25 min read

Letters To Bob Evans

Here are just a "few" letters in response to Bob Evan's column from last week (April 26, 2004)

I'll start with two snide comments, then point out three simple philosophies behind three not-so-simple operating systems. I know certain words that have vague definitions are in vogue these days, but a shibboleth by any other name is still a shibboleth. Oops, I just got run through. I must have said cloodge instead of kludge.

Snide remark 1:
Speaking of tchotchkes. Gesundheit.

Snide remark 2:
You must also be a Unix, Linux aficionado, the operating system of shibboleths.

Operating-system philosophies:

Microsoft Windows:
Most users know nothing about computers. A user still needs to feel that he/she is in control of the computer and comfortable in the driver's seat. A good operating system should know the mistakes most users will make and correct them automatically. That way the user will not feel threatened by the computer and even think, "Hey, this computer understands me!"

Steven Jobs/Apple MAC:
Most users know nothing about computers. A good operating system should be intuitive and not allow the users to have any control over it. That way the user will not feel threatened by the computer and will think, "Hey, this computer understands me!" This illusion can be heightened by the use of cute pictures and smiley faces sprinkled generously throughout.

Users should have maximum control over their computer. In order to operate one a user must enter into a deep dark chasm of kernels, troffs, and greps. To really be IN, a user should be willing to learn C, C++, and scripting languages for korns, bashes, and cshells, and others, often called Perls, ants, rexes, and Gnomes, go places where no user has gone before.

Given these three approaches to operating systems, I can see why Microsoft has little to worry about.

Jim Blastic
IMSD Network Applications Specialist
Milwaukee County Medical Examiner

"The future is already, here it's just unevenly distributed" is a saying I have used for years. Your analysis of the intelligence agencies government versus private ignores two central issues. The people we want information on do not participate in the technology society and assisting the United States is the act of a traitor. That it will take years to gain knowledge of a vicious nontechnological society should be no surprise.

The business world could help much better if it funded, via government agency, the purchase of the raw drug supply from the farmers. This sudden shortage would drive up the price of drugs and strain the networks that rely on steady cash flows and mark-ups along the distribution trail. A standing army of terrorists and narco-guards needs a steady flow of cash. Who knows what could be done with a few million tons of opium and cocaine?

Andy Johnson

Who gets your vote for your least-favorite person: (a) SCO chief ambulance-chaser Darl McBride; (b) the hacker who created the MyDoom virus; (c) Donald Trump; or (d) the juror who tanked the Tyco trial?

The juror in the Tyco trial stinks, but Donald Trump personifies what's truly wrong with this country. Our culture has deteriorated to a point where mindless TV blather has replaced any sense of common good. Yeah, I want to go on TV and have someone treat me like an idiot and insult me ...

What do you think of Infosys' recent announcement of its plans to hire 500 U.S. consultants over the next three years? Is it (a) a move aimed at placating an American public that feels victimized by the rise of India as a business-technology power; (b) a sudden and unexpected indication that India's rapidly growing economy has pushed incomes in that country so high that Infosys can now find qualified talent in the United States at lower wages; or (c) another example of a highly efficient global economy aligning resources and capabilities with business opportunities?

We already know that India places a much higher standard on education than this country does (unless you're an athlete). It has passed us and there isn't thing one that anyone wants to do about it, except ignore it, criticize it, and try to law it away. The announcement means nothing.

From which line of business does IBM generate the most revenue: (a) hardware, including all servers, PCs, mainframes, storage, etc.; (b) services; (c) software? Is that leading revenue-generator in decline and likely to be supplanted soon, or in ascendancy and likely to become the company's dominant offering? Will this affect how the company goes to market? Will this affect how other companies--whether in category a, b, c, or all of the above--position themselves and relate to you? Do you care? Should you care?

IBM always manages to survive. I do care. It is a good company.

If you had the power to change one thing about your job--just one thing, no matter how large or small, grand or pedestrian--what would it be?

I like my job and my company is one of the best to work for on the planet. But I need a new laptop.

At cocktail parties these days (that's a bit of a fib--I can't remember the last time I was at a cocktail party, and I hope it's at least as long until I have to go to the next one), everyone's talking about RFID. Is it a world-changer, or a worthless and overhyped solution in search of a problem? Is your company thinking about it, exploring it, deploying it, or ignoring it? Do you care? Should you care?

This one is tough. This is a good idea whose time has come. I don't think everyone is ready and it could spell disaster like some SAP implementations. Watch out.

As the economy picks up, would you recommend to your children that they pursue a career in your field? Why or why not?

No, I have told them to stay away from IT. Again, we as a nation are taking away the incentives to do anything in this field.

Michael J. Skiles

I'm between assignments at the moment, and have a few moments to muse on this week's "Between The Lines."

The Scarecrow from The Wizard Of Oz, after many adventures, had his head filled with cereal. It's never been clear to me why bran worked better than straw, but apparently filling your head with denser material can cause you to instantly learn the Pythagorean theorem. The rest of us, after our many adventures in business and IT, have apparently filled our heads with opinions; bran might be better. Our ideas are not likely to be better than the scarecrow's before he got his "bran new brain." Nevertheless, the questions raised are especially entertaining to consider.

Two short comments about why it will take years for our government to seamlessly integrate the many security agencies: It's not a technology problem, and most businesses aren't democracies.

The least-favorite-person survey includes some doozies. I am having a hard time choosing between those listed. However, I find it interesting that we are more likely to revile the juror rather than Dennis Kozlowski, Mark Swartz, and their cronies. Or the person who sent the letter threatening the 79-year-old juror. My write-in vote goes to the Tyco executives.

I think Infosys' announcement serves three purposes: Primarily, I think the global marketplace is balancing things out a bit. I'm also convinced the company's management thinks the move will placate some Americans. Finally, the move may be a response to recent news that some companies are pulling their support back onshore. A reasonable response to this threat is to hire "locals" specifically to improve coordination and communication.

Railroads have been using RFID for at least a decade. Universal "tagging" of rail equipment (locomotives, freight and passenger cars) was driven from within the industry, and financial incentives were employed (some roads actually made their tagging operations a profit center by applying tags to equipment belonging to other roads and billing them for it, as permitted by the agreement). The problems to be overcome were large and many: equipment not tagged, two cars with the same tag, placement of tags on equipment, spurious readings from nearby equipment, signal reflections, RFID equipment maintenance and failures, separating the meaningful events from those you are not interested in (such as someone moving a pallet to make room for a new shipment, and the inventory on that pallet being processed as new inventory), standards for communicating the scanned event, fallback procedures for RFID equipment failures, processing the massive amounts of input data, and integrating the information into the operational systems. In the long run, RFID produced significant operating efficiencies; more importantly, it helped with customer service. There were fewer errors in reporting shipment locations, improved forecasting ability, and an improved ability to share shipment locations with customers.

Finally, I would still enthusiastically recommend the information-technology business to those people who have both the aptitude and the interest. None of my four children has followed in my occupational footsteps, and I think this was probably best for both them and the industry. I have worked with people who seemed to be in the business for the wrong reasons: money, opportunity, geek chic, pushed into it, etc. Many of those people will never realize their potential and will require help and support for their entire careers. However, for those who have the aptitude, intelligence, and drive, the variety is endless and opportunities for creativity abound.

David Willard
Principal, Public Sector Group

I want my shot at a trinket and 15 minutes of fame! Here goes:

Who gets your vote for your least-favorite person: (a) SCO chief ambulance-chaser Darl McBride; (b) the hacker who created the MyDoom virus; (c) Donald Trump; or (d) the juror who tanked the Tyco trial?

While the suddenly ubiquitous Mr. Trump is certainly annoying, the most recent bonehead with waaaay too much free time on his hands is the obvious choice in this group, so I'll vote for "b."

What do you think of Infosys' recent announcement of its plans to hire 500 U.S. consultants over the next three years?

While I'd certainly love to see Infosys using qualified talent in the United States at lower wages than in India because of a realignment of global economy resources, my gut feeling is that this is a very savvy PR ploy, so I'm voting for "a."

From which line of business does IBM generate the most revenue: (a) hardware, including all servers, PCs, mainframes, storage, etc.; (b) services; (c) software?

IBM is IBM. It continues to survive and prevail in a large part simply because it is IBM. (Take the highly entertaining, if geeky, Linux ads run last year. Who was that aimed at, after all? Knowledgeable executives in an effort to bring them back into the Blue fold.) So, I vote for option "D": all of the above!

If you had the power to change one thing about your job--just one thing, no matter how large or small, grand or pedestrian--what would it be?

To eliminate the American business fixation on the quarterly/daily/weekly company stock price. It's time for vision and a "daily strategy" is what gets us the current sort of business fiascoes that we see in the press every day.

Is RFID a world-changer, or a worthless and overhyped solution in search of a problem?

This technology is destined to be the "flavor of the month" for a lot of the wrong reasons as marketing executives look to capture more customer data and supply-side managers look to better control and manage their inventory. However, it does have the potential to both revolutionize asset management and create mountains of information (especially if that data isn't properly managed).

Should we care? It depends. Any tagging technology does have the opportunity for mischief, so I think that we do need to watch its evolution and deployment from the standpoint of individual privacy. And, of course, if you are a storage specialist, this bears very careful watching for pitfalls and career opportunities!

As the economy picks up, would you recommend to your children that they pursue a career in your field? Why or why not?

I've had this conversation with some of my IT friends over the last couple of years. We have kids ranging in age from first grade to college bound.

All of us seem to feel the same way: The '70s, '80s, and '90s were very good to us and we had a lot of opportunities come our way. All in all a good run.

But the nature of the IT beast is that you are working for someone else, and, unlike 20 or 30 years ago, you simply can't trust them to look out for you and your welfare. The majority of the folks that I've discussed this issue with have said that, no, they wouldn't direct their kids into an IT career unless it was strictly in an academic pursuit. (Better to learn a trade if you want financial security--we always need, and will pay for, a plumber!)

Royal M. Richardson
Chester, N.H.

Intelligence agencies sharing information:

  1. They (the intelligence agencies) have to hire contractors, do reams of RFPs, and then hire the one they want.
  2. They (the intelligence agencies) don't know what is reasonable or not--they've been in the government too long to know.
  3. They (the intelligence agencies) really don't know what they want.
  4. The contractors know there will be huge scope creep because:
    • a. No one knows what they want.
    • b. The project will take so much time talking about it that the kitchen sink will creep in.
    • c. The contractors won't be hired if they have done for-profit work because they don't know the government--see item No. 2 above; it applies to the contractors as well.
    • d. So they have to multiply the time frame by four and add the seven people they couldn't find jobs for in the past six months.
  5. Each agency will want to protect its own turf--there isn't a CIO or CEO that could say, "Do this by 9/17/04 or I'll find someone who can," to all the agencies that are involved.
  6. They (government empire builders) will decide it needs to be a separate agency since they can't get everyone to work nice--around Jan 27, 2005.
  7. None of the systems have any similarities--data fields, data models, relationships, processes.
  8. None of the systems have up-to-date, complete, accurate documentation or metadata.
  9. Each agency has more than two systems that are incompatible and collect similar but "different" information, and there are no standards within that agency, or, if there are published standards, they are ignored.
  10. All of the systems started out small, single purpose and have grown over the years with no thought to architecture or standards or future growth thus they are penultimate examples of spaghetti code.

Dave Davis

My least-favorite person would be the hacker!

I am not sure if the RFID technology is going to take off in the way everyone expects it to, but should it actually do so, I think the supply lines will be gain greatly from it. After all, it should streamline the business flow with automated recording of data. Otherwise, I am keeping a wait-and-see attitude about the whole situation.

I don't have children yet, but this is a very open-ended question. I am unsure if I would tell them to pursue a career in my field or not. I think there is definitely a place for my position in most small businesses that do not have the money to outsource. But this is a changing field, and I am not sure what I would do here.

Josh Owings Advanced Automation

If I had the power to change one thing about my job, what would it be?

I would make end users understand the importance of submitting their requests in writing with full specs and an acceptable deadline. So much of my time and my staff's time is spent dealing with user requests where they want something now without understanding the level of effort involved. They also change their specs halfway through the game, making the time it takes to complete their request even longer since we have to reprogram based on their new specs.

If only the end users would give us what they want and need up front, it would make my job so much easier.

As the economy picks up, would you recommend to your children that they pursue a career in your field?

Honestly, no. In a recent straw poll across my department, I found that the vast majority of people were considering changing careers to something other than our current field. I know I'm considering leaving IT to go into medicine as either a paramedic or an RN. With the increasing outsourcing of IT jobs from the United States and the aging of the baby-boomer population, we're going to need more health-care workers over the next 10 years than we need IT people. In my group, we're burned out on the politics involved with IT and the constant fighting with the end users and management about meeting deadlines and scope creep.

I'm not saying that my children couldn't succeed in a career in IT, but I would encourage them to do something that their heart is in, so they enjoy what they do. IT has lost all the enjoyment it once had for me.

Who gets my vote for my least-favorite person? Since you didn't give the option of President Bush, I'll have to go with SCO chief-ambulance pusher Darl McBride.

What do I think of Infosys' recent announcement of its plans to hire 500 U.S. consultants over the next three years?

Honestly, I think it's mostly letter (a) regarding placating Americans, though I don't really think they feel victimized by the rise of India. Having hired IT contractors to come in for projects, the Indians are very good at what they do, but there is often a language barrier with them because of accents. That's not to say I haven't seen the same kinds of barriers when you put someone from New York in a room with someone from down South.

I think Infosys is responding to concerns of not being able to communicate with the people they have working as consultants. Of course, its announcement also makes me think of hiring quotas and wonder how it can get away with this from an EEO standpoint, but that's Infosys' problem not mine.

Todd Schoonover

Your April 19 column in InformationWeek was a good one. I won't try to answer all your questions, but I will respond to one of them.

You asked about IBM and its revenue sources. Paraphrasing, you asked, "Which delivers the most revenue: hardware, software or services? And what are the trends?"

There's no mystery here. IBM is a public company and publishes the breakdown of its revenue figures at that level. If you examine the IBM annual reports from fiscal year 2003 and prior years, you'll see that:

- Services revenue for IBM was 47.8% of overall revenue for 2003, fully 16 points higher (50% higher) than revenue from hardware, which was 31.7%. No context on the leading revenue producer for IBM.

- Services revenue as a portion of overall revenue has been growing steadily for years. In the years 2000-03, the numbers have been 39%, 42%, 45%, and then 47.8%. Fiscal year 2001 was the first year that services revenue exceeded hardware revenue for IBM. Will fiscal year 2004 results show that more than 50% of overall revenue for IBM is from services? Yes, if the trend continues.

- Conversely, hardware revenue as a portion of overall revenue has been shrinking for years. In the years 2000-03, the percentages have been 40.5%, 36.8%, 33.8%, and now most recently 31.7% Hardware revenue also dropped in absolute terms: The hardware revenue numbers for these years were $34.5 billion, $30.6 billion, $27.5 billion, and $28.2 billion, respectively. The decline has been aided by the sell-off of the disk drive business to Hitachi, but nonetheless this decline is large and significant in the hardware business lines IBM retains. The uptick in the economy and the launch of the new T-Rex mainframe (z990) during fiscal year 2003 has interrupted the long-term trend of declining hardware revenue for IBM. But it remains to be seen whether the declining trend will resume in 2004.

- While services is the largest revenue producer for IBM, software is the largest profit center. Yes, IBM's gross profit from software is larger than the profit from services or hardware. According to IBM's publicly disclosed figures, the IBM software group delivered about half as much revenue as the IBM hardware group, but 60% more gross profit! Comparing to services, software delivered just one-third the revenue, but 15% *more* profit.

The next question was, "Will this affect how the company goes to market?" And the answer is, of course it will. IBM wants to continue to grow its profit and will attempt to grow those businesses that support this goal. Meaning that hardware will continue to decline, while services and software will get investment.

IBM will continue to use services and software as mutually reinforcing businesses. Complex software drives the need for services to make sense of it all. And an army of 180,000 IBM consultants is a great channel through which to sell IBM software.

My question to you: Shouldn't IBM change its name to "IBS&S": International Business Services and Software?

Dino Chiesa

Here are my thoughts on the issues you raised.
  1. Two of the people you listed are in a dead heat for my least favorite person: the juror who derailed the Tyco trial, for convincing herself that if greedy, self-aggrandizing executives don't feel their actions are wrong, they should not be held accountable for their deeds of rape and pillage; and Darl McBride, a mouse who thinks he can roar by trying to terrorize users of a superior operating system.
  2. For your Infosys question, "c" is the most likely answer, although I'm not convinced that there isn't a fair amount of "a" thrown into the mix.
  3. I believe that IBM generates most of its revenue from software and services, areas that should provide significant growth opportunities for Big Blue. This should motivate a lot of companies to examine how they meet my needs, rather than how they can sell me their products.
  4. If I could change one thing about my job, it would be how the CEO and Executive Committee view what I do. All the flowery "execu-speak" aside, they don't know what I do, and they don't care. They are clueless as to how my efforts create jobs--and wealth--for them.
  5. RFID has the potential to improve the qualify of life of almost everyone. It's a solution that needs to be properly managed in order to protect the privacy of individuals, but it could have a major impact on many areas of my life. My employer is investigating it, and I hope he pursues the technology to reduce our costs and improve our responsiveness to customers.
  6. In a little over three weeks my son will receive his bachelor's degree in computer science. He spent last summer working as an intern in the IT department of a local utility and was asked to stay on part time during this past school year. He has been offered a full-time position and will start as soon as he receives his degree. There are major changes occurring in the IT field, but my son loves what he's doing, and I believe he should pursue it. However, I have strongly recommended that he not only gain expertise in IT, but also learn as much as he can about his new employer's business. After all, companies don't hire IT workers because IT is a neat field or even because there is IT work to be done. They hire competent, qualified IT professionals because their efforts contribute to the bottom line of the business. And IT professionals who understand how their efforts contribute to the business success of their employers will survive the current turmoil, and even prosper through it. That's part of what's made America great--growing and adapting to an ever-changing environment.

Matt Hinkle

Hands down Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft, plus the coterie of their associates.

I realize that the above is more than one, but I hope that will be changed by the next election.

I keep reading about all the polls, but as far as I know not one of friends, family, or myself have ever been questioned.

Samuel Kahn

Here's what I think I heard regarding the length of the critical path for changing/improving our intelligence services:

The problem is really finding, screening, selecting, and training the very large group of people with the language, cultural, and technical skills necessary to make the system work well. The absence of key language knowledge, by trustworthy individuals, has to be a minimum five-year problem just by itself.

I am more concerned that the gap is more nearly 50 years than five. Two generations sounds about right to correct this massive missing link.

Technology and culture march to two vastly different drummers.

M.W. Ehlers

There I was trudging down my own private brick road. One foot in front of the other. Straw slipping quietly out of my sleeve and then YOU DID IT!

How to get the FBI and CIA to coordinate/talk to/converse sooner rather than later? I do believe Dorothy would be proud of me. Yes, I have it right there on the tip of my chaff. Are you ready for this?

Go to one of these single find-a-mate sites. Locate 50 females who have spent the last five years trying to get their significant other to pop the question or at least move the head up and down when she said, "Will you marry me please?"

Out of the 50, select those that have been successful in getting those 30-something male to meet them at the alter. Now start to take notes because they can tell you what you need to do to get the FBI's and the CIA's to say yes.

Ah, there you have it. They spent the five years learning by trial and error what that Mr. Tennet will never figure out. Don't thank me. It's too late. Most of the straw is gone.

Oh, that's right, you had other questions. Drifted off there for a bit. Let's see, I pick Mr. Nice Try McBride; Infosys' finds talent in the United States without overtime paid; Big Blue mainframes, I care cause I don't want my card folded; learn how to spell; we're attaching RFID tags to every foreign national we can find on this side of our borders; not one of my children became a graduate engineer; not one of my grandchildren became one, currently working on my great-grandson, who is 8 months.

Stan Bishop

The issue of sharing information between security levels is much harder than you give it credit for. The first issue is identifying the data, then finding a way to mark it so there is no mistake. And then after you go through hoops to get the security folks to buy off on it, someone takes a shortcut because "those procedures were way too restrictive," and you have a corruption of data and have to start all over. Information sharing is done, but it is very carefully controlled.

My least-favorite person is Darl McBride. By far he has shown little redeeming value. Have you ever used SCO Unix? It's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop. To compare SCO Unix to Linux is really a crazy comparison as people actually like using Linux.

I think Infosys' decision to start hiring in the United States is a recognition that we are in somewhat of a global economy and you need to "have boots on the ground," as they say. It would have been ridiculous for the company to assume that it could run a business just in India to satisfy requirements and customers here in the United States. As we have overseas sales reps to understand the local customs and needs, the same goes for them.

I would guess that IBM generates the most revenue from services and will probably be their dominant offering. In the past I have worked with IBM, and the thing that makes its hardware and software so attractive is the specialized services that come with them.

If I could change one thing about my job it would be to get management to understand that some people are just no good and should be moved aside when it is apparent they are a problem. That even includes me if I am the problem as I may not always realize it.

RFID is destined to be like Y2K. Everybody gets all worked up about it, and when it finally happens everybody wonders what the fuss was all about.

Even if the economy picks up, I don't think I would recommend to my kids that they do IT as a pure play. IT as an integral part of running a business is what it is all about. I really don't miss the days when the system administrator was king, as most SAs didn't truly understand what their purpose in life was every day (making the business run). We need less arrogance and more listening to what the workers needs are instead of shoving technology at them.

Ray Williams

On the "blazing speed" issue, have you considered that the financial institutions you compared the government to do not still use 30-year-old systems and do not have civil-service employees who cannot be fired even though they only bother to come to work two days a week? (Technically I suppose they can be fired, but as a practical matter, they cannot be.)

Perhaps it's just as well that governments cannot move at blazing speed. We might all be road-kill!

Richard Gilbert