Saturday, 22 February 2014

Getting the best from your IT staff

One of the problems that project managers, and in fact managers in general, have is that they tend to think that the road to success starts here and ends there – ie, it’s a fairly straight route. The truth is, for most success stories, that they set out on one road and met failure, they then set out on another road, and met failure, and they kept doing this until they arrived at the success they were aiming at. And it’s important to bear in mind, when carrying out those important end-of-year appraisals that this is so often the case.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some examples...

This person wasn’t able to speak until he was almost four years old, and his teachers said that he wouldn’t amount to much. Who was he? Albert Einstein. And you don’t need to be a theoretical physicist to have heard of him.

Or this man, who was sacked from a newspaper for lacking imagination and having no original ideas. He was Walt Disney. Or this woman – she was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she wasn’t fit for television. She’s Oprah Winfrey. Or this person who was told by a teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything and that he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. That was Thomas Edison. Or the would-be author whose first book was rejected by 27 publishers. That was the best-selling children’s author, Dr Seuss. Or what about the man whose fiancé died, who failed in business, who had a nervous breakdown, and who lost eight elections? That was Abraham Lincoln, who went on to be the 16th US president. Or you might be more familiar with the guy, aged 30, who was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he’d started. That was Steve Jobs and Apple.

If you like sport, there was the lad who was dropped from his high school basketball team, who went home, locked himself in his room, and cried. That was Michael Jordan, six times NBA champion, five times NBA MVP, and four times NBA all-star. Or the 11-year-old boy who was dropped from his football team after being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency that made him smaller than most children his age. That was Lionel Messi, who became three times FIFA world player of the year.

Then there was the high school dropout, whose personal struggle with drugs and poverty culminated in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. That was Eminem, who became a 13 times Grammy award winner. Perhaps, most famously, was the popular beat combo who were rejected by Decca recording studios because they didn’t like their sound. Decca added that the band had no future in show business. That was The Beatles, arguably the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in history

The argument is that if you haven’t failed, you’ve haven’t tried anything new. So maybe, in your team, you’re not seeing the potential in someone, who may go on to become a great success.

But how do you motivate someone? The argument is usually between the carrot and the stick approach. You motivate someone away from pain and towards pleasure. With the stick you threaten them with losing their job if they don’t improve. With the carrot you dangle a promotion in front of them if things go well. But really, you need to know your team and what their values are and what their goals are. That way, you can offer them appropriate incentives to get them to do good work on the project as a stepping stone towards achieving their life goals.

And while not everyone you meet will be an Edison or Einstein, I think it’s important not to write them off as talentless, until you’ve had a chance to explore what talents they have and what they can bring to an organization.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

IBM resizing and other news

IBMers across the globe must be wondering what’s going on as IBM starts to axe job and downsize its workforce. Particularly badly hit seems to be the Indian subcontinent and Europe. It looks like IBM is reducing commodity equipment staff in favour of software staff.

In Europe, figures being quoted are up to 500 people in France, 430 in Italy, 240 in the Netherlands, 105 in Belgium, and 35 in Norway. It looks like worldwide job cuts could reach 15,000.

IBM recently sold its System X server to Lenovo and, so, many of the job cuts have come from its Systems and Technology Group (STG).

There’s also some talk about IBM asking Goldman Sachs to value its chip division. The implication is that IBM will then sell that off – leading to a further drop in its head count.

Irrespective of that suggestion, we find that Samsung Electronics has joined IBM’s OpenPOWER Consortium. OpenPOWER (announced last August) is a way for companies to licence the architecture and customize it for their specific needs – in the same way that ARM does with its chips. Other group members include Google, Nvidia, Mellanox, and Tyan. IBM has also announced it’s putting up over $1bn to encourage Linux development on the chips – hopefully increasing their usage.

Meanwhile, IBM’s Chief Executive Officer, Ginni Rometty has been to Beijing for three days of meetings with government leaders.

It’s not all bad news from mainframe companies in India, CA Technologies has announced a strategic partnership with IDG Ventures India, a technology venture capital fund investing in India, to help drive innovation in the enterprise software market.

However, it’s not all good news for CA. It recently reported 8 percent lower earnings for its third quarter compared to the previous year. Net income in the three months fell to $232 million. So per-share net income fell 7 percent to 51 cents. Revenues in the quarter of $1.163 billion were down 3 percent from last year.

It seems that layoffs are expected at Compuware, but this is the final phase of its planned cost-cutting, and brings its headcount down to mid-1990s levels.

Over at BMC, things seem more upbeat. They have announced BMC Engage 2014, an IT management conference that will offer new ideas and insights to help people use technology platforms – from mainframe to cloud to mobile – to achieve organizational and market objectives, and drive major business transformations – they claim. It runs from 13 to 16 October at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Orlando, Florida.

Over at Microsoft, new CEO, Satya Nadella, has e-mailed staff saying: “We must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world”. That is, perhaps, harder than you might think in a world full of Apple and Samsung devices, and with Google pretty much ‘owning’ the Web.

An interesting week!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Social media update

Figures suggest that just about every successful company not only has a Web site, but also uses social media successfully. I thought it was time to take another look at what successful companies are up to and how they can monitor their success.

So just to recap, the big players in social media at the moment are probably Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and Pinterest. Published figures suggest that 72 percent of all the adults who are online use social networking sites. It’s also reckoned that 92 percent of companies use social media for recruitment. And 86 percent of employers say they research potential job candidates on social networks. Facebook claims to have over 1.19 billion users per month, and it has 728 million users each day. It also has around 9 million photos uploaded each month. 1 in 5 of 18 to 24-year-olds use Twitter each day, and Twitter say they’re adding 300 thousand users per day. Similarly, LinkedIn is growing – it increased by 105 percent between 2011 and 2013. And, of course, Facebook has got a lot attention this past week from the media and individual with its Look Back ( short films showing what you’ve done on Facebook over the past 10 years

What many organizations are now setting as a social media goal is having ordinary users speak out for them. ‘Advocacy’ is the word that’s been hijacked for use in this situation. Companies are identifying potential customers or users and building strong relationships with them so that the customer will promote the product or company strongly on social media sites. So how can you build these important relationships? Feedback is an obvious way. Listen to what people are saying on social media and respond appropriately and quickly. To do this effectively, the social media team need to be integrated into the marketing and communications teams at a company. It doesn’t work if they are isolated within the organization. ‘Likes’ are an important place to start. Encourage people to ‘like’ your page, or ‘favorite’ a tweet.

It’s important that your social media presence has good content. You want people to keep coming back to read more. You can publicize products, and you can add more information about how to use your products, as well as answering users’ questions. You publicize great thing that staff or the company as a whole has done. This could be charity events, or prizes received. And you can advertise jobs. Make sure that good content is updated regularly and frequently. Then the next stage is to get product users to start adding content – photos of them using the product, reviews, how they used it to do something extra to its design spec! It’s at this stage that you can start monitoring and measuring interactions. Facebook pages contain lots of data. If you want measurement tools, there are: Crowdbooster, Demographics Pro, Moz Analytics, Simply Measured, Social Crawlytics, and True Social Metrics. If you want to listen to what people are saying (the technical term is sentiment) you can try Radian6, RowFeede, Sysomos, Topsy, or Vocus. For monitoring and responding there’s: BuddyMedia, Buffer, HootSuite, Meshfire, SocialEngage, and Sprout Social.

Not all social media has to be externally facing. You can have internal social media – allowing people from other departments to comment on developments, increase cross-team collaboration, and generally build up rapport between people. I’m very familiar with Microsoft’s Yammer, which is free and creates an easy-to-use forum. Other, similar, products are Chatter from Salesforce, Basecamp (which comes with a 60-day free trial), and Jive (originally called Clearspace).

If you start on social media, there are some terms that you need to be familiar with – for example sentiment, influence (measured by Klout and Social Authority), conversation drivers, engagement, timing, Click Through Rate (CTR), and followers and fans.

Get social media right, and you’ll stay in business. Get it wrong, or ignore it, and your organization could be heading for all sorts of trouble.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

10 years at iTech-Ed Ltd

2014 is a bit of a special year here at iTech-Ed Ltd. It was our 10th anniversary on 1 February. I thought you might be interested in some of the changes that have taken place in that time.

Before we set up iTech-Ed Ltd, I had worked for Xephon for 18 years. Xephon ran briefings on mainframe topics, ran surveys on mainframe topics, and created user guides to things like databases. In 1986, they decided to try a small publication by CICS professionals for CICS professionals. They called it CICS Update. It sold very well – remember there was no Google or Internet in those days and it was difficult to easily get your hands on working bits of code and alternative solutions to common problems. VM Update followed in 1987, and then a whole range of mainframe-based publications. I was there at the very beginning and over the next 18 years edited most of them.

In 2004, Xephon sold the name and the publications to TCI publications. We set up iTech-Ed and we got the contract to edit around five or six of these Updates each month. My first activity, at one minute after midnight on 1 February 2004, was to upload the new issues to the Web site.

Over the next three and half years, iTech-Ed was responsible for encouraging technical people to write articles, editing and checking them to produce each edition every month, paying contributors, and sending the publications to the printers and putting them on the Web site. A small team of experts checked the text for punctuation and grammar as well as technical accuracy.

At the same time, iTech-Ed was carrying out consultancy work and producing technical documentation that was used in-house by a number of well-known companies. And we also started blogging at Mainframe Update using Blogger and Mainframe World on IT Toolbox

Towards the end of 2007, the Updates ceased publication, and the very first Virtual IMS user group meeting was held using Webex. The user group was immediately very popular and was sponsored by NEON Enterprise Software. That year also saw a growth in number of companies using our Web design and development services.

In 2008 the company took its first steps in offering advice on social media and how organizations could use it both to get their message out there and also to interact with customers in a positive way. It was a hard job back then. I also qualified as a Microsoft Office trainer – MOS MI – and ran a number of on-site training courses.

We picked up the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook – the de facto reference work for mainframers – and have worked with Arcati for many years producing this. The 2014 edition is now available from

I was made an IBM Champion in 2009 and have been a champion every year since. As well as producing internal documentation for companies, I have had numerous articles published in a variety of Web-based and printed publications, such as Enterprise Tech Journal. In 2010 I attended Microsoft SharePoint Administrator and Developer training. And I started my regular blog on Destination z in July 2011, where I’ve written about Big Data , the Internet of Things, Deep Learning, and, of course, mainframes.

Also in 2011, Fundi Software took over as sponsor of the Virtual IMS user group and we then launched the Virtual CICS user group. Both of them enjoy regular meetings and newsletters and have around 400 members. I chair both of these user groups, and we use Citrix GoToMeeting to facilitate the webinars.

Over recent years, we’ve published guest blogs and I’ve ghost written blogs for many other blog sites. I’ve also contributed to IBM’s IOD blogs for the past couple of years. And I’ve created podcasts for a number of different companies.

So, here we are – 2014. 10 years in business and still very much in demand and looking forward to the future. If you want to get in contact with us, our Web site is or you can e-mail You can Like us on Facebook at, follow me on Twitter at @t_eddolls, connect on LinkedIn at, or follow us on Google+ at