Third in a series of post on Corporate Connectivity: the Confluence of Networks, Communication (and Collaboration), Information, and Systems. N.C.I.S Indianapolis – Pilot and N.C.I.S Indianapolis – Episode 1

“A true revolution in corporate communications is unfolding with regard to how corporate relationships are affected in all areas: press and public relations, investors, partners and clients, employees, etc. Understanding and using this change presents one of the great challenges of our time,” states Paul A. Argenti in his book, “Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications.”Business people standing with hands together

The catalyst for this revolution is the dramatic decline in the cost of communication brought about by the Internet and the ease of collaboration enabled by social media. The impact of this revolution has lead the authors of “Wikinomics,” Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, to believe that companies that do not change their structures will become irrelevant, while those that leverage the lowering cost of communication and social media to create mass collaboration will survive and dominate.

This revolution means that more and more of a company’s communications are through digital media of all kinds: web (Internet), social media and mobile. This leads to the marriage of marketing and technology. Many industry pundits predict that Marketing’s slice of the technology budget will exceed that of traditional IT’s in the next three to five years.

Goodwill Indy is no exception. Rarely am I involved in discussions with our mission partners that do not involve some sort of marketing and communication. Likewise, many meetings and projects spearheaded by Marketing involve some sort of technology. Ensuring each is involved is a monumental task of teamwork and collaboration.

In IT circles, we used to have (and in some cases still have) tension between infrastructure (hardware) and applications (software) as to which technology was more important: “Hey, your hardware is just a paperweight without my software” or “Hey, your software is just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s without my hardware.” It always reminded me of the Reese’s commercial: “You got peanut butter in my chocolate. You got chocolate in my peanut butter.” Now it’s “technology” and “content.” IT can deliver a portal, digital sign or even a new website, but without content, they are pretty much expensive doorstops.

Our Corporate Connectivity Committee has wrestled with the question of internal communication for months. We are trying to answer four very important questions:

“What do you want to say?”

“How do you want to say it?”

“What do you want to hear?” and

“How do you want to hear it?”

The answers are as many as our employees.

When it comes to communicating with our customers, other external stakeholders and partners, and the community, the answers grow exponentially. But more and more, they involve web, social media and mobile technologies.

Next Up: Information

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

In the pilot post N.C.I.S. Indianapolis – Pilot, Connectivity was defined as the confluence of Networks, Communication (and Collaboration), Information, and Systems: N.C.I.S.. Today, we explore Networks and their impact on Connectivity. 

I don’t mean networks in the technology sense; I mean those internal and external, formal and informal networks that connect people together within a company and connect the same people to others outside the company.

060807.networks-2In his book, “The Future of Work,” Thomas Malone compares the transformation occurring in business today to the evolution societies have experienced. In antiquity, societies were made up of bands of people. They were very decentralized and unconnected. During the Middle Ages, kingdoms brought these bands under centralized control, but they were still largely unconnected from the central power. Democracies enabled society to decentralize and still remain connected.

In the early 1900’s, businesses were small, local shops — again, decentralized and unconnected. By the middle of the century, large centralized corporations began to form. However, like kingdoms, the cost and difficulty of communication meant that many parts of these mega-corporations remained virtually unconnected. Today, with the birth of the Internet, communication costs continue to plummet and many of the barriers are eliminated, leading to organizations made up of complex networks of employees, partners and customers.

Authors Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, in their book “The Spider and the Starfish,” postulate that the difference between a rigid, hierarchical organization and a more fluid, networked organization is analogous to a spider (hierarchical) and a starfish (network). When you cut off a spider’s head, it dies. A starfish does not have a head, so when you cut off one of its legs, it grows a new one (and, sometimes, forms a new starfish from the severed leg). Starfish organizations are more flexible, adaptable and resilient. There are incredible examples of starfish organizations: from the Apaches, to the modern-day Craigslist, Wikipedia and even Alcoholics Anonymous.

On the surface, Goodwill Indy appears to be made up of four very disparate business units: retail, commercial services, education and community initiatives. But when you dig a little deeper into the holistic services we provide to employees, students, mothers and their families, you can see how connected they truly are.

There may be a student in one of our schools that learns they are pregnant and in need of the type of support we provide through Nurse-Family Partnership. Or we may have a woman already being supported by NFP who needs a job to support her new family. With 51 retail locations and multiple commercial services sites, we can provide that employment opportunity. Or there may be a retail or commercial services employee who lacks a high school diploma and could benefit from the educational programs in our schools. Connections… linkages…

When you enlarge the circle to students’, employees’ and mothers’ families, friends and acquaintances, the impact of these holistic services expands exponentially.

Looking beyond our own services, we partner with many other individuals and organizations in central Indiana to provide a pathway out of poverty for those we serve. These connections strengthen our knowledge, abilities and services. They enable us to scale and be sustainable.

Next Up: Communication & Collaboration

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

No, this is not about some crime new drama (though people say I do look a lot like Mark Harmon…NOT!), this is about socialmicroscope-pictures6 organizations, mass collaboration, big data, the future of work, and some technology thrown in for good measure!

We recently announced a re-organization within Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. This re-organization included the creation of a new position, Senior Vice President of Corporate Connectivity. When I’m asked what this means, it would be easy to respond, “Well, it means that both Technology Solutions (Information Technology) and Marketing report to the same person.” But that would be a simplistic view of what is, really, a very progressive and complex organizational move.

I really need to work on my elevator speech! So, then, what does it mean to have both Marketing and IT report to the SVP of Corporate Connectivity? Why would we do this? What are we going to accomplish? What is Corporate Connectivity anyway?

Corporate Connectivity is the confluence (“Confluence” is a very carefully chosen word to describe this convergence. The science of fluid dynamics finds that when rivers come together at a confluence, the resulting power of the water downstream is not additive; rather, it’s compounded exponentially) of Networks, Communication and Collaboration, Information and Systems (ahem, N.C.I.S.; after all, I have been an IT guy for 30 years; everything can be boiled down to an acronym). Over the next several posts we will explore each of these streams and what impact they will have on our company.

Next up: N – Networks

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

A year ago a huge event took place in the city of Indianapolis. No, not that silly little football game (though, it was great to see a CloudManning beat Brady, even if it wasn’t Peyton), a REALLY huge event. In the early morning hours after the crowds all left downtown, we took our first major leap into the cloud. We converted from our on-premise email, calendar and contacts application to Google Apps.

Yes, we had used web-based applications prior to that time, but none that were truly born in the cloud applications. The success of that conversion is what really launched us into a cloud-first strategy. As a CIO, I had been very reluctant to take this approach. We had very sound guiding principles regarding application procurement and it didn’t include having our data scattered all over the heavens. After countless conversations, months of research, and attending several workshops and presentations, I decided we would pilot a couple of cloud-based solutions and the incumbent’s current version.

Honestly, what really pushed me to the launching pad was a comment one of the panelists made at MIT Sloan’s Annual CIO Summit. He was discussing IT projects and stated they could be categorized into two types of projects: A-C Projects and C-F Projects (no, not THAT kind of C-F project!). Some projects, no matter how fantastic IT performs the best grade your partners in your business will give you is a “C”, but if you aren’t successful, you will most certainly receive an “F”. (Really, when was the last time someone thanked you for delivering that email to their in-box). On the other hand, there are some strategic, innovative projects that can make the IT department heroes. I left the conference vowing to have our team spend as much time as possible on A-C Projects and that meant someone still had to deliver the mail.

After the pilot, the team (about 30 members strong from all areas of our business) voted unanimously to go “to the cloud”. Even then, I wanted more certainty before exposing the enterprise to any undue risk. With the help of a local consultant, I converted two small companies I own to 100% cloud-based applications. Finally, I took the recommendation to our executive steering team.

In the year since our go-live, we have taken a cloud-first approach to all of our projects. Note, this is not a cloud-only approach. We still evaluate based on functionality, fit and costs, but all things being equal, we will give the nod to a cloud-based, cloud-born solution. Case in point, we went live January 1 of this year on a cloud-based payroll system and just this last week launched our cloud-based Human Resources Management system to rave reviews.

Don’t get me wrong, cloud is not the answer in every situation and there are still many aspects of cloud-based apps that need some maturing for the enterprise. Password management and single-sign on are issues (ok before you comment that there are solutions for this, I know, but they add a layer of complexity that is still a hard sell), as are integrations and data management. And, don’t get me started on the contract Terms and Conditions that many companies present. THAT part of the industry definitely needs some maturing.

Cloud (SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, CaaS and all the other aaS’s) offers the possibility of spending more time on value-add activities and is truly disruptive to the “way it’s always been done”. I would love to hear your journey to the cloud!

To read more about our specific conversion read my guest blog post at Google’s Enterprise Blog by clicking on the Google icon. Google Header

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

New store openings in retail are a big deal (hello, Mr. Obvious)! Let me restate, new store openings in retail are a VERY big deal! I don’t know if we have ever had to delay a store opening in our history, I certainly know it has never happened during my tenure. So when we were 12 hours away from a grand opening and still didn’t have network connectivity to the store I was sweating bullets…big time!

How we came to be in this position is not the point, but I will give a little context. We are in the midst of a redesign of our WAN (wide area network for those that hate acronyms). Rather than going with our current platform, we made the decision to go with a new platform (ok, when I say “we made the decision”…I really mean “I made the decision”). There was some confusion in placing the initial order that caused a delay. We then learned the build out would take six weeks (did I mention we were now three weeks out from opening?)! Never fear, our new platform included redundancy in the form of a 4G failover. We would just use that as our primary until the permanent connection was established. With Plan B firmly in hand we (again, I mean I) decided to move forward.

But, this is not a story about network connectivity, per se, this is a story about how a team of vendor partners came to our aid and saved our bacon! In a recent post, I wrote about the keys to a long lasting vendor relationship. These partners truly exhibited those keys and then some!

T minus 96 hours – no network connection

The signal for the 4G connection was not strong enough inside the building. Stringing a 100 foot coax across the floor and out the back door, we were able to get a solid signal. We called one of our partners to ask them to mount an external antennae. They dropped everything to come out and do a site survey (late on a Friday afternoon, mind you) and order the parts. However, they took it a step further. They took it upon themselves to contact one of THEIR partners to implement a Plan C, dropping a high speed DSL line in as a temporary solution in case Plan B did not work out. Have you ever contacted a telecom supplier and requested service in under 48 hours? Amazingly, with several strings pulled, installation was scheduled for that Monday morning.

T minus 24 hours – still no network connection

Monday morning dawned and the parts needed for the antennae installation arrived and our partner went about drilling holes in concrete walls and installing the antennae. Mid morning the telecom vendor arrived to install Plan C, the DSL line. About this same time, I was assuring my boss that we would have connectivity and the store WOULD open on time.

T minus 18 hours – STILL no network connection

I (and several other VPs and my boss) arrived on-site for the customary grand opening open house for employees and families. I made may way back to the telecom closet where I found half my team, our cabling partner, the telecom technician, and two or three others. Tensions were high! The antennae was mounted, but we were still unable to get the connection stable. The 100 foot coax was still strung out across the floor , out the door to an antennae duct-taped to a traffic pole (no I am not kidding!). Everyone was concentrating on getting the DSL (remember, that is plan C) connection established.

Time for Plan D – call our existing partner to see if the line from our old location could be swung to this one. (a week minium, that would not do). Plan E – establish a line of site connection to one of our other locations (nope – believe it or not there is a 200 foot elevation difference…who knew there was a hill in central Indiana?). Plan F – ride on the wireless of another retailer in the area – with permission of course (so what are the odds Walmart would agree to THAT request?)

T minus 16 hours – the sweat is rolling

At this point, I took a risk. I texted one of the vendors that had been courting us for a year. We had done a little business (one other time when we got in a jam) but nothing that you would write home about. (did I mention it is 5pm?…I should also mention the telecom technician was still there lending a hand, incredible service above and beyond his normal duties). Within seconds, I had an answer back from my text. We jumped on a call. He rallied a couple of his senior engineers and they jumped on a call with our engineers.

T minus 12 hours – time to brush off the resume

T minus 11 hours – 

T minus 10 hours – 

T minus 9 hours 47 minutes – WE HAVE LIFT OFF! (Well we have a network connection, at any rate)

Man that was too close! Working through all the issues together we were finally able (we in this case does not mean ME) to establish the connection and begin testing the store configurations. All was well with the world…until the next morning when Murphy struck (man, we have to fire that guy) and unrelated to the store opening, our wireless controller crashed. One of the team, installed a personal wireless router to enable the store to open on time, while others got back on the phone with the same engineers that had worked through the evening the night before to troubleshoot and resolve the issue.

Without our partners (and in some cases, their partners) we would have faced disaster. If you will bear with me on this day before Thanksgiving, I would like to thank them here: Thanks to Patrick at TWTelecom, Thanks to Scott, Tim and others at BD Managed Services, Thanks to Kelly at Lingotek, Thanks to Dwight, Cale, Tom, Greg and Richard at Sinewave, thanks to the technician from AT&T (I failed to even get his name). I would also like to thank my team for their incredible efforts under pressure: Ed, Kelvin, Jeff and Patrick THANKS GUYS!!

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

As a CIO, the question gets asked a LOT…What keeps you up at night? The answer may surprise you! The truth is other than some occasional snoring (sorry honey) and a trip or two to the loo (hey, we all get old sooner or later, embrace it) not much keeps me awake at night. Maybe I am naive, but I have the privilege of working with an awesome team of professionals and except for some occasional bumps our systems run very smoothly (knock on wood). We have a great disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Business is humming along with growth in most areas. However, with all that said and while they don’t keep me up at night there are things I worry about, here is my top five, in order of “fret level”.

My Staff

The one aspect about staffing that I wrestle with continually is staff size and the ratio of permanent staff versus contract staff. Before I approve a new position or backfill of an existing position, I really think long and hard about the current workloads, future workloads and the risks to those future workloads. Several times during my career I have been faced with the horrible task of looking my teammates, many of them friends, in the eye and telling them they no longer have a job (believe it or not, some of them more than once!). I can think of very few things that would be harder to hear and that would have a greater impact on a person than losing a job. Personally, there is nothing harder a manager has to do than to have that conversation.

The other aspect about my staff that I spend a lot of time thinking about is their development. Are they learning and growing? Are they satisfied with their job? Are they getting the opportunities to advance their career? We are a small department in comparison to many IT departments so opportunities to advance are limited, that concerns me. Turnover is costly both in hard dollars and in momentum to achieving our goals. I want to minimize turnover to the extent possible. However, if someone is ready for advancement and can take that next step in their careers and we don’t have an opportunity for them, I take satisfaction in knowing I have done my job and I will do whatever I can to help them take that step.

Being Value Add

It is the goal of most IT leaders I know to be a value add to their businesses. Too often IT is seen as a cost center, a necessary evil. Yes there are processes, tasks, meetings and planning that goes into “keeping the lights on”. I admit, I get frustrated when one of our basic services fails and we have to “waste” time fixing it. We have spent a lot of time putting processes and procedures into place to minimize that time. I try very hard to spend the majority of my time and value add planning, thinking and execution.

I was at a conference a few years ago when one of the panelists described two types of IT projects: A-C projects and C-F projects. No, he didn’t mean those kind of C-F projects (we have ALL been a part of those projects)! A C-F project is one in which, no matter how great of a job you do, the best grade you will receive is a C. No one is EVER going to call you up to say “Thanks for delivering my email today, I really appreciate it”. But, have an email outage and you will be getting “F’s” from all your colleagues. On the other hand, an A-C project is one that, if you hit it out of the park, you will get a report card filled with A’s. Those are the kind of projects where I want my team spending their time. That doesn’t mean we take our eye off the ball on those maintenance projects, but even there we are looking for value add: is there a better way? is there a more cost effective way? is there a disruptive change on the horizon in that area?

Being Open

As a former mainframe COBOL programmer, I can remember dissing Windows when it first came out, not to mention laughing at people using mice (Real men don’t use mice, right Scottie?). Why would you want to run your application on a toy, put it on a machine with MIPS! Color? We had color, green AND amber! Virtualization? Aren’t virtual servers just LPARs?

Seriously though, I do continually challenge my thinking, especially, when it is based in the status quo. Several months ago I received an email that sent me over the top. It was from an employee in one of our business divisions asking where on the network he could put a program he had written so others in his department could install it. WHAT? Someone outside of IT developed software and they want to use it? They want others to use it? Others have ALREADY used it? WHAT?

After sending a scathing email to his boss’ boss and another to the VP of the division and after talking with one of my Senior Directors (who by the way, was much calmer than I), I thought, “Why not?”. What if we had a process to vet the code? What if we had a community of employees that developed as a hobby? What if we put the proper agreements in place (gotta keep the lawyers happy, right?)? After all, using this small application reportedly improved productivity on a specific task by 437%. Whether it is being open to development outside of IT, or Open Source code, or BYOD, I want to continually challenge myself to be open and think outside the proverbial box.

Consumerization

Speaking of BYOD, the whole consumerization of IT is another area I spend hours thinking about. Its about “any time, any place, any device”, its about the “appification” of software, its about the employee wanting, no demanding, their technology at work function like their technology at home. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider this a bad thing. I think the consumerization of IT is very exciting. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

However, traditional IT has to change. We can no longer control everything (not that we ever could, but we thought so). Yes, I can block Facebook from the corporate network (not that I think we should, mind you), but that is not going to stop an employee from being on Facebook on their smart phone. Our traditional approach to application development will no longer work, we have to think beyond agility and think “there’s an app for that”.

I also think traditional business has to change. The whole concept of mass collaboration, brought about by socia media technology and the ever increasing bandwidth should change the way we look at almost every business and business process. THAT makes my head spin! If you haven’t read Don Tapscott’s “Wikinomics” and “Macrowikinomics” you should!

Keeping Up

When I think about keeping up I think about two areas. First, keeping up with technology. The whole tech cycle has shortened to breathtaking speed. No longer are 3, 4 or 5 year refresh cycles adequate. We have to rethink our approach to being good stewards of our IT assets and keeping up with the changes in access devices, software delivery and information access. It is a balancing act to be sure. I like the “any piece of glass” approach which almost makes the device agnostic, but can you really ever future proof your environment?

My focus on “keeping up” also applies more specifically to keeping up with our business units. We have four incredibly diverse and dynamic business units. They have minimal data integration and minimal process standardization. (Using the models Jeanne Ross defines in “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy” we would be on the border between Diversification and Coordination. This puts incredible pressure on a shared service like IT. At any given time, we may be opening a new retail store, opening a new school, expanding our maternity nursing program, or obtaining a new facilities management contract. If THAT doesn’t make your head spin, nothing will!

Wow, and I didn’t even touch on the explosion of data and how to turn it into actionable information, changing the way we measure success, new business ventures, corporate culture, organizational dynamics, corporate eco-systems, etc. etc. etc…maybe I WILL be up at night for reasons other than the trip to the loo!

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.