Your Best Chance for Long-Term Employability as an I&O Professional

It was Sunday morning and I got up around 6:00 as I do most mornings, and picked up the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition over a cup of coffee. I was moved by a story about middle-aged professionals struggling to find work for 3 years or more, and it got me thinking about how the role of I&O professionals is changing right now, who is at risk, and what skills will offer the best chances of staying employed (and hopefully happy) for years to come. Many of us are approaching or well into our 40s and beyond, and the older we get, the more difficult it can be to find new jobs.

How you are perceived by others matters most
I'm a strong believer that our employability (true for everyone - analysts included) is directly proportional to the perceived value that we provide to the people around us and those in the hierarchy that we are directly accountable to. Customer value that we create is a factor as are formal metrics, but let's face it, peer feedback often matters more than anything else in many organizations, and there is inevitably an invisible org chart in addition to the one drawn by HR. Few of us are lucky enough to work for companies where the measures of performance are clear and include a strong customer-focus component (I work for such a company, but it's not common) - let alone what behaviors and skills will give us the best shot at job security and growth. There are just so many variables.

Perception is a function of your mindset and daily conduct

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LANDesk Acquires Veteran Industrial MDM Provider Wavelink

Watching the Mobile Device Management market is a bit like watching a sneeze. My colleagues Christian Kane and Benjamin Gray are tracking nearly 75 vendors in the space, many of them just a few years old. We've also seen a fresh round of acquisitions as established endpoint management vendors look to shore up their flanks and freshen their portfolios.

Differentiation amongst vendors is hard to come by, as is long-term enterprise MDM experience. And that's what makes LANDesk's acquisition of Wavelink interesting. Mobile Device Management in an industrial or field setting is more than just enforcing passcode restrictions, enabling remote wipe in case of loss, or rolling out software. Companies like Wal-Mart and FedEx have significant portions of their businesses that depend on handheld devices for package delivery, inventory and point of sale. MDM in these settings involves a range of capabilities from diagnosing connectivity and printing issues over the air, to interfacing modern mobile apps to mainframe-based warehouse inventory systems.
Perhaps the best way to describe what Wavelink does is "Industrial MDM". They boast 15,000 customers in 85 countries, and have been in the business for several years. The flagship product is called Avalanche and its historical strengths have been in Windows Mobile environments. They added iOS and Android a couple of years ago and are about to release their 2nd generation release of the same.
Why it makes sense for LANDesk:
  1. Competitive: It gives LANDesk the opportunity to own the IP for MDM technology and positions them differently than other MDM solutions on the market given Wavelink's industrial focus.
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The Microsoft Surface Tablet: Suitable For Featherless Bipeds With Broad, Flat Nails

Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.

It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
  1. The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
  2. They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
  3. The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
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BYOC - It's Not About Defiance. It's About Having The Right Tools For The Job.

Jason Hurd is the son of an Idaho backcountry bush pilot, stands about 6' 5" tall and runs an aircraft maintenance shop at the Erie Municipal Airport in Colorado - about a mile as the crow flies from my office. Airplanes are in his blood, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more interesting character or competent mechanic anywhere. His shop is not the cheapest around, but pilots who value their lives know that Jason's is the place to go if they want a thorough inspection and the work done right the first time. When an aircraft breaks down, the pilot can't just pull over to the side of the road, hop out and fix it. In fact, aircraft maintenance is about as mission-critical as it gets. Oh, and it's heavily regulated and operates on razor-thin margins, too.

His mechanics are all first-rate - Jason sees to that with high standards and expectations for both hiring and conduct. The shop is spotless and his employees are both competent and courteous. He runs a tight ship. What I find most fascinating when I visit his shop though is the incredible amount of money that his employees have spent on their tools. The rolling tool boxes ($8,500 each…without the tools) are painted with blazing yellow paint, and festooned with chrome Snap-On logos. But the real money is inside; the value of the tools can easily reach $50,000 or more - all paid for by the mechanics themselves, and each mechanic earns maybe $45,000 per year in salary - much less when they're fresh out of aviation school. And…when they're new to the job and making the least money is when they have to start building their tool inventories.

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The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse For Client Management Vendors

Those of you paying attention in Sunday School may remember this thing called the apocalypse. Earl Robert Maze II was my Sunday School teacher, and he may be the most fearsome schoolmaster ever to scratch a chalkboard. One spitwad and there was sure to be a rapture. Mr. Maze would get pretty wrapped up in the lesson of the day and we'd all have to keep at least one eye on him as he paced back and forth. Not because we were worried about being asked a question, but because as he paced and talked, he'd build up globs of white something or other in the corners of his mouth, and every so often one of them would take flight and land on some unsuspecting front row pupil's hand, to their horror.

As luck would have it, I was late to class on the day Mr. Maze deemed that we were, at last, ready for the book of Revelation; I took the last seat -- In the front row -- Right in the line of fire. Sure enough, he was so worked up by the time he got to the part about the divine apocalypse, that one of those white gobs of goop chose that moment to set itself free and was headed for me like a heat-seeking missile. There was nothing I could do! And so to this day, the term apocalypse conjures up a frightening memory for me.

Which brings me to the current situation in the client management vendor landscape. The apocalypse was to be foretold by four horsemen representing conquest, war, famine and death (if you've ever worked for a company whose business has been disrupted, as I have, you've probably met with all four!). The four horsemen before us now in the client management market in the second quarter of 2012, are:

  1. The explosion of tablets and smart phones.
  2. The elusive management of client virtualization.
  3. SaaS-based client management vendors (see Windows inTune).
  4. New application delivery models (app stores, virtualized apps, etc).
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NVIDIA's VGX: Traction Control for Hosted Virtual Desktops

Driving in the snow is an experience normally reserved for those of us denizens of the northern climes who haven't yet figured out how to make a paycheck mixing Mai Tais in the Caymans. Behind the wheel in the snow, everything happens a little slower. Turn the wheel above 30 on the speedo and it could be a second or two before the car responds, and you'll overshoot the turn and take out the neighbor's shrubs.

Hosted Virtual Desktops are a bit like driving in the snow. Every link in the chain between the data on a hard drive in the datacenter and the pixels on the user's screen introduces a delay that the user perceives as lag, and the laws of physics apply. Too much lag or too much snow and it's hard to get anywhere, as citizens of Anchorage, Alaska after this years' record snowfalls, or anyone trying to use a hosted virtual desktop half a world away from the server will testify.

NVIDIA Brings Gaming Know-How to HVD
Last week I spent a day with NVIDIA's soft-spoken, enthusiastic CEO, Jensen Huang who put the whole latency issue for VDI into a practical perspective (thanks Jensen). These days, he says, home game consoles run about 100-150 milliseconds from the time a player hits the fire button to the time they see their plasma cannon blast away an opponent on the screen. For comparison, the blink of an eye is 200-400 milliseconds, and the best gamers can react to things they see on screen as fast as 50 milliseconds.

Latency in HVD is a Killer

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Employees Are Shelling Out Big Bucks To Ditch IT

The term "individual contributor" covers a lot of ground -- from brain surgeon to the shipping and receiving clerk at your local Wal-Mart. I'm not sure which of these two is a better fit for a virtual desktop, or which one has a Mac at home, but I do know that the individual contributors who spent their own money on technology last year to do their jobs, shelled out $1,252.60 on hardware alone, and another $556.90 on software. That's a heap o' cash.

When we asked them why they spent the money, 42% said it was something they use in their personal lives that they wanted to use for work. Another 27% said their own equipment is better than what their companies provide (presumably CT scanners, portable defibrillators and Sony PSPs can be ruled out). How do their companies feel about them using their own devices and software? 48% said their firms would either not approve, or make them stop using it.

Of course we know the usual reasons why: Security and company policy, and the "benefits" of centralized IT and shared services, among others. I don't know about you, but I always found "shared services" to be a bit of a sham. You know how it works: the VP with the biggest, high-profile project gets all of the services, and the rest of the plebes get to "share" the table scraps. Want a copy of Microsoft Project or a new laptop for that customer service rep who starts next week? Sorry…Steve's program is using all of the Project licenses, and all we have left in the closet is Pentium II desktops…but they have ergonomic keyboards!

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Dell Gets Thin: Words to the Wyse

On the night of his 18th birthday, Gregg Allman drew a bull's-eye on his shoe, then shot himself in the foot to avoid the draft. If next week, Forrester's IT department declared that I should be expecting a box with a thin client PC at my desk, and I would be expected to use it instead of my MacBook Air for work, I'd be drawing a bull's-eye but not on my shoe. It would be on the box.

I suspect most road warriors and office workers alike would feel the same way. Ever try to go to a meeting in a conference room with a thin client? It's bolted to your desk. As long as all of the information you ever need for meetings is crammed between your eustachian tubes, you're good to go. If however you're like the rest of us, there are benefits to taking your computer (and applications and data) with you, like showing more than one other person what you've been working on.

That's where client virtualization (as opposed to simply VDI) comes in, and it's in this context that Dell's acquisition of Wyse makes some sense. Wyse makes thin and zero clients, as most of us hopefully know, and surely not by pure coincidence…so does HP. But thin clients as a standalone tool for most of us, is a non-starter. But as part of a mosaic of virtualization technologies that taken together offer me my work environment no matter where I am, have potential.

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Are Macs Vulnerable? Wrong Question.

The misinformation and rhetoric surrounding the recent discovery of the Flashback trojan for Macs is vehement, and says more about the historically stable state of Mac security, and the irrational way many think about it than it reveals about its weaknesses. Even long-time industry observers, who should know better, are jumping into the fray to say: See! I told you so! The Mac is vulnerable! Well…duh…that's not exactly news, folks.

Of course the Mac is vulnerable. EVERY internet connected device is vulnerable. What matters is probability, frequency and potential impact. So the correct question then, is whether or not your prevention, detection and recovery mechanisms are effective. For example, I'm not convinced that traditional anti-virus approaches are right for the Mac. The track record of these tools in the Windows world is abysmal in my view. They're among the most intrusive technologies  to the user - hogging system resources and making even basic tasks impossible as they inspect every file, every day, often several times a day. And…they're reactive. Think: death by a thousand papercuts over a period of years, only to be interrupted by a rare strain of encephalitis, followed by a partial lobotomy and organ transplant to get the patient breathing again, and you're in the ballpark. Application whitelisting will hopefully come to be seen as a better approach.

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End Users: Should We Put Them In Padded Cells?

If you're an I&O professional, what comes to mind when you say "end user"? If you're like most of us, your mind has a conjured-up impression of a cosmically clueless person who actually gave you a hard time once, and the picture is now your mind's own avatar for everyone you support. It's not usually a positive image, is it? I used to picture a middle-aged, BMW-driving executive with his hair parted on one side wearing an LL Bean sweater, probably an Ivy-league grad, who couldn't be bothered to actually take responsibility for his own personal computing destiny…he always had servants to take care of trivialities…and hence he was ruining my day with his incompetence. Let's call him Ascot Rothschild III.

An image like that is a powerful thing, and the painful memory of this individual's willful, arrogant ignorance then pervades our future thinking about what we're up against when we set IT policy like BYOC. Ascot becomes the poster child - in our minds anyway - for every garden-variety corporate doofus that we'll have to deal with if we give people any more rope than we already do. They also give us plenty of reasons to take more rope away. In my case, I used to sit on a helpdesk for Remedy customers, and my team had a collection of "special" customers we wondered how they managed to get dressed and find their car keys in the morning. As I later designed Remedy and Peregrine applications, I did so with these "edge cases" in mind.

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