mm188: Blogging – NSFW!?! | 2 of 2

November 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Last post, we began to tackle the topic of work-related blogging. As constant reader will recall, the hook was the news that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, was taken to task by his board of directors for the blogging he did anonymously this summer while the FTC was reviewing Whole Foods’ takeover of Wild Oats, a competitor. Computerworld reported that top officers of Whole Foods are no longer permitted to post to discussion boards, blog, etc.

MUDGE‘s take on this issue: as constant reader can tell, MUDGE is not my real name; nor is HCA [short for Heart of Corporate America] the true name of my employer. Pseudonymity of these two elements [another version of the previous creative coinage] seems preferable to not, from a career longevity point of view. Or perhaps MUDGE is simply paranoid.

So, what’s more to say? Well, Whole Foods stubbed its organic tofu over this issue, very publicly. Is this a unanimous trend among the stalwart global enterprises based (presently) in the U.S.?

There are few global enterprises more ginormous than International Business Machines, IBM.

And IBM employees blog. In fact, they are encouraged to blog. In fact they are so proud of the fact that employees are encouraged to blog that in one presentation on collaboration tools for which your intrepid reporter was present, the statistics: 375,000 employees world-wide; 53,000 blogs, internal and external; 27,000 of which were currently active (as of 90 days ago) were flourished with pride.

Personal aside: Always wanted to work for those guys. Never felt I had the horsepower or the credentials or (at the time) nearly enough white shirts. Sigh.

Envy aside, IBM’s collaboration software entity, Lotus, is now promoting a series of products bundled under the banner, Lotus Connections, containing a myriad of tools promising to enable employee empowerment, and this year’s “i”-word, innovation, through collaboration. And one of those enabling tools: Blogs.

Understand that this foray into “social software” is no small casual fancy. During the three-day seminar for Lotus premium customers in Boston this past August, I attended more than a few presentations promoting Connections.

And, even in non-related programs, many of the Lotus and parent IBM speakers referenced their own public blogs.

From the promotional website:

lotusconnections

Blogs help you connect with people – within and outside your enterprise.

They help you build communities of shared interest.

They give each person in the enterprise a voice.

Because blogging is as natural as writing an email to a group, one can share his thoughts and solicit feedback without worrying about filling up everyone’s inbox.

Blogs help you communicate with your peers or colleagues and nourish innovation.

Very empowering. For MUDGE‘s very buttoned down employer, very unlikely.

I’m absolutely certain that many of my fellow employees (there are tens of thousands world-wide) have blogs, perhaps under their own names or more likely, pseudonymously. No way to tell, really. MUDGE knows for certain of only one of his colleagues who knows of his own specific activities here. A matter of paranoia, and trust.

I have the strong feeling that, when offered sweetheart deals for adopting, or even piloting Lotus Connections, my masters at HCA will have (or, already have had) no trouble politely refusing.

As with many of their global peers, they’re all for innovation. Indeed, without innovation, my employer would eventually cease to exist.

But the John Mackey Whole Foods example speaks thunderously to the dangers of the untrammeled communication offered by social software. That kind of innovation my employer, among many others, might well eschew.

Would be refreshing though, wouldn’t it?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm187: Blogging — NSFW? | 1 of 2

November 7, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the first, hesitant attempts at this newfangled hobby-thing called blogging, MUDGE has been very concerned about how any employee’s blog would be received by his specific employer.

We’ve tried to err on the side of… circumspection. Thus, the pseudonym, both for this writer, and for the occasional references to that employer in basically general, not to speak of generic terms: HCA, the Heart of Corporate America.

There’s bad and good to pseudonomity [did we just coin a new term? or just misspell an old one?].

The bad: as MUDGE, I lack a certain amount of credibility, especially when I write on the topic of web conferencing, one that I would like to be perceived as owning some expertise.

The good: as of this writing, I still have a job at HCA.

Which brings us to the cautionary tale of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. You might remember the story: during a turbulent acquisition of Whole Foods competitor Wild Oats, Mackey was exposed as having blogged anonymously, denigrating Wild Oats management and talking up his own company’s stock.

So one guesses that Mackey violated protocol: one supposes that it’s okay to do the above as a third party, unaffiliated with either entity, but it’s entirely too self-serving to do so when one is the CEO of one of the principals in the transaction.

And of course, Mackey violated the first rule of miscreancy [did we just coin a new term? or just misspell an old one?]: don’t get caught.

computerworld

Whole Foods to restrict online postings by execs after CEO brouhaha

They’re not supposed to post to blogs, message boards and other forums without approval

Heather Havenstein

November 07, 2007 (Computerworld) — After its CEO got caught bashing competitors and talking up his company’s stock in anonymous Internet forum posts, Whole Foods Market Inc. late last week changed its corporate conduct policy to ban company leaders from posting anything online about the company.

John Mackey, chairman and CEO of Whole Foods, came under fire in July after eight years of anonymous posts on Yahoo bulletin boards were cited by the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit, filed in June, sought to prevent Whole Foods from acquiring competitor Wild Oats Markets Inc. because the FTC contended that the deal would be anticompetitive.

And so we get to the heart of the matter: is there a place for blogging about a specific corporation? Is it appropriate for employees of that corporation to blog about it?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Whole Foods to restrict online postings by execs after CEO brouhaha

Some companies think not, at least Whole Foods’ board thinks that its top employees should refrain.

Some companies aren’t so skittish (of course, their CEOs have not gotten caught!). We’ll explore this issue further next time.

BTW, for those not tuned in to the latest in blogosphere shortcuts: NSFW — not suitable for work. Usually used in the context of articles or blog posts containing what might be construed as racy photographs of young women.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW009: A Marathon for the Tsar

October 18, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Despite MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, sometimes he has to work his royal butt off.

Today was such a day. Let’s take a look at the after-action report provided to his team:

The executive VP of HR (reports directly to the CEO of HCA [Heart of Corporate America, MUDGE‘s employer and thus not its real name]) conducted the third of his global all HR staff videoconferences (the first two were Ireland,  October 2006, and Argentina last March) from Singapore.

These ambitious meetings included videoconference feeds to major sites, and Sametime web conferences for sites where video was unavailable, and even for those sites where video was available outside the largest venues, Sametime furnished the presentations, which were never placed on camera.

The first of two sessions, the live one, was conducted from conference space in Singapore by the VP HR and some regional colleagues, and began at 4:00pm local time. Tech call was 3:00pm, which translated to 2:00am this morning for your Sametime moderator.

Since the video feed didn’t have slides to cue from, and we were in our home office, we arranged with the event producer to have her on the phone cuing us with a signal for the next slide. We had been furnished a now obsolete script, which apparently had been much modified since last Friday when she emailed it to us just before stepping onto a plane to wing her and the crew 22 hours to Singapore.

We were simultaneously monitoring the audio conference, to be sure that the Sametime audience could hear the speakers and this extra step proved important, as the telephone conference people needed to be told to use the feed from the video conferencing bridge (somewhere in the U.S., I believe); getting this straight delayed the beginning of the conference by a few minutes.

So we spent the meeting with one headset (connected to my home land line) listening to the speakers from half a world away in the audio conference, and my Blackberry’s Bluetooth headset in the other ear getting next slide cues from the producer, and later, relaying some questions received from the remote audience via Sametime’s Public Chat to the representative of HR Public Affairs who was coordinating in Singapore and who read out the questions to the speakers.

The only disappointment to an otherwise successful meeting (and it was completely successful as far as the client is concerned) was due to the heavily graphic-intensive nature of the latter part of the presentation, which consisted of about 34 high resolution picture postcards of Singapore, as a backdrop to an interview between an HR executive and a local client. Because of those graphics, and the fact that the connections were in Europe and especially many sites in Asia, response to Next Page signals was delayed by up to two minutes, instead of the 23 seconds allocated. Because these were generic photographs, not much was missed when so many slides needed to be skipped due to the delays.

Among the 38 Sametime connections were participants in the UK, Taiwan, the Philippines, a couple of sites in Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Seoul, our home county, Norway, Ireland, Madrid, Hungary, Bangkok, India, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Some of these were large videoconference and ordinary non-video conference rooms with many participants, watching the video and/or the slides via our web conferencing feed.

There was serious talk earlier this year (I even had an itinerary sent me by Corporate Travel) of sending me with the crew to Singapore, as it was believed that the technical challenges required a Sametime expert on site. I admit that I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing an exotic locale on HR’s dime, but also was affronted: Sametime is a tool meant to reduce travel expenses — what kind of example would be set if they sent the Tsar himself across 13 time zones and put him up for five, five-star hotel nights for two 1-1/4 hour meetings?

The fact that cooler heads prevailed, and kept me in the U.S. turned out for the best, as the first communication from the event producer at about 2amCDT (yes, 2am — a very groggy Tsar indeed took her call) was to let me know that she could not get a consistent Internet connection from the meeting room, and was never able to connect to Sametime from there. Imagine the frustration if the person tasked with moderating the Sametime meeting couldn’t get a connection!

The 10amCDT meeting, for which your correspondent was in place for a technical check by 7:30am, was a rebroadcast of the earlier meeting for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. It was also a complex meeting, as it consisted of the recorded videoconference that had ended less than 6 hours earlier packaged and sent electronically to the video conference bridge, for forwarding, plus a live video feed from the meeting center in Singapore for questions from that second meeting.

The recorded and live video was received in AP6D Cafeteria, and several other sites in the U.S. (California and Ohio) and again Sametime provided the slides for the video (outside the main venue) and for people connecting from their desks or conference rooms without video. the video conference bridge also fed the Sametime audio conference.

Although this meeting was technically complex, again with the event producer (now the shoe was on the other foot, with this second meeting beginning at 11pm in Singapore) cuing the slides for the main venue to a graphics technician, and yours truly controlling Sametime to follow those visual cues, it all went quite smoothly, and the heavily graphic slides had no difficulty advancing on time, apparently due to the more robust network connections in the Western Hemisphere.

Great credit goes to the very able technical people on site here: Larry the enterprise videoconference expert; Steve , working the presentations; and especially the highly competent and extraordinarily calm (in the face of today’s countless last minute bombshells) audio technician, Eric. Thanks guys!

There were 79 connections to this second meeting, from Colombia, Mexico City, Venezuela, several sites in California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Peru, Ecuador, Massachusetts, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and New Jersey, among others.

Fascinating what’s happening to the heart of corporate America. It’s globalizing with a speed that might cause whiplash. Look at the above lists of meeting participation for both sessions.

Indeed, saw a quote in Business Week at lunch today (sorry, too tired to root it out guys) where the CEO of Intel wondered whether his company could really be called an American one any more. Wow!

The really good news: this meeting wouldn’t have worked at all without Sametime providing the presentation slides, which it did for every video conference room except the originator in Singapore (for the first meeting) and the local meeting venue (for the second). And the presentation, with its heavy graphics, wouldn’t have been successful without using the Sametime Whiteboard, although for the earlier Asia/Europe meeting I believe that network connectivity in Asian sites limited performance.

A wise developer from IBM Lotus, Sametime’s vendor, once characterized his product as the world’s best network sniffer. In other words, if there’s even one narrow bandwidth connection in one’s meeting, Sametime will react in an attention-getting fashion, as it waits (and waits and waits) for handshake signals from each node in the call, as it sends out its graphic content.

But, all in all, the day’s two high profile meetings (sort of career limiting to disappoint the top executive in HR!) went well; the web conferencing infrastructure, so ably maintained by MUDGE‘s overtaxed coworkers, behaved itself. Sigh of relief!

Later the same day (this day! It will be shortly before 9pm when this gets posted, on this day that began for MUDGE with a cell phone alarm beeping at 1:40am) we spent considerable time writing the above report to the team, and then met a commitment to teach a 90-minute class on web conferencing.

The class had been scheduled several months in advance, in the expectation that the Singapore adventure would occur next week; a corporate bigwig changed his mind — what a shock! — but I didn’t feel I could reschedule a class that people had been registered for for many weeks.

The class, one of three taught this week (average is 8-10 per month) was conducted for five students (via a web conference, of course) two of whom were connecting from home offices in Washington state and Florida. Ah, the power of collaborative tools!

A marathon for the Tsar, indeed. But even a curmudgeon can earn himself a smile, if not other royal trappings, for jobs well done.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW007: About that storm…

September 17, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

Previous post in this series, hopefully (I suppose) titled “Quiet before the storm,” we commented that it had been a considerably quiet summer.

MUDGE is here to announce that, despite the 75° temperatures as this is written at 8:15pm, summer is over.

We spent the entire day today “on location” covering three large scale meetings for three different internal clients.

Alas, MUDGE is employed by a company with not only global aspirations, but a substantial global footprint.

Today’s first meeting, client: our manufacturing division, was scheduled to accommodate third-shift workers coming off shift and first shift workers grabbing a meeting before clocking in, and of course many, many employees in Europe.

In Western Europe, the meeting began at 1:00pmCET.

In the U.S. Central time zone, tech call for this 6:00am meeting was 4:30am.

There oughta be a law.

But, there ain’t.

So we rolled out of bed at 3:10am.

It’s a wonder I wasn’t decapitated shaving.

But I got there. Good thing the sedan knows the way.

Meeting went fine; there were about 40 people in the room and about 25 connected on line.

Grabbed some breakfast (fortunately, this meeting, due to be repeated two more times throughout the day [although not on line] was actually located in half of a large company cafeteria), took down my equipment (two laptops, mini network hub, cables, telephone headset with transformer for monitoring the conference audio, etc.), and literally took it all downstairs to deploy absolutely all of it again in another conference room, where a significant department of our legal division was about to begin a marathon annual meeting.

This meeting had no global aspirations, as it was important enough that the global players had all flown in for the occasion, but one or two U.S. based individuals could not get away, and at the last minute (for my calendar, a request received two business days ahead is last minute) I was asked to provide service.

So let’s talk about what I do in such a meeting with all of that equipment.

A web conference is a lovely thing to behold, when it’s sitting on a desk in front of you.

Not so great if it’s projected onto a very large screen in a large conference room.

So we split the difference.

The presentation (usually the ubiquitous PowerPoint) is run completely independent of any network involvement off of a PC connected to the conference room projector. This delivers what we call the “Steven Spielberg experience” (you know, dark room, bright screen, maybe popcorn — and they were delivering popcorn to the second meeting as I was leaving!) for the local audience.

The web conference, with all of its exposed plumbing (participant list, chat area, hand raising buttons and all) is run in parallel at the back of the room, and is thus invisible to those physically present, who might after all have tomatoes to throw if displeased with the experience.

In larger setups, such as the manufacturing meeting, the presentation is also controlled by an a/v technician at the rear table, which can be a crowded place: audio technician with his microphone receivers, amps, mixers and telephone equipment; a/v tech controlling the slides, with two PCs (need a backup after all) connected to the projection system; often a representative of the speaker to supervise, especially if the presenter is, as was true at this early morning meeting, a corporate VP; and yours truly with two more PCs, the mini hub, cabling for both, etc.

Quite a scene.

The legal division meeting had an audio tech (lots of microphones in the room — our attorneys value every single word they utter) but the meeting was run from a PC at the podium, so my two PCs occupied the space next to the audio tech, a respected friend, without other interlopers.

Seemed a lot of effort though, for just two remote participants.

Just as well, since when we left that meeting SIX HOURS LATER it was still going on. Yeah, there were some breaks, and they did provide a snack and a cold cut lunch, so it wasn’t onerous.

And, one or two of the speakers (attorneys all) were almost entertaining.

Almost.

Had to leave early, as a previous commitment to my own IT division’s VP’s meeting took highest priority. Took down the PCs, the mini hubs, cables, etc. Packed it all away, trundled out to the car to drive to the north end of campus.

The third meeting of the day began a mere nine hours after the first one officially began.

For the third time today the complete setup was deployed. Dual PCs, hub, cabling — you’ve got the drill.

This one was a low budget affair. No audio tech after it began, just an ordinary Polycom speakerphone at the podium, and a portable projector in the middle of the room (a satellite cafeteria as it happened, very convenient for vital pre-meeting hydration and snacking) substituting for the built in equipment of the earlier meetings.

But it also went well, with more than 70 people connected, primarily in the U.S., as expected for a 3:00pmCT start. The previous Friday morning’s version of the same meeting in the same locale had accommodated one of the larger groups, with nearly 300 remote participants, including a bunch from overseas.

So I guess I’ve been leading a charmed life, with four critical meetings across two business days proceeding without incident.

Meanwhile, our server environment has experienced nothing but incidents. Our almost-but-not-quite-productionized past is overtaking us.

But whatever shrapnel thrown up by server failures missed me, and considering the visibility of the meetings, for that I am most grateful.

So, approximately 12 hours after arriving, and for the third time, we packed up laptops, mini network hubs, cables, extension cords etc., and dragged our bags out to the parking lot to head home.

Sometimes it can storm while it’s 80° and sunny.

But, a good day-and-a half, all things considered.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


WcW006: Quiet before the storm

August 29, 2007

wcw1_thumb1

Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

As teacher, I’m always running 8-10 classes per month, although during the summer average attendance is way down.

As end-user experience manager (an honorific provided by a suck-up vendor: remember, grunt that MUDGE is, he’s manager of no one) the phone just isn’t ringing very often, as people wrap up their summers before Labor Day provides the symbolic halt to all things sunscreen.

As member of the technical team, decisions are pending and work is progressing.

HCA uses for its instant messaging and web conferencing requirements IBM Lotus Sametime.

HCA has long been a Lotus shop: Its Lotus Notes product has long been handling enterprise email and its rapid application environment supports thousands of database applications and has done so here for more than 15 years. So the choice of Sametime was not a surprise in that light.

And, indeed, Sametime is a common choice for collaboration among large corporations, seeking the rock-solid enterprise grade solution similar and related to the rock-solid technology that so well supports the earlier applications: email and databases.

The best web conferencing and instant messaging choice today?

An excellent question that is not yet on the table.

Like many issues in corporate technology, the problems faced are multi-dimensional: hardware, software, the quantity of personnel applied to the task (fortunately, personnel quality is not an issue, among the talented administrators and architects that I am fortunate to work among).

Instant messaging and web conferencing at HCA exists not as the result of an organized deployment campaign, but rather more like viral marketing. It grew out of a pilot (when I joined the company, about 5½ years ago in a related but not directly connected IT position, there were nominally 800 accounts).

And the pilot became an “extended pilot” which gradually became a production system, without ever really becoming a true, bullet proof enterprise-grade product, at least as implemented here at HCA.

Insufficient servers (both in capability and in numbers), and insufficient personnel (as above, just the numbers are insufficient — the people are champions [and they won’t read this, so trust me, I’m not sucking up!]) to keep order in an operation that has grown to more than 26,000 accounts.

This number represents less than half of the available client base, because no one knows how to handle the establishment of the necessary 30,000 new accounts efficiently, much less want to confront the reality of insufficient hardware and personnel to handle the existing organically grown client base.

And, finally, the software. HCA upgraded (quite tardily) to Sametime version 6.5 about 21 months ago, and our team has been working on upgrading to the current standard version 7.5 for nearly that long (remember the tardy part).

HCA never never never never wants to be the early adopter of anyone’s hardware or software. The 100th adopter, maybe, so we delay, by time-honored policy, both IT and fiscal, until (hopefully most of) the bugs are out.

But we really need to move on this upgrade (the 2005 upgrade from long-used version 3.1 to version 6.5 was a marketing nomenclature upgrade — to the end users it looks and acts as if it’s version 3.2!), and the delay has not been HCA’s sole doing. And version 7.5 has many new and attractive and desirable features; it would be a true upgrade.

But we’re not there yet.

And therein lies an interesting story.

But this long story will need to be continued next time, because…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE