004. The iPhone had yet to be invented (2007) nor the iPad (2010) and the concept of a "mobile web" was largely unheard-of. The Mozilla web browser had just been renamed "Firefox 0.8" (2004) but most people still used the web browser for visiting websites; while "webmail" was a phrase familiar to many folks in IT, Gmail wouldn't be released until later that year (April 2004). So technology decisions made in a mindset of 10 years ago (2004) probably didn't account for the explosion of mobile devices, nor "Cloud" computing.

IT leaders should ask themselves these 5 questions … before your president asks them of you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

On Google and Cloud

If you search my blog, you'll find I've talked about "Cloud" for many years. I used to say "Cloud is coming" but as of a few years ago, I now say "Cloud is here." Cloud has shifted the balance for IT governance. A few years ago, IT may have delivered services locally … Some of these things used to be what IT specialized in. But there are a lot of things now where a local IT shop just can't deliver value. And email and documents are examples where we don't add enough local value, and it makes way more sense to outsource that.

Institutions have moved to different cloud services for this space, but in general most universities are moving to Cloud for office productivity. Microsoft's offering is Sharepoint and Office365. The U of M is using Google Apps for Education (also "Cloud"). Google happens to be free for higher-ed, so that's nice—but it is also really great for office stuff. We started a pilot program for Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs) around 2008, and started moving all faculty, staff, and students into Google starting in 2009. We also have Sites (for making websites), Groups (for discussion & email lists), Blogger, Books, Photos, YouTube, and a bunch of other Google things. A few months ago, we were finally able to sign a Business Associates Agreement with Google, so now our health providers can use a special "BAA" instance of Gmail and Calendar (but not Docs or the other stuff).

When I moved to Morris in 2010, I wrote almost all of my work documents in Google Docs, including spreadsheets (budgets, etc.) and presentations. My "holdout" document was a "dashboard" of our 5-year IT program, and it was important to me that column labels be vertically-stacked—which Google can't do. But eventually, I just got over it and did it a different way. Today, the only time I fire up Microsoft Office is when I download a Microsoft Word form that I need to fill out.

Google Docs makes it really easy to share stuff with others, as viewers, commenters, or co-authors. You can even have lots of people in the same document at the same time - and they can all edit at the same time, great for collaboration! For example: In our IT Director meetings, all of us share and open the same Google Doc, and we make edits during the meeting to make notes or add agenda items.

I'm also using Google as a student—not just as an administrator. Throughout my M.S. program, I've done everything in Google Docs (except one class that was about how to use Word for technical editing—for obvious reasons). Whenever I write a paper for a class, I always "Share" the document with my wife (our home email is through Google, so we have Google Apps at home too). I only give her the ability to "Comment" which is basically the same as writing notes in the margin of a printed draft. So while she can insert comments, I'm the only one who can actually edit the document.

If you haven't accepted the conclusion yet: Cloud is the future—and as Microsoft feared, the browser is the new platform, not the operating system. It no longer matters if you're using Windows, Mac, Linux, or some other thing, as long as you have a standards-compliant web browser.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Advancing your career in higher-ed

David Lassner is currently Interim President of the University of Hawaii, where he served as the first Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer since 2007. He wrote a "Viewpoints" op-ed in a recent EDUCAUSE Review discussing what he believes made him a strong candidate for Interim President. Lassner's advice is certainly strong for anyone who wants to reach beyond the CIO position, but these traits apply equally well to anyone looking to advance themselves in the leadership ladder in higher-ed.

Lassner's recommendations include:
  1. Know your institution.
  2. Understand students, faculty, and researchers.
  3. Participate in the business.
  4. Collaborate.
  5. Engage with government.
  6. Take risks.
  7. Join peer communities.
I especially appreciated this statement in Lassner's conclusion, reminding us that for CIOs to be successful, we must also be engaged and willing to step forward: "We talk about whether CIOs should be 'plumbers' vs. 'strategists,' but the truth is that CIOs who are seen primarily as plumbers are less likely to be accepted as contributing members of the cabinet or to enjoy direct reporting lines to the CEO. Effective CIOs must create and lead teams that provide both effective IT plumbing and visionary IT strategy for their institutions. In addition, those CIOs who aspire to higher leadership positions must leverage their opportunities to go even further. They must demonstrate to their communities that they can provide broad internal and external leadership in areas that matter not only to the IT organization but also within their institutions and beyond."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Windows XP end of life

This is to let you know that Microsoft will stop supporting an older version of Windows (called “Windows XP”) after April 8, 2014. If you follow the news, you may also hear the term “End of Life” for this old version of Windows.

A few of you may still be running Windows XP. We want to work with you to find any computers that are still running this old version so that we can either upgrade these computers to Windows 7 or replace them with a newer computer and Windows 7.

Any computers that are 3 years old or newer should have come with Windows 7; computers older than 3 years may be running Windows XP. If you’re not sure what version of Windows you are using, here are 2 easy ways to check:
1. On Windows XP, the program menu button in the bottom left corner will have the word ‘Start’ on it. (On Windows 7, that button will just be the Windows logo with no words on it.)
Windows 7 has a "Windows" logo Windows XP has a green "Start" button
2. To check the version of windows, you can also click on the Windows (‘Start’) menu and type ‘winver’ (without the quotes) into the search box and hit enter. That will tell you exactly what version the computer is running. If you are running Windows 7, it will look like the 2nd attachment.

If you find that your computer is running Windows XP, or if you’d like help checking the version, please call the Helpdesk and we can help you out.

Since Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP after April, it will become increasingly difficult for us to fix problems on this older version of Windows. Computers that are running Windows XP are probably more than 4 or 5 years old. We recommend divisions and departments replace these computers over the summer; you’ll get a newer computer, and an updated version of Windows.

Please call or visit the Helpdesk if you have questions or need help.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Don't be a tinkerer

Raechelle Clemmons is CIO for St. Norbert College. In a brief video interview for "CIO Minute" (from EDUCAUSE) Clemmons explains why it's important for CIOs to stop tinkering with small changes and start making dramatic shifts in their approach to higher ed IT.

Too often, IT leaders look at budgets and try to make incremental changes. That's especially true in today's financial climate. Driven to reduce costs, IT leaders try to fix their annual budgets, driving small changes here or there, according to the financial whims of the organization. Clemmons reminds her her team at St Norbert not to think "outside the box" but to challenge why the box is there. Don't think about the box but dramatically re-think things.

At Morris, we're about to enter another fiscal year planning cycle. In the last several years, my IT unit has used this time as an opportunity to re-evaluate how we work. We've worked with other groups across campus to explore new solutions. For example, we have retired old systems and migrated off old tools - providing direct benefit to efficiency, and to our bottom line. And we have used the budget planning process as a way to explore new opportunities.

Sometimes these experiments require an initial investment, and fortunately at Morris we have a Technology Fee governance process that can provide limited funding to start new ideas. In a few weeks, we'll have completed the TechFee governance process for this year. I hope to see many new investment opportunities that advance technology at our campus.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The PC is dead, long live the personal computer

As we look to the future of computing, what do you think will change? Business Insider wrote in 2013 about shifts in computing platforms: "Just a few years ago, Microsoft had 90% of computing market share. Now it's gliding towards irrelevance." Android has become the dominant player in global computing platform market share.


This chart is interesting for several reasons. Certainly it demonstrates the decline of Windows; we are no longer in a "Windows-centric" world. The term "WinTel," bandied in IT shops throughout the 1990s, is quickly becoming meaningless. But the chart also visualizes a change in platform, not just operating system. Users are moving away from the "PC" (desktops and laptops) and adopting mobile platforms.

In 2013, industry analyst Gartner shared results forecasting a 10% drop in PC shipments, while mobile phones assume 77% of Internet-connected device shipments. I see this as a continuation of a trend, where in a few years the smartphone becomes the computer. The difference is that you'll carry this one in your pocket, rather than in a backpack or laptop bag.

Most of our applications run in the Cloud (think Gmail) and very little actually needs local computing power to run. Look at what programs you use everyday; most of your time is spent in a web browser, and probably less than 25% using a traditional desktop application. While "power" users need to run big applications , the rest of us simply need a device to connect to the Internet.

When the smartphone becomes the computer, you'll "pair" your phone wirelessly with a kind of keyboard-video-mouse setup, which may resemble a laptop in form. You'll run all your apps on the phone, but the mouse & keyboard input and audio & video output goes through the new device. Disconnect the phone, and your data and apps go with you. Your laptop will be in your pocket, on your smartphone. This will be the next evolution of the personal computer.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Protect the edges of your network

No doubt you know about the data breach at Target over the Christmas holiday shopping season. Hackers extracted 40 million credit card and debit card details from the retailer during the busiest shopping season. I believe this will become a watershed in credit card security, and may even lead the U.S. payment card industry to adopt the more secure chip-and-PIN system used throughout Europe.

But the Target data breach also underscores another important fact for security: you need to protect the edges of your network. We used to think of web servers and similar systems as being "edge-y" but today, the "edge" includes any system that IT doesn't directly control. And according to today's article in The Blaze, your BACnet can be a hacker's gateway. The Blaze reports that hackers used the HVAC building control as the the entry point to Target's network.

IT shops put standards in place for server management. For example, servers that IT controls must have passwords changed every 3 months, and passwords must be at least x characters long and have different character types. Servers must have firewalls, external logging, separation of authority, and automated notification. This helps to provide a high level of security for the systems IT controls.

That's the key: "for the systems IT controls." But what about the systems IT doesn't control?

In this case, the account controlling the building automation and control network (specifically, HVAC) was stolen, allowing the hackers onto Target's internal corporate network. From the article:
Fazio Mechanical Services, a Sharpsburg, Penn.-based provider of refrigeration and HVAC systems, was given access to a Target database so the company could remotely login and perform efficiency updates. After stealing one Fazio worker’s credentials, the hackers used this digital pathway to insert the destructive malware, reported security blogger Brian Krebs.

IT needs to take heed of this data breach, and learn from Target's attack. I see two important steps that IT should already be doing:

1. Separate your networks
Your sensitive network should only be for systems you control. If you need to add a third-party system that's outside your control, put it on a separate network within the corporate network. Consider a non-routable network, such as 192.168.x.x, so that the outside world cannot access your third-party systems. (Actually, any system that doesn't need to talk directly to external systems should be on a non-routable network.)

2. Implement restricted trust
Too often, administrators use "wildcards" to specify who can access a particular machine. For a server in the "example.edu" network, administrators might allow anyone within "*.admin.example.edu" domain to connect to the central servers. When in fact, you should allow only specific IP addresses. Ideally, administrators should allow access to the central systems only through a "gateway" system with a non-routable IP address. This gateway should be well-controlled and monitored.

3. Use two-factor security
While not a panacea, two-factor security is a significant step above "simple" passwords and passphrases. A two-factor system simply implies "something you have and something you know." For example, you know a passphrase. Combine that with a security fob where you must press a button, and the fob displays a code that can only be used one time; that's two-factor security. Outside hackers cannot get access to the system unless they have both the passphrase and the security fob.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I want to attend a conference

Maybe there's a conference coming up, something you'd just heard about. It relates to your job, and the sessions seem interesting. You think you'll learn some things you can apply back in the office. But when you ask your supervisor for permission to go, no luck.

It's a difference in perspective. You're looking at the conference as a way to build up skills. Most managers may see it as an unplanned-for expense. Managers build their budgets at the start of each fiscal year. Depending on funding availability, professional development often gets left behind in favor of paying for all the "little things" that need to happen. It's unfortunate; as leaders, we need to build up our teams. Professional development benefits everyone; through learning new skills, an organization becomes more effective and efficient. And this provides a step up for staff.

Conferences are important—so how do you make the best pitch to attend them? A colleague on a conference committee shared this link to the American Librarian Association: Steps in making the case—Making your case for attending, and show how you'll be more valuable to your institution afterwards. The original list is 9 points, but I would consolidate them into this shorter list:

Understand the conference
Your supervisor will want to know what the conference is about, and what you will get out of it. Read through the conference materials and schedule, and identify sessions and topics that could help you—and tie them to specific projects and initiatives within your group.
Tally the costs
How much is registration, hotel, and travel? Is there an "early bird" discount for those who register early?
Prepare an absence plan
Put together a draft plan for how essential tasks will get done while you’re away, including how technology will keep you accessible and in touch as needed.
Put it in writing
The article provides a sample memo that you might use to submit a written request to attend a conference. But it is quite long, at two pages. I recommend you edit down the memo to briefly describe the conference, its benefits, and costs.