Monthly Archives: April 2014

Your Call is (Probably) Not Important to Me – In Praise of Email

We all have a strained relationship with our email inbox.

For many people Outlook is work (other email clients are available :-)).outlook

That little orange icon on our desktop can contain a world of pain and email has been getting a bad press recently. Some commentators have bemoaned the fact that people often think that they are ‘doing’ work when they are ‘doing’ email.

Strength of feeling is such that there’s even been a suggestion that email should be turned off outside of working hours.

You’ll hear no such complaints from me – I like email. The beauty of email is that it is an asynchronous communication mechanism. An email lands, you glance at it, triage it and if it’s urgent you act upon it. More often than not you delete it or leave it alone until it needs attention.

Compare this to that most cursed of devices – the telephone. “Answer me now!” it screams.

Bye bye to an old enemy.

Bye bye to an old enemy.

How often have you seen colleagues chatting around a desk – discussing a work issue – when the desk phone rings and the owner of the phone interrupts the conversation to answer it? What this person is actually saying is “I don’t know who is calling or what they want but this unknown person is more important to me than you are.” How rude!

Even worse than the phone is the Johnny-come-lately of synchronous attention seekers – INSTANT MESSAGING (IM). IM is basically email that you have to reply to immediately. It allows people to tip-tap-tap on your computer screen “Pay me attention, talk to me, stop what you are doing and talk to ME ME ME!” No matter how trivial the message – you have to drop everything and get involved in a text exchange.

My time is precious and I have to focus on the important stuff. Email allows me to do this, the telephone (and IM) don’t.

So I’ve long since abandoned the use of landlines. As, I’ve written before I have now diverted my work landline to a message asking the caller to email me. There are, of course, people who I need to be very responsive to, so my boss (etc) is now in the habit of calling my personal mobile. More often than not people will now email me with a quick “Rich, plz call me” – because they know this is the quickest way to get hold of me.

You've got mail.

You’ve got mail.

I like email – it allows me to control my day. I recommend you try giving up on your desk phone – it’s liberating.

When you want milk you don’t buy a cow (or how to avoid nephophobia)

When you want some milk, you don’t buy a cow – you just buy some milk. Stick with me, this is going somewhere.cows

You could buy a cow of course – that would mean free milk forever! But there are downsides:

  • Cows are expensive things to maintain – they need feeding and there are vets bills.
  • You’re probably too busy to look after the cow yourself, so you’ll need to pay cow experts to do it – this is expensive.
  • Cows are prone to cow viruses – if it gets infected by a virus your cow may no longer produce milk.
  • Depending on how much milk you need you’re probably going to have to buy several cows and a big barn to house them.
  • There are lots of very strict (draconian in fact) rules about how cows should be looked after and how the milk should be protected – you should probably recruit an expert in BSN (Bovine Services Network) to make sure your barn is in order and your milk is safe.

Actually – forget it, this cow isn’t giving me free milk at all is it? I’m going to buy my milk from someone else – someone who is a specialist in milk production and produces the best quality stuff.

As you’ve realised by now, throughout my tortured analogy – milk = data, cow = server and barn = data centre.

You want the data – but you don’t need a data centre.

Self Evident?

You’d think so – but I was at a CIO event recently and I overheard a couple of Heads of ICT debating whether they should adopt a ‘Cloud First’ ICT strategy. This startled me so much that some coffee slopped out of my cup – but the coffee wasn’t very nice, so that’s OK.

cloud1

My organisation has had a ‘Cloud First’ strategy since 2008 and I’d assumed that the merits of such an approach were, these days, self evident. The thought of public sector organisations filling up their various data centres with tin is something that haunts me in those wakeful hours before dawn.

The ICT Department has Nephophobia (fear of clouds).

On reflection perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised to hear that some ICT professionals are still debating the merits of the cloud. The fact is that the only people in any organisation who have a particularly strong view on external hosting of systems is ICT and I know from conversations with ICT people from dozens of organisations (both private and public sectors) that the most common view of the cloud among ICT employees is “We don’t like it!”

nepho

Nephophobia – the fear of clouds.

We now have many of our systems hosted by the application vendor in the cloud (by ‘cloud’ I mean ‘someone else’s data centre’). I’m not just referring to the odd web-based system here and there – we’ve taken some of our mission critical platforms and put them in the cloud. We’ve found many benefits to having our systems externally hosted:

  • Reduced costs
  • Better visibility of the total costs of ownership
  • Reduced risk and increased resilience
  • Rapid scalability
  • Quicker infrastructure upgrades
  • Increased flexibility
  • More responsive and cost-effective support
  • Increased sustainability
  • Easier remote working

More importantly than all this, though, the cloud is the way in to proper shared services.

For example, most councils use the same education management system from the same vendor – but they host them all on premise, across half a dozen servers (each). When we finally have this system hosted by the vendor (i.e. in the cloud) it’ll suddenly become apparent that we can all use the same platform – we’ll then use economies of scale to drive the vendor’s charges down and we’ll join up our support teams to reduce the number of people we have managing all this stuff.

And that’s just the start of it – watch the animation below for more.

milkThe next time that you’re looking for a system and the vendor says it’ll mean that you have to buy some servers and host them locally just say “No thanks, we’re shopping for milk – we don’t need a cow.” and move on to the next guy.