IT Thinking

Successfully Working from Home

I’ve learnt quite a bit about working from home in the last ten years and thought is was about time I shared one of the secrets to my success.

It will take longer to get used to than you will first admit. 

Working from home has some obvious benefits; no travel time, no interruptions, working all day in your pyjamas. It’s a breeze right? When I look back I can honestly say it took me over a year to get into the correct rhythm.  I had started a new job, I had a new baby (our first), I was sent a laptop, filing cabinet (don’t why I got that), chair, printer, tech. toys and I was away.  I knocked off what I thought was a day’s work by morning tea and was a very happy man. But how do you get by with no interaction with anyone at work? Monday is great but by Wednesday, outside of the odd phone call and customer conversation, who do you have the work chat with? What happens if you get frustrated at work and the next person you see is your new child or sleep deprived partner?  You suddenly need to slip out of work mode and into home mode, then back again.  You think Superman makes a fast change in a phone box, it’s nothing compared to mental gymnastics of the accomplished home worker.

As you get used to the transition you’ll be telling everyone how great life is but some times you’ll be doing this to convince yourself, more than anyone else. But working from home can be very rewarding and productive. It took me a while to work this out as I am not someone that has had much interest in physiology but you need to train your brain.

What did I do? I decided I had to identify in my mind where and when I was at work.  I picked a space and made sure everything was the same each time I started.  I created a routine of work, emails, calls and customer visits that I stuck to. I even cleaned and tided the space every week and set it up for Monday. I mentally told myself when I leave this spot I am no longer at work, I am at home. I moved a chair by the door and said to myself, work goes there when I leave this room. Over about twelve months I began to surprise myself with how quickly I was able to mentally switch roles.  I could stride through the house be dad, walk into my work space, sit down and get straight back into it. It was at this point working from home truly became great and productive.  

Without knowing it I was taking my brain through a series of mental exercises.  My brain was getting a workout and learning how to flip modes very quickly.

I have switched companies now and at Microsoft I have the flexibility to work at the office or at home. I can spend weeks in the office environment or at customer sites an then a period at home and the mental flexibility is still there. All I have to do is remember to get dressed when I go into the office.

This is a skill I’m sure anyone can learn.  I’d be interested in what makes working from home a success for you. I always say we all learn by sharing and if you have found another way don’t be shy, let the world know.

Public Cloud Availability

If you are in the Australian IT industry it will not have escaped your notice that AWS has had an outage in a single availability zone in Sydney.  This has created a large amount of coverage online, some outrage, some opinion and a lot of WTF moments.

The volume of coverage goes to show how successful public clouds have become.

I cannot comment on the infrastructure of any public cloud let alone AWS. Before I worked at Microsoft I certainly used AWS and am familiar with it.  But I cannot and would not like to comment on how it is built and managed, the truth is like the majority I do not know and to be honest I don’t care. Amazon is a very large, very successful company and therefore it’s easy to assume they do a lot very right indeed.

I’m sure they have fully redundant systems, like all public clouds, and probably more redundant systems than you or I could shake a stick at.  However nothing is 100% and the availability of any system is the aggregate of the provided uptime of each component.  If that aggregate does not meet your business requirements you need to architect in redundancy to meet the accepted risk level the business is prepared to tolerate.

How many of these environments were too reliant upon a single data centre?  Too many by the looks of things.

When natural disasters hit they do tend to impact a city hard.  Look at Sydney today, Brisbane a few years ago.

Your cloud deployments need to be different.  You must architect for cross region redundancy or make the business aware of the risk.  Let the business requirements drive the strategy, cloud, hybrid or multi vendor.  After all it’s what we are here for to drive successful business outcomes.

Disclaimer:  Please note although I work for Microsoft the information provided here does not represent an official Microsoft position and is provided as is.

Where are the Innovators, Gartner Symposium 2014? 

I’ve just come back from the Gartner Symposium ITXPO on the Gold Coast #GartnerSYM. This was my trifecta having been to the 2012 and 2013 events.

Gartner opened the event with the keynote on Tuesday morning by hammering in hard their new definition of the market. With a brief introduction touching on constant change and the Internet of Things (IoT) we were introduced to the “Digital Business.

According to Gartner “Digital Business” represents this current age of technology and its impact on all companies.

Attendees were told to embrace risk, to focus on building a new talent pool with experts in mobile, user experience and data science and to understand that disruption will accelerate the decline of markets.

The message made a point but I don’t think went far enough, time was still dedicated to telling everyone to keep the foundations secure and solid. Like a rock everyone was told. Almost as if Gartner wanted to keep their feet secured to what they know and trust and not be too innovative themselves. This was a shame but like all vendors Gartner have a product to sell and as much as we try and swim in the new oceans we always like to look back at what made us successful and pays the bills. Jumping from the boat isn’t easy, especially when it looks like the party is still in full swing.

Gartner made a good job of selecting other keynotes that focused on the impact of change and innovation.

Andrew McAfee @amcafee of MIT challenged us with information on change and automation, he touched on topics of his research and in his book The Second Machine Age http://www.secondmachineage.com/. Anyone listening to this either left thinking well it’s still will not happen to me or probably rushed to lock themselves in a bunker and wait for Arnold Schwarzenegger looking machines to take over the planet. All should have been left with the impression that the rate of change is exponential and we have a fantastic opportunity as well as responsibility to capitalise on this.

Guy Kawasaki @GuyKawasaki http://www.guykawasaki.com/ took us through his rules on innovation. Not surprisingly it was very well delivered. It didn’t take Guy long to win everyone over. If you could take a bit of that sparkle, energy and experience into a role in your organisation just imagine what the results would be. Although would you because he’d probably be running the joint in a couple of weeks. Just how many of the audience will cut their presentations down to 10 slides and 20 minutes I’d love to know. I’m certain no one will invest in dog food dot com but I’m sure there will still be mission statements made at expensive hotels in and around the golf course.

These two in particular helped support and promote the main theme Gartner were delivering, it’s just a shame that the real innovators appear to still be on the outside.

The Rise of the Complex Workplace

It’s been twelve months since I managed to find that time for blogging spot in the work life balance venn diagram.  That point has arrived thanks in part to actually thinking about one thing for more that a couple of days, finding the time to do a little reading and spending a lot of time in airports and hotels.   The reading piece is mostly due to the airport and hotels bit of my recent life.   At times that is just the #lifeofanse, if only I hadn’t eaten steak every night!

At this moment I am on my way back from Citrix mForum in Sydney (see bottom of article for the presentation), going via Adelaide, before I finally get home.  At mForum I was given the chance to present on and demonstrate some business use cases for our technology.   The presentation wasn’t long and therefore I’d been asked to focus on just three topics.  But rather than just jumping into the use cases I wanted to set the scene, so spent a little time thinking about what’s driving change, how we are reacting and why change at all.

So Why Change?

As IT professionals I believe we have to change, the ground has shifted, devices like the iPad are only few years old but their impact has been significant.

Consumerisation has leaked into the workplace the same way the ocean washes over a sandcastle at the beach.  It can start as a trickle eating away at the walls of a lovingly created fort; it can be encouraged with a path to follow or arrives in an almighty rush.  The end result is the same, what you had has changed forever.

Gartner in a definition of Consumerisation states “… Consumerization can be embraced and it must be dealt with, but it cannot be stopped.” 

I’ll agree that it cannot be stopped, every workplace has its own examples but dealt with sounds a little too harsh to me and embraced a little too welcoming, maybe excepted?

Why do we have to except this change, the Economist has an interesting article on this topic and states: “The PC may have been personal; a smartphone or tablet, held in your hand rather than perched on your desk, is almost intimate, and you can take it almost anywhere.”

Dealing with intimacy in IT is nothing new.  Just try updating someone’s PC when they have their own desktop background and shortcuts to their favourite sites.  Miss them out of an update and you’ll be in trouble! Or just listen to people in the office talk about their computer “come on you stupid thing”, or “excellent job” you’ll hear.  I’ve even seen people pet them!

So the devices brought into our workplace, this unstoppable wave is more than handholding, pretty packaging or the ability to be mobile.  Although I’m sure all those factors play their part.

Anyone who has a tablet or phone these days has their own set of apps and data with them and for me it is this combination that drives this true demand for constant use and companionship.  It is this demand; device, apps and data, that is causing greatest disruption and therefore this is the true impact of consumerisation.

Each new factor (data, apps and device) is having a compound effect, therefore leading to greater and more unforeseen complexity.   The ocean has washed over the enterprise.

mForum Presentation

9 Step Guide to Delivering a Successful Solution

The aim of this post is to produce a repeatable guide to designing an endpoint solution, where the endpoint is the interface to consume information.

Step 1 – Understand the Business

  • Survey your user base
  • Speak to a range of business units
  • Speak to people in different geographical locations
  • Meet with peers in industry verticals and share information online

Understanding the business is more than just being in a business or industry segment for a period of time.  People and practices change, getting to grips with what is happening around you will help you judge and meet demand.

The knowledge you gain will help you add value to the conversations you have.  If you add value people will want to engage with you and are going to trust you when you present them with a solution.

Step 2 – Define the Requirement

It’s important to document the first conversations with the customer or business unit that is seeking a solution.  Gathering the initial information in a format you are comfortable with works well but it’s important to send your notes back to everyone in the meeting in a format everyone can access and understand.  Keep to bullet points and get agreement that you understood the needs and responsibilities of everyone in the meeting.

Step 3 – Engage Relevant Partners

Knowing when and where to use a value add partner is a critical component in the success of any project.  Be prepared to share knowledge but make sure you set the agenda.

Step 4 – Scope What You are Going to Achieve

Scope out the aim, this is the ultimate end goal and break down the project into objectives.  Understand and communicate who is responsible for each objective and seek approval from the project owner that you are moving in the right direction.

Step 5 – Demo and Mock up a Solution

A visual representation is always a great way to present your solution back to the business.  If you have the ability to customize a standard demo environment this will help with quick changes and allow for a repeatable approach.

Step 6 – Request Feedback

If you are struggling to engage the business further the demo is a good point to ask for feedback.  Bringing partners back in at this stage for comment is always worth while but as with any partner engagement it is important to control the agenda.

Step 7 – Deliver Solution Overview

After analyzing the feedback put together the final solution proposal and overview. At this stage you should be able to provide a cost model or enough information to the project management team to organizing costing.

Step 8 – Seek Acceptance

When the solution overview has been delivered seek acceptance from the business and look to confirm the next steps on the engagement.

You should now be at a point where each party engaged understands what the final outcome will look like, what it is going to deliver and who is going to manage and cost the delivery.

Step 9 – Stay Engaged

Throughout the project stay engaged during the process.  It’s important to be there at any kick off meetings to make sure those picking up tasks have access to you during the project.

Flipping the Workplace

Recently I’ve been working in the education space, it’s something I recommend for everyone at least once.  The challenges are numerous, educators are innovators and it is interesting dealing with the technical demands of a user base heavily influenced by consumer trends.

It was the university sector that first introduced me to reverse learning or flipped learning.

“The flipped classroom describes a reversal of traditional teaching where students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then class time is used to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge through strategies such as problem-solving, discussion or debates. (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching).”

Further reading – Flipping the classroom – The Economist

With the ability to access information from almost anywhere people are seeking to plough through the noise before they enter the office. In exactly the same way a flipped classroom has students viewing the information before they come together, a flipped workplace lets staff digest the knowledge they need before they meet to work on an outcome.

Martin Dursma, VP Citrix Labs and CTO Office Chair delivered a presentation at Citrix Synergy titled Taking One Step Beyond with other Citrix CTOs he covered some interesting long term technology trends.

Many mirror what is happening in education; organisations trying to mobilse their workforce to slow down the need for additional office space, the medical sector responding to instant information availability and device trends and engineering and construction firms taking information out to the field for instant feedback and collaboration.  Each of these examples is changing the demand on the traditional workspace and enabling people to flip the way they work.

IT professionals and departments need to be enablers and leaders of this approach to working and not the blockers or luddites.

Maybe its time to go back to class?

Are Mirco Apps Changing Everything?

I come from a desktop / application background, I’ve spent most of my IT career working with one flavour or another of Citrix’s XenApp platform (I’ve been through all the name changes) and am currently employed by Citrix as a Systems Engineer in Australia.  To that end I’ve spent a lot of time working with apps; in the early days that meant hacking them as best I could to squeeze them onto a multi-user platform.  This kept me extremely busy however in reality was always a marginal activity, in that most applications were being installed onto desktops.  I saw a major change with my involvement in the launch of an “e” project in 1999; “e” stood for electronic and the company I was working with started investing heavily in creating web front ends to all applications.  The end result was that vast numbers of apps were rolled out onto MetaFrame because users wanted the full application and the business wanted to centralise. (I say business but it was in fact the IT division’s idea).  The end result for me was that I saw the business demanding fully functional applications and the impact of that project has stuck with me ever since.

I often sit with customers today and one statement I hear myself saying again and again is “do you have a desktop or application problem?” The point I am trying to highlight is that maybe we can solve the issue they have raised by pulling out the applications that require attention.  And not look at reworking their desktop strategy. After all it’s the apps that are important?

Recently I found myself again pondering this scenario and so I tweeted “It’s all about the apps, always had been always will be” and this generated a number of responses.  The first that came back was from @bramwolfs “I think it’s all about the data not specifically the apps..” Which immediately had me thinking there was little way out of this; data exists and is manipulated by apps, my focus has always been on the apps and that is where I make my money so that is where I placed my bet.  @KBaggerman highlighted a blog post titled “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion a Citrix CTP (@archynet) talking about desktops versus applications and applications versus data.  He makes some interesting points about the relationships between data and applications and the importance of data.  I can only agree however I would add that as some apps sole purpose is to collect and create data it is hard to define and almost irrelevant to consider which came first or which is more important, both are a requirement.

More interestingly he talks about user habits and the requirement of a desktop operating system, he also talks about the rise of mobile apps or micro apps; i.e.  apps created for a single purpose that do not require interaction or workflows with other applications and therefore do not require a desktop operating system.

This to me is an interesting area of development and I believe we are seeing two forces at play; the rise of SaaS and its adoption and the influence of the iPad and tablet.  Firstly SaaS is entering every workplace, I was recently  hosting a CIO round table discussion and every CIO was focused on SaaS and in fact the most interesting comment was “every app I deliver I now have to compete against a SaaS app, that is the way I have to think.” And you know what I think he was right; if you enforce a monolithic set of apps onto a workforce and it is not meeting the needs of a business unit then you can bet within days that business unit will be hunting out an alternative and swiping their credit card when they find something they like. Secondly the iPad factor, all apps on the iPad have single functions, I book my travel, check my email, look at website and knock over blocks with very upset birds.  Each app performs well and every day I use them I am breaking the habit of having to work within an operating system.  And therefore every day that operating system becomes less relevant to me.

Can we drop the operating system, no there are too many applications built for that platform. Is the desktop operating system becoming less relevant, yes however this has to be taken into context, just take a look at how many Windows 7 licenses have been sold since release.  But I do think that the mico app aided by the choice and availability on offer from SaaS vendors is accelerating change.

UPDATE  If you want  to read some interesting points head back to  “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion and join in or have a read.

Move out the way IT….

If you are like me you have spent your life in IT.  I started in desktop support, spent some time on a help desk, and then moved back into level 2 desktop support (I can’t remember the difference between level 1 and level 2 desktop support, I still spent a lot of time crawling about and plugging cables in). From there I took my fist sip at the infrastructure cup and spent time in a server team, racking and stacking.  I then went back into the help desk world and managed a team before moving into a data centre and spending my life completing server builds, working on automation projects, data centre management and builds, networking and design.

It’s a long list and I’m sure yours is similar but why bother with it at all?  Well throughout this time I saw ASP to and fro, I built a lot of web servers for application web “e-projects”, I saw outsources come and go,  services were proposed on site and off site and  I was convinced we had the data centre of the future.  Yes during this time things were changing, processes were becoming slicker, application developers were becoming more sophisticated (I should clarify – Not in the sense that they stated wearing shoes to the office – just their programming skills) and capacity, in what we could do and what the programme, hardware or network would let us do was growing fast.  However through all that I was sure we had it licked Moore’s Law was in operation and we were taking full advantage of it.

In fact I still look back at those times and think I did good work and the teams I was part of helped the businesses we worked for grow, be more productive and transform.  And that for me this is the crux of the point I am trying to make, businesses do transform, it happens all the time.  Not all get caught up in the Innovators Dilemma, a GFC crash or a failed investment.  A lot grow fast; spin off in random directions and pioneer new industries.  However to do this today in an age where information moves fast, in fact where information is instant requires an agility a traditional environment cannot provide.

For a very simple example let’s take two IT executives that are required to roll out a new CRM system; the assumption is that their business has identified this need to help them reach new markets.  Meetings are held due diligence is completed and a project team is set up to identify the business requirements. Once identified team one brings in a global software provider, partners with a large technology provider and starts the process of developing the application and planning the roll out.  Team two picks a SaaS vendor and starts.  In this instance it is assumed that the SaaS vendor has a product that meets the business requirements identified during phase one of the project.  Is it that simple; well yes it is.  Both teams have completed the correct amount of due diligence to identify the business requirements and select an application  vendor, however team two does not have to build and roll out any infrastructure or mange the application, it just happens.  This means team two is delivering on the business outcome much faster than team one, enabling a competitive edge.

Okay now I can hear the outcries because you are an IT guy like me with an IT history like mine.  What about security, what about data protection what about lock in?  Well you know what, the business outcome has been met, the business is productive, competitive and happy.

I say job done and I say move out the way IT.

UPDATE 4/4/2012

Brett Winterford  of itnews  published an interesting article titled  Death of the SysAdmin with the following video clip of Fortescue Metals CIO Vito Forte, delivered during his keynote presentation at iTnews’ Executive Summit in Melbourne.  I think it summarise this article well.