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The Rent Your CIO Blog

Where Experience Matters

A modern day True Detective Story

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On May 26, 2011,  I got a Skype call from Gladys (my bride of 26 years) calling from our home in Paraguay where she spends every summer. From the tone of her voice, I immediately knew something was wrong.  She was in tears. I immediately thought that someone in the family was ill, hurt or worst.

She explained that a well-dressed man carrying a portfolio knocked on our door and told the maid that Señora Gladys had asked him to repair a computer in our home.  Gladys was out running errands that morning.  The maid let him in.  Our nephew, who lives in our home was woken up by this guy rustling through the house.  Our nephew came downstairs to investigate, and saw this guy dashing out of our house with Gladys’s Mac Book Air, a fully loaded laptop computer that I had given her for her trip to South America.  That morning, Gladys had called the police and filed a report. But the police told her that there was not much they could do with so little information.

Six months earlier,  Charlie (our son) sent me a link he had seen on Reddit of an open-source free software application call Prey Project that helps you track down your missing computer or smart phone.  In less than 24 hours after I has identified on the web site that Gladys’s laptop had been stolen, I received an email from our missing laptop that included a photo of the guy that has our laptop.  As soon as the computer found an internet connection, the web cam took a picture. It also sent me screenshots of our guy’s email account and Facebook page where we were able to see more information about this guy, his friends, and his profile.  It also sent the physical location of the laptop shown on a Google map.  It turns out that Google has a geo-location database of IP addresses for Wi-Fi and other internet connections all over this planet.  So we knew within 100 meters where this guy lived.  This guy also used his full name as his SSID on his Wi-Fi, so with that information within minutes I was able to determine that he had gone to the University of Miami, we found his Facebook account and confirmed the web cam picture with that on his Facebook page. I also found his LinkedIn account and confirmed that he had a business in the Miami.

With this new information, Gladys called the police back. They were blown away by how much information we had on the guy. They had never seen anything like that and were checking in with us daily to get more information we might be able to get.  With the guy’s name they were able to confirm the web cam photo with the photo they had on file of the national ID all Paraguayans carry.  But his ID card had expired so the address was not current.  Nevertheless, with the geo-location information we provided the police were able to triangulate on the house by checking with neighbors.  The police arrived at the house to talk with the guy several times, but he was never around.

Startled Look when Prey Project took my picture from the web cam

This is the shocked look I had when I heard police sirens in the living room

To get a better understanding of how the software worked I identified another laptop at home as stolen.  When I opened up the laptop, I was frightened by the loud sound of a police siren as if it were in my living room, I saw the web cam flash quickly and a computer voice shouting at me saying “this computer has been stolen.  Please contact CP at RentYourCIO.com to resolve this issue”.  The same message was spelled out on the screen of the laptop. Within a minute I had an email report with a picture of me with alarmed looked as if my hair was standing on end. I was also able to confirm the accuracy of the geo-location.  It was less than a block from my home in Houston. Very impressive considering there isn’t any GPS on the laptop.

Two days later, on a Saturday I got a call from the attorney representing the guy with the laptop stating that his client just wanted to return it. I’m sure he was motivated by all the heat from the police calling on his  home, the sounds of police siren’s in his living room, and the fact that he knew we knew so much about him considering how quickly the police were able to descend on his home,  and  how much that could impact his business in Miami and livelihood in the US.

I gave the attorney Gladys’s local Paraguayan cell phone to return the computer.  Gladys and the attorney were talking within minutes after his call to me.  Gladys didn’t want to merely take back the computer because the whole case was under police investigation.  The police also cautioned her about dealing with the culprit directly.  So, Gladys informed the police of the contact, and that following Monday, the attorney returned the computer to Gladys with the police involved.  We don’t know what happened after that; whether they were able to pursue the original thief.  We were told our guy bought the computer from someone else, so it had exchanged hands from the thief to this guy in less than 24 hours.

On Monday I got a final report from Prey Project with a picture of Gladys as she had opened up the laptop on the patio of our home in Paraguay.  The triangulation was within a block of our home.

There are two reasons I’ve sent you this story. One is because I think it is damn interesting. And, two, is to give you my recommendation to set up Prey Project on all your computers (both Windows and Mac), and smart phones (unfortunately the iPhone is not supported yet).  It’s a  no brainer.  The software is free for personal use (up to 3 per household), and reasonable if you have needs for more licenses, like  for your business. You can find out more on their website Prey Project.

Top 10 Mistakes Made by IT Professionals (Part 2 of 3)

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3. Get dirt under your fingernails.

When was the last time you wrote a line of code? How about when was the last you built a virtual machine? This is IT “trench-work”. And, real work gets done in the trenches.

Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves to do the hands-on work alongside your IT staff.  Not only will you add value to the business but you will garner credibility at all levels of the organization.  The owner and management will seek you out because of your results. For example, I just recently got called by a client to go to South America to help get their ERP project back on track.  The client called me specifically because of my reputation to get results, in contrast to leading others or providing strategy fluff.  The reality is that small to medium-sized businesses only need 1 day a year of IT strategy and 364 days of execution. And in today’s market, execution skills on your resume can get you a job a lot faster than strategy skills.  But I digress.  Resume building is another topic that I’ll get to in a later post.

If you don’t have current skills to execute then begin learning something useful today so that you can get into the trenches sooner. Learn new skills that are marketable.  What do you know about the latest Web 2.0 programing, such as AJAX?  Can you create a data warehouse and Business Intelligence tools?  What about designing Work Flow processes?

4. Be up close and personal with your customer

This isn’t an exaggeration:  ninety seven percent (97%) of my business’s net income come from customers I know personally or customers referred to me from friends.

One day my squash buddy called me, “Corey, I just got into Chicago, and got onto the convention floor when my staff called me saying, ‘Hey, boss, the server just went down.  Should we go home?’  What should we do?”    I happened to be the first person on his mind for this kind of work because of the simple fact that I played Squash with him 2-3 times a week.

And, that’s the level of personal relationship that works.  You need to go beyond the random lunch dates, friendly phone calls, or generic company Christmas/Thank you cards.  We all get them, and they seem shallow. You have to get onto their personal calendar.

You have to ask yourself. “How close am I with my customer?”  When was the last time we went out for lunch?  Could you pick up the phone and comfortably ask your customer for a personal favor, like donating to your favorite charity, or borrowing his car in a pinch?

Magic happens when you are in front of the customer, so find any excuse to be on-site.  It’s one of the best ways to build that relationship. If that isn’t possible, then pick up the phone and talk with him/her.  But, always use email last. Email is impersonal and tedious. It’s great for following-up to your spoken words, but nothing’s as good as face time.  But I’m meandering a bit.  The method on building relationships is such a rich topic that it deserves a separate blog post.

5. Know your business

We conclude today’s post with one of the most important lessons to be learned in the IT world: knowing which business you’re in.

You’ve probably heard the story of the motivational speaker in a room of IT professionals who surveys the entire room by asking them to raise their hand, “if they were in the IT business”.  As one would presume, everyone raised their hand.  Next, the speaker asked if anyone in the room didn’t work in the IT business, and only one person raised their hand.  We come to find out that this sole individual was in the tire business for Goodyear was their IT director.

Although cliché, this scenario seems to be fairly representative of the IT sphere.  I find it amazing at the amount of people in IT who still get their purpose confused.  They don’t internalize the concept that IT exists because of the business it supports.  They’re the tail wagging the dog.

If you want to one day get to the C-level table, you have to understand the business you’re in.  Otherwise, the flip-side is that you may be the first in line to get a pink-slip in a down economy/business.

Knowing the business you are in requires the right mind set. To develop that, you need to learn as much about your business as quickly as possible.  Get out to the field, and see how operations work.  Better yet, take an assignment in operations for a year or two if you can.  Learn as much as you can so that you can contribute ideas and decisions to improve the business.

Top 10 Mistakes Made by IT Professionals (Part 1 of 3)

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I am calling IT professionals out. IT, you haven’t been doing your job.

After over 30 years of experience practicing IT in business, I’m throwing down the gauntlet to IT.  Your goal should be help businesses grow, generate revenue, and reduce costs.  How many times have you heard that? It’s got to be annoying, right? You read it in books, you read it on blogs, you hear it from experts, but you still don’t get it.

So I’m going to make it absolutely clear to you guys.  Below, I’ve compiled 10 different ways on how you are still getting it wrong.

Frankly, it’s IT’s screw-ups that keep me in business, so why should I be telling you this?  I’m exposing this to business owners because I know you can relate to how IT just doesn’t deliver value to your business.  You can view this as a list of possible red flags on how IT is handled in your business and what to avoid. Have faith; not all IT has to function like this.

In addition, I feel passionate about my profession and would love to see my colleagues succeed. IT professionals can look at this as a list of do’s-and-don’ts to help your career and to finally “get it”.

1.  IT Boys and their Toys

IT professionals tend to make purchase decisions as if they were buying a toy rather than making an investment decision.  As an owner, do you feel you are getting a good return on investment on what you’ve spent on technology?   As an IT leader do you consider ROI in all of your technology recommendations?

A good IT buddy of mine was given the go-ahead from his new boss to buy the latest computer for new job at our firm.  He bought dual monitors for his laptop back in the day when they were just entering the market.  The owner went ballistic because he felt that my buddy had wasted the owner’s money. His purchase stuck out like a sore thumb among all the co-workers because he was the only one in the bull pen with dual monitors.

The problem here is two-fold.  One, the purchase may have been too extravagant for the times, and two, the business owner may not have seen the value of the purchase at the time.  Bottom line; the owner was right, because any expense in a business should be for creating value. Even if the purchase could have been cost-justified as a good investment, my IT buddy didn’t justify the value to the business owner.  Make sure you understand and make decisions on the true value or return on investment. By the way, it is OK if the purchase creates value and happens to be a “toy” too.

2.  There are 10 types of people in this world: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

We’ve all heard of the scenario of the expert car mechanic stumping his customer with engine repair jargon, “Well, I can see y’er problem right here.  Y’er rocking rod ain’t hittin’ yer sizzling wheel to make the kadoodling valve go.”

Technobabble makes you sound like you’re speaking a foreign language.

Fancy words alienate you from your (internal) client and makes you sound like a snob. It’s unsocial, confusing and further divides you from your client.  When business decisions need to be made, communication should be clear and understandable.  I suggest learning business’s terms and concepts and speak only using business vocabulary.

This takes a paradigm shift.  Don’t’ talk to the C-level execs about needing another server. Explain that if our business grows at the rate it is now growing, we will need more room to store all the information to run the business, and that means by the way, we need a new sever to match our growth. The server is just details. How to communicate this effectively is such an important skill that it will be covered again in a later blog post.