Sunday, 14 September 2014

Keeping your mainframe staff happy

Read this week's blog here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Talking technology

Read this week's blog here.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Making a point

All too often mainframes are seen as the expensive piece of kit that sits quietly and works. No-one seems to get too excited about making any changes to it, but they do get excited about cloud technology, mobile apps, and whatever else they see as interesting at the moment. That sometimes leaves the mainframe team unable to argue a case for change. But suppose there was a way of, not necessarily winning every argument, but, certainly, of being able to put up a good fight in the cut and thrust of a finance meeting?

There is a book by NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) expert Robert Dilts called “Sleights of Mouth” that looks at the way arguments are constructed and ways of rebutting each type of counter argument. The theory behind is, basically, that our thoughts and actions are inside, what’s called, a frame of reference, and often we’re not aware of this. These frames of reference can lock us into quite restricted thinking, and so it seems that we have only very few choices. So, a ‘reframe’ gives us a different perspective on a problem, and so opens the door to other potential solutions.

The book also looks at ‘beliefs’, which in this case define the relationship between values and their causes, indicators, and consequences. Beliefs are typically expressed in the form of a ‘cause-effect’ or a ‘complex equivalence’. Cause-effect assumes that one thing causes, or is caused by, another without any hard evidence. You hear people use words like: makes, because, if...then, as...then, then, since, so. Complex equivalence is where complex situations, ideas, objects, or their meanings are equated as synonymous. You hear people say things like: that means, that just means, it must be that, what else could it mean? For example: “The boss has his door closed. That means he’s planning to get rid of the mainframe”.

In his book, Robert Dilts identified 14 different Sleight of Mouth patterns. You don’t have to use them all, but it can be useful to be aware of what the 14 techniques are for when you do need to use them. And, of course, each of the techniques has a name.

So, that was quite a long introduction, let’s have a look at the Sleight of Mouth patterns, let us assume your CFO says, “We need to get rid of the mainframe because the company is losing money” Notice the A because B pattern – so in our response, we can focus on either A or B or both. I will give only one example, the fact is that many others are possible.

1 Intention: what could be the positive intention? In this case saving money (it seems).
Response: I very much admire and support your desire save money, but... 

2 Redefine: how can you lessen the impact of these negatives? Use words that are similar but may infer something different.
Response: I agree we need to look for new ways to save money.

3 Consequences: focus a consequence that leads to challenging the belief.
Response: Taking a look at our corporate spending is definitely the first step.

4 Chunk down: look at a specific element that challenges the belief.
Response: I am not sure how losing our company’s core IT platform will save us money.

5 Chunk up: generalize in order to change the relationship defined by the belief.
Response: Any change to our IT structure can have unforeseen consequences.

6 Counter example: find an exception that challenges the generalization defined by the belief.
Response: It’s hard to see cost savings from losing the mainframe when the work that generates the bulk of our income runs on it.

7 Analogy: use an analogy or metaphor that challenges the generalization defined by the belief.
Response: Not all change is good – ask the climate.

8 Apply to self: use key aspects of the belief to challenge the belief.
Response: Might it not save money to look at some other areas of high spending?

9 Another outcome: propose a different outcome that challenges the relevancy of the belief.
Response: Maybe the problem is not so much whether we get rid of the mainframe, but whether we are doing the right things to cut costs.

10 Hierarchy of criteria: Re-assess the belief based on a more important criterion.
Response: staying in business is more important than our IT policy.

11 Change frame size: re-evaluate the implication of the belief in the context of a longer (or shorter) time frame, a larger number of people (or from an individual point of view) or a bigger or smaller perspective.
Response: Successful organizations have been cutting cost for centuries. Those that stayed in business made the best decisions.

12 Meta frame: challenge the basis for the belief.
Response: Your belief about getting rid of the mainframe assumes that you know the ‘right’ IT infrastructure, and those who do not share your view have negative intentions.

13 Model of the world: look at the belief from a different perspective (model of the world).
Response: Do you know that the majority of Fortune500 companies have a mainframe?

14 Reality strategy: re-assess the belief based on the fact that beliefs are based on specific perceptions.
Response: What particular aspects of using a mainframe do you feel fearful about?

You can find out far more about these in Robert Dilts’ book, but it’s interesting to know that these techniques are out there and available.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Apps to make you feel better

We might spend all day in a mainframe environment, but, when we leave it, the closest computing device to hand is probably our mobile phone. And if you’re waiting for someone or something, you probably get out your phone and check your e-mail and texts, and then what do you do? You could play a game, or you, perhaps, could try some self-improvement apps. I thought that, this week, I might take a look at some of the apps available for hypnotherapy.

Now, if you're hypnotized, you're meant to be in a state of heightened suggestibility and responsiveness. So rather than getting you chicken dancing or eating a raw onion, as you might see on a stage show, hypnotherapy can make positive changes, creating new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviours, or feelings. So, while you’re waiting for a burger or your friend to turn up, doesn’t it make sense to use an app on your phone to make you a better person?

A lot of people worry about giving presentations and generally feel that they could do with a bit more self-confidence. The good news is that there are hypnosis apps for that. There’s Total Confidence & Success (Darren Marks hypnotherapy), Confidence Now, and Confident Public Speaking Now (Pocket Hypnotherapy range), Free Hypnosis and Self Esteem (Erick Brown Hypnosis), and Automatic Motivation Hypnosis (Mastermind App).

Sleep is another area where people don’t feel they’re getting the right number of hours or the right quality. And here, again, there are apps available. There’s Sleep Deeply (Darren Marks hypnotherapy), Sleep Soundly Hypnosis (Kym Tolson and Hani Al-Qasem), Relax and Sleep Well (Diviniti Publishing Ltd), Sleep Now (Pocket Hypnotherapy range), and Deep Sleep and Relax Hypnosis (Mindifi).

Or perhaps your issue is weight loss (although a good therapist will never use that term because if we lose things – like our keys – we tend to spend a long time searching for them and making sure we get them back). Anyway, you can try Easy Weight Loss (Darren Marks hypnotherapy), Weight Loss Hypnosis (Mindifi), Lose Weight Now (Pocket Hypnotherapy range), or Lose Weight with Hypnosis (Shanedude).

For smokers, there are stop smoking apps – and, again, in solution-focused terms, I mean becoming a non-smoker. Remember, no-one goes to anti-war rallies anymore, everyone goes to peace rallies. Anti-war is problem focused, peace is solution focused. There’s Easy Stop Smoking (Darren Marks hypnotherapy), Stop Smoking Now (Pocket Hypnotherapy range), and Quit Smoking Hypnosis and Quit Smoking Hypnosis Pro (Mindifi).

There are some generic self-hypnosis apps. For example Self Hypnosis Tips (bigo), Self Hypnosis (IDJ Group), Hypnosis Session (Andrew Brusentov), Hypnosis (Adam Eason Hypno), and Free Hypnosis/Hypnotherapy and Self Development Audios by Joseph Clough (Free Hypnosis).

And there’s a mixed bag of other hypnotherapy treatments. Darren Marks hypnotherapy provides Freedom From Negative Feelings, Control Alcohol, Freedom From Fears and Phobias, Total Relaxation, Sport and Fitness Excellence, and Healing Hypnosis. The Pocket Hypnotherapy range includes Relax Now, Manage IBS Now, Manage PMS Now, Manage Fear of Flying Now, and Cope with Bereavement Now. Mindifi supplies Law Of Attraction Hypnosis, Free Your Mind Hypnosis, Personal Development Hypnosis, Money and Success Hypnosis, Business Success Hypnosis, and Hypnobirthing Hypnosis. And, to complete the list is Anxiety Free Hypnosis (Hypnosis, Meditation, and Coaching Group)

So no more playing Angry Birds, try a little personal development and relaxation with hypnotherapy apps. Then it’s back to the mainframe world for work.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Business continuity planning

It seems strange talking about business continuity planning for mainframe sites because most of them created their plan back in the days when BCP was called DR (Disaster Recovery). And although, for mainframe sites, things don’t seem to have changed to any great extent in perhaps as much as 30 years, the truth is, they have. And it’s a good idea to re-evaluate the Business Continuity Plan now.

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to start from the beginning, in terms of planning, and see what systems you have in place that needs to be available for the organization to continue in business, and how long you can be ‘down’ for. It was often a joke that non-mainframe sites had rooms full of servers running Linux and/or Windows servers and no-one knew what exactly ran on what hardware – and yet, something similar can be the case with mainframes. There is nowadays quite a disconnect between what an end user views as a single transaction and how the subsystems may see it. An end user may simply need to access some data – but, for that to happen, the transaction may start in CICS, access DB2 data, go back to CICS, involve IMS, go back to CICS, access some VSAM files, and finally end up in CICS again. So subsystem-level recovery can lead to confusion.

But let’s start at the beginning. What’s the first thing to do? Identify the business assets that need to be protected, then assess how business critical each process is and create a priority list. Next find the data and technology that’s needed for the business process to occur. Armed with that list, you can set objectives for their recovery, and design strategies and services that can be used to restore access to data for the applications and end users who need them. This is probably easier said than done because it also has to be achieved within time frames that mean your organization stays in business.

You need to be able to run the applications on probably new working processors, you need to get them talking to the latest version of the data, and you need to get your users connected to the applications. The options for how to do this range from cheap to hugely expensive. Like all insurance, you don’t want to have to make use of it, but when you do, you want it to cover everything. So what are your choices? You can do nothing – definitely the cheapest, until things go wrong and then it’s probably the end of the company staying in business. You can use a service bureau or another site. This again is bit like hoping nothing will go wrong, but if it does, you have some way of staying business until you can get your own hardware up and running. You need to ensure the other site is not in the same building or even city – earthquakes and other natural disasters do happen. You could have a cold standby site. This a dearer option, but once everything is powered up, you’re pretty much back in business. The dearest option is the hot standby site, where you basically copy everything to it as it happens on the main site. This hot site can continue running the business for you at a moment’s notice. If you’re a bank or similar, this is what you need. Your users just experience a small hiccough and they continue working. They connect to the new site without realizing anything has changed.

And that is your first big decision over with. The next step is to look at individual systems (such as IMS and CICS) and see how each of those can failover to the back-up site. Look into how you can ensure data is correct, and how in-flight tasks can have their data backed out and the whole task restarted. How quickly can communications be switched across to the back-up site? And what are the chances of both sites being hit by the same disaster?

And then you need to practice the BCP and see what you forgot in your plan. Which pieces of kit do you use that aren’t standard and can’t be replicated? There are so many things that can go wrong at each site because the set-up can be so different (while being superficially so similar). Who has access to the BCP? Who needs access to the BCP? What happens if a key person is doing a charity sleepover in some rundown part of town and hasn’t got a phone with them? What happens if your company is being attacked by terrorists of hacktivists or disgruntled ex-employees?

There’s lots to consider. But the first step is to re-visit your Business Continuity Plan – and do it soon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Gamification of health

We all know playing games can be fun, and we all know staying healthy is important. (I write this, ironically, as I bite into a doughnut!). Doesn’t it make absolute sense to use the most effective parts of gamification to encourage people to live healthy lives – to eat more healthily, to take exercise, to keep their weight at a healthy level, to reduce anxiety, to ‘play’ their way out of depressive thoughts, to overcome a phobia, to beat those OCD habits, etc. But is that a reality?

“Gaming to Engage the Healthcare Consumer”, published by ICF International defines gamification as “the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to everyday problems such as business dilemmas and social challenges”. They cite the Gartner report, “Gamification: Engagement Strategies for Business and IT”, that by 2015, 50 percent of organizations will be using gamification of some kind, and, in 2016, businesses will spend $2.6 billion on gamification.

The ICF report suggests that the trend towards value-based care, the increasing role of the patient as consumer, and the millennial generation as desirable health insurance customers are driving healthcare organizations to look at gamification. And this is all made possible by the huge number of smartphones and tablets that potential gamers own.

However, the Gartner report’s headline figure was that 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design. They go on to say that: “While game mechanics such as points and badges are the hallmarks of gamification, the real challenge is to design player-centric applications that focus on the motivations and rewards that truly engage players more fully. Game mechanics like points, badges, and leader boards are simply the tools that implement the underlying engagement models.” Keeping players engaged, what they call “stickiness” in the trade, is a big challenge for any company gamifying health.

So, what healthy games are available? According to “From Fitbit to Fitocracy: The Rise of Health Care Gamification” at, UnitedHealth Group has OptumizeMe, an app that lets users engage in fitness-related contests with their friends. They’re also testing Join For Me, an app encouraging obese teenagers at risk of developing diabetes to play video games that require dancing or other physical activities. MeYou Health has a rewards program for people who complete one health-related task per day.

GymPact uses GPS to track its users to the gym. Members meeting their workout goals win cash, which comes from people paying penalties for failing to exercise as promised. Fitbit has wireless tracking devices that sync to smartphones and computers, allowing users to track their fitness activities. Fitocracy is a social network, where people track their workouts, challenge friends to exercise contests, and earn recognition for meeting goals. SuperBetter Labs is beta testing an online social game designed to help people coping with illnesses, injuries, or depression.

Tom Chivers’ blog at lists Runkeeper, Nike Run, and Fitocracy as apps that reward you for taking exercise, with extra points for the numbers of steps taken. There’s DietBet and Skinnyo for weight-loss and calorie counting. Sleep Cycle encourages you to get more and better sleep. He suggests that there are apps to make a game of physiotherapy, apps for people with autism, for people with dyslexia, even for pain management for burns. The NHS in the UK has a BMI calculator app.

And that’s pretty much where we are now. Everyone thinks gamification is a great idea to make mundane activities more fun. But, and this is a big ‘but’, just saying something is gamified doesn’t mean that people will come back and use it again and again. We’ve all got apps on our phones and tablets that seemed like a good idea to download when we downloaded them, and they haven’t been used much since that time. A good games app has to engage people. In addition, people have to get some value out of it, such as better health. It would be nice to think that after using the app people have learned something or modified their behaviour in a positive way. Finding programmers who can make this happen is also a challenge.

If only Angry Birds helped you lose weight, cut down on your alcohol consumption, and take more exercise! But if someone finds a way to achieve that, they are on to a winner that we’ll all benefit from.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

IBM and Apple deal

What a surprise! IBM and Apple have announced that they are working together. Who’d have thought it? Would it have happened under Steve Jobs leadership? Will it work? The two companies are planning to co-develop business-centric apps for the iPhone and iPad. And IBM is going to sell Apple’s mobile devices pre-installed with the new software to its business clients.

People are suggesting that IBM now has special access rights to certain security features on the devices and that other companies don’t have that kind of access. As a consequence, IBM can supply apps and services that are similar in behaviour to what users of Microsoft devices would expect. What hasn’t been made clear is what the financial arrangements are and what apps are going to be produced.

It seems that the deal is one that favours Apple. After all, they have a smaller part of the smartphone and tablet market worldwide than Android. According to IDC, Android will have about 60 percent of the smartphone market and Apple less than 20 percent. And Gartner are suggesting that Android has over 60 percent of the tablet market with Apple shrinking year-on-year with about 30 percent. And, after all the things Apple have said over the years, it seems an unlikely combination.

Maybe mainframe users will choose to use an Apple tablet and boost the flagging Apple sales that way. It seems hardly likely that a tablet user will rush out and buy a mainframe! Hence my conclusion that the relationship is very asymmetrical and favours Apple hugely more than IBM. Or, thinking the unthinkable (again), is Big Blue looking to take over Apple at some stage in the future – feeling that it can provide customers with an alternative to Microsoft and Android?

Or, perhaps, IBM looked in the mirror and saw itself 50 years ago, being able to dictate what software ran on its hardware and generally disregarding what every other company was doing as it stood in powerful isolation. And we know how that turns out.

I could make a prediction here that in three years’ time Apple will be a division of IBM. I could make a prediction, but predictions are notoriously unreliable. For example, Steve Ballmer, writing in USA Today, 30 April 2007, said: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share”. Or Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, who in 1943 said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”

There are more of these unfortunate predictions. Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp in 1977 said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”. Or Bill Gates, who in 1981 is meant to have said: “640K ought to be enough for anybody” – although that one probably isn’t true.

Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, writing in InfoWorld magazine in December 1995 said; “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse”. An engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, in 1968, said about the microchip: “But it good for?” Or the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall said in 1957: “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year”.

These are predictions that are right up there with H M Warner of Warner Brothers in 1927 saying: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Or Decca Recording Co rejecting the Beatles in 1962 by saying: “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out”. And, of course, journalist Stewart Alsop Jr back in 1991, predicting that the last mainframe would be unplugged by 15 March 1996.

Best not to make predictions, or at least not to publish them, don’t you think? But are we looking at Apple’s last days as an independent company?