Sunday, August 20, 2006

Staffing in the 21st Century - Older Employees

Knowledge Workers are an important part of any IT strategy. Who you hire in key positions can make or break your organization. Who you hire in non-key but core positions can make or break its effectiveness and efficiency.

An excellent article, "Age at Work", in the June/July 2006 issue of Scientific American Mind discusses the differences between younger and older (over 50) workers:
...although older people may be slower at some tasks, they are actually faster at others, and in most cases they are less prone to mistakes. The research also reveals that only certain brain functions are affected by possible age-related deficits and that simple changes in the workplace can compensate for them.

The issue of hiring older workers will become more pertinent as the mean age of potentials employees continues its migration north. Lower birth rates and deferred retirements will mean that more of our potential pool of expertise will come from these people.

I have been involved in a number of engagements with various branches of, let's call them Company A,'s consulting arm and have been impressed by the number of older workers they employ. They are more seasoned, less likely to rush into things, bring a wealth of practical project experience to bear on any given task, and are revered by their younger colleagues. Of one Company A employee I heard a younger one say, when I mentioned that I thought his heat capacity calculations were wrong for our computer room, "Really, I don't think he's ever been wrong." In the end he was right - I was wrong (it's rare).

I have worked with more senior, over 50, individuals in this organization than in any other. When I discuss my concerns with younger individuals at Company A and other organizations they don't always understand simple things like how a commitment made by another of their colleagues and broken by them is a problem because in my mind it is clear that Company A made the commitment and not any individual. I look at them struggling to understand it on a gut, emotional, level. The older ones just get it and take ownership for their 'corporate entity's' actions and not just their own. This is a very simple, almost trivial example - there are many more. I am also only using Comnpany A as one example. I have worked with other organizations, both large and small, and have had similar experiences in all of them.

Older experienced seasoned staff can be worth their weight in gold.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Desktop OS - Does it matter?

The debate about Linux versus Windows on the desktop is not about technology, it's not about preference. So what is it about?

Why has IBM, for those of you who have been following, been investing so much time and money (billions) in making all of their applications [also] available on Linux? Why have they focused on making J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) the foundation of their enterprise applications and software development environment? In fact, they have been urging SUN to Open Source Java.

I'll address IBM first. In order to succeed, IBM needs a competitive advantage over Microsoft and won't get that as long as their applications only run on Windows. They learned that with OS/2 when Bill Gates lost interest in making it the enterprise Windows and focused on building a new technology (NT) version of Windows instead. The operating system is a commodity but is also essential to run all the enterprise 'stuff' a tech company like IBM sells. Linux allows them an opportunity to develop the hooks or services in Linux they want in order to make it a viable platform for their technologies. Open Source Java would do the same. I bet they can't wait! They have recently announced the availability of Lotus Notes for Linux (now) and Sametime for Linux (soon). Their portal integrates with OpenOffice, as will (I think) QuickPlace 8.

Linux on the desktop gives you choice. Choice not to run (for now) an anti-virus software. Choice to continue running enterprise applications like SAP, Lotus Notes, Sametime, Open Office, Firefox. Other applications are more of a problem but not if you want to move to a Cyrtix-like thin client environment for those.

I'm sorry but Office is not of strategic importance. It's a small piece of the puzzle and should not drive everything else. I have been using / experimenting with Open Office since beta 1.0. It's come a long way and is now what I use almost exclusively. I use it because I don't want my company, long-term, to pay the subscription fees required for MS' products. I use it because it's good enough. Non-IT management has bought in to deploying it to non-critical positions and saving the several hounded dollars per workstation we would otherwise pay. It will be rolled out slowly and carefully making sure negative impacts are mitigated. Our Information Technology group has been using it exclusively for the past 3 months.

I'll be loading a VMWare virtual machine using a free copy of VMWare Player with Windows XP, Outlook 2003, Project 2003 and any other applications I need for the time being, all licensed and paid for. I'll ween myself off them as time goes on. I have just started using SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 for file access and production/modification of MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint files. Here's what it looks like:

Now, I said it was about choice and it is but I have to also say that I am reducing my choices of what I can install on the desktop. That's where a Cytrix or Windows Terminal Server comes in. We'll see how it goes. Part of the reason it's important to be using desktop Linux and not only Windows is related to the need for platform diversity. I'll be discussing this issue in a later posting.

Update April 2008: OK, the Linux thing was harder than I thought. I'm finding the Mac / OS X combo to be pretty compelling though and have been using it as a complete replacement for the past 11 months. Will blog on it later.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

21st Century IT Strategies

This blog will be dedicated to Information Technology Strategies for the 21st Century. I am a senior manager responsible for IT in a medium-sized Pharmaceutical company. I've also worked as a senior manager in the Financial Services sector. My background includes Electrical Engineering, Software Engineering, Networking, and Security. I plan on sharing some of my project and technology experiences as well as some of my thoughts around consumer technology and technology in general.

Stay tuned. I promise to write on a regular basis.