The gentle art of TMI

In a moment of boredom, I decided to sign up for Pepsi’s latest promotional campaign, which is yet another variation on entering confusing codes from bottle caps into a website, in the hopes of some sort of reward. I indulge in a daily diet soda, so I figured I might as well earn something for my efforts.

Aside from a poorly coded website at iconicsummer.com, which was heavy on glitz and pointless animation, but gave no indication that it was processing or loading data, it broke one of the primary tenets of social media linking.

I’ll often use a “login with Facebook” option when available for sites like this, since it prevents having to create yet another username and password, but the Pepsi site demanded extensive access to my Facebook profile, looking for birthday, friend information, and an ability to post on my behalf. The Twitter link requested even more access, and then to top it all off, after authorizing what seemed to be the lesser of two evils, the site demanded that I create a full profile with username, password, and address information.

This is the equivalent to meeting someone for the first time, and requesting personal details, names and contact information of friends, and access to that new acquaintance’s  email account to send out missives on their behalf. All with little or no promise of benefit.

Like the physical world, your motives in meeting someone new may not be all roses and puppies, and you may ultimately want access to that person’s expertise, contacts, or professional and personal network, yet you’d usually have the tact not to demand or expect this level of intimacy upon the first handshake. Unless Pepsi’s marketeers routinely introduce themselves with “Hi, I’m Joe from Pepsi, might I have all your friends’ phone numbers?” they may want to rethink their demands for Too Much Information in the virtual world.

Beautiful presentations

As someone who has crafted and viewed a fair number of PowerPoints, I’m well-versed in poor visuals. In an item for the “good old days” file, apparently management presentations and organizational charts were far more artistic. I came across and article about the first “modern” organizational chart, produced by a railroad executive in 1854, and it’s truly a thing of beauty. You can view the chart here, in PDF format.

The New user interface

I was recently reading about personnel changes at Apple, with Johnny Ive, Apple’s hardware design guru taking over the reigns of design for Apple’s software. Aside from the Apple-related intrigue, the article contended that this changing of the guard might spell an entirely new era of user interface design.

Apple, and the broader technology industry, has long used the physical world as analogs, presumably to ease the transition from the physical to the digital. Apple’s calendar applications have graphics of torn pages from the days of paper calendars, and most email clients have a “CC” field, an homage to the long-forgotten days of physical memos, where a piece of carbon paper would be used to produce copies on a typewriter (hence “carbon copying” several recipients).

As a generation of workers that never experienced paper calendars, analog cameras, or reel-to-reel tape players comes into the workforce, trying to present digital analogs to these unknown technologies becomes counterproductive. It also frees application designers to experiment. Who says an audio or video application needs play, pause, rewind, and fast forward buttons? Do telephone numbers make sense? Could business processes that mimic old paper-based transactions be completely redesigned?

While wholesale abandoning or ignorance of the old is often counterproductive, clinging to irrelevant metaphors is equally so. Where could your company reinvent itself by completely abandoning a passé design metaphor?

IT’s “biggest threat”

The biggest threat I see is an old one, that IT relegates itself to the “glass house” and is not demonstrating how it executes on the companies strategic and tactical imperatives and doesn’t effectively demonstrate its value. It travels under the guise of “alignment” and other buzzwords, but in effect is acting like a shared service versus providing solutions to problems.

The key sign of this failing as I’ve seen it is talking too much about tools in IT; several mentions of “cloud computing” appeared just in this conversation. Imagine if your roof is leaking and flooding your house, and you call a carpenter who keeps talking about the “HammerMeister 4000” as a response to every question rather than “I can fix this quickly and cost-effectively. Here’s the price, write the check then sit back and I’ll solve your problems without a fuss.”

Work/Life Balance

One of the biggest misconceptions I have seen with the idea of “work/life balance” is that someone else is going to take care of it for you, be it someone in HR, your management, or a government entity. Work/life balance is something personal that we each need to take accountability for. It is in our employer’s interest to get maximum productivity from each of us, which conflicts directly with the whole idea of balancing one’s life with one’s work. As soon as you stop trying to outsource these decisions and take personal responsibility for deciding what portion of your life to allocate towards work, and which towards life, you will never achieve the balance that’s right for you. Each of us after all has only one life; how we chose to divide that between work and personal time is up to us.

Will the CIO Role Disappear?

I was recently asked if I thought the CIO role would disappear from most companies. My response:

In companies where the CIO is the “top techie” who considers their primary responsibility to be keeping the little green lights in the data center blinking we will see the CIO role disappear. IT is not as mysterious as it once was, and there is no longer the need for a C-level title for pure technology management.

If the CIO can evolve, and help the CEO execute his or her strategic vision then it will continue to exist. Just as the CFO doesn’t just shuffle debits and credits, but rather figures out how to best pay for the CEO’s strategy, the CIO needs to figure out what tools and emerging technologies will facilitate the business objectives of the company.

I would guess that around 20% of CIOs do this very well. They’re also the CIOs that are slated to move into a COO and potentially CEO role. A good “litmus test” is if you ask the CEO if he or she would consider letting the CIO take their position. If they laugh you out of the room, then the CIO is likely more oriented towards the tech management role.