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Monday, April 30, 2012

Disillusionment of an Entrepreneur


Editor's note: This guest post was written by Prerna Gupta, who is CEO of Khush (now part of Smule), whose music apps,like Songify and LaDiDa, have been used to create over 200 million songs worldwide. You can follow her @prernagupta.

When I became an entrepreneur at the age of twenty-three, I began in earnest, as do all entrepreneurs, chasing a dream. My dream was clear. I would build a consumer technology company that reached ten million people and sell the company for millions of dollars, before the age of thirty. Then, as the dream went, I would retire to an oceanfront house on a warm Pacific beach and learn how to surf.

I recently had the fortune of celebrating a year in which I saw that lofty goal fulfilled. My company's iPhone apps had over ten million downloads, and a competitor paid a large sum of money to acquire what we had built, just a week before my thirtieth birthday. Dream had become reality.

I took a trip soon after to a secluded surf beach on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. Sandy-bottom beach break. White sand. House so close to water that the sound of crashing waves made it hard to sleep. This was it. I had made it.

Yet, as I sat dangling my feet off a seven-foot surfboard, missing wave after perfect wave, I saw an unmistakable truth. I was terrible at surfing, and all I really cared about anymore was launching another hit app. Far from retiring, I found myself more in the thrall of ambition than ever before.

Having risked my career in order to escape, at all costs, the Great American Rat Race, this was disconcerting to me. My entrepreneurial intentions had, after all, been pure at the outset. I was drawn to entrepreneurship by the lure of freedom: control of my time, the ability to work on my own creations, no boss, and, of course, the potential for independent wealth. But the purpose of the money was never to buy fancy cars and houses, or to be richer than my peers. I viewed the money simply as a lifelong guarantee of these freedoms. When I had enough wealth to live modestly for the rest of my life without working another day, I would quit. I would stop chasing the dream. And yet here I am, still slaving away. How could this be? I am not one of those miserable over-achieving types who are satisfied with nothing less than better-than-everyone-else. Really. I'm not. Am I?

You see, a funny thing seems to have happened just before I reached the ten million users mark. That goal of mine nefariously shifted by just a bit, a decimal point to be precise. I have a new goal now. It's 100 million.

This is the disillusionment of the entrepreneur. There is no such thing as success. It is a moving target. A mirage. By the time you attain what you thought was your wildest dream, reality has moved on and left your dreams in the dust. And the desire for success grows stronger still.

I do not like being enslaved, by anything. There are times when I can feel ambition, that greatest of American virtues, imposing its power over me. There are times when I succumb, for a short while. But to allow myself to be driven by ambition alone would be the ultimate failure. I strive for happiness. Not happiness when I am sixty, but happiness now, and tomorrow, and the day after. And although ambition and happiness can coexist, I have found that the first much more readily thrives without the other.  I understand this now, as I understood it at twenty-three, and my values are unchanged. What can then explain the control ambition has over me today?

Many who run in entrepreneurial circles would say that my dream was insufficient in the first place. Indeed, Silicon Valley frowns upon such middling goals as selling one's company for mere millions. We should aim for billions, we are told, or not aim at all. I am loath to admit that I have let that over-achiever's ethos influence my own thinking, but I suppose it is at least partially true.

That's not the only reason though. While my values have not changed, what has changed is this: work is more fun than it used to be when I was twenty-three. Work actually makes me happy. I always enjoyed entrepreneurship, even though I had many setbacks and failures along the way, but it is infinitely more fun now that I have had some tangible success. This is the real reason I continue. Success builds upon itself, and in so doing, makes the journey more fun. That is not to say I won't still have failures, in abundance; I am certain I will. Yet underlying the day-to-day failures is the knowledge that I can never truly fail again, because if success does not exist, neither does failure. I am finally free. I am free of the fear of failure. Perhaps that was my dream all along.

I'll still learn how to surf one day, as soon as I reach that 100 million.

Why More Ignorant Money Is Lost To Less Smart Money | ShareInvestor Educational Series

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Perfect Fit: A Guide to Evaluating and Purchasing Major Software Systems

By Peter Campbell, September, 2008

A major software package shouldn't be chosen lightly. In this detailed guide, Peter Campbell walks through how to find software options, evaluate them, make a good decision, and then purchase the system in a way that protects you.
 A smart shopper evaluates the item they want to purchase before putting money down. You wouldn't shop for shoes without checking the size and taking a stroll up and down the aisle in order to make sure they fit, would you? So what's the equivalent process of trying on a software package will size? How can you make sure your substantial software purchase won't leave you sore and blistered after the cash has been exchanged?

That's the goal of this article—to provide some guidance for properly evaluating major software investments. We'll walk through how to find potential software options, gather the detailed information you need to evaluate them, make a solid decision and purchase a package in a way that protects you if it doesn't do what you hoped it would for you.

Is it A Major Software System?

The evaluation process described here is detailed, so it's probably not cost effective to apply it to every software tool and utility you purchase. How do you know if the package you're considering is major enough to qualify? Major systems have a dramatic impact on your ability to operate and achieve your mission—they aren't measured by budget, they're measured by impact.
To help identify a major purchase, ask yourself:
  • Will the application be used by a significant percentage of your staff?
  • Will multiple departments or organizational units be using it?
  • Will this software integrate with other data systems?
  • If this software becomes unstable or unusable once deployed, will it have significant impact on your nonprofit's ability to operate?
Giving significant attention to these types of major purchases is likely to save your organization time in the long run.

Taking Preliminary Measurements

Prior to even looking at available software options, make sure you thoroughly define your needs and what the application you select should be able to do for you. Nonprofits are process-driven. They receive, acknowledge, deposit and track donations; they identify, serve and record transactions with clients; and they recruit, hire and manage employees. Technology facilitates the way your organization manages these processes. A successful software installation will make this work easier, more streamlined and more effective. But a new system that doesn't take your processes and needs into account will only make running your organization more difficult.
So it's critical that, before you begin looking for that donor database or client-tracking system, you clearly understand the processes that need to be supported and the software features critical to support that work.
This is an important and complex area that could easily be an article—or a book—in its own right. We could also write numerous articles that delve into project management, getting company buy-in and change management—all critical factors in organizational readiness. However, for the purposes of this article, we're focusing on the process of evaluating and purchasing software once you've already identified your needs and prepped the organization for the project.

Finding the Available Options

Once you know what you need and why you need it, the next step is to identify the pool of applications that might fit. An expert consultant can be a huge help. A consultant who knows the market and is familiar with how the systems are working for other nonprofits can save you research time, and can direct you to systems more likely to meet your true needs. While a consultant can be more expensive than going it alone, money spent up front on the selection and planning phases is almost always recouped through lower costs and greater efficiency down the road.
If a consultant isn't warranted, take advantage of the resources available to the nonprofit community, such as Idealware, Social Source Commons, Techsoup's forums or NTEN's surveys. Ask your peers what they're using, how they like it and why. Ideally you want to identify no less than three, and probably no more than eight, suitable products to evaluate.

Considering an RFP

With your list of possible software candidates in hand, the next step is to find out more about how those packages meet your needs. This is traditionally done through a Request for Proposal (RFP), a document that describes your environment and asks for the information you need to know about the products you're evaluating.
Well-written RFPs can be extremely valuable for understanding the objective aspects of large software purchases. For example, if you are looking for a Web site content management system (CMS), questions such as "does the blogging feature support trackbacks?" or "Can the CMS display individualized content based on cookie or user authentication?" are good ones for an RFP.
What you want from the RFP is information you can track with checkboxes. For example, "It can/can't do this," "It can/can't export to these formats: XML, SQL, CSV, PDF," or "They can program in PHP and Ruby, but not Java or Cold Fusion." Questions that encourage vendors to answer unambiguously, with answers that can be compared in a simple matrix, will be useful for assessing and documenting the system capabilities.
An RFP can't address all the concerns you're likely to have. Subjective questions like "How user-friendly is your system?" or "Please describe your support" are unlikely to be answered meaningfully through an RFP process.
Certainly, you can arrange for demonstrations, and use that opportunity to ask your questions without going through an RFP process. But while the formality of an RFP might seem unnecessary, there are some key reasons for getting your critical questions answered in writing:
  • You can objectively assess the responses and only pursue the applications that aren't clearly ruled out, saving some time later in the process.
  • A more casual phone or demo approach might result in different questions asked and answered by different vendors. An RFP process puts all of the applications and vendors on a level field for assessing.
  • The RFP responses of the vendor you select are routinely attached to the signed contract. An all-too-common scenario is that the vendor answers all of your questions with "yes, yes, yes," but the answers change once you start to implement the software. If you don't have the assurances that the software will do what you require in writing, you won't have solid legal footing to void a contract.

Structuring Your RFP

RFPs work well as a four section document. Below, we walk through each of those sections.


The introduction provides a summary of your organization, mission and the purpose of the RFP


The background section provides context the vendor will need to understand your situation. Consider including a description of your organization—for instance, number of locations, number of staff and organizational structure, the processes the system should support, and such technology infrastructure as network operating system(s) and other core software packages. Include any upcoming projects that might be relevant.


The questionnaire is the critical piece of the document—you want to be sure you ask all of the questions that you need answered. In preparing these questions, it's best to envision what the vendor responses might look like. What will have to be in those responses for you to properly assess them? Consider asking about:
  • Functionality. In order to get answers you'll be able to compare, ask your questions at a granular level. Does a CRM support householding? Does a donor database have a method for storing soft credits? Can multiple users maintain and view records of donor interactions? Can alerts or notifications be programmed in response to particular events? Use the results of your business requirements work to focus in on the functions that are critical to you and your more unusual needs.
  • Technology specifics. Make sure the software will integrate properly with other applications, that the reporting is robust and customizable by end users, and that the platform is well-supported. Ask which formats data can be exported to and imported from, how many tables can be queried simultaneously and what type of support is available—both from the vendor and third parties. Ask for a data dictionary, which a technical staffer or consultant can review, because a poorly designed database will complicate reporting and integration. And ask for a product roadmap. If the next version is going to be a complete rewrite of the application, you might want to rule out the current version for consideration.
  • Company information. Think through what you'll want to know about the company itself. How big is it? Do they have an office near you? How long have they been in business? Are they public or private? Can they provide some documentation of financial viability? Who are the staff members that would be assigned to your project? References from similar clients with similar-scope projects can also be very useful. For more information on this area, see Idealware's article Vendors as Allies: How to Evaluate Viability, Service, and Commitment.
  • Pricing and availability. What are their hourly rates, broken down by role, if applicable? What are their payment terms? What is their total estimate for the project as described? How do they handle changes in project scope that might arise during implementation? What are their incidental rates and policies (travel, meals)? Do they discount their services or software costs for 501(c)(3)s? How long do they estimate this project will take? When are they available to start?
While it's important to be thorough, don't ask a lot of questions you don't plan to actually use to evaluate the systems. Asking questions "just in case" increases the amount of information you'll need to sift through later, and increases the possibility that vendors might decide your RFP isn't worth the time to respond to.


Close with a deadline and details about how to submit replies. For a sizeable RFP, allow a minimum of four to six weeks for a response. Remember that this isn't a confrontational process—a good vendor will appreciate and want to work with a client that has thought things out this well, and the questionnaire is also an opportunity for them to understand the project up front and determine their suitability for it. Respect their schedules and give them ample time to provide a detailed response.
Include an indication as to how additional questions will be handled. In general, if one vendor asks for clarification or details, your answers should be shared with all of the RFP participants. You want to keep things on a level playing field, and not give one vendor an advantage over the rest. You might do this via a group Q&A, with all the vendors invited to participate in a meeting or conference call after the RFP has been sent to them but well before they are due to respond. With all vendors asking their questions in the same room, you keep them all equally informed. Alternatively, you can specify a deadline by which written questions must be submitted. All participants would then receive the questions and answers.

Evaluating the Answers

Once you receive RFP responses, you'll need to winnow down your list to determine which packages you'd like to demo.
If you asked straightforward, granular questions, you'll now reap the benefit: you can set up a comparative matrix. Create a table or spreadsheet with columns for each vendor and rows for each question, summarizing the responses as much as possible in order to have a readable chart. You might add columns that weight the responses, both on the suitability of the vendor's response (e.g. 1, unacceptable; 2, fair; 3, excellent) and/or on the importance of the question (for instance, some features are going to be much more important to you than others).
Going through the features and technology sections, you'll see the strong and weak points of the applications. In determining which fit your needs, there will likely be some trade-offs—perhaps one application has a stronger model for handling soft credits, but another has more flexible reporting. It's unlikely that any will jump out as the perfect application, but you'll be able to determine which are generally suitable, and which aren't.
For example, if you're looking for software to manage your e-commerce activities, inventory management might be a critical function for you. If a submitted software package lacks that feature, then you'll need to eliminate it.  As long as you understand your own critical needs, the RFP responses will identify unsuitable candidates.
You might rule out a vendor or two based on what the RFP response tells you about their availability or company stability. Take care, though, in eliminating vendors based on their RFP pricing information. RFP responses can be very subjective. Before determining that a vendor is too pricy based on their project estimate, dig deeper—other vendors might be underestimating the actual cost. If you feel you have a solid grasp on the project timeline, use the hourly rates as a more significant measurement.
The RFP responses will tell you a lot about the vendors. You're asking questions that are important to your ability to operate. Their ability to read, comprehend and reasonably reply to those questions will offer a strong indication as to how important your business is to them, and whether they'll consider your needs as the software is implemented and into the future. If they respond (as many will) to your critical questions with incomplete answers, or with stacks of pre-printed literature—saying, in effect, "the answers are in here"--then they're telling you they won't take a lot of time to address your concerns.
Keep in mind, though, that a weak sales representative might not mean a weak vendor, particularly if they're representing a product that comes recommended or looks particularly suitable on all other fronts. It's acceptable to reject the response and ask the vendor to resubmit if you really feel they have done you, and themselves, a disservice—but temper this with the knowledge that they blew it the first time.

Trying It All On for Size

At this point the process will hopefully have narrowed the field of potential applications down to three-to-five options. The next step is to schedule software demos. A well-written RFP will offer important, factual and comprehensive details about the application that might otherwise be missed, either by too narrow a demo or by one the vendor orchestrates to highlight product strengths and gloss over weaknesses. But the demos serve many additional purposes:
  • Evaluating look and feel. As good as the specs might look, you'll know quickly in a demo if an application is really unusable. For instance, an application might technically have that great Zip code lookup feature you asked about in the RFP, but it may be implemented in a way that makes it a pain to use. Prior to the demo, try to present the vendors with a script of the functions you want to see. It can also be useful to provide them with sample data, if they are willing—evaluating a program with data similar to your own data will be less distracting. Be careful not to provide them with actual data that might compromise your—or your constituents'—privacy and security. The goal is to provide a level and familiar experience that unifies the demos and puts you in the driver's seat, not the vendor.
  • Cross training. The demo is another opportunity for the vendor to educate you regarding the operating assumptions of the software, and for you to provide them with more insight into your needs. A generic donor management system is likely to make very good assumptions about how you track individuals, offer powerful tools for segmentation and include good canned reports, because the donor-courting processes are very similar. But in less standardized areas—or if you have more unusual needs—the model used by the software application can differ dramatically from your internal process, making it difficult for your organization to use. Use the demo to learn how the software will address your own process and less conventional needs.
  • Internal training. Even more valuable is the opportunity to use the demos to show internal staff what they'll be able to do with the software. Demos are such a good opportunity to get staff thinking about the application of technology that you should pack the room with as many people as you can. Get a good mix of key decision-makers and application end-users—the people who design and perform the business processes the software facilitates. The people who will actually use the software are the ones who can really tell if the package will work for them.

Making the Decision

With luck, your vendor selection process will now be complete, with one package clearly identified as the best option. If key constituents are torn between two options or unimpressed with the lot, senior decision-makers might have to make the call. Be careful, however, not to alienate a group of people whose commitment and enthusiasm for the project might be needed.
If none of the applications you evaluated completely meets your needs, but one comes close, you might consider customizations or software modifications to address the missing areas. Note that any alterations of the basic software package will likely be costly, will not be covered in the packaged documentation and help files, and might break if and when you upgrade the software. Be very sure there isn't an alternate, built-in way to accomplish your goal. If f the modification is justified, make sure it's done in such a way that it won't be too difficult to support as the software is developed.
Before making a final decision, you should always check vendor references, but take them with a healthy grain of salt. An organization's satisfaction with software depends not only on how well it meets their needs, but how familiar they are with their options—there are a lot of people who are happy using difficult, labor-heavy, limited applications simply because they don't know there are better alternatives. 
If you still have a tie after RFPs, demos and reference checks, the best next step is to conduct on-site visits with an existing customer for each software package. As with demos, bring a representative group of management, technical staff and users. Assuming the reference can afford the time to speak with you, the visit will highlight how the software meets their needs, and will give you a good, real world look at its strengths and weaknesses. You'll also likely walk away with new ideas as to how you might use it.

Signing on the Dotted Line

You've selected an application. Congratulations! You might be tired, but you aren't finished yet. You still need to work with the vendor to define the scope of the engagement, and an agreement that will cover you in case of problems. A good contract clearly articulates and codifies everything that has been discussed to date into a legally binding agreement. If, down the road, the vendor isn't living up to their promises, or the software can't do what you were told it would do, then this is your recourse for getting out of an expensive project.
Contract negotiations can take time. It's far more dangerous to sign a bad contract in the interest of expediency, though, than it is to delay a project while you ensure that both parties—you and the vendor—completely understand each other's requirements. Don't start planning the project until the papers have been signed.
A software contract should include a number of parts, including the actual agreement, the license, the scope of work and the RFP.

The Agreement

This is the legal document itself, with all of the mumbo jumbo about force majeure and indemnity. The key things to look for here are:
  • Equal terms and penalties. Are terms and penalties equally assessed? Vendors will write all sorts of terms into contracts that outline what you will do or pay if you don't live up to your end of the agreement. But they'll often leave out any equivalent controls on their behavior. You should find every "if this happens, customer will do this" clause and make sure the conditions are acceptable, and that there are complementary terms specified for the vendor's actions.
  • Reasonable cancellation penalties. If there are penalties defined for canceling a consulting or integration contract, these should not be exorbitant. It's reasonable for the vendor to impose a limited penalty to cover expenses incurred in anticipation of scheduled work, such as airfare purchased or materials procured. But unless this is a fixed cost agreement, which is highly unusual, don't let them impose penalties for work they don't have to do—for example, for a large percentage of the estimated project cost.
  • Agreement under the laws of a sensible state. If the vendor is in California, and you're in California, then the agreement should be covered by California laws rather than some random other state. In particular, Virginia's laws highly favor software companies and vendors. In most cases, you want the jurisdiction to be where you live, or at least where the vendor's headquarters actually are.

The Software License

The license specifies the allowed uses of the software you're purchasing. This, too, can contain some unacceptable conditions.
  • Use of your data. A software license should not restrict your rights to access or work with your data in any way you see fit. The license agreement will likely contain conditions under which the software warranty would be voided. It's perfectly acceptable for a commercial software vendor to bar re-engineering their product, but it's not acceptable for them to void the warranty if you are only modifying the data contained within the system. So conditions that bar the exporting, importing, archiving or mass updating of data should be challenged. If the system is hosted, the vendor should provide full access to your data, and the license should include language providing that client shall have reasonable access for using, copying and backing up all customer information in the database. There should be no language in the contract implying that the vendor owns your data, or that they can use it for any additional purposes.
  • Responsibility avoidance. Software warranties should not include blanket "software provider is not responsible if nothing works" statements. This shouldn't need to be said, but, sadly, there are often warranty sections in license agreements that say just that.
  • Back doors. The license should not allow for any post-sale reversals of licensing, such as language stating that the contract will be void if the customer uses the software in perfectly reasonable ways they don't anticipate. For instance, if you want to use the CRM functions of your donor database to track contacts that aren't potential donors, you shouldn't sign a contract limiting use of the software to "fundraising purposes". Also, there should not be any "back doors" programmed into the application that the vendor can maintain for purposes of disabling the software.

The Scope of Work

The Scope of Work (SOW) describes exactly what the project will consist of. It's an agreement between the vendor and the customer as to what will happen, when, and how long it will take. Good scopes include estimates of hours and costs by task and/or stage of the project. The scope should be attached as a governing exhibit to the contract. Usually, this is negotiated prior to receiving the actual contract. By having it attached to the contract, the vendor is now legally obligated to, basically, do what they said they would do.


Like the Scope of Work, the RFP should also be attached as a governing document that assures that the software does what the vendor claimed it would.

In Conclusion

For big ticket purchases, it's well worth having an attorney review or assist in negotiations. Keep in mind that the goal is to end up with a contract that equally defends the rights of both parties. True success, of course, is a solid contract that is never revisited after signing. Litigation doesn't serve anyone's interest.

Bringing It Home

There's a lot of talk and plenty of examples of technology jumpstarting an organization's effectiveness. But if someone were to do the tally, there would probably be more stories of the reverse. All too often, organizations make decisions about their software based on uninformed recommendations or quick evaluations of the prospective solutions. Decisions are often based more on expediency than educated selection.
Rushing a major investment can be a critical error. Learn about the available options, thoroughly assess their suitability to your needs and prepare your staff to make the most of them. Then, sign a contract that protects you if, after all else is done, the application and/or vendor fails to live up to the promises. Finding the right application and setting it up to support, not inhibit, your workflow is a matter of finding something that really fits. You can't do that with your eyes closed.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pinterest changes the way brides plan their weddings

Pinterest bride: Trish Smith tries on a wedding dress she found online via Pinterest at Mary Me Bridal in Orange, Calif., as mom Phyllis Smith takes a snapshot. Her wedding is set for November.

Pinterest changes the way brides plan their weddings

By Robert Hanashiro,, USA TODAY

By Olivia Barker, USA TODAY
Published: 4/11/2012 8:46:14 PM
To get a glimpse at the Pinterest phenomenon, look no further than Trish Smith. Her childhood pal Tiffany Loken was so sure she'd join the ranks of the addicted that she created a 50-pin "my best friend's wedding" board for Smith — even though the IT education adviser from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., wasn't engaged.

"Yeah," says Smith, 29, laughing. Posted to the wildly popular, photo-driven social media platform were "all the ideas we had talked about since I was a little girl" in pretty, pictorial form.

Six months later, in December, with a proposal in hand, Smith seized the wedding planning reins and cemented her Pinterest obsession, creating seven boards over one to three hours every night related to her Nov. 10 nuptials. One showcases two dozen potential hairstyles; another displays 29 possible bouquets. But the topper on the cake? The 366-pin catch-all "my countrytale wedding" board, with its photo patchwork of gowns, favors, boutonnieres and, yes, a baker's dozen cake toppers.

Meet the Pinterest bride. For her, planning a fairy-tale wedding without the tool is, well, inconceivable. Indeed, Smith estimates that 90% of her rustic mountain event will be inspired by or pulled directly from Pinterest, as she wishes.

With its heavily female demographic and emphasis on DIY derring-do, Pinterest and brides go together like love and marriage. But it's not just the women in white who are touchscreen-tapping into the power of the 2-year-old site.

"It's changing the industry" for vendors, planners and magazines, says Anne Fulenwider, editor in chief of Brides. Since she took over the title in November, Pinterest has "exploded and really changed the conversation." A majority of her readers are pinners — repinning other users' favorites, culling the Web for new stock and uploading their own pictures. She estimates that Brides' 55 boards, supplied with fresh images every day, are gaining about 500 followers a week. A favorite? "Couture-inspired wedding gowns," with more than 10,000 followers.

Right behind Twitter

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Pinterest estimates that tens of thousands of wedding-related boards cram the site. "It is really inspiring to see people using the product in ways we never expected," the press-quiet company said in a statement. Pinterest has emerged as the third most trafficked social networking site, behind Facebook and Twitter and ahead of LinkedIn, according to Experian market research. Visitors shot up 50% between January and February.

So forget the era of brides schlepping binders thick with magazine tear sheets. With Pinterest, sharing ideas for, say, sunken flower centerpieces is just an iPhone or tablet away.

But equally welcome, brides say, is the ability to visually map out the big day in a way that doesn't require flipping pages of printouts or clicking through a list of bookmarked links. On Pinterest, "when I open up that photo and see it next to earrings and flowers and centerpieces, it just makes more sense to me," says Katie Smith (no relation to Trish), who overhauled her color scheme thanks to a single image she found on Pinterest four months ago. She'd always dreamed of a fuchsia fantasy for her affair June 22, 2013, in Marco Island, Fla. — until she stumbled upon a shot of a wedding party in coral dresses and mint ties. "I saw that photo and said, 'Done. That's exactly what I like,' " says Smith, 27, who works in marketing.

Not all brides are so decisive, of course. Some find themselves overwhelmed by Pinterest's plethora of pink peonies, mimosa bars and lace-trimmed Mason jars. Kristin van Westervelt, 24, a nurse from Northvale, N.J., who has been adding 20 or 30 images a day to her three wedding pinboards, jokes that "I'm going to have to have a second wedding because I'm finding so many ideas."

There are two types of brides for whom Pinterest isn't ideal, says Jennifer Rose, an event designer in Wilmington, N.C.: the client who "up to a week before the wedding is still pinning things she wants," and the kind who insists on a look that's absolutely original. "It creates this intense pressure to find something no one has seen on Pinterest before."

Rose's friend and frequent collaborator Millie Holloman, a photographer, says the swath of "good stuff" means those working behind the veil "have to constantly re-create and challenge" themselves.

'Inundated with marketers'

But there are those in the industry who say the good stuff is getting gunked up. "Like a lot of these platforms, in the beginning, it's great because only cool people use it, so all the images are cool," says Carley Roney, editor in chief of, who estimates that six months ago, 75% of Pinterest's wedding shots were pinned from her site's 50,000-image library. "Then they get inundated with marketers."

The Knot put a playful pin in the Pinterest bridal bubble in January with its "(expletive) brides say" video. In it, a newly engaged "bride" (a guy in drag) is shown in front of screens at home and work chirping "pin, pin, pinning, pinned." There is still treasure to be trawled, Roney says. "You just have to work a little harder to find it."

Some brides fear that Pinterest's ubiquity could translate into cookie-cutter receptions. "Or people are going to show up at your wedding and go, 'You got all of this from Pinterest, didn't you?' " says Melissa Jones, 28, who works in human resources and is getting married April 27, 2013, in Charlotte.

Kari Levine isn't worried that her two other engaged friends will steal her Pinterest-procured idea of pinking-sheared napkins cut from vintage fabrics, even though they follow one another on the site and swap finds. Levine, a customer care manager, is getting hitched on a farm in Glen Oaks, N.Y.; her friends are going the more traditional, catering hall route.

Still, every morning before she even gets in the shower, she hops on her iPhone app to peek at "what all friends have pinned while I'm sleeping," says Levine, 27. "It's a little sad." She sneaks the stalking in at work and then again at night. "My fiancé does not understand why I'm obsessed with it. I'll be lying in bed on my phone, and he'll go, 'Are you pinning?' 'Maybe … "

Cris Stone, a bride and San Antonio-based budget bride blogger, says that in fact, Pinterest is invaluable for grooms. "Guys, you have to show them," says Stone, 34. "I don't know a nice way to say it."

An early fan of the platform, Stone says her Pinterest boards "absolutely" feed traffic to her blog, Kiss My Tulle, and vice versa. On Pinterest she snags up to a dozen new follows a day, while 50 or 60 people click over to her blog each day via her 17 wedding-related boards.

At first, Trish Smith's groom, Michael Detjen, "thought I was crazy," Smith says. But then, scrolling through cake toppers one night, he saw "why I utilize (Pinterest) to the extremes I do." The couple homed in on their cake crown of choice: a bride and a groom cradling each other's backsides. "We're big goofballs," Smith says.

But even after they say "I do," there are more plans being hatched on Pinterest: Tucked among Smith's boards is one titled "makin babies."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The worst boss I ever had

The worst boss I ever had
April 09, 2012

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Before I became a CEO, I had had lots of bosses from whom I learned a great deal about how I wanted to lead and how I wanted not to lead. The all-time worst was named Hugh, the only person I've ever worked for whom I found so impossible that, in the end, I took sick leave to avoid the experience. Hugh was charming; if you hadn't worked for him, he might have been fun to hang out with. So what was so wrong about him at work?

Vain. Hugh was tall, handsome, and extravagantly well-educated -- and he knew this. I never saw him betray a flicker of self-doubt. What he didn't appreciate was that that absence of skepticism made him look stupid, as though it didn't occur to him that there ever could be an alternative perspective.

Chaotic. Hugh was hysterically disorganized. He'd call meetings and forget to come. When he did attend, he'd meander around some idea of an agenda. That he was interested in the dialogue appeared to be enough for him; that he wasted everyone's time was a problem only for those of us who would have to deliver.

The best boss I ever had

Exhibitionist. We worked in an open-plan office and Hugh was loud. He either had no sense of just how loud he was -- or he wanted us all to hear every phone call he made. Of course, while he was talking it was impossible for anyone else to get any work done. That many of these calls were personal didn't help.

Indecisive. Hugh was always certain he was right -- until he changed his mind, when he became right again. Every day was a different scenario. The fact that we all had to act on his decisions -- and often undo yesterday's work to fit in with today's agenda -- never seemed to bother him. What drove these changes of mind was never explicit or convincing.

Dishonest. It wasn't really any of my business that, although married, Hugh was having an affair with a coworker. And I can't now remember how I knew, only that everyone knew. It was impossible to see whether this affected his work -- it was already so ghastly -- but it clearly reduced any respect any of the team might have had for him.

What should you do if you find yourself working for a Hugh?

1. Deliver the best project you can. Even though you know Hugh will get the credit, you gain nothing by being associated with projects that fail.

2. Identify areas for personal development. From every project you can gain something: extend your contacts, develop some area of expertise. The Hughs of this world won't mind you doing this -- they may never notice -- and you will feel you aren't entirely wasting your time.

3. Don't attack. It's tempting, when working for Hughs, to attack them or to demonstrate in public how useless they are. This won't help you because the Hughs of this world don't learn. They've risen as high as they have often because they're sociable -- which means they have friends in high places. Don't wreck your reputation trying to wreck his.

4. Move on. Working for a Hugh is demoralizing, frustrating, and maddening. Get away as soon as you can.

I've never worked for another Hugh again -- though I've seen quite a few in the boardroom. It never ceases to amaze me how many people regard them as harmless. That they've scared off the best people isn't immediately obvious, but it leaves the company vulnerable because it has so little talent. Of course that suits Hugh just fine: It means he has no rivals.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

OPINION - Forget Alignment: How To Co-Create A Business Strategy

Forget Alignment: How To Co-Create A Business Strategy
Posted on Thursday Apr 5th at 8:15am
CIOs have been struggling with the goal of getting "alignment" with "the business" since the first CIO stepped into the role. The problem with this is that it's fundamentally the wrong goal. "Alignment" implies we are trying to connect two disparate things--"IT" and "the business"--but the reality is that IT must be an integral part of the business fabric.
Integration with the business is a big challenge for many IT groups--a mere 4% identify IT as fully integrated into the business, according to Forrester Research's Global Technology Strategy online survey in Q4 2011. Though a majority of IT groups broadly align to the business, just 21% describe IT as highly aligned.
So what's going wrong, and more importantly how should CIOs fix this?
One answer lies in how CIOs and IT leaders develop technology strategy. We've found that fully integrated IT groups don't try to create an IT strategy that aligns with some defined business strategy. Instead they co-create a business strategy with a technology component.
In the past, Forrester has been just as guilty as other firms touting "alignment." But, attempts at alignment only make things worse for IT. In part this is because few companies have clear business goals and strategies--only 47% of companies have a clearly defined set of business strategies, in our survey. Also, it makes no sense to develop a business strategy isolated from technology considerations, since nearly all strategies depend in large part upon underlying technology assumptions. Developing a technology strategy as an afterthought lets business leaders off-the-hook for responsibility for technology. As one CIO of a large transportation company told us, "We have a master-servant relationship".
To get CIOs out of this hole, Forrester has published the BT Strategic Planning (BTSP) framework as a guide for IT leaders and business leaders who want to co-create a business technology strategy--a business strategy with a technology component. These are the key steps in the framework.
1. Tackle Goals And Objectives First
Before IT and business leaders can co-create anything approximating strategy there must be agreement on the business goals and objectives. Very few companies have clearly defined business goals and objectives. Smart goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. A goal to be the leading supplier of widgets is great as an aspirational statement, but to be smart it would need to be more like this: "By 2014 be the #1 supplier of widgets in the global market as measured by market share in volume sales." We would also need to know that this is attainable--the company can achieve this goal with the resources it has to hand--and that it is realistic--there is reason to believe this company can become the market leader in a little over a year, which would suppose that it is now probably #2 or #3 in the market.
Business-unit level goals are crucial here. Many companies will hand down a big goal like the one above to their business units, perhaps allocating a portion of the revenue or volume to each unit, and ask the executives in these groups to come up with strategies to achieve the goal. This is often where strategy begins to get refined. And this is exactly where IT strategists need to be involved in the discussion.
2. Model Business Differentiators
IT strategists and business leaders should use high-level business capability maps to identify the strategic capabilities that differentiate their company from competitors. An organization may have one or two, maybe three, of these strategic capabilities. Leveraging technology to improve these key areas will likely to have the greatest business impact. For non-strategic, generic capabilities, the focus should be on simplification to remove complexity and cost. For technology, that means removing custom applications and processes wherever possible.At a large U.S. insurance company, IT created a series of business capability maps as a framework for identifying, organizing, and designing SOA (service-oriented architecture) business services. The CIO and the chief IT architect realized that these models could be used to map each business unit to a common model and thus identify duplication, and map the specialized requirements of each unit. They took a three-step process to reorient joint business-technology planning around their capability map: validate the capability map with business executives, use capability-level business outcomes to drive discussions on how to improve, and tie both business and technology improvement ideas back to the capabilities model.
3. Feed Strategy Discussions With Data-Driven Insights
A key ingredient in the development and execution of the strategic planning process is finding and using appropriate data and insights--data that often lives outside of IT. Thinking broadly, this includes data on consumer behaviors, business executive priorities, and workforce productivity. IT needs to deliver these facts to help executives separate signals from noise with important technology-market driven trends like social media, consumerization, cloud computing, mobility, and more. Data that helps you understand your customer and workforce, identify and capitalize on emerging technologies, and identify staffing and sourcing competencies helps business technology strategists be proactive in supplying technology-supported changes to business capabilities.
4. Develop Multiple Business Technology Strategies
For any goal there usually are many possible ways to achieve the results. The aim of BTSP is to provide business leaders with informed choices between alternative strategies to achieve the business goals. The information IT brings to the table includes an understanding of the likely costs, risks, complexity, and timescale of strategies based upon knowledge of their underlying technologies and the available options for putting the technology in place. IT can also bring new strategy choices to the table that may not have been considered by others, often because of knowledge of emerging technologies that make new strategy choices possible. IT needs to provide business leaders with the guidance they need to make informed decisions between competing strategies.
5. Develop A Living Technology Road Map
After agreeing on the best high-level strategies, IT can begin the detailed work of building the BT road map with a more detailed technology gap analysis. Enterprise architects are important members of the strategy planning team, helping map the existing architecture to the future-state architecture. A gap analysis aims to identify the major architectural changes required in order to implement the BT strategy and validate the cost, risk, timescale, and complexity assumptions made during the strategy selection. If the assumptions turn out to be incorrect, it's up to the business leaders to decide if the strategy still makes sense or if an alternative would be a better choice. And because markets are constantly changing, business leaders must be able to constantly revise their strategy choices--this means that the roadmap must be a living framework--one that flexes and changes with the business.
6. Create IT To Support The BT Strategic Plans
The IT operating plan is a vital component of the BT strategic planning process. This is where the CIO determines how IT will function as a business unit--supporting and enabling the business technology strategy. Because this is a continuous process, the IT leadership team must continuously examine the IT capabilities needed to execute the BT roadmap. This isn't something done once a year and forgotten.
The co-development of business strategy is perhaps the most important responsibility of the CIO. Too often, CIOs delegate the development of "aligned IT strategy" to more junior team members as an annual activity. Instead, CIOs must lead the strategic planning process and take an active part in shaping future business strategy. As Stuart McGuigan, CIO at CVS Caremark, puts it, "There's no such thing as technology projects; they are all business projects with technology components."
Nigel Fenwick, a former CIO, is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves CIOs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

RetailMeNot Could Shred The Paper Coupon Biz With Credit Card-Integrated On and Offline Discounts

RetailMeNot Could Shred The Paper Coupon Biz With Credit Card-Integrated On and Offline Discounts

by JOSH CONSTINE posted 19 Hours Ago

Why cut coupons when you could just click them? Following a successful trial at SXSW, the world's largest online coupon site RetailMeNot is planning a roll out of its paperless credit card-linked coupons this summer with several nation-wide retailers. Saving money is as easy as visiting RetailMeNot, entering your credit card number, and selecting discounts to load onto your card. Then when you pay with that card online or at a brick-and-mortar store, the discount is automatically deducted from your total.

The CardSpring-API backed feature could be massively disruptive because it's so much easier and less embarrassing than cutting and redeeming traditional offline coupons. It's also great for merchants, since rather than paying to print coupons, businesses only pay RetailMeNot a commission when discounts are redeemed.

There are so many things wrong with how offline coupons work. You have to rifle through Sunday papers or snail mail to find them. Then you have to stuff them in your wallet or purse or remember to bring them when you visit a store. Lose them or miss ones for your favorite store? Tough luck. Plus you often can't use offline coupons online or vice-versa.

Redemption sucks too. It slows down checkout and it can be embarrassing to ask the cashier to pinch pennies off your total. At restaurants you might have to declare your coupon before you eat, and trust me, you won't do while on a date because you'll look like a cheapskate.

Credit card-linked coupons solve all of these problems. You'll occasionally visit RetailMeNot via web or mobile to search or browse a complete list of discounts for ones you want to add. After that your purchase behavior is exactly the same as usual, with automatic redemptions occurring silently and appearing on your receipt. There's a mobile app for loading coupons to your card while on the go (or right before you purchase), and shoppers can even set up alerts about new discounts of their favorite stores.

RetailMeNot's CardSpring API system is secure because you don't enter your expiration date, security code, or billing address. And unlike offline discount provider Plink, you don't have to go through the hassle or worry of providing your online banking username and password. That's because RetailMeNot's partnership with First Data lets it check your credit card history for purchases where you've loaded discounts.

RetailMeNot's test at SXSW that let people sign up for $2 off one of many Austin food trucks proved popular. The company shared data with TechCrunch showing that 6,000 people visited the "What The Truck?" promotion site, and over 500 people signed up. Fifty percent of those that registered silently redeemed the discount by paying with their credit card (probably via Square), which then appeared on their receipt. That's an impressive conversion rate for an unfamiliar discount service.

This summer RetailMeNot will launch an expanded beta test with half a dozen nationwide retailers, some of whom have already signed on. Because there no embarrassment during redemption, it's also working to get big restaurant chains to join in. The pay-for-performance commission model ensures that businesses only pay RetailMeNot when the card-linked coupons help drive a sale. The system could grow into an important revenue stream for RetailMeNot, which was acquired in 2010 by the $300 million-funded WhaleShark Media whose discount discovery sites receive 300 million visits a year from the U.S. alone.

Even if in the future you pay via Square, Venmo, Google Wallet, or another NFC system, your payment will probably still be processed through your credit card number, so RetailMeNot's card-linked discounts will still be applied. The CardSpring API could also be used to load loyalty programs and rewards right onto your credit card. Coupons won't disappear , but the printed version could the next dead-tree business to go up in smoke.

The Dirty Little Secret Of Overnight Successes

Article location:

April 3, 2012

The Dirty Little Secret Of Overnight Successes

By Josh Linkner

Angry Birds, the incredibly popular game, was software maker Rovio's 52nd attempt. They spent eight years and nearly went bankrupt before finally creating their massive hit.

Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing websites [1] in history, but struggled for a long time. Pinterest's CEO recently said that it had "catastrophically small numbers" in its first year after launch and that if he had listened to popular startup advice he probably would have quit.

James Dyson failed in 5,126 prototypes [2] before perfecting his revolutionary vacuum cleaner. Groupon was put on life support and nearly shut down at one point in its meteoric rise.

When looking at the most successful people and organizations, we often imagine geniuses with a smooth journey straight to the promised land. But when you really examine nearly every success story, they are filled with crushing defeats, near-death experiences, and countless setbacks.

We often celebrate companies and individuals once they've achieved undeniable success, but shun their disruptive thinking before reaching such a pinnacle. Before Oprah was Oprah, before Jobs was Jobs, they were labeled as misguided dreamers rather than future captains of industry.

In your life, you've probably had a setback or two. When you stumble, it's tempting the throw in the towel and accept defeat. There's always an attractive excuse waiting eagerly, hoping you'll take the easy way out. But the most successful people forge ahead. They realize that mistakes are simply data, providing new information to adjust your approach going forward.

The ubiquitous WD-40 lubricant got its name because the first 39 experiments failed. WD-40 literally stands for "Water Displacement--40th Attempt." If they gave up early on like most of us do, we'd sure have a lot more squeaky hinges in the world. 

You have a mission to accomplish and an enormous impact to make. You will inevitably endure some "failures" along your journey, but you must realize that persistence and determination have always been primary ingredients in accomplishment. 

Don't cave to your mistakes, embrace them. In fact, mistakes are simply to the portals of discovery. There's an old saying that "every bull's-eye is the result of a hundred misses." So the next time you feel the sting of failure, just realize you're likely one shot closer to hitting your target.

And who knows? Maybe after a few dozen failures and months or years of hard work, you might just be that next "overnight" success.

For more insight on creativity and innovation, visit [3].

[Image: Flickr user Dillon Hinson [4]]


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life after IT: When CIOs leave at the top of their game

Life after IT: When CIOs leave at the top of their game

What do you do after reaching the pinnacle of IT management? If you're like these CIOs, you leave. Here's where they went, and why.

Todd R. Weiss
April 2, 2012
leaving IT icon
Great CIOs and IT executives help drive their companies through innovation and agile management. They nurture their employees, build talented teams and generate creativity in their people. They try new things and improve upon the old. They lead by example.
And then they leave.
Or some do, at least. The CIO role has always been volatile, but above and beyond the normal movement in the industry, the last several years have seen an anecdotal uptick in the phenomenon of talented and visionary CIOs leaving their posts. Some head up the corporate ladder to even higher positions or take line-of-business posts, while others strike out on their own, becoming consultants or Web entrepreneurs.
Given that several such CIOs are past winners of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders award, which attests to their skill and expertise, it's fair to ask: Are these departures a natural progression for talented executives, or do they say something troubling about the working environment of enterprise IT?
Read on to hear from six former CIOs who exited from the top, and be sure to peruse consultant Frank Scavo's list of six CIO types that are a particular flight risk.

From IT to operations

"There are different types of CIOs," says Bryan J. Timm. "I am the type who wants to be an enabler of the business, so personally I needed to move into an operations role."
Timm, 45, is currently chief operating officer at Los Angeles-based fashion company Halston. He came to Halston from another fashion company, Vernon, Calif.-based BCBG Max Azria Group, where he was CIO from 2008 to 2011. Before that, he was the CIO at Guess.
Bryan J. Timm
Bryan J. Timm
"In all my IT roles, I was always pushing the idea that IT could make things better, but often that message fell on deaf ears. By moving into an operations role, there was a bigger chance of being able to make that happen," Timm says.
When he joined Halston, he got such chances in his new role as COO. "We are relaunching a contemporary women's apparel brand," he explains. "I'm able to make every single operational decision" -- from choosing a third-party logistics provider to deciding what mobile platform to standardize on -- "without needing to consider inherited decisions from prior management. It's a neat opportunity to leverage IT from scratch and make things as efficient as possible."
Tapping his prior tech experience, Timm made the decision out of the gate to outsource maintenance and systems development. "We need to be experts in designing and delivering beautiful garments, not making sure that EDI processed successfully last night."
As a CIO, he didn't have that kind of autonomy, or creativity, he says. "Often in the senior executive ranks, IT is viewed as a supporting role and not necessarily as a strategic role for the company. As a result, you find that your ability to play with the big boys is limited."

From IT to strategy officer

Andres Carvello, 51, was CIO at Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, when he was named a Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader in 2006. At Austin, he helped lead the creation of one of the first smart electrical grids in the nation and reported directly to the CEO on the project.
Andres Carvello
Andres Carvello
When the CEO post opened up in the company, he threw his hat into the ring, but chose to withdraw when he realized he lacked mandatory experience with utility rate hearings and negotiations.
The event set the wheels in motion. "I thought to myself, do I sit here and continue to polish this diamond that we have built, or do I leave and try to polish other diamonds somewhere else?"
Carvello took a job as a chief strategy officer with Grid Net, a San Francisco company that builds software to run smart electric utility grids. Then, last May, he went to work for San Diego-based Proximetry, a wireless network performance management vendor.
As executive vice president for energy solutions and chief strategy officer, Carvello is in charge of research, strategy planning and execution, marketing and more. "It's a huge change" from his work as a CIO, Carvello says. "Here, I'm the expert on grids, the technology and the products. I open doors for the company and help with marketing strategy and business development."

From IT to entrepreneur

Roger Zakharia was second in command to the CIO at the Jack in the Box hamburger chain as director of information services when he left the business in 2008, after 14 years. Instead of moving up the IT chain to pursue a CIO role somewhere, Zakharia, now 51, went into business for himself.
Roger Zakharia
Roger Zakharia
"The possibility of an eventual CIO role wasn't enough for me," he says. "I wanted to run businesses."
He achieved his goal, and then some. He's currently CEO of four startups: Gocar San Diego Tours; online business feedback service; IT consulting firm World Technology Solutions; and Pacific Rent-A-Car.
"Business was in my blood," Zakharia says of his entrepreneurial turn. "It was something I always wanted to explore. I wanted to get involved in the businesses, not just in the technology."

From IT to consultant

CIOs need to pay attention to much more than just technology, says Michael Hugos, the former CIO of Network Services, a global janitorial and business supplies cooperative.
"If, as the CIO, you can work with your colleagues in marketing, sales and operations, if you can show how things can be merged and improved, you have big opportunities," says Hugos, recipient of a 2006 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders award.
Michael Hugos
Michael Hugos
That's the kind of CIO mentoring Hugos has been doing since he left his CIO role. When his position was cut, he started his own consulting and CIO-at-large business, the Center for Systems Innovation in Chicago. He also writes about CIOs and enterprise IT (including an occasional column for Computerworld). He's working on his eighth book, about IT agility, and is the recipient of a 2006 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders Award.
On balance, these days Hugos would rather coach CIOs than be one again. "The CIO role has changed a lot," he says. "Traditional things like the care and tending of hardware are not as important today inside companies because of cloud options. It really is about strategy. We are going through an acceleration of technology and societal changes that no previous time has equaled. I have empathy for what a lot of CIOs are going through right now."

Six types of restless CIOs

Which CIOs are a particular risk for leaving -- or being pushed out? Analyst Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics, an IT research firm in Irvine, Calif., shares six types on the watch list.
  • The Irrelevant CIO: When a CIO focuses too much on ongoing IT support instead of constantly evaluating the direction of the business and using technology to help the company move forward, she is at grave risk of making herself irrelevant, Scavo says. "You can see how a CIO like that becomes a second-tier player in the business." This is a CIO who's a prime target to be pushed out.
  • The Frustrated CIO: This CIO really wants to make a difference in the business but has been pigeonholed as a glorified tech support person, without being given a chance to help determine long-term goals and strategy, Scavo says. "He may need to leave, and he may find out that it's more attractive to do what he wants to do as an IT consultant. CIOs can really become frustrated in the post."
  • The Burned-Out CIO: This CIO is "tired of being in a pressure-cooker of having projects to deliver while being starved of funds," Scavo says. "They're always getting beaten up by peers about delivering technology. They are smart people and they want to do a good job, but it's a high-pressure job and they get burned out. They may go into consulting or some other business position."
  • The Bored CIO: This person may have turned around her IT department since arriving and now has nothing left to add, Scavo says. "She is looking for another challenge. Some CIOs are good at creating new things but when things become stable, they get bored."
  • The Underpaid CIO: This CIO looks around at some of the consultants and advisers that he's been bringing in and starts to think he should be making the big bucks, Scavo says. "If he thinks he has the chops to do that, and he feels he has the experience, he can take his work elsewhere."
  • The Miscast CIO: This is a tough place for a CIO to be, Scavo says. "This is a person who is really in the wrong job, who maybe came up from software management and came into the job through a promotion," but it's not the right role. "This CIO really loves the old work and its challenges" but has been miscast in his new role. Such CIOs "really want more of a technical career, and when they got into the CIO post, they found that they spend more time managing people rather than the technology."
Jesus Arriaga, 49, who served as CIO for U.K.-based networking vendor Spirent Communications and for auto parts vendor Keystone Automotive Industries, likewise turned to consulting instead of taking a relocation with Keystone that was not to his liking.
Jesus Arriaga
Jesus Arriaga
"I had always done IT consulting between jobs in my career, so I decided to pursue it full-time," Arriaga says. He started CIO Strategic Solutions (Glendora, Calif.) in July of 2007, providing senior CIO consulting and interim CIO services to companies of all types and sizes.
"If I had to nail one thing that has been consistently different, it's that as a consultant CIO, they actually listen to you," Arriaga says. "There is something in the minds of the execs and people I help that creates an openness to listening to the recommendations I'm bringing to the table. I've enjoyed that creativity the most."
Phil Farr of Dallas began Farr Systems in 2006, after four years as a CIO for the Brinks security firm and 11 years as director of information technology with the former Fina Oil and Chemical Co. Farr, 65, ran a food company for three years after leaving Brinks and then became a CIO consultant with the Tatum professional services firm in Dallas before deciding to head out on his own.
So why'd he leave his role as a CIO?
One reason was the toll of travel. "I traveled in 54 countries for Brinks and throughout Europe for Fina," he says, whereas most of the work he does for Farr Systems is local or at least U.S.-based.
Beyond that, "my ambition was to be a businessperson who could run IT or any other needed part of a business," he said.
At Farr Systems, he and his staff of 15 people provide CIO consulting services, interim CIOs, coaching and assessments. "As a CIO, you see your business and your IT organization in very great detail," he explains, but you don't always have access to a wider perspective.
Phil Farr
Phil Farr
"As a consultant, I see how CIOs have similar problems and opportunities, and I get to see some of the best and some of the worst approaches to new technologies and to new management practices."
The broader view, he says, allows him to bring new ideas and more of them to his clients.

Wake-up call?

These IT leaders' career paths are typical of executives who seek more in their work lives over time, says Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics, an IT research firm in Irvine, Calif.
But their personal fulfillment can come at a price to the industry they left behind, Scavo says.
"If some of the best CIOs are leaving to do something else, that's not a good thing" for companies that need innovative and forward-looking IT pros to lead them, he says.
Scavo, who late last year wrote a 10-page report titled "Elevating the Role of the CIO," says the best way for the industry to stop that migration is to reward IT leaders with useful work and appropriate responsibilities.
"If CIOs are not being rewarded in the types of work and responsibility they are doing, then I think yes, each person really will take a hard look at what they want to do."

What's next for the role of CIO?

Ex-execs weigh in
Following news that retailer J.C. Penney this month eliminated the role of CIO, it's fair to ask what the future holds for the three-letter acronym that some say stands for Career Is Over.
"Borders thought they didn't need a CIO, and you can see how well that went," says marketing consultant Cathy Hotka, referring to the now-defunct retail bookstore chain that went out of business last year after struggling for several years. "They said, 'We are booksellers; why do we need technology?'" says Hotka, principal of Cathy Hotka & Associates.
Andres Carvello may have moved from CIO to chief strategy officer, but that doesn't mean he thinks the top IT post is outmoded. "Absolutely not," says Carvello, of Proximetry, a wireless network performance management vendor in San Diego. "CIOs are incredibly important. The companies that don't have true technology people at the highest levels are usually getting their lunch taken away."
The sea change brought about by cloud computing is changing the role of the CIO, says ex-tech-chief Jesus Arriaga, now a consultant with CIO Strategic Solutions.
As IT departments do more with less using cloud and other services, staffs are shrinking, but "the amount of people you have in your command or supervision does not dictate how effective you are," he says. "The cloud has opened a world of opportunity to help grow a company in more strategic ways than ever before. It's forcing CIOs to re-look at what they're doing."
Beyond that, Arriaga believes the job will merge into dual roles, such as CIO/chief marketing officer or CIO/chief operating officer. "The CIO role is just as important as it has been, but now CIOs need to be technical and have that strong business background too. Those are the ones who will be successful."
Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for from 2000 to 2008. Follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @TechManTalking, or email him at

Brain drain: Where Cobol systems go from here

Brain drain: Where Cobol systems go from here

When the last Cobol programmers walk out the door, 50 years of business processes encapsulated in the software they created may follow.

Robert L. Mitchell
March 14, 2012
David Brown is worried. As managing director of the IT transformation group at Bank of New York Mellon, he is responsible for the health and welfare of 112,500 Cobol programs -- 343 million lines of code -- that run core banking and other operations. But many of the people who built that code base, some of which goes back to the early days of Cobol in the 1960s, will be retiring over the next several years.
"We have people we will be losing who have a lot of business knowledge. That scares me," Brown says. He's concerned about finding new Cobol programmers, who are expected to be in short supply in the next five to 10 years. But what really keeps him up at night is the thought that he may not be able to transfer the deep understanding of the business logic embedded within the bank's programs before that understanding walks out the door with the employees who are retiring.
More than 50 years after Cobol came on the scene, the language is alive and well in the world's largest corporations, where it excels at executing large-scale batch and transaction processing operations on mainframes. Cobol is known for its scalability, performance and mathematical accuracy. But as the boomer generation prepares to check out of the workforce, IT executives are taking a fresh look at their options.
Is Cobol being used in your organization to develop new business applications?
Yes: 53%
No: 44%
Don't know: 3%
Base: 131 IT professionals
In a recent Computerworld survey of 357 IT professionals, 46% of the respondents said they are already noticing a Cobol programmer shortage, while 50% said the average age of their Cobol staff is 45 or older and 22% said the average is 55 or older.
"Organizations are trying not to get backed into a corner because of the skills issue," says Paul Vallely, mainframe sales director at software vendor Compuware. "I haven't seen companies move off mainframes due to the Cobol skills shortage yet, but it's looming."
For Bank of New York Mellon, which bought its first mainframe in 1955, keeping the core Cobol applications that run the business on the mainframe makes sense. Modernization efforts have made BNY Mellon's Cobol-based programs more accessible through the use of Web services and up-to-date user interfaces.
But for some noncore applications, and for smaller workloads, organizations have been gradually migrating off of mainframes -- and away from Cobol. In some cases, Cobol programs are simply rehosted on Linux or Windows servers; in other cases they're rewritten in object-oriented languages; and some programs are being replaced with packaged software.
They might want something more flexible, but they just can't do it. They're captive to Cobol.
Adam Burden, global application modernization lead, Accenture
"Over the past five years, there has been an acceleration of [some] businesses moving off host platforms," says Adam Burden, global application modernization lead at Accenture. Often that means leaving Cobol behind by either rewriting it for J2EE or .Net or moving to packaged software.
Gartner estimates that the world has seen about a 5% decline in total Cobol code over the past few years. Much of that decline was due to migrations by small and midsize mainframe shops that move off what they see as a legacy language when they retire the hardware, says Gartner analyst Dale Vecchio.
It's declining because the functions can be developed by some other building block. "Cobol is no longer needed," Vecchio says. "There are alternatives."
Rehosting can get code off the mainframe quickly. One vendor catering to users thinking of pursuing that option is Rockville, Md.-based Micro Focus, whose offerings include a system that will support Cobol programs on a Microsoft Azure cloud.
But rehosting is often seen as just an intermediate step on the way to completely modernizing and transforming Cobol systems.

Cobol's image problem

A procedural language, Cobol is not perceived to be as agile as object-oriented languages for modern programming needs such as mobile apps and the Web. And despite the availability of state-of-the-art Cobol development environments -- including IBM's Enterprise Cobol on the mainframe and Micro Focus's Visual Cobol, which integrates well with Microsoft's Visual Studio development suite for .Net -- Cobol is widely viewed as a legacy language.
Nearly half (49%) of the respondents to our survey whose organizations don't use Cobol said the reason is that the language is simply outdated.
Not everyone agrees, of course. "Cobol has had lasting value, and it's not broken," says Kevin Stoodley, an IBM fellow and CTO of enterprise modernization tools, compilers and security at IBM.
A majority of the Computerworld readers who took part in our survey seem to concur with Stoodley: 64% of the respondents said that their organizations still use Cobol -- more than any modern language except for Java/JavaScript and Visual Basic. That figure is actually slightly higher than the response rate to a similar question the last time we conducted a survey on Cobol use, back in 2006: In the previous survey, some 62% of the respondents said they still used Cobol.

To what extent do your organization or systems use these programming languages?

Language nameA lot A littleNone
Cobol 48% 16% 37%
JavaScript 41%41%19%
Java39%40% 22%
C#26% 25% 50%
VB.net25% 38% 38%
Visual Basic22% 49% 30%
Base: 202 IT professionals.
Percentages may not add up to 100 because of rounding.
In the more recent survey, over 50% of the respondents said that Cobol represents more than half of all internal business application code.
"There has been no renaissance for Cobol," says Accenture's Burden. "There's not a whole lot of new development going on. But our clients are enhancing their core applications and continue to maintain them." Indeed, 53% of the respondents said that they're still building at least some new business applications in Cobol. The vast majority of that code is still being written for mainframes.
But the fact is that many IT organizations don't have much choice but to continue using Cobol. Migrating large-scale systems built in Cobol is costly and risky. "They might want something more flexible, but they just can't do it. They're captive to Cobol," Burden says.
The down economy has helped put off the inevitable, says Compuware's Vallely. "Economic issues provided everyone with a hall pass because not as many folks were looking to retire," he says. But as the economy improves, retirement plans may pick up too. "Organizations are trying to be more proactive," he adds.
"No other language has seen as big an impact from changes in the demographics of the workforce as has Cobol," Vecchio says. Going forward it will become more difficult to maintain a Cobol portfolio.
"The inflection point will come when enough Cobol programmers have retired that an organization can no longer tolerate the risk," he says. At that point, most of those programs will migrate -- but not all.

Rightsizing Cobol

For BNY Mellon, those Cobol batch and transaction processing programs on the mainframe represent an enormous investment. And while Gartner says it's technically possible to move mainframe workloads of up to 3,000 MIPS, the workload at the bank, which relies heavily on Cobol, consumes 52,000 MIPS of processing horsepower, spans nine mainframes and is growing at a rate of 10% each year.
"The business wants us to make investments in programming that buy them new revenue. Rewriting an application doesn't buy them any value-add," Brown says.
Instead, the strategy is to "rightsize" some noncore applications off the mainframe where there's a business benefit, try to keep mainframe MIPS growth under 5%, and stay the course with the bank's core Cobol applications by passing on the business knowledge to younger programmers the bank will need to recruit and train. (See "Closing the Cobol Talent Gap.")
Other functions, such as general ledger and reporting, are moving onto distributed computing platforms, where they are either replaced by packaged software or re-engineered into Java or .Net applications.
But Brown still needs Cobol programmers to replace those expected to retire, and the learning curve can last a year or more. That means adding staff and having a period of overlap as Cobol's secrets get passed on to the next generation. "I'm trying to get those people on board and do the knowledge transfer sooner rather than later," Brown says.
But that kind of proactive approach, and the extra costs it incurs, can be a hard sell. "We haven't gotten to the point of feeling the pain yet. When we do, it will happen," he says.
Brown wouldn't specify the number of people he's hoping to hire, but he says that the "real heavy need" will happen in the next five to 10 years, when the original mainframe programmers are expected to retire en force. BNY Mellon currently has "a few hundred" Cobol programmers on staff, Brown says.
Brown's concerns are well placed, says David Garza, president and CEO of Trinity Millennium Group, a software engineering firm that has handled code transformations for large businesses and government organizations. "Almost every job we get has Cobol in it," he says, and most of the calls come from organizations that have already lost their collective knowledge of the business logic. At that point, he says, a migration is "a big risk."

The cost of waiting

Trinity Millennium Group and other vendors like it have established processes for analyzing and extracting the business rules embedded between the lines of Cobol code. "The solutions have come a long way in terms of the ability to extract logic and rules," says Burden.
But the process is time-consuming and costly. One Millennium client recently spent $1 million to have its Cobol programs analyzed and business logic reconstructed as part of a migration project off of a mainframe. "If they had the legacy programmers there and we had done the exercise with them, it would have cost $200,000 and taken one-tenth of the time," Garza says. If you wait until that institutional knowledge is gone, he warns, the costs can be as much as 10 times higher than it would have been beforehand.
Are you noticing a shortage of Cobol skills in the labor market?
Yes: 46%
No: 23%
Not yet; expect it within five years: 22%
Don't know: 9%

Base: 99 IT professionals.
Compounding the loss of skills and business knowledge is the fact that, for some organizations, decades of changes have created a convoluted mess of spaghetti code that even the most experienced programmers can't figure out. "Some systems are snarled so badly that programmers aren't allowed to change the code at all," Garza says. "It's simply too risky to change it. They're frozen solid."

Package deal

That's the situation faced by Jim Gwinn, CIO for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. The USDA's System/36 and AS/400 systems run Cobol programs that process $25 billion in farm loans and programs. "We have millions of lines of Cobol, and there's a long history of it being rewritten," he says. "It has become increasingly difficult to change the code because of the complexity and the attrition of the knowledge base that wrote it." That's a big problem because laws that govern farm programs change every year, driving a need to update the code to reflect those changes.
Gwinn hired consultants from IBM, who concluded that rewriting the programs in a different language or rehosting them on a distributed computing platform would be complicated and costly. But the System/36 hardware had to go, so Gwinn decided to bite the bullet: The FSA will move off of its end-of-life mainframe systems by rewriting some of the code in Java and replacing the rest with packaged software from SAP.
But Gwinn says he'll miss Cobol. "It has been very stable and consistent, with little breakage due to code changes, which you see with Java-based changes," he says. "And in a distributed environment, you have to balance your workloads a little more carefully."

Going for a rewrite

The anticipated exit of institutional knowledge and the resulting shortage of Cobol programmers were also primary drivers behind NYSE Euronext's decision to re-engineer 1 million lines of Cobol on a mainframe that ran the stock exchange's post-trade systems. While Cobol was dependable, it wasn't viewed as maintainable in the long run.
If your organization doesn't use Cobol,
why not?
Cobol is an outdated language: 49%
We no longer have mainframes/We have discontinued Cobol: 42%
Cobol is an inferior language compared to the ones we use: 35%
Lack of Cobol skills in-house or in the labor market: 22%
Our enterprise is too small to have Cobol applications: 21%
Our enterprise is too new to have Cobol applications: 21%

Base: 77 IT professionals.
Multiple responses allowed.
Steven Hirsch, chief architect and chief data officer at NYSE Euronext, cites the need to make changes very rapidly as another key reason the stock exchange abandoned Cobol. "Ultimately, the code was not easily changeable in terms of what the business needed to move forward. We were pushing the envelope of what it took to scale the Cobol environment," he says.
So NYSE Euronext rewrote Cobol programs that run its post-trade systems for Ab Initio, a parallel-processing platform that runs on Linux on high-end Hewlett-Packard DL580 servers. The new environment allows for more rapid development, and the rewrite also eliminated a substantial amount of unnecessary and redundant code that had crept into the original Cobol programs over the years.
If a business's Cobol code doesn't need to change much -- and many batch and transaction processing programs don't -- the code can be maintained on or off of the mainframe indefinitely. But that philosophy wouldn't work for NYSE Euronext. "We are a rapidly changing business, and we needed to move faster than our legacy code," Hirsch says.
As for the stock exchange's trading systems, that's all proprietary NYSE Euronext software. "There's no Big Iron or Cobol," Hirsch explains. "There's been no use of mainframes in the trading environment for many years."

Rehosting: Lift and shift

When it comes to hiring new Cobol programmers, Jonathan J. Miller, director of information systems and services for Saginaw County, Michigan, is struggling. "We've lost our systems programming staff," he says. And like many government IT organizations that have suffered from budget cuts, he doesn't have much to offer those in-demand Cobol programmers.
What's your organization's level of interest in outsourcing Cobol maintenance, either onshore or offshore?
Not interested: 73%
Currently outsourcing: 18%
Interested: 9%

Base: 131 IT professionals.
Generous government benefits used to attract job applicants even though salaries were lower than they are in the private sector. Now, he says, "our pay hasn't increased in eight years and benefits are diminished." To fill in the gap, the county has been forced to contract with retired employees and outsource Cobol maintenance and support to a third party -- something that just 18% of the respondents to Computerworld's survey said they're doing today.
The Cobol brain drain is starting to become critical for many government organizations, says Garza. "It's a high-risk problem in many countries we are doing work in. The people have retired. Even the managers are gone. There's no one to talk to."
Saginaw County found itself hemmed in by the complexity of its Cobol infrastructure. It has 4 million lines of highly integrated Cobol programs that run everything from the prosecutor's office to payroll on a 46 MIPS Z9 series mainframe that is nearing the end of its life. With mainframe maintenance costs rising 10% to 20% each year, the county needs to get off the platform quickly.
What's your organization's interest in outsourcing Cobol development, either onshore or offshore?
Not interested: 81%
Currently outsourcing: 12%
Interested: 7%
Base: 131 IT professionals
But commercial software packages lack the level of integration users expect, and Miller's team doesn't have the time and resources to do a lot of integration work or re-engineer all of the program code for another platform.
So the county is starting a multiphase project to recompile the code with Micro Focus Visual Cobol and rehost it on Windows servers. An associated VSAM database will also be migrated to SQL Server. Miller hopes that the more modern graphical development suite will make the Cobol programming position, which has gone unfilled for two years, more attractive to prospective applicants. But he acknowledges that finding talent will still be an uphill battle.

A legacy continues

Is there a role for Cobol off the mainframe? "I don't believe there is. Cobol and the mainframe run well together, and that's where I want to keep it," says Brown of BNY Mellon. But the bank is still creating new Cobol components on the mainframe, and it will continue to do so.
That's a common sentiment among Accenture's large corporate customers, says Burden. Cobol will continue its gradual decline as midrange systems are retired and businesses continue to modernize legacy Cobol code or move to packaged software. Today, Cobol is no longer the strategic language on which a company builds new applications. But it still represents the "family jewels" of many organizations, Burden says. "They're enhancing existing applications and adding functionality to them," he says. "I've seen no slowdown in those activities."
If companies can't find talent to keep that infrastructure going, third-party service providers such as Accenture are ready, says Burden. The scale of Accenture's support operation is large enough to provide a career track for Cobol programmers, and he notes that it's easy to cross-train programmers on the language. "We can turn out new programmers quickly. So if clients can't support Cobol, we will," he says.
"People make too much of that trend that we're not graduating enough Cobol programmers," says IBM's Stoodley. Preserving the institutional knowledge is what's critical. "You can make a problem for yourself if you don't keep your team vibrant," he says. But as long as there's a demand for it, "businesses will find people willing to work on Cobol."
Cobol may have been created for simpler times in application development, but it remains the bedrock of many IT infrastructures. "You have to respect the architecture of Cobol," Burden says. "I don't see that changing for another 10 years, or even longer."

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter, or email him at