Sustainable heating in Brisbane

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This is a bit of a departure from my regular blog topics, but I thought people might be interested in a sustainability project that I undertook at home.

I live in a tin and fibro house in Brisbane. While this sounds unattractive, the house itself is architect designed from the late forties and looks out onto a magnificent rainforest. It has nearly three stories of windows facing East and is beautifully light and breezy.

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Unfortunately what keeps us delightfully cool in the summer becomes an ice-box in the winter. We have a log fire and thick down duvets so in the evenings there is no real problem with this. It is in the mornings that we really suffer.

The inside of the house remains significantly colder than outside until about 3PM. Then finally the sun through the windows has warmed it up enough to be pleasant. I am talking about an inside temperature between 12 degrees and 16 degrees through the mornings. Brisbane typically gets to 21 or 22 degrees.

I saw a solar air heater on the internet and decided to install it as a way of heating inside on winters mornings. I bought a Solar Powered Solar Air Heater – Large (1m x 1.4m) for $1,499.00 from Negergy. This arrived promptly in a big cardboard box with some installation instructions.

I had found a place high up in the house to install it. The wall gets the morning sun early and remains in the sun all day. I bolted some wooden mounting bars into the studs with 10mm self tapping bolts, recessed into the bar. I made the bottom bar wider than the top one to give a 6 degree upward tilt.

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I drilled the holes for the two penetrations. This is tricky because the holes have to be exact (the instructions give the spacing). It was then a matter of hoisting the unit into place. I used a climbing rope slung from the other side of the house and a pulley. I tied myself on with an ascender and a climbing harness (I recommend using these having seen so many people fall from ladders in 24 hours in emergency).

One of the penetrations (air inlet) comes straight into the upstairs room. The other is into the roof cavity and I decided to pipe the hot air 8 metres using insulated ducting I bought on the internet. This goes through the roof, down 100mm storm water pipe at the back of a cupboard and to an outlet vent in the ceiling below. Needless to say this was also pretty tricky.

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When the sun came out I was really disappointed. The amount of air coming through the outlet was small and not very warm. When I checked in the roof I didn’t have leaks, but the inlet area was really hot. I believe what was happening was that the inlet air is compressed into the ducting and heats up. By the time it reaches the outlet it expands again and cools down having lost most of the energy on the way.

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Undaunted I bought a computer fan from Jaycar and set at it with my multitool to make it fit in the 100mm plastic pipe. I then connected this to a 10W solar panel next to the solar heater (direct connection, no capacitors or anything).

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Now, come 9:30AM, the fans are both on and there is a steady stream of hot air coming out of the ceiling. Unfortunately most of it rises up, so we put on the ceiling fans to gently waft it back down. The heat keeps coming on a sunny day until about 3PM.

So does it keep the house warmer? I believe so, but have not been through a complete winter. To really test I would need to get some thermocouples and measure the temperature profiles on similar days with it on and off.

Total cost was about $1,600 but if I charged for my time it would be a different story. I am pretty good at DIY, but I found this a challenging project. I believe it was worthwhile, although the fans are a constant background noise. I can turn them off with the thermostat and a separate switch for the computer fan.

I’ll try to remember to give you an update as we get to the depths of winter.

 

Unleash the analyst in you

Flying in to do strategy
Flying in to do strategy

I have recently made a big change in my life, leaving a CIO role to join a top notch consulting firm. My business card calls me a Strategic Analyst, I get half the pay and have twice the fun. So how different are the jobs of an analysts and a CIO?

I have come up with 4 areas that highlight the similarity:

  1. The CIO as a strategist – The heart of any strategy is analysing current state, developing a vision of a future state and working out what is needed to get from one to the other. The future state is developed with the help of research, providing insight into trends in customer, marketplace, regulations and technology.The output from this enterprise analysis work may be a strategy and roadmap or a business case, all of which need to be bread and butter for a CIO
  2. The CIO as a builder – Much of the executive focus goes into the projects that IT are working on. While these typically represent only 30% of IT expenditure, projects are exciting and presage business change. While many see the skills of project managers and business analysts as the key to success, the CIO should be thinking at the program level. A well designed program focuses on how to integrate many initiatives to deliver an outcome that furthers the business strategy.Pulling good programs together needs enterprise analysis. CIOs need to be thinking about how all the moving parts of projects, programs and BAU knit together to deliver an outcome. The more components that are in motion, the greater the risk and the more strategic the analysis needs to be.
  3. The CIO as an operator. IT systems are not much use if they are not working! CIO careers can easily come unstuck when outages and security breaches cause embarrassment to the businesses.
    To operate IT systems well, the analysis effort needs to go into the IT processes up front. With a good service management framework in place, the CIO needs to ensure that operations are adequately resourced with skilled people committed to outcomes
  4. The CIO as a leader. One key skill for CIOs is as a leader of their team and as a networker / leader of stakeholders. Leadership is open to analysis. There are management techniques that are known to succeed and some CIOs develop a formal relationship architecture.In the end, relationships are about people and your personality type has a big impact here. You don’t have to be extrovert to be a CIO, but you do need empathy and excellent communication skills.

For me, CIO as an operator was my Achilles heel. I could never see how fixing the CIO’s phone was more important than keeping a mine site running or ensuring the intensive care ward was operating. I can now focus on what I am really good at – enterprise analysis, strategic thinking, business case development and program formulation.

So how many of the areas above does your CIO tick off?

The four faces of IT


 Tother_Triumph Triumphs 2CV  Grace 1

 

The times they are a changing, and as businesses adapt to the new reality of technology driven value creation, IT departments are changing too (finally)! The scenarios that I am about to paint are not new; what has changed is the scale and ease of action.

These days almost every business function can be enhanced with cloud based information systems – from rubbish collection to retail. The business unit managers are being approached continuously by salesmen with products, and there are compelling business benefits available.  Managers can sign contracts and have working systems in place in a matter of weeks with no interaction with IT. Everything is available through the browser.

Of course problems arise through time – the cost of the system may escalate as more users are put on; the business department has to manage user names and passwords; the reports from the system are limited unless other organizational data can be added; the supplier may have regular outages; and finally the IT department may upgrade systems or security and the system stops working.

If this happens with just one business department, IT can help to resolve the issues; but when it happens everywhere, IT has real resource limitations and cannot respond effectively. This of course drives a further cycle of bypassing IT (maybe by contracting external help).

So how do we deal with this new reality? The answer is first to get on the front foot and work out between the executives what sort of IT department they want from the choices below:

  • Fixer – The business units drive their own agenda, and only occasionally take advice from IT. Often IT cannot influence the outcomes, but has to resolve issues as they arise. The IT department pours its resources into reactive capability and loses control on strategy and architecture. This is happening to many IT departments today.
  • Governor – In this approach, the IT department takes a governing role, collating a single list of technology projects, identifying interactions and pre-requisites but not holding the budgets. IT may set policies on security and service requirements and is likely to get involved in technical negotiations with suppliers. Depending on IT’s ability to influence (and the quality of its advice) this might improve the outcomes but does not deal with issues such as funding for components to tie the initiatives together.
  • Integrator – Here the organization accepts that businesses do not have the skills to procure and manage IT systems. Executives assign responsibility to various departments and ensure that they have the right competencies. For example procurement may need to develop specialist IT procurement skills; compliance would have staff who could take a close look at the technology; audit may verify supplier performance; and IT would take on integration, service desk and other functions. IT is just one of the team with certain key accountabilities. In this model IT has a clear (but limited) accountability and may have to release resources into other parts of the organization.
  • Orchestrator – In this (somewhat scary) model, IT acts like the conductor of the orchestra, ensuring that all components are identified and actioned. The CIO takes accountability and pulls together all the necessary components in a program approach. The IT department has to be agile to meet the expectations of the business and the CIO needs hefty support to ensure that the business department is serious about delivering on benefits.

The key to success in this whole debate is to decide – then do. If you just drift into a particular scenario, it may be very difficult to change to another model.

So are you ready to have the discussion with your executive on which face of IT they want to see?

What they don’t know

Birthday cake
Surprise!

Have you ever been to a dinner and known that one of the guests is about to get a surprise? The tingling excitement seeing their normal carry on persona until “it” happens and everyone shrieks in laughter. Well I sometimes feel IT / Business meetings are a bit like that – each side sharing what they think is important and when problems happen they ask “how could they have not known about that?”

The big IT decisions are taken in leadership governance forums, structured to get the right level of input about the opportunities and threats from the business, and likewise from technology. The trouble is that they don’t know everything that we know (on either side of the table). In fact often we don’t think they have sufficient understanding of the realities of the world we live in (again common to both sides).

People have to take decisions based on their understanding of the relevance and quality of the information in front of them. And if you want to get good outcomes, you have to take good decisions. So how do you develop effective governance in the organization. I have a few tips:

  1. The business side needs to see technology literacy as a core development requirement of its leaders. This is not about giving them an i-pad, but teaching them about the value of frameworks, the role of enterprise architecture and service models. Formal courses are required here and an increased technology focus in MBA courses would be a good start.
  2. There just has to be less optimism around IT solutions and more realism. Yes they are the free lunch that accounting firms drool over (while the IT folk work through lunch); but miracles don’t happen, they are dragged out by strong leadership teams steering a steady course and holding to realistic business outcomes – just like the team did with the Collins Class improvements.
  3. The people mix has to be right. You need governance teams with perceptive insight. These may not be the operationally focussed IT staff who have been promoted for brilliantly resolving the ceaseless IT outages. More likely it is the analysts or architects who will develop to GOVN7 competencies.
  4. The information that is shared has to be just right! The governance meetings may take up only a few percentage of the working week. What information to share and what to leave under the covers becomes very important. For project governance, this is reasonably well understood. As you move to programme, portfolio and business process governance, it comes down to having the right leaders with the perceptive insights of what is really important.

I have been a member of a State Government programme board for one of the largest IT projects in the country. We used to receive 300 page board packs, supplemented with consultants’ reports that ran to 100 pages each.  Fortunately we had perspicacious board members who knew where the really important information was – and it was very rarely in the executive summary!

So how do you think we can improve knowledge on both sides of the table?

Gregory House for CIO?

The right approach?
The right approach?

Being in a household full of teenage kids, it is hard to find TV programs that everyone wants to watch. One series that we all agree is intriguing and entertaining is House – the story of a brilliant doctor saving his patient’s lives through his intellect. Along the way he struggles with drug addiction, dysfunctional personal relationships and, most intriguingly, managing a high performing team.

I see all sorts of similarities between this evidently contrived medical environment and my experiences as CIO trying to get the best out of my team for their own sakes and to deliver to the organization.

So how does Dr House stack up against my principles of what makes a good leader and especially a good CIO?

  1. Integrity. For me this trait stands above all others in importance (as it does for any executive). On the face of it, House lacks integrity – he lies consistently, is always taking money off Wilson and almost always avoids answering questions. Behind this somewhat dispiriting façade, you know that House holds certain values with incredibly high integrity. He puts his patients first in front of his career or image. He is open and honest about the life that he leads, even if it doesn’t fit society’s norms; and he bases his decisions on fact and not prejudice.
  2. Strategic thinking – CIOs need strategic bones in their bodies (see The Reluctant CIO!) and this takes a certain thought process. They have to be comfortable “in the fug”, not having the full picture but still being confident enough to move in one direction. This is House’s life: a patient presents with lots of data, but insufficient information to diagnose. He has to weigh up the risks of each test or treatment against the risk of inaction (usually the patient will die). He never just sits and holds his head; he always picks a path and follows it.
  3. Domain expertise – This is a tricky area for CIOs; they need domain expertise but it needs to be in the right area. They should not be experts in configuring routers or writing code. They do need to be great at managing risk, optimizing architecture, process management and governance functions. House is the ultimate domain expert in managing risk. He doesn’t know the diagnosis any more than his team (until the last 5 minutes), but he can weigh up the risks of various options and tells the team to “Go!”
  4. Communications – A core requirement of a CIO is to communicate the opportunities, challenges, risks and achievements of information technology. In this area you would have to say that House fails dismally, at least at face value. He interacts rudely with his patients (he would rather not talk to them) and prefers to hang out in the morgue or with coma guy. To counteract this perspective, we know that House is the best asset of the hospital, so somehow the word has got out. Maybe he really does know how to communicate – just in unconventional ways.
  5. Relationship building – I have always thought that the relationship web that a CIO weaves is his or her biggest asset. The CIO must work up, down and across developing trust and enthusiasm. House has a strange set of relationships with Cuddy (up), his team (down) and Wilson (across). The recurring challenge with his team is to let them make their own decisions (and mistakes) but not let them kill the patient (which sometimes happens). This is like any CIO challenge – let the Operations Manager manage operations, but know when you have to step in to save a disaster.

So how would you like to be in Houses’ team? A mixed blessing I think!

To interim or not to interim?

Ankor Wat temple
Built to last
There is an approach that is gaining popularity in Australian organizations called “Executive Transition”. This is where the departure of an executive leads the organization to take stock of where it is, where it wants to go and what kind of executive it needs to get there. They might bring in an interim specialist manager who can immerse themselves in the organization, reviewing existing strategies and updating them to reflect contemporary thinking. The interim can then paint a picture of what the replacement executive should look like and assist with recruitment and ongoing support once appointed.

So how well would this approach apply to replacing a CIO?

There are some real positives for the organization:

  1. Many executives have real frustration over the performance of IT in their organization. Complaints are often met with the mantra that IT does not have enough resources, yet they see money being wasted on ineffective IT projects and high third party costs. Getting a reliable and reasoned perspective from an experienced interim CIO is very valuable
  2. There are basic practices in IT that are widely accepted as fundamental to an organization realizing value from technology. These include a business case approach, project management, IT governance, enterprise architecture and service management. An interim can assess the performance in these areas and in a short timeframe restore broken processes.
  3. Different organizations needs different CIOs. In some cases, the CIO is there to keep the infrastructure running – particularly when a business feels that there is little threat from IT enabled market pressures. Where IT is a key part of a transformation agenda, a strategic CIO is needed to ensure that the broader opportunities from IT are leveraged.

Of course there are also down sides to this approach:

  1. Developing an IT strategy involves stakeholders from throughout the organization. To be effective, the stakeholders have to hold a degree of trust in those implementing it. If the replacement CIO does not feel that they own the strategy, the strategy can become a hinderance rather than an enabler.
  2. A critical part of any IT turn around is the IT team. To perform consistently at a high level, the IT department must have the right people with the right motivations, meaning a career structure and associated accountabilities. An interim only has so much influence here as this is the critical work of the permanent CIO.
  3. The time that an interim is in place may seem like treading water. The interim must balance the need to take long term decisions against the reality that they will not be in place to implement them.

I have held roles as interim CIO and as permanent CIO. I believe there is an underutilization of executive transition in Australia. As an interim CIO I can bring a range of experience and knowledge that you would not normally find in the market. Developing strategies, creating relationships with stakeholders and engendering turn-arounds are all high on the list for my “high satisfaction” days.

Do you think your organization could do with an executive transition program for IT?

Innovate in the Cloud

inspiration from the clouds
inspiration from the clouds

One of the hallmarks of the digital world is the ability to innovate. People can convert a good idea into a saleable product with much less investment than 10 years ago. There are all sorts of digital tools being made available in the cloud either for free, or very inexpensively, in every area from knitting to customer relationship management.

Our new generation of digitally enabled workers, see the opportunities from these tools and want to apply them in the business context. Individuals with a passion to improve the quality and quantity of their work will put in the extra discretionary effort to utilize cloud solutions in the workplace. Unfortunately if they ask the IT Department how they can do this, the answer is often “NO!”

In my CIO roles, I was constantly challenged with finding ways to enable these digital evangelists to innovate. Unfortunately we really did not understand the information that might be shared using these tools. It could be as benign as a list of building defects, or as sensitive as the plans for a military base. There are real risks from putting unknown information in the cloud with minimal opportunities for contractual redress if it is shared or stolen.

So how can an IT Department enable cloud innovation and manage the risks? I have a few suggestions:

1. Categorize information. Make sure that the organization has a single categorization of sensitivity (e.g. unclassified, restricted, confidential, and secret). The ideal way to implement this is through an enterprise content management system, but make sure you get an intuitive system that your Grandmother would be comfortable with.

2. Educate the managers. Most managers deal with business risks on a day to day basis. If they are informed of the risks inherent with the cloud, they should be able to balance that against business value, and assume accountability. This is not about frightening managers with worst case scenarios but about realistically assessing and documenting the risk in the enterprise risk framework.

3. Simple business cases. Staff who want to trial cloud based solutions should be encouraged to document the outcomes that they hope to achieve. They should undertake a post implementation review and evaluate whether solution should be maintained, scaled up or discontinued.

The paradigm required to successfully innovate in the cloud is a co-operative relationship between stakeholders. Businesses are using technology to evolve outside the purview of IT, and this isn’t going to stop. There will always be information and systems that require the robust processes of an IT Department. Where this overhead is not justified, the business should be given every opportunity to hop on the digital bus through easily accessible cloud solutions.

Does anyone out there think they have control over innovation in the cloud?

Awesome Bill

Bill Gates on Q & A
go Bill

I watched with great fascination the visit of Bill Gates to Australia this week. His session on Q&A was excellent with great questions from a diverse audience. He was also good at the Press Club lunch, although the questions from the press were decidedly average (proving that no journalist can go a lunch and desist from drinking a full bottle of wine).

Bill was spot on the money with his message – that properly targeted resources can make a real difference to the tough problems in the world. He showed us the outcomes, highlighting the reduction in infant mortality as a key indicator of success. He also highlighted the influence that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has had in driving towards that success.

This set me to thinking why a “software geek” should be so effective when countless billions of aid money from other sources has done less. I think there are a few imperatives that he has learned as a CEO of Microsoft that stand him in good stead for the task:

1. Outcome driven. There was very clear purpose in the work that Bill presented. The purpose could be expressed simply (eradicate Polio) and no matter how complex the issues, all initiatives could be measured against this target.

2. Information Technology. Bill knows that IT is really about the information and not the technology. You have to gather good information, work out what the problem / opportunity is, postulate a solution, implement and measure, react to the outcomes with new programs or improvements to existing programs. Technology allows you to do this at scale, but information and analysis point you in the right direction.

3. Governance. Bill understands how powerful a force governance is. As the world’s richest man, he must be tempted to decide unilaterally, but evidently that is not his style. His position on GM foods was telling – don’t stop the science, but put in place governance structures for countries to decide whether the risk outweighs the benefit.

I contrast this with my experience as CIO for the International Red Cross. I was besieged by donors wanting to put technology in the hands of the poor. The purpose was to provide wings so the poor could fly! I would emphasise that technology costs resources to operate and unless the value proposition is clear it withers (as happened to innumerable high tech aid projects). Where resources are needed is in the systems and data that can be used to improve livelihoods.

Well done Bill for squeezing $80M from Julia for his cause celeb, and well done for inspiring us to keep trying to make the world a better place. I have just one request – please don’t die before you eradicate polio!

The idiot’s guide to going digital

Hercs the rabbit
clever rabbit

As an independent consultant I work with different sized companies who are all have the same challenges. They are fighting a war to survive and prosper in an environment where every dollar is precious. Meeting targets is a hard slog and at the same time the digital economy is transforming the world they know.

So how can business owners jump on the digital bus when their energy and precious resources are focused on keeping their head above water. The typical IT project would involve a strategy, a business case and one or more projects run by consultants and specialists. While this may be the right way to do things, it does not fit the reality of many businesses.

I was recently asked to put together a cut down digital strategy for an organization of 3 people. It was clear that many of the issues were common to larger firms (unclear requirements, conflicting expectations, lacking policies), but the opportunity to properly address these was limited. In their favour was flexibility and a tolerance for risk. They were looking for a trusted adviser (myself) to give them an answer – an idiots guide to going digital.

Here is what I recommended:

1. Pick a social platform and establish a presence. In their case it was LinkedIn, but other organizations may prefer Facebook, Google +, Reddit, Twitter or some other

2. Develop a web site based on WordPress. Linking this to blogs was important to them. A commercial content management system such as Sharepoint or VistaPrint is another option

3. Start using Yammer for internal collaboration. Knowledge management is a big part of the business

4. Develop an online policy (I start with the ABC Social Media Policy) and decide who decides on content

5. Put in place some basic tools to manage the systems – a password file, documentation, training and backups of core data

The recommendations fitted the capabilities of the organization, as did my bill.

Do you feel like you need an idiots guide to going digital?

The wrong trousers

stylish?
stylish?

You may have seen the Wallace and Grommet animation “The wrong trousers”. It is foolish and funny, but many business leaders feel like their IT systems are the wrong trousers. The technology that is supposed to enable their business is not sufficiently flexible, is not user friendly, takes too long to change and costs too much. So how did we end up here and what do we do about it?

The core reason for this poor fit is mis-alignment. The business wants one thing and the IT systems deliver something else. It is likely that when the systems were purchased they did not properly incorporate the business requirements. Then as the business has changed over time, there has not been an effective feedback loop that modified the systems. Other systems may have been added, with dependencies that make any changes very complex. Once this mis-alignment becomes severe, the system is often replaced rather than modified.

So how do we stop Groundhog Day when we decide on a replacement? Here are a few tips:

1. Business change. Any technology project must be seen as a business change project. The real costs of change will almost be much higher than the cost of the technology.

2. Business process approach. Identify the business processes early on. They will provide clarity for the business case and are critical in selecting the solution.

3. Service management. Ensure that one of the outcomes is a set of IT services. These should have defined performance, cost and governance for future changes

4. Value delivery. Drive change in the business to deliver on the business case benefits. Make this value visible and the CEO may be less likely to chop the IT budget next year.

The core to this advice is that any IT investment must be strategic and not tactical. I have heard business managers railing against the strategic approach – “We just need to do this..” or “Doesn’t such and such a system do what we need?”. It is tough for CIOs to stand up to this and propose a more comprehensive (and more expensive) approach.

I recall a time when a mining executive wanted specific software to manage stocks of tyres. He pushed for an accelerated project to install the software on the basis that it would deliver significant savings. The lite business case stacked up with a low IT investment and a high return.

I insisted that we did a more thorough business analysis. We mapped the business processes and compared the features required against that available on the market. At this level of detail, it was evident that the projected return on investment would not be delivered by the systems available. We could create a better outcome with spread sheets.

We saved some costs from cancelling the project early, but more importantly we did not hobble the business with a system that was not adapted to their needs. Of course no-one thanked me for this.

So if your organization is wearing the wrong trousers, will you tackle your next technology investment any differently?